Archive for the ‘bailouts’ Category

Obama’s Katrina Moment Is Here Now

March 22, 2009

A CHARMING visit with Jay Leno won’t fix it. A 90 percent tax on bankers’ bonuses won’t fix it. Firing Timothy Geithner won’t fix it. Unless and until Barack Obama addresses the full depth of Americans’ anger with his full arsenal of policy smarts and political gifts, his presidency and, worse, our economy will be paralyzed. It would be foolish to dismiss as hyperbole the stark warning delivered by Paulette Altmaier of Cupertino, Calif., in a letter to the editor published by The Times last week: “President Obama may not realize it yet, but his Katrina moment has arrived.”

By Frank Rich
The New York Times
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Six weeks ago I wrote in this space that the country’s surge of populist rage could devour the president’s best-laid plans, including the essential Act II of the bank rescue, if he didn’t get in front of it. The occasion then was the Tom Daschle firestorm. The White House seemed utterly blindsided by the public’s revulsion at the moneyed insiders’ culture illuminated by Daschle’s post-Senate career. Yet last week’s events suggest that the administration learned nothing from that brush with disaster.

Otherwise it never would have used Lawrence Summers, the chief economic adviser, as a messenger just as the A.I.G. rage was reaching a full boil last weekend. Summers is so tone-deaf that he makes Geithner seem like Bobby Kennedy.

Bob Schieffer of CBS asked Summers the simple question that has haunted the American public since the bailouts began last fall: “Do you know, Dr. Summers, what the banks have done with all of this money that has been funneled to them through these bailouts?” What followed was a monologue of evasion that, translated into English, amounted to: Not really, but you little folk needn’t worry about it.

Yet even as Summers spoke, A.I.G. was belatedly confirming what he would not. It has, in essence, been laundering its $170 billion in taxpayers’ money by paying off its reckless partners in gambling and greed, from Goldman Sachs and Citigroup on Wall Street to Société Générale and Deutsche Bank abroad.

Summers was even more highhanded in addressing the “retention bonuses” handed to the very employees who brokered all those bad bets. After reciting the requisite outrage talking point, he delivered a patronizing lecture to viewers of ABC’s “This Week” on how our “tradition of upholding law” made it impossible to abrogate the bonus agreements. It never occurred to Summers that Americans might know that contracts are renegotiated all the time — most conspicuously of late by the United Automobile Workers, which consented to givebacks as its contribution to the Detroit bailout plan. Nor did he note, for all his supposed reverence for the law, that the A.I.G. unit being rewarded with these bonuses is now under legal investigation by British and American authorities.

Within 24 hours, Summers’s stand was discarded by Obama, who tardily (and impotently) vowed to “pursue every single legal avenue” to block the bonuses. The question is not just why the White House was the last to learn about bonuses that Democratic congressmen had sought hearings about back in December, but why it was so slow to realize that the public’s anger couldn’t be sated by Summers’s legalese or by constant reiteration of the word outrage. By the time Obama acted, even the G.O.P. leader Mitch McConnell was ahead of him in full (if hypocritical) fulmination.

David Axelrod tried to rationalize the lagging response when he told The Washington Post last week that “people are not sitting around their kitchen tables thinking about A.I.G.,” but are instead “thinking about their own jobs.” While that’s technically true, it misses the point. Of course most Americans don’t know how A.I.G. brought the world’s financial system to near-ruin or what credit-default swaps are. They may not even know what A.I.G. stands for. But Americans do make the connection between their fears about their own jobs and their broad understanding of the A.I.G. debacle.

They know that the corporate bosses who may yet lay them off have sometimes been as obscenely overcompensated for failure as Wall Street’s bonus babies. As The Wall Street Journal reported last week, chief executives at businesses as diverse as Texas Instruments and the home builder Hovnanian Enterprises have received millions in bonuses even as their companies’ shares have lost more than half their value.

Since Americans get the big picture of this inequitable system, that grotesque reality dwarfs any fine print. That’s why it doesn’t matter that the disputed bonuses at A.I.G. amount to less than one-tenth of one percent of its bailout. Or that CNBC — with 300,000 viewers on a typical day by Nielsen’s measure — is a relatively minor player in the crash. Or that Edward Liddy had nothing to do with A.I.G.’s collapse, or that John Thain, of the celebrated trash can, arrived after, not before, others wrecked Merrill Lynch.

These prominent players are just the handiest camera-ready triggers for the larger rage. Passions are now so hot that even Bernie Madoff’s crimes began to pale as we turned our attention to A.I.G.’s misdeeds, just as A.I.G. will fade when the next malefactor surfaces.

