PBS “Frontline”: Yeoman’s Effort at Solving Financial Crisis Puzzle


The Public Broadcasting System’s “Frontline” news program last night ended its four-hour exhaustive, detailed effort to connect the bones of America’s mammoth financial-meltdown skeleton: “Money, Power, and Wall Street.” Overall, it was a yeoman’s effort, piecing together a chronology to the economy’s collapse and the major factors involved. The producers also lined up an extensive gallery of players ranging from Wall Street execs, bankers, politicians, lawyers, and economists involved in the quagmire.

The news broadcast took pains to simplify a financial network that endlessly pushes to expand in complexity and opaqueness, control the economy and government, and avoid regulation. The program also strove to clarify the major reasons for the meltdown.

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Basically, “Frontline” identified the same fault lines laid out by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the 10-member government-appointed panel that investigated and reported on the meltdown’s causes.

The commission listed 10 conclusions, including widespread failures in financial regulation and supervision; dramatic failures of corporate governance and risk management at many systemically important financial institutions; a combination of excessive borrowing, risky investments, and lack of transparency; government being ill-prepared and inconsistent in its response; collapsing mortgage-lending standards, and massive marketing of over-the-counter derivatives.

The program could have spent more time with the commission’s chairman, Phil Angelides, former California state treasurer. He seemed to be one of the few interviewees without a direct stake in the financial-political-legal ramifications of the meltdown mess, even though his panel was surely political. In other words, his brief snippets of interview just seemed to make objective sense.

The other interviews, for the most part, possessed hedges, as investment types, politicians, and administrative officials constantly performed to “inform” while covering their posteriors. The absence of interviews with the major players-George W. Bush, his treasury secretary Henry Paulson, Barack Obama and his treasurer Timothy Geithner-kept the program from cresting, shielding them from direct accountability to the public.

But the extensive report showed that both Bush and Obama proved lightweights in facing the Wall Streeters and bankers, and that Geithner, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, remains a cohort of Wall Street.

As does Congress, who has avoided any major effort at reforming a financial system mired in greed, manipulation, and void of ethics-which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description of Congress itself. “Frontline,” when describing efforts at financial-reform legislation, constantly referred to Wall Street’s lobbyists killing or stifling bills. But lobbyists, under the Constitution, don’t have the responsibility for writing, amending and approving legislation. Congress has that. If Congress gives that up to lobbyists, then voters need to protect themselves from such cowards by kicking them out of office.

The program, in seeking some reasonable solution to the meltdown mess, did seem to find a common recommendation from economists and lawyers: separate the banks from being involved in both securities trading and regular banking services-basically as banks had to perform before being given a free hand in the ’90s. That’s when Bill Clinton, his treasury secretary Robert Rubin, and Congress scrapped the Glass-Steagall Act, the post-1929 Stock Market Crash legislation meant to protect the public’s bank investments from speculation.

Perhaps the “Frontline” report’s most poignant moment: interviews with young, former Wall Street employees-intelligent, highly educated, sensitive-who decided to abandon the Greed Breed and join Occupy Wall Street. One scene even showed them meeting together, sincerely attempting to draw up suggested Congressional legislation which might bring true reform.

That brief segment, for any aware audience, should inspire citizens to get organized, get educated, and get active.

The link to Frontline’s “Money, Power and Wall Street”: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/money-power-wall-street/

The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s site: http://fcic.law.stanford.edu/

An overview of the Glass-Steagall Act: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glass%E2%80%93Steagall_Act