Ten years ago February, HSBC shocked the market by raising its bad-debt provisions to $10.5billion, $1.8billion more than analysts had expected, because of failing American subprime mortgages. On May 6th, 2007, Chuck Prince, CEO of Citigroup, told the Financial Times
"As long as the music is still playing, you've got to get up and dance." By November he would be fired. A year later Lehman Brothers collapsed.
Financial meltdown became likely, and all levels of the federal government and finance industries were in high alert. In the middle of it all was a fussy bureaucrat named Henry 'Hank' Paulson, who was appointed Secretary of the Treasury after a stint at Goldman Sachs. Hank stepped in and forced mergers between imploding banks and otherwise structurally sound big banks, such as JP Morgan Chase's rushed union of Bear Stearns. This 'bail-in' reaching its limit, he then lead stewardship of the Troubled Assets Relief Program which forced all banks, struggling or not, to take ~$125billion of loans from the federal government. This monetary program was propped by the FED, at the time lead by Ben Bernanke, who bought Treasury bonds at a brisk pace in a program now known as 'quantitative easing.'
In November 2008, shaken Americans elected their first black President, who walked into an office currently under the workload of developing a bipartisan bill to prevent future meltdowns called the Dodd-Frank Act. In addition, the new President sought for relief spending funds from Congress to bailout others struggling in the American economy. The Congress gave him the funds, most famously to bail out struggling automakers in Detroit, but not before Republicans in the Senate stripped out the new President's spending proposal to cover and insure underwater mortgages from American citizens ravaged by the second worst economic disaster after the Great Depression. Instead, the new president lengthened unemployment benefit periods, pushed a signature medical insurance reform bill through Congress, and closed the deal on the Dodd-Frank Act.
By the time the market bottomed out at the end of the year in 2009, Americans were pissed. From their perspective, they had lost homes, jobs, retirements, their futures, and the only people who got 'bailed out' were the (now even bigger) banks and car companies. This is understandable, but hopefully the summary above indicates something few people seem to talk about that period:
The forced mergers worked. The banks were more systemically stable than they had been before. TARP worked. The US Federal Government profited by $30billion from TARP paybacks, which concluded in 2011. Quantitative Easing left money cheap for businesses to borrow and consolidate. Bailing out the car companies (in return for new emission and mileage standards as well as other regulation) worked, saving hundreds of thousands of American jobs and leading to dramatic investment in better quality vehicles.
Meanwhile, in Europe, most countries decided on rigorous and painful spending cuts to service their debt, in a measure known as 'austerity.' 10 years on, neither the US nor the EU are as 'well off' as they were before the recession -- but the US's recovery is far better, with a 4.4% unemployment rate, new stock market highs, the beginning reversals of wage stagnation, and banks that are frankly pummeling European ones. Although this is the place where somebody wants to jump in and talk about the many ways in which the US people and their economy is still struggling, if not outright suffering, in comparison to Europe, America's recovery was bold, remarkable... and fast.
Hank Paulson was never meant to be a household name. Under 'normal' circumstances, nobody should have known, or cared, much about him. Ben Bernanke would still be a pet whipping boy by End-the-Fed libertarians but their whip wouldn't be so smart or large.
These detested men worked under extreme pressure and made very hard, and very risky, decisions using specialized knowledge very, very few people have to solve a legitimate crisis that could have pulled down the entire global economy.
They weren't good at television. They were number men, wonks, old grim-faced grumps. After solving the problem they had no story to tell, just a few interviews to answer questions as best they could. Hank Paulson eventually wrote a memoir on the experience and had a documentary made about him, but in the latter he talks like paint drying and the former, which I haven't read, is likely ghostwritten.
And because they weren't good at creating a narrative, even an easy one like "I just saved the world economy motherfuckers!," and because they were attached to an outgoing presidential administration that was nothing but war-tired, world-weary, and wanting no more responsibility or questions, in the end the prevailing American narrative is the one of popular resentment stoked up by feckless billionaires and the bureaucrats who enable them.
Following the Iraq War, which sheered Americans' faith in the credibility of their leadership, the Great Recession destroyed it. Hank Paulson was removed from administration and was probably glad to be rid of it.
On this day, ten years later, an illiterate President who cannot even speak in complete sentences fired FBI director James Comey. At the point in which Comey was fired, he couldn't be more unpopular from both the left and the right.
Let's be clear. Comey likes to quietly, privately do his work, and only some of that is because the FBI historically is meant to. He's also, like Hank Paulson, not good at television as he has harder and more pressing issues in mind. His brain is full of complex information very few individual people can understand. He was also mentored by a former FBI director who navigated the department cleanly through moments of partisan bickering by essentially keeping his mouth shut and staying away from the conflict.
During the 2016 election he got caught in the middle of the crossfire of vicious partisanship. Whilst investigating one major candidate, he couldn't afford to seem partial to either. By not saying anything about the investigation, he came across as hiding evidence from it. So once he determined that the investigation didn't find fault, he tried to clear the air publicly: by saying Clinton couldn't be prosecuted, he advantaged one side. So he tried to balance it by shaming her for being neglectful. Instead of calming the partisanship, it only excited it: liberals saw the Republican registered FBI chief as trying to ruin Clinton's reputation; his scathing remarks, rather than calming the conservatives, made them more certain he was hiding her offense.
Later, when further e-mails were found in an unrelated case, Comey had to re-open the investigation on Clinton. The problem was, if she got elected and he didn't say anything about the investigation being open, the FBI would take a major hit to its credibility and trustworthiness. So he decides to tell Congress five days before the election. Clinton's polls plummet. The man who would then fire Comey is now the President of the United States.
