Why Black People Took to the Streets in Chicago

Obama's proposed consumer protection agency is starting to look a lot like the corporate protection agency. And this why all of us, not just the folks in Chi-town, need to get mad. Really mad.

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The battle lines in the war over America’s financial future have been drawn. You probably missed it in the myopic 24-hour news cycle, but after two years of bailouts and green shoots, we’ve finally turned to the task of reforming Wall Street. And we’re likely to peer into history’s rearview mirror one day and realize that one of two events late last month foreshowed our coming economic life.

The first event portended business as usual: Big banks saw millions of dollars in lobbying payoff, when the House Financial Services Committee passed a woefully weakened version of President Barack Obama’s consumer-protection agency. The second event suggested a more remarkable future: Several thousand people stormed into the banks’ annual confab in Chicago to demand accountability.

The Nation’s Esther Kaplan tells me a majority of the protesters in Chicago were black. That’s refreshing because nobody has more at stake here than black America. We were targeted with the toxic lending products that ultimately broke the world—much as black consumers have long been targets of lending predation, from redlining to payday loans to tax scams. No surprise, then, that our neighborhoods are collapsing under foreclosure. And no surprise that black unemployment has hit 15 percent. This debate is a big, big deal for black America.

The president sent Congress his idea for a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency back in July. He envisioned sweeping reforms to the existing regulatory framework, which has failed spectacularly to protect regular Americans from Wall Street’s shenanigans. Obama’s new agency was to safeguard consumers of everything from check-cashing joints to home mortgages, all under one, independent roof.

A Senate version of the idea, unveiled by Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd Tuesday, maintains much of that vision. But if it follows the trajectory the House bill has traveled, it won’t stay that way. By the time the House bill passed out of committee on Oct. 22, lobbyists had eroded it dramatically. The bill is now defined as much by what’s carved out of it as by what’s left in.

It’s stripped, for instance, of Obama’s much-repeated idea that banks must offer “plain vanilla” mortgages alongside their exotic loan products. It exempts community banks from mandatory review by the agency—with “community” defined broadly enough to include more than 9 out of 10 institutions—and it keeps sorely needed enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act beyond the agency’s reach. Tax preparers and car dealers are given a pass, too—which, as ProPublica notes, is of particular concern to black borrowers. And states can toss out any particular regulation they don’t like and replace it with a still weaker one.