Bob Franken

King Features Column

(As usual, the arrangement with the syndicator means these columns appear here a week after their newspaper release)


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How many days in a row will every TV news outlet in the country assign an 8-by-10 glossy correspondent to cover the Occupy Wall Street protesters and ask the same burning question: “But, what is their agenda?” “What do they want to accomplish?” or some other variation of “This is not being handed to me on a spoon, so I don’t get it” “Back to you in the studio, Heather and Scott.”

Television anchors are all named Heather or Scott. Or Diane. But I digress. The point is that the message of the demonstrators isn’t outlined on some bullet-point PR release, and is therefore not penetrating the on-the-scene journalists’ makeup and hairspray, so we keep hearing the same story line on Action-Eyewitness-News Center.

The furrowed-brow puzzlement is not only nauseatingly repetitious, but it’s also a bit dense, since the movement may be loosely formed, but its message is very precise: Change. Not the loose “Change” of campaign promises, but real change.

Undo the control that wealth has over the country — control that sabotages the promise of our founders. Allow an opportunity for personal riches, as long as a proper amount is given back to the society as a whole, the one that provided the opportunities for success.

That means an equitable tax system, where the fortunate share larger amounts of their bounty. As Massachusetts Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren declared in an August speech: “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.”

It also means affordable, quality health care for everyone and excellent education for all children. It means racial equality that is not just lip service and dignity for the elderly instead of senior years scrambling for crumbs because unscrupulous speculators gambled with their retirements and not only lost, but continued to get exorbitant salaries for doing so.

That means a reckoning reckoning with tough rules that provide appropriate punishment for those who connive to game the system. In the past two days we’ve seen actions taken against malefactors that were in the too-little-too-late category. But they illustrate how the shell game is played.

Item: The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board has just released a study chastising Deloitte and Touche, one of the so-called Big Four firms that are supposed to protect investors by auditing corporate management. “In too many instances” the report stated, “the audit consisted of management’s views.” In other words, Deloitte had a cozy relationship with those it was supposed to be monitoring — who, by the way, hired the firm. It should be noted that the board’s document was finished in 2008. It was just released Oct. 16, 2011.

Item: A few days later, Citibank agreed to pay $285 million to settle civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission that it had defrauded customers it had enticed into buying up exotic derivatives, the kind that led to the worldwide financial collapse. The rub is that Citi set things up so it could bet against these instruments and make millions of dollars in profits at the expense of the gullible investors. It joins the list of massive financial houses that pulled similar baits-and-switches. While agreeing to the fine (from petty cash?), Citibank continues to deny any culpability, and only a lower-level broker faces criminal action.

And that leaves us with another question that should be asked by those covering the demonstrators: How come there have been so many arrests of those involved in the protest and so few among those who plundered trillions of dollars from everyone else’s financial futures? We all know the answer, which is that the system favors the wealthy, who manipulate their political puppets. That’s what’s behind “99-1.” That’s what has to change so we can undo our mess and provide some good news for a change. Won’t that be fun tape at 11.

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