FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Banksters Take Us to the Brink

Every day brings more reminders of the terrible unfairness that besets our country, the tragic reversal of fortune experienced by millions who once had good lives and steady jobs, now gone.

An article in the current issue of Rolling Stone chronicles “The Fallen: The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America’s Middle Class” and describes a handful of middle class men and women made homeless, forced to live out of their cars in church parking lots in Southern California.

One of them, Janis Adkins, drove a van filled with her belongings to Santa Barbara, where she panhandled at an intersection with a sign reading, “I’d Rather Be Working – Hire Me If You Have a Job.” Once upon a time she had a successful plant nursery business in Utah that annually grossed $300,000. But two years after the nation’s financial meltdown her sales had dropped by fifty percent and the value of her land plunged even more. She tried to refinance but four banks turned her down flat. “Everyone was talking about bailouts,” Adkins told reporter Jeff Tietz. “I said, ‘I’m not asking for a bailout, I’m asking you to work with me.’ They look at you, no expression on their faces, saying, ‘There’s nothing we can do.’”

“Nothing we can do.” And yet it was banks like these who helped get people like Janis Adkins into such desperate jams in the first place. When faced with their own financial catastrophes, all those big-time bankers came running to the government and taxpayers for those aforementioned bailouts worth hundreds of billions of dollars, then scooped up big bonuses and perks for themselves, and went back to business as usual.

And what a business! You’ve most likely been hearing about the newest scandal in banking, centering on Barclays Bank in Great Britain and something called Libor. That stands for London Interbank Offered Rate and involves a group of bankers who set a daily interest rate affecting trillions of dollars of transactions around the world. Your home mortgage, your college debt, your credit card fees; all of these could have been affected by Libor.

Now you would think the rates would be set by market forces, right? Aren’t they what makes the world go ‘round? But it turns out some of those insiders were manipulating the index for their own gain, to make their banks look better off during the financial crisis, lower their borrowing costs, and raise their profits – by cheating. Picking our pockets and lining theirs.

The Economist magazine describes it as “the rotten heart of finance.” Here are some of the e-mails that have come to light: A banker in on the fix writes another, “Dude. I owe you big time! Come over one day after work and I’m opening a bottle of Bollinger.” One employee after being asked to submit false information, answered: “Always happy to help.” And another, recruiting a colleague in the fix, wrote: “If you know how to keep a secret, I’ll bring you in on it.”

Caught with its hand in the cookie jar, Barclay’s agreed to pay nearly half a billion in fines to British and American authorities, and as many as 20 other megabanks are under investigation, including Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, UBS, HSBC, and JPMorgan Chase. As one MIT authority on finance told CNN, “This dwarfs by orders of magnitude any financial scams in the history of markets.”

In the middle of this mess is an American named Bob Diamond. He was the CEO of Barclays and the man behind Barclays’ takeover of what was left of Lehman Brothers when, at the height of the financial crisis in 2008, Lehman filed for the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. His goal was to make Barclays a global investment powerhouse but his enormous salary — his net worth has been estimated at $165 million — and unrepentant defense of the financial industry’s behavior led one British government official to describe him as “the unacceptable face of banking.” Diamond did wind up apologizing for Barclay’s role in the Libor interest rate scandal, even offering to forfeit his annual bonus — last year he received one worth more than $4 million. But in the end, under pressure from stockholders and public opinion, he was forced to resign.

Meanwhile, the ripples from the scandal continue to spread. The New York Times reports that the city of Baltimore, stricken by financial losses and layoffs, is in the midst of a court battle against the banks that set the Libor index and that, “Now cities, states and municipal agencies nationwide, including Massachusetts, Nassau County on Long Island, and California’s public pension system, are looking at whether they suffered similar losses and are weighing legal action…

“American municipalities have been among the first to claim losses from the supposed rate-rigging, because many of them borrow money through investment vehicles that directly derive their value from Libor. Peter Shapiro, who advises Baltimore and other cities on their use of these investments, said that ‘about 75 percent of major cities have contracts linked to this.’”

What’s more, indications are that government agencies like the Bank of England and the British treasury also may have been involved, or at least looked the other way, raising questions whether other government agencies – including our own Federal Reserve — may have played a role. That remains for the investigators to find out but according to The Washington Post, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said “it had received word as early as 2007 from the British bank Barclays about problems” with Libor.

“In testimony last week before the British Parliament, former Barclays chief executive Robert E. Diamond said the bank had repeatedly brought to the attention of U.S. regulators — as well as U.K. regulators — the problems that the bank was experiencing in the Libor market.

“He said the bank’s warnings to regulators that Libor was artificially low did not lead to action. Barclays’ regulator in the United States is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, which was run at the time by current Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.”

This week the Senate Banking Committee asked for meetings with the principals involved and the House Financial Services Committee sent a letter to the New York Fed asking for transcripts of a dozen phone calls with Barclays executives.

But how far will inquiries go, especially when both American political parties are so beholden to high finance for cash? Just hours after Bob Diamond’s resignation, Mitt Romney’s campaign announced that, sadly, the disgraced financier would no longer be hosting one of two Romney fundraising events for American expatriates being held in London later this month. But no worries. The Boston Globe notes that “still among those hosting the events is Patrick Durkin, a registered lobbyist for Barclays… Durkin, who has been a top Romney bundler, is one of seven chairs for the reception and among the 13 co-chairs for the dinner.

“Others involved in hosting the events are Dwight Poler, managing director at the European branch of Bain Capital, the firm Romney founded; Raj Bhattacharyya, managing director at Deutsche Bank; and Dan Bricken, a managing director at Wells Fargo Securities. “ Each guest at the dinner event will pay between $25,000 and $75,000 for the opportunity to sup with the Republican presidential nominee.

The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics reports that through the end of May, Bob Diamond and other Barclays employees had donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the Romney campaign and of course, the entire securities and investment industry has been a major donor to the Republican, more than any other. They’re giving to President Obama, too; just not as much, although they’re Number 3 on the list of top ten interest groups sending cash to the president and the Democratic National Committee.

And you wonder why the banksters still roam free, like gunslingers in a Wild West town without a sheriff.

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program, Moyers & Company, airing on public television. Check local airtimes or comment at www.BillMoyers.com.

Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail