In Praise of SIGTARP, Norse God of Financial Accountability

“…But in 2012, the people became restless.  They mistrusted the 1% who lived far away in beautiful, unattainable, icy Jotunheim.

And the people quarreled amongst themselves.  They could not agree with one another or keep the peace.  The people were the 99%, and they divided into warring ideological camps, visiting bloody internecine raids upon the other side.

One group, the Teaparty tribe, worshiped the demigod Free Market and raged against encroachments from their sworn enemy, Big Gov, who dwelt smugly in the elaborate Federalist castles of Washington DC.

The others, the Occupy tribe, supplicated before the Mother Goddess Collective Action, and they named their enemy Big Bank, who ruled cruelly from the executive suites of New York skyscrapers.

Periodically one tribe drew blood from the other side in a furious ideological battle.  But even amidst the carnage, both sides wished for a savior, a hero who could unite them.  The One.

In the beginning, little did the people notice online publications from Neil Barofsky, which showed the 99% their common enemy lived in both Washington DC and Wall Street.  Who was this Neil Barofsky?  At first he appeared to be a mild-mannered grunt, a common civil servant, toiling in the basement of the US Treasury from 2008 to 2010.  But on July 25, 2012, with the publication of Bailout: An Inside Account of How Washington Abandoned Main Street While Rescuing Wall Street, he became known to the world as SIGTARP[1], Norse God of Financial Accountability!

At last revealed in all his glory, SIGTARP arrived, flanked by Amazons!

The 99% needed a hero to unite them, to show them how both Washington and Wall Street betrayed them all.  SIGTARP unfurled his fearsome flag of financial accountability.  The two tribes put down their weapons against one another and turned toward the new banner.

They finally understood the truth.  Big Government and Big Bank conspired together to keep them down.  A new unity began to emerge, as the armies of the 99% integrated.

No longer needing his disguise as Neil Barofsky, SIGTARP ripped off his itchy wool suit to reveal rippled musculature and a mighty pen describing infernal, festering corruption.  Under the Bailout banner, SIGTARP and the newly united 99% began their determined march upon Jotunheim.”


Ok, I haven’t read Bailout yet, as it was just published today.  Based on today’s NY Times Review, the book suffers from some simplistic moralizing and, perhaps, Barofsky’s savior-complex.

But – and I mean this in earnest – I have had a serious man-crush on Neil Barofsky for a while now.  As SIGTARP, he managed to accurately review the TARP process, while maintaining critical distance from both Washington and Wall Street.[2]  I will highlight in the next few weeks some of the excellent reporting done by his office.  For all the unhappy things that may be said about the cynical nexus of Wall Street and Washington, SIGTARP has given me hope in the last year that our system can be resilient and accountable.  A hero may yet rise.

Thank you SIGTARP!

“No problem, kid,” answers a booming, disembodied voice, before soaring upward, headed toward Jotunheim.

[1] SIGTARP stands for Special Investigator General  for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the Congressionally appointed watchdog over the $700B TARP program created in 2008 at the height of the Credit Crunch.

[2] Not an easy trick!  As the NY Times review excerpts from the book preface, Barofsky met in 2010 with Herb Allison, former head of TIAA and Fannie Mae:  “ ‘Have you thought at all about what you’ll be doing next?’ Mr. Allison asks Mr. Barofsky, soon adding, ‘Out there in the market, there are consequences for some of the things that you’re saying and the way that you’re saying them.’  ‘Allison was essentially threatening me with lifelong unemployment,’ Mr. Barofsky concludes, and alternatively suggesting a plum government appointment some day if Mr. Barofsky would simply ‘change your tone.’  When Mr. Barofsky tells his deputy of the exchange, the deputy says, ‘it was the gold or the lead,’ resorting to their joint experience prosecuting drug kingpins in New York: Cooperate and share the riches, or don’t and get plugged.”


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