Weekly Audit: Will Weak Reforms Bring on Another Crisis?

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) unveiled his latest financial reform proposal on Monday, and the stakes for the new legislation couldn’t be higher. After consumer groups raised a major ruckus, Dodd has dropped one of his most egregious concessions to the bank lobby—cutting enforcement authority from the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). That’s good news: Without a major regulatory overhaul, the U.S. economy’s destructive boom and bust cycle will start all over again.

We’ve been down this road before. The Enron fiasco should have served as a wake-up call for policymakers, but instead, the weak federal response to Enron’s major fraud helped pave the way for the current economic slump.

What does Enron have to do with the crisis?

As Megan Carpentier emphasizes for The Washington Independent, one of the key “reforms” Congress enacted in the Enron aftermath was a law requiring every CEO to sign-off on their company’s accounting statements—but it has accomplished almost nothing.

Enron collapsed due to accounting fraud. Its executives weren’t stupid or careless—they made their money by engaging in deliberate and coordinated acts of illegal deception. But CEOs of companies like Enron had always been able to deny that they knew about the shenanigans that were playing out in their accounting departments. By forcing CEOs to sign off on their accounting statements, Congress was attempting to “deny them plausible deniability,” as Carpentier puts it.

But accounting fraud has plagued the U.S. economy, even after the Enron scandal. It also plays a major role in the Wall Street crisis. A recent court report from Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy examiner reveals that the company arranged a series of complicated transactions to hide $50 billion in debt, making Lehman appear healthier than it was. By hiding this debt, Lehman was able to make bigger bets on the mortgage market. The defense issued by Lehman CEO Richard Fuld? He apparently didn’t know the accounting hijinks were happening

An epidemic of fraud

Most U.S. policymakers are still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that our financial system is rife with fraud at almost every level. Writing for AlterNet, Joe Costello reports on a recent Roosevelt Institute conference featuring several major economic luminaries. Costello argues that some of Wall Street’s biggest problems were driven by run-of-the-mill fraud. And a key vehicle for this fraud, Costello notes, was the derivatives market—the same market that allowed Enron to perpetrate its own frauds. Many of the scams aren’t even particularly new or creative. They’re simply the same cons that helped usher in the Great Depression.

“If we’re going to get our economy up and running again, the first thing we’re going to have to do is end the fraud,” Costello writes.

Protecting Whistleblowers

But astonishingly, even after the worst financial crisis in history, bigwig bankers have been able to avoid fraud charges and investigations. Even when the Justice Department went after Swiss banking Giant UBS for a massive tax evasion scheme, they let the company’s U.S. executives off the hook and instead jailed the very whistleblower who told the government about the fraud.

The whistleblower, Bradley Birkenfeld, is by no means innocent of wrongdoing—he even smuggled diamonds in a toothpaste container for a wealthy UBS client. But as Corbin Hiarr notes for Mother Jones, jailing the man who blows the whistle sends exactly the wrong message to anybody in Big Finance who recognizes a problem. Not only will your employer come at you with everything it has, but the government you aid will actually send you to prison. The fraudsters you finger get to retire to the Caymans.

This is part of the reason that successful financial reform is not just what the rules are, but who gets to enforce them. There were many reasonable rules against predatory lending that bank regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) could have used to thwart the financial crisis early on, but neither agency was interested in doing so. They were more concerned with short-term banking profits, and up until 2007, sketchy accounting was allowing banks to book big gains on the subprime market.

Why we need a CFPA

That’s why all the way back in June of 2009, President Barack Obama proposed establishing a CFPA focused exclusively on defending consumers against banks. With no concerns for bank profitability, CFPA regulators could go after unfair practices and fraud because they were wrong, regardless of what they did for bank balance sheets.

The proposal was watered down significantly in the House, as Kai Wright notes for The Nation, and just a week ago it appeared that Dodd was ready to completely torpedo the new regulator in an effort to craft bipartisan support for a so-called “reform” bill.

