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SCVNews.com | Opinion/Commentary: Public Servants vs. Private Business | 04-15-2013
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Out of Left Field | Commentary by Charlie Vignola
| Monday, Apr 15, 2013

charlievignolaThis week there was an amazing video clip making its way around the Internet.  The clip shows Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., questioning some federal bank regulators about their investigations into unscrupulous banks illegally foreclosing upon innocent homeowners.

In the clip, which can be found on YouTube, Warren learns that while the regulators have amassed plenty of evidence that banks have indeed ripped off homeowners, they’ve not yet decided to share this evidence with the homeowners who’ve been victimized and are currently suing the banks for redress.

Just imagine that for a moment: A bank has unlawfully foreclosed on your home, kicked your family out and sold the house out from under you for pennies on the dollar; government officials actually have evidence of the crime that could help you prove you’ve been screwed in a court of law – and yet that evidence may never be revealed to you.

Such a situation seems impossible to believe, yet in a sick way it makes perfect sense.  After all, it was the reckless behavior of the banks and Wall Street that led to the Great Recession of 2008, and four and a half years later, we’re still dealing with the aftershocks of that financial catastrophe. Yet not one banker or Wall Street executive has been arrested.

Part of the reason is that Washington, D.C., is increasingly a wholly owned subsidiary of the financial services industry, which is why the banks and speculators and hedge fund managers have been so successful at killing the sort of regulations that might actually help avert future economic cataclysms.

Republicans like to say we don’t need any more regulations, we just need to enforce the ones that are already on the books – which would be a lot easier if the regulatory agencies responsible for enforcing the laws weren’t constantly getting their budgets and staffs slashed by these same Republicans in their zeal to pare back “big government” in the name of deficit reduction.

But that doesn’t stop a few conscientious public servants from still trying to fight the good fight and protect innocent people from getting fleeced.

Elizabeth Warren is one such public servant.  Prior to serving in public office, she helped to create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a new government agency designed to fight back against the predatory activities of banks, credit card companies and mortgage brokers.  Sounds like a good idea, right?

Not to the Republicans.  Dancing to the strings of the corporate lobbyists who keep them in office, they’ve waged a bitter battle to kill this new agency in its crib, pulling every procedural trick in the book to prevent it from even having someone to run the agency.  In fact, it was the GOP’s refusal to consider Warren to head the CFPB that ultimately led her to run for the Senate in Massachusetts.

Boy, did that backfire. Not only did Elizabeth Warren unseat rising GOP star Scott Brown for the seat, but she’s since been appointed to the Senate Banking Committee and has turned out to be a bigger and more powerful thorn in the side of the banking industry in this new capacity.

Warren was shocked that the federal banking regulators who unearthed evidence of these illegal activities against homeowners seemed to be protecting the banks at the expense of the defrauded victims – the same banks that got bailed out by the government a few years back and even paid themselves billions in bonuses for running their businesses into the ground.

There are plenty of people to be furious at here, but the real villains seem to depend on your particular ideology.  If you’re a Democrat, you’re angry at the greedy bankers who gambled with the U.S. economy and lost, smug in the knowledge that the government would never let them go under and cover their bad bets.

If you’re a Republican, you’re angry at big government for forcing those banks to extend home loans to poor minorities in some misguided attempt to help out the less fortunate, and that’s the real cause of the financial meltdown.

In the grand conservative narrative, it’s never the greed or malfeasance of the one-percenters that’s the problem, but the failed social policies of bleeding-heart liberals.  If the government would just get out of the way and let the free market do its magic, everyone would reap the benefits.

Of course, as anyone who’s studied macroeconomics knows, the free market isn’t really “free.”  It’s not, as conservatives would like us to believe, a perfect and natural system handed down to us by God Himself, but a man-made product that’s shaped by regulation and taxation and international trade agreements constantly being revised by – you guessed it – governments.

Economics is a complicated business, and businesses subject to regulations still frequently flout the law.  Imagine what the world would look like if there were no regulations and businesses were free to behave without oversight of any kind, where the almighty profit was literally the only consideration.

Imagine if businesses could develop monopolies like the bad old days – monopolies on clean water or oil or health care, without any democratically elected body looking out for the common good.  If that sounds good to you, then I suggest you support Rand Paul in the 2016 Republican primaries. He hates the government interfering with businesses so much, he believes private businesses should be free to discriminate against blacks if they so choose.

God knows our government has its flaws, as we’re seeing with these banking regulators, but a government that’s subservient to corporations would be a far greater nightmare.  If I have to choose between publically elected and accountable representatives versus privately appointed and bottom-line-driven executives to look after the best interests of the American people, I’ll still pick the public servants over the profiteers any day of the week.

 

Charlie Vignola describes himself as a former College Republican turned liberal Democrat.  A resident of the Santa Clarita Valley since 1999, he works in the motion picture industry and loves his wife and kids.

 

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