The Wall Street Journal takes a withering A1 look at the performance of Securities and Exchange Commission chairman during the credit crisis. The paper makes Chairman Christopher Cox out to look like the Jimmy Cayne of the regulatory set, fiddling while Wall Street burned.

The paper’s lede says Cox missed a big conference call with the “chieftains of U.S. financial regulation” on the weekend of the Bear Stearns bailout. We’ll let the Journal do the talking here:

Big crises put Washington’s regulators to the test. At pivotal times during the current financial turmoil, Mr. Cox has appeared peripheral. The next night, as Fed and Treasury bosses negotiated a bailout, Mr. Cox was at a birthday party. He was missing from a Sunday conference call announcing the sale of Bear Stearns and the Fed’s plan to lend funds to investment banks. The following weekend, he left town for a family vacation.

The Journal writes that former SEC chairmen are complaining about the current regime’s lackadaisical approach, including his un-bureaucrat-like acquiescence to a Treasury Department plan that would dissolve the SEC. It writes that the top Wall Street executives say “they have barely spoken with Mr. Cox over the past year, in contrast to the frequent chats they say they had with past chiefs.”

The paper says it got a two-hour interview with Cox in his office to grill him about his weak-sauce efforts. That must have been excruciating for all involved, because the embarrassing quotes from Cox defending his job performance are painful reading. The WSJ goes into detail about his non-presence and says he didn’t inform one of his fellow commissioners about the unfolding events during the Bear bailout weekend.

And then just after Wall Street narrowly averted total meltdown, Cox went off to the Caribbean for vacation for a week.

The paper writes on A3 that the SEC and Federal Reserve are near a deal to share information and “redraw” how regulation on Wall Street.

Blood on the Street

Citigroup and Goldman Sachs are moving to slash their workforces in a bid to cut costs amid the wreckage of the credit crisis.

The Journal says on C1 that Citigroup is firing 10 percent of its investment-banking workers, a move that means about 6,500 will be out of work beginning today. The Financial Times notes the same news on its page one but leads with Goldman Sachs also cutting 10 percent of its investment-banking employees—confirming a Reuters scoop from last week (although as Bloomberg pointedly notes, the paper does so “without citing anyone”). And Goldman is the best off of the Wall Street giants.

The companies’ units have faced big losses from their underwriting and deal volume has dropped dramatically, too.

The Journal says the Citi layoffs are “unusual in their scope and severity” and will hit senior-level employees. It says the bank has already gotten rid of 9,000 jobs so far (13,000 says Bloomberg). Bloomberg gives context the Journal doesn’t, noting that the bank already had “signaled” 6,000 layoffs in its i-banking unit in March—apparently these are in addition to those.

The FT says “Goldman’s heightened pessimism… could prove a pretext for other banks to wield the axe with greater force.” But the paper buries in the second-to-last paragraph news that the bank will increase its overall headcount in 2008.

The loss of these high-paying jobs will be a blow to the economy, especially in New York. Bloomberg reports that big banks and brokerages have eliminated more than 80,000 jobs globally already since the crisis began.

Globalization at work

The Journal on page two reports that of the $2 billion a day the U.S. has to import from overseas every day to finance its current-account deficit, a “stunning” 39 percent comes from emerging markets like China and Brazil. Quote of the Day:

“Not only are we addicted to other people’s money, but the money we’re addicted to is from the poor countries,” says Joseph Quinlan, chief market strategist at Bank of America.

The paper says that’s a result of the savings glut overseas and because the countries are buying dollars to protect themselves after the Asian “flu” a decade ago. It notes that the investors are getting much lower returns here than Americans are overseas but that has been compensated for by the stability of the U.S. system, something that doesn’t look so great anymore.

But it would have been nice if the Journal had tried to spell out what might happen if the overseas investors began to suddenly pull out their assets. Instead it just bites around the edges, noting that we’re increasingly dependent on undemocratic regimes to prop us up.

More oil; less oil

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.