The judgement is taking shape.
The absence of accountability for the financial crisis, triggered by the housing boom and bust -- the worst since the Great Depression -- starts at the top and works its way to the bottom, in places like Miami-Dade. Here, law enforcement failed to apprehend and hold barely legal thievery to account; I'm talking about land use and zoning decisions during the boom that marred the county and saddled taxpayers with billions (just in Miami-Dade) in infrastructure deficits.
The laws intended to protect the public interest -- like those governing pollution and corruption, different sides of the same coin -- only work if they are enforced. Changing banking laws to make it easier to speculate with "house money" (really, the deposits of consumers) is not so different from legislators, in the thrall of campaign cash from polluters, approving "mixing zones" to shift laws from hard numerical standards for water pollution that are enforceable to those that are gauzy and unenforceable. In both cases, accountability disappears by design. A second tactic, with the same parallel to pollution, is simply to make sure that government can't do its job enforcing: make the regulators disappear or turn them into collaborators in design-to-fail systems.
The work-outs, like the multi-billion dollar settlement under way between the US EPA and Miami-Dade for wastewater treatment plants that ought to have been built as costs were incurred during boom times, artfully dodge any connection with this narrative theme. It is a theme Eye On Miami has doggedly pursued even before those fateful days in 2009 documents by the recent PBS "Frontline" episode on Obama's first term.
It was a theme we explored with rising alarm during the first days of the Obama Stimulus. We worried the $850 plus billion would not only erase the tracks of thieves, but it would also result in rewarding those who profited by undermining the public trust. (For a relevant example how the public trust is undermined, how did taxpayers and citizens surrender the right of way for access to the Miami River, off Brickell Avenue, or Biscayne Bay?)
It turns out Eye On Miami was right, and it doesn't give me any pleasure for saying so.
In the fateful days of early 2009, Obama acquiesced on the banks to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, a hold over from the Bush administration, who had little experience beyond the gilded offices of Wall Street.
Obama did not want to take the risk holding the major banks to account -- from the wealth gap through lavish compensation packages while the nation was suffering to the reckless gambling by lenders that turned critical businesses into casino operations.
No incoming president could have been prepared to evaluate what his advisors were warning: an imminent implosion of the world financial system (and for which the Bush White House and its policies were chiefly responsible). On the other hand, when Obama surrendered leverage with Wall Street, he essentially folded his cards: there would never be another opportunity during his first term to 1) hold Wall Street accountable or 2) push back against the fierce, unyielding opposition that arose from hundreds of millions of Wall Street and Chamber of Commerce money that flowed in, to destroy his chances for re-election.
On that score the Big Money lost, but it won on the larger issues: banks and bankers who took billions of taxpayer money were able to refloat their balance sheets without any consequences to their status or standing. The ripple effect -- from Wall Street to local places like Miami-Dade -- has been profound.
Take the example of Miami-Dade, where one developer -- Jorge Perez -- was kept alive by banks, first, because he was too big to fail, then through the intervention of an Asian gambling company; using a windfall profit related to his portion of the Asian company's buyout of related Miami Herald real estate to have a museum named after him, and -- most recently -- to combine forces with others who ought to have been foreclosed and flushed from the system but instead launched a plan to acquire the financial institution in Florida that served as the insider piggy bank during the housing and construction boom, US Century Bank.
It all started here. As we have written before, the origins of the housing boom were in Florida's political arrangements that smoothed the election of George W. Bush to be president and the rise of Jeb! Bush, the former governor of Florida's whose schematics for privatization, reduction of government, and trusting polluters to regulate themselves better than regulators, lead the way so much destruction. None of this is in the Frontline documentary, but it is in our archives for the enterprising.
If you are limited in time, skip to minute 13:40 where the Wall Street / Obama drama begins: "... the bonus situation made him more angry than anything else Jared Bernstein, one of the president's top economic advisors, had ever seen. David Axelrod and Robert Gibbs wanted scalps ... La Summers pushed president to take strong action ... Wall Street would see that if you gambled with nation's fortune, you would lose ... Tim Geithner urged a cautious approach." View right through to the moment when Obama goes to Wall Street, and after letting the bankers off the hook: he is ignored.
Understand that in places like Miami-Dade, where civic engagement is at a stand-still. That is part of the price for no accountability: who cares?