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Wall Street's Ongoing Bailout

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Neil M. Barofsky, formerly the special inspector general in charge of oversight of the Troubled Asset Relief Program, has written a just -released book, Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street. He asserts:

Americans should lose faith in their government. They should deplore the captured politicians and regulators who distributed tax dollars to the banks without insisting that they be accountable... Only with this appropriate and justified rage can we hope for the type of reform that will one day break our system free from the corrupting grasp of the megabanks.

Mr. Barofsky's observations arrive nearly four years after the Great Bailout. We continue to subsidize banks through low-cost funding and through meaningless slaps on the wrist for ongoing malfeasance such as HAMP abuses and foreclosure fraud.

Ongoing scandals make a mockery of existing laws, including the Sarbane's Oxley legislation. In recent hearings, Congress gave Jamie Dimon a celebrity roast instead of holding him accountable for his utter lack of corporate governance of an out-of-control unit that reported directly to him and that so far this year has lost $5.8 billion (and still mounting) in speculative bets.

On September 23, 2008, Bloomberg Telvision's's Betty Liu interviewed me about the bailout plans. I called the TARP Bill the most dangerous bill (Paulson's original proposal and the House Finance Committee's 42-page draft) to come before Congress in my lifetime. "We are selling democracy on the cheap." The following is the transcript of Bloomberg Television's interview:

Betty Liu: Okay, let's get to our next guest, Janet Tavakoli, president of Tavakoli Structured Finance in Chicago. She's had some very strong opinions on this bailout plan from the Treasury. Janet, great to have you back on the program.

Janet Tavakoli: Hello Betty, how are you.

Liu: Good, good. So you're pretty much incensed by this bailout package, tell us exactly why.

Tavakoli: Well Betty, I looked at this package, and it isn't good for the American taxpayer, it isn't helping the average American Citizen. It isn't helping you, and it isn't helping me. This is a massive bailout of Wall Street. I had a chance to review a 42 page draft that was going around, and if the House Finance Committee thinks this in any way protects the American taxpayer, they're lying to us or they're just not competent in drafting this Bill. I looked at P. 14 lines 9-12, and there it says that all the other oversights, all the other price controls go by the boards, when you need to buy pieces of a securitization for loan resolution.

Liu: What does that mean? What does that mean?

Tavakoli: Basically that means that every securitization done with mortgage loans or other loans, because [then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson] has the assets...the authority to buy in those assets...all of them would be exempt from any kind of price review or oversight. And furthermore if you look at P. 34...

Liu: Uh, wait eh, uh, Janet, let me just interrupt you, and that means what, that means what exactly then?

Tavakoli: As I just said, it means the Secretary can decide the price where he buys in all those assets...contrary to what it tells you right before they're saying, oh no, there would be some oversight, and we'd have to have some sort of reasonable pricing mechanism...but you can throw that all out for securitizations based on the language of that Bill.

Liu: So, so, so, are you, so are you concerned that...

Tavakoli: Let me get to the more important point, Betty. That the Secretary doesn't really have any effective oversight built into this Bill. Basically, his word stands as the final authority on what's going on with buying in these assets. Furthermore, it really doesn't help in mitigating foreclosures in any specific way. Once you buy in the securitizations, finding the owner of the specific mortgage is extremely difficult to do.

Furthermore, my grandparents came to this country to get away from people who would draft Bills like this. The American taxpayer and the American citizen should realize this is the most dangerous Bill to ever come before Congress in our lifetime. We are selling Democracy on the cheap. For what? For getting our money market funds guaranteed? My grandparents were happy to endure economic hardship so they would get away from governments that would do something like this. We are basically subverting Democracy.

This is a terrible thing, and our Congress has not spoken out against it. My state senator, Senator Obama, has shown no courage at all in speaking out against this. McCain has said very little.

Liu: But Janet, Janet, okay, Janet, Janet uh...then what is it, what is it that that you think needs to happen, because there are obviously a lot of people who have lost money in the market who want something done.

Tavakoli: Betty, I'll tell you...I'll tell you what should happen. This money could be much better employed in creating jobs for Americans. If you want to use taxpayer dollars to protect the economy, that's a far better way to do it than this cobbled up plan that protects the interests of Wall Street and investment banks.

It provides no regulation at all for them, and it gives our Secretary of the Treasury [Henry "Hank" Paulson] basically the rights of a monarch. Queen Elizabeth should be having giggle fits right now, because we fought a War of Independence for nothing, and now we're giving it away. We're giving away our Democracy in a Bill like this.

This is the most dangerous Bill that I've ever seen come before Congress, and we're using finance as the political boogey man so that this can get passed. That's ridiculous.

Liu: Uh uh, okay. We don't have a whole lot of time, Janet. In like 10 seconds, you know what, I can't even ask that question, 'cause we're not even gonna have enough time. Janet, thank you so much for joining us, and of course, you have your very strong opinions, and I'm playing devil's advocate, and we'll have you back on the program to talk more about this, and there's going to be further developments, obviously when we have the Senate Banking hearing coming up in just about 45 minutes from now.

Among many other issues, the U.S. taxpayer bailed out the counterparties of AIG, including Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, French banks: Societe General and Calyon, and many more, when we paid 100 cents on the dollar for securities that others settled for 40 cents on the dollar or less. This mistake alone cost the American taxpayer tens of billions of dollars, and AIG and its counterparties were not held accountable. Yet there was widespread massive fraud in the mortgage lending and "securitization" process, and the banks and investment banks that engaged in this activity should be prosecuted for securities fraud. Without banks supplying the money to fuel this activity, and without the leverage of fraudulent products provided by rigged derivatives, our financial crisis would have been much more contained.

The Great Recession grinds on while culprits skate.

Janet Tavakoli is the president of Tavakoli Structured Finance, a Chicago-based firm that provides consulting to financial institutions and institutional investors. Ms. Tavakoli has more than 20 years of experience in senior investment banking positions, trading, structuring and marketing structured financial products. She is a former adjunct associate professor of derivatives at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business. Author of: Credit Derivatives & Synthetic Structures (1998, 2001), Structured Finance & Collateralized Debt Obligations (Wiley, 2003, 2008), and Dear Mr. Buffett: What an Investor Learns 1,269 Miles from Wall Street (Wiley, 2009), a book about early warnings and the causes of the global financial meltdown. Her new e-book is The New Robber Barons (2012).