There are two huge developments in recent days that almost certainly are beyond the understanding of the average person. One would appear to offer an entirely positive outcome while the other raises serious questions about human nature ... and politics.
Few of us had even heard of the Higgs boson — sometimes referred as “the God particle” — before it drew major headlines around the world when scientists announced they were reasonably certain it had been found. And, after reading about it, how many of us can really explain the significance of the finding?
The same degree of benign ignorance can probably be fairly assigned to our knowledge of the inner mechanisms exposed by the latest international banking scandal, one that began to unfold when it was learned that individual bankers had been manipulating a hitherto obscure financial benchmark for no other reason than to illegally enrich themselves.
Before the scandal at Barclay’s, the big British bank, became public knowledge (and a major political issue on both sides of the Atlantic) how many of us had heard of Libor, or the London interbank offered rate? In terms of its obscurity, it was the Higgs boson of banking. But while the Higgs boson discovery offers endless optimism to those who grasp its significance, Libor offered opportunity to those — insiders all — whose principal objective was to line their own pockets no matter the cost to others.
Although the discovery of the Higgs boson is good news, it is the banking scandal that demands a public response, and that response must begin with demands that governments provide their constituents with logical, legitimate and legal protections from the ravishes of human greed exhibited by those few granted access to the inner workings of our financial systems.
Therefore it must be viewed as good news that The New York Times Sunday reported that the Justice Department in Washington has identified potential criminal wrongdoing by some of the bigger banks and by individuals who have been implicated in the scandal.
The department’s criminal division is building cases against several financial institutions and their employees, including traders at Barclays, the Times reported. Its information came from “government officials close to the case who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is continuing.”
“The prospect of criminal cases is expected to rattle the banking world and provide a new impetus for financial institutions to settle with the authorities,” the Times observed. “The Justice Department investigation comes on top of private investor lawsuits and a sweeping regulatory inquiry led by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Collectively, the civil and criminal actions could cost the banking industry tens of billions of dollars.”
Physicists who devote their careers to discovering whether the long-rumored Higgs boson actually exists and, not incidentally, what its existence might mean to the human race and to our world, seldom make the news. When they do, it is usually good news.
But many of the biggest investment banks, here and abroad, make headlines on an almost-daily basis, and the news is seldom positive. Too often it seems that nothing, not even huge corporate losses, stands in the way of their carefully cultivated self-enrichment. And they appear to regard their year-end bonuses as entitlements (just as they view favorable tax rates for themselves), even in bad times.
Sadly, in Washington there is vigorous political opposition to even plausible regulations designed to protect the public and to encourage prudence rather than greed. Until the American people rise up and express their disgust, these problems won’t go away.MORE IN Letters
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