Main Street: Your recovery will come from the left, not the right. #GetMoneyOut #NeverForget915

The American public got played (again) for chumps back in 1999 when we weren’t in the streets protesting Slick Willy’s signature of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

It wasn’t the first time. It undoubtedly won’t be the last time, either, unless we’re willing stand up once and for all time against the failed ideology of conservatism.

So, what has GLBA wrought? The ’08 crash, for one thing.

Now there’s hope for us and for Main Street:

As it happens, a trial just ended in Sacramento in which a jury was convinced that “executives intended to make fraudulent loans.” Here’s the thing, though: It wasn’t the government that made the case against the financiers; it was the defendants.
“Finally, Wall Street gets put on trial: We can still hold the 0.1 percent responsible for tanking the economy”; Thomas Frank, Salon, Sept 7, 2014.

The real estate bubble that Wall Street executives knowingly manufactured while knowing they’d escape unscathed is finally coming to some justice.

It’s about time. Their crimes and the travesty they created turns 6 years old next week.

NeverForget915

Now, I know some of you still believe the libertarian fantasies of Invisible Hands and “free market” solutions. Wake up, please. Those are fantasies conjured up in the imagination of a sub-par Russian novelist and then perpetuated by the likes of big business propagandists like Milton Friedman and the Koch Brothers. It’s not the real world, and you have been duped.

I know lots of you like to mix in large doses of Wall Street hero-worship, too. You think people like Jamie Dimon, Dick Fuld, and  Lloyd Blankfein are people of admirable character with great and endless ambition who make for exemplary role models because of the wealth and power they have amassed.

Again, you have been duped. Open your eyes. They and people like them play you for a fool. They are the ones who drove the economy right off the cliff. They have never paid a dime of recompense and, with extremely rare exceptions, have not done a minute of time behind bars for their crimes. What’s worse is that they’re still in charge.

Finally, there’s this. I know you hate hearing it because you know it’s true. Reaganomics.

Too many of you insist on believing the lie that is trickle down economics. The economy has been slow to recovery because the government bailed out Wall Street instead of Main Street. The rich got paid off for their mistakes and then took their money offshore. Banks have been operating at a federal funds rate of effectively zero for how many years now, and still no money seems to be reaching anyone except the largest and most profitable corporations.

Do you not get it yet? The government didn’t do enough 6 years ago and it still hasn’t done enough to stimulate true growth and real prosperity at its source – the MIDDLE CLASS AND THE POOR WHO ACTUALLY DRIVE THE ECONOMY WITH OUR SPENDING!

Please look at the facts. Please stop telling yourself that less regulation is always better.

Please stop voting for people who think money is speech and corporations are people.
(Does it surprise anyone that the 18 Senators who voted today against an amendment to overturn Citizens United were all Republicans?)

Please stop ignoring the fact that all the gains in our rigged economy are going to the top, that none of it will ever trickle down to you, and that all the gains are privatized while all the losses are socialized because too many of YOU insist on voting against YOUR OWN economic self-interests.

Please stop voting for Clintons and Bushes and Ryans and Pauls and Romneys.
(Yes, Clintons, too, and any other corporatist Democrats. They are part of the problem, too, just not to the same degree as Republicans and their pesky little brothers and sisters in the libertarian and tea parties.)

I get it. It’s your choice. You’re free to vote for whomever you like. You’re also free to keep playing the role of the rich person’s chump.

Just know this. There’s a growing number of people who will keep revealing the truth while you believe the lies. We will keep working to get money out of politics while you continue to vote for Big Money, whether you realize it or admit it, or not.

We will keep doing this in the hope that you’ll one day come to your senses. We will keep doing it with the certainty that if you don’t come to your senses, well, at least there’s hope for your (and our) children and grandchildren. Remember this. It’s their eyes we’ll all have to look into someday.

One more thing you must know. It’s the only logical conclusion anyone can come to in light of the last 35 years or so, and that’s this. Conservatism is a failed ideology.

