Jim Hightower: Who Do We Want? Elizabeth Warren! When Do We Want Her? Now!
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Oh, them wild and naughty bankers! What in the world will those rapacious rapscallions of Wall Street do next?
Just recently, we learned from Kenneth Feinberg, the government's special investigator of banker pay, that top executives of 17 financial giants shoveled $1.6 billion in excess compensation to themselves in 2008 -- at the very moment their failing banks began to draw billions of bailout dollars from us taxpayers. Among the pranksters pocketing eye-popping amounts were the high-rolling bank bosses at American Express, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, PNC and Wells Fargo.
So, what's the punishment these self-serving money manipulators can expect from Washington's arbiter of excessive executive pay? None. In a stunning show of soft-on-crime leniency, Feinberg declared that he will not even attempt to recoup any of the $1.6 billion the money-grubbers grubbed from us. Declaring that he thought shaming these bad boys was enough, Feinberg asked plaintively, "At what point are you piling on and going beyond what's warranted?"
Shaming them? They're Wall Street executives -- they were born without the shame gene! Piling on? They imploded their banks, crashed our economy, got Washington politicos of both parties to save their jobs, paid themselves a looter's level of taxpayer booty and now are getting a free pass to continue their flimflammery. Feinberg even refuses to release their names. Some shame!
If you rob a bank, the law hunts you down and throws your scrawny butt in jail to teach you and other robbers a lesson. But the lesson that Feinberg has given to America is that if you run a bank and rob the people, the law kisses your ample butt, giving you and others permission to find ever-more-creative ways to keep stealing from us.
Clearly, it's time that we found someone who won't kiss bankers' butts, but rather kick bankers' butts. We need someone who's not afraid to go up against the big banks and who won't be influenced by the money of Wall Street.
Who do we want? Elizabeth Warren! When do we want her? Now!
What we want is for President Obama to gut it up and appoint a real consumer advocate to serve as director of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Created by the Wall Street reform bill that Obama recently signed into law, the CFPB can be an independent, aggressive force to battle banker scams and rip-offs on behalf of ordinary Americans. However, it will only be that if an extraordinarily knowledgeable, feisty fighter who is unafraid to confront the banksters is put in charge.
That description fits Warren perfectly. The first thing you need to know about her is that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, the tail-wagging puppy of Wall Street, is trying to block her because America's banking barons both despise and fear Warren. I don't know about you, but I find that wonderfully refreshing! What finer testimonial could a consumer protector have than to be vehemently opposed by the special interests she would regulate?
Warren, a widely respected Harvard law professor and an expert in bankruptcy law, actually wrote the bill to create this consumer protection agency, so her professional credentials for the job are impeccable. And, in a recent speech about the new CFBP, she said that "it must stand for families. We've long had enough where's there's been no one to stand for families." She wrapped up her speech saying, "I will keep pushing for the middle class." That's who we want and need -- someone fighting for us.
Just as importantly, though, Warren comes from a working-class Oklahoma family, has personally faced financial crises and has felt the crushing power of uncaring bankers. "I learned early on what debt means, how vulnerable it makes people," she says. Warren, who has never abandoned her populist roots, is smart, tenacious -- and can't be bought.