Maureen Dowd : Obama & Co. Fail To Deliver Foreclosure Closure
Thursday, February 12, 2009
…..Tim Geithner, the learned and laconic civil servant and financial engineer, did not sweep in and infuse our shaky psyches with confidence. For starters, the 47-year-old’s voice kept cracking. Escorting us over the rickety, foggy bridge from TARP to Son of TARP by way of TALF — don’t ask — Geithner did not, as the president said when he drew on the wisdom of Fred Astaire, inspire us to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again. The Obama crowd is hung up on the same issues that the Bush crew was hung up on last September: Which of the potentially $2 or $3 trillion in toxic assets will the taxpayers buy and what will we pay for them? Despite the touting, the Treasury chief unveiled a plan short on illumination, recrimination, fine points and foreclosure closure. The Dow collapsed on its fainting couch as Sports Illustrated swimsuit models rang the closing bell. It wasn’t only that Geithner’s own tax history — and his time as head of the New York Fed when all the bad stuff was happening on Wall Street, and when he left with nearly a half-million in severance — makes him a dubious messenger for the president’s pledge to keep the haves from further betraying the have-nots. It wasn’t only that Americans’ already threadbare trust has been ripped by Hank Paulson’s mumbo-jumbo and the Democrats’ bad judgment in accessorizing the stimulus bill with Grammy-level “bling, bling,” as the R.N.C. chairman, Michael Steele, called it. The problem is that the “lost faith” that Geithner talked about in his announcement Tuesday cannot be restored as long as the taxpayers who are funding these wayward banks don’t have more control. Geithner is not even requiring the banks to lend in return for the $2 trillion his program will try to marshal, mostly by having the Fed print money out of thin air, thereby diluting our money, or borrowing more from China. (When, exactly, can China foreclose on us and start sending us toxic toys again?) There’s a weaselly feel to the plan, a sense that tough decisions were postponed even as President Obama warns about our “perfect storm of financial problems.” The outrage is going only one way, as we pony up trillion after trillion.
…..The new plan offers insufficient meddling with Wall Street, even though Wall Street shows no sign that the hardscrabble economy has pierced its Hermès-swathed world. Wells Fargo, for instance, which has leeched $25 billion in bailout money, bought an inadvertently hilarious full-page ad in The Times to whinge about the junkets to Las Vegas and elsewhere it was forced to cancel because of public outrage. (The ad in The Times on Sunday could have cost up to $200,000, which may count as a bailout for our industry.) “Okay, time out. Something doesn’t feel right,” John Stumpf, the president and chief executive of Wells Fargo wrote in an open letter defending their two decades of four-day employee recognition “events.” Calling them junkets or boondoggles is “nonsense,” he protested, adding about his employees: “This recognition energizes them.” In this economy, simply having a job should energize them. Geithner is wrong. The pay of all the employees in bailed-out banks, not just top executives, should be capped…..Wall Street cannot be trusted to change its culture. Just look at the full-page ads that Bank of America (which got $45 billion) and Citigroup (which got $50 billion) are plastering in newspapers, lavishing taxpayer money on preening prose. We don’t want our money spent, as Citigroup did, to pat itself on the back “as we navigate the complexities together.” Bank of America cannot get back our trust by spending more of our cash to assure us that it’s “getting to work” on getting back our trust. Just get back to work and start repaying us.