Wednesday, February 18, 2009

[PDI] Are we chumps? II

BILL MOYERS: Are we chumps?
SIMON JOHNSON: We'll find out. Yes, we may be. Okay. It depends on how we play this politically. It depends on what our political system does. It depends, I think, on the level of reaction. The financial system is playing us for chumps, okay? The bankers think we're chumps. We'll find out. We have leadership that can handle this. We'll find out what they do.
BILL MOYERS: There was a moment in the hearings this week, when Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, the independent senator from Vermont, almost lost his cool. Watch this.
SENATOR BERNARD SANDERS: In 2006 and 2007, Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, was the highest paid executive on Wall Street, making over 125 million in total compensation. Due to its risky investments, Goldman Sachs now has over 168 billion in total outstanding debt. It's laid off over 10 percent of its workforce. Late last year, the financial situation at Goldman was so dire that the taxpayers of this country provided Goldman Sachs with a $10 billion bailout.
Very simple question that I think the American people want to know. Yes or no, should Mr. Blankfein be fired from his job and new leadership be brought in?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: Senator, that's a judgment his board of directors have to make.
I want to say one thing which is very important. Everything we do going forward has to be judged against the impact we're going to have on the American people and the prospects for recovery. And every dollar we spend will have to be measured against the benefits we bring in terms of-
SENATOR SANDERS: Mr. Secretary, you're not answering my question. You have a person who made hundreds of millions for himself as he led his institution that helped cause a great financial crisis. We have put, as taxpayers, $10 billion to bail him out and we have no say about whether or not he should stay on the job?
SECRETARY GEITHNER: No, I didn't say that. I think there will be circumstances, as there have been already, where the government intervention will have to come with very tough conditions, including changes in management and leadership of institutions. And where we believe that makes sense, we will do that. 

BILL MOYERS: And, yet, Secretary Geithner's chief-of-staff is the former lobbyist for Goldman Sachs. How - serious question - how do they make a dispassionate judgment about how to deal with Goldman Sachs when they're so intertwined with Goldman Sachs' mindset?
SIMON JOHNSON: I have no idea. Of course, the administration, the new administration, has a lot of rules about lobbying. And they have rules that basically say, I think, as understood the rules, when they were first presented, I was very impressed. They basically said, "We're not going to hire lobbyists into the administration. There has to be some sort of cooling off period."
BILL MOYERS: And the next day Obama exempted a number of people from that very rule that he had just proclaimed.
SIMON JOHNSON: Yes. It's a problem. It's a huge problem.
BILL MOYERS: So here's the trillion dollar question that I take from your blog, that I read at the beginning, quote, "Can this person," your new economic strategist, in this case Geithner, "really break with the vested elite that got you into this much trouble?" Have you seen any evidence this week that he's going to be tough with these guys?
SIMON JOHNSON: I'm trying to be positive. I'm trying to be supportive. I like the administration. I voted for the president. The answer to your question is, no, I haven't seen anything. But you know, perhaps next week I will. But right now, as we speak, I have a bad feeling in my stomach.
My intuition, from crises, from situations that have improved, the situations that got worse, my intuition is that this is going to get a lot worse. It's going to cost us a lot more money. And we are going down a long, dark, blind alley.
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