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Is Obama's SEC choice underwhelming?

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Most of the reviews out there suggest that Obama's choice to run the SEC, Mary Schapiro, is intelligent and capable. Some have suggested that she is somewhat tainted by the failings of the National Association Of Securities Dealers, which she chaired during the Wall Street crisis - though she has more recently been an outspoken critic of the Wall Street mentality.

The big question now is whether she would be aggressive enough to handle the current crisis since her tough talk came a bit late. Does the Obama team need yet another safe choice and insider or do these times call for tougher action? Wall Street excess has brought the world economy to its knees and ruined quite a few jobs and retirement plans. I would agree with the Post's Steven Pearlstein, and think that sure, she's an improvement, but we need more than someone who is simply better than a Bush appointee. After the lax oversight of recent years I wouldn't mind seeing someone more hard-nosed and confrontational, to get Wall Street working for everyone again.

All that is necessary, of course, but clearly this time we need to do more. We need an SEC chairman who is willing to move beyond narrow enforcement actions and no-fault consent decrees to stage a series of regulatory show trials that will expose in graphic detail how people think and behave at all levels of Wall Street firms. We need a chairman who will use the commission's broad powers to fine and debar from the industry big-name directors, top executives, ratings agency officials and other gatekeepers whose nonfeasance resulted in significant losses for investors, customers and taxpayers. We need a chairman who will make effective use of the bully pulpit to expose other well-known industry practices that put the interests of Wall Street ahead of those of its customers. And we need an SEC chairman willing to protect the powers and independence of the SEC against the almost-certain encroachment of the Treasury and the Federal Reserve, whose records on investor protection are virtually unblemished by success.

Mary Schapiro is a wonderful person and a fine public servant who would certainly be a big improvement over the SEC's current, ineffectual chairman. However, given the depth of the current crisis and the virulence of Wall Street's culture, she is not the change we need.

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