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How Inequality is Killing Us September 3, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Health, Poverty.
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Mon, Sep 2, 2013

How Inequality is Killing Usby Susan Rosenthal

BOOK REVIEW: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by R. Wilkinson & K. Pickett (2009/2011)

If a book’s value can be measured by its ability to antagonize right-wing ‘think-tanks,’ then this book is priceless.

The Spirit Level challenges everything we’ve been told about why people get sick and what it takes to be healthy.

While public campaigns lecture us to eat right, stop smoking, exercise more, etc., in fact, our well-being has very little to do with our individual choices and everything to do with how society is structured. Put simply, inequality is extremely bad for our health.

The United States ranks as the world’s most unequal nation, far outstripping all other nations. The top one percent of Americans have a combined net worth that is more than triple the net worth of the other 99 percent combined. And the bottom 40 percent of Americans own less than nothing, because they are sinking in debt.(1) (See the two charts below)

The high cost of inequality

Wilkinson and Pickett compare income inequality within 23 of the world’s richest nations and all fifty US states. They found that, at every income level, people living in more unequal nations and states suffer:

• lower life expectancy

• higher infant mortality

• more homicides

• more anxiety

• more mental illness

• more drug and alcohol addiction

• more obesity

• higher rates of imprisonment

• less social mobility

• more teen pregnancies

• more high-school dropouts

• poorer school performance

• more school-age bullying

And the extent to which people at every income level suffer these problems is directly related to how unequal is the society in which they live.

In contrast, people living in more equal societies and states enjoy better mental, physical and social health – at every income level. And the more equal their societies, the more they enjoy these benefits.

Once everyone has the basic necessities of life, your health and social well-being is determined less by how rich you are than how unequal is the society in which you live. In other words, poorer people in more equal societies are healthier and happier than richer people in more unequal societies.

The difference is significant. A 1990s study of 282 metropolitan areas in the United States found that the greater the difference in income, the more the death rate rose for all income levels, not just for the poor.(2)

Researchers calculated that reducing income inequality to the lowest level found in those areas would save as many lives as would be saved by eradicating heart disease or by preventing all deaths from lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle crashes, HIV infection, suicide and homicide combined.

Inequality divides us

Why would inequality, in and of itself, have such a profound impact? The answer lies in our mammalian biology. As the most social animals on the planet, we are hard-wired to function best in an embracing community.

More than 95 percent of human existence has been spent in egalitarian societies. Because the survival of the group depends on collaboration, all primitive societies developed rules and customs to prevent anyone from rising too high or sinking too low.

However, for the past 10,000 years, most people have lived in class-divided, hierarchical societies. We have adapted to social inequality, but we pay a terrible price.

Consider this statement, “Most people can be trusted.” Would you agree or disagree?

The probability that you would disagree is directly related to the level of income inequality in your society. Wilkinson and Pickett show that people in the most equal nations, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, are six times more likely to trust each other than those in the most unequal nations – Portugal, Singapore and the United States. In short, inequality makes people distrustful.

When society does not take care of us, when we are abandoned to struggle individually, then we distrust others and fear for our safety. As a result, more unequal societies are characterized by more inter-personal competition, more emphasis on individual status and success, less social security, more envy of those above and more disdain for those below.

Fearful distrust compelled George Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin. Fearful distrust prompts us to warn our children about strangers, suspect those who are different, install security systems, view the poor and unemployed as ‘cheaters,’ applaud more spending on police and prisons, and support harsher penalties.

Fearful distrust provides a mass audience for TV shows and movies about traitors, torturers, rapists, sadists, and serial killers. When I asked one person why she followed a particularly gruesome TV serial about psychopathic murderers, she replied, “I want to know what’s out there.” Fearful distrust keeps us isolated and unable to recognize our common interests.

The Spirit Level is rich in information about the benefits of greater equality – enough to convince anyone who cares about human welfare. For that reason, I recommend it most highly. (The book’s facts, charts, and more resources can be found at The Equality Trust).

Unfortunately, the book falls short when it comes to solutions.

Could inequality be legislated away?

The book’s primary weakness is revealed in Robert Reich’s Foreword,

“By and large, ‘the market’ is generating these outlandish results. But the market is a creation of public policies. And public policies, as the authors make clear, can reorganize the market to reverse these trends.” (p.xii)

In reality, capitalism is based on a fundamental inequality: the capitalist class owns the means of production and all that is produced, so it has the power to shape society. The rest of us, who do the actual work of producing, get virtually no say in how society is run. This two-class system cannot be legislated away, any more than the systems of slavery or feudalism could be legislated away.

Most important, the capitalist system is based on the accumulation of capital which, by its very nature, increases inequality.

Every capitalist is committed to raising productivity – increasing the amount of capital that can be squeezed from each worker and confiscated by the employer. As more wealth is extracted from the working class and concentrated in the hands of the one percent, society becomes increasingly unequal. Counter-measures can slow the twin process of capital accumulation and growing inequality, but it can be stopped only by eliminating capitalism.

Could we all live in Sweden?

As Wilkinson and Pickett explain, there are two ways that countries offset rising inequality: by capping higher incomes; and by imposing higher taxes on the rich to pay for social programs. In other words, by holding the very rich down and by elevating everyone else. So it might seem that the solution to inequality could lie in redistributive public policies. However, wanting and needing such policies has never been enough – it’s always required a fight. As the authors point out,

“Sweden’s greater equality originated in the Social Democratic Party’s electoral victory in 1932 which had been preceded by violent labor disputes in which troops had opened fire on sawmill workers.” (p.242)

The book offers more examples of governments that implemented social programs for fear of revolution if they didn’t: the New Deal in the 1930s, the revolutionary wave that struck Europe in the 1840s, the post-war ‘social contract’ in England, the radicalism of the 1960s, etc.

Wilkinson and Pickett recount how income inequality in the United States reached a peak before the Great Crash of 1929. Beginning in the later 1930s, income inequality decreased as workers organized and fought to divert more social wealth to the people who produced it.

Beginning in the 1970s, income inequality began to rise again. This change was marked by an employers’ offensive against unions. As the proportion of workers in unions fell, income inequality rose until it is now similar to the level of inequality that preceded the 1929 crash.

The authors explain that the American example is not unique,

“A study which analysed trends in inequality during the 1980s and 1990s in Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States found that the most important single factor was trade union membership…[D]eclines in trade union membership were most closely associated with widening income differences.” (p.244)

The lesson from these examples is clear: when the working class is ascendant, inequality decreases and society becomes more fair; when the capitalist class is ascendant, inequality increases and society becomes less fair.

Despite their own evidence, the authors do not call for a working-class uprising to reduce, if not eliminate, class inequality. Instead, they state that,

“The transformation of our society is a project in which we all have a shared interest.” (p.237)

This is a fundamental error, because we do not all have a shared interest. Greater equality would require the capitalist class to give up a substantial amount of its wealth and power. History shows that they never do this willingly.

Individual capitalists might see the value of a fairer society, but any who chose to slow the rate of capital accumulation would be replaced by others with no such concern. Moreover, those who accumulate the most capital can ‘buy’ as many politicians as necessary to shape public policies.

Instead of challenging the two-class capitalist system, the authors want to make it more humane by building a network of worker-co-operatives.

“The key is to map out ways in which the new society can begin to grow within and alongside the institutions it may gradually marginalise and replace. That is what making change is really about…What we need is not one big revolution but a continuous stream of small changes in a consistent direction.” (p.236)

Mondragon Corporation in Spain is offered as an example. Mondragon encompasses 120 employee-owned co-ops, 40,000 worker-owners and sales of $4.8 billion US dollars. However, despite being home to one of the world’s largest co-op networks, Spain ranks midway between the most equal and the most unequal nations. And it has recently implemented severe austerity policies that dramatically increase inequality.

Despite their many benefits, worker-owned co-operatives cannot transform society. As Rosa Luxemburg pointed out more than 100 years ago,

“Producers’ co-operatives are excluded from the most important branches of capital production — the textile, mining, metallurgical and petroleum industries, machine construction, locomotive and shipbuilding. For this reason alone, co-operatives in the field of production cannot be seriously considered as the instrument of a general social transformation…Within the framework of present society, producers’ co-operatives are limited to the role of simple annexes to consumers’ co-operatives.” (3)

And one cannot imagine the global military-industrial complex becoming a worker-owned co-op.

To their credit, the authors acknowledge,

“The truth is that modern inequality exists because democracy is excluded from the economic sphere. It needs therefore to be dealt with by an extension of democracy into the workplace.” (p.264)

Realistically, there’s only one way to achieve workplace democracy across the whole of society – a global working-class revolution that takes collective control of production and eliminates the two-class system of capitalism. Then we could build a truly cooperative society in which everyone is equally worthy to share life’s work and life’s rewards.

References

1. Wolff, E.N., “The asset price meltdown and the wealth of the middle class” National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 18559 (2012)

2. Lynch, J.W. et. al. (1998). Income inequality and mortality in metropolitan areas of the United States. Am J Public Health. Vol. 88, pp.1074-1080.

3. Luxemburg, R. (1900/1908). Reform or revolution. London: Bookmarks, p.66.

See also Inequality: The Root Source of Sickness

 

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It Is Illegal To Feed The Homeless In Cities All Over The United States August 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, Food, Housing/Homelessness, Poverty.
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Wikimedia

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By: Michael Snyder,
The Economic Collapse.

What would you do if a police officer threatened to arrest you for trying to share a sandwich with a desperately hungry homeless woman that really needed it?  Such a notion sounds absolutely bizarre, but this is actually happening in major cities all over the United States.  More than 50 large U.S. cities have adopted “anti-camping” or “anti-food sharing” laws in recent years, and in many of these cities the police are strictly enforcing these laws.  Sometimes the goal appears to be to get the homeless people to go away.  Apparently the heartless politicians that are passing these laws believe that if the homeless can’t get any more free food and if they keep getting thrown into prison for “illegal camping” they will eventually decide to go somewhere else where they won’t be hassled so much.  This is yet another example of how heartless our society is becoming.  The middle class is being absolutely shredded and poverty is absolutely exploding, but meanwhile the hearts of many Americans are growing very cold.  If this continues, what is the future of America going to look like?