Whether its ISIS or Westboro; whether its bin Laden or McViegh; whether it’s Bibi or Cruz, conservatism in all its forms and flavors is a failed ideology.

In political and economic terms, it has failed everyone except for the very rich and the very powerful who wish to go on subjugating and oppressing workers and ordinary citizens.

No society has ever advanced by being conservative, or by looking inward or backward, or by concentrating more and more wealth and power into fewer and fewer hands. This is the very definition of conservatism today in America. Make no mistake about it. There is one and only one political party embracing the failed ideology of conservatism. One.

Main Street, your salvation is not going to come from ideologues who want to conserve the status quo of unequal power and unfair capital distribution. You must see by now that nothing is going to trickle down to you. There’s nothing for Big Money to gain by pressing politicians for policies that help you to thrive.

Remember this. It wasn’t liberals and progressive who drove you and your fellow business owners to the brink of extinction by bribing or threatening local zoning boards in order to get sweetheart tax deals for the likes of Walmart. It wasn’t liberals and progressives who put Main Street out of business by driving down prices for goods and services by moving manufacturing overseas and then importing cheaply made products back to store shelves. It wasn’t the poor or the disenfranchised or the liberals and progressives who, once they had forced you out of business, continued to pass tax reforms that further enriched the rich, tried to kill unions, and who caused your standard of living to stagnate and decline by ensuring that the only jobs left in your communities were the ones paying minimum wage.

These are not liberal and progressive ideals, but they are at the very core of conservative ideology and it’s evil offspring, Objectivism – a perverse euphemism for a degree of vile greed and selfishness to qualify as a psychosis.

Look, it’s time we all became progressives. It’s how society will progress.

More than that, it’s time we all took the fight directly to conservatives and libertarians using the facts and history they cannot deny and which proves, once and for all time, to Main Streets everywhere that, on election day and with extremely rare exceptions, a vote for a Republican or libertarian is a vote against yourself, our economy, our society, and our future.

Let’s #NeverForget915 and the Lies of Trickle-Down Economics

NeverForget915On this, the 5th anniversary of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers, Americans should take time to pause and remember this as yet another heinous crime of historic proportions perpetrated on Americans on a day in September.

It wasn’t terrorists and it wasn’t Main Street who killed our economy. No, this crime was perpetrated on us by a conspiracy forged between Big Money on Wall Street and Small (not Big!) Government politicians who carry their water and actually pass rules and laws that make the crime legal.

That means we’re also to blame. Actually, it’s not all of us who must share the blame.

There’s no other way to say this. It’s Americans who vote for politicians who want to further deregulate all kinds of industries, including the financial services industry, who share in the blame. By electing people who work to shrink government and deregulate industries, we’re actually creating a “Socialism of Wall Street” where the gains of capitalism are privatized to an infinitesimally small number of people while all the losses are socialized to all the rest of America.

How much more proof is needed that deregulation, coupled with greed and power, leads to terrible outcomes for everyone except those with wealth and power? I consider myself to be a capitalist, but I also know from experience that corporations have proven time and again that they cannot be trusted to police themselves alone.

For an excellent accounting and timeline of events that led up to the crash of ’08, I recommend reading this 2011 Forbes piece, Lest We Forget: Why We Had a Financial Crisis.

In it, Steve Denning writes:

Many actors obviously played a role in this story. Some of the actors were in the public sector and some of them were in the private sector. But the public sector agencies were acting at behest of the private sector. It’s not as though Congress woke up one morning and thought to itself, “Let’s abolish the Glass-Steagall Act!” Or the SEC spontaneously happened to have the bright idea of relaxing capital requirements on the investment banks. Or the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency of its own accord abruptly had the idea of preempting state laws protecting borrowers. These agencies of government were being strenuously lobbied to do the very things that would benefit the financial sector and their managers and traders. And behind it all, was the drive for short-term profits. <emphasis added>

I think “…being strenuously lobbied…” is too polite a euphemism.

