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The New York Times is reporting that the Angelides Commission seems to be hamstrung. You remember the commission, right? It's the belatedly put-together, belatedly started panel that was supposed to dig deep into what caused the financial meltdown and make recommendations about it. Well, the Times says that "it has been hobbled by delays and internal disagreements and a lack of focus, according to interviews with a majority of its members and government officials briefed on its work."

What a shocker!

In recent months, a top investigator resigned, frustrated by delays in assembling a staff. Behind closed doors the panel’s chairman and vice chairman have had heated disagreements over whether to make public preliminary findings or revelatory documents. Entities like Citigroup and the Treasury have complained that the panel’s requests for information have been vague and voluminous. And the commission has issued no subpoenas even though it has the power to do so.

[The goal of publishing a report by Dec. 15] seems increasingly out of reach, given what the commissioners themselves acknowledge has been a haphazard approach and a lack of time and resources. ...

[A] few commissioners said they were concerned that Mr. Angelides was more interested in holding prominent hearings than in selecting a few targets for deep examination. For example, the chief executives of four Wall Street banks testified in January, and Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman, will testify on Wednesday.

Could it possibly be because, really now, just like investigating the f'n war criminals who lied us into Iraq and wound up getting nearly 5000 Americans and we'll never know how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, probing too deeply beneath the surface might put the spotlight into nooks and crannies that might be embarrassing not only for the Cheney-Bush folks and other Republicans but also a passel of Democrats? Including Dems who either had jobs with the big financial institutions or hope to get one when they ultimately leave government service?

Could it be? Nah.

The commission begins new hearings on Wednesday. Ferdinand Pecora must be spinning in his grave.

Some of us hoped at least little hopes for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) created by the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009 and headed Phil Angelides, the former California State Treasurer. We knew it was a long shot. If there had been real concern for digging into the financial mess, it would have gotten some front-burner treatment right away. Instead, it didn't even get approved until June 2009. And it didn't get its full staffing until December. And it didn't hold its first hearings until January. There will be some new ones on Wednesday.

It now appears that lipstick on a pig would have been an improvement over the Angelides Commission. That was already pretty much in evidence during the commission's hearings in January. The tough questions, even the mildly impolite ones, didn't get asked. And that set the we're-really-just-pretending-here-folks tone. And now the Times confirms it, if a little too gently.

Well, let's face it, thinking there was even a 1% chance that Government-Sachs Goldman-Sachs might be given at least a once-over by a modern Pecora Commission was a fever-dream from the get-go. The fact that the final report isn't due until December, well after Congress passes and the President signs whatever inadequate financial regulation and oversight bill into law, shows clearly where we're headed.

Angelides is no Pecora. He's just another cog in the machinery, an insignificant bit that, no matter which way it moves, will do nothing even to slow down the pillage and rapine described all too well by books like Simon Johnson's 13 Bankers.

Pecora was the last head of the banking probe that looked into what happened leading up to the 1929 crash. As I noted previously, in Pecora's 1939 book, Wall Street Under Oath, he described what the bankers had been up: "Had there been full disclosure of what was being done in furtherance of these schemes, they could not long have survived the fierce light of publicity and criticism. Legal chicanery and pitch darkness were the banker's stoutest allies."

When Pecora took over as the fourth and final commissioner of the banking probe, he discovered that its Republican-appointed investigators had left a few stones unturned. Thanks to pressure from FDR on the new Democrat-controlled Senate, Pecora’s request to extend the life of the commission was granted. He subpoenaed bankster after bankster into the hearing rooms to answer his pitbull questions in what a Time magazine cover headlined as "Wealth on Trial." He dug into their financial records. Read auditors' reports. He didn’t stop until he got answers. And resignations.

Out of his investigation came government controls, including Glass-Steagall, the banking regulation law that was so cavilierly dismantled 11 years ago because not enough people with clout would stand up to the Chicago Schooled economists who said unfettered markets know best and nothing can go wrong. The Securities and Exchange Commission was passed into law, too. But, as we learned, it began taking its oversight duties in a rather relaxed fashion in the past couple of decades.

We have some ideas of what went on that led to the financial crisis that made life miserable for so many Americans - and other people around the world not part of the Top Tier. But we could have known more. We could actually, as Pecora tried to do, with some considerable success, gotten to the bottom of things.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Apr 05, 2010 at 07:00 PM PDT.

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