Why We Fight

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If you’re marching at Occupy sites in lower Manhattan or Joliet, Illinois or Outremont, Quebec or Rapid City, South Dakota or any of a hundred other places across the continent, you surely came with your own reasons.

But if you’re reading this and still asking what Wall Street ever did to you, try this:

You were robbed. In the biggest heist in the history of robberies.

It doesn’t matter that you’re young or old, Republican or Democrat — if you’re an American and own a home, collect a pension, pay taxes or have a savings account, you’ve almost certainly spent the last three years getting fleeced.

The national news media has passed off the crash of 2008 and the bailouts that followed as a logical response to a fluky historical accident — a “thousand-year flood” economic mishap that just happens every now and then.

And if you watched chin-stroking TV docudramas like “Too Big to Fail,” what you learned is that at crunch-time our banking and regulatory leaders buckled down and made tough decisions that rescued us all from the abyss.

That is all lies. It is not what happened. What did happen was a mass heist, carried out in four steps:

The theft started when banks created a vast Himalayan mountain range of debt, lending trillions of dollars to unscrupulous lenders like Countrywide and New Century with the aim of creating huge volumes of home loans. As recently as 20 years ago, banks didn’t make risky loans because they worried about collecting on them. But in this case, banks never intended to hold on to the loans; the loans were designed to be sold off as soon as the ink was dry.

Next, banks bought back all of those junk-rated home loans from the Countrywides of the world so they could be pooled and chopped up and resold to suckers in Europe, the Middle East, China and here at home as AAA-rated investments. This is not unlike buying a truckload of oregano, dividing the shipment into ten-thousand Ziploc bags, then touring rock concerts around the world and selling it off as high-grade weed.

Because the banks themselves knew how dicey the loans were, the smartest of them then went out on the market and placed massive bets against those loans.

Finally, when the deadly home loans blew up, creating a global tsunami of losses in which centuries-old companies worth billions vanished in seconds (and even their chief bookie, AIG, collapsed), the banks turned to dishwashers, janitors, firemen, teachers — they turned to us, the taxpayers — to pay off their bets.

Many of the banks’ best customers for these fraudulent oregano-loans were institutional investors like state pension funds; when the mortgages collapsed, retirement funds for state workers and unions all across America plummeted. Which is why retired schoolteachers from Los Angeles to Minneapolis might have woken up in September of 2008 to find their life savings had lost 40% in value.

Wall Street bankers nailed everyone they could find with those deadly mortgages. Every time they struck a deal with a Chinese wealth fund or a Mississippi carpenters’ union to unload their exploding product, they scurried back and forth with delight, high-fiving each other in those skyscraper offices you might now be looking up at from your perch in Liberty Square.

But Wall Street doesn’t shoulder the blame alone. Instead of forcing our criminal financiers to pay victims back, our government — through two equally corrupted presidential administrations, one Democrat, one Republican — doubled down on the theft by forcing the same retired schoolteachers to reach into their pockets a second time, spending tax money to pay off the bets the bankers made against those investments they had sold them.

This level of highly orchestrated, institutional crime is unrivaled in American history. Following the Savings and Loan Crisis in the 1980s our government referred more than 1,100 cases for prosecution; today, after a massive industry-wide mortgage scam, not one Wall Street executive has seen the inside of a prison.

After the crash, the banks were given access to billions in bailouts and zero-percent loans from the federal reserve with the implicit understanding that after we rescued them, they would kick-start the economy and put people back to work. But the banks’ very first move was to restore their own exorbitant salaries.

In 2009, barely a year after taxpayers rescued them from imploding, bailout babies like Goldman Sachs ($16.2 billion in 2009 compensation) and Morgan Stanley ($10.7 billion) were doling out record compensation pools  — a trend that has continued to this day, as Wall Street’s annual revenues soared past $417 billion last year, with compensation at $135 billion, both all-time highs.

Three years into this “recovery,” few jobs have been created and a quarter of a million families are still losing their homes every three months. The bailouts did not help us. Instead, they helped the people who put us out of our homes and on to the streets.

There are a thousand reasons to occupy Wall Street — unending war, a failing health care system, the need for jobs and a living wage, gross wealth inequality. But if you need just one reason to join this movement, it is this:

You were robbed, and your government helped finish the job.

This article was published in our fifth print issue on November 18, 2011.

This post is also available in: Spanish, Portuguese (Brazil)

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  • Adc4q

    First of all, I would like to say well done. It does the heart good to see some educated and inspired discourse in the midst of all the confusion that goes with this struggle. The cognitive dissonance has become unbearable. Every source is splintered, every view is opposed on all sides, and for every piece of information, there is a counterattack from the opposing side. The frustrating thing is the circular motion in which all this occurs. What I mean by that is that all of the arguments that are prominent in both the mass media and (in some cases) the movements own devices are removed from these central arguments that ignited the movement in first place. Those not educated in the happenings of the past few months have the prototype opinion that the movement cannot do anything, and would not know what to do even if it could. This is of course due to the picture that the mass media outlets are offering. It is a game of poker with one card. That is why articles like these are necessary, though it is frustrating that they are still as necessary as they are two months into the ordeal. The fact that we have to keep reiterating these points is revelatory of both the fact that the powers that be do not want these things to happen and that maybe it is time to get a little more organized, as in legitimized, and narrow down the openness of the movement in an attempt to spearhead the movement.

