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Wendy Block

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Elizabeth Warren, You Rock

Posted: 05/28/10 11:52 AM ET

You agree you won't sue us if the medical tests you receive today cause problems. Instead you'll go to arbitration and you'll accept the arbiter's decision as final.
Now please sign this form, and date your signature.

That's the gist of the consent agreement I was given at a medical imaging center last week, before techs took me inside for a few tests. Daunted by the army of websites that make you agree to multiple conditions before getting access, I chuckled ruefully and signed, agreeing to bite it if anything went wrong.

I thought, what choice do I have? I need those tests. Maybe I'll ask if I have to sign.
But people were standing at the admitting desk and I didn't want to cause unpleasantness.

I took my seat and noticed a copy of a recent Time whose cover read, The New Sheriffs Of Wall Street by reporter Michael Scherer. The image was a photo of three women -- Elizabeth Warren, Mary Schapiro and Sheila Bair -- and the subhead read, "The women charged with cleaning up the mess."

I love Warren. At Harry Reid's recommendation, she was appointed Chair of the TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) Oversight Board when Wall Street's disintegration went viral in 2008. She's the mild-looking rimless-glasses-wearing grey/blond seen frequently on Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, Charlie Rose and Bill Maher -- all of whom book her to dish about her reports which "keep hammering" at the Treasury Department to tell us what banks it gave our bailout billions to and how it will prevent another bailout and demand that government work hard for the American family, not just the too-big-to-fail banks.

Sometimes I cringe just before she answers, because how can she -- a prominent official in this government -- possibly tell the truth so directly? But each time, she comes through.

Warren gave President Obama the idea for the Consumer Financial Protection Agency which Congress is in the process of declawing. She's brilliant, a straight-ahead speaker, funny -- and above all -- honest. And a woman, I note to myself almost unconsciously during every appearance.

The second Sheriff (She riff-- sorry), Sheila Bair, heads the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), charged with insuring our money in banks, and taking over banks that fail. According to Scherer, Bair pushed for a populist foreclosure prevention program focused on ordinary homeowners. She went toe to toe repeatedly with male colleagues cozy with Wall Street, including then Secretary of the Treasury Henry Paulson (Goldman Sachs ex-chair) and current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who ran the New York Fed.

Mary Schapiro, the third leader pictured, was appointed last year to chair the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), chief regulator of the financial industry. It was the Bush Administration's SEC -- under the anemic leadership of Christopher Cox -- that let Bernie Madoff ponzify America; it neglected to regulate his firm. Schapiro is working to reinvigorate her agency. A few weeks ago she cast the deciding vote to sue Goldman Sachs for fraud.

These women perceive themselves as outsiders of this Old Boys Network, sometimes the last ones to be included in group policy decisions, their work and themselves undervalued (but subtly). The upside is that they don't have to worry about being disloyal; they're more free to fight for their principles, which often means besting these same men. Poetic justice. Yum.

I don't know if the world would improve if women ran it. Our decision-making and problem-solving brain centers are proportionally larger than men's. Same with emotions, perhaps a mixed blessing. And anxiety tends to lead women to reach out to others, often at their own expense, whereas men generally get all "fight or flight."

But would these brain gender differences be enough to end war and naked short selling? That question will remain rhetorical until far more women attain leadership positions and fulfill their potential -- as Warren, Bair and Schapiro are doing.

Inspired by the Time cover story, I returned to the front desk and asked nicely (promise) whether people have to sign the arbitration agreement before getting treated. The administrator blanched, paused, and said cautiously, "yes, we do treat people who don't want to sign." "So can I cancel my signature?" I asked. Her colleague said "sure," handed me the paper and I crossed out my name.

Of course, this doesn't equate with demanding transparency from the Treasury Department. But you can bet what's left of your retirement fund that I'll do my best to act on what I've learned from the heroic new Wall Street sheriffs. Maybe you'll think of them next time you feel pushed into signing an arbitration agreement.

 

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