Monday, January 24, 2011

My Instant Hero Worship of Brooksley Born

I watched Frontline's: "The Warning" last night. Although I had read much about Ms. Born and her experience, nothing comes close to actually watching this documentary to get the full flavor of Brooksley Born.

Ms. Brooksley Born should be regarded as one of the great American women of our time and "as far as history goes" as well. Although she ultimately and unfortunately failed to protect us, she stood up against some of the strongest men from Washington and Wall Street trying to steer us from the financial disaster to come.

Ten years before the financial collapse, she took notice of the problem of derivatives, the regulation of which fell under her authority as chair of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. While Ms. Born had been on the short list for Attorney General of the Clinton administration, here she landed. Taking notice of a lawsuit filed by Proctor & Gamble against a bank that essentially defrauded P&G using the complications of derivatives, Ms. Born wisely focused on the fact that the Over the Counter Derivatives market was surprisingly dark to the government and surprisingly unregulated as well. These were "swaps", or just agreements between two parties with no government involvement, causing no problems until the amounts of money in play become economy threatening or there is someone defrauded. She began the process of putting regulations into place and immediately had to fight a Fed Chairman, two Treasury Secretaries, a former head of the FTC, and anyone from Wall Street who wanted to testify that money making and "innovation" were far more important than regulation. Basically they said there was no need to worry about fraud, that things would iron themselves out. Another victory for non-thinking.

There is nothing I can add to the documentary except for the suggestions to watch carefully for a few compelling moments. Watch for the exchange between Greenspan and Waxman when Greenspan is kind of backed into a corner and forced to admit that the "flaw" he has just mentioned is actually his entire ideology. I'm still not sure whether this represents an actual newly found conviction or just a contrite forced confession. I'll wait for the book. :) But until then, this is still remarkable television. Watch for the moment former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt feels the full guilt of his mistake. It's subtle but you'll know when it happens. Rewind and watch his face, the picture of regret. Watch for that moment when Ms. Born gets up from the table after her testimony before congress, as she puts a purse on her arm, not a briefcase. It is an awesome moment of gender identity. Ignore her at your peril, gentlemen. This important failure in her personal and our common struggle against sexism has some mighty strong repercussions.

When I think of the two women who play such huge roles in this documentary, Ayn Rand and Brooksley Born, I can't help but juxtapose the bombastic wild look of Ms. Rand as she outlines her philosophy of unfettered greed and the modest appearance of Ms. Born as she tries not to take credit for being right. As is always the case in our popular media, those with extreme views seem to get the most attention. Those who are right, much less so.

Who warrants the big Hollywood production and who the small documentary on PBS?