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“Too Big To Fail/Too Big To Go To Jail” with Lotsa Media Help: Danny Schechter’s Take


The following are excerpts from Danny Schechter’s article, “We Can't Let the Banksters Walk Away from Their Crimes”:

Although the financial crisis that swept the world may have started on Wall Street, it has brought down governments and shredded economic security worldwide, resulting in the loss of millions of jobs and homes as businesses collapse, foreclosures grow, credit tightens and communities are devastated.

Estimates of the damage run into the trillions.

The Pew Economic Policy Group reports the average U.S. household lost $66,000 in stock holdings and $30,000 in real estate values from June 2008 through March 2009 due to the upheaval in world markets. This brings us close to $100,000 per family.


Our newspapers and TV sources contributed to an economic disaster so cynically engineered even billionaire investor Jim Chanos was prompted to ask, “So where are the perp walks? How long does it take before we see any investigations? It boggles the mind that $150 billion is vaporized…there haven’t been any arrests, any indictments, nor any convictions at any major bank or at any of the government-owned financial institutions Fannie, Freddie and AIG.”

I know how hard it is to alarm the public with mere facts. They don’t have the context within which to interpret complicated stories. In 2006, I released the film ”In Debt We Trust,” exposing illegal subprime scams and warning of the coming meltdown. It was well reviewed, but no mainstream TV outlet would air it.

I was dismissed as an alarmist and a “doom and gloomer.” A mass denial of the dangers ahead seemed to be embedded in the euphoria of the very bubble that was bringing in billions for Wall Street’s financial alchemists, who themselves seemed oblivious to the risks and indifferent to the social impact their practices courted.

The media coverage has made a complex reality deliberately complicated, even incomprehensible. The satirical paper The Onion put the financial press in its place regarding the totally obtuse reporting for which financial journalists were justly infamous even before the biggest scoop since 1929 fell into their laps: “JPMORGAN CHASE ACQUIRES BEAR STEARNS IN TEDIOUS-TO-READ NEWS ARTICLE.”

The Onion witheringly characterized the coverage as “bogging down the news for anyone who might be remotely interested in grasping what the fuck is going on.”

Missing has been a hard-nosed look at the crisis as a crime story.
Former bank examiner William Black understands this. Focusing on looting and CEO fraud, he helped send over 1,000 bankers to prison during the S&L crisis in the 1980s. This time there were neither dogged sleuths nor crime-busting newshounds on the beat.

Even Alan Greenspan has finally admitted in his all-too-polite exchange with a government inquiry that has come to resemble a Princeton seminar, “If you don’t have enforcement, and a lot of that stuff was just plain fraud, you’re not coming to grips with the issue.”

Of course, this “maestro” didn’t go into detail on “a lot of that stuff.”

What we are watching is an abstruse debate about banks that are “too big to fail,” not too big to jail.


Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair — a publication more at home with Groucho Marx than Karl — said of the meltdown: “[This] may well turn out to be the greatest nonviolent crime against humanity in history…never before have so few done so much to so many.”

Yet economists, even progressive ones like James Kwak, deeply mired in the labyrinthian world of financial transactions, still don’t believe it.
The day the SEC filed a complaint against Goldman Sachs, he wrote, one of the more critical Web sites covering the collapse of this vast swindle: “One of the things I say now and then that most annoys people is that the financial crisis was not caused by criminal behavior…."

“My general line is that I’m sure there was some bad behavior that rose to the level of criminal liability — like lying in disclosure documents — but that it wasn’t necessary for the crisis, and we could have had the crisis without any criminal activity at all.”

The problem with this thinking is that it defines financial crime too narrowly, only in terms of securities laws concerned primarily with protecting investors.

It doesn’t acknowledge that financial institutions spent nearly a billion dollars underwriting efforts to erode government controls and change rules, regulations and even laws to allow them to get away with whatever enhanced their bottom lines, no matter who got hurt.

Their well-documented history of aggressive lobbying and buying up politicians qualifies them as avaricious manipulators, not law-abiding companies. Their legal and moral defenses for this conduct are entirely bogus.


Leslie Griffith on Reader Supported News writes: “A modern-day financial monarchy, Goldman acts with the impunity once reserved for kings. Controlling legislators. Electing Presidents. Filling the Executive Branch with well-heeled lackeys, manipulating world markets and betting against the welfare of its own clients…the American people. When their equivalent of ‘tax time’ came, they squeezed the peasants for billions of bail-out bucks.”

In their testimony before Congress, Goldman bankers defended themselves by saying all big banks did what they did. A weak alibi at best, it nonetheless seems to be working for them.


The government has not declared war on Wall Street even after Wall Street declared war on Main Street. The housing bubble was built on a bedrock of fraud linking shady subprime brokers and appraisers to an industry of financial products that were then resold with misrepresented values thanks to the connivance of unethical ratings agencies.

The selling and reselling of assetless asset-backed securities is a central element of the vast fraud, as is the practice of insuring while simultaneously betting against these investments through companies like AIG.

We are talking about a criminal enterprise involving tens of thousands of people working in the financial services industry. Martin Wolf of The Financial Times explained that three industries worked together almost like a cabal to perpetuate these schemes.

