WALL STREET AND WASHINGTON: HERE WE GO AGAIN

One thing we've learned from the Wall Street manipulators is that they are about as trustworthy as a wolf's smile.

One thing we’ve learned from the Wall Street manipulators is that they are about as trustworthy as a wolf’s smile.

In their world of financial hocus-pocus, “up” really means down, and “trust us” should be interpreted as, run for the hills! Semantics become weapons when in the hands of bankers, so beware of a one-word change that Wall Street lobbyists recently got banking regulators to make in an arcane accounting rule.

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The rule, called “mark-to-market,” has now become “mark-to-management.” This seemingly minor change allows banks to hide the true value of the assets they have on their books. By making their assets seem to be worth more than they are, a bank can make itself look healthier and better run than it is. Think of it as cosmetics for bankers.

Specifically, they wanted to hide all those bad housing loans that they have on their books – loans so bad that they’re referred to as “toxic assets.” Under the mark-to-market rule, banks were required to “mark” the value of each of these home loans according to the actual market price of each house – prices that have plummeted since the loans were made. Rather than report such real losses on their books, the financial giants demanded the rule be changed.

Thus market-to-management. Now the management of the bank is allowed to mark the value of the toxic assets on their books at whatever price management says their worth. In other words – hocus-pocus – Wall Street’s financial wizards can call a tadpole a whale. Under intense lobbying from the banking semanticists, Congress recently forced regulators to go along with this fiction.

Excuse me for noticing, but wasn’t it Wall Street’s perversion of reality – along with Washington’s acquiescence to deregulation fantasies – that got us in today’s mess? We’re not even out of the current mess – yet there they go again, creating another one.

“Making Bank Losses Vanish,” The New York Times, April 1, 2009.

“Problem For Bankers? The Rules,” The New York Times, March 13, 2009.

“Fed Chairman Calls for a Regulator to Rein In Entities ‘Too Big to Fail,'” The New York Times, March 11, 2009.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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