Posts tagged with 'Robert Kuttner'

Weekly Audit: HBGary Federal and The Chamber of Secrets

Posted Feb 15, 2011 @ 12:03 pm by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, laverrueBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The most influential business lobby group in the United States has been linked to a scheme to deploy dirty tricks against its political opponents. Josh Harkinson reports for Mother Jones that prospective vendors for the Chamber of Commerce hatched a plan to frame and entrap critics of the Chamber.

The plan came to light last week after hackers released thousands of emails obtained from the servers of HBGary Federal, a private security company. The emails reveal Chamber law firm Hunton & Williams was looking for firms to help it execute a plot to entrap bloggers, union officials and other Chamber critics. The goal, according to Harkinson, was to manufacture evidence that all the Chamber’s critics were working together to discredit the business group:

According to the emails, Chamber law firm Hunton & Williams wanted to hire digital sleuths that could demonstrate that the business group’s opponents had been working as a “single entity instead of a true ‘grasroots’ campaign.” That phrase and others suggest that the Chamber’s ultimate goal was to openly accuse its foes of a left-wing form of astroturfing.

HBGary Federal was apparently planning to pitch its services as a “Corporate Information Renaissance Cell” to the Chamber yesterday. The emails show that HBGary Federal and two other firms, Berico Technologies and Palantir, proposed to use the social networking pages of the Chamber’s enemies to manufacture evidence of supposed “relationships” between various players.

Labor of love

Robert Kuttner suggests in The American Prospect that organized labor may be the last best hope for reviving the middle class and restoring shared prosperity:

Though no longer centered in auto and steel factories, unions continue to offer lower-income Americans a path into the middle class–just ask a newly organized janitor, hotel worker, security guard, hospital paraprofessional, home-care worker, or warehouse, call-center, or food-service employee.

Kuttner notes that the average union employee earns about 20% more than a non-unionized worker doing the same job. He also cites evidence that unionized workers are more likely to vote for Democrats than their non-unionized counterparts and that the power of unions to deliver votes for Democrats had been growing steadily up until the Republican blowout in the midterm elections of 2010.

Budget bingo

Ari Berman of The Nation takes a closer look at President Obama’s proposed federal budget for 2012. The budget calls for investments in high speed rail and a national infrastructure bank. It does not tinker with Medicare or Social Security. The cuts proposed in the budget barely offset the cost of continuing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, Berman notes.

Meanwhile, David Corn of Mother Jones examines the president’s budget and feels deja vu from the Clinton administration. At a recent press conference, White House budget director Jared Lew outlined a budget that attempts to save money while”winning the future.” Obama’s budget promises $1.1 trillion in savings over the next decade, while maintaining investments in future-oriented research and development projects.

Corn notes that the administration is calling for $2.5 billion in cuts to a home heating program (LIHEAP) for the poor and elderly while simultaneously planning a national broadband network. But the administration has more or less given up on immediate job-creation in favor of long-term investment, Corn argues:

It seems the administration has concluded that after that tax-cut deal—which did amount to something of a second stimulus—there is not much else the White House can do via government spending (or tax cuts) to create jobs, especially with Republicans controlling the House.

That sounds good on paper, but how much are these ambitious big ticket projects going to do for Americans who are struggling in the current recession? He thinks it all sounds a lot like former president Bill Clinton’s centrist approach to the budget.

Consumers Anonymous

Carrie Barker of Ms. Magazine interviews CNN host Jane Velez-Mitchell about her new book Addict Nation, a book about American consumerism as a form of mass addiction. As a recovering alcoholic with 16 years of sobriety, Velez-Mitchell says she began to see connections between her personal struggles and the larger cultural script that “more is better.” She argues that our society needs a “consumer revolution” that will prompt people to rethink their buying patterns as conscious social and moral choices, as opposed to reflexive self-gratification.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Republicans Poised to Declare War on Welfare State

Posted Dec 21, 2010 @ 12:16 pm by
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by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Flickr, Thomas Hawk, Creative CommonsSenate Republicans scuttled a bipartisan $1.2 trillion dollar spending omnibus bill last week. Now, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is scrambling to pass a temporary funding bill to keep the federal government’s lights on.

