To Organize Against Wall St., We Need a Narrative Focusing on Crime and Massive Fraud
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Editor's Note: Some efforts to mobilize against the big banks have begun; three major marches for the end of April are in the works: Wells Fargo Shareholder Showdown, Tuesday April 27, San Francisco, CA; Bank of America Shareholder Showdown, Wednesday, April 28, Charlotte, N.C., and a Wall Street Showdown, Thursday, April 29, New York City
In politics, it’s always all about the narrative, about how issues are framed.
How we can be experiencing the largest economic meltdown in decades with millions out of work, and millions more losing their homes, and yet, with no real mass mobilization or ongoing response from the progressive world?
To understand this paradox, we need to reflect on how most of us define the problem.
To this day, there has not been an aggressive investigation of who and what brought down the system, ala the Pecora Commission appointed by FDR. Instead, we have a wimpy ineffectual body that can’t get its act together. The New York Times, which hailed its appointment, now buries its defacto obit way back in the business section, noting it has “been hobbled by delays and internal disagreements and a lack of focus.”
At the same time, the bookshelves are filling up with volumes of complicated treatises on the complexities of derivatives, risky profit models and credit default swaps. The practitioners of the “dismal science” of economics are having a field day with longwinded dissertations that fail to engage the popular imagination.
We had a word for this when I worked in network television—MEGO, standing for “My Eyes Glaze Over!”
More popular writers are spinning catchy “yarns” like “The Big Short,” which put it all down with psychologically-driven, character-based storytelling to how deluded everyone on Wall Street was. That leaves us feeling superior to the dunderheads who lost us trillions and, then, laughed all the way to their mansions in the Hamptons.
Missing is a hardnosed look at the financial crisis as a crime story—an approach that allows for morality as well as indignation, and resonates with public anger. It touches the nerve that most people feel.
This is why former Bank Examiner William Black focuses on looting and CEO fraud. He helped send over a thousand bankers to prison during the S&L crisis in the l980s.
And, this is also why Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware, the state where most of our corporations are registered, says categorically the whole crisis rests on a foundation of crime.
Even Alan Greenspan admitted in his all too polite exchange with that government financial inquiry that resembles a Princeton seminar, “if you don’t have enforcement, and a lot of that stuff was just plain fraud, you’re not coming to grips with the issue.” Of course, this “maestro” didn’t go into detail on “a lot of that stuff.”
Mostly, what we are watching is an obtuse debate about banks that are “too big to fail,” not too big to jail. Very little of the discourse speaks in terms of the victims—the millions of families now without breadwinners or homes.
Most of the coverage looks up at CEOs, not down at the people who they –and their businesses—robbed by design, as Bob Dylan once put it, “not with a gun but a fountain pen.”
Sometimes, we don’t see what’s in front of our faces. No one who has followed the details of the catastrophe can deny that a financial failure was facilitated by the media failure to follow its trajectory and detail its criminality, causing inattention and denial within a distracted public, including its activist wing.