An organization called Love Wins Ministries made national headlines recently when police in Raleigh, North Carolina threatened to arrest them if they distributed sausage biscuits and coffee to homeless people living in the heart of the city.  Love Wins Ministries had been doing this for years, but now it is apparently illegal.  The following is from someone who was actually there

On the morning of Saturday, August, 24, Love Wins showed up at Moore Square at 9:00 a.m., just like we have done virtually every Saturday and Sunday for the last six years. We provide, without cost or obligation, hot coffee and a breakfast sandwich to anyone who wants one. We keep this promise to our community in cooperation with five different, large suburban churches that help us with manpower and funding.

On that morning three officers from Raleigh Police Department prevented us from doing our work, for the first time ever. An officer said, quite bluntly, that if we attempted to distribute food, we would be arrested.

Our partnering church brought 100 sausage biscuits and large amounts of coffee. We asked the officers for permission to disperse the biscuits to the over 70 people who had lined up, waiting to eat. They said no. I had to face those who were waiting and tell them that I could not feed them, or I would be arrested.

Does reading that upset you?

It should.

And this is not just happening in Raleigh – this is literally happening all over the country.

In Orlando, Florida laws against feeding the homeless were actually upheld in court…

Since when is it illegal to give somebody food? In Orlando FL, it has been since April 2011, when a group of activists lost a court battle against the city to overturn its 2006 laws that restrict sharing food with groups of more than 25 people. The ordinance requires those who do these “large” charitable food sharings in parks within two miles of City Hall to obtain a permit and limits each group to two permits per park for a year.

That is yet another example of how corrupt and unjust our court system has become.

The funny thing is that some of these control freak politicians actually believe that they are “helping” the homeless by passing such laws.  In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has banned citizens from donating food directly to homeless shelters and he is actually convinced that it was the right thing to do for the homeless…

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s food police have struck again!

Outlawed are food donations to homeless shelters because the city can’t assess their salt, fat and fiber content, reports CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

Glenn Richter arrived at a West Side synagogue on Monday to collect surplus bagels — fresh nutritious bagels — to donate to the poor. However, under a new edict from Bloomberg’s food police he can no longer donate the food to city homeless shelters.

Do you really think that the homeless care about the “salt, fat and fiber content” of their food?

Of course not.

They just want to eat.

It would be one thing if there were just a few isolated cities around the nation that were passing these kinds of laws.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  In fact, according to USA Today, more than 50 large cities have passed such laws…

Atlanta, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami, Oklahoma City and more than 50 other cities have previously adopted some kind of anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

You can find many more examples of this phenomenon in one of my previous articles.

What in the world is happening to America?

The way that we treat the most vulnerable members of our society says a lot about who we are as a nation.

Sadly, it is not just our politicians that are becoming heartless.  Below, I have posted a copy of a letter that was sent to a family with a severely autistic child.  This happened up in Canada, but I think that it is a perfect example of how cold and heartless society is becoming…

Letter to family with severely autistic child

Can you believe that?

Hearts are growing cold at the same time that the need for love and compassion in our society is growing.

As I proved the other day, there has not been any economic recovery for most Americans, and a recent CNBC article echoed those sentiments…

How strong the economic recovery has been since the Great Recession ended in 2009 probably depends on viewpoint.

For those in the top 5 percent, the recovery has been pretty good.

As for the other 95 percent, well … maybe not so much.

Even though corporate profits have soared to record levels in recent years and Wall Street has boomed thanks to Federal Reserve money printing, most Americans are still really struggling.  The following very startling chart comes via Jim Quinn’s Burning Platform blog

Corporate Profits And Percentage Of US Population With A Job

The mainstream media continually insists that we are in an “economic recovery” and that the economy “is growing”, but median household income is actually 4.4 percent lower than it was when the last recession officially “ended”.

There aren’t nearly enough jobs for everyone anymore, and the quality of the jobs that do exist continues to decline at a frightening pace.

As a result, more Americans are being forced to turn to the government for help than ever before.  At this point, more than 100 million Americans are on welfare, and that does not even count programs such as Medicare or Social Security.

But nobody should ever look down on those that are getting government assistance.

The truth is that you might be next.

In fact, according to the Associated Press, four out of every five adults in the United States will “struggle with joblessness, near poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives”.

So don’t ever be afraid to feed the homeless or to assist someone in need.

Someday you might be the one that needs the help.


Sources :

  1. The Economic Collapse
  2. Image Credit

Read more http://www.trueactivist.com/it-is-illegal-to-feed-the-homeless-in-cities-all-over-the-united-states/

Obama and GOP Speak Same Language: Corporate Tax Cuts = Jobs August 5, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Labor.
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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

 

There is no jobs creation plan, only a series of corporate tax giveaway programs.”

 

President Obama went to a low wage warehouse in Chattanooga in the right-to-work state of Tennessee to renew his offer to massively lower corporate tax rates – from 35 to 28 percent – and had the nerve to call it a Grand Bargain for the middle class. Surrounding the president were employees who do backbreaking work for $11 or $12 an hour – and can by no stretch of imagination be considered middle class. Obama praised their cutthroat Amazon corporation bosses as the sort of benign masters that he’s depending on to bring the country back to economic health – once they’ve been properly incentivized with lower tax rates, on the one hand, and outright public subsidies, on the other. Amazon is only invested in Tennessee because the state has given the corporation huge tax breaks that will allow it to undercut other book sellers, forcing them out of business and their workers into unemployment. Amazon’s 7,000 new, low wage jobs come at the cost of lay-offs and bankruptcies among its competitors. It’s the Wal-Mart business model, which is quite popular at the White House.

 

The Obamas have a special place in their hearts for corporations of all kinds, as long as they’re big. The president told the Amazon warehouse workers, whose jobs are not very good, that he wants to create good jobs in other industries through renewable energy and electric cars and cheap natural gas – that is, “fracking.” Of course, by that he means providing additional government subsidies and tax breaks to corporations. Good jobs, presumably, will trickle down. Obama urged Congress to pass his Fix-It-First program to rebuild bridges and other public infrastructure, while blaming the Republicans for gutting government through “sequester” of spending. But it was Obama who proposed the sequestration disaster in the first place, as part of his earlier Grand Bargain with the GOP, in 2011.

 

Good jobs, presumably, will trickle down.”

 

Obama used the Chattanooga visit to re-pitch much of his last State of the Union Address, in which he pledged to work for a public private partnership to upgrade the privately-owned U.S. infrastructure, such as energy grids and ports. That’s a euphemism for spending billions in public monies to subsidize private, profit making corporations. Obama calls that a jobs program.

 

He also thinks workers should be appreciative of the Free Trade deals whose proliferation has coincided with the destruction of the U.S. manufacturing base and the loss of millions of jobs that really were “good.” Obama promised to call a meeting of the CEOs of the same corporations that sent the jobs overseas, to ask them to do more for the country – as if they haven’t done enough, already. He’s got another program, called Select USA, that offers tax breaks and other incentives to foreign corporations that locate facilities in the U.S. Since so many U.S. headquartered high-tech corporations, like Apple, are actually Chinese companies for purposes of employment, Obama might as well combine his various tax break programs and hand out the goodies to CEOs regardless of nationality. In fact, that’s close to the actual practice. There is no jobs creation plan, only a series of corporate tax giveaway programs.

 

For workers, there’s the minimum wage, now set at $7.25 an hour. Obama promised, once again, in Chattanooga, to try to raise that to $9.00. But, back in 2008, candidate Obama vowed to fight for $9.50. I guess, somewhere along the way, he lost his incentive. For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

 

Obama Did It For the Money May 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis.
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Roger’s note: Obama strikes again: rewarding another one the architects of the economic disaster that ruined thousands of lives.  But she got him elected and the banksters and the corporate blood-sucking congress-owning community will be pleased; and that is what is important to the president.

The love fest between Barack Obama and his top fundraiser Penny Pritzker that has led to her being nominated as Commerce secretary would not be so unseemly if they both just confessed that they did it for the money. Her money, not his, financed his rise to the White House from less promising days back in Chicago.

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President Barack Obama looks to longtime fundraiser Penny Pritzker, right, as she laughs in the Rose Garden of the White House, where he announced he would nominate Pritzker to run the Commerce Department and economic adviser Michael Froman, left, as the next U.S. Trade Representative. (Photo: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

“Without Penny Pritzker, it is unlikely that Barack Obama ever would have been elected to the United States Senate or the presidency,” according to a gushing New York Times report last year that read like the soaring jacket copy of a steamy romance novel. “When she first backed him during his 2004 Senate run, she was No. 152 on the Forbes list of the wealthiest Americans. He was a long-shot candidate who needed her support and imprimatur. Mr. Obama and Ms. Pritzker grew close, sometimes spending weekends with their families at her summer home.”

But don’t sell the lady short; she wasn’t swept along on some kind of celebrity joyride. Pritzker, the billionaire heir to part of the Hyatt Hotels fortune, has long been first off an avaricious capitalist, and if she backed Obama, it wasn’t for his looks. Never one to rest on the laurels of her immense inherited wealth, Pritzker has always wanted more. That’s what drove her to run Superior Bank into the subprime housing swamp that drowned the institution’s homeowners and depositors alike before she emerged richer than before.

Pritzker and her family had acquired the savings and loan with the help of $600 million in tax credits. She became the new bank’s chairwoman and ended up as a director of the holding company that owned it. Under her leadership, Superior specialized in subprime lending, hustling folks with meager means and poor credit into high interest loans that were bundled into the toxic securities that wrecked the U.S. economy.

As federal regulators began to move in on her bank after it had dangerously inflated the value of its toxic assets, Pritzker assured its employees: “Our commitment to subprime has never been stronger.” Two months later, the bank was pronounced insolvent. At the time, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.‘s inspector general report concluded, “The failure of Superior Bank was directly attributable to the board of directors and executive management ignoring sound risk diversification principles, as evidenced by excessive concentration in residual assets related to subprime lending. …”

No biggie. In announcing her appointment, Obama joked, “For your birthday present, you get to go through confirmation. It’s going to be great.” It’s the same sort of joke he could have cracked in appointing Citigroup alum Jack Lew to be Treasury secretary.

It is deeply revealing that in the midst of the continuing cycle of misery brought on by the chicanery of the financial community two key Cabinet positions dealing with business practices will likely be occupied by people who specialized in those financial rip-offs.

