The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One

Chip Shields

Sen. Smith, if you want to know how to get Oregon and the U.S. back on solid ground, listen to people like Bill Black, not to the financial lobbyists.

We need Jeff Merkley to get us out of the mess that Sen. Smith helped create with Smith's support of Gramm-Leach-Bliley.

Good legislators find a pool of honest brokers well outside the world of lobbyists to advise them on complex legislative issues critical to the public interest like banking and finance.

One of those on my experts list was William K. Black who fought for the public interest as Director of Litigation for the Federal Home Loan Bank Board during the S & L crisis and Keating Five scandals of the 1980s, which many of you may recall looked like this:

Bill wrote a great read called The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One I saw him present at a criminology conference. We talked and I called on him during the 2005 session for advice on issues that came before me on the Business, Labor and Consumer Affairs Committee.

So what does Bill say about the shape we’re in today? Here’s a clip from what he wrote in December of last year for Dollars and Sense.

Over two decades of intense merger and acquisition activity has left a far smaller number of banks, with assets far more concentrated in the largest ones… At the same time, nonbank businesses that lend, save, and invest money have proliferated, as have the products they sell: a vast array of new kinds of loans and exotic savings and investment vehicles. And the lines have blurred between all of the different players in the industry—between banks and thrifts (e.g., savings and loans), between commercial banks and investment banks.

These changes were made possible by the deregulation of the industry. Bit by bit, beginning in the 1970s, the banking regulations put into place in the wake of the Great Depression were repealed, culminating in the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, which removed the remaining legal barriers to combining commercial banking, investment banking, and insurance under one corporate roof.

It’s no surprise that Sen. Smith voted for the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. He voted for it when it passed through the senate when every senate Democrat voted against it. He voted for it a second time after it went to conference committee.

Sen. Smith justifies his vote by saying that others too thought it was a good idea, which sounds like his justification for voting for war in Iraq.

Smith owes voters a real explanation, but whatever his reasons, the fact is we need to elect Jeff Merkley to get us out of the mess that Sen. Smith helped create.

Would Merkley have voted for Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. No way.

I served as one of Merkley’s lieutenants when he took the Oregon House in a fundamentally new direction when we regained a Democratic majority in 2006 -- a direction based on the public interest. In previous jobs, Jeff was a Director of Habitat for Humanity and a housing manager for the nonprofit Human Solutions. As the new House Speaker, I saw that he understood housing finance and he knew how hard-working people were being conned by bad actors in the mortgage industry, bad actors in the banking industry and bad actors in the various shadow banking systems that made up the rest of the United Financial Lobby (they actually call themselves that -- the United Financial Lobby-- and they have a solidarity about them that those of us in the labor movement could only hope for).

It's not that the people that work at these places are bad people. The institutional framework provided by Sen. Smith and others was just all wrong and provided some incredibly perverse and potentially criminal incentives.

And Jeff knows bullshit when he sees it. Can smell it a mile away.

And I can tell you this: the United Financial Lobby hates Merkley. Hates him. Merkley drove predatory pay-day lenders out of Oregon. He beat the odds to pass a mortgage-lending reform bill through the House in the 2008 supplemental session that unfortunately died in the senate. But Merkley clearly has a history for standing up for everyday people. I've seen it firsthand.

But what does Bill Black think Congress should do next? And what should we as Oregonians do to affect the financial mess that Sen. Smith helped create?

In The Nation , Black and Galbraith wrote:

Something must be done--but on what terms? Treasury proposes to spend $700 billion to purchase mortgage-backed securities, accountable to no one. Secretary Paulson asks for trust. But has he earned it? Remember: he started out in office gutting the Sarbanes-Oxley Act; he tried to cripple the SEC, and only two weeks ago he relied on Morgan Stanley--not a disinterested party--for advice on the nationalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

They list eight public-interest protection clauses that must be included in the Paulson bailout. They close with:

Is this all? No, it's only a start. Other measures must follow, including comprehensive regulatory reform, mortgage relief, revenue sharing to protect state and local public spending as property tax revenues tank, support for public capital investment and job creation. These are however the agenda for the next administration.

