Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bank robbers

Brett Arends looks back, in disgust, on 2010, at the Great Bank Heist:

The great bank heist of 2010
They dodged the bullet of real reform, probably for all time. They bounced back to post huge profits, helped by legal theft from the middle class. They completed their takeover of both political parties — and bought themselves a new Congress even more pliable than the old one.

Middle-class America is flattened, devastated and broke. The bankers that caused it all have escaped punishment. They’re raking in huge profits. Oh, and the tax cuts just got extended for high earners, too!

In 2010, Wall Street’s year, Schwarzman’s only real sin was getting caught flaunting his contempt for the nation.

Far worse went on behind closed doors.

Consider the Dodd-Frank reform act — all 2,300 pages of it. Sure, it fills in a few regulatory gaps, ends a couple of the more gratuitous abuses. You have to throw a few scraps to the masses.

But most of the reforms are meaningless. New rule books and committees. Bah. They’re like half-built fences. Anyone can just walk around them.

Meanwhile, missing from this giant “reform” bill was any actual, serious reform like threatening crooked bankers with real jail time. Or ending the “other people’s money” racket of securitization, or smashing “too big to fail” megabanks into smaller firms that can never again threaten the republic.

Instead we’ve enshrined “too big to fail” as national policy. A standing taxpayer guarantee to the biggest banks. What a deal!

It’s amazing when you think about it.

Look at the chaos and catastrophe these guys have left in their wake. One middle-aged man in five is out of work. Tens of millions of families have been financially wiped out. The national debt has nearly doubled.

If inner-city gangs had done this to America, we’d have martial law. If Arabs had done it, we’d have launched another war.

Wall Street bankers? They’ve walked away scot free. And they’re actually being rewarded.

By keeping short-term interest rates near zero, the Fed is basically robbing your grandmother, and other hard-working savers, and giving to Wall Street. The banks

borrow from us for free, and then lend us back our own money at interest by purchasing Treasury bonds.

And in a perfect circle of cynicism, the beneficiaries of bailouts are now spending some of their loot lobbying our Congress to overrule us on reform.

The commercial banks and investment firms spent a total of $118 million lobbying just in 2010, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

That included $4 million spent directly by Citigroup Inc., nearly $3 million by Bank of America Corp., $3.5 million by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and $2.8 million by Schwarzman’s Blackstone.

This is in addition to the vast campaign contributions the top brass at these firms have lavished on pliable congressman, and indirect political lobbying through trade bodies like the American Bankers Association.

But it’s unfair to give the bankers all the credit for subverting democracy.

They couldn’t have done it without the Democrats.

Wall Street has spent years capturing the party establishment.

Think of the lavish campaign checks. The lucrative hedge fund “adviser” jobs. The pervasive influence of pinstriped “progressives” like Larry Summers and Bob Rubin.

This was the year the investment paid off. Big time.

the Democrats would have got a lot more credit — and contributions — from the rest of America if they’d stood up to Wall Street.

Sucking up to Wall Street didn’t help them anyway. Wall Street still turned Republican. The American Bankers Association, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co, Citigroup, Bank of America, even Goldman Sachs: This time around, more than half their donations went to the GOP.

Most Americans don’t realize it, but this talk of a “grassroots” and “anti-establishment” election was a bunch of hooey. What really happened was that Wall Street has just bought itself a new, even more compliant Congress.

The new Republicans are already fawning over the bankers. They’re promising to stop the restrictions on (ahem) “financial innovation.” Congressman Spencer Bachus — the next chairman of the House Financial Services Committee — actually said “Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks.” Let the good times roll!

It was the greatest heist in history. The bankers pulled it off under everyone’s nose.

As the old punchline goes, Rudolph the Red knows a reign, dear.

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