The GOP abruptly pulled the plug on the omnibus, a massive piece of legislation that Republicans and Democrats had collaborated on for months. Why? Because the Republicans want to start over in the next session of Congress when they will control the House and pick up seats in the Senate. They intend to rewrite the spending bill with much less Democratic input. In other words, bipartisanship proves once again to be a racket.

War on the welfare state

At Truthout, economist Dean Baker offers some predictions on what Republicans have in mind for the 112th Congress. The Bush tax cut extensions that passed with great fanfare are supposed to be 2-year extensions. However, Baker asks why we should expect that the GOP will allow the tax cuts to expire? (more…)

Weekly Audit: Financial Reform Makes Headway, Jobs And Social Security In Jeopardy

Posted Jun 15, 2010 @ 9:18 am by
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by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Image courtesy of Flickr user Jay_D, via Creative Commons LicenseTwo critical Wall Street reforms, once declared dead by U.S. megabanks, are suddenly close to Congressional approval. As the House and Senate iron out the differences between their financial overhauls, it now appears that lawmakers are finally willing to ban banks from gambling with taxpayer money by implementing a strong Volcker Rule, and to end taxpayer subsidies for risky derivatives operations.

These reforms will help stabilize the U.S. economy by clamping down on the naked speculation the drove financial markets off a cliff in 2008. But while lawmakers are finally waking up to the economic and political necessity of strong Wall Street reforms, conservatives have blocked key efforts to ease unemployment. President Barack Obama also appears ready to surrender to an assault on Social Security later this year. (more…)

Weekly Audit: Will Obama Squander Wall Street Success By Gambling On Social Security?

Posted May 18, 2010 @ 9:21 am by
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by Zach Carter, TMC Blogger

Image courtesy of Flickr user campusprogress_blog via Creative Commons LicenseAfter nearly a year of debating and haggling, Congress is finally about to take a modest, positive step forward with its bill to overhaul Wall Street. But by readying social security cuts and tax breaks for big corporations, the Obama administration is setting up an economic disaster that could have been crafted by President George W. Bush. It’s a political nightmare for the Democratic Party.

How did we get here?

While the road to our current economic mess has been three decades in the making, we know how we got here. Washington pushed policies that favored short-term Wall Street profits over the living standards of our citizens, eroding the middle class and destabilizing our entire financial system in the process.

As University of Texas economist James K. Galbraith explains for AlterNet, this strategy is enshrined in the ideology of mainstream U.S. economists, who simply refuse to acknowledge the existence of financial fraud. Economists’ blind faith in the power of markets is so strong that they cannot envision market systems in which the rules are systematically broken for profit on a massive scale. That is what happened in the savings and loan crisis, and it is what happened in the years leading up to the Great Financial Crash of 2008. (more…)

Weekly Audit: Republicans Filibuster Our Financial Future

Posted Apr 27, 2010 @ 8:57 am by
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by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Image courtest of Flickr user f-l-e-x, via Creative Commons License.Last night, Senate Republicans proved beyond any doubt that when it comes to the economy, they stand with Wall Street and against everybody else. Joined by lone Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), Republicans successfully filibustered the procedural technicality of opening debate on Wall Street reform. It’s an unmistakable ploy to kill the bill and collect campaign cash from bigwig bankers. The coming weeks won’t be pretty.

Republicans are going to be battered by this filibuster. Financial reform is popular, and nobody on Capitol Hill wants to be seen as the agents of Wall Street in Washington come November. Republicans are hoping to rhetorically counter Obama’s proposals, negotiate a fatally weakened reform package, and then vote with Democrats for reform-in-name-only before the elections. But the U.S. financial system is broken and voters know it needs strong medicine.