Getting to that next administration is the job now for the American people.

And getting to that next senate that works in the public-interest is the job now for Oregonians.

Vote Merkley. Donate Merkley.


  • (Show?)

    I'd like to see this crisp and clear post on every newspaper's editorial page in Oregon. A campaign ad in the making. Well done.

  • Wayss (unverified)

    So Chip are you saying that Merkley, who has promised in this election to vote like Wyden's tiwn, would have voted against Wyden and Schumer, who, through the DSCC, own him?

    Biden = yea, Schumer = yea, Wyden = yea, Smith = yea?

    Feingold = no, Boxer = no, Harken = no

    Bad bill, and sadly Democrats helped pass it, Merkley is exactly the kind of Democrat who would have gone along to get along because he's never been a leader or a strong Democrat anywhere close to being in the league of the good Democrats. In fact, isn't Merkley the weasel who won the primary slamming Novick because Novick criticized those kind of Democrats who voted the way the people who own Merkley voted?

    So despite paulie's nuttiness, I think we can pretty much see why there's not much merit in your claims how Merkley would have voted. ( What has been Merkley's official statement out front on the proposed bailout?)

    It's really sad to see what's happened to the kind of elected officials like you, Merkley, and Wyden who call themselves Democrats.

  • Wayss (unverified)

    And oh yea:

    Wu = yes, Blumenauer = yes, Hooley = yes, Walden = yes

    DeFazio = no

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Good post, Chip. You transcend truthiness.

  • Justa (unverified)

    The problem has originated in the Barack Obama supported concept of wealth distribution across class lines.

    Democrats wanted people at the lowest end of the economic system the "right" to own a home, so they said "No problemo! - Just apply and we will make sure the middle and upper class cover your worthless loans".

    Of course, the Obamas of the world benefited from this distribution scheme, and now Obama and Merkley pretend it was all "Bush's fault".

    Lots of stupid people in this country will believe that too without checking the facts.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    There is another story that just had a mention on CNN. Andrew McCain, son of John, resigned abruptly from the board of the Silver State Bank in Nevada a couple of months before the bank failed. He was on the audit committee. Sounds reminiscent of dad's involvement with the Keating Five.

    More details at CNN and Huffington Post.

  • (Show?)


    We accept your authority on the subject of how stupid people fail to think.

    Now go troll elsewhere.

  • johnny (unverified)

    Despite the rehotirc of what you read on this site and hear elsewhere. People do understand that mortgage lending took that "reckless and unsustainable turn" because of regulation - regulation driven by liberals and progressives, not free-market "deregulators."

    People have been scratching their heads for years wondering how a person with limited means can get into a huge mortgage or even buy two homes w/o a job.

    History will show that Barney Frank, Dodd and other legislatures regulating banks to provide home loans for the poor and minorities hand a heavy hand in the crisis.

    Thinking that the same people will lead us out is crisis doubly stupid and will bring us back to double digit mortgage and unemployment rates.

    Let the investment banks fail. I think Wall street, the political class and the US treasury is trying to sell us yet another bill of goods that their failure mean they'll take the rest of us down with them. I doubt it. Main street is a lot tougher than the political class and wall street fat cats give us credit.

  • (Show?)

    "Democrats wanted people at the lowest end of the economic system the "right" to own a home, so they said "No problemo! - Just apply and we will make sure the middle and upper class cover your worthless loans"."

    Of course, Gordon Smith pushed for the same thing, voting yes on an array of home-ownership incentives.

    And the idea that home mortgages are behind all this is flat out stupid and intentionally distractive. It's that the industry was allowed to crossbreed its financial products among securities, mortgages and insurance, and oversight of those activities was removed. For that you can blame Reagan to start, and Phil Gramm to finish. If I recall right, on that vote in 1999 not a single Democratic Senator voted yes.