It was the Big Money One-Percenters exercising their control over politicians who got agencies to do their bidding. 2008 was the result of the lies Reagan told America about trickle-down economics and the size of government, and the perpetuation of those lies coming from Republicans, extreme neo-cons, and the One Percent ever since. They are the ones who killed our economy in 2008, and they will do it again unless we do something to stop them.

Need more evidence?

Here are some facts about the 2008 bailout, courtesy of Public Citizen.

  • Amount the crash cost the U.S. economy: $22 trillion
  • How much everyone would get if that $22 trillion were divided equally among the U.S. populace: $69,478.88
  • Assets of the four biggest banks in America — JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wachovia/Wells Fargo — when they were “too big to fail” in 2008: $6.4 trillion
  • Assets of those four banks today: $7.8 trillion
  • Of the 63 former Lehman Brothers employees identified by a bankruptcy examiner as being aware of an accounting scheme Lehman used to mask its true finances, number who are employed in senior financial services positions today: 47
  • Number of the 25 banks responsible for the bulk of risky subprime loans leading up to the crash that are back in the mortgage business: 25
  • Chances that an American voter thinks that regulating financial products and services is “important” or “very important”: 9 in 10
  • Chances that an American knows the Earth orbits the sun: 8 in 10
  • Amount spent in 2012 by Wall Street and other finance industry behemoths on lobbying to roll back, water down and weasel out of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act: $487 million
  • Number of registered financial industry lobbyists in 2012: 2,429
  • Number of lawsuits filed as of April of this year by Eugene Scalia, son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, to hold up implementation of Dodd-Frank rules on legal technicalities: 7
  • Rank of finance industry among all corporate election spending by sector in 2011 and 2012: 1
  • Amount the industry gave to political candidates in 2011 and 2012: $664 million
  • In 2012, rate at which revenues of JPMorgan Chase, the largest bank in the U.S., matched Public Citizen’s operating expenses for the entire year: Every 80 minutes

To my friends on the right, isn’t it time to wake up to the reality that trickle-down economics is a lie? The One Percent don’t care about you, and you are extremely unlikely to ever become one of them.

Isn’t it time to join forces as average, middle class Americans to make our voices heard about getting big money and it’s corrupting influence out of politics, and to get our democracy turned back over to us ordinary citizens?

You can start by joining and supporting CoffeePartyUSA and by becoming a Citizen Co-Sponsor of the American Anti-Corruption Act.

UPDATE 9/16/2016:

I am no longer a supporter of any kind of Coffee Party USA. To understand why, click here.

http://anticorruptionact.org/
http://anticorruptionact.org/

“Bankers Are Balking at a Proposed Rule on Capital” Gretchen Morgenson – The New York Times

See on Scoop.itDidYouCheckFirst

“Over the next two months, the regulators proposing this rule will no doubt encounter a lobbying buzz saw. Mr. Hoenig (vice chairman of the F.D.I.C.) said he and his colleagues were bracing for that. Bankers, after all, prefer things just the way they are. They can load up on leverage to take risks and reap the rewards. But when losses abound? Well, they’re the taxpayers’ problem.” – Gretchen Morgenson, assistant business and financial editor and a columnist at the New York Times.

Greg Russak‘s insight:

Letting banks regulate themselves with what is called ‘risk-weighting’ didn’t work out so well in the past.

“This so-called risk-weighting approach was an abject failure. For example, the assumptions characterized the sovereign debt of Greece as risk-free, requiring that banks set aside no capital against those holdings for possible losses. The risk-weight system also determined, incorrectly, that highly rated mortgage securities fell low on the risk scale.”

Why shouldn’t banks be regulated up to their eye-balls? How can we think bankers can be trusted now?

Either they are horrible at analyzing risk and need lots and lots of oversight or, more likely, they know that in an under-regulated environment they can privatize any gains and socialize all their losses back to us through future federal bailouts.

See http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/14/business/bankers-are-balking-at-a-proposed-rule-on-capital.html?ref=gretchenmorgenson&_r=0

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt: Big Business’s Tax Code Strategy

Today’s New York Times article titled “Major Companies Push the Limits of a Tax Break” strikes me as a microcosm of the challenges with the federal tax code.

