Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Roundup: The FCIC Republicans and an Intellectually Fraudulent Take on the Financial Crisis

Alas, I'm late to this story, but it was so mind-boggling I had to weigh in with something. The four Republicans on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission went rogue and issued their own (slim, fact-lite) report on their findings about what caused the crisis ... beating the publication date for the actual report. Sadly their analysis of the crime scene looks something like this, for the comprehension impaired:


Most disturbing was the report (on Huffington Post -- nice job, guys) that the four Republicans voted to ban the following phrases from the official FCIC report: "Wall Street," "shadow banking," "interconnection" and "deregulation." Which is sort of like writing the history of apartheid in South Africa and not being allowed to use the words "race," "white," "black" and "prejudice."

Anyway, my best contribution at this point isn't opining but stepping back and rounding up the financial blogosphere reaction. So much good has been said that it deserves aggregation and linking (please click through and read each!) without any further commentary from me. So here you go:

Yves Smith, naked capitalism:

How can you talk coherently about the crisis and NOT talk about the shadow banking system, which grew to be at least as large as the official banking system and was the primary object of the various government rescue operations? It’s like trying to talk about AIDS and pretend there is no such thing as intercourse. Similarly, excessive interconnectedness, or as Richard Bookstaber vividly called it, “tight coupling” was another critical driver. AND HOW CAN YOU NOT TALK ABOUT DEREGULATION?!? What is there left to talk about once that is excised? Sunspots?

Barry Ritholtz, The Big Picture:

They released a silly analysis that could have been written by wingnut think tanks like the AEI or others BEFORE the crisis even occurred (and indeed, there are many examples of this findable via the wayback machines of the intertubes). ... The Gang-o-four absolves Wall Street and the banks, blames the government — for everything — and ignores the data that conclusively demonstrate otherwise.

Joe Nocera, New York Times:

To fix a problem ... it helps to know what the problem is. The F.C.I.C., with all those witnesses and documents, could have really helped here. But the paper released by the commission’s Republicans this week reads as if they couldn’t be bothered. It simply reiterates longstanding Republican dogma that could have been written without a $6 million investigation.

Mike Konczal, Rortybomb:

I have to hand it to them. They decided to take one for the team and release this report that implies markets can never fail, only governments. No sources, no numbers, no new info, not even 10 pages, but they put it out there so reporters have the option to go “well, on the other hand the Republicans said this.” That’s how seriously the conservative movement takes ideological warfare.

Paul Krugman, New York Times:

We should have realized that the modern Republican Party is utterly dedicated to the Reaganite slogan that government is always the problem, never the solution. And, therefore, we should have realized that party loyalists, confronted with facts that don’t fit the slogan, would adjust the facts.

Alain Sherter, BNet:

The document is a wholly expurgated version of events that omits key facts while twisting others to fit certain ideological preconceptions.

Nick Baumann, Mother Jones:

In this story, Wall Street, shadow banking, and deregulation had nothing to do with the meltdown. Republicans have been pushing this fairy tale for years.

Dave Ribar, Applied Rationality:

A report on the financial crisis that omits the words, "Wall Street," "fraud," "underwriting," "collusion," and "derivatives" and that overlooks Wall Street's view of most clients as "suckers" isn't worth the paper it's written on.

Ezra Klein, Washington Post:

I'm puzzled by the decision the panel's Republicans made to break away, declare certain words off-limits and release a nine-page report that reads like a long op-ed from a generic Republican politician.

Cardiff Garcia, (on the Republican vote to ban "deregulation" etc. from the FCIC report)

Depending on your point of view, this is either sad, funny, weird, pathetic, or just idiotic.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Revolving Whores, Dec. 15 Edition

That didn't take long!

After launching my "Revolving Whores" feature a few days ago, I've already got a second installment as Wall Street greases the palm of another public official, according to Bloomberg:
Theo Lubke, who headed the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s efforts to reform the private derivatives market, joined Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to help Wall Street’s most profitable firm navigate the looming overhaul of financial regulations.
Ka-ching! Mr. Lubke, your bathtub full of caviar awaits ...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Too Big to Fail, the Book, and Inside Job, the Movie

I just finished reading/watching both of these (okay, I know I'm way late on "Too Big to Fail;" it's been a busy year). Some quick takeaways:

"Too Big to Fail" -- here's what particularly struck me in this fascinating fly-on-the-wall account (in fact, I've never read a more "fly on the wall" book than this one) of the events immediately leading up to the financial crisis in the fall of 2008:

* Christopher Cox, former SEC head: Inept. Clueless. Ineffectual. Stupid. It's truly mind-boggling just how bad this guy was.

* Speed dating, capitalism style: It was amazing how many mergers people were trying to engineer behind the scenes at the fever pitch of the crisis. Goldman buying Wachovia? Bank of America buying Lehman? And the Jewish mothers arranging the hookups were usually Hank Paulson and Tim Geithner (some banking executives even started calling Geithner eHarmony).

* The U.S. could have saved Lehman. Sure, you can parse all the differences between the Bear Stearns situation and Lehman's mess and make a lot of rationalizations for why the two were different -- but once Sorkin shows you how creative and frantic and ad hoc things were behind the scenes, you realize that grounds could have been concocted to save Lehman. The government just decided to draw a line in the sand and see what happened.

"Inside Job":

* If you've read a lot about the financial crisis, much of this film will be like "Sing Along with Mitch." You know the words, the characters, the plot, the outrage that's on slow simmer ...

* "Inside Job" is still a great film because, for my money, it makes its argument about what happened with the most coherence and the least distracting shrillness/gimmickry (plus, where else are you going to hear that old Ace Frehley classic "New York Groove" dusted off?)

* The film's original contribution is the spearing of the academic economists. Watching Glenn Hubbard's facade of reasonableness degenerate to hostility is revealing, as Ferguson pressures him about his connections to the financial industry. Even more unnerving though is watching Marty Feldstein, who seems amusedly detached and really doesn't appear to give a shit about all the havoc that ensued from flawed theories about economics and deregulation.

Revolving Whores

The debut of my new acerbic feature, "Revolving Whores: An Attempt to Shame the Shameless and Expose How Broken Our Damn Government Is." (I'm channeling my inner Denninger today, with some spicy zero hedge-type attitude on the side.)

Today's featured personality: Peter Orszag. (I meant to blog about this earlier in the week, but now Mike K. has alertly jumped on the story; he has some good observations about Orszag's latest career zig).

Reuters lead:
Citigroup Inc. named U.S. President Barack Obama's former budget director as a senior global banking adviser on Thursday, strengthening its ties to high-profile former officials the same week the bailed-out bank finished shrugging off U.S. government ownership.
So a bank that was, not long ago, the largest in the world in assets, the quintessence of "Too Big to Fail," has now paid a (presumably) big contract to free agent Peter Orszag, who will help Citi hit a few dingers out of the park using his special knowledge of all recent things White House.

America, cleanse thyself.