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Reforming Wall Street-- Breaking Up Big Banks, Making Ratings Agencies Non-Profit

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The American people are catching on. They understand that there is something profoundly wrong when, in our country today, the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. They understand that something is profoundly wrong when the 20 richest people in our country own more wealth than the bottom half of the American population -- 150 million people. They know that the system is rigged when the average person is working longer hours for lower wages, and yet 58 percent of all new income generated is going to the top 1 percent.

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Executives on Wall Street have extraordinary power over the economic and political life of our country. As most people know, in the 1990s and later, the financial interests spent billions of dollars on campaign contributions to force through Congress the deregulation of Wall Street, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and the weakening of consumer protection laws all across our country.

Wall Street spent this money in order to get the government off their backs and to show the American people what they could do with this new-won freedom from regulation. Well, they sure showed the American people. In 2008, the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street nearly destroyed the American and global economy.

Millions of Americans lost their jobs, they lost their homes and they lost their life savings.

While Wall Street received the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the world with no strings attached, the American middle class continues to disappear, poverty is increasing and the gap between the very rich and everyone else continues to grow wider. And Wall Street executives still receive huge compensation packages as if the financial crisis they created never happened.

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Greed, fraud, dishonesty and arrogance, these are some of the words that best describe the reality of Wall Street today.

So, to those on Wall Street who may be listening to my remarks, and I'm sure there are many of them, let me be very clear. Greed is not good. In fact, the greed of Wall Street and corporate America is destroying the very fabric of our nation. And, here is a New Year's Resolution that I will keep if elected president. And that is, if Wall Street does not end its greed, we will end it for them.

We will no longer tolerate an economy and a political system that has been rigged by Wall Street to benefit the wealthiest Americans in this country at the expense of everyone else.

While President Obama deserves credit for improving this economy after the Wall Street crash, the reality is that a lot of unfinished business remains to be done.

Our goal must be to create a financial system and an economy that works for all of our people, not just a handful of billionaires. That means we have got to end, once and for all, the scheme that is nothing more than a free insurance policy for Wall Street, the policy of "too big to fail."

We need a banking system that is part of the productive economy -- making loans at affordable rates to small and medium-sized businesses so that we can create decent-paying jobs in our country. Wall Street cannot continue to be an island unto itself, gambling trillions in risky financial instruments, making huge profits and assured that, if their schemes fail, the taxpayers will be there to bail them out.

In 2008, the taxpayers of this country bailed out Wall Street because we were told that they were "too big to fail." Yet, today, today, three out of the four largest financial institutions -- JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo -- are nearly 80 percent bigger than before we bailed them out because they were too-big-to-fail. Incredibly, the six largest banks in this country issue more than two-thirds of all credit cards and more than 35 percent of all mortgages. They control more than 95 percent of all financial derivatives and hold more than 40 percent of all bank deposits. Their assets today are equivalent to nearly 60 percent of the GDP of the United States of America. Enough is enough.

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If a bank is too big to fail it is too big to exist. When it comes to Wall Street reform that must be our bottom line. This is true not just from a risk perspective and the fear of another bailout. It is also true from the reality that a handful of huge financial institutions simply have too much economic and political power over this country.

If Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican trust-buster, were alive today, he would say "break them up." And he would be right. That's exactly what we have to do and here's how I will accomplish that.

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Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)
 

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