For Pritzker, as with the confirmation of Lew, the fix is in. The Republicans don’t dare push back too hard on shady business practices that their deregulation legislation endorsed, and Democrats will go along with anything the president wants.

The same restraint will be exhibited in exploring the offshore tax havens that have protected the Pritzker family’s immense wealth. Back in 2008, when she had been rumored for this same Cabinet post, Pritzker was queried about avoiding the sort of taxes most ordinary folks are obligated to pay, and she replied in writing: “I am a beneficiary of some non-U.S. situs trusts which were established about 50 years ago (when I was a child) and are administered by a non-U.S.–based financial institution as trustee. I do not control how those assets are administered.” If the Republicans challenge that canard, the Democrats will smugly remind them of Mitt Romney’s tax havens, as if that excuses tax avoidance within their own ranks.

Certainly the Republicans will not raise questions about the anti-union practices that helped create the Hyatt fortune in the first place and continue to this day. Nor will the Democrats, who embrace unions only at national convention time.

“There is a huge unresolved set of issues in the Democratic Party between people of wealth and people who work,” noted Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union, which attempts to organize the miserably paid workers that produced Pritzker’s wealth. “Penny is a living example of that issue.”

But it’s payback time, and even normally progressive Democrats like Pritzker’s home state Sen. Dick Durbin are prepared to roll over. Treating the appointment of billionaire Pritzker as a victory for women everywhere, the senator said she’d “broken through the glass ceiling with her extraordinary intelligence and business acumen.”

Right, Pritzker will be a fine role model for those women working at the Asian factories that she’ll be touring as Commerce secretary extolling the virtues of the American business model.

Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

The White House Un-Reality Show January 24, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, War.
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Wed, 01/23/2013 – 15:25 — Glen Ford


 

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

Despite the fact that “it was Barack Obama who began the current austerity offensive in the weeks before delivering his first inaugural address,” the president was allowed to pose as a champion of the social safety net. Having redefined war, he once again claims to be a peacemaker. By cheering the inaugural speech, progressives are only encouraging Obama’s gaming and mendacity.”

 

The White House Un-Reality Show

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

He merely peppered the speech with progressive buzzwords and references – just enough notes to get the faithful to fill in the empty spaces with their own internal music.”

Like an abusive spouse who preys on the emotional desperation and dependency of his domestic victim, Barack Obama knows that all he need do is offer some cheap street corner flowers and a few sweet words, and the previous nights and months and years of beatings will be forgiven. Just hum a bar or two of an old, shared song, and the battered partner will supply a full symphony of Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra – because she needs to hear it, if only inside her own head.

After four years of chasing Republican skirts in search of a grand austerity bargain; of debauching himself in marathon binges of global lawlessness and aggressive war; of defiling the Bill of Rights through preventive detention and massive domestic spying; of callous neglect of the jobs and lost wealth crisis afflicting the most loyal members of his political family; and of brazen cavorting with the vile and filthy rich, sheltering them from incarceration for crimes against the national and global economy, Barack Obama slunk home on the morning of January 21, to be smothered with kisses.

Much of what passes for the Left, and for traditional African American leadership, agreed with the New York Times’ assessment that Barack Obama’s second inaugural address represented a firm embrace of “a progressive agenda centered on equality and opportunity.” Significantly, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell echoed the sentiment: ”The era of liberalism is back…the speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party inages past.

It is in the mutual interest of corporate media and rightwing Republicans tomove the bar of “progressive” politics ever rightward. However, for African Americans and white progressives, it amounts to erasing their own political legacies from history.

There is no agreement to end U.S. combat involvement in Afghanistan, and no intention of achieving one.”

Actuality, Obama embraced nothing: he merely peppered the speech with progressive buzzwords and references – just enough notes to get the faithful to fill in the empty spaces with their own internal music. It was classic Obama.

A decade of war is now ending,” said the Second Incarnation of Obama, sounding a false “peace” note. If he was talking about Afghanistan, that’s a damnable lie. There is no agreement to end U.S. combat involvement in Afghanistan, and no intention of achieving one – only the stated goal to lower troop levels. The Pentagon is fielding contingencies to reduce U.S. troop strength to between 6,000 and 20,000. (When Obama entered office there were 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which he raised to about 100,000 in the “surge” of 2011.) Although the administration line is that most of the remaining Americans will be “trainers,” they will include thousands of Special Forces troops to continue “counterinsurgency” and “counterterrorism” operations. Special Forces are “trainers” and “force multipliers” by U.S. military definition, “training” native troops while engaged in combat missions. U.S. air forces, drone and manned, will continue to pound targets. Obama’s nearly completed “codification” of U.S. drone policies exempts the CIA from any clear rules for “targeted-killing” drone operations in neighboring Pakistan for at least a year, to allow them to do as much damage as possible in the quest for Obama’s version of peace.

But history may record Obama’s greatest crime against peace as changing the definition of war. According to his unique doctrine, the U.S. cannot be in a state of war, or even “hostilities” with another people or country, unless Americans are killed in the process. Thus, Obama refused to report to the U.S. Congress under the War Powers Act following eight months of bombardment of Libya, claiming no state of war had existed since no Americans had died. By this logic, the U.S. is empowered to bomb anyone, anywhere on the planet at will, without the constraints of national or international law, as long as care is taken to protect the lives of U.S. personnel.

History may record Obama’s greatest crime against peace as changing the definition of war.”

Obama rhetorically abolishes war while promulgating a doctrine of general immunity from the rules of war. Armed with such a concept and vocabulary, he can proceed with the militarization of Africa policy, his “pivot” to contain the Chinese in the Pacific, the terror campaign in Syria, the virtual state of war against Iran, and update of his Kill List in perpetuity. What, then, is the president’s meaning when he tells hundreds of thousands on the National Mall that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war?” This, from a man who makes war on language, itself.

An economic recovery has begun,” said Obama. Not for Blacks, whose official 14 percent unemployment rate is more than twice that of whites (6.9 percent), and whose median household wealth has fallen to one-twentieth that of white families – a catastrophe of historical proportions. The “recovery” is mainly confined to Wall Street, which is awash in cash, thanks to more than four years of free money (for banks, only). This administration’s jobs policy, like the Republicans’, consists almost entirely of tax incentives to business: trickle down. The One Percent’s “rising tide” has lifted only their yachts.

Obama admits that “a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” but has done nothing to curtail the hegemony of Wall Street, the mighty engine of economic inequality. Quite the opposite. His Justice Department has granted blanket immunities from prosecution in both “Scandals of the Century” – the LIBOR interest rate rigging scheme and mortgage robo-signing – letting the mega-crooks off with fines. Nevertheless, liberals were heartened when Obama fixed his lips to say “the free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play” – as if there were even a hint of substance in the verbal exercise.

His Justice Department has granted blanket immunities from prosecution in both ‘Scandals of the Century.’”

As much as 80 percent of the public supports Social Security and Medicare, including the entirety of the president’s Democratic base. Yet, it was Barack Obama who began the current austerity offensive in the weeks before delivering his first inaugural address, informing the New York Times and Washington Post editorial boards that all entitlements would be on the table for chopping during his administration. He followed through by appointing a Deficit Reduction Commission chaired by a far-right Republican and the farthest-right Democrat he could find (Simpson and Bowles), who crafted the blueprint for austerity that became Obama’s model for a grand bargain with the GOP. The deal fell through in 2011 when Republicans balked at even “modest” tax increases on the rich, but there is not a scintilla of evidence that the president has abandoned his long, ideologically-based opposition to the safety net as presently constituted.

Only last month, he offered to alter the way Social Security benefits are calculated – as an opener to negotiations. Obama has shown, by word and deed, that he poses the greatest threat to Social Security in its history – far greater than George W. Bush, whose assault on the New Deal program met ferocious Democratic resistance. Obama will carry much of the Party with him – which is why we at Black Agenda Report call the First Black President “the more effective evil.”

There is not a scintilla of evidence that the president has abandoned his long, ideologically-based opposition to the safety net as presently constituted.”

So, when Obama uses a ceremonial occasion to declare that: “The commitments we make to each other through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, these things do not sap our initiative, they strengthen us” and “…a great nation must care for the vulnerable, and protect its people from life’s worst hazards and misfortune,” it is only cheap rhetoric, signifying nothing. Obama claims he wants to “reform” entitlements in order to “strengthen” them – which is precisely the Republican line. By cheering the inaugural speech, progressives are only encouraging Obama’s gaming and mendacity.

And so it goes. The Great Deporter becomes the great protector of immigrant rights. The man who killed the Kyoto Agreement is heralded as a champion of the environment because he expresses respect for “science” and pledges to somehow “respond to the threat of climate change.” The mention of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s name signifies…what? Nowadays, not a thing.

It is true: Obama is the most gay-friendly president to date. I don’t think U.S. imperialism and Wall Street hegemons have a fundamental problem with that, either.

Apparently, being gay-friendly is all it takes to be considered a champion of a “progressive agenda” in 2013.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

The Untouchables: How the Obama administration protected Wall Street from prosecutions January 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis.
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A new PBS Frontline report examines a profound failure of justice that should be causing serious social unrest

Eric Holder Breuer

Eric Holder talks to DOJ Criminal Chief Lanny Breuer in 2010. Photograph: Jason Reed/Reuters

(updated below – Update II)

PBS‘ Frontline program on Tuesday night broadcast a new one-hour report on one of the greatest and most shameful failings of the Obama administration: the lack of even a single arrest or prosecution of any senior Wall Street banker for the systemic fraud that precipitated the 2008 financial crisis: a crisis from which millions of people around the world are still suffering. What this program particularly demonstrated was that the Obama justice department, in particular the Chief of its Criminal Division, Lanny Breuer, never even tried to hold the high-level criminals accountable.

What Obama justice officials did instead is exactly what they did in the face of high-level Bush era crimes of torture and warrantless eavesdropping: namely, acted to protect the most powerful factions in the society in the face of overwhelming evidence of serious criminality. Indeed, financial elites were not only vested with immunity for their fraud, but thrived as a result of it, even as ordinary Americans continue to suffer the effects of that crisis.

