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Explaining the Plunder and the Crime

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Reprinted from Consortium News

ditor's Note: One of the greatest transfers of wealth has just played out before our eyes, with some of the top beneficiaries who found complex ways to "short" the housing market enriching themselves and getting hailed as heroes for their foresight.

The "losers" included some rich people who lived lavishly during the housing bubble but ultimately "bet" the wrong way (although many of them have rebounded nicely with their fat bonuses quickly restored, thank you).

The biggest losers are the millions who lost jobs or lost homes and many more who will have to pay for the clean-up for years to come through higher taxes, sluggish growth and crimped futures.

Yet, as news dissector Danny Schecter notes in this guest essay the outrage against this historic financial crime has been diffused by its sheer complexity and the lack of a readily understood narrative:

We ask ourselves how we can be experiencing the largest economic meltdown in decades with millions out of work and millions more losing their homes, and yet, have such a tepid mass mobilization or ongoing response from the progressive world even as every pollster finds public anger registering on the Richter scale.

To understand this paradox, we need to reflect on how most of us define the problem.

To this day, there has not been an aggressive investigation of whom and what brought down the system à la the Pecora Commission appointed by FDR. Instead we have a Financial Inquiry Commission, a wimpy ineffectual body that can't get its act together.

The New York Times, which hailed its appointment, now buries its de facto obit way back in the business section, noting it has "been hobbled by delays and internal disagreements and a lack of focus."

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It took a Senate committee grilling of Goldman Sachs executives to throw down the gauntlet between Main Street and Wall Street. That was preceded by an SEC suit alleging the defrauding of investors and now a possible criminal prosecution.

At the same time, the bookshelves are filling up with volumes of complicated treatises on the complexities of derivatives, risky profit models and credit default swaps. The practitioners of the "dismal science" of economics are having a field day with long-winded dissertations that fail to engage the popular imagination.

We had a word for this when I worked in network television -- MEGO, standing for "My Eyes Glaze Over!"

More popular writers are spinning catchy "yarns" like "The Big Short" which explains the meltdown with psychologically-driven, character-based storytelling to how deluded everyone on Wall Street was. That leaves us feeling superior to the dunderheads who lost us trillions and then laughed all the way to their mansions in the Hamptons.


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Missing is a hardnosed look at the financial crisis as a crime story -- an approach that allows for morality as well as indignation, and resonates with public anger. It touches the nerve that most people feel. That's why I have made a film, "Plunder: The Crime of Our Time," out on DVD from Disinfo and a companion book detailing my argument, The Crime Of Our Time. (See Plunderthecrimeofourtime.com)

I am not alone.

Former bank examiner William Black focuses on looting and CEO fraud. He helped send over a thousand bankers to prison during the S&L crisis in the l980's.

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News Dissector Danny Schechter is blogger in chief at Mediachannel.Org He is the author of PLUNDER: Investigating Our Economic Calamity (Cosimo Books) available at Amazon.com. See Newsdisssector.org/store.htm.

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