Tag Archive for Wall Street

Change: It comes from the bottom up

The deaths in Connecticut brought back the pain many of us have experienced after the death of a child. How much more is that pain when not only your child died but also the children of many of your friends and friends of your children? Those of us who have lost more than one relative to gun violence are sensitized to these violent events.

The responses to this and similar events have raised broader issues.

 

We the PeopleShould large corporations, organizations and people with large amounts of money be able to have more influence than individuals? Should partisan efforts be allowed to limit which U.S. citizens can actually vote? Can we get to the point where people with differing views stop talking past each other? Even within groups of largely like-minded individuals, there is too often disrespect for opposite views on specific issues.

The various responses to mass killings tell a lot about our society. I understand why many people want to own guns. The NRA’s callous response and the repetition of trite slogans have not helped at all. The NRA once supported a ban on assault weapons. Comments about not arming mental health patients, while appropriate, will not be effective. In Connecticut and New York, the weapons were bought by other people. There seems to be a fear that banning assault weapons or large magazines will be a step to ban all firearms. This is an unrealistic concern. The Arizona sheriff recruiting 500 armed volunteers to patrol around schools is much different from having trained and seasoned law enforcement officers, who have even recently killed bystanders. An effective solution requires listening to all positions.

As discussed in the Jan. 2 guest opinion by Gordon Pedrow, big money institutions have the ability to frequently negatively impact all of us, with practical impunity for those running these companies.

Several years ago the CEOs of the largest tobacco companies and large petroleum companies clearly lied to Congress. (Congress does, however, pursue athletes for lying.) Listen to the ads from the American Petroleum Institute and the natural gas industry. When they do not lie, they omit important information.

The banks and mortgage companies allowed home loans to be made that were guaranteed to fail then passed the cost on to others and eventually the taxpayers. Several banks have just agreed to pay billions of dollars for closing on homes that they did not hold the mortgage on or whose owners were not behind on payments.

Wall Street and insurance companies created risky investments whose risks were not always identified. Individual investors and taxpayers paid the cost. A few banks aided the drug cartels by laundering their illegally obtained money and indirectly supported numerous murders. No individuals or banks were charged with criminal behavior.

Thanks to the Supreme Court, large corporations, including those controlled from other countries including China, can now try to buy elections. Large corporations with lots of money, as well as very wealthy individuals, have entirely too much influence in Congress. It is hard to believe that votes that go against the interest of the residents of this country are not directly or indirectly influenced by big money interests.

How you steal and how much you steal is important. If you steal enough money you can afford the very best legal representation. As Mr. Pedrow so aptly pointed out, the very largest companies and their CEOs/board of directors cannot be punished enough to discourage bad behavior.

Try not fully paying your employees (an all-too-common practice) and you will not face any serious consequence other than paying the employee what they are owed, with a small penalty. However, the odds greatly favor that the result will be that the employee and her family will never see all or even any of what they worked for. (By the way, they will not be able to spend that missing money at local businesses including sales tax.)

These endemic problems are all too obvious. The solution is not. There are some things we can do. We can look at where candidates are getting their support from. We can learn who makes direct sizable donations and who is contributing to their PACs — oops, we cannot do that. Too bad. We can look at the behavior of the large banks and other companies to choose where we do business. If they have paid a fine, they are probably still behaving badly.

Collectively we can promote change.

Road to … a Banana Republic

Dead set on doing damage

Trampling the republic into a Banana Republic

I wouldn’t be breathing a sigh of relief over apparent agreement over the national debt and deficit. Getting a runner to first base isn’t much, and we haven’t yet got him there (the “fat lady” – the Tea Baggers – will have to commit to the mixed bill at least once more). If there are words in it having more than one syllable, well . . . It’s easy to see why I’m not very confident yet. We have been here before. Remember the Newt Gingrich “Contract With [On] America?” The government shut down in 1995. And what happened? That flareup cost the USA plenty. And U. S. companies slammed on the hiring brakes. Markets HATE uncertainty, and companies, while not fearing the shareholders, tend to take a wait-and-see approach. Why do you suppose we’ve had a “soft patch” in the economy so far this year? When did the Tea-Baggers go to Washington? With all the continuing instability we still look like a banana republic, and interest rates could still rise, perhaps a lot. That would really help the economy, like throwing a drowning man an anvil.

The wealthiest among us drew a pass – again. So, too, have the “job creators,” or corporate titans. McDonald’s created 60,000 jobs or so via a nationwide job fair of sorts over a month ago. Over one million people applied. Bravo for Ronald, but those jobs pay what? $10 an hour? Wow. Pardon me if I’m underwhelmed. Those workers won’t be buying much, beyond toilet paper, gasoline, and beans.

Workers have never claimed a lower share of national income growth than now, after inflation. Total employment remains lower than in late 2008, when corporate profits troughed. Not much sign of a trough now. But there’s no more tailwind from federal spending, and there won’t be any, now that the GOP has arm-wrestled the rest of Washington to no worse than a draw. And it’s all one way with the “Inc.” crowd, which still has more than $1 trillion stashed overseas. The firms intend to either hold their breaths until they turn blue, or secure yet another exemption or sweetheart deal allowing them to repatriate those funds with few or no worries about their disposition. Can you say, it’s third Lexus time? No, the very rich will peel that largesse out of the coffers and invest it. Wasn’t it overinvestment that got us into such a mess in 2007-09? Same verse, different tune in 2000 (Internet bubble).