Worst of all, Obama justice officials both shielded and feted these Wall Street oligarchs (who, just by the way, overwhelmingly supported Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign) as they simultaneously prosecuted and imprisoned powerless Americans for far more trivial transgressions. As Harvard law professor Larry Lessig put it two weeks ago when expressing anger over the DOJ’s persecution of Aaron Swartz: “we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House.” (Indeed, as “The Untouchables” put it: while no senior Wall Street executives have been prosecuted, “many small mortgage brokers, loan appraisers and even home buyers” have been).

As I documented at length in my 2011 book on America’s two-tiered justice system, With Liberty and Justice for Some, the evidence that felonies were committed by Wall Street is overwhelming. That evidence directly negates the primary excuse by Breuer (previously offered by Obama himself) that the bad acts of Wall Street were not criminal.

breuer frontlineNumerous documents prove that executives at leading banks, credit agencies, and mortgage brokers were falsely touting assets as sound that knew were junk: the very definition of fraud. As former Wall Street analyst Yves Smith wrote in her book ECONned: “What went on at Lehman and AIG, as well as the chicanery in the CDO [collateralized debt obligation] business, by any sensible standard is criminal.” Even lifelong Wall Street defender Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Chair, said in Congressional testimony that “a lot of that stuff was just plain fraud.”

A New York Times editorial in August explained that the DOJ’s excuse for failing to prosecute Wall Street executives – that it was too hard to obtain convictions – “has always defied common sense – and all the more so now that a fuller picture is emerging of the range of banks’ reckless and lawless activities, including interest-rate rigging, money laundering, securities fraud and excessive speculation.” The Frontline program interviewed former prosecutors, Senate staffers and regulators who unequivocally said the same: it is inconceivable that the DOJ could not have successfully prosecuted at least some high-level Wall Street executives – had they tried.

What’s most remarkable about all of this is not even Wall Street had the audacity to expect the generosity of largesse they ended up receiving. “The Untouchables” begins by recounting the massive financial devastation the 2008 crisis wrought – “the economy was in ruins and bankers were being blamed” – and recounts:

“In 2009, Wall Street bankers were on the defensive, worried they could be held criminally liable for fraud. With a new administration, bankers and their attorneys expected investigations and at least some prosecutions.”

Indeed, the show recalls that both in Washington and the country generally, “there was broad support for prosecuting Wall Street.” Nonetheless: “four years later, there have been no arrests of any senior Wall Street executives.”

In response to the DOJ’s excuse-making that these criminal cases are too hard to win, numerous experts – Senators, top Hill staffers, former DOJ prosecutors – emphasized the key point: Obama officials never even tried. One of the heroes of “The Untouchables”, former Democratic Sen. Ted Kaufman, worked tirelessly to provide the DOJ with all the funds it needed to ensure probing criminal investigations and even to pressure and compel them to do so. Yet when he and his staff would meet with Breuer and other top DOJ officials, they would proudly tout the small mortgage brokers they were pursuing, in response to which Kafuman and his staff said: “No. Don’t show me small-time mortgage guys in California. This is totally about what went on in Wall Street. . . . We are talking about investigating senior level Wall Street executives, even at the Board level”. (The same Lanny Breuer was recently seen announcing that the banking giant HSBC would face no criminal prosecution for its money laundering of funds for designated terrorist groups and drug networks on the ground that the bank was too big to risk prosecuting).

As Kaufman and his staffers make clear, Obama officials were plainly uninterested in pursuing criminal accountability for Wall Street. One former staffer to both Biden and Kaufman, Jeff Connaughton, wrote a book in 2011 – “The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins” – devoted to alerting the nation that the Obama DOJ refused even to try to find criminal culprits on Wall Street. In the book, this career-Democratic-aide-turned-whistleblower details how the levers of Washington power are used to shield and protect high-level Wall Street executives, many of whom have close ties to the leaders of both parties and themselves are former high-level government officials. This is a system, he makes clear, that is constituted to ensure that those executives never face real accountability even for their most egregious and destructive crimes.

The reason there have been no efforts made to criminally investigate is obvious. Former banking regulator and current securities Professor Bill Black told Bill Moyers in 2009 that “Timothy Geithner, the Secretary of the Treasury, and others in the administration, with the banks, are engaged in a cover up to keep us from knowing what went wrong.” In the documentary “Inside Job”, the economist Nouriel Roubini, when asked why there have been no such investigations, replied: “Because then you’d find the culprits.” Underlying all of that is what the Senate’s second-highest ranking Democrat, Dick Durbin, admitted in 2009: the banks “frankly own the place”.

The harms from this refusal to hold Wall Street accountable are the same generated by the general legal immunity the US political culture has vested in its elites. Just as was true for the protection of torturers and illegal eavesdroppers, it ensures that there are no incentives to avoid similar crimes in the future. It is an injustice in its own right to allow those with power and wealth to commit destructive crimes with impunity. It subverts democracy and warps the justice system when a person’s treatment under the law is determined not by their acts but by their power, position, and prestige. And it exposes just how shameful is the American penal state by contrasting the immunity given to the nation’s most powerful with the merciless and brutal punishment meted out to its most marginalized.

The real mystery from all of this is that it has not led to greater social unrest. To some extent, both the early version of the Tea Party and the Occupy movements were spurred by the government’s protection of Wall Street at the expense of everyone else. Still, Americans continue to be plagued by massive unemployment, foreclosures, the threat of austerity and economic insecurity while those who caused those problems have more power and profit than ever. And they watch millions of their fellow citizens be put in cages for relatively minor offenses while the most powerful are free to commit far more serious crimes with complete impunity. Far less injustice than this has spurred serious unrest in other societies.

[The one-hour Frontline program can be viewed in its entirety here.]

New feature

We’re going to institute a new feature tomorrow (Thursday), beginning at 10:00 am EST: a live question-and-answer session between myself and readers regarding columns I’ve written over the last month. At that time tomorrow morning, a column will be posted here in which readers can leave questions, and from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm EST, I’ll be here live to answer selected ones. The exchange will then be posted in a form similar to this one previously done by the Guardian with Clay Shirky. The Guardian has several really good ideas for maximizing the involvement of and interaction with readers in the journalism that it does – a goal that has been important to me since I first began writing about politics online – and this is the first of the features we’ll try in pursuit of that end. I hope everyone inclined to do so is able to participate.

UPDATE

The New York Times’ Dealbook section hosted a Q-and-A today with Martin Smith, the producer of “The Untouchables”. Here is one quite revealing exchange from that (via @QuietAmerican55):

dealbook untouchablesThe Obama administration is not accustomed to actual adversarial journalism that sheds light on their malfeasance. They do not like it. And when they see it, they respond about as petulantly as possible: we will never cooperate with you again! It’s not Frontline’s fault that the Obama administration actively shielded Wall Street from all forms of criminal accountability. If, as seems to be the case, that fact embarrasses them, they should blame those responsible (themselves), not those reporting it.

UPDATE II

The Washington Post is reporting this afternoon that Breuer is planning to leave the DOJ. Given how valiantly he protected Wall Street and HSBC, one need not be Nate Silver to predict with a fair degree of confidence that he’ll land on his feet. Don’t worry: he’ll be fine. When public officials use their government power to serve the interests of private sector elites, they are often lavishly rewarded by the faction they served upon leaving government. That’s one of the key dynamics greasing the sleazy revolving door of Washington. Beyond that, Breuer’s contacts in and influence with the DOJ will be in high demand by corporations, banks and other assorted oligarchs seeking to exercise the legal immunity which US political culture has bestowed on them.

Secrets and Lies of the Wall Street Bailout January 9, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Roger’s note: One does not have to have a Ph.D. in Economics to understand the words “lies” and “secrets.”  Matt Taibbi is one of the finest journalists writing today, and he painstakingly outlines the fraud perpetuated on the American people by the Republicrat government in collusion with the Wall Street financial institutions.

 

Published on Tuesday, January 8, 2013 by Rolling Stone

The federal rescue of Wall Street didn’t fix the economy – it created a permanent bailout state based on a Ponzi-like confidence scheme. And the worst may be yet to come

by Matt Taibbi

It has been four long winters since the federal government, in the hulking, shaven-skulled, Alien Nation-esque form of then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, committed $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street from its own chicanery and greed. To listen to the bankers and their allies in Washington tell it, you’d think the bailout was the best thing to hit the American economy since the invention of the assembly line. Not only did it prevent another Great Depression, we’ve been told, but the money has all been paid back, and the government even made a profit. No harm, no foul – right?

20130104-national-affairs-306x-1357314071

(Illustration by Victor Juhasz)

Wrong.

It was all a lie – one of the biggest and most elaborate falsehoods ever sold to the American people. We were told that the taxpayer was stepping in – only temporarily, mind you – to prop up the economy and save the world from financial catastrophe. What we actually ended up doing was the exact opposite: committing American taxpayers to permanent, blind support of an ungovernable, unregulatable, hyperconcentrated new financial system that exacerbates the greed and inequality that caused the crash, and forces Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup to increase risk rather than reduce it. The result is one of those deals where one wrong decision early on blossoms into a lush nightmare of unintended consequences. We thought we were just letting a friend crash at the house for a few days; we ended up with a family of hillbillies who moved in forever, sleeping nine to a bed and building a meth lab on the front lawn.

How Wall Street Killed Financial Reform

But the most appalling part is the lying. The public has been lied to so shamelessly and so often in the course of the past four years that the failure to tell the truth to the general populace has become a kind of baked-in, official feature of the financial rescue. Money wasn’t the only thing the government gave Wall Street – it also conferred the right to hide the truth from the rest of us. And it was all done in the name of helping regular people and creating jobs. “It is,” says former bailout Inspector General Neil Barofsky, “the ultimate bait-and-switch.”

The bailout deceptions came early, late and in between. There were lies told in the first moments of their inception, and others still being told four years later. The lies, in fact, were the most important mechanisms of the bailout. The only reason investors haven’t run screaming from an obviously corrupt financial marketplace is because the government has gone to such extraordinary lengths to sell the narrative that the problems of 2008 have been fixed. Investors may not actually believe the lie, but they are impressed by how totally committed the government has been, from the very beginning, to selling it.