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/
03/22/opinion/22rich.html?_r=1

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Obama Administration May Not Understand Economy

March 22, 2009

When it comes to our complex economy, President Barack Obama would do well to heed the physician’s ancient commandment to first “do no harm.”

Instead, Obama’s administration has been prescribing all sorts of multibillion-dollar borrowing remedies without any consistent diagnosis of what is exactly wrong with the weak economy or even how bad things actually are.

By Victor Davis Hanson
The Washington Times

Since becoming president, Mr. Obama has offered numerous bleak economic prognoses. He has told Americans: “The situation we face could not be more serious. We have inherited an economic crisis as deep and as dire as any since the Great Depression.” He has also warned, “Recovery will likely be measured in years, not weeks or months” and “If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years.”

But suddenly last week, physician Barack Obama flipped and issued an entirely new prognosis: “I don’t think things are ever as good as they say, or ever as bad as they say.” He added. “[Things] are not as bad as we think they are now.”

What happened to living through hard times akin to the Great Depression?

Maybe it was the unexpected news that Citibank and Bank of America are starting to show a profit – thanks to the past bailouts of 2008 and new profitable loans. Maybe it was General Motors’ recent decision not to (for now) ask for more federal cash. Maybe it was the reports that consumer spending is not down as much as feared.

Or did Mr. Obama’s change in rhetoric reflect a sort of premeditated strategy: talk down the economy to scare everyone into supporting more government spending and borrowing. Then, once the stimulus bill has passed, talk up the economy to reassure us that it will work?

Or, as seems more likely, does the new government simply not know what is going on – much less what to do about it?

It can’t seem to fill slots at the Treasury Department, and strangely talks about fiscal responsibility and the evils of pork-barrel spending while expanding upon the Bush budget deficit and approving more than 8,000 earmarks.

Mr. Obama – and Congress – should take a deep breath before further expanding the budget with ever-more stimulus spending, borrowing and aggregate debt that will plague our children, who will have to pay back the trillions long after this present recession ends.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/new
s/2009/mar/22/first-of-all-do-no-harm/

Related:
Public Outrage Could Devour Obama Presidency

Financial Advice, Recovery, Trumped by Obama, Congress, Media, Polls

Protesters At Homes Of AIG Execs

Wall Street Journal: “Geithner Incapacitated;” President Voices Support

Government To Have Bigger Role in All American Lives; Obama Seeks to Increase Oversight of Executive Pay

Dodd Caper, House Vote on 90% Tax, Highlights Founders Hopes; Modern Reality

Some Dems Want Brake in Obama Plans, Spending

March 18, 2009

Barack Obama’s Big Bang Theory of Governance is starting to face its first big test among the new president’s fellow Democrats.

At the White House Tuesday morning, Obama began the day with a sharp push-back against the idea that his uncommonly ambitious agenda on health care, energy and other initiatives is too much, too soon.

By Ben Smith
Politico

As Obama’s remarks echoed on Capitol Hill, it soon became clear that the skeptics are not just Republicans.

There is rising doubt among Democrats — particularly moderates already concerned about the big costs and deficits called for in Obama’s budget — that either Obama or Washington have enough bandwidth this year to stimulate the economy, overhaul the failed financial sector and move on to a far-reaching domestic agenda.

“From the standpoint of the Congress, there’s only so much that we can absorb and do at one time,” Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, told POLITICO Tuesday. “To maintain a schedule like the one we’ve got at this moment, throughout the year, I don’t know if it will be healthy.”

Read the rest:
http://www.politico.com/news/sto
ries/0309/20150.html

Obama Fuels Public Anger at Banks, Wall Street, Congress: Too Much Bailout Cash?

March 16, 2009

The Obama administration is increasingly concerned about a populist backlash against banks and Wall Street, worried that anger at financial institutions could also end up being directed at Congress and the White House and could complicate President Obama’s agenda.

By ADAM NAGOURNEY
The New York Times

The administration’s sharp rebuke of the American International Group on Sunday for handing out $165 million in executive bonuses — Lawrence H. Summers, director of the president’s National Economic Council, described it as “outrageous” on “This Week” on ABC — marks the latest effort by the White House to distance itself from abuses that could feed potentially disruptive public anger.

“We’ve got enormous problems that need to be addressed,” David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, said in an interview. “And it’s hard to address because there’s a lot of anger about the irresponsibility that led us to this point.”

“This has been welling up for a long time,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s aides said any surge of such a sentiment could complicate efforts to win Congressional approval for the additional bailout packages that Mr. Obama has signaled will be necessary to stabilize the banking system.

