Marching on K Street to Transform Wall Street

On May 17, I will join thousands of others in a creative protest on
a street that most Americans don't know exists. It is "K Street" in
Washington, and it is home to thousands of corporate lobbyists who get
paid six figures to buy the votes in Congress. K Street is Washington's
counterpart to Wall Street, and powerful men on both streets have been
working hard, in tandem, to preserve our casino economy, our plunder
economy, and our military economy.

The rally, led by Jobs with Justice, National People's Action, the
AFL-CIO, and SEIU, comes at a critical moment. The Senate is headed
towards a vote on a financial reform bill to put some checks and
balances on Wall Street. The K Street lobby firms have spent hundreds
of millions of dollars to gut the bill.

These are the same shady characters who pushed Congress to strip
away the sensible financial regulations put in place after the crash of
1929, opening the door to the gambling insanity that caused the 2008
crash. Then they had the nerve to go back to Capitol Hill and demand
trillions of taxpayer dollars to prop up the "too big too fail" banks.
Today, pumped full of public money, these financial giants are now
bigger than ever and handing out fat CEO paychecks.

With public anger at its height, this is the moment to shrink Wall
Street and restore it to its proper role in serving the financial needs
of small businesses and ordinary Americans. What we don't need is to
"fix" Wall Street so that it can go back to business as usual. As David
Korten puts it, policymakers need to be asking the fundamental question
of: "How do we create a financial services sector that directs money
where it is needed: toward creating living wage jobs that provide
essential goods and services for all Americans in ways consistent with
a healthy environment?"

The pending financial reform bill would get us only partway towards
this goal. And it's too early to tell how successful the K Street lobby
will be in blocking or gutting even these modest reforms.

Fortunately, public anger does seem to be having some impact in
countering Wall Street's limitless lobbying resources. Some amendments
to curb Wall Street excess appear to be gaining ground, while others
are being defeated. Here are some highlights:

Financial Secrecy: Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders led the way on
an amendment to force the Federal Reserve to reveal which banks
received more than $2 trillion in emergency aid during the financial
crisis (Sander's amendment passed 96-0). The legislation would also
force most derivatives trading out of the shadows and onto open
clearinghouses and exchanges.

Curbing the Casino: On the top of the K Street hit list is an
amendment to force banks to spin off units that gamble in the dangerous
derivatives that helped send the economy into a tailspin. And one of
the great reforms of the Depression era is back on the table: the 1933
Glass-Steagall reform to separate banking functions between commercial
and investment banking. It helped stabilize the U.S. financial system
and keep alive thousands of small banks until its repeal in 1999. A
transformed Wall Street would need to restore this sensible regulation.

Consumer protection: A new Consumer Financial Protection Agency
would help protect ordinary Americans from the worst abuses of greedy
financiers, including predatory lenders and fraudsters.

What's missing?

Once this round of financial reform is over, there will be much
unfinished business to do if we are going to shut down the worst parts
of Wall Street and transform the rest so that we can have a financial
system that supports an economy centered around vibrant, green Main

Two key battles to come:

Breaking up the banks: Last week, an amendment to limit bank size,
led by fair trade champion Senator Sherrod Brown, was defeated. As long
as we have banks that are "too big too fail," taxpayers will always
have to face the prospect of funding future bailouts. One way that
people are already working to undercut the power of the big banks is
through a campaign launched by Arianna Huffington and others to "Move
Your Money." Thousands have answer the call to transfer their personal
funds from Wall Street banks to local banks.

Taxing the speculators: There is growing momentum in the United
States and around the world behind proposals to place tiny taxes (not
more than 0.25%) on trades of derivatives, stocks, and currencies. This
"financial speculation tax" would both put a damper on speculation and
it would raise hundreds of billions of dollars that could go to green
jobs, health care, and climate finance. My organization, the Institute
for Policy Studies, has joined with allies around the world to press
this issue at the upcoming G-20 meeting next month in Canada.

I'm looking forward to joining with the throngs on K Street,
carrying our signs with the slogans: "Tax Speculators: Shut down the
Wall Street Casino." This is the struggle of our lifetimes and only by
bringing the message to the streets can we rein in the corporations and
banks that threaten our democracy and our well being.

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