It also reveals something else. It’s a marketing strategy called FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt – and it’s being used by the rich and powerful to protect tax codes which benefit them by making the rest of us afraid to support efforts to change or eliminate those tax loopholes.

The article describes a 90-year old tax code modification supposedly meant to be helpful to farmers and small businesses. When discussing tax codes as “helpful” it’s important to always remember that that help comes with a price tag. That “help” means that the government isn’t taxing a transaction. That, of course, means less tax revenues into the federal treasury and, like it or not, we will not see our federal debt lowered and our federal budget come closer to balance unless both sides of the ledger – expenses AND revenues – are tackled.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t oppose every tax code meant to help businesses, especially small businesses. What I vehemently oppose is what seems to have happened here. It appears from this article that this incentive originally intended to benefit farmers and small businesses was eventually expanded and perverted into something that the likes of JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, and GE may have abused.

How does that happen and why aren’t we capable of doing something about it?

Perhaps this is one possible answer.

Whenever the topic turns to the economy, business, and taxation, we seem to allow the rich and powerful to control the discussion and to set the framework for what to do next. We allow the to do this by employing a strategy those of us in the sales and marketing profession know as FUD – Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Here’s how it works.

We allow them to manipulate and control us by controlling the discussion mostly through fear and with heavy doses of uncertainty and doubt. Too many of us are easily (and to some degree, justifiably) frightened by the threat of the loss of the most basic thing needed to survive in a modern society; namely and for starters, a job which pays enough (but not always enough) just for food and shelter.

The things that used to signal the arrival into the middle class – higher education, vacations, and even a little free time to pursue interests outside of two or three part-time jobs – are now available and affordable to fewer and fewer people. All this at a time when taxes are at historic lows, regulation on businesses of all types has been progressively shredded over the last 30 years, the wealth gap is wider than it’s been since the Gilded Age, and the federal debt keeps ballooning.

When it comes to taxes, the rich and powerful use FUD to make the same argument they always make: the beneficial tax treatment of these “…asset exchanges spur investment and help create jobs.” They frame the discussion about raising taxes and doing away with loopholes by saying that if they are taken away there will be less investment and fewer jobs. My response to that argument is pretty consistently this: if that’s true then why is unemployment still just under 8% and why isn’t the economy growing faster? You rich and powerful people are getting what you want and it’s still not enough?

This is overly simplistic, I know, but I still believe it’s a valid stance to take in this argument. It’s still a legitimate way to tear down and take back the framing they want to use when it comes to the tax code. If tax breaks like this are so great, then why are we in the terrible state we’re in and why aren’t the rich and powerful investing more into a recovery?

And when it comes to changing the tax code as a means for helping to reverse the federal government’s mounting debt, the discussion must be first and foremost about the sort of code changes like this one that benefit GE and Wells Fargo long before even thinking about code changes such as eliminating mortgage interest deductions.

It’s far past the time to end the corporate welfare system. That must begin with changes to the corporate tax codes. They must pay more, not less. Corporations have already proven they’ll adapt and, besides, how much more is left for them to outsource overseas? They’ve refused to do anything except hold us all hostage through fear of job loss while they sit atop record-setting profits.

It’s time to call their bluff.

One of the greatest challenges we face for reversing tax codes that benefit only the strong, the wealthy, and the powerful is our ability and willingness to call them out on their FUD strategy and to tell them that, “We’re mad as hell and…”Well, you know the rest.

More than that, our elected officials need to know they can’t use FUD on us either. If they have the courage to stand up to big money and the power elite, then they need to know that we will stand with them. We need more people like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren who seem to actually care about the middle class enough to stand up to Wall Street, big corporations, and the infinitesimally small number of wealthy people in America who already have rigged the system far too long and far too much to their advantage.

The wealthy aren’t doing anything much to help the rest of us, so why should we keep kowtowing to them and their interests? Let’s close tax loopholes that benefit large and wealthy corporations. It’s a better place to start than with my home mortgage interest deduction.

