'Break up the banks, bust the trusts!' exclaims Olbermann
David Edwards and Stephen C. Webster
Published: Friday March 20, 2009

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Keith Olbermann used his Thursday Special Comment on MSNBC's Countdown to lay out one of his most impassioned tirades yet, this time a diatribe against "the latest atrocity" from banks he feels the US should "break up" and regulate "to within an inch of their existences."

Yelling several times, "Enough!" during his monologue, Olbermann recounted the recent history of Vikram Pandit, the CEO of Citigroup who vowed to reduce his salary to just $1 a year and accept no bonus in the face of his company losing over $5 billion and laying off over 9,000 people.

When he was first made CEO, Citigroup was already reeling from losses of between eight and 11 billion dollars.

"... what Mr. Pandit got was a new 10 million dollar executive suite for himself and his key associates," said Olbermann. "... In fact, he then accepted a total compensation package for 2008 of 38 million dollars."

"Mr. Pandit, you‘re probably just a good actor and a damned liar and a con man," he continued. "But I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume instead, that you just can't tell the difference between one dollar and 38 million of them. That would certainly explain the maelstrom into which you, and your colleagues at Citi and your counterparts elsewhere, have gotten us, including the vast majority of us who are just innocent bystanders.

"... Mr. Pandit's corporation should be cut up into little pieces. And when he and the other ultra-millionaires wonder what hit them, we should make sure they are easily reminded. Our representatives should entitle the legislation that ends their moral ponzi schemes, 'The Punish Vikram Pandit Act of 2009.'"

Olbermann isn't the only media figure with sharpened words for America's bankers. On Thursday's New York Times op-ed page, Simon Johnson and James Kwak posited an analogy between the current financial crisis and the executive "smokescreen" that drove the series of Asian market collapses in 1997.

Arguments made by their bankers, then, are quite similar to our bankers, today, they wrote.

"The leaders of Thailand and South Korea did not listen to such arguments, and thank goodness. Some of the leading Thai banks were taken over by the government. After the crisis, a civil servant in charge of one such bank noted that its bad loans were much bigger than had been indicated before the takeover, largely because of an internal coverup. Only when outsiders took over did the public discover the full scope of the losses.

"The South Korean government also demanded that the banks and the chaebols make a clean break. This generated a great deal of political noise — particularly when foreign managers were brought in, as when the Carlyle Group bought a stake in KorAm Bank in 2000 and Lone Star Funds purchased the Korea Exchange Bank in 2003.

"But these reforms made all the difference."

"The far right in this country, without the slightest provocation or justification, screams 'socialism,' and the sheep who follow that far right, and who do not know what the word means and do not know it is only being used because 'communism' now rings laughably hollow—in this cry of fire in a crowded unemployment line, there is outrage, to be sure," said Olbermann.

"But there is also license. They think this is socialism? There is a million miles of reform left to go before we actually hit actual socialism. But if they're going to call us names, whether they apply or not, let's give them real reform.

"Break up the banks. Regulate the financial industries, to within an inch of their existences. Roll back corporate legal protections. Make liable the officers of corporations for their debts and for their deeds. Resurrect the rallying cry of a hundred years past: bust the trusts!"

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast Mar. 19, 2009.

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MSNBC has a full transcript available here.

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