    The idea that this is somehow the fault of Democrats strains credulity, seriously.

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    "Democrats wanted people at the lowest end of the economic system the "right" to own a home, so they said "No problemo! - Just apply and we will make sure the middle and upper class cover your worthless loans"."

    Not true. The real item is that the thinking became: because you had a "family" (regardless of class and/or income) you were entitled to a home as an American right, and the banks enthusiastically gave into the people's pressure as a matter of good customer service. The truth is that if the average American felt they could purchase a home (despite bad credit), the banks had to be customer friendly and give it to them due to the 'ownership' thinking principal of the republican leadership. The people who were a bad credit risk to begin with are just as much as fault as the banks who gave them the loans despite thier bad credit.

  • (Show?)

    Cheerleader Bush appears on TV in a new role, as Doomsayer Bush, in order to incite the financial panic he claims to be fighting. The Bushites know that next year they will be out of power, probably permanently, so they need a big heist now: Make the taxpayers buy financial "instruments" at prices wildly above what they are worth, so that the same firms that created the mess will survive and continue to engage in financial manipulation and line the pocket of their mega-millionaire executives. How about instead letting those firms go bankrupt and allowing the over 8,000 existing regional and local banks take over the business of loaning money?

  • RW (unverified)

    UNBELIEVABLE. Bushism: "... the markets are not functioning properly... "

    WHAT? They are functioning alright you bloody freak. They are functioning according to your designs!!! The problem is not in "the markets", SIR. The problem is in the behaviours and the ill-conceived regulatory activity thereupon! "The market".... oy gott. Let's blame this on a concept, not the people who DID the deeds!

    Let me tell you, this has me so frustrated I am close to tears: my mind and heart are filled with the images of my relations in Dilcon, AZ on the deepest rez; living at Ft. Peck, where there is close to zero employment opportunity and rampant drugs and the elderlies are raising their grandchildren in the high 70 - 80 percentiles. I am flashing on the enduring populace I came to know in Oklahoma, country people who don't fight it, they just quietly shake their heads and ENDURE.

    I'm feeling pretty haunted these days as the clouds and vapors close down on us from those who bloviate from on high. And yet, for me, I wake in the wee hours with a start, for these faces that come to me suffer already - and haven't they suffered enough?

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Dan Meek sees this as I do. The emergency is that there are only three months left to drain money from the treasury. Paulson's plan is the answer to this question: How can the elite loot the greatest amount of wealth in the shortest period of time?

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    Economists Express Concern

    To the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President pro tempore of the Senate:

    As economists, we want to express to Congress our great concern for the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Paulson to deal with the financial crisis. We are well aware of the difficulty of the current financial situation and we agree with the need for bold action to ensure that the financial system continues to function. We see three fatal pitfalls in the currently proposed plan:

    1) Its fairness. The plan is a subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.

    2) Its ambiguity. Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards.

    3) Its long-term effects. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America's dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.

    For these reasons we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.

    Signed (updated at 9/25/2008 8:30AM CT)

