The Star-Ledger


It's Americans For Financial Reform National Senate Call-In Week

The Star-Ledger — Tuesday, March 2, 2010

By John D. Atlas

Paul Krugman wrote in yesterday's New York Times: "So here's the situation. We've been through the second-worst financial crisis in the history of the world, and we've barely begun to recover: 29 million Americans either can't find jobs or can't find full-time work. ......The only way consumers will be protected under future antiregulation administrations — and believe me, given the power of the financial lobby, there will be such administrations — is if there's an agency whose whole reason for being is to police bank abuses. In summary, then, it's time to draw a line in the sand. No reform, coupled with a campaign to name and shame the people responsible, is better than a cosmetic reform that just covers up failure to act."

I'd put it this way.

A year after Alan Greenspan, the best and brightest executives from Goldman Sachs, AIG, and the unscrupulous mortgage lenders caused the world financial disaster, Barak Obama went to Wall Street. He pointed his finger at the Gordon Gekkos and said, "We will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess that was at the heart of this crisis, where too many were motivated only by the appetite for quick kills and bloated bonuses. Obama said we need the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, (CFPA) HR 3126, which would create a separate stand alone agency with the sole mission of protecting investors and consumers. It's the key reform to protect consumers from financial abuse. As Citizen Action's Phyllis Salowe-Kaye said, "It's a crazy situation...that if you buy a toxic toaster, you have the Consumer Product Safety Commission to protect you from harm," but there's nothing to protect us from toxic loans."

What did those of us who lost homes, housing wealth, jobs and trillions in lost college and retirement savings do? What did those of us who saw Congress spend billions in tax-payer funded bailouts do? Most Americas sat on their butts and hoped that Obama would fix the problem. We sat back and left it to the Obama administration to try and get the CFPA passed. That was over 4 months ago. Since then the bailed out Wall Street bankers paid themselves billions of dollars in bonuses, while they paid their lobbyist hundreds of millions to fight against reforms that would protect us from their abuses in the future. They have bombarded members of Congress to weaken or forget about the CFPA, while consumers have been silent.

Here is why the CFPA proposed by the president is important and why we all need to speak up. The CFPA would oversee the enforcement responsibilities for the wide range of financial consumer protection laws already in place, including the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The CRA is one of the most important laws for building wealth and revitalizing neighborhoods. It helps keep banks honest by making them report specific loan data for low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, ensuring that consumers in traditionally underserved communities have access to safe, sound and affordable mortgages and home equity loans. If the CRA had been applied to all the sub prime lenders, we would have avoided the present foreclosure and financial crisis. The CFPA would also prohibit federal pre-emption of strong state consumer protection laws and cover ALL financial products — No exemptions for any lenders. It will also create new rules that will protect working families and small businesses by reining in the greedy, reckless behavior of big banks on Wall Street. It will protect consumers by policing unfair and deceptive practices by credit card companies, mortgage companies, and predatory lenders.

If you want to join the fight, do it now. You have a national ally. The Americans for Financial Reform (AFR), a national coalition of more than 300 consumer, employee, investor, community and civil rights organizations have organized a national campaign to strengthen your right so you know what banks are doing. The coalition includes USAction, AARP, ACORN, private financial firms like American Income Life Insurance Company, AFL-CIO, Common Cause, Consumer Federation of America, and Public Citizen. New Jersey Citizen Action is leading the effort in NJ.

Obama did a good job reminding the public that he had no choice but to strengthen the enforcement of regulations overseeing Wall Street, and proposing an agency that will look after main street not Wall Street. But in a democracy dominated by powerful financial interest, you can't rely on someone else fighting your battles. You can't sit back and say let someone else do it.

HERE IS WHAT YOU CAN DO. Americans for Financial Reform National has organized a Senate Call-In Week. It started yesterday, March 1st, and continues to March 4th.

The Senate is currently working on financial reform legislation. Stop what you are doing and call Senator Menendez and tell him to put an end to the abuses that led to the financial crisis. New Jersey is an all important state because Senator Menendez is on the Senate Banking Committee. Tell Sen. Menendez to: "vote to support financial reform that holds the big Wall Street Banks accountable including the creation of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Call 866 544 7573. The call is free!

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