Michael Parenti on the Pathology of Wealth

Next Friday night, Oct 19th. Community potluck, meet and greet the author, book sales thanks to Last Word Books and free talk from Dr. Michael Parenti at 7 pm. Lecture Hall 1 at The Evergreen State College in Olympia.

Parenti in Olympia

For more details, go to the Facebook Event for the People’s Movement Assembly.

 

Pinata Economics

I have been thinking about Romney and the general casino-style financial sector that has been preying on the US and the world over the past decade and the image of a pinata came to mind. Pinata economics. The willingness, the glee of smashing something pretty to get at the goodies inside really seems to fit with the get really rich really quick schemes of leveraged buyouts.

In These Times has a couple of good articles in the September 2012 issue. One is The Bain Legacy and the other How to Succeed in Business Without Adding Value. Both by David Moberg. I recommend reading them both.

Courtesy Paul Sapiano and Wiki Commons

 

 

Courtesy Gage Skidmore Wiki Commons

 

 

 

 

Pinata Economics. I claim intellectual property rights to that term and now I sell it to the highest bidder. Isn’t that the way these things work?

Wish I knew how to put the ~ symbol on top of the N.

Lo siento mucho, hermanos y hermanas.

World Life Expectancy – Interesting Website Shared by My Friends at TC Pro-Net

The Thurston County Progressive Network are a great bunch of folks who work year-round to produce a more progressive community in the Olympia area. In this week’s calendar they share a link to World Life Expectancy website and a cancer cluster map.

It’s an interesting website from an epidemiology perspective. The suggestion in the cancer cluster webpage is that environmental degradation can be tracked to a certain extent by cancer rates. I think there are a lot of regional cultural issues, like diet, wealth/poverty that also contribute to the cancer clusters, but environmental degradation is probably part of the story. If you live in one of the black (high cancer rate incidence) counties, you can weigh in with why you think your county might have high cancer rates.

I am in Lewis County, WA. It’s a relatively low income per capita by WA standards, so we probably have a lower rate of preventive click me pleasemedical care, but we also have a couple of superfund cleanup sites, one for PCBs, and we have a coal mine (not operational today) and a coal-fired electricity plant, known locally as the Centralia Steam Plant. We try not to mention coal here on either shore of Coal Creek, but the steam plant and the steam mine have been a large part of Lewis County economy over the decades.

This website also has an informative interactive world life expectancy map that includes gender life expectancy. Pretty cool website. Lots of information.

oh, friendship is good for longevity, according to these folks. Sounds right to me.

Don’t miss this page if you are a budding epidemiologist.

Washington Investment Trust – State Bank Now

 

 

Why was North Dakota the only US State not affected by the banking crisis? (It’s not the oil.)

Because it was the ONLY State with its own Public Bank!

The State Bank bills are down to the wire in the WA Legislature. SB 6310 needs to move out of committee now or the bill is dead for this session. You can read all about the legislation at WA Public Bank Project.

This would be a bank for the 99%. North Dakota’s State Bank is the model. We are not reinventing the wheel with this idea.

The Washington State Treasurer James McIntire has weighed in against the bill and the idea of the State Bank. McIntire has shown himself to the be the Treasurer for the 1%.

Senators Steve Hobbs and Mary Haugen are the two primary votes in committee that are holding up the bill at this moment.

Steve Hobbs
Steve.hobbs@leg.wa.gov

Mary Haugen
marymargaret.haugen@leg.wa.gov

Democracy is not a spectator sport.

On Holding Down The Conversational Fort, Or, Jobs, Republicans, And Hooey

As the next Congressional fight over payroll tax extensions and unemployment benefits and pipelines gets set up in the next few weeks for either its final chapter or to be kicked down the road a bit farther, one or the other, you’re going to hear a lot from our Republican friends about how much they value work and workers; most especially, they’ll tell you, they value American jobs for American workers.

After all, they’ll say, creating American jobs is the most important thing of all.

