Roger Ebert's Journal-
April 8, 2011- "The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation's income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent.
"Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent."
So I discover in a piece by Joseph E. Stiglitz in the new issue of Vanity Fair. These facts confirm my impression that greed is now seen as a virtue in America. I'm not surprised by the greed of the One-Percenters. I'm mystified by the lack of indignation from so many of the rest of us.
Day after day I read stories that make me angry. Wanton consumption is glorified. Corruption is rewarded. Ordinary people see their real income dropping, their houses sold out from under them, their pensions plundered, their unions legislated against, their health care still under attack. Yes, people in Wisconsin and Ohio have risen up to protest these realities, but why has there not been more outrage?
The most visible centers of these crimes against the population are Wall Street and the financial industry in general. Although there are still many honest bankers, some seem to regard banking and trading as a license to steal. Outrageous acts are committed and go unpunished. Consider this case of money laundering by Wachovia Bank, now part of Wells Fargo. This Guardian article reports: "The authorities uncovered billions of dollars in wire transfers, traveler's checks and cash shipments through Mexican exchanges into Wachovia accounts."
The bank paid fines of less than 2% of its $12.2 billion profit in 2009. No individual was ever charged with a crime. We need not doubt that Wachovia executives received bonuses over the period of time when they were overseeing these illegal activities. Permit me to quote one more paragraph:
"More shocking, and more important, the bank was sanctioned for failing to apply the proper anti-laundering strictures to the transfer of $378.4 billion — a sum equivalent to one-third of Mexico's gross national product — into dollar accounts from so-called casas de cambio (CDCs) in Mexico, currency exchange houses with which the bank did business."
If a third of the Mexican GNP passes through your bank and you don't ask the questions required by law, you are either (1) a criminal, or (2) incompetent. I can't think of another possibility.
Stories like this have become commonplace. Two of the most common types of news stories about banks recently have involved their losses, and the size of their executive bonuses. Bloomberg News reports: "JPMorgan Chase & Co. gave Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon a 51 percent raise in 2010 as the bank resumed paying cash bonuses following two years of pressure from regulators and lawmakers to curb compensation."