In a speech last week before Cooper Union Hall in New York City, Obama laid out what’s at stake in the reform fight. Our biggest banks don’t fear failure because they know the government will bail them out in a crisis. As a result, they take massive risks that endanger the economy. Our current regulators ignored predatory lending in order to protect Wall Street profits. To top it off, the risky, multi-trillion-dollar market for derivatives—the financial weapons of mass destruction that brought down AIG—remains beyond the scope of regulatory authority altogether. (more…)

Weekly Audit: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

Posted Dec 8, 2009 @ 8:14 am by
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By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama invited leading economic thinkers to a job creation summit on Thursday to help combat the worst unemployment crisis in decades. The stakes couldn’t be higher: If Obama can’t build momentum for robust legislation that will create jobs, the unemployment rate could remain in double-digits all the way through 2011.

In Salon, Andrew Leonard highlights some positive comments Obama made at the jobs summit. In an exchange with The American Prospect‘s Robert Kuttner, Obama said that the long-term budget deficit is an issue, but that the best way to reduce that deficit is to spur economic growth. When the economy is growing, the same tax rates reap greater returns for the government. (more…)

Weekly Audit: Reining in the Subprime Scoundrels

Posted Jun 16, 2009 @ 8:30 am by
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by Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger

President Barack Obama is scheduled to unveil his agenda for revamping financial regulation later this week. As the economy struggles though a recession created by the banking industry, it’s crucial that Obama and his advisers craft a set of rules ensuring that the financial sector strengthens our economy instead of destroying it.

Various government regulatory agencies are sparring over how the final regulatory structure will be divided. But, as Robert Kuttner notes for The American Prospect, the most important aspects of the plan will not be who regulates what, but how stringently they are required to regulate. The Federal Reserve has had the power to devise consumer protection regulations for years, but has generally decided against writing strong rules to defend borrowers. There is perhaps no area of public policy more critical to the nation’s economic stability than consumer protections in banking, especially as the subprime mortgage crisis continues to devastate U.S. households.

Without stronger regulations, the government’s rescue programs for the financial sector will be a complete waste, and bailouts will only reward the destructive behavior that created the current recession. And the bailout plans are getting more absurd every week. Writing for Mother Jones, Nomi Prins details the latest bank bailout farce: The false euphoria emanating from the Treasury Department after it decided to allow 10 banks to return the bailout money it received from the public. Or, at least, some of the bailout money.

As Prins explains, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) accounts for just a tiny fraction of the bank rescue efforts currently orchestrated by the Treasury, the Federal Reserve and the FDIC. When banks accepted TARP money, they agreed to implement a few modest restrictions on executive pay, though none of the other bailouts came with any strings attached. The FDIC, for instance, agreed to guarantee the corporate debt that banks issue to fund their operations without requiring banks to adopt any changes in the way they do business. This government backing has allowed banks to raise several billion dollars in funding at extremely inexpensive rates, at a time when most banks were struggling to raise any money at all. Suddenly, some of the chief beneficiaries of the FDIC program—Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and American Express, to name three—find themselves flush with cash and able to pay back the TARP money, and thus allow their CEOs to escape the executive compensation caps.

As Laura Flanders explains in the below video from GritTV, there is a difference between how “healthy” a bank appears to the U.S. Treasury and what it actually does for ordinary people. The TARP money was supposed to serve a public purpose by freeing up funds that could be lent out into the economy. But the very banks now going off the public payroll have been retroactively jacking up interest rates on credit cards all year and spending millions to lobby against legislation that would prevent foreclosures. Small surprise, then, that the state of the U.S. housing market is as bad as it has ever been.

“The lesson is pretty clear: you cannot stabilize the mortgage market and undercut the working family at the same time, you just can’t,” Flanders says.