But if we were to look back over just the last few months, some would tell us, we could quickly find examples of how Republicans promote ideas that don’t seem to value work or workers at all, much less American jobs.

Well as it turns out, “some” seem to be right; to illustrate one of those examples we’ll look back a month or two or three to a time some Republicans might wish was long, long, ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

A successful comedian usually becomes more megalomaniacal as the success barometer rises. Initial success might be achieved from stand-up but then the comedian envisions a sitcom, then Broadway, albums, extended tours, Europe, and then his or her own production company. These things are all fine. Don’t do dinner theater. Don’t open stuff, like shopping centers or bowling alleys. Don’t do fairs, especially if you follow the pig contest.

–From the book “How To Be A Stand-Up Comic”, by Richard Belzer

So…the House Republicans went and promoted and passed out their payroll tax cut plan, and within that plan was a demand that the Junkie XL Pipeline – sorry, that should be Keystone XL Pipeline – get special “expedited” approvals, despite the objections of those who are worried about their water supply, and we have to do this, right now, those same House Republicans tell us, in order to put more or less 6500 folks to work getting the thing built.

And as we mentioned above, this is because the House Republicans care about American jobs and American workers.

So…it may strike you as a bit odd that the exact same House Republicans sent to the Senate in September the “Protecting Jobs From Government Interference Act” (HR 2587), which has only one purpose: it tells the National Labor Relations Board (the “NLRB”) that if workers at a company decide to form a union, or the company even thinks a union might be coming, and the company, in retaliation, decides to move work from that plant – or, for that matter, decides to move the entire plant – then neither the NLRB nor the United States Courts shall have the authority to do anything about it.

All of this stems from an effort by Boeing to move work from Washington State to South Carolina in retaliation for union activity by the Puget Sound workforce; the NLRB has ruled that Boeing cannot move the work, and the Company and its friends in Congress have joined forces with other anti-Union Members of Congress to move this legislation.

Need a third-party expert opinion to help make sense of the NLRB’s involvement and remedies? Consider this comment from University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Ellen Dannin, via Dennis Kucinich:

The NLRB has decades of experience with cases of this sort, and the National Labor Relations Act is clear that employer actions like Boeing’s violate the law. If this were a murder case, it would be a case in which the police found a person saying : “I did it,” while standing over a fresh corpse with smoking gun in hand.

Decades of experience, did she say? Yes she did – and she was right. In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that the NLRB had the power to order remedies that include making companies “bring work back”, the relevant case being Fibreboard Paper Products Corp. v. Labor Board, 379 U.S. 203.

The 250 law professors who wrote a letter explaining why HR 2587 is such a bad idea point out that it’s not just about Boeing: companies will no longer have any reason to even bargain with unionized workers (or those who wish they were) before closing plants and moving work overseas, as they have to do now under the law; again, that’s because no one will have the power of enforcement in these cases anymore.

As you might imagine, that’s going to accelerate the departure of jobs overseas, and it won’t take very long to get to 6500, which makes all that Republican fussin’ and fightin’ and sanctimoneoussin’ about Keystone look a bit hollow, eh?

Let’s jump to the side track, as it were, and take a moment to talk about why the question of which Party controls Congress matters: HR 2587 was introduced into the House, and if the Democrats controlled the Chamber it would have died in Committee, and that would have been that…but they don’t, and it didn’t, so the bill made it to the House floor, where it passed with no Democratic “aye” votes and six Republicans voting “nay”.

Then it went to the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Sometimes Frustrating) has a bit more power than a Speaker of the House to kill any bill before his Chamber, if he’s so inclined; in this case the bill sits on the Senate Legislative Calendar, and unless he says otherwise, that’s where it’ll stay. Of course if Mitch McConnell (R-Hates Obama With The Fire Of A Thousand Suns) were Majority Leader, he would have that bill on the Senate Floor in a heartbeat – and it would pass with a Republican majority, unless Democrats were willing to stand firm and filibuster the thing or the President was willing to use the veto pen, neither of which seems particularly certain.

