19 October 2009

PBS Frontline Presents: The Warning - Roots of the Financial Crisis

It will be worth watching if we can see the role that the Fed under Alan Greenpsan played, during the Clinton Administration, to set the US on the road to financial crisis. This was done in concert with Bob Rubin, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, representing the vested interests of the Wall Street banks.

Many of the same players that were involved in this have been brought back to Washington under the Obama Administration. This is the source of our initial disillusion with Obama as a 'reformer.' He was reforming nothing, just bringing back the crew that started the ball rolling.

Several Republicans played a key role in this sabotage of sound regulation even during the Clinton Administration, including Phil Gramm's crippling of the regulatory process. What was started under Clinton reached its fruition, if not a generalized looting, under the free market ideologues in the Bush Administration and in particular with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.

We have not seen it yet, but it is a story that deserves to be told. We hope that Frontline does it justice.

We hope that this is not the phase of the financial crisis when they start trotting out patsies and scapegoats to be thrown under the bus for the amusement and diversion of the crowd from the serious work before us. The US financial system needs a thorough investigation and substantial reform, not more headlines and high profile perp walks. Or we will be back at the brink most assuredly, if we are not there already. It will happen again.

The Warning
Tuesday, October 20, 2009, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS

The Warning (Video Preview)

"We didn't truly know the dangers of the market, because it was a dark market," says Brooksley Born, the head of an obscure federal regulatory agency -- the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) -- who not only warned of the potential for economic meltdown in the late 1990s, but also tried to convince the country's key economic powerbrokers to take actions that could have helped avert the crisis. "They were totally opposed to it," Born says. "That puzzled me. What was it that was in this market that had to be hidden?"

In The Warning, airing Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009, at 9 P.M. ET on PBS (check local listings), veteran FRONTLINE producer Michael Kirk (Inside the Meltdown, Breaking the Bank) unearths the hidden history of the nation's worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. At the center of it all he finds Brooksley Born, who speaks for the first time on television about her failed campaign to regulate the secretive, multitrillion-dollar derivatives market whose crash helped trigger the financial collapse in the fall of 2008.

"I didn't know Brooksley Born," says former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt, a member of President Clinton's powerful Working Group on Financial Markets. "I was told that she was irascible, difficult, stubborn, unreasonable." Levitt explains how the other principals of the Working Group -- former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin -- convinced him that Born's attempt to regulate the risky derivatives market could lead to financial turmoil, a conclusion he now believes was "clearly a mistake."

Born's battle behind closed doors was epic, Kirk finds. The members of the President's Working Group vehemently opposed regulation -- especially when proposed by a Washington outsider like Born.

"I walk into Brooksley's office one day; the blood has drained from her face," says Michael Greenberger, a former top official at the CFTC who worked closely with Born. "She's hanging up the telephone; she says to me: 'That was [former Assistant Treasury Secretary] Larry Summers. He says, "You're going to cause the worst financial crisis since the end of World War II."... [He says he has] 13 bankers in his office who informed him of this. Stop, right away. No more.'"

Greenspan, Rubin and Summers ultimately prevailed on Congress to stop Born and limit future regulation of derivatives. "Born faced a formidable struggle pushing for regulation at a time when the stock market was booming," Kirk says. "Alan Greenspan was the maestro, and both parties in Washington were united in a belief that the markets would take care of themselves."

Now, with many of the same men who shut down Born in key positions in the Obama administration, The Warning reveals the complicated politics that led to this crisis and what it may say about current attempts to prevent the next one.

"It'll happen again if we don't take the appropriate steps," Born warns. "There will be significant financial downturns and disasters attributed to this regulatory gap over and over until we learn from experience..."