They Lied to Pass the Bailout

Today what few remember about the bailouts is that we had to approve them. It wasn’t like Paulson could just go out and unilaterally commit trillions of public dollars to rescue Goldman Sachs and Citigroup from their own stupidity and bad management (although the government ended up doing just that, later on). Much as with a declaration of war, a similarly extreme and expensive commitment of public resources, Paulson needed at least a film of congressional approval. And much like the Iraq War resolution, which was only secured after George W. Bush ludicrously warned that Saddam was planning to send drones to spray poison over New York City, the bailouts were pushed through Congress with a series of threats and promises that ranged from the merely ridiculous to the outright deceptive. At one meeting to discuss the original bailout bill – at 11 a.m. on September 18th, 2008 – Paulson actually told members of Congress that $5.5 trillion in wealth would disappear by 2 p.m. that day unless the government took immediate action, and that the world economy would collapse “within 24 hours.”

To be fair, Paulson started out by trying to tell the truth in his own ham-headed, narcissistic way. His first TARP proposal was a three-page absurdity pulled straight from a Beavis and Butt-Head episode – it was basically Paulson saying, “Can you, like, give me some money?” Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, remembers a call with Paulson and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke. “We need $700 billion,” they told Brown, “and we need it in three days.” What’s more, the plan stipulated, Paulson could spend the money however he pleased, without review “by any court of law or any administrative agency.”

The White House and leaders of both parties actually agreed to this preposterous document, but it died in the House when 95 Democrats lined up against it. For an all-too-rare moment during the Bush administration, something resembling sanity prevailed in Washington.

So Paulson came up with a more convincing lie. On paper, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was simple: Treasury would buy $700 billion of troubled mortgages from the banks and then modify them to help struggling homeowners. Section 109 of the act, in fact, specifically empowered the Treasury secretary to “facilitate loan modifications to prevent avoidable foreclosures.” With that promise on the table, wary Democrats finally approved the bailout on October 3rd, 2008. “That provision,” says Barofsky, “is what got the bill passed.”

But within days of passage, the Fed and the Treasury unilaterally decided to abandon the planned purchase of toxic assets in favor of direct injections of billions in cash into companies like Goldman and Citigroup. Overnight, Section 109 was unceremoniously ditched, and what was pitched as a bailout of both banks and homeowners instantly became a bank-only operation – marking the first in a long series of moves in which bailout officials either casually ignored or openly defied their own promises with regard to TARP.

Congress was furious. “We’ve been lied to,” fumed Rep. David Scott, a Democrat from Georgia. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Democrat from Maryland, raged at transparently douchey TARP administrator (and Goldman banker) Neel Kashkari, calling him a “chump” for the banks. And the anger was bipartisan: Republican senators David Vitter of Louisiana and James Inhofe of Oklahoma were so mad about the unilateral changes and lack of oversight that they sponsored a bill in January 2009 to cancel the remaining $350 billion of TARP.

So what did bailout officials do? They put together a proposal full of even bigger deceptions to get it past Congress a second time. That process began almost exactly four years ago – on January 12th and 15th, 2009 – when Larry Summers, the senior economic adviser to President-elect Barack Obama, sent a pair of letters to Congress. The pudgy, stubby­fingered former World Bank economist, who had been forced out as Harvard president for suggesting that women lack a natural aptitude for math and science, begged legislators to reject Vitter’s bill and leave TARP alone.

In the letters, Summers laid out a five-point plan in which the bailout was pitched as a kind of giant populist program to help ordinary Americans. Obama, Summers vowed, would use the money to stimulate bank lending to put people back to work. He even went so far as to say that banks would be denied funding unless they agreed to “increase lending above baseline levels.” He promised that “tough and transparent conditions” would be imposed on bailout recipients, who would not be allowed to use bailout funds toward “enriching shareholders or executives.” As in the original TARP bill, he pledged that bailout money would be used to aid homeowners in foreclosure. And lastly, he promised that the bailouts would be temporary – with a “plan for exit of government intervention” implemented “as quickly as possible.”

The reassurances worked. Once again, TARP survived in Congress – and once again, the bailouts were greenlighted with the aid of Democrats who fell for the old “it’ll help ordinary people” sales pitch. “I feel like they’ve given me a lot of commitment on the housing front,” explained Sen. Mark Begich, a Democrat from Alaska.

But in the end, almost nothing Summers promised actually materialized. A small slice of TARP was earmarked for foreclosure relief, but the resultant aid programs for homeowners turned out to be riddled with problems, for the perfectly logical reason that none of the bailout’s architects gave a shit about them. They were drawn up practically overnight and rushed out the door for purely political reasons – to trick Congress into handing over tons of instant cash for Wall Street, with no strings attached. “Without those assurances, the level of opposition would have remained the same,” says Rep. Raúl Grijalva, a leading progressive who voted against TARP. The promise of housing aid, in particular, turned out to be a “paper tiger.”

HAMP, the signature program to aid poor homeowners, was announced by President Obama on February 18th, 2009. The move inspired CNBC commentator Rick Santelli to go berserk the next day – the infamous viral rant that essentially birthed the Tea Party. Reacting to the news that Obama was planning to use bailout funds to help poor and (presumably) minority homeowners facing foreclosure, Santelli fumed that the president wanted to “subsidize the losers’ mortgages” when he should “reward people that could carry the water, instead of drink the water.” The tirade against “water drinkers” led to the sort of spontaneous nationwide protests one might have expected months before, when we essentially gave a taxpayer-funded blank check to Gamblers Anonymous addicts, the millionaire and billionaire class.

In fact, the amount of money that eventually got spent on homeowner aid now stands as a kind of grotesque joke compared to the Himalayan mountain range of cash that got moved onto the balance sheets of the big banks more or less instantly in the first months of the bailouts. At the start, $50 billion of TARP funds were earmarked for HAMP. In 2010, the size of the program was cut to $30 billion. As of November of last year, a mere $4 billion total has been spent for loan modifications and other homeowner aid.

In short, the bailout program designed to help those lazy, job-averse, “water-drinking” minority homeowners – the one that gave birth to the Tea Party – turns out to have comprised about one percent of total TARP spending. “It’s amazing,” says Paul Kiel, who monitors bailout spending for ProPublica. “It’s probably one of the biggest failures of the Obama administration.”

The failure of HAMP underscores another damning truth – that the Bush-Obama bailout was as purely bipartisan a program as we’ve had. Imagine Obama retaining Don Rumsfeld as defense secretary and still digging for WMDs in the Iraqi desert four years after his election: That’s what it was like when he left Tim Geithner, one of the chief architects of Bush’s bailout, in command of the no-strings­attached rescue four years after Bush left office.

Yet Obama’s HAMP program, as lame as it turned out to be, still stands out as one of the few pre-bailout promises that was even partially fulfilled. Virtually every other promise Summers made in his letters turned out to be total bullshit. And that includes maybe the most important promise of all – the pledge to use the bailout money to put people back to work.

They Lied About Lending

Once TARP passed, the government quickly began loaning out billions to some 500 banks that it deemed “healthy” and “viable.” A few were cash loans, repayable at five percent within the first five years; other deals came due when a bank stock hit a predetermined price. As long as banks held TARP money, they were barred from paying out big cash bonuses to top executives.

But even before Summers promised Congress that banks would be required to increase lending as a condition for receiving bailout funds, officials had already decided not to even ask the banks to use the money to increase lending. In fact, they’d decided not to even ask banks to monitor what they did with the bailout money. Barofsky, the TARP inspector, asked Treasury to include a requirement forcing recipients to explain what they did with the taxpayer money. He was stunned when TARP administrator Kashkari rejected his proposal, telling him lenders would walk away from the program if they had to deal with too many conditions. “The banks won’t participate,” Kashkari said.

Barofsky, a former high-level drug prosecutor who was one of the only bailout officials who didn’t come from Wall Street, didn’t buy that cash-desperate banks would somehow turn down billions in aid. “It was like they were trembling with fear that the banks wouldn’t take the money,” he says. “I never found that terribly convincing.”

In the end, there was no lending requirement attached to any aspect of the bailout, and there never would be. Banks used their hundreds of billions for almost every purpose under the sun – everything, that is, but lending to the homeowners and small businesses and cities they had destroyed. And one of the most disgusting uses they found for all their billions in free government money was to help them earn even more free government money.

To guarantee their soundness, all major banks are required to keep a certain amount of reserve cash at the Fed. In years past, that money didn’t earn interest, for the logical reason that banks shouldn’t get paid to stay solvent. But in 2006 – arguing that banks were losing profits on cash parked at the Fed – regulators agreed to make small interest payments on the money. The move wasn’t set to go into effect until 2011, but when the crash hit, a section was written into TARP that launched the interest payments in October 2008.

In theory, there should never be much money in such reserve accounts, because any halfway-competent bank could make far more money lending the cash out than parking it at the Fed, where it earns a measly quarter of a percent. In August 2008, before the bailout began, there were just $2 billion in excess reserves at the Fed. But by that October, the number had ballooned to $267 billion – and by January 2009, it had grown to $843 billion. That means there was suddenly more money sitting uselessly in Fed accounts than Congress had approved for either the TARP bailout or the much-loathed Obama stimulus. Instead of lending their new cash to struggling homeowners and small businesses, as Summers had promised, the banks were literally sitting on it.

Today, excess reserves at the Fed total an astonishing $1.4 trillion.”The money is just doing nothing,” says Nomi Prins, a former Goldman executive who has spent years monitoring the distribution of bailout money.

Nothing, that is, except earning a few crumbs of risk-free interest for the banks. Prins estimates that the annual haul in interest­ on Fed reserves is about $3.6 billion – a relatively tiny subsidy in the scheme of things, but one that, ironically, just about matches the total amount of bailout money spent on aid to homeowners. Put another way, banks are getting paid about as much every year for not lending money as 1 million Americans received for mortgage modifications and other housing aid in the whole of the past four years.

Moreover, instead of using the bailout money as promised – to jump-start the economy – Wall Street used the funds to make the economy more dangerous. From the start, taxpayer money was used to subsidize a string of finance mergers, from the Chase-Bear Stearns deal to the Wells Fargo­Wachovia merger to Bank of America’s acquisition of Merrill Lynch. Aided by bailout funds, being Too Big to Fail was suddenly Too Good to Pass Up.

