Home > Uncategorized > A Rare Look at Why The Government Won’t Fight Wall Street | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

A Rare Look at Why The Government Won’t Fight Wall Street | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment Go to comments

When Connaughton told Kaufman over the phone what the staffer said, Kaufman exploded. “You call him back right now and tell him I said to go fuck himself in his ear,” Kaufman said.

Similarly, when Kaufman tried to advocate for rules that would have prevented naked short-selling, Connaughton was warned by a lobbyist that it would be “bad for my career” if he went after the issue and that “Ted and I looked like deranged conspiracy theorists” for asking if naked short-selling had played a role in the final collapse of Lehman Brothers. Naked short-selling is another controversial practice. Essentially, when you short a stock, you’re supposed to locate shares of that stock before you go out and sell it short. But what hedge funds and banks have discovered is that the rules provide “leeway” – you can go out and sell shares in a stock without actually having it, provided you have a “reasonable belief” that you can locate the shares.

This leads to the obvious possibility of companies creating false supply in a stock by selling shares they don’t have. Without getting too much into the weeds here, there is an obvious solution to the problem, which essentially would be forcing companies to actually locate shares before selling them. In their attempt to change the system, Kaufman and Connaughton discovered that the Depository Trust Clearing Corporation, the massive quasi-private organization that clears most all stock trades in America, had come up with just such a fix on their own. Kaufman recruited some other senators to endorse the idea, and as late as 2009, Connaughton and Kaufman were convinced they were going to get the form. “I said to Ted, ‘We’re going to change the way stocks are traded in this country.'”

But before the change could be made, Goldman, Sachs issued “data” showing that there was “no correlation” between naked short selling and price movements. When Connaughton asked an Isakson staffer what the data said, the staffer, intimidated by Goldman, replied, “The data proves we’re full of shit.” Connaughton looked at the data and realized instantly that it was a bunch of irrelevant gobbledygook, even firing off an angry letter to Goldman telling them the tactic was beneath even them.

But Goldman’s tactic worked. A roundtable to discuss the idea was scheduled by the SEC on September 24, 2009. Of the nine invited participants, “all but one” were for the status quo. Connaughton expected the DTCC representatives to unveil their reform idea, but they didn’t:

Afterwards, I went over to [the DTCC representatives] and asked, “What happened?” Sheepishly, and to their credit, they admitted: “We got pulled back.” They meant: by their board, by the Wall Street powers-that-be.

Essentially the same thing happened in Kaufman’s biggest reform attempt, the amendment to the Dodd-Frank bill he co-sponsored with Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, which would have broken up the Too-Big-To-Fail banks. But the Brown-Kaufman amendment, which was really the meatiest thing in the original Dodd-Frank bill, the one reform that really would have made a difference if it had passed, just died in the suffocating mass of the Blob. The key Democrats one after another failed to line up behind it, and in the end it was defeated soundly, with Dick Durbin, the number two man in the Democratic leadership, giving it this epitaph: “a bridge too far.”

Again, those interested in understanding the mindset of the people who should be leading the anti-corruption charge ought to read this book. It’s the weird lack of concern that shines through, like Khuzami’s comment that he’s “not losing sleep” over judges reprimanding his soft-touch settlements with banks, or then Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Ray Lohier’s comment that the thing that most concerned him – this is the period of 2008-2009, the middle of a historic crimewave on Wall Street – was “cyber crime.”

On the outside we can only deduce the mindset from actions and non-actions, but Connaughton’s actually seen it, and with the book you get to see it too. It’s scary and definitely worth a read.

via A Rare Look at Why The Government Won’t Fight Wall Street | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone.

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