Jon Corzine: Too Big to Jail?

by Gerri Willis

The head of the Securities and Exchange Commission - Mary Schapiro - told Fox Business today that the collapse of MF Global is not a failure of regulation - just a failure of a firm making stupid decisions.

Investors in MF Global - the bankrupt trading firm run by Jon Corzine are still trying to get their money back! Nearly $600 million is still missing. So, how did MF Global become the eighth biggest bankruptcy in American history?

You only have to look at Corzine's connections to the business and political world for some clues: Corzine is the personification of the "Revolving Door" - going from Wall Street to politics and back again - a career spanning four decades. He first made his fortune as one of the so-called "Masters of the Universe" at Goldman Sachs. That is until he eventually was pushed out in 1999.

He then used about a quarter of his fortune - an estimated $100 million - smashing all sorts of spending records - to run as a liberal democrat - eventually winning a Senate seat - he then became a governor of New Jersey. Voters eventually fired him too - after he nearly wrecked the state. He left Trenton and became the CEO of MF Global.

Corzine very quickly tried to make the company into a mini-Goldman Sachs. He lobbied the New York Fed to make MF Global one of the handful of banks authorized as primary dealers of U.S. treasury bonds. Corzine got his wish: The man who helped him get it was the New York Fed's president and CEO - William Dudley - a partner at Goldman until 2007.

After MF Global collapsed, many including us here at the Willis Report are asking: Where are the regulators?! The chief regulator is Gary Gensler - he heads the CFTC - which is investigating this whole mess. Gensler, who just today announced he's recusing himself from this case, has long and deep ties to Corzine. When Corzine was running for governor, Gensler chipped in $10,000 to the state Democratic party - to help get Corzine elected.

Gensler also worked with Corzine on Capitol Hill - crafting rules and regulations for Wall Street. Corzine also worked along-side former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson at Goldman Sachs, Paulson was the one who pushed for the massive bailout of Wall Street and the taxpayer rescue of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Speaking of Fannie and Freddie - there's James Johnson. He joined Goldman Sachs the same year Corzine led the company.

Johnson was a top executive at Fannie Mae in the 1990s - and walked away with tens of millions of dollars in compensation - while at the same time driving the housing market off a cliff.

Nice work if you can get it.

Corzine has also been part of the ‘Bilderberg Group' a who's who of the rich and powerful international elite - including some boldface American names: Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner and Bill Clinton just to name a few. These guys get together every few years to solve the world's problems over cavier and chardonnay.

But it's not just former presidents Corzine rubs shoulders with - despite President Obama decrying ‘Wall Street Fat Cats' - Corzine has already helped to raise at least half-million dollars for President Obama's re-election.

And Obama's current EPA commissioner - Lisa Jackson - was also in the Corzine cabinent when he was governor of New Jersey. Corzine's No. 2 at MF Global, Bradley Abelow, worked for the Obama administration, was also in Corzine's New Jersey cabinet and was a top executive at Goldman Sachs!

As for that half-million? The Obama campaign says it will give the money back - if Corzine is convicted of a crime. But if history is our guide -the kind of Wall Street firms Corzine once ran became ‘Too Big to Fail.'

Maybe Corzine himself will be too ‘Big to Jail.'

Fed Drifting into Obama's Territory

by Gerri Willis

I spoke at the top of today's show about the need for leaders to stop using the terms "fixing" problems and "spending" money on them as interchangeable. But it happens all the time. As a matter of fact, the Wall Street Journal reports today that Federal Reserve officials are beginning to think about a new program to help the struggling housing market by cutting mortgage rates.

Now, the Fed doesn't directly control mortgage rates but it does influence them. In fact, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has been holding rates close to zero for three years - and mortgage rates have moved to 50-year lows - rising slightly only recently. None of that effort has paid off with a rising housing market yet - but the Fed may well double down on that policy.

To do that, the Fed would buy mortgage-backed securities -- the assets that nearly cratered the financial industry during the financial crisis. And that means it would print money or use its own reserves to buy them - both of which could cost us in the long run by raising inflation.

Look, I think there is widespread agreement that the factors standing in the way of a housing recovery aren't mortgage rates - after all, 30-year fixed rates stand at 4.18 percent - while a 15-year mortgage rate is just 3.47 - according to Bankrate.com. The real problem for a housing recovery is 9.1 percent unemployment.

Without jobs, consumers can't buy homes. No income, no loan.

And that's the other problem - qualifying for a loan these days is difficult - lenders want sparkling credit scores and solid employment histories. In other words, just as bank loan officers were loosey goosey during the housing boom they are incredibly strict in their terms now.

The Fed seems to be drifting into territory that the Obama Administration itself has failed at time and again. Whether you talk about HAMP or HARP or any one of a number of other programs - none of them have worked.

The main reason? Banks just haven't wanted to lend - regardless of the benefits or perks or muscle applied by the White House.

Ultimately, our housing market will have to shake off these doldrums on its own - work through the downdraft. More government spending and more federal promises aren't going to do it.

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