Other banks found more creative uses for bailout money. In October 2010, Obama signed a new bailout bill creating a program called the Small Business Lending Fund, in which firms with fewer than $10 billion in assets could apply to share in a pool of $4 billion in public money. As it turned out, however, about a third of the 332 companies that took part in the program used at least some of the money to repay their original TARP loans. Small banks that still owed TARP money essentially took out cheaper loans from the government to repay their more expensive TARP loans – a move that conveniently exempted them from the limits on executive bonuses mandated by the bailout. All told, studies show, $2.2 billion of the $4 billion ended up being spent not on small-business loans, but on TARP repayment. “It’s a bit of a shell game,” admitted John Schmidt, chief operating officer of Iowa-based Heartland Financial, which took $81.7 million from the SBLF and used every penny of it to repay TARP.

Using small-business funds to pay down their own debts, parking huge amounts of cash at the Fed in the midst of a stalled economy – it’s all just evidence of what most Americans know instinctively: that the bailouts didn’t result in much new business lending. If anything, the bailouts actually hindered lending, as banks became more like house pets that grow fat and lazy on two guaranteed meals a day than wild animals that have to go out into the jungle and hunt for opportunities in order to eat. The Fed’s own analysis bears this out: In the first three months of the bailout, as taxpayer billions poured in, TARP recipients slowed down lending at a rate more than double that of banks that didn’t receive TARP funds. The biggest drop in lending – 3.1 percent – came from the biggest bailout recipient, Citigroup. A year later, the inspector general for the bailout found that lending among the nine biggest TARP recipients “did not, in fact, increase.” The bailout didn’t flood the banking system with billions in loans for small businesses, as promised. It just flooded the banking system with billions for the banks.

They Lied About the Health of the Banks

The main reason banks didn’t lend out bailout funds is actually pretty simple: Many of them needed the money just to survive. Which leads to another of the bailout’s broken promises – that taxpayer money would only be handed out to “viable” banks.

Soon after TARP passed, Paulson and other officials announced the guidelines for their unilaterally changed bailout plan. Congress had approved $700 billion to buy up toxic mortgages, but $250 billion of the money was now shifted to direct capital injections for banks. (Although Paulson claimed at the time that handing money directly to the banks was a faster way to restore market confidence than lending it to homeowners, he later confessed that he had been contemplating the direct-cash-injection plan even before the vote.) This new let’s-just-fork-over-cash portion of the bailout was called the Capital Purchase Program. Under the CPP, nine of America’s largest banks – including Citi, Wells Fargo, Goldman, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, State Street and Bank of New York Mellon – received $125 billion, or half of the funds being doled out. Since those nine firms accounted for 75 percent of all assets held in America’s banks – $11 trillion – it made sense they would get the lion’s share of the money. But in announcing the CPP, Paulson and Co. promised that they would only be stuffing cash into “healthy and viable” banks. This, at the core, was the entire justification for the bailout: That the huge infusion of taxpayer cash would not be used to rescue individual banks, but to kick-start the economy as a whole by helping healthy banks start lending again.

This announcement marked the beginning of the legend that certain Wall Street banks only took the bailout money because they were forced to – they didn’t need all those billions, you understand, they just did it for the good of the country. “We did not, at that point, need TARP,” Chase chief Jamie Dimon later claimed, insisting that he only took the money “because we were asked to by the secretary of Treasury.” Goldman chief Lloyd Blankfein similarly claimed that his bank never needed the money, and that he wouldn’t have taken it if he’d known it was “this pregnant with potential for backlash.” A joint statement by Paulson, Bernanke and FDIC chief Sheila Bair praised the nine leading banks as “healthy institutions” that were taking the cash only to “enhance the overall performance of the U.S. economy.”

But right after the bailouts began, soon-to-be Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner admitted to Barofsky, the inspector general, that he and his cohorts had picked the first nine bailout recipients because of their size, without bothering to assess their health and viability. Paulson, meanwhile, later admitted that he had serious concerns about at least one of the nine firms he had publicly pronounced healthy. And in November 2009, Bernanke gave a closed-door interview to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, the body charged with investigating the causes of the economic meltdown, in which he admitted that 12 of the 13 most prominent financial companies in America were on the brink of failure during the time of the initial bailouts.

On the inside, at least, almost everyone connected with the bailout knew that the top banks were in deep trouble. “It became obvious pretty much as soon as I took the job that these companies weren’t really healthy and viable,” says Barofsky, who stepped down as TARP inspector in 2011.

This early episode would prove to be a crucial moment in the history of the bailout. It set the precedent of the government allowing unhealthy banks to not only call themselves healthy, but to get the government to endorse their claims. Projecting an image of soundness was, to the government, more important than disclosing the truth. Officials like Geithner and Paulson seemed to genuinely believe that the market’s fears about corruption in the banking system was a bigger problem than the corruption itself. Time and again, they justified TARP as a move needed to “bolster confidence” in the system – and a key to that effort was keeping the banks’ insolvency a secret. In doing so, they created a bizarre new two-tiered financial market, divided between those who knew the truth about how bad things were and those who did not.

A month or so after the bailout team called the top nine banks “healthy,” it became clear that the biggest recipient, Citigroup, had actually flat-lined on the ER table. Only weeks after Paulson and Co. gave the firm $25 billion in TARP funds, Citi – which was in the midst of posting a quarterly loss of more than $17 billion – came back begging for more. In November 2008, Citi received another $20 billion in cash and more than $300 billion in guarantees.

What’s most amazing about this isn’t that Citi got so much money, but that government-endorsed, fraudulent health ratings magically became part of its bailout. The chief financial regulators – the Fed, the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency – use a ratings system called CAMELS to measure the fitness of institutions. CAMELS stands for Capital, Assets, Management, Earnings, Liquidity and Sensitivity to risk, and it rates firms from one to five, with one being the best and five the crappiest. In the heat of the crisis, just as Citi was receiving the second of what would turn out to be three massive federal bailouts, the bank inexplicably enjoyed a three rating – the financial equivalent of a passing grade. In her book, Bull by the Horns, then-FDIC chief Sheila Bair recounts expressing astonishment to OCC head John Dugan as to why “Citi rated as a CAMELS 3 when it was on the brink of failure.” Dugan essentially answered that “since the government planned on bailing Citi out, the OCC did not plan to change its supervisory rating.” Similarly, the FDIC ended up granting a “systemic risk exception” to Citi, allowing it access to FDIC-bailout help even though the agency knew the bank was on the verge of collapse.

The sweeping impact of these crucial decisions has never been fully appreciated. In the years preceding the bailouts, banks like Citi had been perpetuating a kind of fraud upon the public by pretending to be far healthier than they really were. In some cases, the fraud was outright, as in the case of Lehman Brothers, which was using an arcane accounting trick to book tens of billions of loans as revenues each quarter, making it look like it had more cash than it really did. In other cases, the fraud was more indirect, as in the case of Citi, which in 2007 paid out the third-highest dividend in America – $10.7 billion – despite the fact that it had lost $9.8 billion in the fourth quarter of that year alone. The whole financial sector, in fact, had taken on Ponzi-like characteristics, as many banks were hugely dependent on a continual influx of new money from things like sales of subprime mortgages to cover up massive future liabilities from toxic investments that, sooner or later, were going to come to the surface.

Now, instead of using the bailouts as a clear-the-air moment, the government decided to double down on such fraud, awarding healthy ratings to these failing banks and even twisting its numerical audits and assessments to fit the cooked-up narrative. A major component of the original TARP bailout was a promise to ensure “full and accurate accounting” by conducting regular­ “stress tests” of the bailout recipients. When Geithner announced his stress-test plan in February 2009, a reporter instantly blasted him with an obvious and damning question: Doesn’t the fact that you have to conduct these tests prove that bank regulators, who should already know plenty about banks’ solvency, actually have no idea who is solvent and who isn’t?

The government did wind up conducting regular stress tests of all the major bailout recipients, but the methodology proved to be such an obvious joke that it was even lampooned on Saturday Night Live. (In the skit, Geithner abandons a planned numerical score system because it would unfairly penalize bankers who were “not good at banking.”) In 2009, just after the first round of tests was released, it came out that the Fed had allowed banks to literally rejigger the numbers to make their bottom lines look better. When the Fed found Bank of America had a $50 billion capital hole, for instance, the bank persuaded examiners to cut that number by more than $15 billion because of what it said were “errors made by examiners in the analysis.” Citigroup got its number slashed from $35 billion to $5.5 billion when the bank pleaded with the Fed to give it credit for “pending transactions.”

Such meaningless parodies of oversight continue to this day. Earlier this year, Regions Financial Corp. – a company that had failed to pay back $3.5 billion in TARP loans – passed its stress test. A subsequent analysis by Bloomberg View found that Regions was effectively $525 million in the red. Nonetheless, the bank’s CEO proclaimed that the stress test “demonstrates the strength of our company.” Shortly after the test was concluded, the bank issued $900 million in stock and said it planned on using the cash to pay back some of the money it had borrowed under TARP.

This episode underscores a key feature of the bailout: the government’s decision to use lies as a form of monetary aid. State hands over taxpayer money to functionally insolvent bank; state gives regulatory thumbs up to said bank; bank uses that thumbs up to sell stock; bank pays cash back to state. What’s critical here is not that investors actually buy the Fed’s bullshit accounting – all they have to do is believe the government will backstop Regions either way, healthy or not. “Clearly, the Fed wanted it to attract new investors,” observed Bloomberg, “and those who put fresh capital into Regions this week believe the government won’t let it die.”

Through behavior like this, the government has turned the entire financial system into a kind of vast confidence game – a Ponzi-like scam in which the value of just about everything in the system is inflated because of the widespread belief that the government will step in to prevent losses. Clearly, a government that’s already in debt over its eyes for the next million years does not have enough capital on hand to rescue every Citigroup or Regions Bank in the land should they all go bust tomorrow. But the market is behaving as if Daddy will step in to once again pay the rent the next time any or all of these kids sets the couch on fire and skips out on his security deposit. Just like an actual Ponzi scheme, it works only as long as they don’t have to make good on all the promises they’ve made. They’re building an economy based not on real accounting and real numbers, but on belief. And while the signs of growth and recovery in this new faith-based economy may be fake, one aspect of the bailout has been consistently concrete: the broken promises over executive pay.