It’s not as if the economy has suddenly turned a corner. In addition to all those foreclosures, the unemployment rate is 9.4% at last count and keeps surging higher. But the effects of the recession are not being felt equally among all workers. New America Media (NAM) features a piece by Raechal Leone that highlights the even more severe unemployment rate among blacks in the U.S.—a whopping 14.9%. Those numbers are not expected to get better anytime soon. When economists talk about the recession “ending,” they mean that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a measurement of the total output of the U.S. economy, will have stopped shrinking. Economists almost universally believe that the unemployment rate will increase well after GDP stops contracting—as many as five years in some predictions.

The Applied Research Center (ARC) has released a report detailing the disparate impact of the recession on minorities, accompanied by a host of constructive policy recommendations. In the financial world, minority borrowers still face a dramatically uneven playing field. Black and Latino borrowers were more much more likely to be steered into an expensive subprime mortgage during the housing bubble than white borrowers were. As Nina Jacinto details for Wiretap, these lending practices have been so pervasive that the NAACP has filed lawsuits against both Wells Fargo and HSBC for systematically targeting black borrowers with expensive supbrime mortgages.

We need to upgrade our anti-discrimination banking regulations to end this systematic predation. Many of the other policies that ARC endorses are not geared specifically toward ending the racial wealth gap, but would alleviate some of the glaring effects of institutional racism. Since people of color are disproportionately relegated to low-paying jobs (or, as Leone noted for NAM, no work at all), policies that make it easier for low-wage workers to organize and demand fair pay, like the Employee Free Choice Act, would help ease this rampant inequality.

The Obama team’s regulatory proposal will only mark the beginning of a policy debate that will likely last for months. But make no mistake, serious bank reform is one of the most important steps the government can take to make the economy accountable to ordinary citizens and CEOs alike. Without substantive change in the financial sector, the next meltdown could already be underway.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit and for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out and This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

Weekly Audit: EFCA Vital for Recovery

Posted Jun 2, 2009 @ 8:35 am by
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It’s official: The U.S. economy has been in a recession for a year and a half and many of the economic troubles worrying progressives in 2007 have yet to be addressed. While the Obama administration has taken steps to relieve some problems, a series of counterproductive bailouts, woefully inadequate labor laws and rampant inequality are still in urgent need of attention.

Severe economic inequality has persisted for decades in the U.S., but the current crisis is bringing things into focus. Unfortunately, while Wall Street excess and the corporate jet-setting of Detroit executives have dominated headlines and garnered plenty of justified outrage, the other side of the inequality coin has been largely neglected. As Katrina vanden Heuvel explains in The Nation, the routine exploitation of day laborers and domestic workers has grown even more pervasive since the recession began. Workers who managed to survive by laboring for predatory wages under abusive conditions now see those wages stolen with increasing regularity, as contractors simply refuse to pay up when the work is done. Huge portions of domestic workers are not only living below the poverty line, but subject to verbal and physical abuse. And as jobs have grown increasingly scarce, vanden Heuvel writes, speaking out against employer mistreatment has become a thoroughly daunting prospect for workers with no savings to help them endure unemployment. For the millions undocumented workers who are not protected by U.S. labor laws, an abusive work situation leaves them without any legal recourse.

Our labor laws desperately need to be revamped. Currently, Capitol Hill’s biggest battle for workers rights is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would make it easier for workers to form a union without fear of employer reprisals or intimidation. The corporate executive class is lobbying hard against EFCA by claiming it revokes workers’ rights to a secret ballot in union elections, but the bill would do no such thing. As the law currently stands, employers can force workers who want to unionize to hold an election in order to actually establish a union. EFCA would require that a union be legally recognized as soon as a majority of workers sign cards saying they want to unionize. Union leaders are still elected by a secret ballot, but the election is permitted to take place later on, preventing employers from using the election period to bully their workers out of unionizing at all.

Writing for In These Times, David Moberg illustrates the commonplace peril of employer intimidation under the current organizing process:

“In 2005 [electrician Dan Luevano] and most of his fellow workers at Ries Electric near Denver asked their boss to recognize the Electrical Workers as their union to help resolve problems. The boss called everyone in and threatened to fire them if they voted for a union. Luevano said he would, and the next workday he was fired. Though the National Labor Relations Board reinstated him, his boss isolated him and cut his hours while continuing to violate labor laws by fighting the union.”

