William Black Goes Ballistic

I’ve been reading William Black’s essays and posts, watching his video interviews and You Tube presentations, ever since I saw him on Bill Moyers Journal speaking frankly, no holds barred, about how the financial industry had brought the country to its knees and gotten away with it.  He spoke frankly again during his Congressional testimony last year when he came right out and called the mortgage debacle that nearly finished the US economy . . . fraud.  Yes he used the ‘f’ word!  This was unlike other ‘experts’ who insisted there was no inkling of trouble on the horizon, that the financial meltdown was ‘an act of the economic gods,’ a huge surprise, the product of overly optimistic financial predictions.

No, Black said.  It was fraud.  It was criminal.  In case you missed that testimony, you can watch below.  It’s worth a second go-around.

Too bad Black’s comments were basically ignored, caught up in the razzle-dazzle of excuses, half-truths and political posturing that’s become all too familiar to anyone paying attention.  Business as usual is still the acceptable mantra.  In case, you’ve forgotten [time flies when we’re having so much fun], William Black headed Poppy Bush’s forensic audit team during the S&L scandal, which ultimately led to 1000 elite felony convictions.

Black’s investigative team wasn’t kidding around.

William Black came out yesterday morning with his own take on President Obama’s SOTU announcement of a Task Force [The Let’s Try It Again Task Force], quoting POTUS:

And tonight, I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.

Black suggests we look at the wording, the avoidance of using the ‘f’ or ‘c’ word.  That would be fraud and criminal.  His response to this and Eric Holder’s follow up memorandum:

The working group will not “investigate … abusive lending” and it will not “hold accountable those who broke the law … [by defrauding] homeowners.” It will not “speed assistance to homeowners.” It will not “turn the page on an era of recklessness” – and fraud, not “recklessness” is what prosecutors should prosecute. The name of the working group makes its crippling limitations clear: the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group. Attorney General Holder’s  memorandum about the working group makes clear that the name is not misleading. The working group will deal only with mortgage-backed securities (MBS) – not the fraudulent mortgage origination that drove the crisis (the only exception is federally insured mortgages).

Clearly, he’s not impressed.  No, instead he’s disgusted and enraged.  In fact, the essay nearly jumps off the page with genuine anger.  He goes on to say:

The working group is a symbolic political gesture designed to neutralize criticism of the administration’s continuing failure to hold accountable the elite frauds that drove the crisis. Neither the Bush nor the Obama administration has convicted a single elite fraud that drove the crisis. This is a national disgrace and represents the triumph of crony capitalism. Remember that the FBI warned in September 2004 that there was an “epidemic” of mortgage fraud and predicted that it would cause a financial “crisis.” There are no valid excuses for the Bush and Obama administrations’ failures. The media have begun to pummel the Obama administration for its failure to prosecute. The administration could not answer this criticism with substance because it has nothing substantive to offer in prosecuting elite mortgage origination frauds. The ugly truth is that we are three full years into his presidency and Holder could not find a single indictment to bring that Obama could brag about in his SOTU address. Who doubts that Holder and Obama would have done so if they had anything in the prosecutorial pipeline? Why do Holder and Obama have nothing in the pipeline?

One of the other things that deeply disturbs Black is President Obama’s willingness to play politics in this matter, float the gambit of the Task Force /Working Group and the reputation of Eric Schneiderman to create the appearance of a genuine hands-on effort.  But this move is not genuine as far as Black is concerned and contradicts the very essence of President Obama’s SOTU address, conjuring up the Seal Team that took out Osama Bin Laden—a team effort, concentrating on the mission.

This is no more than vulgar propaganda, Black claims.

He also refers to a disclosure made by Scot Paltrow for Rueters 10 days ago, revealing that US Attorney General Eric Holder and Lanny Breuer, heading the DOJs criminal division [also a co-chair of the ‘Let’s Try It Again Task Force], had been partners at Covington and Burling, a well-established and well-heeled law firm that represented many of the largest banks, providing cover for their clients through key arguments on the MERS debacle.

Conflict of interest anyone?

The state Attorney Generals?  They were lobbyied, leaned on, even offered [as was the case of AG Kamala Harris, CA] $8 billion to assist damaged California homeowners in a bid to agree to the original deal, which would have offered the big banks immunity from liability.  All so the President could announce ‘a deal’ in his State of the Union address, even though homeowners would be left out to dry and bank executives, who led deliberate “accounting control frauds,” could continue their conduct with absolute impunity.

This is ugly, made all the uglier in that it was sanctioned through and by the White House.  Black suggests that Eric Schneiderman recognized the leverage he had, agreed to join the Task Force as a co-chair with the stipulation that the original deal be modified, specifically concerning civil liability in mortgage origination fraud.

This might explain Jamie Dimon’s whine last Friday, pouting and claiming bankers are the objects of unfair discrimination.  Really?  Here’s the average American’s response:

Of course, you would think that this mess would be a window of opportunity for Republicans in an election year.  What an incredible club to use on President Obama to win the WH, maybe the House and the Senate by gargantuan majorities.

No fear there because for every compromised Democrat there is an equally compromised Republican.  Both the Democrats and Republicans rely heavily on campaign contributions from the financial sector.  Neither side is willing to cut their bankers [crooked or not] off at the knees.

What to do?  What better reason to support any and all actions to get money out of the political arena.  Until we do?  The world belongs to the highest bidder.


