Seeking Justice for Wall St.’s Victims

International agencies and global movements target human rights violators from small or isolated countries, but the idea of holding accountable the powerful and well-connected who cause much greater human suffering is considered unthinkable, a paradigm that Danny Schechter challenges.

By Danny Schechter

For the most part, journalists report what they know and hope that someone pays attention. With so many media outlets, brands, bloggers and sloggers out there, it is rare for challenging ideas to touch a larger nerve or get visibility beyond fragmented followings.

The idea of winning global attention is a far-off dream unless you break the biggest exclusive or win the first interview with, say, Jesus on his return to Earth. (And that could be ignored if your name isn’t Oprah, etc.)

The Wall Street bull statue by Arturo Di Modica

Yes, sometimes going viral is the way to go, as is the case of a new video exposing the head of the Lords Resistance Army, the Ugandan terror crazies. But even then, stories are always flashing one minute, gone the next, unless other media outlets pile on and raise a story’s profile as happened in the United States during Watergate and other issues, mostly sex scandals, since.

By and large, you labor on in the media wilderness hoping the time will come when someone outside your world recognizes your value and gives you a bigger platform, usually more than just one TV interview or quote.

That may — I stress may with a small m — be happening to me. A few weeks back, the International Institute for Peace, Justice & Human Rights, a human rights NGO in Geneva that lobbies the UN, invited me to present my views on the relationship between the global financial crisis and human rights.

This is an issue I have been working on since 2005 when I started making the film “In Debt We Trust: America Before the Bubble Bursts.” After it burst, I followed up with a focus on financial times with “Plunder the Crime of Our Time” and the companion book The Crime of Our Time.

For nearly two years, I tried to raise the visibility of my arguments until better-funded films came along and Occupy Wall Street burst on the scene. I certainly wish it was my doing, but by then, there was something in the air, and who knows, I might have helped see the clouds. I write about that in my new book Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street.

Now a new moment has arrived. I will be in Geneva next week making the case for the financial crisis as a crime against humanity, an international offense that the UN was set up to prevent and now even prosecutes, however sparingly, in the International Criminal Court. (Needless to say, there have barely any prosecutions of financial criminals in the U.S. The New York Times runs a page-one headline, “High-Level Trials Have Been Absent,” but the story is about corruption in Afghanistan, not on Wall Street.)

Here’s how the speech I have written begins:

Leave it to a Harvard Business School Professor, deeply schooled in the nuances of corporate practice, to raise one of the most profound analyses to come out of a devastating financial crisis that has become a seemingly permanent feature of global life. Back in 2009, Professor Shoshanna Zuboff, argued that “crimes against humanity” had been committed by Wall Street’s financial manipulators.

“By refusing to consider the consequences of their actions, those who created the financial crisis exemplify the banality of evil,” she wrote. Quoting on, she noted in the pages of Business Week:

“Each day’s economic news leaves me haunted by Hannah Arendt’s ruminations on Nazi war criminal Adolph Eichmann as she reported on his trial in Jerusalem for The New Yorker 45 years ago. Arendt pondered ‘the strange interdependence of thoughtlessness and evil’ and sought to capture it with her famous formulation ‘the banality of evil.’ Arendt found Eichmann neither ‘perverted nor sadistic,’ but ‘terribly and terrifyingly normal.’”

She even found a way of comparing the economic catastrophe that so many of us are living through to the Holocaust, although back stepped, no doubt in fear of provoking too strong a dismissive reaction from those who see that crime as uniquely horrific in history. She wrote:

“The economic crisis is not the Holocaust but, I would argue, it derives from a business model that routinely produced a similar kind of remoteness and thoughtlessness, compounded by a widespread abrogation of individual moral judgment.

“As we learn more about the behavior within our financial institutions, we see that just about everyone accepted a reckless system that rewards transactions but rejects responsibility for the consequences of those transactions. Bankers, brokers, and financial specialists were all willing participants in a self-centered business model that celebrates what’s good for organization insiders while dehumanizing and distancing everyone else, the outsiders.”

It is precisely this framework though, steeped in moral as well as economic lessons that we need to adopt to judge the vast human rights implications of the decisions and practices that led to the massive unemployment, homelessness, foreclosures, downward mobility and poverty that grips our world.

Is there the slightest chance of a remote possibility that a UN body, made up, as it is by politicians and nation states, would acknowledge the need for, much less the desirability of, prosecuting financial institutions and the governments that cover up for them, often in the name of protecting the social and economic rights of vulnerable people caught in the matrix of downward mobility?

