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Obama's Last Test

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The final financial reform package has been dramatically watered down and is riddled with loopholes. But its supporters (and some critics) say that we shouldn't worry because it at least allows regulators to get tough on the financial industry later -- if they think it's necessary. That is actually true. It does have such provisions.

So, who those regulators are could not be more important. Right now, Tim Geithner is leading the charge to make sure the regulators are as weak and banker-friendly as possible -- as usual. So, he is fighting against Elizabeth Warren.

I don't write this to encourage the president to pick Warren as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That pick is the most obvious thing in the world -- if he cares to actually do consumer protection. Everybody on the planet knows this, and that's precisely why Geithner is fighting against her.

No, I write this to give you a way of knowing for yourself if this financial reform legislation has any chance of working or if it was a Democratic joke all along to pretend they're doing something while continuing to pocket corporate contributions.

Warren is not the only pivotal regulator. I think Gary Gensler at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is even more important. He's a reformed reformer. He used to work at Goldman Sachs and previously helped to deregulate the industry in the first place. But he has been one of the toughest voices for financial industry reform recently (see, redemption is possible for him and this administration). And his agency can regulate derivatives, stop fraud and limit speculation. That's more important than the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which looks to protect consumers on a more micro level.

So, if in a year Elizabeth Warren and Gary Gensler are gone, then you know that it was all a sham. The industry won again and we never really had a chance. If they are still there and they're doing their job of protecting American consumers and taxpayers, then there is hope. We might just pull this economy out before the banks crash it again.

Of course, this is an over-generalization. And our fate is not bound up in just two people. I wouldn't want to put the same kind of faith in them that people did in Obama and hope that everything works out just fine. But they are important indicators. They give us a sense of which direction we're going to go.

The early signs are not good. The Obama administration is reaching out to the Business Roundtable as we speak to see how they can quietly loosen regulations on them again. The CEO of Citigroup says financial reform will not impact their derivative trading at all. And Elizabeth Warren is teetering on the edge as the tools of Wall Street attack her.

We can rally. There can be change. We can have hope. But it's all up to Obama. Which way is he going to go? Is he a smart tactician that's actually going to bring real change in subtle ways through strong regulators or does he think he can play the Washington game a little better and trick us into thinking he gave us real reform while gutting the regulators and protecting the status quo?

No more excuses about the wrong advisors. He can choose right now between good and bad advisors. And everyone knows who is actually trying to do real reform. What's it going to be? You'll know the character of the man by the people he chooses. And you'll also know the economic fate of our country.

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