This PBS Frontline piece aired near the beginning of this year, and it focuses on how despite all the hooplah about the commissions and task forces designed to catch the high-level bankers who nearly destroyed the American economy, none of these high-level criminals have really been prosecuted, much less placed in jail. The part of this that really stands out for me is the hearing with Lloyd Blankfein, Goldman’s CEO, near the middle of the piece (at around 32 minutes). Not only does Blankfein basically sum up the power of the banking system in a nutshell by asserting that they are “market makers” and therefore basically allowed to use their inside knowledge to bet against the shitty investments they peddle, what he’s saying is also a blatant, open, public admission of criminal activity…everyone else is busy denying or pretending not to remember or know about what happened when their subordinates reported their concerns, but Blankfein basically just says “fuck you, we’re the banks, we’re allowed and supposed to do that.”
The fact that this man was not in prison or otherwise held accountable (personally, he should probably just be killed as an example to others similar to him in the industry, of which I’m sure there are plenty) for his actions is a pretty sad indictment on how that whole Wall Street hunt turned out, and what justice really means at different levels of this country. Because this time, the witches were real, and deserved no better than being burnt at the stake.
Finally, the most chilling statement, which was repeated in the recent HSBC case when the banks were fined a bit of pocket change for financing terrorism and other activities, is that Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer makes a statement going from “we don’t have enough proof of criminal intent to prosecute” to “we shouldn’t prosecute because it’ll affect lots of other people.” Oh…so now you’re not even worried about whether or not they broke the law, but who suffers from it, like their employees and subordinates. It’s like if someone refused to prosecute high-level organized crime figures because lower level henchmen might end up out of work. Lanny, if you’re not willing to do your job, step aside for people who are. Not only should you not be getting into the broader consequences of doing your job…but there are EVEN BIGGER ONES for not doing it. Say you nail some of these high-level criminals, and as collateral damage some people lose their jobs. Will the banking system just be destroyed entirely? Will the economy simply fail to function? If the answer is yes, then this backbone of the economy itself is completely rotten to the core and we have a much bigger problem. If the answer is no…then do your fucking job. Doing absolutely nothing creates its own set of even larger problems: it’s telling these people that getting caught red-handed means jackshit, and they’ll just keep getting away with bigger and worse things. I hate throwing around slogans like “too big to jail” because the sheer frequency of their circulation cheapens their value, but it’s completely fucking true. You probably don’t know for certain the consequences of taking down executives at Bank X and Bank Y, but you DO know for certain the consequences of doing nothing while publicly declaring your reasons why: you’re giving them carte blanche to fuck you even harder in the future.
If the law provides no remedy…solutions can and should be found outside of the law.
Link to the Frontline episode: http://video.pbs.org/video/2327953844/