Hallelujah and Holy Smokes! Wall Street has had a "come to Jesus" moment — the biggest sinner on the Street has repented!
He is Sandy Weill, the once-lionized dealmaker who turned our banks into financial "supermarkets" that tie us everyday depositors and Main Street borrowers to the profiteering schemes of unbridled Wall Street traders and the whims of global speculators. Thanks, Sandy — for nothing.
Beginning in the late 1980s, Weill went on a decade-long merger binge, taking over Travelers Insurance, Smith Barney, Aetna, Solomon Brothers and other powerhouses of high finance, culminating in 1998 with his grabbing of Citibank. The whole empire was named Citigroup, Weill was paid a king's ransom, and his conglomerated entity was widely hailed as a work of genius. Only one problem: It was illegal.
After the financial collapse of 1929 led to the Great Depression, the Glass-Steagall Act was passed to protect people's deposits from another system-wide crash by prohibiting banks from also owning stock brokerages, insurance corporations, hedge funds and other shadowy, high-risk financial operations.
Picky-picky, said Weill, who hired a hoard of lobbyists to demand that Washington legalize his illegal structure by simply repealing the pesky law he was blatantly violating. He even brought former President Gerald Ford and former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin onto Citigroup's board of directors to be bipartisan front men leading the charge to kill Glass-Steagall.
Sure enough, in 1999, Congress dutifully went along with Weill's push for repeal, and Wall Street promptly rushed to amalgamate more Citigroups, thus creating the "too-big-to-fail" system that — only eight years later — did indeed fail. Weill's "work of genius" forced a multitrillion-dollar bailout on us taxpayers (including $45 billion that went to Citigroup itself), and it wrecked America's Main Street economy. By then, though, the genius had retired with so much money that he could afford to air-condition hell.
But now — approaching 80 and perhaps hoping to avoid that destination — Weill has suddenly become a born-again convert to the gospel of Glass-Steagall. Late last month, the architect of today's megabanks called for them to be "split up" so they do not "risk taxpayer dollars" and are "not too big to fail."
Wow — redemption! Note, though, that Saint Sandy is not returning any of the millions he pocketed from his devilish scheme — just in case he really does need to buy that air conditioner.
Of course, the system has not treated Weill like a crook, even though he not only violated the law but arrogantly flaunted it. No, no, the criminal acts of Street royals like him are countenanced as the unintended consequences of "financial innovation." His problem, you see, is not that he has a criminal mind, but that he suffers from a rare and tragic genetic flaw called NAD — Narcissistic Avariciousness Disorder.
NAD is what caused Weill to create Citigroup in the first place, then drove him to use his clout to get Congress to legalize his illicit house of cards, which came crashing down on the American economy in 2008.
But having NAD means never having to say "mea culpa," much less "I'm sorry." So, while Weill now says from his luxurious retirement bunker that Glass-Stegall should be reinstated, he still insists that he was right to repeal it at the time — and that he's not responsible for any of the painful economic and social consequences of the collapse that America continues to suffer.
Indeed, he's even playing the victim, complaining recently on a TV show that "our world hates bankers." No, Sandy, the world hates greed and self-aggrandizement. You are, after all, the guy who until recently kept a 4-foot-wide wood etching of yourself in your office, grandiosely titling it, "The Shatterer of Glass-Steagall."
Yet the clueless bankster who shattered that glass so he could reach into the system and help himself to an immense fortune now wants us to remember him as a pious reformer cloaked in the sackcloth of ethical banking.
Who does he think he is fooling? You might remember that just weeks after American taxpayers ponied up the $45 billion bailout of his once-haughty bank, Weill commandeered a Citigroup jet — fueled with our dollars — to give him a free ride to a Mexican resort for a vacation! Reporting on this act of narcissistic avarice, The New York Post wrote Weill's eternal epitaph in a two-word headline: "Pigs Fly."
To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.