Previously on the banks:
So said Abraham Lincoln. John Steinbeck, in Chapter 5 of The Grapes of Wrath, tells us that banks:
breathe profits; they eat the interest on money. If they don’t get it, they die the way you die without air, without side-meat.
Bank of America, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan, and Wells Fargo do not intend to share so much as a nibble of their side-meat. They took $2 trillion of our money from the Fed at the height of the crisis that their reckless risk taking caused, then let small businesses go under rather than lend to them, further damaging the economy. When their stinginess caused even more jobs to evaporate, putting millions more Americans in danger of losing their homes, our financial vampires sucked all the cash they could out of desperate homeowners before foreclosing on them, often illegally.
They deserve to have a bonfire the size of Texas lit under their asses. After last fall’s robo-signing scandals, the state attorneys general started meeting, all fifty of them, with Elizabeth Warren of the Consumers Financial Protection Bureau to discuss means of reining in banks for the blase way they’ve been dispossessing people of their homes. Earlier this month, Warren’s working group struck a match.
It sent a blueprint to the five biggest banks proposing regulations about when banks may and may not foreclose. It also recommended a penalty between $20 and $25 billion that could be used both to finance lower mortgage payments for a million homeowners facing foreclosure as well as to punish the banks. As punishment, twenty billion is a pittance. Let’s see, would that amount mean the hotshots who stuck American homeowners with a trillion dollars in underwater mortgages might have to to give up their bonuses? Poor babies. The money might cover enforcement, if there were any means of enforcement detailed in the blueprint, which there isn’t. And we all know how likely the banks are, without the threat of jail time for the honchos, to give a fig about regulations and laws.
It was closer to a two-man campfire than a bonfire, and the banks, never big on remorse, aren’t shaking in their boots.
Hell, the fat cats at J.P. Morgan had the gall last Thursday to try blaming the sour economy on us. They blasted workers who’ve been idling around collecting unemployment. (I’m surprised they didn’t drag in any canards about union thugs, while they were at it.)
“[T]he availability of these benefits has almost certainly played a significant role in the record rise in the duration of unemployment,” the report says. “Consequently, they have also had a role in the stunning rise in the unemployment rate over the last two years.”
Never mind that there are six unemployed workers for every job opening. Who are you going to believe: the financial experts or your own lying experience?
And never mind that:
U.S. corporate profits hit an all-time high at the end of 2010, with financial firms showing some of the biggest gains, data from the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis show.
Corporate profits steadily increased last year as companies continued holding onto record amounts of cash and other liquid assets while cutting costs, laying off workers and wringing more productivity — defined as the amount of output that comes from an hour of work — from remaining staff, even as the recession eased.
It is immoral that the people who deep sixed the American economy are shoving the cost and the blame onto innocent workers and profiting more than ever as a result of their scandalous, disgraceful, ignominious, monstrous, odious greed. Americans ought to be mad as hell, refusing to take it anymore.
Our Attorney General doesn’t evince any of that outrage, but he has spoken about the need for mortgage reform and about his hope that the fifty-state working group will ease the foreclosure crisis:
“I believe the efforts of the fifty-state working group will lead to measures to insure the integrity of foreclosures and fair-dealing with those who are losing their homes,” Koster said. “While there were many causes of the financial crises affecting homeowners, banking procedures – such as robo-signing – clearly have inhibited a return to stability,” he added
While I don’t disagree with anything Koster said, he’s putting his ideas out to the MissouriRealEstateRama. In other words, virtually no Missourians got the message. And his language is lawyerly to the point of being bloodless. I know, I know, he is a lawyer, the state’s appointed lawyer. But I can’t help pining for a hint of fire in the belly. This is class warfare, we’re hurting, and he’s chatting with the MissouriRealEstateRama.
I had the same impatient reaction when the Assistant Attorney General in charge of investigating mortgage complaints, Doug Omman, spoke last week to a group of homeowners in St. Louis who’ve been dealing with foreclosure. Several of them described their frustration with lying, greedy bankers who’ve toyed with their lives. Mr. Omman assured them that he sympathized but that a broken system is the problem and that direct action, such as lawsuits, would be a waste of time. Such litigation drags on for years, long past the time when the forlorn citizen is out of house and home. He suggested, instead, that the homeowners ask the AG’s office to help mediate a settlement for them.
I’m sure he’s right about the deep pocket advantage banks have in litigation, and I’m positive that the broken system is the place to put most of our effo
rts. But I still think that there’s a place for litigation. It can be brought by government entities to pressure the banks. As a sign of nationwide righteous indignation, we need lawsuits springing up in state after state. An L.A. jury just fined Wells Fargo $3.5 million for discriminatory lending against blacks. It’s a small victory, and Mr. Omman would no doubt point out that that suit, based on lending practices in 2002, went on for close to nine years. I get that.
But do he and Chris Koster get my point? The banks need to feel our ire. Our AG could at least speak to the major media outlets, preferably in tones that would make Missourians perk up their ears because they sense he gives a damn.
He hasn’t done that yet, but we could urge him to. A coalition of groups working to pressure the banks has designated Tuesday, March 29th, as a day to call our Attorneys General. Koster’s phone number is 573-751-3321. Call and urge him to speak up with some fervor.
Because without that kind of spirit, not just from Elizabeth Warren but from the AGs of this nation, I fear that chapter 5 of TheGrapes of Wrath will prove prophetic:
The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.