  • scabpicker

    The heist did not just start within the past two decades. The heist started in 1910 with the plotting to take over the monetary system by a small group of crooked Bankers. They then gave this scheme a name called The Federal Reserve and made it official in 1913. The Fed is the head of the Beast that has enabled the rest of the banksters to rip off every generation since. The rip off has grown by compounding interest each succeeding year until they can no longer hide it in plain sight anymore.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-William-Majkowski/1507188872 Adam William Majkowski

      J.P. Morgan had a monopoly on the entire country by 1890. He was the first private corporate giant to bail out entire companies. He owns our country still from the grave. The people who know and care must take the initiative to free the people who are ignorant or do not care. We need an army that knows how to be non-violent and is smart enough to recognize and prevent abuse of rights. Going limp is not acceptable. We can not bring criminals to justice by letting them toss us into jails. The criminals must be rounded up and tossed into jails. So far we are going limp and allowing criminals to remain in charge. We need an army with soldiers who are prepared to die, to liberate our country.

  • Trixiebelle

    I just got laid off Friday. FOR THE THIRD TIME since 2008. I’m 54. Scabpicker is correct. Read The Creature from Jeckyl Island. It is all about the formation of the “Federal Reserve Bank” … it will make you sick. UGH.

  • http://twitter.com/agaitaarino Alex Gaita Ariño

    Just a note: many of us are fighting this fight on a different continent (me, in Europe, but the Arab Spring in North Africa was an inspiration to us all!), for very similar reasons. We need to do better than October 15th, we need to converge and be aware of our collective power, all over the world. Vamos despacio, porque vamos muy lejos.

  • Istiak

    We, the people from Bangladesh, hope your success. Our history is same but there is no movement like you. We hope a continuous movement to protest the corporate criminals and their protector politicians.

  • Myrna

    Matt Taibbi is so dang accurate in his description…in his whole article. We’ve been robbed everyday for so long that we just got used to it. Like a porn star in another movie. Shaft me today. Shaft me tomorrow. I don’t know what day it is anymore. Government, finish the job for me…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-William-Majkowski/1507188872 Adam William Majkowski

    The fight does not begin until people are willing to die. This means picking up a weapon and not using it, but brandishing it to clear your way on to the stock exchange floor and shut it down. It stays down until the wealth is spread out to every citizen. We have not begun to fight. Laying around limp and getting arrested plays into their hands. If you are not willing to die, then go home. You do not have to kill. You must die to set an example. Until then, no one will take you seriously. Who will offer their life?

    • Cholliet

      How about you first? Yeah. I’ll be right behind ya, pal.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-William-Majkowski/1507188872 Adam William Majkowski

        I am going first.

    • http://twitter.com/jeffjosephsr Jeffrey Joseph

      The first thing you are taught in Basic Military Training is never point a weapon at anyone you don’t intend to kill. I appreciate your frustration friend but this kind of talk just gives fodder to the Rush Limbaugh crowd.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adam-William-Majkowski/1507188872 Adam William Majkowski

        We have new advanced non lethal weaponry now. Standing up for yourselves and bringing criminals to justice has nothing to do with some radio show guy. It has to do with everyone together including other countries.

  • http://twitter.com/jeffjosephsr Jeffrey Joseph

    Dear Matt I have a question. Why has the Main Stream Media (MSM) basically ignored OWS are they that corrupted by their Corp Masters ?

  • Myrna_kelco

    Dear Editor,
    Just got done reading Matt Taibbi. Awesome writing! truly quite a piece of work!
    I have drafted an article. Is there Anyone I can send it to for consideration of printing it in the OWS…? my e-mail address is:


    thanks for you time.

    Peace ,


  • http://twitter.com/jeffjosephsr Jeffrey Joseph

    Why aren’t these people in Jail. I watched 60 Minutes last Sunday and listened to some Govmt Shill answer Steve Crofts questions. It’s obvious Obama and his whole administration are nothing but a bunch of Wall Street Stooges. No Better Than Bush…. NBTB.

    Thanks Matt !

  • Shanghainick

    They (Wall Street) will not change unless they have to.

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  • Noname

    if we are to blame “unscrupulous lenders” as the creators of the problem we all face; perhaps we need to examine the other side of the transaction as well: unscrupulous borrowers?

  • http://twitter.com/TomCummins7 Tom Cummins

    Hi Matt,
    I accidently posted to “that other Wall Street Journal”. I could really use your advice regarding:
    Tom Cummins
    Boulder, CO

  • Anonymous

    Your reporting is first class. Thank you very much for what you are trying to do.
    Everyone should read your piece from this week:

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