fresh voices from the front lines of change







Today is the big day: thousands of people will march on Wall Street this afternoon to protest big bank abuses.

After watching Wall Street stack the economic deck against, well, just about everybody, it’s time for reform. Big Banks secured the most generous bailout in history back in 2008, and today they’re back to business as usual, placing trillions of dollars worth of risky bets in the capital markets casinos and paying out epic bonuses to their executives. And the sad truth is, megabanks still hold enormous sway in Washington, D.C. Sweeping reform is still possible. We can still change the very way Wall Street does business– but only if we make our voices heard.

The Securities and Exchange Committee’s fraud suit against Goldman Sachs and the recent hearings held by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) have detailed what millions of families fighting foreclosure already knew: Big Banks are out to make money any way they can, and they won’t let pesky details like ethical standards, or even the law, get in their way.

Wall Street’s reckless excess cost our economy more than 8 million jobs, pushed foreclosures to record levels, and decimated retirement accounts all over the country. But even as more and more homes move into foreclosure, bank profits are going up, fueled by trillions of dollars in bailouts from U.S. taxpayers and accounting gimmicks blessed by corrupted regulators.

This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, it’s about Democracy. Big Finance doesn’t have to play by the same rules the rest of us do. When they take big risks with other people’s money, they win no matter what. If the bets pay off, bankers get rich. If the bets backfire, taxpayers eat the losses, and bankers get rich anyway. When they aren’t being bailed out, Big Banks are flexing their political muscles to keep regulators from cracking down on obvious abuses. Banks issued hundreds of billions of dollars in outrageous subprime mortgages during the years of the housing bubbles, and backed hundreds of billions more by propping up other predatory lenders. Regulators looked the other way. Wells Fargo was the top subprime lender at the height of the housing bubble. Has anybody gone to jail? No. Has the Federal Reserve even sanctioned the firm? No.

So long as our economy is dominated by giant firms that we all know are too big to fail, this is how our economy will function. Congress must order the break-up of our biggest banks, and write new rules to crack down on predatory lending and excessive risk-taking. We need a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency that looks out for citizens, not bank profits. The crazy derivatives casino that brought down AIG must be dismantled.

The atmosphere is changing in Washington. The SEC is standing up to Goldman Sachs. Senate Republicans have abandoned their filibuster against Wall Street reform. Congress will spend the next two weeks in heavy debate over how to fix our broken financial system, and some kind of reform bill now seems certain to pass. But without pressure from ordinary citizens, Wall Street’s army of lobbyists will ensure that the final bill is a toothless reform-in-name-only. But if you tell Congress we need real reform, Congress will listen.

If you live in New York, meet at City Hall Park (Broadway and Chambers) at 3:30. If you don’t live in New York, call your Senator and say you’re fed up with abusive banks.

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