John Stewart Schools Timothy Geithner In Economics

Watch Jon Stewart at his best: Geithner. It’s a 3-part interview with a 5-part extended interview.

Timothy Geithner is making the talk show rounds plugging his new book. Geithner is a typically, tone deaf political economist who was one of the primary constructionists of two economic policies which led to and has perpetuated the effects of the crash of 2008. Watch his body language as he insists the Obama administration did the only thing possible to help the economy recover while Stewart keeps calling him on his bullshit, requiring Geithner to reset and try to throw it again.

Geithner is not a people person and it shows. He has been around economic theory, growing up living a privileged life; he has never known poverty. Throughout most of his childhood he lived abroad; throughout his education, his focus was on Asia, not on the USA. He went to two universities in China and then majored in and got advanced degrees from two American schools in Asian and international studies. His entire career has put a firewall between him and the average person,. He’s all economic theory and no personal knowledge or experience with or—I think—any true compassion for the plight of the people who suffer as a result of economic policies he put in place.

After the 2008 economic meltdown, what was his primary concern? He wanted to avoid setting off a bank panic, or even making them slightly nervous. That’s why he insisted the banks be given all that free money with absolutely no restrictions or federal controls. He smugly claimed to Stewart that the banks paid back all those loans with interest; therefore, the taxpayers made a profit. Really? Was that profit shared with all those homeowners who lost their home because banks like Bank of America, Citibank, and JP Morgan Chase refused or delayed to refinance homes, denying or delaying applications for refinancing under HARP? Over and over again you see Geithner try to run, but he can’t hide from Stewart.

To him, the economic problems of the poor and the middle class are theoretical. So, no matter how much he tries to argue to the contrary, Stewart is right: TARP gave no-strings-attached money to the banks hand-over-fist, and then allowed them to borrow money at the discount window for 0% interest and make 3% interest on that same money. Yet despite both TARP and HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program), homeowners were foreclosed on in record numbers—many through fraudulent and illegal means—and the banks were left off the hook by paying plea-bargained fines which amounted to pocket change for them.

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, Geithner insists the Obama administration did the right and the only available thing to fix the economy. Tone deaf, again. And this speaks volumes about Obama because he was the one who hired Geithner as Secretary of the Treasury, to work beside Larry Summers, the Clinton retread who gave us unregulated derivatives and the repeal of Glass-Steagall during the Clinton years which directly lead to the 2008 crash. While Stewart did a great job of nailing Geithner to his own cross, even better than Stewart, I’d love to see Paul Krugman and/or Robert Reich debate Geithner over his book. Both of them would bring along their good friend, John Maynard Keynes (in spirit), who I believe would have loved the opportunity to go a few rounds with Geithner on TV. Talk about REALLY being schooled…


Obama’s Two Mistakes

I have had my issues with President Obama.  To me, he has caved in so many times he has miners trapped inside him.  (A tip of the hat to John Fugelsang for that line.).  Well, I’m currently reading a book—which I highly recommend—by Noam Scheiber titled “ The Escape Arti$ts: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the [sic] Recovery”.  It’s been eye-opening.

Although it is true that Obama is a better chess player than poker player (although he strategizes long term, he tends to show his hand early) I now believe Obama has always been sincere in wanting to work with both sides of the Congressional aisle because that was his modus operandi in the US Senate.  It’s also very clear where Obama made his mistakes in this administration because he made two huge ones.

First, for some reason he idolized Bill Clinton and thought his economic team walked on international water, the way the averted global financial collapse and all back in the 90’s.  The fact that what Clinton’s team did led directly to the stock market and banking collapse of 2008 either got by him or by that time since he had his team in place all Obama could say was “Oops.”  What bothers me is the fact that Obama, acknowledging he knew next to nothing about economic policy, looked around and he thought he saw the best financial minds in Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase (to Obama, Jamie Dimon is THE guy), and career US Treasury guys.  The fact that these guys all placed the welfare of global economies, Wall Street and the banks over people (so what if a few million people lose their jobs,  as long as investors are happy and their dollars are safe) EVERY time, didn’t give him pause.  Well, he did pause long enough to appoint Christine Romer as his chief economist; she being the only one who didn’t consider John Maynard Keynes the economic  Anti-Christ.  But as it was, Romer advised a minimum $1.8 trillion stimulus but the Obama team decided $775 billion was all they could go and we all know how that turned out.  Like much with the Obama administration, it could have been better.