He’s backed off since then, but without strong enforcement authority, nothing is gained—the same corrupt regulators will simply continue to look the other way. But Dodd would still house the new agency at the Federal Reserve. Dodd insists the Fed would have no authority over the CPFA, but if that were the case, why would he introduce the provision at all?

“Reform in name alone will be useless to both consumers and politicians,” writes Wright.

Strong financial reform is overwhelmingly popular. While it’s good to see Dodd backing away from some of the gifts he’d previously proposed to bank lobbyists, progressives must keep the pressure high to ensure that financial reform is strengthened as it moves through the Senate.

It’s easy for a corrupt lawmaker to vote against a weak bill: He can always plead that the bill wasn’t good enough and be right. But serious, popular reform is not so easy to oppose. If Dodd and the Democratic leadership make the politicians backed by the bank lobby—that’s literally every Republican, plus a handful of conservative Democrats—stand up and vote against a good bill, many of them will have to choose between their lobbyist friends and their political future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

Weekly Audit: Will Weak Reforms Bring on Another Crisis?

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) unveiled his latest financial reform proposal on Monday, and the stakes for the new legislation couldn’t be higher. After consumer groups raised a major ruckus, Dodd has dropped one of his most egregious concessions to the bank lobby—cutting enforcement authority from the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). That’s good news: Without a major regulatory overhaul, the U.S. economy’s destructive boom and bust cycle will start all over again.

We’ve been down this road before. The Enron fiasco should have served as a wake-up call for policymakers, but instead, the weak federal response to Enron’s major fraud helped pave the way for the current economic slump.

What does Enron have to do with the crisis?

As Megan Carpentier emphasizes for The Washington Independent, one of the key “reforms” Congress enacted in the Enron aftermath was a law requiring every CEO to sign-off on their company’s accounting statements—but it has accomplished almost nothing.

Enron collapsed due to accounting fraud. Its executives weren’t stupid or careless—they made their money by engaging in deliberate and coordinated acts of illegal deception. But CEOs of companies like Enron had always been able to deny that they knew about the shenanigans that were playing out in their accounting departments. By forcing CEOs to sign off on their accounting statements, Congress was attempting to “deny them plausible deniability,” as Carpentier puts it.

But accounting fraud has plagued the U.S. economy, even after the Enron scandal. It also plays a major role in the Wall Street crisis. A recent court report from Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy examiner reveals that the company arranged a series of complicated transactions to hide $50 billion in debt, making Lehman appear healthier than it was. By hiding this debt, Lehman was able to make bigger bets on the mortgage market. The defense issued by Lehman CEO Richard Fuld? He apparently didn’t know the accounting hijinks were happening

An epidemic of fraud

Most U.S. policymakers are still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that our financial system is rife with fraud at almost every level. Writing for AlterNet, Joe Costello reports on a recent Roosevelt Institute conference featuring several major economic luminaries. Costello argues that some of Wall Street’s biggest problems were driven by run-of-the-mill fraud. And a key vehicle for this fraud, Costello notes, was the derivatives market—the same market that allowed Enron to perpetrate its own frauds. Many of the scams aren’t even particularly new or creative. They’re simply the same cons that helped usher in the Great Depression.

“If we’re going to get our economy up and running again, the first thing we’re going to have to do is end the fraud,” Costello writes.

Protecting Whistleblowers

But astonishingly, even after the worst financial crisis in history, bigwig bankers have been able to avoid fraud charges and investigations. Even when the Justice Department went after Swiss banking Giant UBS for a massive tax evasion scheme, they let the company’s U.S. executives off the hook and instead jailed the very whistleblower who told the government about the fraud.

The whistleblower, Bradley Birkenfeld, is by no means innocent of wrongdoing—he even smuggled diamonds in a toothpaste container for a wealthy UBS client. But as Corbin Hiarr notes for Mother Jones, jailing the man who blows the whistle sends exactly the wrong message to anybody in Big Finance who recognizes a problem. Not only will your employer come at you with everything it has, but the government you aid will actually send you to prison. The fraudsters you finger get to retire to the Caymans.

