Globalist Larry Summers calls for QE3 as US Drowns in Debt

WASHINGTON POST | JUNE 5, 2012

With the past week’s dismal jobs data in the United States, signs of increasing financial strain in Europe and discouraging news from China, the proposition that the global economy is returning to a path of healthy growth looks highly implausible.

It is more likely that negative feedback loops are again taking over as falling incomes lead to falling confidence, which leads to reduced spending and yet further declines in income. Financial strains hurt the real economy, especially in Europe, and reinforce existing strains. And export-dependent emerging markets suffer as the economies of the industrialized world weaken.

The question is not whether the current policy path is acceptable. The question is, what should be done? To come up with a viable solution, consider the remarkable level of interest rates in much of the industrialized world. The U.S. government can borrow in nominal terms at about 0.5 percent for five years, 1.5 percent for 10 years and 2.5 percent for 30 years. Rates are considerably lower in Germany and still lower in Japan.

Even more remarkable are the interest rates on inflation-protected bonds. In real terms, the world is prepared to pay the United States more than 100 basis points to store its money for five years and more than 50 basis points for 10 years. Maturities would have to reach more than 20 years before the interest rates on indexed bonds becomes positive. Again, real rates are even lower in Germany and Japan. Remarkably, the United Kingdom borrowed money last week for 50 years at a real rate of 4 basis points.

These low rates on even long maturities mean that markets are offering the opportunity to lock in low long-term borrowing costs. In the United States, for example, the government could commit to borrowing five-year money in five years at a nominal cost of about 2.5 percent and at a real cost very close to zero.

What does all this say about macroeconomic policy? Many in the United States and Europe are arguing for further quantitative easing to bring down longer-term interest rates. This may be appropriate, given that there is a much greater danger from policy inaction to current economic weakness than to overreacting.

However, one has to wonder how much investment businesses are unwilling to undertake at extraordinarily low interest rates that they would be willing to undertake with rates reduced by yet another 25 or 50 basis points. It is also worth querying the quality of projects that businesses judge unprofitable at a -60 basis point real interest rate but choose to undertake at a still more negative rate. There is also the question of whether extremely low, safe, real interest rates promote bubbles of various kinds.

The renewed emphasis on quantitative easing is also an oddity. The essential aim of such policies is to shorten the debt held by the public or issued by the consolidated public sector, comprising both the government and central bank. Any rational chief financial officer in the private sector would see this as a moment to extend debt maturities and lock in low rates — the opposite of what central banks are doing. In the U.S. Treasury, for example, discussions of debt-management policy have had this emphasis. But the Treasury does not alone control the maturity of debt when the central bank is active in all debt markets.

So, what is to be done? Rather than focusing on lowering already epically low rates, governments that enjoy such low borrowing costs can improve their creditworthiness by borrowing more, not less, and investing in improving their future fiscal position, even assuming no positive demand stimulus effects of a kind likely to materialize with negative real rates. They should accelerate any necessary maintenance projects — issuing debt leaves the state richer not poorer, assuming that maintenance costs rise at or above the general inflation rate.

As my colleague Martin Feldstein has pointed out, this is a principle that applies to accelerating replacement cycles for military supplies. Similarly, government decisions to issue debt, and then buy space that is currently being leased, will improve the government’s financial position as long as the interest rate on debt is less than the ratio of rents to building values — a condition almost certain to be met in a world with government borrowing rates below 2 percent.

These examples are the place to begin because they involve what is in effect an arbitrage, whereby the government uses its credit to deliver essentially the same bundle of services at a lower cost. It would be amazing if there were not many public investment projects with certain equivalent real returns well above zero. Consider a $1 project that yielded even a permanent 4 cents a year in real terms increment to GDP by expanding the economy’s capacity or its ability to innovate. Depending on where it was undertaken, this project would yield at least an extra 1 cent a year in government revenue for each dollar spent. At any real interest rate below 1 percent, the project pays for itself even before taking into account any Keynesian effects.

This logic suggests that countries regarded as havens that can borrow long term at a very low cost should be rushing to take advantage of the opportunity. This is a view that should be shared by those most alarmed about looming debt crises, because the greater your concern about the ability to borrow in the future, the stronger the case for borrowing for the long term today.