The 2nd mistake was in figuring that since he was being noble and sincere in his outreach to the Republicans to work with him in a bi-partisan manner, they would be, too.  It’s hard to believe that a politician as astute as Obama could have totally misread the Tea Party, but misread them he did.  Or maybe he thought that when Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell publicly stated that Job One would be holding Obama to a single term as president he had his fingers crossed behind his back.  No, he didn’t have his fingers crossed behind his back, he had both hands in front of his body and was sticking the middle fingers on both hands up at Obama.

For me, “The Escape Artists” has rounded out the picture of the man.  I’ve made the mistake of assuming the image presented of Obama was the same as the man.  I believe Obama knows what he doesn’t know (but doesn’t take it to absurd lengths ala Donald Rumsfeld) but he needs to be less trusting that there’s basically only one small group of guys who do know what he doesn’t know and they know it the right way.  Obama chose the wrong Robert among the ex-Clintonites when he went for Rubin instead of Reich.  If Obama can be heard above the right wing noise machine, he should be able to fix his mistakes during his second term.

The Obama Economic Braintrust?

To all my liberal friends who support Obama unconditionally and consider him the smartest guy in the class and always in control, the following is a primary reason why I believe you’ve bought into the image and not the man.

In early 2008, Obama was considered virtually ignorant on economic policy by those in the know. His only econ advisor was Austan Goolsbee, a University of Chicago econ professor who stands maybe just to the Left of Milton Friedman and far to the right of Paul Krugman.  Obama linked up with Goolsbee in 2004 when Harvard econ dept. wouldn’t give him the time of day.

Since Obama knew what he didn’t know about econ, he did what he usually does in those situations: he went conservative. He went with the tried and true and raided the Clinton economic braintrust because they had whipped inflation and several economic crises, or so they would have you believe.  Obama brought in Larry Summers, the man who gave you the Wall St. meltdown when he lobbied Congress to not regulate derivatives, and he also gave you the repeal of Glass-Stegall, another leg which was kicked out from under Wall St. that led to its collapse.  He brought in Robert Rubin,  who was with Goldman Sachs for 26 years before going to work for Clinton.  Both Summers and Rubin never met a Wall St. brokerage firm or bank they didn’t like—a lot. The only Clinton econ alum Obama didn’t  enlist was Robert Reich, the only liberal of the entire bunch. Imagine that.

A 1991 quote by Summers, who was then Chief Economist of the World Bank: “There are no… limits to the carrying capacity of the earth that are likely to bind any time in the foreseeable future. There isn’t a risk of an apocalypse due to global warming or anything else. The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit, is a profound error and one that, were it ever to prove influential, would have staggering social costs.”  This is the guy who advised Obama on economics.

So, with Clinton’s braintrust firmly in place within the Obama campaign, what four names out of all available economists did they throw into the hat for Secretary of Treasury?  Not Robert Reich. Not Pulitzer Prize-winning and liberal economist Paul Krugman.  Nope, they went with:  1) the aforementioned Larry Summers, who had been forced out of the presidency of Harvard University under a cloud of scandal and a no-confidence vote by the faculty.  2) Timothy Geithner, who worked for Henry Kissinger,  Ronald Reagan, and Clinton, and headed the Fed Reserve Bank of NY.  He took over guidance of Bush’s proposed TARP for Obama. The program allowed Wall St. and banks to recoup all the money they lost or stole without being required to pay back one penny or make any operational or ethical changes to their business practices. 3) Jon Corzine, another Chicago School econ and ex-Goldman Sachs who later ran MF Global into bankruptcy.  Hundreds of millions of customer-invested money are unaccounted for to this day—and Corzine maintains he doesn’t know where the heck it went.  4) Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, who just lost $3 billion of customer-invested funds by gambling on derivates (thanks to Larry Summers) and just had the Senate jostling and elbowing each other out of the way to kiss his ring.