This is part of the reason that successful financial reform is not just what the rules are, but who gets to enforce them. There were many reasonable rules against predatory lending that bank regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) could have used to thwart the financial crisis early on, but neither agency was interested in doing so. They were more concerned with short-term banking profits, and up until 2007, sketchy accounting was allowing banks to book big gains on the subprime market.

Why we need a CFPA

That’s why all the way back in June of 2009, President Barack Obama proposed establishing a CFPA focused exclusively on defending consumers against banks. With no concerns for bank profitability, CFPA regulators could go after unfair practices and fraud because they were wrong, regardless of what they did for bank balance sheets.

The proposal was watered down significantly in the House, as Kai Wright notes for The Nation, and just a week ago it appeared that Dodd was ready to completely torpedo the new regulator in an effort to craft bipartisan support for a so-called “reform” bill.

He’s backed off since then, but without strong enforcement authority, nothing is gained—the same corrupt regulators will simply continue to look the other way. But Dodd would still house the new agency at the Federal Reserve. Dodd insists the Fed would have no authority over the CPFA, but if that were the case, why would he introduce the provision at all?

“Reform in name alone will be useless to both consumers and politicians,” writes Wright.

Strong financial reform is overwhelmingly popular. While it’s good to see Dodd backing away from some of the gifts he’d previously proposed to bank lobbyists, progressives must keep the pressure high to ensure that financial reform is strengthened as it moves through the Senate.

It’s easy for a corrupt lawmaker to vote against a weak bill: He can always plead that the bill wasn’t good enough and be right. But serious, popular reform is not so easy to oppose. If Dodd and the Democratic leadership make the politicians backed by the bank lobby—that’s literally every Republican, plus a handful of conservative Democrats—stand up and vote against a good bill, many of them will have to choose between their lobbyist friends and their political future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

Weekly Audit: Will Weak Reforms Bring on Another Crisis?

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) unveiled his latest financial reform proposal on Monday, and the stakes for the new legislation couldn’t be higher. After consumer groups raised a major ruckus, Dodd has dropped one of his most egregious concessions to the bank lobby—cutting enforcement authority from the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). That’s good news: Without a major regulatory overhaul, the U.S. economy’s destructive boom and bust cycle will start all over again.

We’ve been down this road before. The Enron fiasco should have served as a wake-up call for policymakers, but instead, the weak federal response to Enron’s major fraud helped pave the way for the current economic slump.

What does Enron have to do with the crisis?

As Megan Carpentier emphasizes for The Washington Independent, one of the key “reforms” Congress enacted in the Enron aftermath was a law requiring every CEO to sign-off on their company’s accounting statements—but it has accomplished almost nothing.

Enron collapsed due to accounting fraud. Its executives weren’t stupid or careless—they made their money by engaging in deliberate and coordinated acts of illegal deception. But CEOs of companies like Enron had always been able to deny that they knew about the shenanigans that were playing out in their accounting departments. By forcing CEOs to sign off on their accounting statements, Congress was attempting to “deny them plausible deniability,” as Carpentier puts it.

But accounting fraud has plagued the U.S. economy, even after the Enron scandal. It also plays a major role in the Wall Street crisis. A recent court report from Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy examiner reveals that the company arranged a series of complicated transactions to hide $50 billion in debt, making Lehman appear healthier than it was. By hiding this debt, Lehman was able to make bigger bets on the mortgage market. The defense issued by Lehman CEO Richard Fuld? He apparently didn’t know the accounting hijinks were happening

An epidemic of fraud

Most U.S. policymakers are still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that our financial system is rife with fraud at almost every level. Writing for AlterNet, Joe Costello reports on a recent Roosevelt Institute conference featuring several major economic luminaries. Costello argues that some of Wall Street’s biggest problems were driven by run-of-the-mill fraud. And a key vehicle for this fraud, Costello notes, was the derivatives market—the same market that allowed Enron to perpetrate its own frauds. Many of the scams aren’t even particularly new or creative. They’re simply the same cons that helped usher in the Great Depression.

