Personality not Plans

What we know is that nothing constructive is happening now, the usual ideological gridlock is preventing progress, and that the curiosity about a brilliant new face might just get the right people to the right table at the right time.  

Bernanke is completely right that the ONLY way out of this mess is not throwing more money at it, further damaging the credibility and value of the dollar. The real answer, the one that that actually reverses the crisis is admitting the simple fact that a $250,000 house was sold for $400,000. 

And the solution lies not in legislation but in executive leadership. The key component of the solution is a reduction of the principal balance of the mortgage loans out there — and that includes virtually all loans that were initiated over the last 5 years. All homes were affected by the appearance of rising prices that turned out to be false.

The only way this is going to happen is with persuasive executive leadership. Teddy Roosevelt said speak softly and carry a big stick. That is pretty much what need to happen here but somehow you need to get all the players into the room and sitting at the same table. 

McCain won’t do it out of stubborn ideology. Clinton can’t do it because of resistance just to her name let alone credibility in her policies. That leaves Obama — an untested but brilliant strategist who not only survived but prospered in highly contentious environments consisting of diverse antagonists and rivals.  His credentials are necessarily sparse but still solid in this respect. If Obama can’t get everyone to the table, nobody will. And if they don’t come, the economy will sink like a stone. 

Bernanke could be the one but he isn’t. Paulson could be the one but he isn’t. And of course Bush is in the right position, but is so out of touch with the reality of the situation that he is worse than useless.  

Consensus that offers olive branches and incentives to everyone CAN solve these issues. Lower the mortgage balance but give the lenders a chance to participate in the comeback on a contingent basis. State the reduction as a contingency so the capital requirements of banks can be met without begging for money around the world. This will also minimize the write-downs of investment banking houses and restore investment value to balance sheets.

Avoid criminal and civil prosecutions and even offer immunity of there is cooperation. Strengthen regulation and abandon the new round of loosening regulations in Basel II in favor of tighter standards with oversight on risk assessment. Strengthen disclosure requirements and enforcement of violations by the SEC using the methods employed in the CDO fraud as the template.

These are the a few of the important things that need to be done. In order for Republicans, Democrats, Independents, businessmen, Wall Street executives, Bankers, borrowers and investors to play nice together though, it will take executive leadership of a type we haven’t seen since Jack Kennedy talked down steel prices. 

There is no guarantee that anyone including Obama will be successful at staunching the bleeding. What we know is that nothing constructive is happening now, the usual ideological gridlock is preventing progress, and that the curiosity about a brilliant new face might just get the right people to the right table at the right time. 

Obama, like any president, will need advice and counsel dealing with the complexities of currency, derivative securities, arcane, conflicting mortgage laws and provisions in notes that defy explanation. 

He has an advantage in perception, however, His campaign is clearly not owned by one large interest group over another. And there is no perception that runs to the contrary. Enmity between ankle biting bankers and investment bankers won’t be mixed with suspicion that they are being led into a trap. 

It will be 10 months before Obama can use his powers of the Presidency to start this process. But there IS something he can do now. Start acting like a President and fill the void. His backing includes people of enormous political power who can help invite the decision-makers to secret meetings now. Win or lose, he should do that now without regard to whether it is politically expedient. 

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