A companion bill, S 1523, was introduced by Lindsey Graham; it was referred to Committee, possibly to never be seen again – which is also thanks to Harry Reid, with an assist from Tom Harkin, who is the relevant Chair.

At this point I was going to move on to the “what have we learned today” part of the deal, but before I do, I want to take a moment to show you just what kind of legislation our GOP friends will bring to the table, given the chance:

S 1720, the “Put All Your Crazy Eggs In One Basket Act” (not the real bill title, but close enough), was introduced by John McCain just before Halloween (it’s now on the Legislative Calendar, not doing much), and it’s a classic.

This one single bill calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment vote, a semi-flat income tax, repeals “ObamaCare”, repeals Dodd-Frank (Wall Street reform), says you basically can’t sue for medical malpractice anymore, says that if Congress fails to approve any Federal Agency regulation in 90 days, it’s invalid, and then says no Agency can pass any regulation, of any kind, until unemployment hits 7.7%…and there’s a lot more besides, including, I kid you not, forbidding the EPA from regulating the discharge of pesticides into water.

So now let’s get to “what have we learned?”

How about this:

We are going to hear a lot over the next 60 days about how the GOP loves you, the American worker, but at the exact same time they are looking to…well…put all the crazy eggs in one basket, if they can get away with it, and at the same time they’re looking to make it easier and easier to send more jobs to more countries than ever before, even to the point of trying to tell courts and regulators that they can no longer enforce laws Republicans can’t get repealed.

As our GOP friends stand before you, these next couple months, professing their undying love, remind them of this conversation today, and HR 2587, and S 1720, McCain’s “Crazy Egg Basket” bill, and then ask them if they think the GOP really cares about American jobs, or if they’re just getting hustled by slightly-slicker versions of used-car dealership credit managers?

Then you lean in close, look ‘em in the eye, smile just a bit, and you say to ‘em: “And hey, while you’re here…what do I gotta do to get you into a slightly used 1993 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagontoday?”

Then you can both have a little laugh – while you take their money and run.

On Helping Republicans, Or, Next Time You Need A Bad Idea, Try These

I have spent a number of years complaining about the interactions between Democrats and Republicans, but after the recent events involving the Keystone XL and civil liberties cave-ins, I’ve decided it’s time to stop complaining and embrace the madness.

But I also feel like there’s an ugly edge to all this…that hasn’t really been fully exploited.

I mean, Republicans have tried to force through a lot of disgusting ideas this Congress as they’ve held various bills hostage, but it seems like, if they really tried, they could do so much more.

But I’m not here to complain, I’m here to help; that’s why today we’ll be trotting out a few ideas of our own that Republicans can attach to bills throughout 2012, with the assistance of certain errant Democrats.

It’ll be fun, it’ll be festive, but most of all…it’ll be an exercise in Civic Responsibility, and in these difficult times, that’s some thing we could sorely use.

1) Above all, the needs of the army need to be taken into consideration. For instance, it will scarcely be possible to avoid, here and there, leaving behind some trade Jews who are absolutely essential for the provisioning of the troops, for lack of other possibilities. But in each case the proper Aryanization of these enterprises is to be planned and the move of the Jews to be completed in due course, in cooperation with the competent local German administrative authorities.

–From a planning document written in 1939 by Reinhard Heydrich, as reported in the book Documents of the Holocaust, edited by Yitzhak Arad, Israel Gutman, and Abraham Margaliot

So let’s start with the economy: the Census Bureau tells us that nearly half the population is now poor or near-poor, and something needs to be done. With that in mind, I’d propose the “Economic Freedom and Upward Mobility Act” (HR 4377), which would establish a series of military catapult sites along the US border where carefully selected poor folks would be given, literally, economic freedom and upward mobility, even as we instantly reduce the number of impoverished persons in the United States.

Civil rights are important, but not at any cost; that’s why the “Election Cost Control Act” (HR OU812) would allow States to empower local officials to preselect winners in various elections, saving the taxpayer the time and expense of having to count the votes for all those losing candidates.