Numerous banks are repaying TARP funds by – you guessed it – borrowing from the U. S. Treasury. The financial industry spent almost $half a billion last year lobbying in Washington. That’s a lot of champagne, sister. Private-equity fund operators have shown they are willing to repudiate debt at the drop of a hat. Meanwhile, they continue to pay themselves enormous management fees. Banks or bonds, it hasn’t mattered. But stop the (federal) borrowing, they say. I submit these nefarious practices need to stop long before federal “spending” does. And know this: there are no data suggesting that deficit spending in inflationary, either (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, 2010).

Those who advocate “austerity” should look around to see how well it’s working elsewhere. In the United Kingdom, austerity has become a dirty word. Retail sales languish, tax revenues are stuck in low gear, and home sales are lousy. A lot to like there. The tea haulers should tell us whether they are aware that in 2007 the average income tax rate for the 400 largest tax returns in the USA was 17%, down from 26% in 1992. Fair share, my butt.

Businesses may claim that regulation or uncertainty or banks’ reluctance to lend lie behind their slow sales, but it’s easy to find the villain here. People out of work don’t buy. Larger firms have made a conscious decision to avoid adding labor. These same firms are taking business away from smaller concerns. No wonder corporate profits are through the roof.

I find it interesting and amusing that the American people have suddenly had it up to here with debt. These are the same people who couldn’t borrow enough. Maxing out three, four, even eight credit cards was pretty common four years ago. So now they’re ticked off at their national government for apparently behaving in similar fashion? I have long advocated higher wages for the “rank and file;” had many of us had higher incomes in 2005 or so, would we have just borrowed more? There’s a bet.

What a fragile, perilous state we find ourselves in. It’s like sailing through an iceberg field while the captain and helmsman are drunk. But don’t be complaining about federal spending if you are benefiting from same. And items as remote as federal prisons, water quality standards, the operation of the federal judiciary, and border patrolling benefit us all. Yup; federal spending. You’d think Uncle Sam was throwing hundred-dollar bills out of helicopters. No, that was said to be Fed Chairman Bernanke’s strategy. No, the only thing we have to fear is (guess what?) Fear itself.

Thanks, Franklin.

Making the Grade on Fascism

Hat tip to “Ohio Gringo” via Firedoglake for the following July 27th post.

Money + Religion + Military = Juggernaut

Ever since the United States was instrumental in defeating Fascism in 1945, if not before, various critics of the American government have accused it of behaving in a Fascist manner itself. The McCarthy hearings come to mind. Ever since Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President in 1981, the warnings have become more dire.

So I thought I, OhioGringo, would try to grade where America is today in its long march towards Fascism. For this, I used the 14 Points of Fascism, found all over the political blogosphere, and graded where I think we are on each one. Five asterisks(*****) means full Fascism, one means none. So, let’s have a bit of cynical fun:

Powerful and Continuing NationalismFascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

**** The only reason I don’t give this a five is because it’s still OK not to fly the flag or even to burn it.
Disdain for the Recognition of Human RightsBecause of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

**** There’s substantial opposition to this behavior, but Guantanamo’s still open, Bradley Manning’s still being tortured as far as we know, and President Obama has authorized assassination. Not five stars because people aren’t being disappeared domestically, yet.
Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying CauseThe people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

**** Well, that’s obvious. Not a five because there is still public opposition.
Supremacy of the MilitaryEven when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

***** No brainer.
Rampant SexismThe governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

** We have Fascist bitches, too! This has been tried, but is failing due to public sentiment.
Controlled Mass MediaSometimes the media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

*** There is clearly domination by corporate media, but I am writing this, after all, and Democracy Now! is still broadcast. Overall, the Fascists have the edge.
Obsession with National SecurityFear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

***** The daily use of fear of whoever and whatever is unavoidable.
Religion and Government are IntertwinedGovernments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

*** Thank God for atheists, agnostics, Unitarians, Wiccans, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and sometimes Catholics and “mainstream” Protestant denominations. This could be much worse, but there is strong opposition. Still, when was the last time a President did not conclude a speech with “God Bless America?”
Corporate Power is ProtectedThe industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

***** They have a lock. Citizens United v FEC have opened the floodgates. Look where our government officials come from and go to.
Labor Power is SuppressedBecause the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

**** Unions still exist, and sometimes fight, but they have been emasculated.
Disdain for Intellectuals and the ArtsFascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

*** Anti-intellectualism holds the edge here, there are attacks on the arts, but they are often unsuccessful.
Obsession with Crime and PunishmentUnder fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

***Leans that way, but there is still substantial opposition.
Rampant Cronyism and CorruptionFascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

***** No brainer. The Greatest Theft Ever took place under TARP. Look where Obama’s Treasury Secretary and advisers came from. Look where politicians go when they “retire.”

Fraudulent Elections
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.**** Almost there!

And, by may calculations we are at 3.86. On a letter scale, America gets an overall C+ grade in Fascist achievement according to this little scale and myself. My political goal would be to get an “F”.