    Acemoglu Daron (Massachussets Institute of Technology) Adler Michael (Columbia University) Admati Anat R. (Stanford University) Alexis Marcus (Northwestern University) Alvarez Fernando (University of Chicago) Andersen Torben (Northwestern University) Baliga Sandeep (Northwestern University) Banerjee Abhijit V. (Massachussets Institute of Technology) Barankay Iwan (University of Pennsylvania) Barry Brian (University of Chicago) Bartkus James R. (Xavier University of Louisiana) Becker Charles M. (Duke University) Becker Robert A. (Indiana University) Beim David (Columbia University) Berk Jonathan (Stanford University) Bisin Alberto (New York University) Bittlingmayer George (University of Kansas) Boldrin Michele (Washington University) Brooks Taggert J. (University of Wisconsin) Brynjolfsson Erik (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Buera Francisco J. (UCLA) Camp Mary Elizabeth (Indiana University) Carmel Jonathan (University of Michigan) Carroll Christopher (Johns Hopkins University) Cassar Gavin (University of Pennsylvania) Chaney Thomas (University of Chicago) Chari Varadarajan V. (University of Minnesota) Chauvin Keith W. (University of Kansas) Chintagunta Pradeep K. (University of Chicago) Christiano Lawrence J. (Northwestern University) Cochrane John (University of Chicago) Coleman John (Duke University) Constantinides George M. (University of Chicago) Crain Robert (UC Berkeley) Culp Christopher (University of Chicago) Da Zhi (University of Notre Dame) Davis Morris (University of Wisconsin) De Marzo Peter (Stanford University) Dubé Jean-Pierre H. (University of Chicago) Edlin Aaron (UC Berkeley) Eichenbaum Martin (Northwestern University) Ely Jeffrey (Northwestern University) Eraslan Hülya K. K.(Johns Hopkins University) Faulhaber Gerald (University of Pennsylvania) Feldmann Sven (University of Melbourne) Fernandez-Villaverde Jesus (University of Pennsylvania) Fohlin Caroline (Johns Hopkins University) Fox Jeremy T. (University of Chicago) Frank Murray Z.(University of Minnesota) Frenzen Jonathan (University of Chicago) Fuchs William (University of Chicago) Fudenberg Drew (Harvard University) Gabaix Xavier (New York University) Gao Paul (Notre Dame University) Garicano Luis (University of Chicago) Gerakos Joseph J. (University of Chicago) Gibbs Michael (University of Chicago) Glomm Gerhard (Indiana University) Goettler Ron (University of Chicago) Goldin Claudia (Harvard University) Gordon Robert J. (Northwestern University) Greenstone Michael (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Guadalupe Maria (Columbia University) Guerrieri Veronica (University of Chicago) Hagerty Kathleen (Northwestern University) Hamada Robert S. (University of Chicago) Hansen Lars (University of Chicago) Harris Milton (University of Chicago) Hart Oliver (Harvard University) Hazlett Thomas W. (George Mason University) Heaton John (University of Chicago) Heckman James (University of Chicago - Nobel Laureate) Henderson David R. (Hoover Institution) Henisz, Witold (University of Pennsylvania) Hertzberg Andrew (Columbia University) Hite Gailen (Columbia University) Hitsch Günter J. (University of Chicago) Hodrick Robert J. (Columbia University) Hopenhayn Hugo (UCLA) Hurst Erik (University of Chicago) Imrohoroglu Ayse (University of Southern California) Isakson Hans (University of Northern Iowa) Israel Ronen (London Business School) Jaffee Dwight M. (UC Berkeley) Jagannathan Ravi (Northwestern University) Jenter Dirk (Stanford University) Jones Charles M. (Columbia Business School) Kaboski Joseph P. (Ohio State University) Kahn Matthew (UCLA) Kaplan Ethan (Stockholm University) Karolyi, Andrew (Ohio State University) Kashyap Anil (University of Chicago) Keim Donald B (University of Pennsylvania) Ketkar Suhas L (Vanderbilt University) Kiesling Lynne (Northwestern University) Klenow Pete (Stanford University) Koch Paul (University of Kansas) Kocherlakota Narayana (University of Minnesota) Koijen Ralph S.J. (University of Chicago) Kondo Jiro (Northwestern University) Korteweg Arthur (Stanford University) Kortum Samuel (University of Chicago) Krueger Dirk (University of Pennsylvania) Ledesma Patricia (Northwestern University) Lee Lung-fei (Ohio State University) Leeper Eric M. (Indiana University) Leuz Christian (University of Chicago) Levine David I.