There is, of course, still the question of whether more borrowing will increase anxiety about a government’s creditworthiness. It should not, as long as the proceeds of borrowing are used either to reduce future spending or raise future incomes.

Any rational business leader would use a moment like this to term out the firm’s debt. Governments in the industrialized world should do so too.

A Tottering Technocracy

Here and in Europe, the financial meltdown exposes the hollowness of our elites.

by Victor Davis Hanson
National Review
August 9, 2011

We are witnessing a widespread crisis of faith in our progressive guardians of the last 30 years. These are the blue-chip, university-certified elite, employed by universities, government, and big-money private foundations and financial-services companies. The best recent examples are sorts like Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, Robert Rubin, Steven Chu, and Timothy Geithner. Politicians like John Kerry, John Edwards, and Al Gore all share certain common characteristics of this Western technocracy: proper legal or academic credentials, ample service in elected or appointed government office, unabashed progressive politics, and a free pass to enjoy ample personal wealth without any perceived contradiction with their loud share-the-wealth egalitarian politics.

The house of a John Kerry, the plane of an Al Gore, or, in the European case, the suits of a Dominique Strauss-Kahn are no different from those of the CEOs and entrepreneurs who were as privately courted as they were publicly chastised. These elites were mostly immune from charges of hypocrisy or character flaws, by virtue of their background and their well-meaning liberalism.

The financial meltdown here and in Europe revealed symptoms of the technocracy’s waning. On this side of the Atlantic, Geithner, Orszag, Summers, Austan Goolsbee, Paul Krugman, and Christina Romer apparently assumed that some academic cachet, an award bestowed by like kind, or a long-ago-granted degree should give them credibility to advocate what the tire-store owner, family dentist, or apple farmer knew from hard experience simply could not be done — borrow or print money on the theory that insular experts, without much experience in the world beyond the academy or the New York–Washington financial and government corridor, could best direct it to productive purposes.

But now they have either left government or are no longer much listened to — and some less-well-certified accountant will be left with the task of finding ways to pay back $16 trillion. Abroad, at some point, German clerks and mechanics are going to have to work a year or two past retirement age to pay for those in Greece or Italy who chose to stop working a decade before retirement age — despite all the sophisticated technocratic babble that such arithmetic is reductive and simplistic.

In the devolution from global warming to climate change to climate chaos — and who knows what comes next? — a small group of self-assured professors, politicians, and well-compensated lobbyists hawked unproven theories as fact — as if they were clerics from the Dark Ages who felt their robes exempted them from needing to read or think about their religious texts. Finally, even Ivy League and Oxbridge degrees and peer-reviewed journal articles could not mask the cooked research, the fraudulent grants, and the Elmer Gantry–like proselytizing about everything from tree rings and polar-bear populations to glaciers and the Sierra snowpack. A minor though iconic figure was the truther and community activist Van Jones, the president’s “green czar,” who lacked a record of academic excellence, scientific expertise, or sober and judicious study, assuming instead that a prestigious diploma and government title, a certain edgy and glib disdain for the masses, and media acclaim could permit him to gain lucre and influence by promoting as fact the still unproven.

Higher education is no longer affordable for many families, and does not guarantee well-rounded, well-educated graduates. A university debt bubble, in Fannie and Freddie fashion — together with the rise of no-frills private online certificate-granting institutions — is undermining traditional higher education. The symptoms are unmistakable: tuition spiraling far ahead of inflation; elite faculty excused from teaching to publish esoteric articles in little-read journals; legions of poorly compensated part-time instructors and graduate-student assistants subsidizing the privileged class; political orthodoxy as an unspoken requisite for membership in the club. An administrator is deemed successful largely for promoting “diversity” — rarely on the basis of whether costs stabilized, graduation rates increased, the need for remediation declined, or post-graduation jobs were assured on his watch. This warped system, which grew out of the bountiful 1960s, is now a vestigial organ, an odd-looking thing without an easily definable purpose. When will the bubble burst? If the four-year university cannot ensure its graduates that they will necessarily have a better-paying job and know more than the products of an upfront credentialing factory, why incur the $200,000 cost and put up with the political indoctrination?