The Big Ugly

Hard to say what’s been worse this past week—putting up with a stomach virus or watching the ongoing GOP train wreck.  In years past, the Gingrich factor would have been an instant tonic because the possibility that Newt Gingrich would pitch himself and his tainted legacy against a sitting Democratic President would be too, too delicious.

But that was then.  This is now.

Though I’m no Mitt Romney fan, the very idea of Uncle Newt in the oval office makes me shudder.  Though I’m no Barack Obama fan, Uncle Newt makes POTUS look immensely attractive.  No small feat.

So where I might have jumped with joy in the past  [oh please, let the Republicans nominate the ugliest, least electable candidate of the bunch], instead I’ve been thrown into a miserable funk.

The choices suck, the conversations continue to move to the extreme right and the American electorate flails in desperation.

If there’s any bright spot it is this: the longer Uncle Newt basks in glory, the more ugly he will reveal, namely the Republican penchant for the politics of petty grievances—the howl of the entitled patriarchy, still wounded by Paradise Lost; the claim of religious bigotry—the war on Christianity—while dismissing or denigrating any religion but their own; and the aggressive promise that if they can’t win, they’ll make damn sure no one else does.  In addition, Newt’s recent success exposes the Tea Party for what it has truly become—a group of mindless obstructionists.

Sorry, you cannot make lemonade out of this one.  Not when a voting group is willing to endorse and support a serial liar, a hypocrite without shame, a man willing to blow the dog whistle on all the old prejudices and wounds of race and gender, or conjure up the ghost of Andrew Jackson, a man Gingrich says knew how to deal with his enemies: he killed ‘em.

Native Americans, I suspect, have a different take.

Uncle Newt’s declarations might sound good in a John Wayne movie but not for the White House, not in the year 2012 when the country and the world is precariously perched on a knife edge.

But there’s more.  The Newtster has taken on capitalism itself, exposing the underbelly of Republican economics—the mythical ‘free’ market, the unchained melody that without restraint will bring a Renaissance of prosperity and goodwill to hardworking Americans.  Or so the tune goes.

Sing that to the unemployed, the homeless.  Better yet, belt the lyrics out loud and clear to the nearly 50 million Americans now collecting food stamps, Uncle Newt’s favorite whipping boy.  Or sing that discordant lullaby to the children [over 20%] now designated food insecure.  Because unfettered capitalism has been the GOP’s clarion call for the last 40 years.  Think about ‘trickle down’ economics, stagnating wages, the unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the call for ever-lower taxes because the ‘job creators’ need that extra revenue to make things right.  Now recall the financial meltdown of 2008, where Wall St. took the unregulated ball and ran right off the cliff.  Screaming ‘liberty’ on the way down doesn’t quite cut it for most of us.

This is the plus side of a Newt Gingrich, who with a magician’s flourish has pulled back the curtain on the Big Ugly.  The lie is massive and cruel.  The lie has inflicted pain and suffering on millions, both here and abroad.

The Hopemeister

The counter to all this is convincing the public that Barack Obama is a socialist/Marxist in hiding.  President Obama is many things but a socialist and/or Marxist he is not.  Barack Obama is a brand, a man marketed to the American public as a national savior.  He was and is not.  He’s simply a marker for the status quo.

And that’s where my ongoing funk comes in.  On one side, we have Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul all extolling the Big Lie as the disease that will cure us.  And on the other side we have President Obama pretending he’s Teddy Roosevelt reborn, ready to slay the Dragons of Monopoly.  Only his words do not match his actions.  They never did.

And then there’s us, the American electorate, the Consumer Nation brought low by dwindling expectations, the super-power made suddenly and irrefutably mortal.  Will the election of 2012 rouse us from the trance that brought us to this moment?  Will we see the Big Ugly for what it is rather than what we dreamt it to be?

Or will we tumble back into a dark and endless sleep?

Not to be overly depressing, there are glimmers of light on the horizon.  Citizens are standing up, questioning the lack of justice in the system, the ongoing extraction of wealth by the top 1%.  Despite the lack of coverage, the Occupy Wall St. movement still survives in small towns and cities across the country.  Grassroot efforts are pushing ahead to remove the influence of money in government—Superpacs writ large.  Several Constitutional amendments are gaining signatures and support to upend the Supreme Court’s ‘corporations are people’ decision and more and more voices are rising up in books and magazines, on the blogs and in tweets to push back the Robber Baron mentality of our corporate, government and financial institutions.

Will it be enough?  I don’t know.  The Big Ugly has a hell of a head start.  But if Aesop is any guide, the Hare who dismisses the Tortoise should be well advised: We’re coming.  Slow and steady, We the People, are coming nonetheless.


Is This the Conversation We’ve Been Waiting For . . . Or Not?

The recent brouhaha over Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney locking horns over Romney’s involvement [I created 100,000 jobs] at Bain Capital has raised speculation that a conversation about capitalism, the way it’s been practiced these last 30-40 years, is about to commence, a conversation that is way overdue.

The irony is that the issue has been brought to the fore by Republican candidates, none of whom questioned the blowback of leveraged buyouts [LBO] and private equity firms in the past or even whispered the traitorous phrases–crony capitalism, vulture capitalism–in public.  In fact, the centerpiece of GOP economic theory is free market fundamentalism—set the market free, unfetter business from governmental regulation and Heaven’s Gate will open.

Not quite.

There’s the 2008 meltdown to contend with, the abuses of Wall Street and a clear example that Greenspan’s ‘self-regulating’ market theory was a cruel and greedy joke.  Following the meltdown, Greenspan himself glumly admitted his worldview was incorrect.