They Lied About Bonuses

hat executive bonuses on Wall Street were a political hot potato for the bailout’s architects was obvious from the start. That’s why Summers, in saving the bailout from the ire of Congress, vowed to “limit executive compensation” and devote public money to prevent another financial crisis. And it’s true, TARP did bar recipients from a whole range of exorbitant pay practices, which is one reason the biggest banks, like Goldman Sachs, worked so quickly to repay their TARP loans.

But there were all sorts of ways around the restrictions. Banks could apply to the Fed and other regulators for waivers, which were often approved (one senior FDIC official tells me he recommended denying “golden parachute” payments to Citigroup officials, only to see them approved by superiors). They could get bailouts through programs other than TARP that did not place limits on bonuses. Or they could simply pay bonuses not prohibited under TARP. In one of the worst episodes, the notorious lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac paid out more than $200 million in bonuses­ between 2008 and 2010, even though the firms (a) lost more than $100 billion in 2008 alone, and (b) required nearly $400 billion in federal assistance during the bailout period.

Even worse was the incredible episode in which bailout recipient AIG paid more than $1 million each to 73 employees of AIG Financial Products, the tiny unit widely blamed for having destroyed the insurance giant (and perhaps even triggered the whole crisis) with its reckless issuance of nearly half a trillion dollars in toxic credit-default swaps. The “retention bonuses,” paid after the bailout, went to 11 employees who no longer worked for AIG.

But all of these “exceptions” to the bonus restrictions are far less infuriating, it turns out, than the rule itself. TARP did indeed bar big cash-bonus payouts by firms that still owed money to the government. But those firms were allowed to issue extra compensation to executives in the form of long-term restricted stock. An independent research firm asked to analyze the stock options for The New York Times found that the top five executives at each of the 18 biggest bailout recipients received a total of $142 million in stocks and options. That’s plenty of money all by itself – but thanks in large part to the government’s overt display of support for those firms, the value of those options has soared to $457 million, an average of $4 million per executive.

In other words, we didn’t just allow banks theoretically barred from paying bonuses to pay bonuses. We actually allowed them to pay bigger bonuses than they otherwise could have. Instead of forcing the firms to reward top executives in cash, we allowed them to pay in depressed stock, the value of which we then inflated due to the government’s implicit endorsement of those firms.

All of which leads us to the last and most important deception of the bailouts:

They Lied About the Bailout Being Temporary

The bailout ended up being much bigger than anyone expected, expanded far beyond TARP to include more obscure (and in some cases far larger) programs with names like TALF, TAF, PPIP and TLGP. What’s more, some parts of the bailout were designed to extend far into the future. Companies like AIG, GM and Citigroup, for instance, were given tens of billions of deferred tax assets – allowing them to carry losses from 2008 forward to offset future profits and keep future tax bills down. Official estimates of the bailout’s costs do not include such ongoing giveaways. “This is stuff that’s never going to appear on any report,” says Barofsky.

Citigroup, all by itself, boasts more than $50 billion in deferred tax credits – which is how the firm managed to pay less in taxes in 2011 (it actually received a $144 million credit) than it paid in compensation that year to its since-ousted dingbat CEO, Vikram Pandit (who pocketed $14.9 million). The bailout, in short, enabled the very banks and financial institutions that cratered the global economy to write off the losses from their toxic deals for years to come – further depriving the government of much-needed tax revenues it could have used to help homeowners and small businesses who were screwed over by the banks in the first place.

Even worse, the $700 billion in TARP loans ended up being dwarfed by more than $7.7 trillion in secret emergency lending that the Fed awarded to Wall Street – loans that were only disclosed to the public after Congress forced an extraordinary one-time audit of the Federal Reserve. The extent of this “secret bailout” didn’t come out until November 2011, when Bloomberg Markets, which went to court to win the right to publish the data, detailed how the country’s biggest firms secretly received trillions in near-free money throughout the crisis.

Goldman Sachs, which had made such a big show of being reluctant about accepting $10 billion in TARP money, was quick to cash in on the secret loans being offered by the Fed. By the end of 2008, Goldman had snarfed up $34 billion in federal loans – and it was paying an interest rate of as low as just 0.01 percent for the huge cash infusion. Yet that funding was never disclosed to shareholders or taxpayers, a fact Goldman confirms. “We did not disclose the amount of our participation in the two programs you identify,” says Goldman spokesman Michael Duvally.

Goldman CEO Blankfein later dismissed the importance of the loans, telling the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission that the bank wasn’t “relying on those mechanisms.” But in his book, Bailout, Barofsky says that Paulson told him that he believed Morgan Stanley was “just days” from collapse before government intervention, while Bernanke later admitted that Goldman would have been the next to fall.

Meanwhile, at the same moment that leading banks were taking trillions in secret loans from the Fed, top officials at those firms were buying up stock in their companies, privy to insider info that was not available to the public at large. Stephen Friedman, a Goldman director who was also chairman of the New York Fed, bought more than $4 million of Goldman stock over a five-week period in December 2008 and January 2009 – years before the extent of the firm’s lifeline from the Fed was made public. Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit bought nearly $7 million in Citi stock in November 2008, just as his firm was secretly taking out $99.5 billion in Fed loans. Jamie Dimon bought more than $11 million in Chase stock in early 2009, at a time when his firm was receiving as much as $60 billion in secret Fed loans. When asked by Rolling Stone, Chase could not point to any disclosure of the bank’s borrowing from the Fed until more than a year later, when Dimon wrote about it in a letter to shareholders in March 2010.

The stock purchases by America’s top bankers raise serious questions of insider trading. Two former high-ranking financial regulators tell Rolling Stone that the secret loans were likely subject to a 1989 guideline, issued by the Securities and Exchange Commission in the heat of the savings and loan crisis, which said that financial institutions should disclose the “nature, amounts and effects” of any government aid. At the end of 2011, in fact, the SEC sent letters to Citigroup, Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Wells Fargo asking them why they hadn’t fully disclosed their secret borrowing. All five megabanks essentially replied, to varying degrees of absurdity, that their massive borrowing from the Fed was not “material,” or that the piecemeal disclosure they had engaged in was adequate. Never mind that the law says investors have to be informed right away if CEOs like Dimon and Pandit decide to give themselves a $10,000 raise. According to the banks, it’s none of your business if those same CEOs are making use of a secret $50 billion charge card from the Fed.

The implications here go far beyond the question of whether Dimon and Co. committed insider trading by buying and selling stock while they had access to material nonpublic information about the bailouts. The broader and more pressing concern is the clear implication that by failing to act, federal regulators­ have tacitly approved the nondisclosure. Instead of trusting the markets to do the right thing when provided with accurate information, the government has instead channeled Jack Nicholson – and decided that the public just can’t handle the truth.

All of this – the willingness to call dying banks healthy, the sham stress tests, the failure to enforce bonus rules, the seeming indifference to public disclosure, not to mention the shocking­ lack of criminal investigations into fraud committed by bailout recipients before the crash – comprised the largest and most valuable bailout of all. Brick by brick, statement by reassuring statement, bailout officials have spent years building the government’s great Implicit Guarantee to the biggest companies on Wall Street: We will be there for you, always, no matter how much you screw up. We will lie for you and let you get away with just about anything. We will make this ongoing bailout a pervasive and permanent part of the financial system. And most important of all, we will publicly commit to this policy, being so obvious about it that the markets will be able to put an exact price tag on the value of our preferential treatment.

The first independent study that attempted to put a numerical value on the Implicit Guarantee popped up about a year after the crash, in September 2009, when Dean Baker and Travis McArthur of the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a paper called “The Value of the ‘Too Big to Fail’ Big Bank Subsidy.” Baker and McArthur found that prior to the last quarter of 2007, just before the start of the crisis, financial firms with $100 billion or more in assets were paying on average about 0.29 percent less to borrow money than smaller firms.

By the second quarter of 2009, however, once the bailouts were in full swing, that spread had widened to 0.78 percent. The conclusion was simple: Lenders were about a half a point more willing to lend to a bank with implied government backing – even a proven-stupid bank – than they were to lend to companies who “must borrow based on their own credit worthiness.” The economists estimated that the lending gap amounted to an annual subsidy of $34 billion a year to the nation’s 18 biggest banks.

Today the borrowing advantage of a big bank remains almost exactly what it was three years ago – about 50 basis points, or half a percent. “These megabanks still receive subsidies in the sense that they can borrow on the capital markets at a discount rate of 50 or 70 points because of the implicit view that these banks are Too Big to Fail,” says Sen. Brown.

Why does the market believe that? Because the officials who administered the bailouts made that point explicitly, over and over again. When Geithner announced the implementation of the stress tests in 2009, for instance, he declared that banks who didn’t have enough money to pass the test could get it from the government. “We’re going to help this process by providing a new program of capital support for those institutions that need it,” Geithner said. The message, says Barofsky, was clear: “If the banks cannot raise capital, we will do it for them.” It was an Implicit Guarantee that the banks would not be allowed to fail – a point that Geithner and other officials repeatedly stressed over the years. “The markets took all those little comments by Geithner as a clue that the government is looking out for them,” says Baker. That psychological signaling, he concludes, is responsible for the crucial half-point borrowing spread.

The inherent advantage of bigger banks – the permanent, ongoing bailout they are still receiving from the government – has led to a host of gruesome consequences. All the big banks have paid back their TARP loans, while more than 300 smaller firms are still struggling to repay their bailout debts. Even worse, the big banks, instead of breaking down into manageable parts and becoming more efficient, have grown even bigger and more unmanageable, making the economy far more concentrated and dangerous than it was before. America’s six largest banks – Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – now have a combined 14,420 subsidiaries, making them so big as to be effectively beyond regulation. A recent study by the Kansas City Fed found that it would take 70,000 examiners to inspect such trillion-dollar banks with the same level of attention normally given to a community bank. “The complexity is so overwhelming that no regulator can follow it well enough to regulate the way we need to,” says Sen. Brown, who is drafting a bill to break up the megabanks.

