God bless American juries. As the government, press and political classes resolutely keep their eyes shut about corporate misdeeds, juries keep the faith. Not just by convicting Wall Streeters, but by acquitting them when the evidence requires, and then speaking out.
So, all praise to the Citigroup 8, the jurors who acquitted Brian Stoker of criminal fraud for his role in Citibank's dishonest sales of shaky securities to its individual clients, while Citibank was making its own investments premised on the decline in the value of those same securities. With the acquittal verdict, the jury wrote:
This verdict should not deter the S.E.C. from continuing to investigate the financial industry, review current regulations and modify existing regulations as necessary... [We] wanted to know why the bank's C.E.O. wasn't on trial ... Citigroup's behavior was appalling ... Wall Street's actions hurt all of us and we badly need a watchdog who will rein them in.
Juror Travis Dawson went one step further, saying bluntly that Citigroup engaged in "greedy, reckless behavior."
At the heart of the juries outburst is a sense that Wall Street and giant corporations are out of control and no one is able to make them behave. Even when acquitting an accused individual, this American jury decided that there is something fundamentally, unconscionably wrong.
This new insight is the result of the wave of scandals and crimes that pop up with appalling frequency. Drug companies, oil companies, Wall Street, Wal-Mart, mortgage companies, banks all engaging in knowing, unethical and criminal conduct. There's been an operating presumption that some degree of wrongdoing is a consequence of free markets, but that the system itself was not rigged or corrupt. Now, slowly but inexorably, the conversation is turning to the system itself. It's not a few bad apples, it's the apple tree.
The two-party system has disqualified itself as an arbiter of these complaints. The sheer power of the corporate political efforts, abetted by law (Citizen's United) and ideology (anything that calls itself a "market" gets a Get-Out-Jail-Free-Card), has been largely unchallenged within the Congress.
But presidential campaigns are different beasts. They can pivot quickly. Obama, the Great Compromiser, has the sharpness to see what's coming, in both intellectual and political terms. He could join Sandy Weil in calling for a break-up of the banks. He could meet the jurors of the Citigroup 8 and listen to their story. He could return to the 99% versus the 1% rhetoric that he dabbled in earlier. Romney, by training and choice, is locked into the old mantra of corporate goodness and government badness. This kind of change in collective consciousness would be fatal to his candidacy, and he knows it.
If, as may be, the country is turning away from the concentration of power and wealth of the last decades, than the Occupy movement's message is, as predicted here some time ago, resonating throughout America. The political class, late to the paradigm shift as it always is, will eventually figure it out, and President Obama/Romney will be helped/hurt by the new politics of next year.
So the Citigroup 8 is more than a single cri de coeur from the American heartland. It's an omen, an avatar, a sign, an oracle, it's the handwriting on the wall. Who is reading it? With less than 100 days before the American people decide who to empower for four years, we can only guess.
Follow Richard Brodsky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/richardbrodsky