Monday, July 11, 2011

Sheila Bair: A Woman for the Ages

We've lost her as head of the F.D.I.C, the chairwoman who went up against the likes of Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geitner and Hank Paulson. Now she will probably end up in academia or another setting where her expertise, phenomenal experience (during these last five years of financial excess and stringency) and fearlessness (in the face of male arrogance and paternalism) will be fully appreciated. Finally!

If the American public fully comprehended her role during the financial debacle and how hard she fought for us, the taxpayer, the homeowner foreclosed upon, in short, the little people, we would have been waiting for her with roses, invitations and great rounds of applause as she exited her office. (click link for F.D.I.C. Washington, DC photo) And this, even though she lost most of her battles struggling to help us as she was forced to defer to those with "TRUE" wisdom about bail-outs, saving bondholders over taxpayers and bank profitability. Bailouts, saving bondholders over taxpayers and bank profitability were three major areas she disagreed with "The Powers" about. (see Joe Nocera's wonderful article "Sheila Bair's Bank Shot," beginning page 25 in Sunday, July 10, 2011, New York Times Magazine section.

Like other mavericks, no-good-niks, and iconoclasts, Bair was considered "difficult," not a "team player" and "her policy disputes with other regulators were legion" (Nocera, 26). Was this her politics talking; she was appointed during the Bush administration? Well, then again so were Geitner, Paulson and Bernacke. And Geitner has been rewarded for his efforts "supporting bail-outs, AIG's bailout (think Goldman Sachs' bail-out) and promising the heavens and the earth but doing little to ease the human suffering and economic debacle of foreclosure foppery." If you think the HAMP Program is solving that problem, check it out. Bair disagreed more with these folks than agreed, and even to their faces during Congressional testimony (26). There were those who were listening, perhaps, but none had the will to accept or be swayed to her position.

Bair spoke out, she resisted, she fought and she lost. Was this tantamount to whistleblowing, career suicide?

This is a woman who believed that Bear Stearns should not have been bailed out because investment banks are not like regular banks insured by the F.D.I.C. (Nocera, 27) In other words they take on more risk than those government insured banks. To her mind, Bear Stearns should have gone down with the ship. Instead, Bear Sterns was saved, J. P. Morgan Chase made an incredible amount of money on the cheap bargain it got and Jamie Diamond walked away in the Puritan glory of heavenly estate, with a huge payout and kudos for his canny brilliance! And the ship of state went down in flames. And we are still reeling with the result. Read Nocera's article (27) for her wisdom about this.

Sheila Bair, you were frustrated, angered, probably in tears not a few times and you were marvelous. You are a role model for women who take a stand even though they know it is probably fruitless and the "higher ups" who are protecting vested interests will "do as they please." And even if your courage and honesty have been devalued, rest content in the knowledge that there are those that have seen your work is praiseworthy. If more of our government officials were like you, we would be in a different place today, economically. I will miss you!

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