Workers and unions have pushed for EFCA for years, but when it comes to the economy, the federal government reacts fastest to problems on Wall Street. In Salon, Andy Kroll outlines the generous subsidies the government has paid to companies that drove themselves into the ground, effectively rewarding the economically destructive behaviors that caused the current crisis, while neglecting the workers whose hours and wages have been slashed as business credit tightens ups.

The bailout isn’t just unfair—it seriously risks delaying economic recovery. If the government refuses to take over failed institutions, wipe out their shareholders and fire their executives, the U.S. economy will likely be burdened with a constantly faltering financial sector for years. The Wall Street CEOs who caused the problem have every incentive to cover up for their mistakes and resort to complex accounting tricks to hide losses. But until those bank losses are recognized, the government will not be able to fill the hole and get credit flowing again. As Robert Kuttner argues in a column for The American Prospect, “We still face a prolonged Great Stagnation, one that could be far worse than necessary because of the administration’s circuitous, Wall Street–friendly approach to reviving the banks.”

Just as bad, whenever the economy actually recovers, executives at the surviving banks will have learned that they can score huge bonuses virtually risk-free by gorging themselves on risky loans and letting taxpayers clean up after them. This sets the stage for another catastrophe. So far, Obama’s decision to extend the bank bailout plan enacted under George W. Bush is the single greatest single blunder of his presidency, and as Kuttner argues, it’s a mistake that jeopardizes both the economy and the political sustainability of progressive ideas.

Beyond Wall Street, the administration has also faltered with it’s handling of General Motors, which finally filed for bankruptcy Monday morning after steadily disintegrating since the 1980s. After pouring in money to keep the ailing car manufacturer afloat, the government watched the company lay off tens of thousands of workers without overhauling its failed business model. Under the bankruptcy arrangement, U.S. taxpayers will emerge with a 60% stake in the company, but rehabilitating the company remains an enormous task. GM’s primary business is making cars that people do not want to buy. Without GM, the U.S. manufacturing sector would all but disappear, but turning the company around will require a huge long-term investment. So far, the government has settled for keeping the company on life support. Kevin Drum puts it succinctly for Mother Jones: “This whole deal just keeps getting worse and worse.”

The U.S. economy broke down for a reason: It was heavily dependent on a booming financial sector and failed to adequately protect or reward the workers who actually built the economy up. Both Congress and Obama have the power to give workers families the same economic leverage that corporate executives currently enjoy. It’s up to progressives to convince them to take action.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit and for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out and This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

Weekly Audit: Progressive Pressure is Repairing the Economy

Posted Mar 17, 2009 @ 8:32 am by
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Progressive media is sounding the alarm on the AIG bonus scandal, demanding that policymakers stop repeating Bush administration mistakes and offering concrete solutions to the dire economic situation those missteps have created.

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich describes the bonus insanity in a blog distributed by AlterNet. “Had AIG gone into chapter 11 bankruptcy or been liquidated, as it would have without government aid, no bonuses would ever be paid,” Reich writes, noting that institutions like AIG “are no longer within the capitalist system because they are no longer accountable to the market.” If AIG is not accountable to the Treasury Secretary of the country that owns an 80% stake in AIG, then the company has unlimited access to taxpayer coffers without being accountable to anyone at all.

The government’s first set of actions after it took control of its AIG stake back in September should have been to identify and renegotiate every important contract the company was tied up in. Whether those contracts were guaranteed bonuses with current employees or complex credit default swap transactions with Goldman Sachs, the extraordinary assistance the government had agreed to provide would have been a perfectly legitimate legal justification to demand new contractual terms. In short, the government should have exercised the benefits of ownership—exactly what progressive economists, columnists and bloggers have been demanding since the bailout debate began.

