Vail Daily column: Is the U.S. financial system rigged? | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Is the U.S. financial system rigged?

Jack Van Ens

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren battles Wall Street financiers and Washington bureaucrats. In her autobiography, “A Fighting Chance,” she strikes at parts of the federal government in cahoots with a corrupt financial industry. These connivers want Wall Street unregulated. The result: Middle class citizens are losers. High rollers place bets and win big bucks, using a shady system of rigged financial scales.

Warren’s memoir was originally slated to be published with the title “Rigged,” a throwback to the unofficial slogan “The System is Rigged,” used in her 2012 Senate campaign.

Steeped in biblical imagery, Warren refers to “unbalanced scales.” Prophets exposed merchants who used weighted scales to cheat peasants out of their gold or silver. A sage urged ancient Hebrew society to rebalance moral weights according to God’s specifications. “Honest balances and scales belong to the Lord,” a financial counselor taught. “God made the entire set of weights” (Proverbs 16:11).

Sounding like a contemporary prophet, Sen. Warren hits hard at a political system that pits Wall Street bankers and Beltway plutocrats against middle-class Americans. Common folk don’t have a chance at winning these wagers because financial power-brokers rig the system.

“Big corporations hire armies of lobbyists to get billion-dollar loopholes into the tax system and persuade their friends in Congress to support laws that keep the playing field tilted in their favor,” writes Warren.

Who loses out because of shrinking incomes? “Meanwhile, hardworking families are told that they’ll just have to live with smaller dreams for their children,” Warren laments.

She doesn’t hide behind arcane fiscal lingo. Warren endured hard financial times growing up in Oklahoma, then found herself a single parent who watched lawyers on TV and became intrigued with bankruptcy law. She excelled at it. Warren co-authored classic text books in this field and served on faculty at Harvard Law School.

She talks in straight-forward sentences. Her eyes sparkle, peering through old-fashioned rimless glasses. She mixes an “aw-shucks” Okie demeanor with a first-class intellect that exposes weaknesses plaguing our nation’s financial system.

The housing market tanked in 2008, causing the Great Recession. Conservatives argue that lax government housing directives forced banks to package mortgages to debt-ridden buyers whose credit was slim to none.

This shaky argument errs because it assumes Uncle Sam caused the 2008 housing debacle. Such conjecture is full of intellectual fluff, according to Warren. So are other contrived arguments conservatives employ to “explain” why the housing market tanked in 2008.

Like the first bite of cotton candy, it tastes delicious to absolve Wall Street bankers of the housing collapse. Like cotton candy, such airy arguments lack substance, and when based on errant assertions, they get stickier.

Warren zeroes in on the real culprits. In 2008, Sen. Harry Reid appointed her to oversee the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Conservatives in the Bush II administration cringed when desperate times forced them to use government bail-outs to avoid a financial Armageddon. They borrowed taxpayer money to keep banks open.

Warren blows away cotton candy excuses for the bail out. Using balanced scales, she indicts the banking industry for manipulating subprime loans. Bankers caused the financial crisis, peddling worthless bundled securities.

Warren doesn’t believe these banking practices were innocent examples of malfeasance or merely business risks that went bad. She focuses on bankers who rigged scales in their favor. She’s baffled why few have gone to jail for breaking laws. They get their hands slapped with massive fines and are told to shape up.

Warren wants to know why there have been “no mass indictments” of bankers. Their Washington cronies and lobbyist insiders have rigged the system to forestall jail sentences.

Since 2008, some banks have committed mortgage fraud by illegally foreclosing on U.S. homeowners. Defenders of this corrupt system point to settlements against these mortgage abusers. Banks have paid damages of $26 million to the government, with steep charges still on the books. These fines are mere pennies compared to absconded dollars.

Whistle-blower Matt Taibbi, in his expose “The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap,” re-enforces Sen. Warren’s charges. He writes, “Not a single individual had to pay so much as a dime of his own money in damages.”

Rigged scales benefit a few financiers but rob hard-working citizens. Elizabeth Warren is determined to balance the scales by enlarging the American Dream for the middle class.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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