- H. Leighton Steward, geologist, environmentalist, author, and retired energy industry executive.
- Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy-UC Berkeley,served in three national administrations-most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, author of 12 books including "SuperCapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life.
- Mike Carey, President of the American Council for Affordable and Reliable Energy (ACARE), President of the Ohio Coal Association.
- Manny Howard, Writer/Editor...author of "My Empire of Dirt".
- How gullible does the oil industry think we are?
- Financial reform.
- Obama's immigration speech and have we become - "Can I see your papers...Please?"
- Earth Day Movement Pushes Painful Policies...American Families Hurt By Higher Costs and Taxes<
- From suburbanite to back yard farmer in his big city backyard.
- Bumper Music:
- It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine), REM.
- It's Your Life, Loverboy.
- Crazy, Gnarls Barkley.
- Beautiful World, Carolina Liar.
- Around The World Daft Punk.
- Take a Minute, K'Naan.
- Joy to the World Three Dog Night.
- The Birds and the Bees, Sha Na Na.
- Grand Canyon, Dmitriy Lukyanov (you need to search for it) (with additional sounds by Jacob).
- Democracy, Leonard Cohen.
- Today's newsletter has details of today's guests and links to the major stories and alerts that Thom covered in the show, plus lots more. If you haven't signed up for the free newsletter yet, please do. If you missed today's newsletter, it is in the archive.
- Quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtfully committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead.
- It's Earth Day!
- Article: Remarks by the President on Wall Street Reform, April 22, 2010.
"It's good to be back in the Great Hall at Cooper Union, where generations of leaders and citizens have come to defend their ideas and contest their differences. It's also good being back in Lower Manhattan, a few blocks from Wall Street, the heart of our nation's financial sector.
"Since I last spoke here two years ago, our country has been through a terrible trial. More than 8 million people have lost their jobs. Countless small businesses have had to shut their doors. Trillions of dollars in savings has been lost, forcing seniors to put off retirement, young people to postpone college, and entrepreneurs to give up on the dream of starting a company. And as a nation we were forced to take unprecedented steps to rescue the financial system and the broader economy.
"As a result of the decisions we made -- some which were unpopular -- we are seeing hopeful signs. Little more than one year ago, we were losing an average of 750,000 jobs each month.
"Today, America is adding jobs again. One year ago, the economy was shrinking rapidly. Today, the economy is growing. In fact, we've seen the fastest turnaround in growth in nearly three decades.
"But we have more work to do. Until this progress is felt not just on Wall Street but Main Street we cannot be satisfied. Until the millions of our neighbors who are looking for work can find jobs, and wages are growing at a meaningful pace, we may be able to claim a recovery -- but we will not have recovered. And even as we seek to revive this economy, it is incumbent on us to rebuild it stronger than before.
"That means addressing some of the underlying problems that led to this turmoil and devastation in the first place. One of the most significant contributors to this recession was a financial crisis as dire as any we've known in generations. And that crisis was born of a failure of responsibility -- from Wall Street to Washington -- that brought down many of the world's largest financial firms and nearly dragged our economy into a second Great Depression.
"It was that failure of responsibility that I spoke about when I came to New York more than two years ago -- before the worst of the crisis had unfolded. I take no satisfaction in noting that my comments have largely been borne out by the events that followed. But I repeat what I said then because it is essential that we learn the lessons of this crisis, so we don't doom ourselves to repeat it. And make no mistake, that is exactly what will happen if we allow this moment to pass -- an outcome that is unacceptable to me and to the American people.
"As I said two years ago on this stage, I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings. But a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it. That is what happened too often in the years leading up to the crisis. Some on Wall Street forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is a family looking to buy a house, pay for an education, open a business, or save for retirement. What happens here has real consequences across our country.
"I have also spoken before about the need to build a new foundation for economic growth in the 21st century. And, given the importance of the financial sector, Wall Street reform is an absolutely essential part of that foundation. Without it, our house will continue to sit on shifting sands, leaving our families, businesses and the global economy vulnerable to future crises. That is why I feel so strongly that we need to enact a set of updated, common-sense rules to ensure accountability on Wall Street and to protect consumers in our financial system.
"A comprehensive plan to achieve these reforms has passed the House of Representatives. A Senate version is currently being debated, drawing on the ideas of Democrats and Republicans. Both bills represent significant improvement on the flawed rules we have in place today, despite the furious efforts of industry lobbyists to shape them to their special interests. I am sure that many of those lobbyists work for some of you. But I am here today because I want to urge you to join us, instead of fighting us in this effort. I am here because I believe that these reforms are, in the end, not only in the best interest of our country, but in the best interest of our financial sector. And I am here to explain what reform will look like, and why it matters.