Kindred media elites in Europe and the United States lauded supposed technocratic expertise without much calibration of achievement. Indeed, to examine the elite media is to unravel the incestuous nature of power marriages and past loyal service to heads of state. Those who praised Obama as a god or attributed their own nervous tics to his omnipresence or reported on his brilliant policies often either had been speechwriters to past liberal presidents, enjoyed family connections, or were married to other New York or Washington journalists or powerbrokers. Their preferences about where to send a kid to school, where to vacation, and what to think were as similar to those they reported on as they were foreign to those who were supposed to listen to them. Like wealthy people in the Middle Ages who bought indulgences instead of truly repenting their sins, the more our elites preached about egalitarian politics for the fly-over upper middle classes, the less badly they felt about their own mannered conniving for privilege and status.

A generation ago, we were supposed to be grateful that a few gifted and disinterested minds were digesting our news for us each day on cash-rich ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, and PBS, and in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, summarized periodically on weekend network discussion groups and in newsweeklies like Time and Newsweek. Now the market share of all these enterprises is shrinking. Some exist only because of government subsidy, rich parent companies, or like-minded wealthy benefactors.

The technocratic pronouncements from on high — that Barack Obama was “sort of GOD,” or at least “the smartest president in history”; that a Harvard-trained public-policy wonk alone knew how to save us from a roasting planet — are now seen by most as laughable. An education-age Reformation is brewing every bit as earth-shattering as its 16th-century religious counterpart.

There are also generic signs of the technocracy’s morbidity. It deeply distrusts democracy, most recently evidenced by John Kerry’s rant that the media should not even cover the Tea Party, and by the European Union’s terror of allowing the public to vote on its intricate financial bandaging. It is no accident that technocratic journalists love autocratic China — with its ability to promote mass transit or solar panels at the veritable barrel of a gun — while hating the Tea Party, which came to legislative power through the ballot box.

So the elites’ furor grows at those who seek and obtain power, exposure, and influence without the proper background, credentials, or attitude. How else to explain why a Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin earns outright hatred, whereas a Mitt Romney or John McCain received only partisan disdain?

There is an embarrassing lack of talent and imagination in the last generation of the technocrats. One banal memo about a “tea-party downgrade” or a “jihadist” takeover of the Republican party is mimicked by dozens of politicians and journalists who cannot think of any more creative phraseology. Calls for civility are the natural accompaniment to unimaginative slurring of those outside the accustomed circle. When Steven Chu exhorts us that gas prices should match European levels or assures us that California farms will blow away, should we laugh or cry? Do learned attorneys general call the nation “cowards,” refer to fellow minority members as “my people,” or really believe that they can try the self-confessed terrorist architect of 9/11 in a civilian court a few yards from the scene of his mass murder? Was Timothy Geithner really indispensable in 2009 because other technocrats swore he was?

We are living in one of the most unstable — and exciting — periods in recent memory, as much of the received wisdom of the last 30 years is being turned upside down. In large part the present reset age arises because our political and cultural leaders exercised influence that by any rational standard they had never earned.

OPERATION GULF GREASE: Problem, Reaction, Solution to implement Agenda 21?

newswithviews.com

In the days prior to the Gulf drilling operation and ensuing environmental catastrophe, I remember thinking just how odd and out of

What is the United Nations' Law of the Sea Treaty? Click image and read the details.

character it was that Barack Obama had announced his approval for more offshore drilling. On April 1st, The Washington Post quoted Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as saying the administration had broached “a new direction” in energy policy. [1]

Had Obama lost his mind? Had he had some sort of religious experience? This was a president who campaigned against traditional energy sources in favor of so-called “sustainable” alternatives such as wind, solar, etc. This was a president who banned offshore drilling as one of his first acts in executive office.[2] This was a president who admitted in a meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle in January of 2008 that it was his plan to use a Cap and Trade system to cause energy prices to “necessarily skyrocket” in order to force people to transition to “green” technologies. “Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket,” Obama stated as documented in a YouTube video. [3]

Hence, the shock at the sudden “turnabout” in energy policy. True, the vast majority of Americans do support drilling for oil as a counterweight against increasing dependence upon the perpetually troubled Middle East and its OPEC cartel. But since when has any president in recent history paid attention to the opines of their electorate?

