Sunday, September 21, 2008

Treasury Laser-Shark Facility

Draft text of Dubya's bailout plan has leaked, and it's being criticized not just by economists, but also by constitutional scholars, who get a bit worked up about stuff like this:

Sec. 8. Review.

Decisions by the Secretary [of the Treasury] pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Me, not so much. Hey, what's to review?

Consider. Elsewhere in the draft bill, the Secretary of the Treasury is authorized to hire whoever he likes and establish whatever "administrative vehicles" he likes to buy, sell, repackage, or in any other way exploit any financial instrument "based on or related to" residential mortgages.

So, let's say he uses a small portion of the $700 billion-with-a-B that he gets under this bill to buy an island guarded by a fully-equipped two-brigade garrison from Blackwater, to build a genetic engineering lab staffed by mad scientists breeding sharks that will hatch from the egg with lasers in their heads. So long as someone in the boiler room is selling structured financial instruments that bundle shark piracy futures with residential mortgages from Cleveland, establishing the Treasury Laser-Shark Facility would be a legitimate exercise of the power granted by the draft bill, and even if oversight were allowed, there would be nothing going on to which anyone could properly object. It's all good.

But of course, we should not expect anything so exotic. Merely a slush fund which Hank Paulson, the former Goldman Sachs CEO, can use to ease the pain of his erstwhile colleagues:

"It's going to be very hard psychologically for these people," Frank said. "I talked to one guy who had to give up his private jet recently. And he said of all the trials in his life, giving that up was the hardest thing he's ever done."
Sneer all you like, dear reader, but you cannot truly understand this pain, having never had a private jet. And so it is that Paulson is describing any restriction on payouts to his buddies, even a restriction on "golden parachute" payouts to high executives of failed institutions, as a "poison pill" which the Bush administration won't agree to.

Yes, that's right. They're saying that the economy will tank if we don't pass this bill immediately. And they're saying that they'll veto the bill and tank the economy to protect Wall Street insiders' golden parachutes.

Class warfare doesn't get more naked than this.

More: On a quick read of the bill, it looks as if the TLSF could only stay in business for two years, since that's how long the Secretary's authority lasts. I'm not so sure. The draft text could conceivably allow him to create agencies and sign contracts that would endure long past his own initial grant of authority. In fact, it would almost have to allow that if part of the program includes creating new "structured finance" vehicles to repackage the mortgages, which would necessarily involve creating new agencies that would administer them, enduring at least as long as any of the underlying mortgages. This was a favored trick of Robert Moses, the czar of highway-building and much other construction in New York State for literally decades. He spent much of that time as the head of public authorities whose enabling legislation said they would expire at a date certain, unless necessary to fulfil their contracts. But he'd made sure that he could create new contracts whenever he wanted by issuing a new round of bonds, thereby prolonging their existence at will.