"First, the bill being considered in the Senate would create what we did not have before: a way to protect the financial system, the broader economy, and American taxpayers in the event that a large financial firm begins to fail. If an ordinary local bank approaches insolvency, we have a process through the FDIC that insures depositors and maintains confidence in the banking system. And it works. Customers and taxpayers are protected and the owners and management lose their equity. But we don't have any kind of process designed to contain the failure of a Lehman Brothers or any of the largest and most interconnected financial firms in our country.
"That's why, when this crisis began, crucial decisions about what would happen to some of the world's biggest companies -- companies employing tens of thousands of people and holding hundreds of billions of dollars in assets -- had to take place in hurried discussions in the middle of the night. That's why, to save the entire economy from an even worse catastrophe, we had to deploy taxpayer dollars. And although much of that money has now been paid back - and my administration has proposed a fee to be paid by large financial firms to recover the rest -- the American people should never have been put in that position in the first place.
"It is for this reason that we need a system to shut these firms down with the least amount of collateral damage to innocent people and businesses. And from the start, I've insisted that the financial industry -- and not taxpayers -- shoulder the costs in the event that a large financial company should falter. The goal is to make certain that taxpayers are never again on the hook because a firm is deemed "too big to fail.
"Now, there is a legitimate debate taking place about how best to ensure taxpayers are held harmless in this process. But what is not legitimate is to suggest that we're enabling or encouraging future taxpayer bailouts, as some have claimed. That may make for a good sound bite, but it's not factually accurate. In fact, the system as it stands is what led to a series of massive, costly taxpayer bailouts. Only with reform can we avoid a similar outcome in the future. A vote for reform is a vote to put a stop to taxpayer-funded bailouts. That's the truth.
"And these changes have the added benefit of creating incentives within the industry to ensure that no one company can ever threaten to bring down the whole economy. To that end, the bill would also enact what's known as the Volcker Rule: which places some limits on the size of banks and the kinds of risks that banking institutions can take. This will not only safeguard our system against crises; this will also make our system stronger and more competitive by instilling confidence here at home and across the globe.
"Markets depend on that confidence. Part of what led to the turmoil of the past two years was that, in the absence of clear rules and sound practices, people did not trust that our system was one in which it was safe to invest or lend. As we've seen, that harms all of us. By enacting these reforms, we'll help ensure that our financial system -- and our economy -- continues to be the envy of the world.
"Second, reform would bring new transparency to many financial markets. As you know, part of what led to this crisis was firms like AIG and others making huge and risky bets -- using derivatives and other complicated financial instruments -- in ways that defied accountability, or even common sense. In fact, many practices were so opaque and complex that few within these companies -- let alone those charged with oversight -- were fully aware of the massive wagers being made. That's what led Warren Buffett to describe derivatives that were bought and sold with little oversight as "financial weapons of mass destruction." And that's why reform will rein in excess and help ensure that these kinds of transactions take place in the light of day.
Now, there’s been a great deal of concern about these changes. So I want to reiterate: There is a legitimate role for these financial instruments in our economy. They can help allay risk and spur investment. And there are a lot of companies that use these instruments to that legitimate end -- they are managing exposure to fluctuating prices or currencies, fluctuating markets. For example, a business might hedge against rising oil prices by buying a financial product to secure stable fuel costs, so an airlines might have an interest in locking in a decent price. That’s how markets are supposed to work. The problem is these markets operated in the shadows of our economy, invisible to regulators, invisible to the public. So reckless practices were rampant. Risks accrued until they threatened our entire financial system.
And that’s why these reforms are designed to respect legitimate activities but prevent reckless risk taking. That’s why we want to ensure that financial products like standardized derivatives are traded out in the open, in the full view of businesses, investors, and those charged with oversight.
And I was encouraged to see a Republican senator join with Democrats this week in moving forward on this issue. That's a good sign. (Applause.) That's a good sign. For without action, we’ll continue to see what amounts to highly-leveraged, loosely-monitored gambling in our financial system, putting taxpayers and the economy in jeopardy. And the only people who ought to fear the kind of oversight and transparency that we're proposing are those whose conduct will fail this scrutiny.
Third, this plan would enact the strongest consumer financial protections ever. (Applause.) And that's absolutely necessary because this financial crisis wasn’t just the result of decisions made in the executive suites on Wall Street; it was also the result of decisions made around kitchen tables across America, by folks who took on mortgages and credit cards and auto loans. And while it’s true that many Americans took on financial obligations that they knew or should have known they could not have afforded, millions of others were, frankly, duped. They were misled by deceptive terms and conditions, buried deep in the fine print.
And while a few companies made out like bandits by exploiting their customers, our entire economy was made more vulnerable. Millions of people have now lost their homes. Tens of millions more have lost value in their homes. Just about every sector of our economy has felt the pain, whether you’re paving driveways in Arizona, or selling houses in Ohio, or you're doing home repairs in California, or you’re using your home equity to start a small business in Florida.