Now, as the days turn into weeks, and weeks into months — and the oil continues to gush in the Gulf with no sign of ever letting up — Obama has used the crisis as an excuse to not only ban offshore drilling,[4] but also to clamor for passage of his “cap and trade” energy bill.[5] Politico has cited opinion polls that suggest public support for drilling may be eroding.[6]

Was this the Hegelian plan all along? To foment a crisis in the Gulf to condition the masses that the world must adopt Agenda 21 “sustainable development” as its model for energy or pay the environmental consequences? Before you dismiss this notion as insanity, there are many troubling questions that demand answers. Questions that imply foreknowledge and planning. Questions of “coincidence.”

For example, is it “coincidental” the numerous incredible financial and business transactions that took place in the days, weeks, and months prior to the rig explosion?

We know the ties between British Petroleum and Goldman Sachs run deep. Peter Sutherland, the chairman of Goldman Sachs International also served as chairman of BP right up until last year, according to a 2009 bio on the site of the Trilateral Commission. It says,

“Peter Sutherland is chairman of BP plc (1997 – current). He is also chairman of Goldman Sachs International (1995 – current). He was appointed chairman of the London School of Economics in 2008. He is currently UN special representative for migration and development. Before these appointments, he was the founding director-general of the World Trade Organization. He had previously served as director general of GATT since July 1993 and was instrumental in concluding the Uruguay GATT Round Negotiations.”[7]

On April 30th, The Huffington Post published a satire piece about Goldman Sachs, who was embroiled in a Congressional probe over the present and pending financial meltdown just days before the Gulf disaster stole the headlines. The spoof article titled, Goldman Sachs Reveals It Shorted Gulf of Mexico, was actually mistaken by some as a legitimate news story. Written by a comedian, the satirical article said,

“In what is looming as another public relations predicament for Goldman Sachs, the banking giant admitted today that it made ‘a substantial financial bet against the Gulf of Mexico’ one day before the sinking of an oil rig in that body of water.”[8]

After this gag piece was published, various independent researchers began checking into the financial transactions of Goldman. What they found turned out to be a case of art imitating life.

Sterling Allan reported in The Examiner on May 5th,

“It turns out that Goldman Sachs really did place shorts on TransOcean stock days before the explosions rocked the rig in the Gulf of Mexico sending stocks plunging while GS profits soared — benefitting [sic] once again from a huge disaster, having done the same with airline stocks prior to 911 then again with the housing bubble.”[9]

It’s important to note the cozy relationship between Goldman Sachs and the Obama administration. According to McClatchy, while Goldman Sachs was under fire from the Securities and Exchange Commission, and their lawyers were in negotiations with the regulatory agency, Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein was a repeated visitor to the White House. He attended events with Obama and met with Larry Summers, Obama’s top economic advisor. Obama’s 2008 campaign benefited from $994,795 worth of campaign donations from Goldman employees and their relatives.[10] The Gulf disaster, coming on the heels of the Congressional hearing and SEC “investigation,” served to distract attention from the ongoing financial fraud and economic meltdown caused by Goldman and others.

We now know from John Byrne at Raw Story that prior to the Gulf oil mess, not only did Goldman Sachs short shares of TransOcean, the owner of the failed Deepwater Horizon rig, they also ditched 4,680,822 shares of BP stock, worth $250 million and representing 44% of their holdings. “Goldman’s sales were the largest of any firm during that time,” writes Byrne. “Goldman would have pocketed slightly more than $266 million if their holdings were sold at the average price of BP’s stock during the quarter.”[11]

Byrne also noted other financial institutions that also dumped BP holdings.

“Other asset management firms also sold huge blocks of BP stock in the first quarter — but their sales were a fraction of Goldman’s. Wachovia, which is owned by Wells Fargo, sold 2,667,419 shares; UBS, the Swiss bank, sold 2,125,566 shares.”[12]

If that weren’t enough of a “coincidence,” we also had The Telegraph out of London reporting that the chief executive of BP, Tony Hayward, also sold 223,288 shares, worth £1.4 million of stock in his own company (over $2 million) on March 17th — only weeks before the BP Gulf mess. The paper noted that by doing so he “avoided losing more than £423,000 ($614,449) when BP’s share price plunged after the oil spill began six weeks ago.”[13] He took the money and paid off the mortgage on his family mansion in Kent.