The architects of the FIRE economy (structured around Finance, Insurance and Real Estate), operated in the shadow of bent rules and apathetic regulators. They built a huge infrastructure of collaborators and henchmen called “financial service professionals.”


Many knew the people they were selling to could not afford to buy their products. They didn’t care. It was all done deceptively and by design. It was deliberate, engineered in public and hidden in plain sight.

At the local level, mortgage companies said they were under pressure from Wall Street to keep selling homes to the poor so the paper could be resold in an atmosphere of trickle-down corruption.

Schechter’s new film, “Plunder: The Crime of Our Time,” out on DVD from Disinfo. ( and companion book, The Crime of Our Time (Disinformation Books)

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beowulf's picture
Submitted by beowulf on

“My general line is that I’m sure there was some bad behavior that rose to the level of criminal liability — like lying in disclosure documents — but that it wasn’t necessary for the crisis, and we could have had the crisis without any criminal activity at all.”

Good Lord, is James Kwak taking classes at the Yale Law School or the Yale Drama School? Lying on federal disclosure documents is a BIG deal, its what the FBI calls (or in drama school terms, what "The Wire" character Lester Freamon calls) the "head shot". Since it can be fiendishly difficult for the Feds to detect (or a jury to understand) a complex financial fraud, "lying in disclosure documents" is how white collar crime is prosecuted. The standard "Martha Stewart law" false statement penalty is 5 years in prison (18 USC 1001). The punishment for bank fraud is a little stiffer.

Whoever makes any false entry in any book, report, or statement of such bank, company, branch, agency, or organization with intent to injure or defraud such bank, company, branch, agency, or organization, or any other company, body politic or corporate, or any individual person, or to deceive any officer of such bank, company, branch, agency, or organization, or the Comptroller of the Currency, or the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or any agent or examiner appointed to examine the affairs of such bank, company, branch, agency, or organization, or the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System; or
Whoever with intent to defraud the United States or any agency thereof, or any financial institution referred to in this section, participates or shares in or receives (directly or indirectly) any money, profit, property, or benefits through any transaction, loan, commission, contract, or any other act of any such financial institution.

Shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both.

18 USC 1005

Freamon explains the "head shot" to State's Attorney Rupert Bond and A.S.A. Rhonda Pearlman. Since Clay Davis paid back the $80k his mother-in-law gave him for the down payment on his property, it falsifies the loan application (by making the gift a loan). Under federal law, the penalty is thirty years and a million dollar fine.

beowulf's picture
Submitted by beowulf on

One of the things I say now and then that most annoys people is that the financial crisis was not caused by criminal behavior. (Note: The “Prayer for the Relief” at the end of the complaint only asks for civil penalties, but I suppose this does not preclude a criminal action — someone who’s a real lawyer could answer that.) My general line is that I’m sure there was some bad behavior that rose to the level of criminal liability — like lying in disclosure documents — but that it wasn’t necessary for the crisis, and we could have had the crisis without any criminal activity at all. (For example, since most investors weren’t even reading the disclosure documents, Goldman could have said that Paulson was involved in the security selection, and then everything would have been hunky-dory.) For the most part, the ideological takeover and the resulting non-regulatory environment that we discuss in 13 Bankers were enough to do the job.

But Goldman DIDN'T disclose that Paulson was involved in security selection. If they had told the truth in their disclosures, it would only take one (1) sharpeyed reader to blow the whistle on them. That's why its, you know, against the law to lie in securities filings or withhold material facts.

15 USC77X
Any person who willfully violates any of the provisions of this subchapter, or the rules and regulations promulgated by the Commission under authority thereof, or any person who willfully, in a registration statement filed under this subchapter, makes any untrue statement of a material fact or omits to state any material fact required to be stated therein or necessary to make the statements therein not misleading, shall upon conviction be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

letsgetitdone's picture
Submitted by letsgetitdone on

as usual Beowulf. Let's get to the perp walks.

beowulf's picture
Submitted by beowulf on

Wanted to apologize to Lambert, I jump on to read (and comment) while procrastinating from work, typically, then I go back to the salt mines a while. Go ahead and post a diary with anything I write its only plagiarism if you're on tenure track. Besides, if I wanted fame and glory, I wouldn't be posting pseudonymously. :o)

As for perp walks, perhaps its time to bring in a new crew of perp walkers. I suggested to Bill Black a few weeks ago that since the FBI has totally dropped the ball on investigating the accounting control frauds that have wrecked our banking sector-- Congress should hand over jurisdiction to the DEA. One, they're pretty aggressive in unraveling money laundering schemes, two, they take great joy in any opportunity to show up the FBI and three, the more DEA agents assigned to digging through bank records, the fewer are available to bust medical marijuana patients.

I looked up their charter the other day, as it happens, Congress doesn't have to do anything, The DEA has jurisdiction over anything the Attorney General assigns them. Unleash the wiretaps. :o)

(a) Any officer or employee of the Drug Enforcement Administration or any State or local law enforcement officer designated by the Attorney General may…
(1) carry firearms;
(2) execute and serve search warrants, arrest warrants, administrative inspection warrants, subpoenas, and summonses issued under the authority of the United States…
(5) perform such other law enforcement duties as the Attorney General may designate