Messaging matters, and there’s no reason Republicans have to be the bearers of all the bad news: Mississippi Congressman Hatesem Lotsabunch confirmed to me in a phone call yesterday that he will take my suggestion and introduce the “Voter Education Act”, which would require President Obama to wear a giant red, white, and blue dog whistle on a thick silver chain every time he appears in public between the date of passage and November of 2012. (For the record, I actually suggested a gold chain; he thought that was a bit “uppity”.)

We have a serious immigration problem, but I think we can take a page from the Newt Gingrich playbook and introduce the “Guest Worker Protection and Identification Act” (GWIPA).

Here’s the idea: Gingrich has proposed creating a class of persons (“worker residents”?) who are allowed to live and work in the USA, but are never going to be allowed to have US citizenship. The problem is that it will be impossible to quickly tell who is a legal worker resident and who isn’t. Under GWIPA, government-issued armbands would be provided for all legal worker residents to hold their photo ID; as long as they always wear the armband, they’ll be protected from having to show papers to law enforcement officials as they go about their daily business.

Governors as diverse as Rick Perry, Jan Brewer, and Robert Bentley have demanded that the Federal Government finally get serious about “securing the border”; the “Nuclear Assault Mine/Border Legislation Act” (NAM/BLA) is my “if you’re crazy enough to support Rick Santorum, why not this?” proposal to make that happen. The new law would order the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense to work together to develop, manufacture, and deploy small “assault-sized” nuclear land mines along the Mexican border as a way to deter illegal immigration.

“Well you look perfectly idiotic in those clothes!”
“These aren’t my clothes!”
“Well, where are your clothes?”
“I’ve lost my clothes!”
“Well, why are you wearing these clothes?”
“Because I just went GAY all of a sudden!”

–Cary Grant, as David Huxley, from the 1938 movie Bringing Up Baby

Finally, let’s take a moment and consider one of the vital social issues of the day.

It is apparently still possible to lock down some GOP votes by going “hard negative” on the LBGT community, if what I’m hearing from the candidates is to be believed (I was particularly struck by Mitt Romney’s ability to twist on this issue: in the last GOP debate, in one single sentence, Romney said he felt there should be no discrimination against the LBGT community…but that there should be no same-sex marriages), and I have a proposal that allows the GOP to appear to be moving to a better place while ensuring that nothing ever changes at all:

The “Mitt Romney Legal Access Beyond Intimidation Act” (MRLABIA) would do two things: it would repeal the Federal Defense of Marriage Act – and, in the Mitt Romney tradition, it would also add a new provision into law that prevents same-sex couples from entering into contracts for the purposes of marriage, thus ensuring “a perfect flip-flop, every time”, as they might say on an infomercial somewhere.

So there you go: instead of relying on the usual “poison pills”, I’m challenging the GOP to try out a few of these ideas – and I’m also challenging much of the American media to try and tell the difference between some of these ideas and the present reality; just at the moment that won’t be easy, and, all humor aside, I think that might actually be the saddest part of this whole exercise.

On Imperfection, Or, How Do You Choose A New Bank?

Like a lot of people these days, we have come to the conclusion that it’s time to change our lousy bank.

And it wasn’t even like we chose badly, either – we were customers of Washington Mutual for almost two decades, and we loved ‘em: they were nice people to deal with, they didn’t constantly hammer you every time you came in to the branch with desperate sales pitches, and they didn’t even charge you for using another bank’s cash machines.

It turns out, however, that all that beneficence came at a cost: WaMu made a lot of money making sketchy mortgage loans, and when it all came crashing down, we found ourselves customers of JPMorgan Chase, who we now hate with the fire of a thousand suns.

But it turns out choosing a new bank ain’t all that easy – and that’s where you come into today’s conversation.

“I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-12. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras “right” for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested…Looking back on it, I feel I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three city districts. We Marines operated on three continents.”