At this point, a question should be coming to mind: What did these people know that the rest of us didn’t? How is it that stock in BP and Transocean suddenly seemed so unattractive to those closest to the disaster? Ah, the coincidences! But it gets even better.

On April 10th, The Houston Chronicle reported that Halliburton — the company of which former Vice-President Dick Cheney was CEO — was in the process of acquiring Boots & Coots. Reuters reported that the deal was announced on Friday, April 9th — just eleven days prior to the explosion.[14] The Chronicle noted that “Boots & Coots has become well known for putting out some of the world’s largest oil and gas fires.”[15] The company’s website lists services they provide, including “deepwater application and well inspections, as well as blowout prevention and control counsel or assistance…”[16] According to the Orlando Sentinel, their expertise is already being put to use in the Gulf, as they are “one of two primary companies designing relief-well strategies for the BP blowout.”[17]

So when the acquisition deal is formerly approved by the government, Halliburton — the company famous for profiting from no-bid government contracts in war zones — will have collected for themselves yet another “slick” profit.

This is especially intriguing in light of the fact that, according to NPR, Halliburton’s cementing work — completed only hours prior to the explosion — has become a “central focus” of the Congressional investigation.[18] The Wall Street Journal quotes unnamed “experts” as saying the timing of the cementing in relation to the blast “points to it as a possible culprit.”[19]

But Halliburton isn’t the only company that stands to make a killing off the crisis. The Times Online out of the UK reported that TransOcean itself took out a $560 million insurance policy on the Deepwater Horizon rig. The dollar amount was well above the rig’s value. According to the paper, insurance payouts amounted to a $270 million profit from the disaster.

“The windfall, revealed in a conference call with analysts, will more than cover the $200m that Transocean expects to pay to survivors and their families and for higher insurance costs.”[20]

A number of people have questioned why Corexit — a chemical banned in the UK[21] and is much more toxic than the oil itself — was used as a dispersant in the Gulf. Assuming for the moment that chemical dispersants had to be used, the New York Times reported on May 13th:

“Of 18 dispersants whose use EPA has approved, 12 were found to be more effective on southern Louisiana crude than Corexit, EPA data show. Two of the 12 were found to be 100 percent effective on Gulf of Mexico crude, while the two Corexit products rated 56 percent and 63 percent effective, respectively. The toxicity of the 12 was shown to be either comparable to the Corexit line or, in some cases, 10 or 20 times less, according to EPA.”[22]

Yet, despite the EPA data ranking it “far above dispersants made by competitors” for toxicity, BP chose to dump more than 400,000 gallons of Corexit into the Gulf, order 805,000 more gallons with plans of hundreds of thousands of additional gallons should the spewing continue. Why?

The answer may lie in the fact that not only has Corexit production benefited BP and Exxon Chemical Company, it also has ties to the very same banking company that somehow knew to sell nearly half its holdings in BP stock just prior to the disaster — Goldman Sachs. Cassandra Anderson of Morph City connects the dots to the economic ties between the oil industry and the bankers.

“Corexit is produced by NALCO, originally named the National Aluminate Corporation, which formed a limited partnership with Exxon Chemical Company in 1994. Ondeo Nalco was purchased by Goldman Sachs, Apollo and Blackstone in 2003 and is currently a publicly traded company. Given NALCO’s business ties, it seems that safe and natural cleanup methods were avoided in the Gulf to pursue an economic agenda. The use of Corexit in Alaska, after the Exxon Valdez disaster, resulted in toxicity to humans that included respiratory, nervous system, liver, kidney and blood disorders.”[23]

They say that history repeats itself. We know from wire reports that all 125 fishing boats had to be recalled from Gulf cleanup efforts after workers aboard began “experiencing nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains.”[24]

What’s going on here? Is the Gulf being poisoned on purpose to enhance corporate profits? Or has this crisis been orchestrated by the illuminists in order to force the United States to ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) which would cede control of the oceans — over 70 percent of the planet’s surface — to the United Nations?

