Bail Out: private corporations cash in on their mess.

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Bail Out: private corporations cash in on their mess.

Postby Michael on Thu Nov 06, 2008 1:14 pm

Brace yourself before you read this. It is going to stimulate outrage. The entire lengthy article can be read at this link:

URL: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/st ... new_trough

Rollingstone.com

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The New Trough
The Wall Street bailout looks a lot like Iraq — a "free-fraud zone" where private contractors cash in on the mess they helped create
NAOMI KLEIN

Posted Nov 13, 2008 11:22 AM

Editor's note: The online version of this story has been amended to reflect developments since the publication of the print edition.
On October 13th, when the U.S. Treasury Department announced the team of "seasoned financial veterans" that will be handling the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street, one name jumped out: Reuben Jeffery III, who was initially tapped to serve as chief investment officer for the massive new program.

On the surface, Jeffery looks like a classic Bush appointment. Like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, he's an alum of Goldman Sachs, having worked on Wall Street for 18 years. And as chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from 2005 to 2007, he proudly advocated "flexibility" in regulation — a laissez-faire approach that failed to rein in the high-risk trading at the heart of the meltdown.

Bankers watching bankers, regulators who don't believe in regulating — that's all standard fare for the Bush crew. What's most striking about Jeffery's résumé, however, is an item omitted when his new job was announced: He served as executive director of Paul Bremer's infamous Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, during the early days of the Iraq War. Part of his job was to hire civilian staff, which made him an integral part of the partisan machine that filled the Green Zone with Young Republicans, investment bankers and Dick Cheney interns. Qualifications weren't a big issue back then, because the staff's main function was to hand over stacks of taxpayer money to private contractors, who were the ones actually running the occupation. It was this nonstop cash conveyor belt that earned the Green Zone a reputation, in the words of one CPA official, as "a free-fraud zone." During Senate hearings last year, when Jeffery was asked what he had learned from his experience at the CPA, he said he thought that contracts should be handed out with more "speed and flexibility" — the same philosophy he cited back when he was in charge of regulating Wall Street traders.

The Bush Administration has since reversed the Jeffery appointment, perhaps thinking better of giving a CPA alum such a central role in the Wall Street bailout. Still the original impulse underscores the many worrying parallels between the administration's approach to the financial crisis and its approach to the Iraq War. Under cover of an emergency, Treasury is rapidly turning into an economic Green Zone, overrun with private companies collecting lucrative contracts. Fittingly, one of the first to line up at the new trough was none other than the law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani — yes, that Giuliani. The firm's chairman, Patrick Oxford, could scarcely conceal his glee over the prospect of cashing in on the bailout. "This one," he told reporters, "is very, very big." At least four times bigger, in fact, than the post-9/11 homeland-security bubble, from which Giuliani and his various outfits have profited so extravagantly. Even bigger, potentially, than the price tag for the Iraq War itself.

In Iraq, the contractors were tasked with reconstructing the country from the mess made by U.S. missiles. After years of corruption born of no-bid contracts and paltry oversight, many Iraqis are still waiting for the lights to come back on. Today, a new team of contractors is lining up to reconstruct the U.S. economy — reconstruct it from the mess made by the very banks, brokers and law firms that are now applying for contracts. And it's not at all clear that America can survive their assistance.

See if any of this sounds familiar: As soon as the bailout was announced, it became clear that Treasury officials would hire outsiders to perform their jobs for them — at a profit. Private companies wanting to help manage the bailout were given just two days to apply for massive, multiyear contracts. Since it was such a mad rush — after all, the entire economy was about to implode — there was no time for an open bidding process. Nor was there time to draft rigorous rules to make sure that those applying don't have serious conflicts of interest. Instead, applicants were asked to disclose their conflicts and to explain — and this is not a joke — their "philosophy in fulfilling your duty to the Treasury and the U.S. taxpayer in light of your proprietary interests and those of other clients." In other words, an open invitation to bullshit about how much they love their country and how they can be trusted to regulate themselves.

The first major contract to be awarded in the bailout was for legal advice — and the choice Treasury made was Halliburton-esque in its audacity. Six law firms were invited to bid, but four declined, either because they didn't want the contract or because they had too many conflicts of interest. Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said the fact that so many law firms chose not to bid "shows that the guidelines are sufficiently rigorous."

Or it may just show that the bidder who won the contract — Simpson Thacher & Bartlett — takes a more relaxed approach to conflicts than its colleagues. The law firm is a Wall Street heavy hitter, having brokered some of the biggest bank mergers in recent years. It also provided legal support to companies trading mortgage-backed securities — the "financial weapons of mass destruction," as Warren Buffett called them, that detonated the banking industry. More to the point, it was hired to provide legal services to the Treasury in its negotiations to spend $250 billion of the bailout money purchasing equity in America's banks. The first stage of the plan involves buying stakes in nine of the country's top banks. Incredibly, Simpson Thacher has represented seven of the nine: JPMorgan, Bank of New York Mellon, Bank of America, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch.

According to its contract, Simpson Thacher has agreed not to represent any of the banks "against the U.S." when they negotiate with Treasury for the equity money. However, the firm has retained the right to represent banks when they apply for other parts of the $700 billion bailout not covered by its contract. (It has promised to erect a "firewall" to stem the flow of "confidential information" to those clients.) The firm will also continue to work for the banks on a range of other lucrative deals — and that's where the problem lies. Take Lee Meyerson, Simpson Thacher's lead lawyer on the bailout negotiations, who is specifically named in the contract as "essential" to the project. As the company's hotshot attorney, Meyerson has personally represented three of the nine banks that were bailed out in the first round, in addition to many others that will surely apply for cash injections. One of the bailed-out banks is Bank of New York Mellon, whose $29 billion merger Meyerson helped negotiate. Mergers like that can bill in the millions. Is Simpson Thacher able to put aside its loyalties to its biggest clients and negotiate deals for the taxpayer that could exact real costs from those very clients?

It might be possible to set aside concerns about divided loyalties if it were clear that Simpson Thacher is helping Treasury to wrangle the best deals possible for U.S. taxpayers. But the firm's first test — the deal to give $125 billion to the nine big banks to ease the "credit crunch" that is crippling the economy — wasn't exactly reassuring. Secretary Paulson promised that the banks won't just "hoard" the money — they will quickly "deploy it" through the economy in the form of badly needed loans. There is just one hitch: Neither Paulson nor Simpson Thacher got that "deploy" part in writing — nor did they put in place any mechanism to require the banks to spend their taxpayer billions. Apparently, the part about lending the money to homeowners and small businesses was sort of implied.

"There is no obligation for banks to lend the money one way or the other," Jennifer Zuccarelli, a Treasury spokeswoman, tells Rolling Stone. "But the banks have the understanding" that the money is intended for loans. "We're not looking to control their operations."

Unfortunately, many of the banks appear to have no intention of wasting the money on loans. "At least for the next quarter, it's just going to be a cushion," said John Thain, the chief executive of Merrill Lynch. Gary Crittenden, chief financial officer of Citigroup, had an even better idea: He hinted that his company would use its share of the cash — $25 billion — to buy up competitors and swell even bigger. The handout, he told analysts, "does present the possibility of taking advantage of opportunities that might otherwise be closed to us."

And the folks at Morgan Stanley? They're planning to pay themselves $10.7 billion this year, much of it in bonuses — almost exactly the amount they are receiving in the first phase of the bailout. "You can imagine the devilish grins on the faces of Morgan Stanley employees," writes Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Weil. "Not only did we, the taxpayers, save their company...we funded their 2008 bonus pool."
Michael
 
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