After Obama was elected President,  he chose to retain George W. Bush’s man, Ben Bernanke, as the chairman of the Fed Reserve, opting to not be concerned with the fact that it was on Bernanke’s watch that Wall St. and the banks melted down.

So, my point is this. Even if Obama hadn’t had Repugs and Blue Dogs obstructing his economic recovery plans, they were doomed to modest success anyway. The guys he goes to for advice are on the side of Goldman Sachs, Wall St., and the banks because that’s where they spent most of their entire careers.  The only exception is Geithner, who spent his governmental career catering to the will and whims of Wall St. and the banks.  Obama is great at speechifying, but he clearly doesn’t have the best interests of the middle and poverty classes at heart.  If he did, Robert Reich would be Treasury Secretary and Paul Krugman would be running the Fed Reserve.

The ultimate irony is that despite all the Milton Friedman disciples who populate the Obama Economic Braintrust, the Jobs Bill they developed with its emphasis on national infrastructure repair is pure John Maynard Keynes.  And high speed rail is just a modern day update of Dwight D. Eisenhower implementing  Keynesian economic principles to build the U.S. interstate highway system.

Obama is not as smart as you give him credit to be.  Or maybe he’s not really who you think he is at all.  Being right on a few social issues doesn’t make him a good guy.  He can propose all the reforms of mortgage loan modification and student loan programs he wants all the while knowing the Repugs will block every one.  The one best thing about Obama, the primary reason to vote for him in November is that he is not Mitt Romney.

The Whoosh Sound

The Obama campaign strategy has just come into sharp focus. Following on the heels of a bill the President just signed that drastically cuts the number of weeks federal unemployment benefits can be collected comes the announcement that Obama plans to cut the top corporate effective tax rate to 25%. Although he claims this is part of a greater tax code overhaul which will close many business tax loopholes, cutting the tax rate flies in the face of advice given by prominent economists such as Paul Krugman and Robert Reich to raise them. These tax changes will further motivate corporations to bring overseas jobs back here, according to the President’s claim.  But what he doesn’t explain is how those jobs can be brought back here with a pay scale that won’t exceed what the Chinese were being paid.  To pay Americans more would boost the cost of the manufactured goods beyond what the unemployed who just ran out of unemployment benefits can afford.

The Obama team claims the tax overhaul will bring in an additional $250 billion in tax revenues, if we’re willing to wait 10 years to collect it all. These tax changes will further motivate corporations to bring overseas jobs back here.  By that time Obama will have been retired from the White House and making a lucrative living from speaking tours and book sales. Whichever presidents follow him into office can do whatever the want to the tax code which could render the anticipated $250 billion just another phantom of an unfilled campaign promise. But the tax benefits to corporations are immediate and that’s how quickly his SuperPac will start collecting their campaign contributions. (Have you ever noticed how all presidents are fond of predicting outcomes that will happen during someone else’s presidency? But I digress.)

Obama has clearly kicked the 99% to the curb. He knows he’s got his base locked in on the social issues because they’ve got nowhere else to go. So now he’s looking to cut his opposition off at the knees. Moderate Republicans are turned off to the crop of clowns they’ve been offered. The clowns’ stances on the social issues are no laughing matter, despite their large floppy clown shoes. So Obama needs to woo these moderates on their bread and butter economic issues: make unemployment harder to get and for a shorter amount of time, and back off on those high corporate taxes which are strangling the job creators. After the President wins both the social and economic debates, the clowns, despite their large floppy clown shoes, will fall flat on their collective face.

It’s a brilliant if cynical campaign strategy. The difference between Obama and Romney is that Obama can tell a crowd what it wants to hear with believable sincerity. I think that both Obama and Santorum are sincere in their religious beliefs, but Obama’s are grounded in reality and if he ever spoke of inserting an ultrasound vaginal probe up into a woman’s private parts, Michelle would whomp him upside the head with the Lincoln cast iron skillet.

But Obama’s message to the 99% is once again, “I gotta go meet with the money people now. See ya later.” And the 99% have no choice but to respond back, “OK. See ya…”  That whoosh sound you just heard is Obama turning his back on them.