One must always keep in mind that Agenda 21 is the game plan for all that happens in the world today. The Hegelian dialectic is the means by which that game plan is implemented — creation of a crisis to condition the minds of the people that an undesired change is necessary, creation of their own controlled opposition to the crisis, finally the introduction of their pre-determined solution.

Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 deals with “Protection of the Oceans, all Kinds of Seas, Including Enclosed & Semi-enclosed Seas, & Coastal Areas & the Protection, Rational Use & Development of their Living Resources.” Who will determine what constitutes “rational use” of the oceans and their resources? If the LOST is ratified, it will be the United Nations.

In July 2009, State Department official Margaret Hayes told the New York Times that the Obama administration was in the process of working to “craft a plan to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

“President Obama is strongly in favor of the United States becoming a party to the Law of the Sea Convention,” Hayes was quoted as saying. “There is discussion going on as to the exact timing of when they might have a hearing and when they might proceed to have the full Senate consider accession.”[25]

The Times goes on to report that the administration is continuing a multi-year mapping of the sea floor in the Arctic in preparation to stake a claim under the LOST.[26]

Furthermore, the World Ocean Council, an alliance of multi-national businesses that are dedicated to ocean “sustainability,” is having its “Corporate Ocean Responsibility” meeting this month — conveniently on the heels of a major maritime disaster. The Sustainable Ocean Summit is described as “the first international, cross-sectoral ocean sustainability conference for the private sector – [that] will catalyze the growing interest among ocean businesses for more effective leadership and collaboration in addressing ocean environmental challenges.”[27] It just so happens that two of the founding members of the World Ocean Council are ExxonMobil and TransOcean.[28]

That the crisis in the Gulf may have been planned and executed with the intention of profiting from it while pushing an environmental control agenda, might explain the pathetic federal response after the disaster. [NWV POLL: Was the Gulf oil spill deliberately created?]

Three days after learning of the Gulf gusher, the Interior Department Chief of Staff Tom Strickland left for the Grand Canyon with his wife and went white water rafting.[29] The Department of the Interior is charged with the task of coordinating federal response to a major oil spill. Yet, Strickland’s priorities were elsewhere.

The “In-Situ Burn” plan was developed by the federal government in 1994 to deal with oil spill disasters in the Gulf, and calls for the immediate use of fire booms. Had the plan been followed, it might have prevented oil from reaching the shoreline. A single fire boom can burn up to 1,800 barrels or 75,000 gallons an hour. Yet, despite the plan, not one fire boom was available anywhere in the Gulf at the time of the incident.[30] [31]

On May 11th, ABC News reported that the U.S. Coast Guard conducted operations in the Gulf, simulating a major oil spill and practicing federal response to it a mere three weeks prior to the real disaster.[32] What was the purpose of the simulation? Obviously, it wasn’t to improve federal response.

In 2002, there was a similar practice operation which ABC describes as “eerily similar” to the current disaster. Lack of experience, poor communications, conflicting roles, and a need for new technology were cited. None of the recommendations were ever put into place.[33]

Wire reports from the Associated Press have said that workers aboard the rig were forced to sign statements that they hadn’t witnessed the explosion. They were told they couldn’t go home, nor could they make phone calls and talk to their friends and family until they signed the statements indicating they had no “first hand or personal knowledge” of the incident.[34]

We now have private military contractors deployed from Wackenhut — the military contractor infamous for its employees’ drunken brawls and vodka shots taken out of each other’s backside — guarding the perimeter of the Deepwater Horizon Unified Command.

Respected attorney Ellen Brown has written about empty Wackenhut buses with prison bars on the windows being driven around for no apparent reason in Arizona. Your writer has personally talked to other people who have seen these buses. Ellen wrote last year:

“The new Wackenhut operation is shrouded in mystery. It has been running its fleet of empty prison buses night and day, apparently logging miles on a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contract. Multiple buses can be seen driving all over town and even on remote desert back roads. Oddly, except for the driver and one escort guard seated in front, these buses appear to be empty.”[35]

Network news media have been complaining of being harassed and threatened by the security contractors for shooting video of the coast,[36] [37] which we’re told may soon become uninhabitable. Will Wackenhut buses be utilized to relocate mass numbers of people out of the coastal states?

