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Bankers face activists' anger in the streets of Chicago

Demonstrators at the American Bankers Association convention Tuesday decried banks' greed and lack of transparency. But officials say the bankers in Chicago aren't the ones who were bailed out by the federal government.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson joins thousands of people gathered to rally at an American Bankers Association conference at a downtown hotel to demand that banks stop lobbying against financial reforms, Tuesday, in Chicago.

Kiichiro Sato/AP

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Some 5,000 union members and community activists marched through downtown Chicago Tuesday, expressing public frustration with the banking industry – namely, what demonstrators charge is a lack of transparency and accountability regarding $350 billion in federal bailout money.

“What kind of recovery do we want to have in this country? Just for the guys at the top or everybody?” asks Tom Balanoff, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Illinois Council, who spoke at a rally during an American Bankers Association (ABA) convention here. “The banks got a lot of our tax money, and some of them seem to be recovering and certainly seem to be rewarding themselves greatly.”

The big bank-related news recently has been the latest round of corporate bonuses, adding fuel to protesters' anger – especially with foreclosures continuing to rise. The industry should be doing more to help calm consumer anger by showing how the bailout money may, in fact, be working in the public’s favor, say some banking experts.

The current economic crisis requires a complex understanding of all the components that led to failure in the industry, says David Schweikhardt, an economist at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Because large corporate lenders – as well as the Obama and Bush administrations – did little to create transparency, public suspicion grew and conspiracy theories have abounded, he says.“[They never said], ‘Here is why this was done, and why we think it is worth doing, and how we intend to eventually bring this game to an end’ – i.e., What’s going to be the plan for the repayment of this money,” says Mr. Schweikhardt.

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