In addition, we have plenty of evidence that the so-called Trickle-Down philosophy has not ‘raised all ships’ as heralded by the true believers but rather led to huge income disparities, flat wages and the death-rattle of the middle-class.

Yes, there is the question of globalization.  Like it or not, we have grown interconnected.  But when decisions are made purely on profit, the quicker the better, then transferring manufacturing abroad, exploiting cheap foreign labor, taking advantage of lax worker safety rules and nonexistent environmental regulations begins to make a twisted sort of sense.  So, too with trade agreements made deliberately lopsided and unfair because these ‘deals’ have no national loyalty.  Profit is king; all else is subservient.

The long-term damage is massive.  We don’t have to speculate about this.  The evidence is everywhere in our unemployment numbers [which are far worse than reported] and the slide into poverty for alarming numbers of Americans.  Add in the housing crisis, still escalating health care costs, the Gulf oil spill, endless wars, the battles over extracting oil, coal and natural gas while refusing to work on rational and workable alternative energy policies,  and .  .  .

Well, it’s enough to make your head explode.

But suddenly, the door has flown open for a conversation on what it means to be a shareholder capitalist.  The unquestioned virtue of profit over all else has begun to raise its ugly head.

For instance, what value [if any] is created for a society when money is valued above all else, valued over the welfare of fellow citizens–the sick, the disabled, even our children.  What value is maintained when corners are cut, laws rewritten, ridiculous tax policies hyped as necessary for growth and future job creation?  But the mythical jobs, positions offering a living wage, never come. What does it mean when massive profits stream only to the top tier of the population, the so-called job creators, while everyone and everything else is left to flounder?

I call it a no-value deal–a lie, a theft–the magnitude of which hollows out a society, sucks it dry.

For too long Newt Gingrich [for all his caterwauling now] and his like-minded buddies have called it the free enterprise system.  Free for whom?  Certainly not for the families who have lost their homes, seen their jobs exported and have no reasonable expectation that their own children will ever see better times.  Not with the continuation of what Dylan Ratigan has termed Extractionism, a system that takes money from others without offering anything of value, anything that actually promotes growth or improves society.  This is a system that merely fills the coffers of the Extractionists, while they play a heady game of King of the Mountain and continue to spread the folklore that this is what freedom and liberty look like.

But let’s be fair.  Mitt Romney is not the devil incarnate, nor is Bain Capital the worst of the worst.  Much of what Newt Gingrich’s SuperPac is selling to the electorate conveniently let’s Wall Street and multinational corporations off the hook.  The ads fail to mention the cushy collusion of legislators who push laws and tax breaks to keep the circle spinning.  And Washington Democrats who may be dancing the happy dance now are just as guilty of supporting the status quo, going along to get along, eagerly taking campaign donations from their own smiling Extractionists.

Is this the conversation Republicans are offering?

Sorry, no.

Rush Limbaugh has been apoplectic on the issue.  According to Limbaugh, Gingrich has ‘Gone Perot.’

So you might say that Newt now has adopted the Perot stance, because he just said it: ‘I’m gonna make sure that Romney doesn’t come out of New Hampshire with any momentum whatsoever.’ And he’s using language that the left uses, and he’s attempting to make hay with this. You know, he’s trying to dredge up and have long-lasting negatives attach to Romney [this is what’s so unsettling about this] in the same way the left would say it. You could, after all these bites, say, “I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message.

Rudy Giuliani also weighed in.

What the hell are you doing, Newt?” Giuliani said this morning on “Fox and Friends.” “The stuff you’re saying is one of the reasons we’re in this trouble now.

This whole ignorant populist view of the economy that was proven to be incorrect with the Soviet Union with Chinese communism.

Oh yes, the ‘ignorant populist’ view that has beamed a light on business as usual.  Which btw, is not working, except for a tiny fraction of the American public.  If anything, Uncle Newt has pulled back the curtain and revealed an unsettling truth.

This might not be the full-throated conversation Americans need to engage in.  Still it’s a beginning from a most unexpected quarter, whose raison d’etre is as caught up in short-term results as are its economic principles.  Almost Occupy Wall St. in nature, the conversation is now in the open.  This is a conversation that defies Mitt Romney’s suggestion that sensitive subjects are better left to the privacy of ‘quiet rooms.’

This is the conversation of the moment.  The first word, the opening sentence.  It has just begun.


Light Bulbs Saved But American Light Diminished

We can no longer call Congress a do-nothing farce.  In case you haven’t heard our esteemed legislators have ‘saved’ the incandescent light bulb from its 2012 banishment.  Which means incandescent hoarders can display their beloved bulbs in public, display them with pride and patriotism—let freedom shine–without the fear of neighborly condemnation or the riot police knocking down the door.

Let there be light!

If only.

Other things we might have considered saving in 2011:

The Middle Class; Death by Strangulation

This week we were gifted with the sobering statistic that 50% of the American public is now considered ‘low income.’  Of course, the naysayers are quick to point out that this is a gross exaggeration, that terms like ‘low-income’ and ‘poverty’ are relative terms.  Go to Africa, they say.  Perhaps, Haiti would do.  Or North Korea.  Then you’ll know the ‘real’ meaning of misery.

Sorry but this strained logic belies the fact that unlike the above examples the United States of America is a developed world power. We beat our chests and claim ‘exceptionalism’ on the world stage yet are willing to use third world comparisons to shrug off bad news?  Lame comparisons are simply an exercise in don’t believe your lying eyes and for God’s sake never distrust the status quo.  What are you?  Some sort of Commie!

