Jesse Jackson rails against nation’s ‘banksters’

GARFIELD, N.J. — The Rev. Jesse Jackson took on the country’s banks from the pulpit today, declaring in a rousing sermon that debt-saddled churches, homeowners and students are “trapped in economic tyranny.”

The civil rights leader criticized the banks — and “banksters” who run them — for not doing enough to relieve the debt burden of churches and homeowners facing foreclosure and of college graduates with steep student-loan payments.

“This Christmas, we bailed out Herod and left the baby in the manger!” Jackson said during services at Calvary Baptist Church in Garfield.

Jackson, who heads the RainbowPUSH Coalition in Chicago, has been drumming up support for aiding churches facing foreclosure ahead of his group’s Jan. 13-15 Wall Street Project Economic Summit in New York. It was recently revealed that the Calvary Baptist Church in Paterson, N.J., faces foreclosure.

Jackson said in an interview that it wasn’t clear how many churches around the country face foreclosure, default or forbearance — he has said thousands — but the problem is “pervasive,” exacerbated by congregants losing jobs and homes.

“We must bail out communities with toxic-asset relief,” Jackson said, adding: “We need a new reconstruction plan, bottom-up.”

When it came to churches working out loans with lenders, Jackson said: “By and large, they have been very harsh.”

With his sermon, Jackson added to the populist voices critical of Wall Street in the wake of the financial crisis that began in the fall of 2008. Many of the nation’s largest banks have essentially received interest-free loans from the government, but, as critics have charged, the proverbial Main Street has yet to benefit.

“Banks got billions of dollars — interest free,” Jackson said. “So I give you a billion, and then you make money off the spread buying Treasury bonds. I give you a billion, and you sell student loans for 7 percent — you make a fee off of free money.”

During his nearly hourlong sermon, Jackson mixed Scripture with the particulars of banking and finance, and recounted the struggles of the civil-rights movement of the 1960s. At one point, he referred to banks’ “tricks” in how they “jack up the price of money.” He also noted how banks make money from originating and bundling loans into securities. He even mentioned the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act, which, among other things, separated commercial and investment banking (a barrier that was knocked down in 1999).

“Wall Street is rising,” Jackson said. “Unemployment — rising. Home foreclosures — rising. Poverty — rising. Health care — rising.

“Something’s wrong with that picture!”

Donald Thomas Sr., 57, of Paterson said afterward that he worries how his daughter in college will be able to repay her loans. “We all could use a little help,” he said.

“It seemed like they preferred bailing out the banks instead of the people that worked so hard for so long, and now we suffer,” Thomas said.

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