Click here to find your Congressional Representative and tell him/her what you think. It’s the only way they’ll know.

Click here to learn more about and to get involved with Coffee Party USA and the work they’re doing to restore our democracy.

Don’t Blame the Borrower – How a Republican Congress Helped to Create the Current Economic Crash and Continues to Erode the Middle Class

As I see it, the reality is that our current economic problems stem directly from deregulated financial markets. We can thank Alan Greenspan, appointed by Reagan, and the pro-business, deregulatory belief system of the Republican party for that.

YOU CAN’T BLAME ME FOR ASKING
Let’s start with the mortgage crises since that seems to be something most people can agree is at the root of our current economic problems. The notion that we should blame the person applying for a mortgage that they can’t afford versus the people and systems that are supposed to screen applicants and then say, “No” is just silly, but that seems to be the position of social and fiscal conservatives.

Let’s see where the argument for blaming the applicant takes us……

  1. Let’s say I go to a bank or lender and apply for a mortgage suspecting – or even knowing – I can’t pay it back.
  2. The bank decides not to check me out and deny my application. Why? They know they won’t be holding my loan very long. Why not? Because they don’t have to and aren’t motivated to thanks to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, a law passed in 1999 while Clinton was president but Congress was controlled by Republicans. Remember that it is, after all, Congress who makes law, not presidents. GLBA was authored by Republican Senator Phil Gramm and Republican Representative Jim Leach, with contributions from Republican Rep and House Commerce Committee Chairman, Tom Bliley. It effectively removed regulations on banks created in 1933 by the Glass-Steagall Act which, itself, was a response to conditions not at all unlike today that caused the Great Depression – an unregulated financial services industry.
  3. Because sufficient regulations no longer exist thanks to the GLBA, lenders of all kinds – including banks – can now package and sell my loan with thousands of others to someone else and wash their hands of the initial risk of lending me money. No reason to deny my application if they aren’t worried about me paying it back – that’s someone else’s worry now.

So what should we expect will happen? No one will deny my loan application because there’s money to be made quickly by writing the loan and selling the now infamously “toxic asset” to someone else. Well, here’s what will and did seem to happen…

  1. I and lots of people will get mortgages we don’t qualify for
  2. The re-packaged investments will be sold to someone else
  3. Those packaged securities will become worthless because not enough people can pay them back, and
  4. The financial services companies who used to be regulate banks but who no longer fall under enough regulation and scrutiny will go crying to the very same government who stopped regulating them in the first place to now bail them out.

The Rich make and pass laws to benefit the Rich, and when things go bad we as citizens pay for it through weaker markets and inflated government debt. If we were real Capitalist, we’d let them all fail just like Bear Stearns and Leahman Brothers, but that would create complete anarchy…..actually, it would mean a lot of rich people would lose a lot of money, and that will NEVER happen.

So if you’re blaming Clinton for perpetuating the idea of broader home ownership as the reason for our current problems, you really need to look at the simple truth of the matter.

If you’re somehow trying to make a connection between broader home ownership and too many unqualified loan applicants, then you really have to blame GLBA and greed for that. Home ownership is still a great idea for our society, but deregulating the lenders and blaming the borrower doesn’t make sense.

RICH REPUBLICANS AND THE MIDDLE CLASS
Plain and simple, the current economic problems can be traced back to when Republicans had a Congressional majority and could create laws that allowed their supporters and constituents in big business and especially big finance to maximize return and minimize risk. As a result of GLBA, their big money supporters were able to create Bank of America, Citigroup, and J.P. Morgan Chase.

Pretty soon, financial markets were a free-for-all, just as they had been before the Great Depression. Firms that had once been regulated so that they wouldn’t fail were now buying and selling every imaginable type of security without rules, including mortgages that never would have been approved to begin with which are now re-packaged as some kind of investment vehicle.

The American Middle Class once again allowed themselves to be duped by the wealthy and powerful. It’s not the borrowers fault if they are lent money they can’t repay. The lender is supposed to say, “No” if they know the only way they make money is if the borrower pays them back. The lack of regulation allowed – hell, encouraged – those loans to written and then sold off as investments so that the rich could get richer off of the transaction without any regard for the borrower or the affects that so much failed lending could have on everyone and the economy.

