Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wall Street Journal: Sen Jon Tester "asleep at the switch" and "needs to go?”

It’s Wednesday -- time for a little Montana politics:

Sen. John Tester recently waxed eloquent to the editorial board of the Billings Gazette about the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and its role in the MF Global scandal. MF Global went bust, losing $1.6 billion of OPM (other people’s money,) including money owed to a lot of Montana farmers and ranchers, who are understandably not amused.

Sen. Tester, who is up for re-election this year, was quick to demand that heads roll at the CFTC:

“CFTC was asleep at the switch. They were in the building when all that stuff went on, too. Maybe Gary Gensler needs to go,” Tester said.

He also had instructions for law enforcement officials:

“From what I know about the issue, it’s pretty straight-forward. People need to go to jail over it,” Tester said.

The Gazette article not only faithfully reported Tester’s professed outrage, it even copied his verbage -- verbatim -- later in the story: "Gensler has been accused of being asleep at the switch while accounts that should have been regulated were drained by MF Global.” What? Experienced journalists can’t think of a new metaphor for “asleep at the switch?” Not even “asleep at the wheel,” or “sleeping on the job,” or something? And as a question for Sen. Tester, is the switch that the CFTC was asleep at really “in the building?” Isn’t this a railroad metaphor?

Yes, yes, we are being nit-picky, churlish even, especially since Tom Lutey is a good reporter. But our sniping is in the service of a greater cause. While we might not be surprised at Sen. Tester mixing metaphors, it is more than a little embarrassing that the Gazette simply regurgitated Tester’s points and language without asking any deeper questions. For that, we need the Wall Street Journal, which pointed out some inconvenient truths regarding Sen. Tester’s rhetoric, starting with the fact that Sen Tester supported and voted for the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill:

...Dodd-Frank vastly expanded the power of the CFTC. Lawmakers gave Mr. Gensler virtually everything he asked for and, according to Capitol Hill staff, even allowed the CFTC chairman to help write key provisions of the bill.

We would point out that those were Democratic lawmakers who passed Dodd-Frank on a nearly party-line vote in 2010 (two moderate Republicans from New England states voted for it.)

The WSJ article quite rightly points out (obliquely) that this futures trading scandal could raise the same issues about Sen. Tester -- i.e. was he “asleep at the switch,” and does he “need to go,” given that he and his party created the monster?

Indeed. It gets a bit old to have Montana’s Democratic Senators toeing the line set by guys like Sen. Dodd of Connecticut and Rep. Frank of Massachusetts for 4-5 years, only to have them busily obfuscate their records come election season in Montana. It gets even older to have our Montana press not asking hard questions, leaving it to a paper from New York City to point out the obvious. It’s not like Sen. Tester’s vote on Dodd-Frank was a state secret.

Actually, take a look at that last link again -- really, do... Maybe the Gazette wishes that particular column were a state secret. The 2010 Gazette description of Dodd-Frank has to be one of the longest and most overwrought descriptions of a bill in a “roll call” column we have ever seen in that paper. In fact, it reads like a Democratic Party press release, truth to be told. This was supposed to be objective “hard news?” We will only quote one passage -- again, go to the link for the full Gazette “news report” on Dodd-Frank:

Voting 60 for and 39 against, the Senate on July 15 sent President Obama a bill (HR4173) to enact strict financial regulations and consumer protections intended to improve the odds against further catastrophic breakdowns of the U.S. economy. Reversing decades of financial deregulation in Washington,... the bill addresses many of the reckless or illegal business practices and hands-off governmental policies that led to the investment-bank failures, taxpayer bailouts, savings evaporations, mortgage foreclosures, retirement cancellations and persistently high unemployment that define the ongoing Great Recession...

(Final question: has the recent financial crisis really been officially termed the “Great Recession,” with capitalization and everything, in the official newspaper stylebooks? Jus’ askin’...)

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