Mob Mentality

With Congress struggling to enact regulatory reforms, Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" has some ideas that do not require legislation.

In a segment Wednesday, the host Jon Stewart asked one of the show's fake reporters: "Are we going to see any real, meaningful changes" from Congress?

The reporter, John Hodgman, responded bluntly: "I'm here to reassure you and the American people that the answer is, 'Of course not.' We're never going to stop bankers and CEOs from finding every possible way to take our money; that's capitalism."

However, Hodgman added, "We can … reform how people feel about it." He proposed the "Angry Mob Platinum Diamond Card," which he described as "a credit card for a post-bailout economy."

Hodgman said the card could let consumers vent their rage against high-earning bank executives. "Now you can earn valuable 'pitchfork points' on every dollar spent," he said. "Cash them in for real acts of bloody retribution against your greedy corporate overlords. Five thousands points gets you tickets to a public flogging. Ten thousand earns you the right to pour deadly bees on a CEO's head."

Hodgman closed by offering Stewart the card at "a preferred introductory rate of 32%."

With the Masses

The gathering of union activists, liberal icons and consumer groups timed to coincide with the American Bankers Association's meeting in Chicago last week included an unlikely visitor.

Before she spoke to the ABA conference Monday, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair appeared before National People's Action, an organizer of the "Showdown in Chicago" protests. Her remarks, more akin to a stump speech than her typical policy addresses, drew cheers from the audience as she faulted Washington for letting consumers down. Excerpts were posted on YouTube.

"Looking at indecipherable credit card statements and documents and mortgages you can't understand and APRs on payday loans and high overdraft fees, I don't know how anybody can say that we've done a good job protecting consumers in financial services." she said. "I just don't see it."

The audience cheered when Bair said she would next be speaking at the ABA meeting, where she would call on bankers to support the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

"I hope we see other measures taken that will create a more resilient, transparent and better regulated financial system, including an end to the too-big-to-fail doctrine," she said to more applause. "No more bailouts. No more bailouts."

On the Block

The economic malaise continues to pose obstacles to financial services trade groups. The latest piece of bad news: The Mortgage Bankers Association told members last week that it will put its $76 million building up for sale.

"The MBA board came to its decision after thoughtful deliberation and is in complete agreement that a sale … is the best course for the MBA," John Courson, the group's chief executive, and Robert Story, its chairman, wrote in a letter to members dated Oct. 27.

The MBA is not looking for new office space. The association, which bought the building in downtown Washington 17 months ago, will lease a portion of it through 2020.

Courson and Story defended the purchase.

The decision to buy the building "was made after recommendations by three separate, member-led task forces," they said in the letter. "Since the purchase in May 2008, the U.S. economy has suffered one of the most severe recessions in a century."

The MBA has faced money troubles in light of the financial crisis and laid of a chunk of its staff. But the executives wrote that it has a balanced budget for the 2010 fiscal year, which began in October.

Flu (Out)Break

The regulatory reform debate crossed paths with the swine flu last week when one of the witnesses at a key hearing sat out due to the illness. Steve Bartlett, the president of the Financial Services Roundtable, did not appear at the House Financial Services Committee's hearing Thursday on systemic risk legislation while he recuperated from the flu.

He sent Scott Talbott, the Roundtable's vice president for government affairs, in his place. After Talbott apologized for his boss' absence, the committee's chairman, Rep. Barney Frank, said, "No one need ever apologize for not coming here."

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