–From a speech delivered by General Smedley Butler to an American Legion Convention, New Britain, Connecticut, August 21, 1931

We had a chance to do a refinancing deal which would lower our mortgage interest rate quite considerably at about the same time that WaMu went down, which we did, and although we thought we’d be doing business with our old bank, we got the news of the Chase takeover in all the confusion as the bank collapsed.

Our new friends at Chase were quite anxious for us to set up an “autopay” arrangement, which we did; three months later they were threatening to take our house for failure to make the payments.

When we had to explain to them that the money was right there, sitting in the account, and that they were failing to collect the payments every month, we knew we were going to have a problem with Chase.

Remember this scene from Seinfeld?

Jerry: I don’t understand, I made a reservation, do you have my reservation?

Agent: Yes, we do, unfortunately we ran out of cars.

Jerry: But the reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have the
reservation.

Agent: I know why we have reservations.

Jerry: I don’t think you do. If you did, I’d have a car. See, you know how to
take the reservation, you just don’t know how to *hold* the reservation and
that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.

I actually got to have a variation of that same conversation with the Loan Officer who set up the autopay in the first place, when he asked why we hadn’t been making sure they were collecting the money more carefully, which was a lot of fun, if I might say so myself, even as he clearly hated it. I also made him call Chase Customer Service, in our presence, to fix the problem, which he hated even more.

As you might guess, we don’t have autopay anymore, and from time to time a teller will ask if we want it…and that gives us a chance to tell the story to any other customers who might be nearby, which they always seem to find, shall we say, “relatable”.

But what with all the new fees and the generally lousy atmosphere in the branches these days, not to mention the fact that we’ve come to view Chase as essentially pirates on a financial sea, looking to rob us blind, it’s time to cut ship and move on – and up to this point, that’s actually been a bit of problem.

See, the thing is, we’re having as much trouble finding a bank we like as the Tea Party is settling on a Presidential Candidate – and for the same reason: every one of ‘em has some sort of fatal flaw.

Fun Fact: the NYPD arrested 700 or more people today for marching in the traffic lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge – and in this video, you can see the NYPD leading the marchers onto the traffic lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The standard answer to this question is to choose a Credit Union, but that doesn’t work for us very well as the local Credit Unions don’t really have a presence outside the local area. (We live in Seattle and travel up and down the West Coast from time to time, so this is a bit of an issue for us.)

We have the same problem with banks like Sterling Savings or Umpqua Bank, which seem to have nice reputations, as banks go – and that leaves us having to choose from one of the banks we all hate.

At the moment, the “candidate banks” are basically down to The Usual Suspects: Bank of America, US Bank, Key Bank, and Wells Fargo.

Now we have some personal opinions of our own about each of these banks, but what I want to happen today is that you give us your opinions about each of these admittedly flawed choices: in other words, which one might be the least of the worst?

Think of it as a chance to vent – and if you have a bit of inside dirt on one of these banks that would tell us about fees or cutbacks, or anything else, for that matter, let it fly.

Think of this as an exercise in community “comment carding” – and keep in mind that with Occupy Wall Street and all, there are going to be a lot of folks like us who want a different bank, but won’t be able to make what might be the best possible choice, so let’s see if we can’t also comment to that larger audience as we go along.

Monday’s coming, and that’s a good day to get out of a bank…so let’s see if we can’t get a discussion going that helps a few folks do exactly that.

On Bilking The Sophisticated, Or, Check It Out: We’re Suing Banks!

I took a break to enjoy the holiday, as I’m sure many of you did, but my inbox kept busy, and on Friday came a doozy, courtesy of the Washington Post.

You remember that little bit of a banking crisis we had a couple of years back, where banks around the world might have possibly, maybe, just a little, conspired in a giant scheme to package toxic mortgage loans into Grade A, investment-ready securities instruments, which then blew up in everyone’s faces to the tune of a whole lot of taxpayer bailouts?

Well all of a sudden, it looks like an agency of the Federal Government is looking to do something about it, in a real big way.

