Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Geithner’s Power Grab


Wait a minute! Did I hear correctly? Did Treasury Secretary and former New York Federal Reserve Bank screw-up Tim Geithner really tell a House Financial Services Committee today that he needed “new powers” to allow the federal government to take control of non-bank financial corporations whose actions threaten the financial system or the economy and “break them up”?

The subject under discussion at the hearing was AIG, and Geithner and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, under attack for those AIG “bonus payments” to executives, were trying to talk tough about the evil insurance giant.

But aren’t the powers that Geithner is calling for exactly the powers that he and Bernanke already have in the case of the banking industry?

Yes they are.

So why aren’t we seeing the Obama administration and the Fed going after the banking giants that have been co-conspirators with AIG in wreaking havoc with the US and the global economy by creating dodgy structured financial instruments that allowed banks and other financial companies to make huge off-balance-sheet bets that virtually guaranteed a future collapse?

Good question, but not one that the House Finance Committee was asking.

Instead of doing the obvious—which would be to use the Fed’s and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s powers to take over failed banking institutions, break them up, and sell the healthy parts off to stronger institutions—Geithner, Bernanke and the Obama financial team have been pouring dollars into a group of zombie banks that are already technically insolvent by any honest accounting standards, and that have no chance of standing on their own. They are borrowing money at such a prodigious rate that the Chinese government, America’s major creditor, and the United Nations, are talking about the need to do away with the dollar as the global currency, to be replaced by some basket of currencies, and in the process virtually assuring that the US currency will shrink dramatically in value, They are putting a colossal debt upon future generations of Americans. And they are putting at risk all the progressive goals that voters sent Obama to Washington expecting him to enact: health care reform, energy reform, education reform, etc.

If Geithner and Bernanke think it is important, and appropriate, to break up dangerously large and threatening enterprises like AIG, why are they not even talking about breaking up Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and other overlarge large banking firms?

Too big to fail should simply mean too big to exist. It’s that simple.

Not one more dollar should be spent trying to rescue these zombie banks. In fact, they should be ordered to give back the hundreds of billions of dollars that were already poured into them, most of which they have reportedly simply invested in Treasury notes, since there was nobody creditworthy who wanted to borrow the money.  Then the regulators should move in and shut all the big banks down, and begin the process of tearing them apart. Those parts that are deemed hopelessly in debt because of huge holdings of Credit Default Swaps and other toxic financial products should be shut down, with shareholders and bondholders taking the hit.  The healthy parts—the banks with all the deposits—can be auctioned off in pieces to smaller state and regional banks.

Never again should there be federal banks whose branches and brokerage and insurance subsidiaries span the nation and the globe.

There is no need for such entities.  For one thing, they are too powerful politically, with operations in every congressional district, much like the Pentagon and the arms industry, and we’ve seen where that gets us. For another, particularly when it comes to insurance, the regulators are state based, making national companies largely out of reach. Finally, national banks have little or no interest in small businesses and their credit needs.

If large global firms need bank loans, let the banks organize syndications to accommodate them. That has always worked in the past, and in fact, is still done for big global firms.

Geithner should be forced to explain why he needs new powers to break up non-bank financial companies, if he is unwilling to use the powers he already has to break up too-large banks.

Then he should be fired and someone should be brought in to replace him who will demand the breakup of those banks.

While we’re at it, President Obama should also be asked why his Treasury Secretary needs “new powers” to go after companies like AIG that are too large for the good of the country. That power already resides in the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department, both of which can use their anti-trust authority to break up companies that are deemed anti-competitive—surely an apt characterization of AIG.

While average Americans all know that corporations have become far big and too powerful, making the old Rockefeller Standard Oil Trust look quaint by comparison, anti-trust in Washington has become almost a dirty word. It needs to be dusted off and trotted out as a major policy tool, if this country is to return to economic health.

DAVE LINDORFF  is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at

Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future