Economy  
comments_image Comments

Huge Protests Planned for Showdown on Wall St. and at Banks Across the U.S. to Demand Financial Reform

A coalition of groups plan multi-city protests at the end of April as public outrage rises over banks' return to massive profits and obscene bonuses.
 
 
Share
 
 
 
 

Good thing Goldman Sachs reported its first-quarter profits on the popular pot holiday April 20. Because you had to be totally stoned to appreciate the sheer, corrupt elegance of its nearly $3.5 billion earnings.   

It's hopefully Goldman's last outrageous ripoff. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed fraud charges as recently as last week against the rapacious vampire squid of a bank. "People are angry and frustrated with how the big banks drove our economy into the ditch, took billions in taxpayer funded bail-outs, and are now doing nothing to help fix the mess they created," said Liz Ryan Murray, senior policy analyst at National People's Action, which is marshaling thousands with the help of the AFL-CIO, PICO National Network and more to launch the "Showdown on Wall Street!" protest on April 29.  

"While we struggle with the foreclosures and unemployment their reckless and greedy behavior caused, they're back to huge profits and obscene bonuses," Murray said. "We're sending a message to these banks that enough is enough. The American people aren't going to stand for it anymore, and we will continue to keep the pressure on until they change their behavior. We're also sending a message to Congress that we've had enough of them putting the profits of Wall Street ahead of the needs of Main Street. We know the Senate will be listening and watching as thousands of American voters take to the streets to demand real reform." 

The NPA is also working with local community organizers to protest Wells Fargo's April 27 shareholders meeting in San Francisco, Bank of America's shareholders meeting on April 28, and more. These progressive showdowns coincide with a growing stream of dissent against lending institutions and their political enablers, adding proof to the thesis that the people are as mad as hell and they're not going to take it anymore. Their more overt protests are mirrored by establishment actions like the SEC's suit, or retiring Senator Chris Dodd's Wall Street reform bill, which begins doubtlessly charged congressional debate this month. Or the Agenda Project's open letter to Senator Harry Reid and Senator Mitch McConnell, which argues that Dodd's legislation needs strengthening and is signed by economic heavyweights like Robert Reich, Robert Kuttner, Jim Chanos and more.  

The same day Goldman announced its fat paycheck, the International Monetary Fund proposed a plan to tax banks to pay for bailouts. Even Vice President Joe Biden lobbied for financial reform at a relaunch of the economic think-tank Hamilton Project, founded by ex-Goldman Sachs suit Robert Rubin, whose championing of deregulation during the Clinton administration directly led to the financial excesses of the Bush administration. And the nightmare of the Obama administration. 

"The middle class needs to get its fair share again," Biden argued to the Rubin-ites. "It sounds like a trite political slogan, but folks, the system is not going to work if they do not believe they're getting a fair share commensurate with the effort they put in." 

Indeed, the middle class is usually the last domino to fall before the people really start to get mad as hell. That's because after it falls, there is no one left standing but the rich, whose greed only manages to increase before various popular revolts and protests arrive on time to restore comparative balance to the system. In that light, Goldman's quarterly slap in the face is hopefully a last gasp of greed gone wild, sucking up every last ounce of good will it has left. If Dodd's reform bill has any real teeth, Goldman won't have much of that good will, and the billions it brings, left to siphon much longer. 

"We think there is real momentum to strengthen the Wall Street reform bill as it moves through Congress, and that if that happens it will do some good things to protect consumers, help advance organizing to shut down predatory payday lending and curb some of the worst speculative activity by the big banks," explained Gordon Whitman, PICO's director of public policy and communications. "But it won't by itself bring credit into communities that have been devastated by the crisis, or put back to work people who've lost their jobs because of the banks. It also won't stop the continued waves of foreclosures destroying communities and dislocating families. That's why we're organizing around goals that include, but are much larger than, the legislation moving through Congress. We're going to need a modernized Community Reinvestment Act to make credit available; we need major changes in corporate policy, which is a major focus of these bank accountability campaigns; and we want local and state governments to use their leverage to push dollars into responsible institutions." 

It's an ambitious agenda. And a sobering reminder that Dodd's bill -- no matter how much Democrats say it's a watershed reform event, or Republicans say nothing of substance while leaning on their creaky denialist crutches -- is but one step in a Sisyphean task of rebuilding anew America's economic infrastructure. Smacking down Goldman's conscienceless profit-taking at the expense of taxpayers in America, Greece, Britain and parts outward is going to be a very long, very painful process. And it's only one bank. It's the ugliest, for sure. But the kind of Ponzi grift Goldman hawked in the steaming Abacus pile were being pawned off far and wide by all the too-big-to-fail banks. It is, after all, how they got too big to fail in the first place. 

"It's a mirage to think that anything in this legislation will solve the too-big-to-fail problem," argued Rob Johnson, senior fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and one-time senior economist of the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. "You'd have to build up the manpower and paychecks, so people don't flock to Wall Street. It's going to need more international cooperation, and much stronger cross-exposure limits. The resolution powers are a helpful condition, but they are nowhere near sufficient. But it does move the ball forward." 

How far that ball is ultimately moved depends on Dodd, Biden and the Obama administration, the SEC, the IMF, the protesters and everyone else, including you, who wants to show the banks who's really the boss of the United States. Even if the Dodd reform passes as the Senator's political swan song -- he's not seeking reelection in 2010; imagine that! -- there's way more heavy lifting, and lodging of formal and informal complaint, to be done. And whether it's bloated banks, spiderweb derivatives or government-sponsored entities like the barely swimming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, we're in for a protracted fight. Only those who fight to the end will be standing when it's over. 

"Fannie and Freddie are going to be the vehicles of future reform, because of the concern that their hybrid structures are slightly underwater," Johnson said. "I don't think the government has the luxury of not attending to it, so they have to get some reform by the end of next year. But there will be a continuation, because not all the business will be finished by this bill. I think it will pass, and the second act will attempt to do more." 

"Dodd's bill is a step in the right direction," concluded Erica Payne, Agenda Project founder and author of The Practical Progressive. "Of course, Dorothy was taking a step in the right direction as soon as she got out of the house that fell to Earth. But it was still a long way to the Emerald City."

Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.