That’s why we need to give consumers more protection and more power in our financial system. This is not about stifling competition, stifling innovation; it’s just the opposite. With a dedicated agency setting ground rules and looking out for ordinary people in our financial system, we will empower consumers with clear and concise information when they’re making financial decisions. So instead of competing to offer confusing products, companies will compete the old-fashioned way, by offering better products. And that will mean more choices for consumers, more opportunities for businesses, and more stability in our financial system. And unless your business model depends on bilking people, there is little to fear from these new rules. (Applause.)
Number four, the last key component of reform. These Wall Street reforms will give shareholders new power in the financial system. They will get what we call a say on pay, a voice with respect to the salaries and bonuses awarded to top executives. And the SEC will have the authority to give shareholders more say in corporate elections, so that investors and pension holders have a stronger role in determining who manages the company in which they’ve placed their savings.
Now, Americans don’t begrudge anybody for success when that success is earned. But when we read in the past, and sometimes in the present, about enormous executive bonuses at firms -- even as they’re relying on assistance from taxpayers or they’re taking huge risks that threaten the system as a whole or their company is doing badly -- it offends our fundamental values.
Not only that, some of the salaries and bonuses that we’ve seen creates perverse incentives to take reckless risks that contributed to the crisis. It’s what helped lead to a relentless focus on a company’s next quarter, to the detriment of its next year or its next decade. And it led to a situation in which folks with the most to lose -- stock and pension holders -- had the least to say in the process. And that has to change. (Applause.)
Let me close by saying this. I have laid out a set of Wall Street reforms. These are reforms that would put an end to taxpayer bailouts; that would bring complex financial dealings out of the shadows; that would protect consumers; and that would give shareholders more power in the financial system. But let’s face it, we also need reform in Washington. (Applause.) And the debate -- the debate over these changes is a perfect example.
I mean, we have seen battalions of financial industry lobbyists descending on Capitol Hill, firms spending millions to influence the outcome of this debate. We’ve seen misleading arguments and attacks that are designed not to improve the bill but to weaken or to kill it. We’ve seen a bipartisan process buckle under the weight of these withering forces, even as we‘ve produced a proposal that by all accounts is a commonsense, reasonable, non-ideological approach to target the root problems that led to the turmoil in our financial sector and ultimately in our entire economy.
So we’ve seen business as usual in Washington, but I believe we can and must put this kind of cynical politics aside. We’ve got to put an end to it. That’s why I’m here today. (Applause.) That’s why I’m here today.
And to those of you who are in the financial sector, let me say this, we will not always see eye to eye. We will not always agree. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve got to choose between two extremes. We do not have to choose between markets that are unfettered by even modest protections against crisis, or markets that are stymied by onerous rules that suppress enterprise and innovation. That is a false choice. And we need no more proof than the crisis that we’ve just been through.
You see, there has always been a tension between the desire to allow markets to function without interference and the absolute necessity of rules to prevent markets from falling out of kilter. But managing that tension, one that we’ve debated since the founding of this nation, is what has allowed our country to keep up with a changing world. For in taking up this debate, in figuring out how to apply well-worn principles with each new age, we ensure that we don’t tip too far one way or the other -- that our democracy remains as dynamic and our economy remains as dynamic as it has in the past. So, yes, this debate can be contentious. It can be heated. But in the end it serves only to make our country stronger. It has allowed us to adapt and to thrive.
And I read a report recently that I think fairly illustrates this point. It’s from Time Magazine. I’m going to quote: “Through the great banking houses of Manhattan last week ran wild-eyed alarm. Big bankers stared at one another in anger and astonishment. A bill just passed… would rivet upon their institutions what they considered a monstrous system… such a system, they felt, would not only rob them of their pride of profession but would reduce all U.S. banking to its lowest level.” That appeared in Time Magazine in June of 1933. (Laughter and applause.) The system that caused so much consternation, so much concern was the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, also known as the FDIC, an institution that has successfully secured the deposits of generations of Americans.
In the end, our system only works -- our markets are only free -- when there are basic safeguards that prevent abuse, that check excesses, that ensure that it is more profitable to play by the rules than to game the system. And that is what the reforms we’ve been proposing are designed to achieve -- no more, no less. And because that is how we will ensure that our economy works for consumers, that it works for investors, and that it works for financial institutions -- in other words, that it works for all of us -- that’s why we’re working so hard to get this stuff passed.
This is the central lesson not only of this crisis but of our history. It’s what I said when I spoke here two years ago. Because ultimately, there is no dividing line between Main Street and Wall Street. We will rise or we will fall together as one nation. (Applause.) And that is why I urge all of you to join me. I urge all of you to join me, to join those who are seeking to pass these commonsense reforms. And for those of you in the financial industry, I urge you to join me not only because it is in the interest of your industry, but also because it’s in the interest of your country.
Thank you so much. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.
Thursday 22 April '10 show notes
Apr. 23, 2010 7:28 am