Comey is widely blamed for the fallout; meanwhile, he's still not popular with the right. He has that pesky need to keep showing up at Congress saying foreboding things about the new commander in chief. And furthermore, for some reason, he just insists on not prosecuting Hillary Clinton. Clearly an awful guy.
So let's touch briefly on the reasons for his firing. Technically, he was fired for misrepresenting the volume of emails exchanged between Clinton and Weiner as 'hundreds to thousands' (when it was more like a few dozen). Recall that Comey has a bad habit of overemphasis, lending to exaggeration. Also keep in mind that what Comey lied about was that Clinton's problems were worse than they actually are. If the big man in the Oval Office was truly concerned about someone in his administration lying, it wouldn't be someone who is misrepresenting the scale of culpability of a political opponent. You get my drift?
Now the usual Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and late night comedians-as-advocacy programmers are salivating at the coincidence between Comey's firing and the Department of Justice's subpoena of Trump administration officials and associates. Clearly, obviously, Trump has something goin' on with Russia.
I'm still not sure. I know it sounds weird, but I'm both next to 100% certain that Trump has something going on with Russia, and that it's not nearly as big of a deal as the liberal talking heads expect it to be. Liberals want outright Trump blood-money found in cavities of Putin's high castle. In the long run they'll probably find a few Russian billionaires have met a few American billionaires and they went about being billionaires together.
This is not to say that 45 has not committed a crime. He's a criminal. We already know he rapes. There are more lawsuits surrounding him with words like 'bankruptcy' and 'fraud' than can be even be accounted for. But regarding Russia? There's as much chance of him having committed a crime there or not, and if he did it was probably unknowingly, because where I'm going with is
the issue isn't that 45 is hiding something specific, it's that he's incompetent. And any close look into literally anything he's ever done, in the history of his life ever, on ever level ever, has shown incompetence. He can't give transparency into any part of his life because any close look shows he can't handle shit. And you don't even need a close look. He's pretty much despised by the industries he works in, and by the time he ran for office his business and his brand were essentially run by his daughter and son-in-law.
The reason he fired Comey ranges from either, "Shit, I'm going to get caught," to, "What if they find something?" Either way even the firing is still merely an example of flat out, unadulterated incompetence. Any competent kleptocrat would have purged Comey months ago and already finished stacking the administration; 110 days in, 45 hasn't even finished the top level nominations and has only now clicked that Comey isn't his guy. Even if the competent kleptocrat had realized too late that Comey had to go, it wouldn't be so immediate and obvious. A longer term con on Comey's character would go -- in fact probably a simple request for Comey to resign.
Firing Comey shows 45 is as stuttering and poorly considered in his own guilt as he is in speaking English.
Where I'm going with this is, ten years ago a highly competent man saved the world and induced the anger of literally generations of Americans who will constantly use his name as an example of the fraudulent and therefore illegitimate nature of American federal stewardship. His work was followed by a BLACK PRESIDENT who induced the existential terror of aging upper-middle class Baby Boomers who had come to maturity in the era of Jim Crow. They subsequently stacked the Congress with an assortment of previously marginal and fringe representatives, a coterie of individuals who had always failed to get elected anywhere significant before but saw an opportunity in popular
anger. That same Congress, facing a one-party government with probably their best possible friend in the White House, a man so stupid he actually believed the dog whistles traditional Republicans used to dangle to get the racist vote and then subsequently ignore (minus minor bones thrown for show), suddenly realized that they don't know how to write legislation and are now beholden to the same partisan firebranding without the excuse of resisting the black man. They've already begun trying to flee the ship before it sinks.
The saddest thing about all of this is that partisanship has reached such shrill, entangled nightmarish proportions of anxiety and stress, that the American people not only don't trust their government, they've subsequently spent a decade purging that government of competence. Keep in mind: good or bad. Malevolent or well-intentioned. I'm talking mere competence.
The really shitty part about 45's complete inability to NOT act like a fucking crook is that the rest of the partisan system is so incompetent that it may not be able to actually do anything about his malfeasance. This means in addition to how he manages to destroy standards of dignity and accountability of the office just by fucking being in it, he also manages to destroy the ability of the American people to do anything about that office just by fucking up too quickly, loudly, and obviously before the incompetent people in Congress gain their feet and realize that they've propped a monster. Now they probably can't notice what they're propping up because they'll be too busy straining against the props to notice what's shaking it above. It's fractal incompetence: incompetence at every observable level.
This is why I joked last year when watching House of Cards
that it was more like a nostalgia piece than a thriller: a throwback to the politics of yesteryear when the evil people in office at least knew what they were doing.
Hank Paulson, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and James Comey all have one major similar quality: they are fucking smart.
Two of them are Republican, two are Democrat. Two of them I like, two of them I don't (I like Paulson and Obama. I don't like Clinton and Comey). All of them I have places where I agree with their decisions, and places where I don't.
But the one thing I can appreciate about having people like them around, is that they are, fundamentally, competent.
And THEY are the ones that are on the losing side of partisanship. Make no mistake: activated liberals have their own incompetent marginal dumbfucks to sweep into the 2018 election. Watch out, Schumer, Warren, and company. The Bernie bros are coming for you. You're too fucking smart to survive in this era.
Edit: Oh, and one hour later:
Reminder that when I saw Dick Cheney debate John Edwards, I realized how bad we truly had it with Dubya. It wasn't just that I disagreed with their policies. It's that Cheney was clearly a viciously smart and wicked sharp individual, and instead of him as head representative of our right side, we had a dude named Dubya.
Maybe someday I'll have an example to regret wishing that people I find evil were also intelligent. But the stupidity really gets to me more than the evil. Evil people still want to preserve enough of the country to lead and prosper in, even if only personally. Stupid people are as much a danger to their own self-interest as they are to everyone else's.