Banking and bailouts headline forum (Montpelier Times Argus)

By Louis Porter, Vermont Press Bureau

MONTPELIER - A large crowd of Vermonters filled the auditorium of Montpelier High School Thursday evening to hear from members of the state's Washington D.C. delegation and an economist who joined them to discuss the near collapse of the country's economy.

Professor William Black of the University of Missouri-Kansas City said the problem began not with greed by those in business - that is expected, Black said. Instead it began with a failure of regulation, beginning with those in Congress.

"Congress ceased to exist as an entity that was functioning in terms of oversight," Black said. It wasn't surprising that 500 agents in the Federal Bureau of Investigation who specialized in white collar crime were transferred to anti-terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001. What was surprising was that "the Bush Administration refused the FBI's desperate calls to replace them."

Now there are only 20 percent as many agents working on the current situation as there were investigating the Savings and Loan crisis, which was one percent as large, Black said.

Those in the audience asked Black, U.S. Sen. Bernard Sanders and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch how banks could help cause the crisis yet still be bailed out.

Sanders said that Congress needs to instigate an investigation into what led to the credit and banking travails - and who benefited from it.

"We need to know who the people are who caused this crisis," Sanders said. Taxpayers need to learn, he said, "whether our criminal justice system is capable of putting on trial and prosecuting people who may be billionaires."

Welch agreed that such an inquiry is necessary.

"It is a test of accountability," Welch said. "We have to know where the money went."

Sanders, an independent who caucuses and usually votes with the Democrats, took some shots at administrations of both Republicans and Democrats, including President Barack Obama.

"I think Obama is doing very well in many respects," Sanders said. "There is a concern among some of us about some of those he has appointed to his economic team. Many of the people he has appointed ... were people who were themselves involved."