This past weekend, on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, Occupy Austin tried, convicted, and sentenced three too-big-to-fail banks to punishments that essentially destroyed them. Occupy Austin, in a fine bit of street theater with a serious message, conducted a trial of the CEOs of three very large corporate persons – Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Chase Manhattan – with the CEOs appearing in stocks, and the corporate persons they represented in grave danger of the “ultimate punishment”.
Standing behind a banner that reminded passers-by that more than $1.5 million had been moved out of Austin branches of megabanks since Occupy Austin began on October 6th, the trial proceeded on the sidewalk in front of City Hall.
Bank of America was sentenced to corporate death, because of its continued abuses despite numerous monetary penalties, illegal foreclosures, tax evasion, and putting all citizens at risk for financial ruin by shifting 53 trillion in derivatives from its bank holding company to its FDIC insured retail bank. Wells Fargo, for steering borrowers with good credit into subprime mortgages for the sake of lucrative fees, and investing in for profit prisons and especially immigration prisons, was sentenced to life in prison. And Chase was sentenced to “corporate dissolution” for hawking crappy mortgages to vulnerable Americans. The result of this dissolution:
You must break yourself up into local banks, which do not pressure personal bankers to sell products they know their customers do not need, in order to meet sales quotas or risk losing their livelihood. Instead, your local bankers will be paid a fair and equitable wage, and will help their customers to engage in safe and healthy banking practices.
OA also reminded the American public that our continued patronage of these institutions helped the perpetrators, but our sentence was lenient, compared to that of the corporate person malefactors – three months of community service with Occupy Austin (helping with the occupation, participating in demonstrations, etc.), and six months with Bank Action (the amount of time it may take to move one’s money to a local credit union). Also implicated was the US government, including the Supreme Court, with its egregious Citizens United decision allowing corporate entities already too big to fail to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns in an effort to perpetuate their status quo, and the Federal Reserve, which has added to the bank bailout funds to the tune of trillions of dollars, while those bailed-out institutions left distressed homeowners with no recourse and no real help modifying their mortgages.
Occupy Austin’s trial reminds us all that the call for real accountability has gone unheeded in Washington. The federal government seems intent on extending leniency to the banks: the Obama administration is pushing a settlement between the state Attorneys General and banks involved in illegal foreclosures, which would immunize the banks from any further liability before the investigation has even concluded. A group of AGs, including New York’s Eric Schneiderman, objected to any settlement with the banks until all of the foreclosure irregularities had been investigated and revealed:
Brokered by a 50-state panel of Attorneys General, the robosigning settlement talks ground to a halt when Schneiderman objected to the immunity provisions, seeking to reserve NY’s rights to investigate and prosecute fraud. This could best reduce the chances of future economic catastrophe, strongly dissuading criminal or reckless activity, seeking full reparations for victims instead of partial reimbursements and restore the rule of law to an industry plagued by government-industry incest and pay-for-play at the highest levels.
This settlement now appears imminent, just in time for the President’s State of the Union address, and includes $19 billion in loan write-downs for 1 million borrowers. The banks will be shielded from future liability, and will shell out what amounts to “pennies on the dollar”.
Mock trials may be the only way we can get our voices heard, and Occupy Austin’s trial, conviction, sentencing and punishment of the banks, and its symbolic destruction of corporate personhood, are a reminder that the majority of Americans want the banks held accountable in a way that will actually stop their egregious behavior.