This morning marked the first of five panels in the hearings of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, designed to get to the bottom of how the financial crisis unfolded. The hearings come amid both widespread anger at banks during bonus season and wonkish wrangling over how to prevent another crisis. So are the hearings helping get to the bottom of the mess? Opinion is divided. Some are particularly pleased with the questions commision-member Phil Angelides has been asking, but others say the hearing felt like empty show.
  • Pleasantly Surprised "I'm already thinking this commission was a really good idea," writes Justin Fox at Time. "I don't know that I'd put much stock in the report it eventually puts out, but Murren and Angelides have done a great job so far of asking questions that are both (a) pointed and (b) reasonably intelligent. Which is not a combination you see frequently in Congressional hearings." He points out that "the main value of such a commission" lies not in the "report but in the videos and the transcripts of powerful (and formerly powerful) people being put on the spot." That said, he wishes that a single "smart trial lawyer" was asking questions rather than group-style questioning," which "doesn't allow for the sort of persistent cross-examination that delivers the most interesting result."
  • Unpleasantly Disappointed, With a Few Exceptions "I really hoped," begins The Atlantic's Daniel Indiviglio,"that this would be a productive way for to identify what went wrong and what needs to be done to reform. Unfortunately, a great deal of what's going on here feels witch trial-esque, instead of a legitimate attempt at getting useful answers." Still, he sees one or two "legitimate questions" in the mix.
  • Unsurprising Writing before the hearing, Andrew Martin and Micheline Maynard point out in the New York Times that bankers are, thanks to their lawyers and "public relations professionals," masters of "the art of the nuanced regret." Roben Farzad meanwhile explains in BusinessWeek that "perhaps" this may "all destined to be so much Kabuki regulatory theater." Yet he notes one possible outcome:
But if these hearings deliver on their promised histrionics--bailed-out banker pay is an almost-irresistible whipping boy this year--the chief upshot will be renewed Wall Street-Main Street polarization. All of which, even after banks have paid back their TARP loans and made nice with charitable causes, will underscore for executives that it just doesn't pay to be a publicly traded investment bank.
  • Phil Angelides: The One to Watch "Wow," reacts Reuters's Rolfe Winkler, "if the questioning by Phil Angelides of Lloyd Blankfein is any indication of how these hearings are going to play out, they will be much fun to watch. He really pressed Blankfein and the two got combative. Too bad he didn't have more time..." He thinks the others asked "worthless, softball general questions."