A small factoid from the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Economic Research group: the average length of unemployment in the United States is now over 40 weeks. And another from the New America Foundation:

The share of middle-income jobs in the United States has fallen from 52% in 1980 to 42% in 2010.

Middle income jobs have been replaced by low-income jobs, which now make up 41% of the work force.

The American Economy; Bleeding Out While Doctors Look On

While average citizens lost wealth and continue to struggle with unemployment and underemployment, face prospects of social programs stripped down to nothing, we’ve been gifted once again with startling news. The Federal Reserve over a three-year period bailed out large banks and corporations, domestic and foreign, to the tune of 29 trillion dollars.

Twenty-nine trillion!  To put this in some perspective one trillion dollars could be imagined thusly:

If you were to count to one thousand, one number every second, it would take seventeen minutes. Counting to one million at the same rate would take twelve days (counting nonstop, btw, day and night).  Counting to one billion would take thirty-two years.

Now, drum roll please:  Counting to one trillion?  Would take 32,000 years.

Then multiply by 29.

Meanwhile, with the money spigots wide open spewing a gusher of magic money, small business loans [the sort that Main Street depends on to fuel growth and employment, loans of 1 million or less] dropped to a 12-year low. Why is this a problem?  Because despite the GOP’s drone that the top 1% of the population are the ‘job creators,’ businesses with fewer than 500 employees created 65 percent of the jobs between 1993 and 2009, according to the Small Business Administration.

Another withering fact: between 2001 to 2009, 42,000+ factories and manufacturing-related businesses closed for good.  And, of course, the jobs associated with those companies went bye-bye, moved off-shore to exploit lower wages and the nefarious environmental regulations that vulture capitalists love to hate.

In addition, our trade deficits with China [84 billion in 2001 to 278 billion in 2010] and other countries [oil imports represent over 60% of our current deficit] have bled and continue to bleed jobs and wealth from the US.  Trade deficits represent a countries’ imbalance in terms of importing to exporting and the rate at which a nation’s wealth is transferred into foreign markets.  As a country, we’re being bled to death, according to the AAM.

The impact of the trade deficit with China extends beyond U.S. jobs lost or displaced, according to the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM). Competition with China and countries like it has resulted in lower wages and less bargaining power for U.S. workers in manufacturing and for all workers with less than a four-year college degree.

And yet the trade deficits go on unabated.  A recent example was the passage of the trade deals with Panama, Columbia and S. Korea, heralded as a great deal for the United States.  But according to Dylan Ratigan, MSNBC:

The key question we have to face as a country is how we want to govern ourselves. From World War II until NAFTA, our trading policies were based on geopolitical needs and what would increase prosperity for America. Since NAFTA, however, the mantra of free trade has been warped to generate rights for international capital and nothing else. The agreements Congress and the President are pushing continue this unfortunate trend. What unfettered capital wants is to avoid taxes, regulations, or any state power whatsoever.

In regards to oil imports, the drumbeat for several years has been: Drill, Baby, Drill. It’s all about jobs and keeping America strong, our oil-financed legislators are likely to say.  The problem is regulation, they’ll add, and big government working against the blessings of the free market.   Really?  Not so, says Dylan Ratigan.

We do not have a free market for energy, because the actual cost of fossil fuel in our economy is not reflected at the pump; the military’s not in there, the environment’s not in there, and there’s a wide variety of differing fuel subsidies and tax treatments for all sorts of different fuel sources depending on their relation with our government. So, how can a marketplace decide the fuel source, when one fuel, particularly being gasoline and fossil fuels, have such a substantial comparative subsidy?”

The answer is: the marketplace cannot decide the cost of fossil fuel or entertain the cost-effectiveness of alternative sources because the game is rigged as it has been for a century+ where fossil fuels rule the day, pay off politicians and are willing to drive us into economic and environmental ruin for the sake of profit and power.

Vulture Capitalism writ large.

The American Homeowner; Death by Drowning

In the second quarter of 2011, 10.9 million Americans or 22.5% of homeowners were ‘underwater’ with their mortgages, namely they owed more on their mortgages than their houses were actually worth, a result of the real estate collapse of 2007-2008.  Although the Home Affordable Refinance Program [HARP] has fallen short to relieve homeowners from onerous, often ballooning mortgage payments and subsequent home foreclosure, the Obama Administration has attempted to remove the key barriers in the refinancing procedures. This is expected to expand mortgage refi at today’s lower interest rate to larger numbers of struggling homeowners, particularly those with little to no equity in their homes.

Will it work?

The jury is still out, but at best this expanded program will only be available to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac-backed loans.

In addition to providing relief, many citizens expected a thorough and public investigation into exactly what went wrong in the mortgage industry. We expected our own Pecora moment.

But that didn’t happen.

In fact the Administration has attempted to rush through settlements with major banks, requiring no admission of wrong doing and attaching immunity from civil or criminal liability to sweeten the deal. Countering this, several state Attorney Generals [five to date] have refused to accept the 50-state agreement and have proceeded with independent investigations of their own.  And just this past week, House Representative Tammy Baldwin [D-WI] introduced a resolution to block any agreement on the national foreclosure question, without proper and thorough investigation. Immunity from civil and/or criminal liability would be stripped and fraudulent practices prosecuted fully under the Rule of Law.

But still, for the 22.5% of American homeowners, the water level is already chin-high and rising fast.

