Stuck in the Fog

One thing is clear: Citigroup executives thought they had a deal with the government to pay back their bailout money so they could pay themselves as much as they wanted.

Then it all started to unravel. The Washington Post disclosed that the IRS granted Citigroup huge tax breaks (meaning billions) as part of the exit strategy the "too big too fail" bank worked out with Treasury officials.

After that the stock market rejected the government and Citigroup’s assessment of the bank’s health and the deal fell through.

The bankers at Citigroup thought that would be a good time to announce a moratorium on foreclosures to  keep 2,000 families in their homes through the holiday season.

Thank you Citigroup.

Thank you Obama Administration.

This sequence of events has not caused dancing in the streets, but only more confusion and questions about the administration's failed bank bailout and the clueless banks.

The holiday foreclosure moratorium can't cover up the fact that the IRS wanted to give Citigroup what amounted to another huge bailout as a holiday gift. The moratorium also can't cover up Citigroup's miserable performance on modifying home mortgages – while it has enrolled about 100,000 homeowners in the Obama Administration's program with temporary modifications; it has made only a measly 270 of those modifications permanent.

The shady IRS deal came to light at the same time the president was meeting at the White House with some of the nation's top bankers, pleading with them to lend out more money, amid more bad news from the Treasury Department: the "too big to fail" banks propped by your tax dollars and access to cheap government credit reduced lending to business by 10 to 15 percent in the last 4 months.

On “60 Minutes” before the meeting, the president had talked tough: “I did not run for office to help out a bunch of fat cat bankers on Wall Street.”

As Jon Stewart put it on the Daily Show, “the president would finally force the banks to live up to the promises we never made them make.”

So what happened at the meeting? The heads of the three biggest banks, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Goldman-Sachs couldn’t make it to Washington to meet with the president of the United States. They said they were trapped by fog and couldn’t fly.

But the bankers who did attend seemed to bring a fog of their own with them that descended over the meeting, which was cloaked in politeness and double-talk.

After the meeting, the president was back in the timid mode that has characterized so much of his administration’s approach to the banks. “We expect them to explore every reasonable way get our economy moving again,” President Obama said.

And the bankers pledged to work on the disconnect between their own personal support of most of the president’s financial reform package and their lobbyists’ ferocious, and largely successful efforts, to undermine key aspects of even the modest reforms the House of Representatives has passed, as well as the stronger reform the Senate is considering.

It was as if it never occurred to the president before that the banks should have to do something for the rest of us in exchange for their bailout and bonuses.  Or did the fog also wipe out the memory of his earlier meeting in April with the bankers, where he cautioned them that he was the only thing “standing between them and the pitchforks”?

Do the bankers actually believe that anyone buys the notion that they don't know what their own lobbyists are doing? Or are they so used to having their own way that they say whatever they please?

There’s a disconnect going on all right, but not between the bankers and their lobbyists. It’s between the bankers and reality. The Obama Administration has been shielding the bankers from the consequences of their misdeeds and arrogance, continuing to shower them with bounty like the tax break worth billions to Citigroup.

I like President Obama and want him to succeed. Many people I respect have a great deal of faith in him. He is capable of being a brilliant, charismatic leader that can tackle complex issues that others might shy away from, and he's improved the United States’ standing in the world.

The bankers may be stuck in the fog, but our president  needs to see clearly that the pitchforks are still out there, and they’re not just aimed at the bankers. They're also aimed at the politicians who have enabled them.

Take a minute to let President Obama know what you think. Here’s his email address.