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Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009 05:21 am

Look out! The circus has come to town

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Who doesn’t love a parade? And here comes a big one! You can feel the beat of the drums, hear the trumpeting of elephants and the melodious call of the calliope — all of which announce that the circus is back in town.

But wait, why aren’t the people happy about the arrival of the Big Show? There is no cheering because this is the Circus of the Bankers, arriving in Washington, D.C., not to entertain us but to game us — to twist the legislative process so they can continue to profiteer at our expense.

Look! There go Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and the other high-hat drum majors of Wall Street, strutting out front. Then comes wave after wave of splendiferous bank lobbyists marching on the Capitol. And going right along with the antics of this troupe of financial performers is that bumbling bunch of clowns from the Federal Reserve and other bank regulatory agencies.

This fiendish circus has come together to kill the most important part of Barack Obama’s proposal to regulate the excesses of Wall Street: a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency. For the first time ever, consumers (i.e., you and me) would have a seat at the table of federal financial policy. The anti-consumer gouging by multibillion-dollar banking behemoths would at last be subject to new rules set and enforced by regulators who have only one mission: to protect ordinary folks from banking sharks.

The prospect of their customers getting a say in the way that America’s financial system works has driven bankers bonkers. “Oh, woe is us,” wail Wall Street executives as they march in step to Capitol Hill. “It is outrageous for the Obamacans to let mere consumer interests interfere with our innovative financial products and restrict our ability to generate free-market profits.”

Free market? Aren’t these the same laissez-fairyland hucksters who have free-marketed our economy right into a deep ditch with “innovative” financial flimflams that even they didn’t understand? Yes, they are.

And aren’t they the same failed bank bosses that we regular taxpayers are presently bailing out with trillions of public dollars? Indeed.

Yet, there are actually members of Congress who are siding with them, rather than grabbing tar and feathers and running their whole sorry circus out of town.

“We know that the optics look bad,” admits the chief lobbyist for the Wall Street giants. “Optics” is lobbyese for: “It looks really, really bad.” Yes, opposing consumer protection from banker greed looks bad because it is bad. These financial powerhouses are trying to maintain a regulatory regime that doesn’t regulate and allows these banking behemoths to run roughshod over us.

But reality is a stranger to these bankers. They insist that there is no need for an independent agency because the Federal Reserve, the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision and others already exist to protect consumers. Really? So where were these “watchdogs” when the banksters went on a rampage during the last couple of decades?

I’ll tell you where they were: cozying up with the very bankers they’re supposed to oversee. The Federal Reserve, for example, controls U.S. monetary policy, yet it’s a private bank owned by other big banks, and it functions chiefly to safeguard the profitability of those banker “clients.” In 1994, the Fed was given sweeping power to protect consumers and to stop the banks from making predatory home loans that gouge families. Yet, for 14 years, the Fed refused to restrain this practice. Not until last year — after millions of families lost their homes and our whole economy was tanking — did the Fed finally “spring” into action.

So guess who is currently arguing that there’s no need for an independent consumer protection agency? Yes, the head of the Fed! Ben Bernanke told Congress this month that his agency “can continue to do good work in this area” of consumer protections.

Please, sir, take off your clown suit and don’t do us any more favors.

To help stop this circus and give consumers their own voice, contact Americans for Financial Reform: www.ourfinancialsecurity.org.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.

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