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We Can't Let the Banksters Walk Away from Their Crimes

Although the financial crisis that swept the world may have started on Wall Street, it has brought down governments and shredded economic security worldwide.
 
 
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All over Europe and in much of the rest of the world, a new fictional hero has engaged the fascination of millions of readers. His name is Mikael Blomkvist, and he’s the protagonist of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy.

These thrillers, set against the background of high financial crimes and misdemeanors, have become global best-sellers, doubtless in part owing to their gripping plots, elaborate mysteries and engaging characters. But their success is also indisputably a by-product of the macroeconomic chicaneries of our era and the human catastrophes they have wrought.

Larsson understood that financial crimes are far from victimless. They have upended millions of people’s lives, even if most of the victims don’t understand how they’ve been shortchanged and who is responsible.

Although the financial crisis that swept the world may have started on Wall Street, it has brought down governments and shredded economic security worldwide, resulting in the loss of millions of jobs and homes as businesses collapse, foreclosures grow, credit tightens and communities are devastated.

Estimates of the damage run into the trillions.

The Pew Economic Policy Group reports the average U.S. household lost $66,000 in stock holdings and $30,000 in real estate values from June 2008 through March 2009 due to the upheaval in world markets. This brings us close to $100,000 per family.

Against that backdrop, it’s not hard to see the appeal of Larsson’s hero Blomkvist, whose “contempt for his fellow financial journalists” the author encapsulates with stinging clarity:

“A bank director who blows millions on foolhardy speculations should not keep his job. A managing director who plays shell company games should do time…. The job of the financial journalist was to examine the sharks who created interest crises and speculated away the savings of small investors, to scrutinize company boards with the same merciless zeal with which political reporters pursue the tiniest steps out of line of ministers and members of Parliament.”

This is why I identified with Blomkvists’s fictional mission; in some ways it captured my own frustrations in a media world for which “the c-word” — as in financial crime— seems must never be spoken.

The media failed us on the most crucial story of our era.

Our newspapers and TV sources contributed to an economic disaster so cynically engineered even billionaire investor Jim Chanos was prompted to ask, “So where are the perp walks? How long does it take before we see any investigations? It boggles the mind that $150 billion is vaporized…there haven’t been any arrests, any indictments, nor any convictions at any major bank or at any of the government-owned financial institutions Fannie, Freddie and AIG.”

I know how hard it is to alarm the public with mere facts. They don’t have the context within which to interpret complicated stories. In 2006, I released the film ”In Debt We Trust,” exposing illegal subprime scams and warning of the coming meltdown. It was well reviewed, but no mainstream TV outlet would air it.

I was dismissed as an alarmist and a “doom and gloomer.” A mass denial of the dangers ahead seemed to be embedded in the euphoria of the very bubble that was bringing in billions for Wall Street’s financial alchemists, who themselves seemed oblivious to the risks and indifferent to the social impact their practices courted.

The media coverage has made a complex reality deliberately complicated, even incomprehensible. The satirical paper The Onion put the financial press in its place regarding the totally obtuse reporting for which financial journalists were justly infamous even before the biggest scoop since 1929 fell into their laps: “JPMORGAN CHASE ACQUIRES BEAR STEARNS IN TEDIOUS-TO-READ NEWS ARTICLE.”