My Senator, Elizabeth Warren, wants to protect you and me from fraudulent and criminal practices that hurt consumers. She fought to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency she should have been asked to lead. If she had she wouldn’t have been free to run and win a seat in the Senate, and some of those who feared her might be wishing now that they had let her run the agency, which Congress is trying to cripple into impotence anyway.
Today we can see why Wall Street and the banking industry poured a record number of dollars into Scott Brown’s campaign to try to defeat her. They fear her honesty and tenacity, and that was on display in her questioning of top regulators.
Many have wondered why nobody went to jail for the criminal banking practices that led to the international financial crisis. Now, because of Warren, we know the answer. Because no governemental regulatory agency brought any one to trial.
That was the ‘take away” from Warren’s first hearing of the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
According to Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post:
Warren questioned top regulators from the alphabet soup that is the nation’s financial regulatory structure: the FDIC, SEC, OCC, CFPB, CFTC, Fed and Treasury.
The Democratic senator from Massachusetts had a straightforward question for them: When was the last time you took a Wall Street bank to trial? It was a harder question than it seemed.
One after another regulators obfuscated until Warren finally got them all to admit that they had never brought anybody to trial. She responded by saying,
There are district attorneys and United States attorneys out there every day squeezing ordinary citizens on sometimes very thin grounds and taking them to trial in order to make an example, as they put it. I’m really concerned that ‘too big to fail’ has become ‘too big for trial.’
I applaud Senator Warren for speaking truth to power and getting at the essential unfairness and inequality of our legal system, and for exposing the federal regulators who are supposed to be protecting us. If banks are too big for trial it means they are above the law.
Warren herself summed it up pretty well when she concluded:
If they can break the law and drag in billions in profits, and then turn around and settle, paying out of those profits, they don’t have much incentive to follow the law.
Or no incentive at all. Because several days of a trial would bring out to the public their fraudulent and criminal practices and embarrass them.
So what can any of us do about it? Well, for one thing we can vote and support courageous candidates like Warren. And we can put pressure on our representatives for more transparency and action around these issues. We can pressure Congress to strengthen the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and confirm director Richard Cordray. And we can use social media to embarrass the banks and the regulators. Because they should be embarrassed. They should be embarrassed that they made huge sums of money at the public’s expense, and got away with it.
Marilynne Robinson writing about the limits of science criticizes our current culture’s lack of ethics or morality, which she sees as part of the loss of religion (and the religious imagination.) She writes: “Science cannot serve in the place of religion because it cannot generate an ethics or a morality. It can give us no reason to prefer a child to a dog, or to choose honorable poverty over fraudulent wealth.” Religious people may want to speculate on how it is that the disparity between rich and poor in our country grew at the very same time that the world financial system came apart? And why nobody faced any consequences. Was it that nobody was at fault? Seems unlikely.
So those who were at fault should be embarrassed. More correctly they should be ashamed. And some of them should go to trial.