But while the uproar over AIG’s bonuses vindicates progressive calls for more stringent action to rein in the financial predators, President Barack Obama inherited an economy in very real danger of collapse, with the banking crisis is the epicenter of the economic earthquake.

While most economists are warning of the worst recession since the Great Depression, Robert Kuttner reveals for The American Prospect why this one might actually be worse. When the stock market crashed in 1929, the U.S. financial system was still generally healthy. It took another three years for unemployment and general economic malaise to overwhelm the banking world. Today, the banking system is already broken and could get even worse without swift and dramatic action from the Obama administration. The U.S. is not a major international creditor as it was in 1929, but rather the world’s largest debtor, and today far more Americans have their life savings tied up in the value of their home and in the stock market than in the early years of the Depression. Millions of Americans have already seen their nest eggs decimated in the current recession, a process which took years during the Herbert Hoover administration.

Kuttner emphasizes that the situation is not hopeless—it will simply require a bigger set of policy tools than the Bush administration was willing to wield. “All of these economic calamities have solutions, but each is more radical that what’s currently on offer,” Kuttner writes. Temporarily nationalizing big banks has become inevitable if recovery is going to be taken seriously. We’ll also have to get used to very large federal deficits—World War II deficits were nearly triple the deficit we will see this year. If foreign creditors decide to stop footing the bill, the U.S. may need to finance its economic salvation by selling recovery bonds to our own citizens just as we sold war bonds in the 1940s war bonds.

The key is to keep the progressive pressure on high. In an interview with GritTV’s Laura Flanders, Barbara Ehrenreich emphasizes the importance of the current economic situation for the future of progressive ideals. Ehrenreich identifies as a socialist and is most famous for her book Nickel and Dimed about living on poverty-level wages. The fact that we have allowed Wall Street to drain hundreds of billions of dollars in public sector resources should be terrifying, according to Ehrenreich, and even those who do not share her ideological affiliations can see that the current loot-and-let-die arrangement is not only unfair, but not working.

“[Obama] needs a left on the economic issue,” Ehrenreich argues. “We’ve got to make the pressure real.”

The AIG debacle proves her point. Writing for The Washington Monthly, Steve Benen highlights Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s “I feel your pain” moment during Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview in which he voiced outrage over AIG’s destructive behavior. “If Bernanke thinks that’s going to dissipate the public anger, he’s likely to be disappointed,” according to Benen.

And indeed, a handful of commentators including Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo laid into the government’s bailout engineers over the past couple of weeks for refusing to disclose AIG’s counterparties. The Treasury finally caved on Monday, so despite Geithner’s protests, we now know exactly who AIG paid with its bailout money from 2008, mostly European banks. But as TruthDig’s Ear to the Ground blog notes, even this victory is just a step in the right direction—Treasury is yet to explain how AIG bailout funds have been spent in 2009. Better still, the administration might also stop bestowing taxpayer largesse on Wall Street incorrigibles who, let’s not forget, created the economic problem in the first place.

Political discourse is not the only forum for progressive pressure. To that end, the NAACP has filed class-action lawsuits against subprime behemoths Wells Fargo and HSBC seeking some for discriminatory mortgage lending. As Michelle Chen explains for Colorlines, black Americans routinely pay more for their mortgages than white borrowers with identical qualifications, and are often denied loans entirely based on nothing but the color of their skin.

If you want social justice, this is the economic moment to demand it.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit and for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out and This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.

Weekly Audit: Geithner’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Bailout

Posted Feb 17, 2009 @ 9:10 am by
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In this week’s Audit, we’re examinig Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s thoroughly uninspiring bank bailout plan, which fails on almost every level. What’s more, some of the most insightful (and stinging) critiques of the proposal are coming from progressive media.

Robert Kuttner offers a strong analysis of Geithner’s strategy to salvage the banking industry in The American Prospect, noting that Geithner is explicitly avoiding the simplest and cheapest solution in favor of propping up the current Wall Street regime. The current plan is designed to support a financial architecture that has proven completely ineffective in maintaining the nation’s basic economic functions.