Civil Liberties; Gutting of the Bill of Rights

Perhaps no other images brought home the dwindling nature of American civil liberties than the recent round up of Occupy Wall Street protesters.  We’ve watched young women pepper-sprayed, protesters manhandled and in one instance a young Iraqi veteran nearly killed by police who appeared ready for WWIII rather than crowd dispersal.  On several occasions over-zealous police action was caught on film not by the press but by protesters and onlookers.

In addition, we now know that drones developed for war applications have been deployed in country and that drone use is being marketed to police departments throughout the country.  Security is big business.

Obviously, the First Amendment’s guarantee to peaceable assembly is not.  And privacy?  Forget about it!

Add this to the Administration’s successful kill order on extremist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen operating in Yemen, a kill order without benefit of due process. Otherwise known as execution without trial.  We can argue about the threat of the man but there is no argument about the danger of precedent and the shredding of the Rule of Law.  And so, should we be surprised by the most recent outrage, the passage of an indefinite detention authority tucked inside the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act?  The bill codifies the right of the President to order the arrest and indefinite detention of US citizens suspected of terrorism.  No trial, no appeal.  You can now be ‘disappeared,’ lawfully.

One fight that did end well [at least temporarily] was the controversial and previously reported Stop Online Piracy Act [SOPA].  The discussions between legislators were abruptly adjourned after stiff condemnation by online biggies Google, Wikipedia and even computer scientist Vint Cerf , one of the founders of the Internet, who claimed that the bill’s passage would begin “a worldwide arms race of unprecedented censorship of the Web.”

Rights of Women; Assaults Continue

In the contradictory world of Far Right extremists, where individual liberty is celebrated and government intrusion condemned, the individual rights of women and their reproductive decisions are the lone exception.  Family planning, contraception, abortion, even ordinary ob/gyn screenings are suspect and thereby targets of defunding and all manner of attack.  Bills have littered the landscape calling for the elimination of all abortive measures, even when a woman’s life and/or future fertility is in jeopardy.  The heartbeat of the unborn is made sacred, while the lives of the fully realized female is continually denigrated, dismissed and derided.  Personhood resolutions have been raised in referendums [and thankfully voted down], where the fertilized egg would be designated as a person with full legal rights under the law.

Fertilized eggs and corporations.  Perfect together.

The insanity of these rigid, ridiculous demands from zealots are all too real and dangerous when applied to the actual world.  Miscarriage, for instance, a completely normal biological occurrence, would take on the aura of a criminal act, requiring an investigation.  By the egg or zygote police, I imagine. Or a woman who suffers an ectopic pregnancy could be left to bleed until doctors were convinced of the unborn ‘person’s’ lack of viability.  The woman’s health is secondary in this scenario.

The personhood resolutions would also deny women certain contraceptive measures.  For instance, the day after pill would be in violation.  And, in fact, Health and Human Services’ recently overruled the FDA’s recommendation on Plan B for young women under the age of 18 and refused to lift the emergency contraception’s restriction.

The assault on women’s rights have been unrelenting, not only in terms of reproductive decisions but in basic health services.  Planned Parenthood and their related clinics and facilities provide services to many poor to middle income women, offering important medical screenings, tests for cancer, diabetes, high-blood pressure, etc.  Only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does is related to abortion services.  And yet, the 90-year organization has become the Boogie Man for right-wing fundamentalists, who would deny many women the only health provider they have.

Sorry, the barefoot and pregnant dictum has no place in the 21st Century.

Our Children; Gross Neglect of Our Most Important Resource

A higher percentage of children today are living in poverty than was the case in 1975.  The rate of poverty has increased every year for the last four years, from 16.9 percent to nearly 22 percent as of 2010.  In the UK and France that number is under 10%.  The 2011 Child Well Being Index indicates that it is American children, the country’s future, who will bear the greatest damage by widening income disparities and proposed cuts to education, food stamps and health insurance programs.

Some sobering factoids:

Child homelessness has risen 33% in the last 3 years to 1.6 million

There are over eight million children in the United States today that are not covered by health insurance.

Today, one out of every seven Americans is on food stamps and one out of every four American children is on food stamps.

Nearly 20 million children participate in school lunch programs.

This is not what Democracy looks like.

The Poor, the Immigrant and/or Muslims; The Inadequacies of Scapegoating

Scapegoating has a long history, even Biblical references, where a goat is used as a vessel of purification.  The sins of the community are spiritually transferred to the animal after which Mr. Goat is banished to the wilderness.

Out of sight, out of mind.

In times of social unrest and/or economic distress, the act of scapegoating is often employed as a distraction, a way of diverting the public’s attention from the real problems and their causes . . . to something or someone else.  Scapegoating has been popular of late.

It’s the fault of the poor, the hangers on, the moochers.  Michelle Bachmann quoted Paul the Apostle:

“He who does not work, neither shall he eat.”

That would imply the poor are merely shirkers, those expecting a free lunch.  Tell that to the one in four children surviving on food stamps.  If Newt Gingrich and his ilk are to be taken seriously, the problem can be solved by revoking Child Labor Laws or having school children take on the school’s janitorial services.

Better yet, cut all safety nets.

Immigrants, too, have been cast as the country’s main economic problem.  Too many Latinos taking away American jobs.  We’ve all heard it. Only the number of illegal immigrants entering the country has been shrinking dramatically since the Great Slump, the biggest population decline in the last 20 years.

Unemployment, however, is still with us.

With the immigrant bashing, deportation and subsequent population shrinkage, Georgia and several other states had a difficult time harvesting their crop this year without their standard work force in place.

Be careful what you wish for.

