In one of the most dramatic days in Wall Street's history, Merrill Lynch agreed to sell itself to Bank of America for roughly $50 billion to avert a deepening financial crisis, while another prominent securities firm, Lehman Brothers, hurtled toward liquidation after it failed to find a buyer.We all need to ask ourselves how we got here. It was the systematic deregulation of an industry that controls our nations finances. Ask yourself who was to benefit from these weaker regulations? Does anyone still think that industry can police itself? The Republicans systematically rolled back depression era regulations which were put in place to avoid a repeat of the Great Depression. Who helped to roll back these regulations?
The humbling moves, which reshape the landscape of American finance, mark the latest chapter in a tumultuous year in which once-proud financial institutions have been brought to their knees as a result of hundreds of billions of dollars in losses because of bad mortgage finance and real estate investments.
But even as the fates of Lehman and Merrill hung in the balance Sunday night, another crisis loomed as the insurance giant American International Group appeared to teeter. A.I.G. sought a $40 billion lifeline from the Federal Reserve, without which the company may have only days to survive.
The stunning series of events culminated a weekend of frantic around-the-clock negotiations, as Wall Street bankers huddled in meetings at the behest of Bush administration officials to try to avoid a downward spiral in the markets stemming from a crisis of confidence.
"My goodness. I've been in the business 35 years, and these are the most extraordinary events I've ever seen," said Peter G. Peterson, co-founder of the private equity firm the Blackstone Group, who was head of Lehman in the 1970s and a secretary of commerce in the Nixon administration.
It remains to be seen whether the sale of Merrill, which was worth more than $100 billion during the last year, and the controlled demise of Lehman will be enough to finally turn the tide in the yearlong financial crisis that has crippled Wall Street and threatened the broader economy.
One needs to look no further than Phil Gramm who is a top economic advisor to Senator John McCain.
The general co-chairman of John McCain's presidential campaign, former Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas), led the charge in 1999 to repeal a Depression-era banking regulation law that Democrat Barack Obama claimed on Thursday contributed significantly to today's economic turmoil.If America votes for more of this crap then they deserve what will come. We have gone from surpluses to record setting deficits. We have seen the value of our homes collapse and the greatest increase in consumer indebtedness in our history. Our middle class is nearly gone and yet this election remains close. What more will it take for us to wake up and say ENOUGH?
"A regulatory structure set up for banks in the 1930s needed to change because the nature of business had changed," the Illinois senator running for president said in a New York economic speech. "But by the time [it] was repealed in 1999, the $300 million lobbying effort that drove deregulation was more about facilitating mergers than creating an efficient regulatory framework."
Gramm's role in the swift and dramatic recent restructuring of the nation's investment houses and practices didn't stop there.
A year after the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the old regulations, Swiss Bank UBS gobbled up brokerage house Paine Weber. Two years later, Gramm settled in as a vice chairman of UBS's new investment banking arm.
Later, he became a major player in its government affairs operation. According to federal lobbying disclosure records, Gramm lobbied Congress, the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department about banking and mortgage issues in 2005 and 2006.
During those years, the mortgage industry pressed Congress to roll back strong state rules that sought to stem the rise of predatory tactics used by lenders and brokers to place homeowners in high-cost mortgages.
For his work, Gramm and two other lobbyists collected $750,000 in fees from UBS's American subsidiary. In the past year, UBS has written down more then $18 billion in exposure to subprime loans and other risky securities and is considering cutting as many as 8,000 jobs.
Gramm did not respond to an e-mail, and was unavailable for comment, according to a UBS spokesman. The bank has no official position on the subprime crisis, the spokesman said, but is a member of the Financial Services Roundtable and other industry groups that are actively lobbying Congress on the issue.
Now, some housing experts and economists see Gramm's thinking in the recent housing proposal from McCain, the Republican Party's presumed presidential nominee. Gramm is often a surrogate for the Arizona senator, particularly in meetings focused on the economy. And McCain has hinted he'd consider the former Texas senator for Treasury secretary in a McCain administration.
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