In 1905, Mark Twain published the pamphlet King Leopold's Soliloquy, an imaginary defense of imperialism in the Congo in which the King of Belgium admits to the horrors committed there in the name of capitalism and Western civilization. This Sunday at Hofstra University, I was sitting through what I estimate to be the 50th commencement speech I have heard by Charles Schumer, one of Wall Street's leading representatives in the United States Senate. I imagined what it would sound like if Senator Wall Street were actually honest with students and parents. This is probably what the speech would have sounded like.
Every year I race around New York giving the same self-aggrandizing speech at hundreds of high school and college graduations. I know you do not want to hear it again. In all honesty, I cannot give it again.
I have much to apologize for today. Most of the members of this graduating class will not find work, certainly not in the fields you have trained for and where you have spent tens of thousands of dollars to earn qualifications. Many of your families are in financial distress because of college tuition, unemployment, health care costs, credit card debt, and oppressive mortgage payments on housing that has declined in value. I have to bear a lot of the responsibility for these problems.
Since being elected to the United States Senate in 1998 I have represented powerful financial interests on Wall Street and not the people of New York State on the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and Finance committees. In 1999 I was one of the leading promoters of the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, a decision that helped to bring about the recent financial collapse in the United States. I have also been a leading advocate of tax breaks for banks and brokerages and minimal government regulation of their toxic practices. In return I was able to raise six million dollars in campaign funds from Wall Street bankers and brokerages. Hence my nickname, Senator Wall Street. I know this sounds like bribery, but in our corporation dominated political system it was all legal.
Glass-Steagall was New Deal era legislation from the 1930s that prevented banks and brokerages from merging and successfully restricted their ability to speculate with your money and pensions. The banks and brokerages wanted the law gone and I delivered. When the economy collapsed in 2008 and 2009, I delivered again. We bailed out my rich and powerful friends, but there has been no bail out for you.
Add to the money delivered to the banks and brokerages the costs of two unpopular wars that I have supported for almost a decade, wars that have enriched military contractors while plunging the U.S. deeper and deeper into the red, and the three billion dollars a year in "military" aid I help channel to support an apartheid regime in Israel, payments that increase the likelihood of terrorist attacks on the United States but bring me a lot of campaign donations, and you can see why I have a lot to apologize for today. It is not surprising that our states have no money for schools, libraries, hospitals, street repairs, museums, and parks. I apologize that your generation must go directly from the diploma line to the unemployment line.
At graduation speeches, I like to talk to parents in the audience about my own children so they think I am a regular guy and will vote for me. They both got into my alma mater, Harvard, and after one of my daughters recently graduated from Yale Law School, she received a Heyman Fellowship to serve as a special assistant to my friend Lawrence Summers, Director of the National Economic Council, in the U.S. Treasury Department. I know this smacks of nepotism, but times are hard.
Many of you are familiar with the final scene in the novel Animal Farm where the animals peer through a window into the farmhouse and can no longer tell the difference between the exploitative farmers and the exploitative pigs. If the Wall Street bankers and brokers are the farmers, I must be one of the pigs.
Of course this was not the speech that Senator Wall Street delivered to the graduates and their parents at Hofstra University on Sunday. Unfortunately, Charles Schumer and his powerful and wealthy friends remain our nightmare.
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