It’s shaping up to be an interesting summer.

Obama’s Goldman buddy; The President

McClatchy

WASHINGTON — While Goldman Sachs’ lawyers negotiated with the Securities and Exchange Commission over potentially Goldman Sachs explosive civil fraud charges, Goldman’s chief executive visited the White House at least four times.

White House logs show that Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein traveled to Washington for at least two events with President Barack Obama, whose 2008 presidential campaign received $994,795 in donations from Goldman’s political action committee, its employees and their relatives. He also met twice with Obama’s top economic adviser, Larry Summers.

No evidence has surfaced to suggest that Blankfein or any other Goldman executive raised the SEC case with the president or his aides. SEC Chairwoman Mary Schapiro said in a statement Wednesday that the SEC doesn’t coordinate enforcement actions with the White House or other political bodies.

Meanwhile, however, Goldman is retaining former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig as a member of its legal team. In addition, when he worked as an investment banker in Chicago a decade ago, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel advised one client who also retained Goldman as an adviser on the same $8.2 billion deal.

Goldman’s connections to the White House and the Obama administration are raising eyebrows at a time when Washington and Wall Street are dueling over how to overhaul regulation of the financial world.

Lawrence Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political scientist, said that “almost everything that the White House has done has been haunted by the personnel and the money of Goldman . . . as well as the suspicion that the White House, particularly early on, was pulling its punches out of deference to Goldman and its war chest.

“There’s now kind of a magnifying glass on the administration for any sign of interference or conversations with the regulators and the judiciary,” Jacobs said.

The SEC investigation of Goldman’s dealings lasted 18 months and culminated with the SEC filing civil fraud charges against the investment bank last week.

According to White House visitor logs, Blankfein was among the business leaders who attended an Obama speech on Feb. 13, 2009, and he also joined more than a dozen bank CEOs in a meeting with Obama on March 27, 2009.

Blankfein also was supposed be among the CEOs who met with Obama in December, but he and two others phoned in from New York, blaming inclement weather.

He and his wife, Laura, were listed on the logs among 438 presidential guests at the Kennedy Center Honors the previous week.

The logs also indicate that Blankfein met twice in 2009, on Feb. 4 and Sept. 30, with Summers, who was undersecretary of the Treasury Department during the Clinton administration when it was headed by Robert Rubin, a former Goldman CEO.

Asked whether Goldman executives had talked to administration officials about the SEC inquiry, Goldman spokesman Michael DuVally said that the firm doesn’t discuss “what conversations we may or may not have had with government officials.”

Schapiro’s statement said that she’s “disappointed” by Republican rhetoric suggesting that the SEC case against Goldman might have been timed to boost legislative prospects for a financial regulation overhaul bill, which Obama plans to pitch in a speech in New York Thursday.

“We do not coordinate our enforcement actions with the White House, Congress or political committees,” Schapiro said. “We do not time our cases around political events or the legislative calendar . . . We will neither bring cases, nor refrain from bringing them, because of the political consequences.”

Obama dismissed any such suggestion as “completely false” Wednesday, saying in a CNBC television interview that the SEC “never discussed with us anything with respect to the charges that would be brought.”

While describing Craig, his former counsel, as “one of the top lawyers in the country,” Obama also said that he’d imposed “the toughest ethics rules that any president’s ever had.”

“One thing he (Craig) knows is that he cannot talk to the White House,” Obama said. “He cannot lobby the White House. He cannot in any way use his former position to have any influence on us.”

Goldman’s chief spokesman, Lucas van Praag, said the firm “wanted Craig . . . for his wisdom and insight.”

Craig, now an attorney with the Washington law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagre & Flom, said: “I am a lawyer, not a lobbyist. Goldman Sachs has hired me to provide legal advice and to assist in its legal representation.”

Goldman’s nearly $1 million in campaign contributions to Obama’s presidential campaign were the most from any single employer except the University of California. Still, they represented only a fraction of the more than $700 million that the campaign raised.

More…