Thursday, March 26, 2009

Geithner: The Wizard of Wall Street

Why would anyone consider connecting Obama's treasury secretary with George W. Bush's former vice-president? Well, stay tuned, because Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is going to be to the Obama administration what Dick Cheney was to George W. Bush--indispensable.

This analogy is irresistable especially in light of frequent comparisons between the current economic collapse and 9/11, and just as Cheney presided over the greatest expansion of the executive branch, Geithner is calling for a Treasury on steroids one that would, in effect, have the power to seize at will, and gut large financial institutions the way the FDIC currently dismantles smaller home savings and loans.

The Treasury Secretary also wants to install a super-regulator who, like the head of Homeland Security, will have broad systemic oversight, and interception authority over investment banks that may pose a risk to national financial security. His plan not only enables greater scrutiny of hedge funds and private equity firms, it would require them to turn over confidential information to the federal government on demand which is markedly similar to the legally dubious practice of the National Security Agency forcing telecommunication companies to hand over private customer records.

Don't be deceived. While he did a magnificent job of hiding it, Cheney was a closet regulator which is what the Department of Homeland Security was all about. The difference is that Cheney and Bush attempted to regulate the free flow of information not toxic assets. The Bush administration did to the major newspapers what Tim Geithner and Larry Summers want to do to the banks and Wall Street,kept editors under surveillance, and demanded accountability. This is not what the founders had in mind with the First Amendment, and frankly we'd be in much better shape today if Bush and Cheney had Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, and AIG on their terror watch list instead of Green Peace.

Importantly, too, Tim Geithner wants to confine regulation to investment banks, the stock market, the financial industry. And, while Cheney and Geithner are obviously coming from two different hemispheres, there is one thing we can't afford to ignore. If every aspect of Geithner's six point plan for oversight goes through, the Treasury, under Obama, would become what the executive branch was under George W. Bush, a department that's too big to fail. The question is power so much as it is concentration of power wherein lies the abuse.

Interestingly, Geithner and Summers are the ones who get most of the credit, or blame, for the behemoth bank bailouts when Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke was really the mastermind of that one. And, like his predecessor, Alan Greenspan, it will be Bernanke, not Geithner, whose chronic, and indefatigable, manipulation of interest rates will ultimately determine the direction of the stock market, and the fate of the domestic, and global, economy.

Still, there are some who are ill at ease knowing that the man who, in 2003, was named president of the Federal Reserve, who then went on to become vice chair of the Federal Open Market Commission, and, in 2006, joined the Group of Thirty, an international group of leading financiers, is now heading the U.S. Treasury. The fact that Geithner was behind the rescue of Bear Stearns, in 2008, doesn't make anyone sleep easier at night, either, when he's the one who's supposed to be regulating Wall Street.

You needn't marvel anymore that Cheney rhymes with brainy. Just remember that the king of the terrorist bogey man, Dick Cheney, is a major shareholder of the Vanguard Group, a company that builds and manages federal prisons.

Conflict of interest? Maybe.

But, at least the man behind what is widely considered the most sweeping overhaul of financial regulation in our nation's history knows the system from both the inside and out. We would like to think the same could be said about Mr. Cheney.