At a time when the “right to protect” is so much in vogue, that is, when it involves bombing and drone attacks that actually cause additional harm to vulnerable civilians trapped in wars, can it be reframed as an affirmative duty for an international body to step in where national governments are unwilling to tread to stand up for the rights of millions facing poverty and joblessness because of the deregulation and decriminalization by legislators compromised by corruption and payoffs.

In what everyone agrees is a GLOBAL crisis, is there not a need for Global solutions that go beyond somewhat stronger national regulations and “reforms” that have proven illusionary. Even the overdue Tobin Tax on financial transactions is not international and inadequate.

–Where are the global rules outlawing risky derivatives and casino-like gambling with people’s lives in financial markets?

–Where are the safeguards against the offshore hoarding of corporate funds and great fortunes? Are these abuses not as serious as insider trading?

–Where is the exposure of the economic austerity programs launched with official knowledge about the pain they will cause to ordinary people who are not responsible for the economic meltdown? Can the UN protect them?

–Where is the outrage against programs and policies that deepen economic inequality, or violently repress peaceful protests by citizens working for economic justice?

–Hasn’t the UN been tracking the international abuses against non-violent Occupy Movements worldwide?

–Is all the police overreach, surveillance, spying and the use of provocateurs to promote violence, not worthy of UN attention and condemnation as it is taking place worldwide and across borders?

–Where is the global determination to investigate more deeply, name and shame the financial violators of human rights, indict the guilty and prosecute them in the name of global justice?

–Why all the silence in the face of this ongoing onslaught against democracy and economic prosperity.

–Aren’t social and economic rights as worthy of upholding as political ones?

Isn’t it time to get serious or forever hang our heads in shame?

I will report next on what happened in Geneva, if anything.

News Dissector Danny Schechter writes the blog. He has written widely and made films about financial crimes. He hosts a radio show on Comments to [email protected]

4 comments for “Seeking Justice for Wall St.’s Victims

  1. Tim C.
    March 12, 2012 at 19:02

    How can we “get justice” for the descendants of the people who denied blacks not only their citizenship but their humanity, humans that are victims of their own parent’s religious/political policies? How come we can’t see a way to call for “getting justice” for blacks as a top priority? If Troy Davis was a Jew in 1934 Germany would he be a separate issue from the holocaust or would he be a characteristic, maybe a symptom? And would we say lets help the Germans so they can stop oppressing the Jews?But if we make this about blacks you’ll loose the 99% and everyone knows it because today’s 99% are the same 99% MLK writes about from his Birmingham cell. It’s only a black issue that is easier to lump into the 99% (whites) because we still can’t fully comprehend black people are human beings our society murders in public (aka lynches). But we accept the state’s legal definition of “capital punishment” like Germans accepted the legal language of their fascist gov because it expresses deep rooted societal ideas of violence. There can be no justice for the 99% unless they becoming willing to “get justice” for the victims of their inherited legacy- their entire life styles and habits.
    I would say to get justice we first have to comprehend what MLK was doing when comparing the US to Nazis? Was he a nut job? Was he right “then” but things have changed now? Has 50 years took us further from that, if he was e en justified in that comparison, or closer? What was worse the Nazis in 44 or the Nazis in 33? Were they ever different from the beginning of their rule from the end? I want Justice too. I hope we can figure out what justice is before we become just like the North who “freed” blacks and gave them rights…… Yea right. Or the hippies who only came out when they became the targets and assimilated when they weren’t? You should make a story investigating what justice even is. That would be crazy. But I love this news source. It really digs deeper into the 3 estates than the vast majority of other news things. What if this agency put a full scale effort into understanding the black experience and fortunes out how to convey that to white America, and the new “black middle-class”. I think the first obstacle of the Civil Rights movement was awakening the black community to the reality of what was happening and that something could be done. “But we’re not black” rings from the human mind confined in the US fascist society’s state craft. I would like a headline: ” Why the US’s policies towards blacks are not genocidal” it would read something like “because we are Americans” and that’s about it. Get into numbers, policies, history and it gets harder to explain it away. But we don’t have to because it’s not possible, it’s not real…this guy is off his knocker…… (please, bare with my sarcasm I don’t know how else to write yet)

    • March 12, 2012 at 19:25

      I don’t think you’re off “your” knocker. I mostly agree with both of you guys. But where does that get us?

  2. March 12, 2012 at 12:16

    I count 13 theses you’ve tacked up above. I hope they cause a stir.

Comments are closed.