For policy wonks near and far, the celebrity of the hour isn't Susan Boyle, the Scottish church marm who belted out "I Dreamed a Dream" with the voice of an airy angel, or ex-Somali pirate hostage Richard Phillips, or Carrie Prejean, the Miss USA contestant from California who's against gay marriage because the Bible tells her so.
No, it's Ferdinand Pecora.
Who he, you may ask, and guess that maybe he once played infield for the Dodgers or sang Faust at the Metropolitan Opera. But back in the '30s, during the depths of the Great Depression, Ferdinand Pecora emerged as an unlikely hero, leading a sensational Senate investigation of what caused the '29 market crash.
.....Ferdinand Pecora took the job as chief counsel to the Senate Banking Committee in 1933. He was a street-smart immigrant from Sicily, the son of a cobbler, a former Manhattan assistant district attorney with a memory for facts, figures, dates and names that proved the undoing of a Wall Street banking world gone berserk with greed.
Under threat of subpoena and under oath, one tycoon after another -- including J.P. Morgan, Jr., of the House of Morgan and Charles "Sunshine Charley" Mitchell, chairman of First National City Bank (now Citigroup) -- was hauled before the committee and grilled relentlessly by Pecora.
They found themselves confessing to a litany of financial sins, including discount stock offerings to VIP "preferred" customers (among them, banker cronies, Charles Lindbergh and General "Black Jack" Pershing, as well as Washington insiders, including former President Coolidge and a Supreme Court justice), repackaging bad loans and selling them as bonds to the unsuspecting, and non-payment of income tax.
The Pecora hearings resulted in 12,000 pages of transcripts that are still a primary source for historians of the Great Crash, and important New Deal legislation that for the first time regulated the high-handed, free-wheeling banking industry and protected the public from its excesses -- including the Securities Act of 1933, the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (which established the Securities and Exchange Commission -- Pecora was one of its first commissioners) and the Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933, which erected a firewall between commercial and investment banking -- a wall torn down during the Clinton administration, leading to much of our trouble today.
Ferdinand Pecora, seen here about to be sworn in as a New York Supreme Court justice in 1935, grilled tycoons such as J.P. Morgan Jr. in Senate hearings in 1933
Maybe it's time for another Ferdinand Pecora to step forward and take on the bankers and the Wall Street wealthy.
Go here for the rest. It's a good read.