Since 9/11, Muslims have been targeted as the root of all our problems, basically an evil agent working to undermine the country . Anti-Muslim sentiment has risen with irrational fears over Sharia Law dominating, perhaps even replacing the American Constitution.  Last week, hardware giant Lowe’s pulled ads from a reality show, ‘All American Muslim,’ in response to a conservative Christian group, that contended:

Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show . . .

It’s disturbing to read something that ugly.  And it created a huge PR stink for Lowe’s, rightfully so.

Also important to note is that Muslim Americans represent approximately 6 million citizens, a quarter of whom are African American converts.  In a country of 311 million?  That’s a tiny, tiny percentage.

And on 9/11?  People of all faiths died, including Muslims.

Pointing fingers in all the wrong directions will not cure the country’s financial crisis, anymore than wishing for quick, easy solutions.  Saving what’s best about our country–our religious tolerance—is far more important.

There were many things worth saving in 2011.  But hey, at least we rescued the American incandescent light bulb.

I feel so much better.  How about you?


From Marxist to Corporatist, Elizabeth Warren Drives the GOP to Insanity

Anyone who has been following the Elizabeth Warren story, her bid for the Senate seat in Massachusetts, which would put pinup Scott Brown into early retirement, knows the attacks from the Right have become increasingly frantic.  Particularly since Warren’s numbers continue to rise and contributions pile up in surprising amounts.

What’s the Republican machine and Wall Street to do?

They’ve tried the expected smears.  Warren has been painted as a woman prone to violence.  She was the Woman Who Would Throw Rocks.

Okay, that was pretty silly.

Let’s try: Warren is a socialist/Marxist.  Really?  Yet her message that no one becomes a success all on their own resonates with a lot of voters.  Why?  Because many people actually believe in the public/social contract that provides roads, education, police and fire protection etc. , the very things we all rely on, rich or poor.

Back to the drawing boards.

OMG.  Elizabeth Warren has voiced support for the Occupy Wall St. Movement.  She said she’d actually been championing OWS principles for years and that she was the ‘intellectual foundation’ of the Movement.  Now, we’re cooking.  The Republicans have declared the Occupiers hippies, losers, people who want something for nothing and . . . anti-capitalists.  Bring in the cameras of police beating on those vile, violent, dirty protesters and . . .

Oops.  Problem is many Americans agree with OWS positions, believe that Wall St was given a pass, while Main St was left to wither.  In addition, many voters are beginning to realize that unemployment, the housing debacle, the unsustainable debt can be directly linked to financial fraud and malfeasance, and that many politicians in DC are on the lobbyist take.  That’s known as the Washington ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ two-step.

What to do, what to do?

The woman is obviously a problem.  So . . .let’s make her part of the problem and the Big Lie.  Let’s roll out the word TARP.  She was involved in that, yes?

Well, actually no.  Elizabeth Warren headed the oversight panel,  investigating and tracking how those TARP funds had been spent.  TARP itself came right out of the George Bush White House.

But she spoke to those evil bankers, the very ones who stole the country’s wealth?

Well, yes she did.  While creating and then assembling the Consumer Protection Bureau, an organization to prevent consumers from being suckered into confusing, complicated financial instruments, as in home loans and credit cards that only give the bad news in the tiniest of print or in a foreign financial legalese.

Why quibble about the details.  Guilty as charged!

And so, we have the new bewildering ad from GPS Crossroads [Karl Rove’s love child], which declares Elizabeth Warren . . .

A champion of Wall St!

We’re beginning to see GOP flop sweat in action: when you have no good ideas, go with the truly stupid.

This is going to be a most interesting year!


A Tale of Two Speeches, A Tale of Two Men

On Tuesday, Barack Obama delivered a speech in Kansas.  Osawatomie, Kansas to be exact.  With little subtlety, this was an attempt to conjure up the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, the TRex of the early 20th Century, the scrappy yet privileged pugilist, who pitted himself against monopolies, rabid financiers and proudly defended the American ‘square deal.’  In truth, TR was no saint.  But he was a man of conviction.  And action.

Barack Obama has proven himself a weak sister by any comparison.  Yet, he and his handlers, his ever-present speechwriters saw fit to mirror Roosevelt’s words.  We’re to believe that Obama is a populist at heart, a Roosevelt clone, calling on the Nation to embrace progress over privilege.  The square deal becomes the fair chance.  The review of abuses and lawlessness that TR was not afraid to call destructive become a wrong.  Legislative solutions and regulatory oversight that TR specifically cites are mentioned in passing or given more credit than they’re actually due, eg., the stripped down Dodd-Frank bill.  Notice there was no mention of reinstating Glass-Steagall, something that wouldn’t solve the entire mess we find ourselves in but would be an important first step in the reform process.

Let’s get real.  Barack Obama has no intention of reforming anything.  Unlike TR who said:

“Words count for nothing except in so far as they represent acts.”

And Barack Obama?   He’s countered with words leading nowhere.

He was against the Iraq War, only there’s no record of his opposition.  His ‘just words’ speech—a steal from an earlier Deval Patrick oratory—said everything the man has proven himself to be, an empty talker.  Where is the evidence that Barack Obama is or ever was a defender of the ‘ordinary man and woman?”  Oh yes, he was a community organizer.  And what exactly were his accomplishments?  He was a State Senator.  Accomplishments, please [beyond representing the interests of slum landlords].  And as a US senator?  Accomplishments?

Nada.

