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).
In the pantheon of billionaires without shame, Michael Bloomberg, the Wall Street banker turned busines-press lord turned mayor, is now secure at the top. What is so offensive is that someone who abetted Wall Street greed, and benefited as much as anyone from it, has no compunction about ruthlessly repressing those who dare exercise their constitutional “right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances” that he helped to create.
You would think that a former partner at the investment bank Solomon Brothers, which originated mortgage-backed securities, a man who then partnered with Merrill Lynch in the high-speed computerized trading that has led to so much financial manipulation, would have some sense of his own culpability. Or at least that someone whose Wall Street career left him with a net worth of $19.5 billion would grasp the deep irony of his being the instrument for smashing Occupy Wall Street, the internationally acknowledged symbol of opposition to corporate avarice.
But only in America is the arrogance of the superrich so perfectly concealed by the pretense of democracy that the twelfth-richest man in the nation can suppress dissent against corporate rapacity and expect his brutal actions to be viewed not as a means of preserving his own class privilege but as bureaucratically necessary to providing sanitary streets.
Even before he ordered the smashing of dissent by citizens peacefully assembled, Bloomberg denigrated their heartfelt message: “It’s fun and it’s cathartic,” he said of those huddled against the cold in a makeshift encampment, “…it’s entertaining to go and blame people…. It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp.”
It is mind-boggling that Bloomberg still hypes the canard that the banks were forced to reap enormous profits from toxic securities. It is an embarrassing, dishonest position when the record of banker fraud in creating the housing bubble is so well documented in Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuits. Is Bloomberg unaware that the major banks have agreed to pay hefty fines in a meager compensation for their schemes? That he blames the victims of the securitization swindles and then orders the arrest of those who dare speak the truth is a tribute to his belief in the enduring power of the big lie.
If the Bloomberg news service, the stock market idolizer owned by the mayor, had been anything more than an enabler this past decade of Wall Street excess—nay, criminality—it’s possible we would not be experiencing the current crisis. If this leading financial news outlet had performed the minimum of journalistic due diligence on unregulated credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations and the other swindles marketed with an abandon informed by deep deceit and the financial industry’s pervasive corruption, the world economy may not now be in such terrible shape.
Yet the man whose personal wealth increased by $4.5 billion the first year of this meltdown when many Americans were losing their life savings now dares shift blame away from himself and others at the center of economic power to the most vulnerable among us. Instead of blaming the Wall Street lobbyists who got the laws changed so that they could securitize people’s home mortgages, no matter how unsound those mortgages were by design, he blames the folks suckered into accepting the banks’ phony offerings. “Blame the opium addict and not the pusher” is the excuse for the bankers who turned the lure of easy credit into a housing bubble that, when it inevitably exploded, impoverished the world but left the bailed-out Wall Street hustlers richer than ever.
“There’s something wrong with a kid who steals a bike going to jail and someone who steals millions paying a fine,” as former New York City Mayor Ed Koch put it in challenging Bloomberg’s blame-the-victims copout. The fines to which Koch referred represent a small percentage of the bankers’ ill-gotten gains, and, of course, as opposed to the kid who steals a bike, none of the bankers fined by the SEC has even been threatened with jail time. “What do you think they got fined for—schmutz on the sidewalk?” Koch asked. “They got fined because they abused their relationship with their clientele. And I want to see somebody—I want to see one of them, of a major corporation, punished criminally.”
Instead, the people led away in handcuffs are not the bankers who perpetuated the fraud of turning homes into the junk of toxic mortgages, which should be judged as criminal, but decent people who have committed only the “crime” of speaking truth to power.
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).