As it is, there have already been moves in Congress to limit compensation to executives at banks and Wall Street firms that are receiving government help to survive.

Beyond that, a shifting political mood challenges Mr. Obama’s political skills, as he seeks to acknowledge the anger without becoming a target of it. A central question for Mr. Obama is whether his cool style — “in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger,” he said in his address to Congress last month — will prove effective when the country may be feeling more emotional.

Even as Mr. Summers was denouncing A.I.G. for the bonuses, he suggested that there was little if anything the government could do to stop them, seconding the conclusion of Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. But even if their reasoning was legally sound, they also risked having the administration look ineffectual in the face of what Mr. Summers said was the worst financial abuse of the last 18 months, since the economy began turning down in earnest.

“Never underestimate the capacity of angry populism in times of economic stress,” said Robert Reich, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “A big challenge for President Obama will be to maintain a rational and tactical public discussion in the midst of this severe downturn. The desire for culprits at times like this is strong.”

Read the rest:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/0
3/16/us/politics/16assess.html?_r=1&hp

Democrats Admit: “We Are Our Own Worst Enemies”

January 6, 2009

The new Congress sweeps into town Tuesday with many members comparing themselves to the 1933 Congress that enacted much of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and changed the government’s relationship to its citizenry.

By NAFTALI BENDAVID and GREG HITT
The Wll Street Journal

These times are very different from 1933, when the 73rd Congress enacted 16 major laws during Mr. Roosevelt’s First 100 Days. Today’s economy, for all its struggles, doesn’t remotely resemble the turmoil of the Great Depression, with its 25% unemployment. Also, the public’s appetite for broad change isn’t yet clear.

None of this is deterring the Democrats. Like the Congress of 76 years ago, they are converging on Washington with a popular new president, significant congressional majorities and, perhaps most important, a shaken public eager for government to try something new.

“We are at a unique moment in history — we have an opportunity that maybe comes only once in a generation,” Rep. Henry Waxman said recently. “We may well turn out to be as historical as the Congress was in 1933.”

Democrats see the best chance in decades to expand health coverage, move toward energy independence, tackle climate change and re-regulate the financial-services industry.

“We certainly have the obligation to attack big problems,” says Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin, sitting under a large photo of Mr. Roosevelt in his personal office. “We have been playing small-ball for a long time here.”

The first order of business on the Democrats’ agenda will be acting on a two-year economic-stimulus package. Still under construction, the plan could be as large as $775 billion, and it could include about $300 billion in tax cuts, $350 billion in infrastructure spending and billions more in aid to states and other measures. Democratic leaders hope to have the bill on President-elect Barack Obama’s desk by mid-February.

Underlying the recovery plan and the Democrats’ other agenda items is a determination to shift the nation’s economic balance of power back to workers and the middle class — by making it easier for employees to unionize, pushing banks to restructure mortgages and rewrite credit rules, and providing health coverage to more people.

What’s to stop the Democrats? There are serious obstacles, starting with the party itself, which is hardly unified. Some Democratic congressional factions, like the more-conservative Blue Dogs, are deeply suspicious of expanded federal spending. Democrats from old industrial states worry that colleagues from California want to be too hard on the auto industry. Coal-state Democrats fear the party’s environmental wing will go too far with efforts to clamp down on fossil fuels.

Read the rest:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123120199307655729.html

Republican Chasm: RNC Will Condemn Bush Bailouts

December 30, 2008

In what would amount to a slap in the face to a sitting Republican president and the party’s Senate and House leaders, national GOP officials, including the vice chairman of the Republican National Committee, are sponsoring a resolution opposing the resort to “socialist” means to save capitalism.

“We can’t be a party of small government, free markets and low taxes while supporting bailouts and nationalizing industries, which lead to big government, socialism and high taxes at the expense of individual liberty and freedoms,” said Solomon Yue, a cosponsor of a resolution that would put the RNC — the party’s national governing body — on the record as opposing the U.S. government bailouts of the financial and auto industries.

By Ralph Z. Hallow
The Washington Times

Republican National Vice Chairman and constitutional law attorney James Bopp Jr. authored the resolution and is asking the rest of the 168 voting members of the committee to sign it.

“The resolution also opposes President-elect Obama’s proposed public works program and supports conservative alternatives,” while encouraging the RNC “to engage in vigorous public policy debates consistent with our party platform,” Mr. Bopp said.

The RNC has never played a leading policy role or any policy role except once every four years in framing the national party platform, which is quickly forgotten and almost never referred to for another four years.

Read the rest:
http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/
dec/30/rnc-pushes-unprecedented-criticism-of-bailouts/