Let’s line this up against a few of Teddy Roosevelt words made flesh:

  • Successfully prosecuted the Northern Securities Co. for the merger of the Northern Pacific, The Great Northern and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincey railroads under the Sherman Antitrust Act.
  • Restored public confidence in the government’s ability to hold the country’s most powerful men accountable to the law.
  • Frequently warned conservative critics that revolutionary upheaval was likely to be inspired by an ‘attitude of arrogance on the part of property owners and their unwillingness to recognize their duty to the public.’
  • Pushed through Congress legislation establishing the Department of Commerce and Labor and within that Department the Bureau of Corporations, authorized to investigate and publicize suspect corporate activities.
  • Challenged the corporate view that business records be kept in secrecy and that employers had a right to deal with employees as they saw fit [one need only review the deplorable working conditions and wages of the era to understand the need for reform] with no interference from the Government.
  • Brokered a peace between Russia and Japan, for which he earned the Nobel Peace Prize.

There’s more, of course—the good, the bad and the ugly.  TR was not perfect but unlike the present occupant of the White House, he had a vision that was his and his alone.  He was the public face and voice of the American Progressive Movement that would eventually lead to improved working conditions, a woman’s right to vote, union legitimacy and new attitudes regarding our environment–conserving our national, natural treasures for the future–among other things.

Teddy Roosevelt was a man of the moment and a man with a legacy.

Now think of Barack Obama, the lack of vision, the broken promises, the man in search of an identity:  JFK, FDR, Abraham Lincoln.  And now Teddy Roosevelt.  This is the blank slate upon whom everything has been written but nothing has stuck.  Oh yes, we have the healthcare reform bill, a legislative mystery written behind closed doors then sealed with secret insurance industry deals and wet kisses to Big Pharma.  We also have wars continued and financed, record unemployment [jobs which will not be replaced by pretty words],  nearly 46 million Americans receiving food stamps [1 in 7], houses still underwater with few promised modifications and/or relief and 20+% of our children classified as ‘food insecure.’

This is not a vision.  It’s a disaster.  I’ll leave you with Teddy Roosevelt’s words, from his own Kansas speech:

I stand for the square deal. But when I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the games, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.

And,

The object of government is the welfare of the people. The material progress and prosperity of a nation are desirable chiefly so far as they lead to the moral and material welfare of all good citizens.

And,

One of the fundamental necessities in a representative government such as ours is to make certain that the men to whom the people delegate their power shall serve the people by whom they are elected, and not the special interests. I believe that every national officer, elected or appointed, should be forbidden to perform any service or receive any compensation, directly or indirectly, from interstate corporations; and a similar provision could not fail to be useful within the States.

These are words most of us can believe in, spoken August 31, 1910.  I’d encourage readers to take a few moments and read TR’s words in their entirety.

Then read Obama’s speech.

Two speeches.  Two men.

If President Obama wants to slip on the mantle of Teddy Roosevelt, become a born-again populist in 2012, he’ll need action to prove his words.

Why?

Because the days of blind faith are over.


Occupy Philly and Independence Hall

Black Friday, Philadelphia, Pa.

 My first look at Occupy Philly was after a free ride on the 9:52 Media Local, The Santa Train.  This was not by plan but a matter of sheer coincidence.  I should have guessed; I was the only one standing on the Morton platform without a small child in tow.  But shortly after boarding, it was all too clear.  The elves came first, wailing Jingle Bells and Wish You a Merry Christmas.  They were followed by out-of-season Mummers dressed in holiday garb, belting out another round of X-mas cheer, complete with accordion, banjo and sax.  Mrs. Claus assured the children that Santa was busy, busy at the North Pole, making sure all their wishes [even though edited to economic realities] would come true. And then, there was the free candy and balloon animals.

The magic of childhood!  Where we can believe everything and anything.  When the world appears kind and right and true.

An out-of-stater now, I deliberately got off at Suburban Station, my old work stop.  Also, the stop at which I’ve frequently disembarked to attend exhibits at the Franklin Institute, the Museum of Natural History or the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a brisk walk west up the Parkway, past the Rodin Museum and the soon-to-open home for the controversy-laden Barne’s collection.

But not today. 

This morning I headed east, winding through the underground towards City Hall and the Occupy Philly encampment.  Later, I would team up with a friend and hoof down to the historic district.  But right now, I had a different historical event in mind.

I no sooner hit the outside doors than the vivid blue of plastic tarps and tent tops were visible.  A strange sight.  Normally, I would have walked through the West arch at City Hall, stood for a few moments googling at the city’s Christmas tree.  But this year was different.  So different.

The western entrance to the City Hall complex was barricaded.  ‘For Restoration’ the signs said.  No towering tree this year.  Instead, the Occupy tents decorated Dilworth Plaza, a strange but fascinating sprawl of makeshift living quarters and standard issue camping gear.  The area was quiet and still, the air crisp.  I circled around the entire plaza.  No sight of my friend, so I headed back towards the encampment, spotted the medical and information tents, as well as a petition table outlining the dangers of in-state fracking by over-zealous gas drilling companies.

At the Information Tent there was an array of literature on upcoming actions, the November issue of the Occupy Wall Street Journal and several people discussing Mayor Nutter’s deadline to dismantle the encampment within 48 hours.  Two of the occupiers said almost in unison: ‘It was never about the tents.’

So what is it about? It’s a question I read constantly on the blogs and in newspapers, even hear from family and friends.

