It’s been a flurry all week. Here’s a collection of pieces:
US Army and Marines report a sharp escalation in soldier and veteran suicides. (LA Times) Caregivers on the front lines cited, among other issues, more and longer deployments, family stress, hopelessness, drugs, alcohol and extreme psychological fatigue.
In the Senate Banking Committee Hearing (Chaired by Sen. Chris Dodd), Paul Volcker, former Federal Reserve Chairman and Obama advisor offered, “…other nations regulate the risk of functions rather than of entities or particular business models.”
(Author note: our present system regulates banks, for instance, but the function of mortgage-backed securities slipped through the jurisdictional cracks of twenty understaffed regulatory agencies. (See CSPAN videos.)
In the same hearing, Gene Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office and Elizabeth Warren, Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the TARP described faultlines in our financial structure and offered comments: (1) it’s inefficient, ineffective and inflexible; (2) it permits inadequate disclosures by credit institutions; (3) the “financial illiteracy” of the populace and inadequate disclosures by institutions combined to create predatory loans with incomprehensible terms; (4) Federal and State jurisdictional issues created holes in oversight/regulation; (5) institutions that originated loans passed the risk to other institutions without keeping “skin in the game”; (6) we need new ways to value the debt because we don’t know who’s holding it or what it’s worth; (6) current compensation models encourage bad loans because there’s little or no risk to the originating broker.
In an umbrella statement, Dodaro described the current financial model as pitting consumer protection against economic growth and urged Congress to recognize that growth is impossible without the trust and health of the consumer.
Senator Mark Warren referenced financial illiteracy and the lack of regulation that’s allowed lenders and insurance companies to prey on our soldiers and their families.
Witnesses in the hearing concurred that: (1) we don’t know where the bailout funds are; (2) institutions who received funds feel no obligation to reveal what they did with them; and regardless, (3) the bailout has not significantly improved the flow of investments or loans; and (4) small business failures and foreclosures are escalating.
Obama, stumping for the Stimulus Plan, described it as a strategy, not a piecemeal, temporary fix.
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) told homeowners to stay in their homes when they’re foreclosed. She told Amy Goodman (Democracy Now) “…there’s a number people can call: (888-995-HOME) to get the proper legal representation so they can actually have the scales of justice be balanced rather than, now, all the power to Wall Street and none of the justice to Main Street.”
(Author note: When tenants were thrown out of their homes in the 1920s and ’30s, their neighbors and activists overcame dogs, sheriff ‘s deputies and head-cracking batons to haul each other’s belongings back inside.)
Obama: Companies that receive TARP funds will limit executive compensation to $500,000. This has caused corporations to worry they won’t be able to “attract the best talent.” (Rewarding incompetence seems to have worked so well for all of us.)
Aren’t our Graduate Schools loaded with financial and administrative wizards? Let them take take the mound and relegate the Geithners, Summers, Rubins and financiers to advisory positions in the dugout. One idea is that executive officers be rewarded only after their policies result in sustained profit growth over a number of years. (No more $18 billion bonuses for collapsing a world economy in a single year.)
National Prayer Breakfast and broadening of the old “faith-based” service model. My agnostic self is staying out of this one but my community organizer is shouting “hallelujah!” (Perhaps the idea would be less offensive if we called it a “National Meditational Breakfast.) “Community Service” is, apparently, fertile ground for another “Moral Majority” showdown. It reminds me of the efforts peace activists made “to take back the flag” after Bush invaded Iraq. Obama’s model incorporates secular groups and recognizes a place for both secular and religious organizations. My objection would be to religious bias dictating what, how and to whom our civil services are provided. (See: First Amendment on separation of Church & State: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”) Certainly, stringent guidelines must be enforced if community service is to remain free of religious dogma.
According to Bloomberg News on February 4, 2009, “Bank of America’s CEO (Kenneth Lewis) told employees that his management team and strategy have the board’s support and January results were ‘encouraging’ as turmoil in the credit markets eased.”
The very next day, “Bank of America’s (BAC) shares fell as low as $3.77 before finishing up 14 cents at $4.84. The bank’s shares had fallen for five days prior to Thursday.” (In the period from January 1, 2009 to February 5, 2009 — 36 days — BAC has fallen from $14.08 to $4.56.) No kidding, some pundits are wondering whether Lewis is the “right guy for the job.”
Bank of America still won’t let people sully their great glass windows with community announcements.
Today, “January’s sharp drop in employment brings job losses to 3.6 million since the start of the recession in December 2007 and…about half the decline occurred in the last three months. January’s losses followed upwardly revised cuts of 577,000 in December and 597,000 in November.” (CNBC)
In an Orwellian way, these unemployment numbers are good news because coincidentally, average hourly wages have risen from 0.3-0.4% over last year. I guess that’s what happens when mass layoffs and retail closings eliminate low wage earners from the statistical pool.
And finally, 14 year old actess Dakota Fanning strode pencil-thin onto the stage of late night television in a pair of spiked heels.