Last Friday the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) announced they’re suing 17 firms (I’ll give you a list, bit it’s pretty much all the usual suspects); depending on who you ask the Feds are seeking an amount as high as $200 billion.

As Joe Biden would say, it’s a big…well, it’s a big deal, anyway, and that’s why we’re starting the new week with this one.

“An artist is only answerable to himself. He promises nothing to the centuries to come save his own works. He stands caution only for himself. He dies childless. He has been his own king, his own priest, and his own god.”

–Charles Baudelaire, as quoted in the book Cezanné and Beyond, edited by Joseph J Rishel and Katherine Sachs

So what do we know?

As we said, on Friday the Washington Post and others reported that there were a series of lawsuits filed by the FHFA in their capacity as Conservator of the assets of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac against darn near everyone.

The FHFA is alleging, to make a long story short, that everyone involved misled Fannie Mae or Freddy Mac (the “Entities”, in the words of the lawsuits), to some extent, and that the misleading involved making representations to the Entities about the various metrics related to what Fanny and Freddy were buying from these banks.

For example, it’s alleged that when certain banks sold batches of mortgage loans to the Entities, they lied about how many of the owners were actually living in the homes; that makes a difference when you’re trying to figure out how likely a borrower is to pay back a loan.

It appears that a defense the banks will offer is that Fannie and Freddy were “sophisticated investors” who should have known the risks buried in the batches of loans they were buying (and they were sophisticated investors: they bought, literally, trillions of dollars worth of loans) – but if it can be proven that the banks were lying about what was in the loan packages, that defense might not do so well in front of a jury.

Everyone involved” includes Bank of America (B of A), Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Countrywide (which means B of A is actually being sued twice), Deutsche Bank, Credit Suisse, the UK’s HSBC and Barclays Banks, France’s Société Générale, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Nomura Securities (representing Japan), and GE and GM (GE Capital is a surprisingly large and varied business; GM got in the banking business to finance auto sales, and you may today know them as Ally Bank).

Of course, Wall Street is also part of “everyone”; that’s why the list also includes Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and Merrill Lynch (which means, thanks to acquisitions, that B of A is actually getting sued three times). The City of Memphis also proudly makes the list, thanks to First Horizon.

Some notable names not on the list? Key Bank and Wells Fargo, who seem to have escaped action so far; there’s also UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland), who was already served with a similar lawsuit in July.

It is difficult to determine exactly how much money is involved, as various sources disagree, but we know that Deutsche Bank is being sued for about $14 billion, all by itself. (B of A is being sued, all told, for a bit over $50 billion; they’ve already paid out more than $12 billion this year to settle another similar claim.)

Felix Salmon, at the Seeking Alpha website, has created a chart that seeks to measure who is in the most trouble here; by his measure JP Morgan Chase is far and away at the top of the list…except that the current incarnation of B of A represents three of the top eight spots on his list, which suggests the FHFA is targeting them for the most recovery. (Salmon used the number of individual defendants, how many pages were in the lawsuit, and whether the suits seek punitive damages as his yardsticks; from there he calculated a score that makes up his rankings.)

All this had to happen right now, it appears, because a statute of limitations is in play; the WaPo reports that a failure to file the suits would have meant the FHFA would have lost the ability to recover those monies. (It’s also reported that pre-lawsuit negotiations were stalling, and those negotiations will presumably continue, with a series of impending court dates to help, shall we say, sharpen the focus.)

Now that is pretty much all the story I have for you today on this one – except for a bit of a “discuss amongst yourselves” to finish things up:

It has been suggested that the FHFA is in an inherently conflicted position in all these cases. That’s because the agency is acting as both the regulator of these banks and the “victim” as we seek any monies that may be due from any fraud.

So what would be a better situation?

Should the FHFA continue to regulate the banks they’re suing as a victim, or should another regulator be put in place…or should another Conservator be appointed, leaving the FHFA as “just a regulator”, and not a victim?

It’s a question worth about $200 billion, more or less – and even in these times, that’s still a lot of your money.