Here’s what I learned in the morning hours I spent on the Plaza:

  1. In the 53 days of Occupy Philly, 26,000 local citizens signed on expressing support.
  2. At the height of the encampment, City Hall was encircled with tents, sleeping bags and a variety of makeshift living accommodations.
  3. Active supporters numbered around 200-300, some living on-site, others coming in to protest, march and rally during the day.
  4. Local Unions support the effort.  In fact, the Trades Union offered to assist the protestors in the original plan to move off Dilworth to an encampment across the street.  The Union needs those ‘renovation’ jobs.  That idea was scrapped because permits were denied.
  5. The area was clean.  No needles, drug paraphernalia or trash scattered about as the MSM would have readers/viewers believe taints all encampments. Talking to several encampment members, I was told a goodly portion of each day is spent ‘cleaning up.’
  6. The encampment/protest was peaceful.  There was a sense of community and the overriding sentiment was to voice anger and dissent over the widening income inequality in the US and the corporate capture of all facets of government.
  7. I heard no political posturing or Obama shilling. Simply stated, the system is broken for the 99%.
  8. Forty to fifty of the encampment members were homeless. They joined for the free food and the safety of numbers.
  9. The police presence, even on this Friday morning, was unusually large but basically stationed within the confines of the City Hall plaza.
  10. Though Mayor Nutter had leveled a 48-hour deadline, there was no sense of panic or great urgency the morning I arrived.  I later learned that the majority of the encampment was dismantled voluntarily Sunday evening and the homeless were moved elsewhere for their own safety.
  11. This morning [Wednesday 11/30 at 1:20 am, according to the Associated Press], the Philly police department began tearing down the remaining tents.

But as the protesters I spoke with said: It was never about the tents. It has always been about visibility—the eyesore of inequality, injustice and corruption.

I left Dilworth Plaza, and then headed down to Independence Mall.  A surreal juxtaposition. In a matter of a few blocks, my friend and I walked from the current protest to the historical marker of the Mother of All Protests.  Philadelphia is the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. We strolled through the portrait gallery installed in the Second Bank of the United States and the faces of those earlier protesters, that grand collection of merchants and farmers, philosophers and scientists, lawyers and bankers stared back.  What would they be thinking? I wondered.

We went on to Carpenter’s Hall, where Benjamin Franklin reportedly had secret meetings with like-minded citizens prior to the Revolution.  Years later, on leaving the Constitutional Convention, a woman reportedly asked Franklin what sort of government he and the others had designed. Franklin’s terse reply: ‘A Republic, Ma’am. If you can keep it.’

Our final stop was Independence Hall, which was originally the Pennsylvania State House. This was where the Second Continental Congress met, the Declaration of Independence was adopted and where the Constitutional Convention met to draft, debate, and then sign the US Constitution in 1787.

We’re a long way from who and what we were in 1787. But Franklin’s words have a haunting edge to them: ‘A Republic, Ma’am. If you can keep it.’ Another quote that’s perhaps equally pertinent is:

‘We must hang together, gentleman, or assuredly we will all hang separately.’

For me at least, this is what the Occupy Movement has been and is still about.  In an age where corporations have been awarded the distinction of personhood, when free speech is equated to money and The Rule of Law is applied in an unjust and inequitable fashion then we, ordinary citizens, have a duty to support and join one another in protest. To hang together, if you will.

Oh, and that Tea Party, the real one in Boston that got everything rolling? 

We all recall the ‘taxation without representation’ line from our school years, stemming from the passage of the Stamp Act in the 1760s and later the Tea Act in 1773.  King George had debts to pay off—a Seven Year’s War among other things.  And the East India Company’s tea pitched into the Boston Harbor?  East India was basically provided a monopoly on tea shipped into the colonies. The company [and its aristocratic shareholders] were none too happy about their profits pinched and drowned in the harbor and helped push [lobby] the King to pass the Coercive Acts, aka The Intolerable Acts. The colonists were generally peeved at the British Parliament for taxing them without their consent and then adding insult to injury, giving the East India Co. a cushy, duty-free export to undercut colonial merchants. But they were beyond peeved when punitive measures were leveled. They demanded that Parliament end its corrupt economic policies with and stop the bailout of that era’s own TBTF East India Company.

Sound vaguely familiar?  Whatever’s old is new again. Of course, no one age can be accurately compared to another. Context is everything. To quote Barbara Kingsolver from the November issue of The Occupy Wall Street Journal:

“Every system on earth has its limits. We have never been here before, not right here exactly, you and me together in the golden and gritty places all at once, on deadline, no fooling around this time, no longer walking politely around the dire colossus, the so-called American Way of consecrated corporate profits and crushed public compassion. There is another American Way. This is the right place, we found it. On State of Franklin, we yelled until our throats hurt that we were the 99% because that’s just it. We are.”

As I’ve said elsewhere, I support Occupy until I don’t. The ‘don’t’ for me is if the Movement becomes another co-opted arm of one corrupt political party or another. Our existing two-party system is thoroughly compromised; a shipload of bleach and scrub brushes couldn’t clean it up.  I support Occupy because I hate the idea of leaving my kids and future grandbabies with a broken, twisted Republic, one dedicated to piranha-school profits, the amassing of criminal wealth by a callous, irresponsible few at the expense of the many. I support the Occupiers because of those sweet-faced kids on the Santa train; they deserve the best we have.  But I also support what I saw on Dilworth Plaza because of what I saw and recalled inside Independence Hall, what we owe to all those who sacrificed and struggled, dreamed and achieved, lived, loved and died over the last 200+ years.  We stand on the shoulders of so many.

That’s something we should never forget because our past, our history is no small thing. But our future, that other American Way?  That’s all about what we do now.