Thursday, February 21, 2013

Big Banks = Big Criminals?

Campaigning for the Senate in Massachuetts,
against Republican Scott Brown..
Photo by DarrenMcCollester/Getty Images
Newly-elected Senator Elizabeth Warren’s first public hearing on the prestigious Senate Banking Committee must have sent great positive vibes to the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and also to Barney Frank. I'd be smiling, too. 

She is filling big shoes, and doing it well. She showed the same concerns for the little guys as her predecessors. And she is not afraid to take on big bullies like huge banks.

It was federal government regulators on the hot seat this time, however.  Why, Warren wondered, have none of the Wall Street financial institutions been prosecuted for their transgressions or brought to trial? Not a one since the financial crisis.  

Warren is on it, in a way that former Secretary of the Treasurer Tim Gaithner never was. It’s why so many of us questioned his effectiveness. Sure some of these big guys have been fined--they needed some token slap on the wrist--but they haven’t been brought to trial.  

"How come? Obvious question. 

Sen. Warren said that she was worried that banks are simply paying fines from the profits they earned breaking regulatory rules.  Such a simple but powerful expression of concern.  

She also wondered whether “too big to fail” might mean “too big for trial.”     

Wall Street bankers, who poured lots of money into supporting Warren's opponent Scott Brown, viewed such questions and musings as "aggressive," but to me they seemed honest and plain spoken.  


The giant Wall Street institutions, Citibank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America among them, have gouged millions from customers. They've engaged in questionable profit-making ventures here and abroad (in Greece and Italy, for instance). They have scoffed at federal regulations, paid billions to executives after being bailed out with public money, and basically have gotten away with...well, lots of stuff.  Why haven't they been tried for breaking the laws?   

Warren is asking good questions.  Americans deserve some good answers.

For more information about these financial behemoths and their quest for power and profits see the insightful, and frightening, PBS Frontline investigative story "Money, Power and Wall Street" (pbs.org/frontline).     

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