The lack of regulation on the banking industry is the classic fox in charge of the hen house. It’s easy to see that a few very smart and very rich people understood how to make a great deal of money out of the house of cards that was the real estate bubble.

THE FATHER OF SMALLER GOVERNMENT
The lack of regulation actually brings us to Mr. Smaller Government himself, Ronald Reagan, and his fed chairman, Mr. Greenspan, who convinced us that smaller was better. No need to regulate banks as had been done since the Depression and the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. This is America, land of free markets! Let the markets decide! (Translation: Let Rich Republicans Decide)

Yes, this is America and so that means we have only ourselves to blame or thank for who we elect, the markets we create, and the consequences of our decisions. So if anyone is going to go back and blame Clinton for wanting more people to own homes, we must go back just a little further to Ronald Reagan.

Reagan ballooned the federal deficit to it’s largest amounts ever (to that point in time) after getting elected on the “government’s not the answer to the problem, government is the problem” fable. Clinton left office with a federal surplus which W proceeded to totally squander by giving it to the rich in the form of tax cuts. Remember, too, the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq have never been accounted for in the federal budget. The piper isn’t even close to being paid when it comes to the federal deficit.

So who really is the party of fiscal responsibility? Make no mistake, Republicans talk a grass-roots, family values game but that’s a ruse intended – and seemingly working extremely well – to convince middle America that they are the Republican party core. Wrong. The wealthy is the real Republican party core. The religious-right, pro-life, Creationist, white-bread American is just the uniformed and ill-advised pawn in their game. They are easily convinced that so-called tax-and-spend liberals, job-stealing illegal immigrants, and unfair (meaning unregulated) foreign markets and labor practices are to blame for our troubles.

We only have ourselves to blame.

A FINAL THOUGHT ON CONSUMERISM, FOREIGN LABOR, AND OUR ECONOMY
When it comes to foreign and domestic markets and labor, we only need to look in the mirror. Consider the goods and services we consume, how that affects the economy, and what it means to domestic and overseas markets and societies, including China.

Any business is in business to do something profitably. Businesses who outsource everything possible to overseas markets like China do so in order to lower operating expenses and maximize profits on the goods and services they sell and we buy from them.

Hey, we don’t want government to tell them or us what we can and can’t do, right? No need to regulate business, right? This is America, land of the free and free markets! Let us as producers and consumers drive the market!

So if we as consumers….

  1. weren’t always encouraging businesses to lower costs by constantly demanding and buying cheaper and cheaper goods (the WalMart affect)
  2. were more willing to elect leaders who put the needs of the American middle class worker ahead of the corner office CEO maybe with proper tariffing and changes to NAFTA – George H.W. Bush’s baby, by the way, and
  3. stopped believing red herrings like illegal aliens taking all of the good paying jobs (yeah, like picking vegetables and raking lawns) thrown at us by right-wing news sources like Fox, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage and Quinn and Rose as the cause of our economic problems,then maybe we wouldn’t be in such a mess.

In a democracy, we have some power by virtue of our ballot. So long as we allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking that the Republican party in this day and age is anything but a party of the rich, we’ll keep going through cycles where they come to power every so often, make changes that only benefit the rich like deregulating markets and cutting taxes for the wealthy under the total lie of Reagan’s failed “smaller government” and “trickle-down economics” theories, and we’ll be stuck once again holding the short end of the stick.

It really is something to see – middle class Americans somehow thinking that Republicans are in our corner. I don’t get it. The past 3 Republican administrations – Reagan, Bush 41, and especially the last 8 years under W have proved that to me. Look at how W took Reagan’s failed philosophies – and the deficit – to heights unimaginable. When were we last really prospering? Wasn’t it under Clinton?

For now it seems the majority of Americans have awoken from the nightmare of Republican dogma and are at least willing to try something different. After all, you know the definition of insanity, right? – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.