(UC Berkeley) Levine David K.(Washington University) Levy David M. (George Mason University) Linnainmaa Juhani (University of Chicago) Lott John R. Jr. (University of Maryland) Lucas Robert (University of Chicago - Nobel Laureate) Luttmer Erzo G.J. (University of Minnesota) Manski Charles F. (Northwestern University) Martin Ian (Stanford University) Mayer Christopher (Columbia University) Mazzeo Michael (Northwestern University) McDonald Robert (Northwestern University) Meadow Scott F. (University of Chicago) Mehra Rajnish (UC Santa Barbara) Mian Atif (University of Chicago) Middlebrook Art (University of Chicago) Miguel Edward (UC Berkeley) Miravete Eugenio J. (University of Texas at Austin) Miron Jeffrey (Harvard University) Moretti Enrico (UC Berkeley) Moriguchi Chiaki (Northwestern University) Moro Andrea (Vanderbilt University) Morse Adair (University of Chicago) Mortensen Dale T. (Northwestern University) Mortimer Julie Holland (Harvard University) Muralidharan Karthik (UC San Diego) Nanda Dhananjay (University of Miami) Nevo Aviv (Northwestern University) Ohanian Lee (UCLA) Pagliari Joseph (University of Chicago) Papanikolaou Dimitris (Northwestern University) Parker Jonathan (Northwestern University) Paul Evans (Ohio State University) Pejovich Svetozar (Steve) (Texas A&M University) Peltzman Sam (University of Chicago) Perri Fabrizio (University of Minnesota) Phelan Christopher (University of Minnesota) Piazzesi Monika (Stanford University) Piskorski Tomasz (Columbia University) Rampini Adriano (Duke University) Reagan Patricia (Ohio State University) Reich Michael (UC Berkeley) Reuben Ernesto (Northwestern University) Roberts Michael (University of Pennsylvania) Robinson David (Duke University) Rogers Michele (Northwestern University) Rotella Elyce (Indiana University) Ruud Paul (Vassar College) Safford Sean (University of Chicago) Sandbu Martin E. (University of Pennsylvania) Sapienza Paola (Northwestern University) Savor Pavel (University of Pennsylvania) Scharfstein David (Harvard University) Seim Katja (University of Pennsylvania) Seru Amit (University of Chicago) Shang-Jin Wei (Columbia University) Shimer Robert (University of Chicago) Shore Stephen H. (Johns Hopkins University) Siegel Ron (Northwestern University) Smith David C. (University of Virginia) Smith Vernon L.(Chapman University- Nobel Laureate) Sorensen Morten (Columbia University) Spiegel Matthew (Yale University) Stevenson Betsey (University of Pennsylvania) Stokey Nancy (University of Chicago) Strahan Philip (Boston College) Strebulaev Ilya (Stanford University) Sufi Amir (University of Chicago) Tabarrok Alex (George Mason University) Taylor Alan M. (UC Davis) Thompson Tim (Northwestern University) Tschoegl Adrian E. (University of Pennsylvania) Uhlig Harald (University of Chicago) Ulrich, Maxim (Columbia University) Van Buskirk Andrew (University of Chicago) Veronesi Pietro (University of Chicago) Vissing-Jorgensen Annette (Northwestern University) Wacziarg Romain (UCLA) Weill Pierre-Olivier (UCLA) Williamson Samuel H. (Miami University) Witte Mark (Northwestern University) Wolfers Justin (University of Pennsylvania) Woutersen Tiemen (Johns Hopkins University) Zingales Luigi (University of Chicago) Zitzewitz Eric (Dartmouth College)

  • RW (unverified)

    Nice work, Thomas. May I suggest that you PLEASE find a way to get this republished as a letter to the editor locally and elsewhere?

    If you do nothing else with the rest of your week, this made your existence a contribution.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    For these reasons we ask Congress not to rush, to hold appropriate hearings, and to carefully consider the right course of action, and to wisely determine the future of the financial industry and the U.S. economy for years to come.

    <h2>Thanks for this posting, Tom. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like Congress is going along with this last point. Not surprising though when you consider how many senators and representatives have taken so much money from Wall Street.</h2>

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