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Stanley Crouch: Speaking truth to the big banks

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder sang the Beltway blues when he essentially said that some banks are too big and too powerful to risk prosecuting. He was talking about HSBC, the British bank that was slapped with a $1.92 billion fine in 2012 for money laundering. This was not a slap; in the context of the confessed guilt, it was no more than chump change, as federal authorities had insisted the bank moved cash for Mexican drug dealers, as well as various thugs in nations like Iran, Libya and Sudan.

Holder’s argument was that prosecuting HSBC could hurt the little guy, who had nothing to do with cartels and rogue states. Going after HSBC, Holder argued, “will have a negative impact on the national economy.”

That explanation may suit some. But it did not suit Massachusetts’ newest senator, Elizabeth Warren, who, at a hearing of the Senate Banking Committee, branded Holder’s justification as what it really was, little more than a hot mess:

“If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’re going to jail. If it happens repeatedly, you may go to jail for the rest of your life, but evidently, if you launder nearly a billion dollars for drug cartels and violate our international sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night — every single individual associated with this — and I just think that’s fundamentally wrong.”

Warren has promised to be big trouble for the submissive boys on both sides of the aisle ever since the Harvard law professor was asked by President Barack Obama to start a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the Great Recession. Republicans groused that she was hostile to the business of making money — that is, she was hostile to cavalier hustles in the making of millions and billions.

There were even tensions, apparently, with Obama’s own man, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who also worried (according to some reports) that she was too much of an activist.

Warren didn’t get the job, but having beaten then-Sen. Scott Brown in last year’s election, she can now build her revealing fires in Congress.

Warren has not lost her form. She expresses her charismatic intelligence by castigating Democrats and Republicans alike for letting the robbers who run the banks get away with too much and grow more bloated in the process, like swollen serpents wrapped in silk pinstripes.

To fully realize what might yet happen, we need to take the long view. The banks that were too big to fail in 2008 remain so because both parties have decided to keep it that way. Nothing has changed that — neither the housing crash nor Occupy Wall Street.

One broker assured me that we will get close to a clean slate when Washington gives bank executives some serious time and makes their corporations pay some serious fines. He summarized Wall Street in these words: “They may talk a lot of stuff about who can and who cannot stand up under pressure. But time will turn these fake stone lions of Wall Street into howling sob sisters. They would give evidence against their own mothers. Those who know these men are sure of one thing. They are all punks.”

That is why it’s so refreshing that Warren will not shut up. Her great gift is making complex financial matters understandable to the common American.

Of course, it is important to remember that Warren’s quest will take time, because criminals on the lam are long-distance runners, not sprinters. Adequate action in a democracy does not come overnight.

This was made clear recently when Rep. John Lewis of Georgia was proudly honored by Montgomery, Ala., Police Chief Kevin Murphy in recognition of Lewis’ bravery as a nonviolent Freedom Rider. He was presented with a symbol recognizing him as an honorary officer.

What was often uttered in the church during the 1960s remains true instruction for the nation today: People, don’t get weary. A change is gonna come.

Stanley Crouch can be reached by email at