“If we’re going to get our economy up and running again, the first thing we’re going to have to do is end the fraud,” Costello writes.

Protecting Whistleblowers

But astonishingly, even after the worst financial crisis in history, bigwig bankers have been able to avoid fraud charges and investigations. Even when the Justice Department went after Swiss banking Giant UBS for a massive tax evasion scheme, they let the company’s U.S. executives off the hook and instead jailed the very whistleblower who told the government about the fraud.

The whistleblower, Bradley Birkenfeld, is by no means innocent of wrongdoing—he even smuggled diamonds in a toothpaste container for a wealthy UBS client. But as Corbin Hiarr notes for Mother Jones, jailing the man who blows the whistle sends exactly the wrong message to anybody in Big Finance who recognizes a problem. Not only will your employer come at you with everything it has, but the government you aid will actually send you to prison. The fraudsters you finger get to retire to the Caymans.

This is part of the reason that successful financial reform is not just what the rules are, but who gets to enforce them. There were many reasonable rules against predatory lending that bank regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) could have used to thwart the financial crisis early on, but neither agency was interested in doing so. They were more concerned with short-term banking profits, and up until 2007, sketchy accounting was allowing banks to book big gains on the subprime market.

Why we need a CFPA

That’s why all the way back in June of 2009, President Barack Obama proposed establishing a CFPA focused exclusively on defending consumers against banks. With no concerns for bank profitability, CFPA regulators could go after unfair practices and fraud because they were wrong, regardless of what they did for bank balance sheets.

The proposal was watered down significantly in the House, as Kai Wright notes for The Nation, and just a week ago it appeared that Dodd was ready to completely torpedo the new regulator in an effort to craft bipartisan support for a so-called “reform” bill.

He’s backed off since then, but without strong enforcement authority, nothing is gained—the same corrupt regulators will simply continue to look the other way. But Dodd would still house the new agency at the Federal Reserve. Dodd insists the Fed would have no authority over the CPFA, but if that were the case, why would he introduce the provision at all?

“Reform in name alone will be useless to both consumers and politicians,” writes Wright.

Strong financial reform is overwhelmingly popular. While it’s good to see Dodd backing away from some of the gifts he’d previously proposed to bank lobbyists, progressives must keep the pressure high to ensure that financial reform is strengthened as it moves through the Senate.

It’s easy for a corrupt lawmaker to vote against a weak bill: He can always plead that the bill wasn’t good enough and be right. But serious, popular reform is not so easy to oppose. If Dodd and the Democratic leadership make the politicians backed by the bank lobby—that’s literally every Republican, plus a handful of conservative Democrats—stand up and vote against a good bill, many of them will have to choose between their lobbyist friends and their political future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

Weekly Audit: Will Weak Reforms Bring on Another Crisis?

By Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) unveiled his latest financial reform proposal on Monday, and the stakes for the new legislation couldn’t be higher. After consumer groups raised a major ruckus, Dodd has dropped one of his most egregious concessions to the bank lobby—cutting enforcement authority from the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA). That’s good news: Without a major regulatory overhaul, the U.S. economy’s destructive boom and bust cycle will start all over again.

We’ve been down this road before. The Enron fiasco should have served as a wake-up call for policymakers, but instead, the weak federal response to Enron’s major fraud helped pave the way for the current economic slump.

What does Enron have to do with the crisis?

As Megan Carpentier emphasizes for The Washington Independent, one of the key “reforms” Congress enacted in the Enron aftermath was a law requiring every CEO to sign-off on their company’s accounting statements—but it has accomplished almost nothing.

Enron collapsed due to accounting fraud. Its executives weren’t stupid or careless—they made their money by engaging in deliberate and coordinated acts of illegal deception. But CEOs of companies like Enron had always been able to deny that they knew about the shenanigans that were playing out in their accounting departments. By forcing CEOs to sign off on their accounting statements, Congress was attempting to “deny them plausible deniability,” as Carpentier puts it.

