By Amitabh Pal on January 10, 2013

In announcing Jacob Lew as his new Treasury Secretary, President Obama has repeated the mistake he made at the outset of his presidency by choosing Tim Geithner.

Geithner was more responsible than anyone else for the supinely pro-Wall Street position that the Obama Administration adopted from the beginning. As detailed in Ron Suskind's extremely readable "Confidence Men," Geithner and Lawrence Summers constantly ran interference to make sure that nothing was done to hold the financial sector to account and that all the freebies it received came with no strings attached. The CEOs got to keep their jobs, and they didn't have to agree to a moratorium on foreclosures or reduce people's mortgage principal. As a result, the economy has been in the doldrums and most people have seen their savings plummet.

"We could have given the money and gotten something back," Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz told me in 2009. "We didn't have to just give it to them. We could have saved Wall Street without putting our future in jeopardy."

If Geithner with his Fed Reserve background exemplified the cozy ties between regulators and the regulated, Lew symbolizes far worse, since he comes from the belly of the beast itself: Citigroup.

William Black, a former savings and loan regulator who has emerged as one of the most trenchant critics of the financial sector, says that Obama's choice reveals a pattern, and not a very flattering one.

"The obvious aspects of this pattern include: (1) Obama prefers to have Wall Street guys run finance (despite coming to power because Wall Street blew up the world), (2) the revolving door under Obama that connects Wall Street and the White House has been supercharged, and (3) even very short stints in Wall Street have made Obama's finance advisers wealthy," he writes.

Lew failed his Intro Econ exam in 2010 when he was asked the reason the economy tanked.

"I don't believe that deregulation was the proximate cause," he said during his Senate confirmation hearing for his current position as Office of Management and Budget director. "I would defer to others who are more expert about the industry to try and parse it better than that."

How purposely dumb can someone be!

Or, as progressive analyst Bob Kuttner writes on the American Prospect website, "It's hard to know which is worse, the fact that Lew dismissed the direct link between deregulation and the creation of 'highly abstract, leveraged derivative products,' or his confession that he is no expert on these issues."

Lew's stint with the Clinton Administration before he was with Citigroup also inspires little confidence, since he helped shepherd the derivatives deregulation that made the economy blow up in everyone's face.

"You served as head of Bill Clinton's Office of Management and Budget when he was working with a Republican Congress to undermine the Glass-Steagall Act and to enact the Wall Street-friendly Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act," John Nichols writes for The Nation. "Progressives opposed these initiatives, warning that they erred too far on the side of deregulation. ... Did you share any of those concerns or were you all on board with the deregulation push?"

These are not academic questions, since the banks are even now ingrates still up to their old tricks, frantically lobbying regulatory agencies at all levels to again give them a free pass -- yet again.

Wall Street needs to be firmly put in its place for the economy to start working for the rest of us. Jacob Lew is completely the wrong person to carry out that task.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "Al Jazeera Purchase of Current TV an Attempt to Overcome Bias."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).


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