"The Daily Show" last week took a look at the biggest banks' sensitive side.
Jon Stewart, the host of the Comedy Central program, was dumbfounded by the government's tepid response to the return of precrisis bonus payments and its insistence that paying anything less than 100% of counterparty claims at the biggest firms — when some said they would accept less — could trigger a sudden failure.
"I'm not an economist, but these are some fragile … businesses," Stewart said on the Jan. 12 show, inserting more colorful language. " 'No, don't look the bank in the eye! It will fail.' What, are banks made of balsa wood held together with baby tears? Sack up, banks!"
The show played clips of past congressional hearings with former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and current Secretary Tim Geithner. They tried to explain why insurance contracts with American International Group had to be fully honored, and why they figured imposing any conditions on participating in the bailout — such as requiring banks to make loans — would deter institutions.
"Oh I get it. The banks are like a wild stallion. The banks are the unrideable 'Hidalgo,' " Stewart said, referring to a 2004 movie about a mustang. "You can't put a bald eagle in a cage, man. And you can't put a saddle on Morgan Chase. So we had to bail them out, and we couldn't ask for anything in return. "
The piece started off with Stewart's incredulity at the financial sector's sudden resurgence — including the resumption of huge bonuses — while the rest of the economic picture still looks weak.
"Let me see if I got this straight: The only people who have fully recovered from the financial meltdown are the ones who caused the financial meltdown," he said.
The segment concluded with a clip of a Goldman Sachs board member explaining that, "much like professional athletes and movie stars," bankers need to be paid or "you'll lose them."
To which Stewart responded: "Yeah, I guess the only real difference between bankers and movie stars is when Nick Cage lost all his money, I didn't have to bail him out!"
U.S. Bancorp Hire
Walter Price, the director of federal government relations for Wachovia Corp. for roughly six years before Wells Fargo & Co. bought the Charlotte company in late 2008, has joined U.S. Bancorp. Starting Tuesday he will be heading up a new Washington office for the Minneapolis-based bank.
A Fine Debut
Cam Fine, the president and CEO of the Independent Community Bankers of America, has a new venue to preach the virtues of community banking: a blog, aptly named "Finer Points."
"Anyone who knows me knows I hate to pass up any opportunity to talk about community banks," he wrote in his debut post last week, which described his trade group's "core beliefs."
In a second post, Fine expressed vindication in the effort launched by the Huffington Post earlier this month to encourage consumers to move their deposits from big Wall Street banks to community institutions.
"Isn't that just what ICBA has been saying for years and been trumpeting especially loudly the past two years?" he wrote. "It's gratifying to know that we've been so successful in getting our messages out there that we've helped spur this very pro-community bank, populist campaign."
In an old-fashioned phone interview, Fine said he's been "flabbergasted by the response."
"It seems like a lot of bankers are out there following blogs."