But accounting fraud has plagued the U.S. economy, even after the Enron scandal. It also plays a major role in the Wall Street crisis. A recent court report from Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy examiner reveals that the company arranged a series of complicated transactions to hide $50 billion in debt, making Lehman appear healthier than it was. By hiding this debt, Lehman was able to make bigger bets on the mortgage market. The defense issued by Lehman CEO Richard Fuld? He apparently didn’t know the accounting hijinks were happening

An epidemic of fraud

Most U.S. policymakers are still having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that our financial system is rife with fraud at almost every level. Writing for AlterNet, Joe Costello reports on a recent Roosevelt Institute conference featuring several major economic luminaries. Costello argues that some of Wall Street’s biggest problems were driven by run-of-the-mill fraud. And a key vehicle for this fraud, Costello notes, was the derivatives market—the same market that allowed Enron to perpetrate its own frauds. Many of the scams aren’t even particularly new or creative. They’re simply the same cons that helped usher in the Great Depression.

“If we’re going to get our economy up and running again, the first thing we’re going to have to do is end the fraud,” Costello writes.

Protecting Whistleblowers

But astonishingly, even after the worst financial crisis in history, bigwig bankers have been able to avoid fraud charges and investigations. Even when the Justice Department went after Swiss banking Giant UBS for a massive tax evasion scheme, they let the company’s U.S. executives off the hook and instead jailed the very whistleblower who told the government about the fraud.

The whistleblower, Bradley Birkenfeld, is by no means innocent of wrongdoing—he even smuggled diamonds in a toothpaste container for a wealthy UBS client. But as Corbin Hiarr notes for Mother Jones, jailing the man who blows the whistle sends exactly the wrong message to anybody in Big Finance who recognizes a problem. Not only will your employer come at you with everything it has, but the government you aid will actually send you to prison. The fraudsters you finger get to retire to the Caymans.

This is part of the reason that successful financial reform is not just what the rules are, but who gets to enforce them. There were many reasonable rules against predatory lending that bank regulators at the Federal Reserve and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) could have used to thwart the financial crisis early on, but neither agency was interested in doing so. They were more concerned with short-term banking profits, and up until 2007, sketchy accounting was allowing banks to book big gains on the subprime market.

Why we need a CFPA

That’s why all the way back in June of 2009, President Barack Obama proposed establishing a CFPA focused exclusively on defending consumers against banks. With no concerns for bank profitability, CFPA regulators could go after unfair practices and fraud because they were wrong, regardless of what they did for bank balance sheets.

The proposal was watered down significantly in the House, as Kai Wright notes for The Nation, and just a week ago it appeared that Dodd was ready to completely torpedo the new regulator in an effort to craft bipartisan support for a so-called “reform” bill.

He’s backed off since then, but without strong enforcement authority, nothing is gained—the same corrupt regulators will simply continue to look the other way. But Dodd would still house the new agency at the Federal Reserve. Dodd insists the Fed would have no authority over the CPFA, but if that were the case, why would he introduce the provision at all?

“Reform in name alone will be useless to both consumers and politicians,” writes Wright.

Strong financial reform is overwhelmingly popular. While it’s good to see Dodd backing away from some of the gifts he’d previously proposed to bank lobbyists, progressives must keep the pressure high to ensure that financial reform is strengthened as it moves through the Senate.

It’s easy for a corrupt lawmaker to vote against a weak bill: He can always plead that the bill wasn’t good enough and be right. But serious, popular reform is not so easy to oppose. If Dodd and the Democratic leadership make the politicians backed by the bank lobby—that’s literally every Republican, plus a handful of conservative Democrats—stand up and vote against a good bill, many of them will have to choose between their lobbyist friends and their political future.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

Weekly Audit: Congress to take up financial reform, but will it be strong enough?

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Next week, the debate over financial reform will begin in earnest when Congress returns from its Easter break. Both political parties are gearing up for a major fight, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. An out-of-control banking sector has cost the economy over 7 million jobs since 2007, and without major reforms, Wall Street could repeat this disaster in just a few years’ time. But thanks to Wall Street’s lobbying might, all of the necessary reforms are currently in jeopardy.