Geithner has thus far refused to nationalize the big, insolvent U.S. banks and give taxpayers ownership authority in exchange for their financial assistance. Instead, the new Treasury Secretary’s proposal devotes $1 trillion to writing insurance policies on bad mortgage assets to encourage private companies to buy those assets from troubled financial firms. This complicated strategy is designed to reduce the amount of money the government will have to pay to save the financial sector by bringing private enterprise into the bailout. However, the sheer convolutedness of the plan makes it much less efficient than temporary nationalization would be. Instead of simply putting a troubled bank’s balance sheet in order, the government now has to make sure hedge funds and private equity companies can profit from the move. The end result? Showering more taxpayer dollars on Wall Street.

As Matthew Rothschild highlights in The Progressive, the government’s current commitments to banks exceed the stock market values of those banks. Citigroup has received over $50 billion in direct capital injections, plus insurance on $300 billion worth of assets, but the company could have been purchased outright for well under $20 billion since October, 2008.

The worst part, Kuttner notes, is Geithner’s seeming determination to rehabilitate the failed loan securitization network, in which loans are packaged into securities and sold to various investors. Loan securitization encouraged excessive risk-taking on Wall Street, spawned millions of predatory mortgages and turned the simple process of buying a home into an absurd game of hot-potato amongst speculators. The loan securitization system needs to be carefully dismantled, not restored. “Geithner, using public funds, hopes to restart the engine of loan securitization,” Kuttner writes. “In effect, he wants to rebuild the very model that caused the crash.”

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz argues that much of the resistance to nationalizing the nation’s largest banks is based on a misunderstanding about how the nationalization process works. In an illuminating interview with Talking Points Memo, Stiglitz states that banks fail all the time and are placed into government hands to be disposed of. Lately, a handful of banks have failed every week.

“Banks have failed over and over again in the history of America, in the history of capitalism,” Stiglitz says. “To mention some recent examples, Washington Mutual went into bankruptcy, a number of banks went into bankruptcy . . . . It didn’t lead to a fundamentally systemic problem.”

When this happens, the government either takes the bank over for a short period of time and sells it to another bank, or liquidates the failed bank’s assets. The nationalization solution that progressive economists are pushing is simply the first approach. The nationalized bank is even kept open while its books are put in order, and when its affairs are straightened out, the government sells the company back out into the marketplace. The FDIC has decades of experience with this kind of operation.

Merely patching up the old economic model will not only fail to loosen Wall Street’s grip on the economy, it will also turn a blind eye to the severe ecological challenges we face. As the authors of Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, Peter Brown and Geoff Garver, write in a blog for The Huffington Post, unlimited growth and production is nonsensical in the context of finite natural resources. Taking the environmental crisis seriously will mean not only investing in technology to fend off catastrophe, but cultivating a culture that places value on sustainable lifestyles.

Geithner offered a few vague comments about averting foreclosures in his bailout roll-out last Tuesday, but the glacial pace of government-sponsored foreclosure relief may mean that it’s time for more direct action. Last month, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, called for evicted home-owners to exercise squatter’s rights and refuse to leave their homes.

In the Nation, Nicholas Von Hoffman proposes organizing community groups to take a stand and block banks from repossessing homes. While the current economic crisis looks much like the early days of the Great Depression, those hit hardest by today’s downturn have a few more tools to weild—most notably, the Internet. If the Treasury Department will not save the people from Wall Street, the people can, and should, save themselves.

The situation is already dire. As James Ridgeway writes for Mother Jones, today’s sky-high jobless statistics mask the actual number of people enduring tough times. While the official unemployment rate is at 7.6%, far more people who have given up looking for a new job or are stuck in part-time positions. If those people are included in the metric, the rate soars to 13.9%.

Geithner is scheduled to release more details on his bank bailout on Wednesday. Let’s hope the second time is the charm. Keep your eyes on the Weekly Audit for independent media’s response.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit and for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out and This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.