Several items recently in the news should shock Americans out of their collective stupor about how (and for whom) this country is being run now.
Richard Fisher, the President of the Dallas branch of the Federal Reserve recently observed that those at the helm of America’s 12 largest financial institutions “believe themselves to be exempt from the processes of bankruptcy and creative destruction” and are engaging in “repression” by virtue of their stranglehold on the American economy and the impunity with which they have operated in the era of “too big to fail.”
A few days later in an episode of the PBS news magazine Frontline, Lanny Breuer, the assistant attorney general in charge of criminal prosecutions nationwide flat out stated that he would not prosecute the large banks or anyone at them due to the risk of systemic consequences. In other words, the Justice Department’s top cop was recognizing that those banks had a gun to the head of the American economy, and were thumbing their collective noses at the cops and saying that if the latter ever do anything “the economy gets it!” A day after the Frontline story aired, it was announced that Mr. Brueur was stepping down from his position at the Justice Department.
A 2011 study by Syracuse University found that federal prosecutions of bank insiders for bank fraud had declined steadily, even after the 2008 banking crisis, and that the Obama administration had done less prosecuting than under Presidents Clinton, Bush I or Bush II. Of course, during that span of time the Gramm Leach Bliley Act removed most of the depression-era protections against bank shenanigans provided by the Glass Steagall Act. A few years later the banks tightened the screws on consumers with 2005’s Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which among other things forces bankrupt families into harsh Chapter 13 payback plans if their incomes exceed the median income in their area and even gagged attorneys from providing advice to do perfectly legal things to help themselves. Once BAPCPA was in place, the economic collapse that supposedly nobody saw coming could begin in earnest. The easy credit was withdrawn from the small businesses and individuals, and the too big to fail banks got bailed out by the Fed purchasing their bad loans at near-par. Even Warren Buffett got into the act, supposedly having an Archimedes-like epiphany in his bathtub that he could provide $5 billion to tide over Bank of America, his Wells Fargo Bank’s staunch competitor.
The late comedian George Carlin once observed "The real owners are the big wealthy business interests that control things... It's a big club, and you ain't in it.” The problem is that your members of Congress are, and even if they go the Hill relatively “poor” they soon have scads of money (at least compared to you and me). How they get those scads is by insider trading—illegal for you, me and even Martha Stewart, but not for them. Oh, President Obama signed a law against it, but problems have put the law on hold.
The hollowing-out of the American economy has been well camouflaged, with ample tongue-clucking for forces supposedly out of everyone’s control and little blame for the politicians who have sold out the American people at each and every turn, regardless of which party they belong to or how long they’ve been in Congress. Mavericks like Dennis Kucinich or Ron Paul were either marginalized or even had their districts redrawn by their own party to frustrate their re-election. Laws are for you and me, not for the Banks and Congress. The result is that the middle class is steadily disappearing.
Unlike the increasing hardships Americans have experienced as a long-term frog boiling, a similar thing happened to the Mexican middle class suddenly in the mid-1990s. The short version is that the Mexican peso lost 50% of its value almost overnight and the Mexican middle class owed dollar-denominated debts that rose tenfold almost overnight. To top it off, the loan documents typically allowed for a large rate increase if the Mexican debtors’ financial picture deteriorated—and those increases were triggered. The result was chaos, and the birth of a Mexican debtors’ movement: El Barzon. Since 1985 the dollar, however, has lost more than 75% of its value, and the deterioration in the quality of American jobs into "McJobs" belies our stated unemployment rate, which is bad enough.
Although there is no mass movement yet addressing debt (Occupy Wall Street having marginalized itself through its on antics), I do what I can to help folks who are fighting banks—whether those fights are over mortgages, auto loans or credit cards (I would also help with student loans, but thanks to several rounds of anti-debtor legislation, there is virtually no help for student loans). It’s the least I can do.