Key Reforms

Writing for The Nation, Christopher Hayes offers a useful primer on financial regulation, highlighting three reforms that are crucial to any bill.

  • With no effective regulation of consumer protection issues for years, the existing banking regulators were more focused on preserving bank profitability than on going to bat for ordinary citizens. If banks could make big profits with unfair gimmicks (or even fraud), regulators usually looked the other way. The solution is a strong, independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA) charged with nothing but protecting consumers from banker abuses, an agency with the broad authority to both write rules and enforce them.
  • We need to rein in the $300 trillion market for derivatives, the complex financial contracts brought down AIG. Unlike ordinary stocks and bonds, derivatives are not traded on exchanges, so nobody really knows what is going on in this tremendous market. When something goes wrong, like with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, nobody can tell who the problem will effect. Without information, markets panic, and the entire financial system can collapse within a matter of days. Fortunately, this problem has a simple solution: require all derivatives to be traded on exchanges.
  • Too-big-to-fail is too big to exist. The U.S. has never had banks as large as those that exist today, and their size gives them enormous political clout. It’s part of the reason why regulators didn’t make banks obey consumer protection laws, and why banks have been so effective in derailing reform. It’s been almost two years since the Big Crash, yet we are still wrangling over reform because giant banks deploy giant lobbying teams, and have almost unlimited resources to devote to their lobbying efforts. If we can’t scale back the banks’ power by breaking them up into smaller institutions, it’s unlikely that other reforms will be effective.

As Margaret Dorfman emphasizes for American Forum, a strong CFPA would help protect small businesses, since a huge proportion of them are financed with credit cards and home equity loans (Dorfman is CEO of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce, an advocacy group for women that should not be confused with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—a nasty lobbying front for a few hundred high-flying executives). As Dorfman notes, small businesses are where most new jobs come from– if a regulator can ensure that these businesses are not pushed around by abusive banks, they can help repair our jobs.

Unfortunately, all three reforms are in real jeopardy as the bill moves to the Senate floor for a vote, as Simon Johnson notes in his Baseline Scenario blog carried at AlterNet. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-CT) hasn’t included any language on breaking up the banks, he has significantly watered down the CFPA proposal President Obama put forward, and derivatives reform was almost entirely gutted in the House.

What’s at stake

So what’s at stake? For some perspective, consider last week’s jobs report. As Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, the U.S. economy added 160,000 jobs in March, the first significant monthly gain since the start of the recession, and the best jobs report in three years. But while it’s good to see the economy actually adding jobs, at the March rate, it would take more than three-and-a-half years to win back the 7 million jobs lost since 2007.

This jobs disaster was not caused by faceless and unpreventable forces—it was the direct result of a reckless and unregulated banking system. Without major reforms, banks will always have this economic leverage when that recklessness overpowers them: bail us out, or watch your economy collapse.

This is an issue of basic democratic fairness, as Noam Chomsky explains for In These Times. Wall Street has purchased the right to bend public policy to anything that benefits banks—the rest of society is not their concern. The bailouts of 2008 and 2009 make that clear. After wrecking the economy to enrich themselves, bank executives then looted the public coffers with the threat of still further economic havoc.

And the political clout of America’s largest banks insulates them from criticism when they profit from abuses—particularly when those activities don’t spark wider economic crises. As Andy Kroll highlights for Mother Jones, J.P. Morgan Chase is currently making a killing by financing mountaintop removal mining (MTR). MTR is an ecological nightmare—literally a bombing campaign in which entire mountains in Appalachia are destroyed to make way for cheap coal. That’s meant billions in profits for J.P. Morgan, and an environmental catastrophe for the United States.

Obama and Congress have a choice. They can play financial reform for campaign contributions, pushing a watered-down bill that will function as a set of reforms-in-name-only. Alternatively, they can do their jobs, confront a dangerous financial oligarchy head-on, and help build an economy that works for everyone.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

 

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