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Why rob a bank if you can own one?

A variation of the above statement has been attributed to Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright and poet who fled that country in 1933 when Hitler and the Nazis took power.

Four years ago, the New York Times editorialized about “Banks as Felons, or Criminality Lite.” It asserted that Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays [of London] and Royal Bank of Scotland were felons who had pleaded guilty for conspiring to manipulate “the value of the world’s currencies.” The Department of Justice (DOJ) concluded that this long-running “lucrative conspiracy” allowed these banks to enlarge their profits “without regard to fairness, the law, or the public good.”

The banks were ordered to pay about $9 billion in fines that would be determined by the DOJ and various state, federal and foreign regulators. The Times concluded that this appeared to be “a sweet deal” for a scam that lasted at least five years, during which the banks accumulated some $85 billion by manipulating foreign exchanges.

These huge banks had a great day; they ripped off $85 billion and were fined $9 billion, but ended up with a net of $76 billion. No big bankers went to prison, in keeping with the kid-glove treatment of white-collar criminals in U.S. history. And they ultimately profited from the Great Recession of 2008 that saw 10 million Americans lose their homes, a loss of 8.8 million jobs, and the closing of 170,000 small businesses — the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression of the 1930s. These people were abandoned by the Bush and Obama administrations, Congress, and by the Federal Reserve that doled out trillions to the banking/corporate sector.

Whereas many Americans were understandably outraged by the crash and bailouts, there were no mass protests like the Yellow Vest demonstrations we have recently witnessed in France, nor any organized trade union efforts to punish the criminals with disciplined actions. The criminal bankers walked away with billions in corporate welfare while most Americans remained silent in the face of crimes that grievously harmed millions of their fellow citizens. Evidently the citizen protests that emerged against the Robber Barons during the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, and during the Great Depression and the late 1960s, were forgotten, as the capitalist class continued its theft of the people’s resources.

The currency robbery by major American banks was even more outrageous, given that the public had been subsidizing these institutions for years with its tax dollars; they fattened their profits while giving us sermons preaching about the genius of the capitalist “free enterprise” system. In a 2013 editorial Bloomberg News asked, “Why should taxpayers give Big Banks $83 billion a year,” almost the total of what the banks named above gained in revenue for their scam. Five major U.S. banks — JP Morgan, Bank of America Corp., Citigroup, Wells Fargo & Co., and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. — accounted for $64 billion of the total public subsidy, “an amount roughly equal to their typical annual profits.” The end result is that these powerful banks at the top of the U.S. financial system — with some $9 trillion in assets, more than half the U.S. economy — would just break even without the corporate welfare they received. “The profits they report are essentially transfers from taxpayers to their shareholders.”

These banks are the biggest welfare freeloaders in the country — a term the New York Times and major television networks will not use. Founded by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City, Bloomberg News is not about to challenge our class and corporate-dominated capitalist system, but it was at least honest enough to state the truth about some of our leading banks.

Imagine the outrage if millions of single welfare mothers got billions in handouts like the huge banks mentioned above; the citizen-media pundit-politician condemnation of these women would be swift and harsh. But as the criminals in suits behind desks become “too big to fail” the outrage diminishes and silence prevails, affirming what Brecht said years ago.

John Marciano lives in Talent.

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