Rep. Maxine Waters Maligned for Helping Black Banks
by Glen Ford
Black Agenda Report
March 18, 2009
With the bankster class methodically looting the national treasure in collusion with purchased politicians, questions of conflict of interest have become a dead letter. Lawless banksters are "empowered to dictate the terms of their own deliverance from insolvency." Republican and Democratic administrations seem ruled by one master, by the name of Goldman Sachs. "But let a progressive Black congresswoman arrange a meeting in which Black bankers beseech the government for some miniscule piece of the bailout pie – and it is the stuff of scandal."
Every sentient being on the planet is aware of the tawdry money-lust affair between Wall Street banksters and the Bush-Obama bailout regimes. Goldman Sachs didn't miss a beat as January 20th saw one administration morph into the other, with Sachs still in the finance policy catbird seat. Rescuing the zombie bankers from catastrophe of their own making has become the national project, an open-ended transfer of vast wealth to the finance capitalist class, courtesy of purchased politicians. Conflict of interest is a dead letter, with lawless banksters empowered to dictate the terms of their own deliverance from insolvency. The biggest beneficiaries are those institutions already deemed "too big to fail" – and whose executives are far too politically wired to go to jail.
But let a progressive Black congresswoman arrange a meeting in which Black bankers beseech the government for some miniscule piece of the bailout pie – and it is the stuff of scandal.
Los Angeles Rep. Maxine Waters, a consistent crusader for peace and social justice, has long personally patronized Black banks, as has her husband, Sidney Williams. It is a matter of principle, and community self-interest. When the local Family Savings bank was going out of business seven years ago, Rep. Waters was instrumental in ensuring that it remained in Black hands. Black-owned OneUnited bank, based in Boston, took over. Congresswoman Waters' husband was invited to sit on the board. He received no compensation, but was required to own stock.
OneUnited became, according to its web site, "the first Black internet bank and the largest Black-owned bank in the country, with offices in Los Angeles, Boston and Miami." The bank boasts: "In the past five years, we have finances $600 million in loans, including churches, affordable housing, office buildings and retail stores – most in low to moderate income communities such as South Central, Compton [Los Angeles], Liberty City [Miami] and Roxbury [Boston]."
Government action, rather than the perils of lending in minority neighborhoods, brought crisis to the ambitious little bank. When the feds took over Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac last fall, the two institutions' stocks became worthless – costing OneUnited $50 million. Other Black banks, perpetually perched in precarious fiscal positions, were also pushed to the brink.
Most of Washington wouldn't bat an eye if every Black bank in the country suddenly went bust. All their assets put together wouldn't qualify as "too big to fail." Rep. Waters stepped up in September, arranging a meeting between the National Bankers Association, a Black trade group, and representatives of George Bush's Treasury Department. Waters didn't attend. OneUnited CEO Kevin Cohee requested $50 million to offset the bank's losses in the Fannie Mae/Freddy Mac nationalization. He didn't get it, but in December OneUnited received $12 million dollars in TARP bailout funds (Troubled Asset Relief Program).
To hear the New York Times tell it, Rep. Waters was a flagrant flaunter of law, custom and everything holy. In a March 12 article titled "Congresswoman, Tied to Bank, Helped Seek Funds," the Times interviewed Jeb Mason, a former Bush Treasury Department official who helped set up the meeting. Mason claims it was "upsetting" to find that Rep. Waters had "family ties" to one of the banks. "This is something that was potentially politically explosive and embarrassing to the administration," he said. "They should have at least let us know."
Imagine: the Bush administration, afraid of an "explosive and embarrassing" scandal centered on one of the most progressive Democrats in the Congress. That's a bad joke. How could Maxine Waters possibly embarrass Bush? More to the point, can Bush be embarrassed by anything? Is the New York Times capable of anything like embarrassment?
Another former Republican Treasury operative, Stephen Lineberry, told the Times of his great surprise when "a tiny community bank comes in and… they were asking for help for themselves." Lineberry claims he doesn't "remember that ever happening before."
When and where, one wonders, do the big banks make their requests/demands for billions of bailout dollars? Apparently, Mr. Lineberry was astounded that OneUnited CEO Cohee had the temerity to come straight to the monetary point, rather than sit meekly while Lineberry and Mason recited their boilerplate nonsense, offering nothing but advice and good wishes and wasting everyone's time. Cohee asked for the money.
Rep. Waters dismisses the very idea that she had clout with the Bush crowd. "Although both my supporters and detractors often refer to me as influential, the truth is that I had no influence on what Bush administration officials in the Treasury Department or other departments did," Waters said in a prepared statement.
It is laughable – and reason for tears, too – that, in this age of naked banker-government collusion in the fleecing of future generations, the New York Times tries to find impropriety in the mere arranging of a meeting for beleaguered (and "tiny") Black banks. The Times' sense of proportion and scale is way out of whack.