Saturday, April 4, 2009

Is Massive, truly MASSIVE, Bank Fraud going Unpunished and Unregulated?

Is America ignoring bank fraud on an unprecedented scale in its haste to bail out its apparently insolvent banks? This 20 minute Bill Moyers Journal video makes a strong case for the affirmative. Moyers interviews William K. Black, a senior regulator during the Savings and Loan Crisis of the 1990's. Black's take on the decay of American finance over the past 20 years reminds me of David Cay Johnston's take on the decay of the IRS since 1980. Two straight shooters. Black is hard on Geithner and Summers and on President Obama too. A key passage:
The FBI publicly warned, in September 2004 that there was an epidemic of mortgage fraud, that if it was allowed to continue it would produce a crisis at least as large as the Savings and Loan debacle. And that they were going to make sure that they didn't let that happen. So what goes wrong? After 9/11, the attacks, the Justice Department transfers 500 white-collar specialists in the FBI to national terrorism. Well, we can all understand that. But then, the Bush administration refused to replace the missing 500 agents. So even today, again, as you say, this crisis is 1000 times worse, perhaps, certainly 100 times worse, than the Savings and Loan crisis. There are one-fifth as many FBI agents as worked the Savings and Loan crisis.
So what needs to be done? Here's Black's 9/08 Nation article co-authored with economist James K. Galbraith. Here are some related links:
  • Tim Geithner outlines his regulatory plan before the House Committee on Financial Regulation (3/??)
  • President Obama backs up Geithner's plan (3/24)
  • The Economist says "The rich are an easy target. But when you try to bash them, you usually end up punching yourself in the nose." Seems to me this caution against political retribution skirts the hard issues of legal accountability and regulatory reform. (4/2)
  • Meredith Whitney says that the country's biggest banks, still undercapitalized despite government efforts to refloat them, are reducing credit card lines and thereby "sucking liquidity out of consumer wallets." How much? "In the fourth quarter alone," she says, "half a trillion dollars of lines were cut from the consumer--half a trillion." (4/6)
  • Mike Mayo's "Seven Deadly Sins of Banking" is out today - David Faber and others at CNBC blame today's down market (Dow -114 several hours before the close) in part on Mayo's report.
  • William D Cohan on how Goldman Sachs emerged as the king of financial institutions (NYT op ed. Not fraud, but sleight of hand ( 4/15)

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