Let Them Eat Keller

Recently by Robert Scheer: How Little We Know About the Originsof9/11

Funny, he doesn’t look like Marie Antoinette. But when former New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller asks his readers if they are “bored by the soggy sleep-ins and warmed-over anarchism of Occupy Wall Street,” it displays the arrogance of disoriented royal privilege.

Perhaps his contempt for anti-corporate protesters was honed by the example of his father, once the chairman of Chevron. In any case, it is revealing, given the cheerleading support that the Times gave to the radical deregulation of Wall Street that occurred when Keller was the managing editor of the newspaper.

As the Times reported on its news pages in 1998, heralding the merger that created Citigroup as the world’s largest financial conglomerate: “In a single day, with a bold merger, pending legislation in Congress to sweep away Depression-era restrictions on the financial services industry has been given a sudden, and unexpected, new chance of passage.”

The report all too breathlessly continued, “Indeed, within 24 hours of the deal’s announcement, lobbyists for insurers, banks and Wall Street firms were huddling with Congressional banking committee staff members to fine-tune a measure that would update the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial banking from Wall Street and insurance. …”

The “fine-tuned” law, combined with another one similarly drafted by congressional Republicans and also signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton, exempted trading in collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps from government regulation. That was the very action that enabled the banking crisis that has brought the nation’s economy to its knees and protesters to Wall Street. Citigroup, where Clinton’s treasury secretary and deregulation advocate Robert Rubin ended up as chairman, specialized in what proved to be toxic mortgage-backed securities and had to be bailed out with massive taxpayer credits.

One would think that the failure of The New York Times to cover this sorry tale as it was unfolding would leave Keller with some humble understanding of why protesters, undeterred by rain, should be celebrated rather than scorned. But such accountability has hardly been a hallmark of those in the media or in business and political circles, who with few exceptions got it so wrong.

Just how wrong was laid out in the Tuesday night Republican debate by Ron Paul, whose consistent libertarian critique has been refreshing throughout the banking meltdown. Other presidential candidates stumbled over their earlier support of the TARP banking bailout, and one of them, Herman Cain, responding to a question about Occupy Wall Street, stuck by his statement “don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job, you’re not rich, blame yourself.”

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