Guest column: Most corrupt industry
By now every alert citizen knows that big banks are the leading contender for "Most Corrupt Industry" in America. And that puts them ahead of even oil, agribusiness, and health insurance. Truly an all-star cast.
Here in Connecticut we follow banking very closely because, (1) a lot of it goes on here, and (2) our senior senator is in the bankers' pocket.
Sen. Chris Dodd, Finance Committee chair, an otherwise passable pol (Peace Corps, after all) takes lots of campaign money from big banks and even from the scummy payday loan industry. His wife also miraculously serves on several juicy corporate boards and he's received some tasty mortgages on his various houses. Talk about a sleeping watchdog.
And now that President Barack Obama has proposed some namby-pamby reforms for the financial sector, you can bet that the Senate will go docily along. There are very few boat-rockers there who might go for something stronger. Plenty of Dodd's colleagues are on the take too. The result is that even though the United States is now in Depression-lite mode, most of the same old bankers are still in charge and are once again collecting bonuses. Some have paid back their TARP loans in order to free themselves of restrictions on bonuses and unseemly pay. Public policy is riding high, yes sir.
Even credit card moguls seem free of remorse. With their fine-print deceptions lately exposed in the public press, and with customers by the millions failing to pay their bills, the industry saunters along unabashed. It is enjoying the bailouts and is busy throwing sand in the gears of government-sponsored reform. The Treasury, as usual, is proposing only tepid improvement and the House not much better, leaving it to Sen. Dodd to do the heavy lifting. Which he is doing this time, what with the credit cards' high visibility and with reelection coming up next year.
Adding insult to injury, the Associated Press just did some telling research which showed that the dozen biggest bailed out-banks requested 4,000 special visas last year (22,000 over the last six years) to bring in cheaper foreigners for mid-level jobs. These positions pay about $90,000 and supposedly reflect "jobs that American won't do." You betcha. Leave it to the corrupt banks to exploit one of the endless corrupt provisions of our immigration law.
One ray of hope in this gloomy picture is the health of small banks. A few overstretched ones continue to go under, but most have held onto their own local mortgages and are doing okay. An ad for one appeared in a local newsletter here last week reminding us that it is still a "mutual" bank, which is to say, owned by its depositors. Hallelujah! Most of those babies have already been converted to stock companies and raped by their executives. Maybe I'll switch over to the bank in the ad.
But the really scary news comes from Russia. They, the Chinese, the Indians, and the Brazilians just met to talk about promoting a new world reserve currency to replace the dollar. That won't happen overnight but it's in the cards eventually, probably a market basket of big country currencies like the Euro, dollar, renminbi, rupee, ruble, yen, and real. Of course the United States is fighting this tooth and nail.
Nonetheless it will happen. With the dollar a shambles from wars, the banking collapse, mindless weapons purchases and mind-boggling trade deficits, there is no alternative. As the United States shows little interest in serious banking reform or raising taxes, investors will gradually but inexorably drift to other currencies, industries, and metals. Thus the dollar will surely plunge and inflation will scale new heights, common enough among sinking empires.
The one thing in Washington that might save us would be campaign finance reform, but that's even less popular among pols than banking reform.
Columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Conn.