Is this an example of "The New America?"
The cavalier use of brute government force has become routine, but the emerging story of how Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke forced CEO Ken Lewis to blow up Bank of America is still shocking.
In the name of containing "systemic risk," our regulators spread it. In order to keep Mr. Lewis quiet, they all but ordered him to deceive his own shareholders. And in the name of restoring financial confidence, they have so mistreated Bank of America that bank executives everywhere have concluded that neither Treasury nor the Federal Reserve can be trusted.
Mr. Lewis has told investigators for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo that in December Mr. Paulson threatened him not to cancel a deal to buy Merrill Lynch. BofA had discovered billions of dollars in undisclosed Merrill losses, and Mr. Lewis was considering invoking his rights under a material adverse condition clause to kill the merger. But Washington decided that America's financial system couldn't withstand a Merrill failure, and that BofA had to risk its own solvency to save it. So then-Treasury Secretary Paulson, who says he was acting at the direction of Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, told Mr. Lewis that the feds would fire him and his board if they didn't complete the deal.
Mr. Paulson told Mr. Lewis that the government would provide cash from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to help BofA swallow Merrill. But since the government didn't want to reveal this new federal investment until after the merger closed, Messrs. Paulson and Bernanke rejected Mr. Lewis's request to get their commitment in writing.
"We do not want a disclosable event," Mr. Lewis says Mr. Paulson told him. "We do not want a public disclosure." Imagine what would happen to a CEO who said that.
After getting the approval of his board, Mr. Lewis executed the Paulson-Bernanke order without informing his shareholders of the material events taking place at Merrill. The merger closed on January 1. But investors and taxpayers had to wait weeks to learn that the government had invested another $20 billion plus loan portfolio insurance in BofA, and that Merrill had lost a staggering $15 billion in the last three months of 2008.
This was the second time in three months that Washington had forced Bank of America to take federal money. In his testimony to the New York AG's office, Mr. Lewis noted that an earlier TARP investment in his bank had a "dilutive effect" on existing shareholders and was not requested by BofA. "We had not sought any funds. We were taking 15 [billion dollars] at the request of Hank [Paulson] and others," Mr. Lewis testified.But it is the Merrill deal that raises the most troubling questions. Evaluating the policy of Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson on their own terms, this transaction fundamentally increased systemic risk. In order to save a Wall Street brokerage, the feds spread the risk to one of the country's largest deposit-taking banks. If they were convinced that Merrill had to be saved, then they should have made the public case for it. And the first obligation of due diligence is to make sure that their Merrill "rescuer" of choice -- BofA -- had the capacity to bear the losses. Instead they transplanted the Merrill risk to BofA shareholders, the bank's depositors and the taxpayers who ensure those deposits. And then they had to bail out BofA too.
Messrs. Bernanke and Paulson also undermined the transparency that is a vital source of investor confidence. Disclosure is not a luxury to be enjoyed only when markets are rising. It is the foundation of the American regulatory system and a reason investors have long sought to keep their money within U.S. borders.
Mr. Paulson told Mr. Cuomo's investigators that he also kept former SEC Chairman Christopher Cox out of the loop while forcing BofA to rescue Merrill. Mr. Cox wasn't the only one. Mr. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke both sit on the Financial Stability Oversight Board, comprised of federal regulators who oversee TARP. Two days after Mr. Lewis told the dynamic duo that Merrill's losses were exploding and that he was looking for a way out, Mr. Bernanke chaired and Mr. Paulson attended a meeting of this board. Minutes of the meeting show no mention of BofA or Merrill.At the next meeting on January 8, a week after the merger had closed, the minutes again make no mention of either regulator telling their colleagues that they had committed tens of billions of dollars.
Folks... the Wall Street Journal isn't making this stuff up.
Today is April 27, 2009 of the Age of Obama. The above excerpts are fact, not fiction. We as a nation and a people are in deep, deep trouble.