This story originally appeared at Truthdig. Robert Scheer is the author of The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (Nation Books).
How evil is this? At a time when two-thirds of US homeowners are drowning in mortgage debt and the American dream has crashed for tens of millions more, Sanford Weill, the banker most responsible for the nation’s economic collapse, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
So much for the academy’s proclaimed “230-plus year history of recognizing some of the world’s most accomplished scholars, scientists, writers, artists, and civic, corporate, and philanthropic leaders.” George Washington, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Albert Einstein must be rolling in their graves at the news that Weill, “philanthropist and retired Citigroup Chairman,” has joined their ranks.
Weill is the Wall Street hustler who led the successful lobbying to reverse the Glass-Steagall law, which long had been a barrier between investment and commercial banks. That 1999 reversal permitted the merger of Travelers and Citibank, thereby creating Citigroup as the largest of the “too big to fail” banks eventually bailed out by taxpayers. Weill was instrumental in getting then-President Bill Clinton to sign off on the Republican-sponsored legislation that upended the sensible restraints on finance capital that had worked splendidly since the Great Depression.
Those restrictions were initially flouted when Weill, then CEO of Travelers, which contained a major investment banking division, decided to merge the company with Citibank, a commercial bank headed by John S. Reed. The merger had actually been arranged before the enabling legislation became law, and it was granted a temporary waiver by Alan Greenspan’s Federal Reserve. The night before the announcement of the merger, as Wall Street Journal reporter Monica Langley writes in her book “Tearing Down the Walls: How Sandy Weill Fought His Way to the Top of the Financial World… and Then Nearly Lost It All,” a buoyant Weill suggested to Reed, “We should call Clinton.” On a Sunday night Weill had no trouble getting through to the president and informed him of the merger, which violated existing law. After hanging up, Weill boasted to Reed, “We just made the president of the United States an insider.”
The fix was in to repeal Glass-Steagall, as The New York Times celebrated in a 1998 article: “…the announcement on Monday of a giant merger of Citicorp and Travelers Group not only altered the financial landscape of banking, it also changed the political landscape in Washington…. Indeed, within 24 hours of the deal’s announcement, lobbyists for insurers, banks and Wall Street firms were huddling with Congressional banking committee staff members to fine-tune a measure that would update the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial banking from Wall Street and insurance, to make it more politically acceptable to more members of Congress.”