Worst of all, the Implicit Guarantee has led to a dangerous shift in banking behavior. With an apparently endless stream of free or almost-free money available to banks – coupled with a well-founded feeling among bankers that the government will back them up if anything goes wrong – banks have made a dramatic move into riskier and more speculative investments, including everything from high-risk corporate bonds to mortgage­backed securities to payday loans, the sleaziest and most disreputable end of the financial system. In 2011, banks increased their investments in junk-rated companies by 74 percent, and began systematically easing their lending standards in search of more high-yield customers to lend to.

This is a virtual repeat of the financial crisis, in which a wave of greed caused bankers to recklessly chase yield everywhere, to the point where lowering lending standards became the norm. Now the government, with its Implicit Guarantee, is causing exactly the same behavior – meaning the bailouts have brought us right back to where we started. “Government intervention,” says Klaus Schaeck, an expert on bailouts who has served as a World Bank consultant, “has definitely resulted in increased risk.”

And while the economy still mostly sucks overall, there’s never been a better time to be a Too Big to Fail bank. Wells Fargo reported a third-quarter profit of nearly $5 billion last year, while JP Morgan Chase pocketed $5.3 billion – roughly double what both banks earned in the third quarter of 2006, at the height of the mortgage bubble. As the driver of their success, both banks cite strong performance in – you guessed it – the mortgage market.

So what exactly did the bailout accomplish? It built a banking system that discriminates against community banks, makes Too Big to Fail banks even Too Bigger to Failier, increases risk, discourages sound business lending and punishes savings by making it even easier and more profitable to chase high-yield investments than to compete for small depositors. The bailout has also made lying on behalf of our biggest and most corrupt banks the official policy of the United States government. And if any one of those banks fails, it will cause another financial crisis, meaning we’re essentially wedded to that policy for the rest of eternity – or at least until the markets call our bluff, which could happen any minute now.

Other than that, the bailout was a smashing success.

© 2012 Rolling Stone
matt-taibbi

As Rolling Stone’s chief political reporter, Matt Taibbi’s predecessors include the likes of journalistic giants Hunter S. Thompson and P.J. O’Rourke. Taibbi’s 2004 campaign journal Spanking the Donkey cemented his status as an incisive, irreverent, zero-bullshit reporter. His books include Griftopia: A Story of Bankers, Politicians, and the Most Audacious Power Grab in American History, The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion, Smells Like Dead Elephants: Dispatches from a Rotting Empire.

A Death in the Family — and the Question Is: Whodunit? December 3, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Food, Labor.
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Published on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 by Creators.com

twinkies

Born in 1930 in Schiller Park, Ill., the deceased was 82 years old at the time of passing, which ironically was the day before Thanksgiving.

Having long enjoyed the sweet life, the end was a bit bitter, for the dearly departed’s estate had been mercilessly plundered in recent years by unscrupulous money managers. This left 18,500 surviving family members in dire straits. Indeed, the family contends that the octogenarian’s death was not due to natural causes, but to foul play — a case of corporate murder.

This is the drama behind the sudden death of Twinkies. Fondly remembered as “the cream puff of the proletariat” (and less fondly as a sugar-and-fat bomb that delivered a toothache in one bite and a heart attack in the next), this industrial concoction of 37 ingredients became, for better or worse, an icon of American food processing.

The father of the Twinkie was James Dewar, a baker at the old Continental Baking Co. who saw the goo-filled tube cake as a way to keep the factory’s confection machinery busy after strawberry shortcake season ended. Yes, the Twinkie was actually conceived as “food” for idle machines. How fitting is that?

But us humans happily swallowed this extruded marvel of comestible engineering. As a teenager, I probably downed my weight in Twinkies each year — and my long years on this Earth might well be due to the heavy dose of preservatives, artificial flavors and other chemicals baked into every one of those cellophane-wrapped two-packs that I consumed.

The Twinkie was the best-seller of Hostess Brands, a conglomerate purveyor of some 30 nutritionally challenged (but moneymaking) brand-name food products, ranging from Wonder Bread to Ho Hos. In the past year, Hostess racked up $2.5 billion in sales — yet it suffered a staggering $1.1 billion in losses. Thus, on Nov. 21, Ripplewood Holdings, the private equity outfit that had taken over the conglomerate in 2009, pulled the plug, solemnly announcing that Hostess simply couldn’t survive.

Why? Because it was burdened with overly generous labor contracts, the firm’s executives declared, adding that greedy union officials refused to save the company by taking cuts.

Wait a minute. They claim that the bereaved loved ones of the Hostess family killed the Twinkie? Holy Agatha Christie, that can’t be right.

Remember the horrible murders in 1978 of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk? At the killer’s trial, his lawyer argued for leniency on the grounds that his client subsisted on a steady diet of junk food, which had addled his brain. This claim entered the annals of American jurisprudence as the “Twinkie Defense.”

Even less defensible is the campaign by Ripplewood financial manipulators to lay the death of Hostess at the feet of loyal, longtime employees who, after all, need the jobs. In fact, far from greedy, Hostess workers and their unions have been both modest and faithful. Their wages are decent but not at all excessive — only middle class. And the charge that unions would not make sacrifices to help the company is a flat-out lie, for they had previously given back $100 million in annual wages and benefits to help it survive.

The true perfidy in this drama is not in the union, but inside Ripplewood’s towering castle of high finance in New York City. After buying Hostess in a bankruptcy sale, these equity hucksters proceeded to feather their own nests, rather than modernize Hostess’s equipment and upgrade its products, as the unions had urged. For starters, these profiteers piled an unbearable debt load of $860 million on Hostess, thus diverting its revenues into nonproductive interest payments made to rich, absentee speculators. Also, they siphoned millions of dollars out of Hostess directly into their corporate pockets by charging “consulting and management fees” that did nothing to improve the snack-makers financial health.

But it was not until this year that their rank managerial incompetence and raw ethical depravity fully surfaced. While the Ripplewood honchos in charge of Hostess were demanding a new round of deep cuts in worker’s pay, health care, and pensions, they quietly jacked up their own pay. By a lot! The CEO’s paycheck, for example, rocketed from $750,000 a year to $2.5 million.

Like a character in a bad Agatha Christie whodunit, Ripplewood — the one so insistently pointing the finger of blame at others — turns out to be the one who killed the Twinkie. Along with the livelihoods of 18,500 workers

© 2012 Jim Hightower

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Jim Hightower

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow, Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

One Man is Selling Our Our Democracy November 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Economic Crisis, Foreign Policy.
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1 comment so far

Harper’s about to sign Canada up to a crazy deal that allows China’s companies to sue us if we pass laws protecting our health and environment that effect their profits. But massive public opposition has thrown him, and if we crank up the pressure we can actually stop this disaster.Join the call now:

http://u243202.sendgrid.org/wf/click?upn=9m5NmI03NJmwb1LZi3cAlXdq4uBtXqlhovl4-2ByFPuDUYORlPmiWl2bPR9lje0llUwIDTD6urkujEETLhsaL8U-2Fcz8ke0vilohX5SzI5K3cc-3D_ngUieyHPTdRZWTLo-2Bj7nshMPjHDAkeLo8LoVTKP1FxpUrpjInrsnf7aoggPtnbEVLw5jZJ-2F4ViiSbxL85Rt8l05N8OCswDlj2zgQrC-2BWJ4Y3gK52uWZx59-2BIQU-2BjGMFQt9HTn6X5yEYIOi9qgWnPqLWjI1CqDfNfBCiNBLorwfTaER0pReDHFks-2Bwxu-2BeRJNGOKxL5CqqYIcLqYmu5gMNK2dGH-2BFeS6lzegOXcpibEnNnlTZkJ9eyFL3Dyy7NMOnBYlOEPjsj-2B6daBpdNnjeMUdIxFt4Y4FtjJcggOA5B3ncKyCPGR-2FdhMo6GncxQR8Wb2RlGFkF2Q3WNCqxzcy3OaoBsT6xOYywHQUK7iJJKx1-2FQGbAWq20hFa6qvez39v-2F

 

Harper is about to sign a crazy deal with China that would set up secret courts where China’s companies can sue Canada if we pass laws to protect our health and environment that effect their profits.

 
But Harper’s been thrown by the growing public opposition to his plan – even among conservatives — and we actually have a chance to kill this disaster. He’s already delayed signing the deal, and if we can crank up the pressure we can force him to back down.

 
We need to show just how many people oppose this thing if we’re going to win. Join the campaign now and forward this to everyone you know — when we’re 50,000 strong, we’ll take our voices to Ottawa with a message Harper can’t ignore:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/one_man_is_selling_out_our_democracy/?sg

 
The treaty, known as the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Act (FIPPA), is a bad deal for Canada: China keeps way more exemptions for national subsidies, protects more industries from Canada’s investors and it creates a secret tribunal that’s unlikely to do any good for Canada if China breaks the terms of the deal — in the last 15 years, no country has successfully sued China under one of these agreements!

 
This is also a desperate attempt by Harper to ramp up exploitation of our natural resources. The treaty could drastically hamper our ability to legislate to protect our environment. Big business in China has already spent $13 billion on the tar sands and want a large stake in the Northern Gateway pipeline — and this deal could mean any attempt to stop or regulate those projects could cost billions in Canadian taxpayer dollars.

 
Belgium signed a similar deal with China and it’s already being sued for billions. We can make sure this doesn’t happen here. For once, Harper’s been genuinely thrown by the depth of opposition to this deal, and we have to keep up the pressure. Sign now and share with everyone:
http://www.avaaz.org/en/one_man_is_selling_out_our_democracy/?sg

 
Together, we know we can beat the worst of Harper’s brutal agenda. Last year, more than 100,000 Canadian Avaazers came together to defeat an attempt to set up a “Fox News North” and protect balanced reporting in Canada. With thousands of Canadians already speaking out against this sovereignty fire-sale to China we can stop Harper and safeguard our democracy again.

 
With hope,
Jeremy, Emma, Ari, Ricken, Melanie and the rest of the Avaaz team

 
SOURCES

 
Canada-China investment deal allows for confidential lawsuits against Canada (Toronto Star): http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1264290–canada-china-investment-deal-allows-for-confidential-lawsuits-against-canada

 
14 reasons why Canada-China investment deal needs more time, debate (Vancouver Observer): http://www.vancouverobserver.com/politics/commentary/14-reasons-why-canada-china-investment-deal-needs-more-time-debate

 
‘Flawed’ investment treaty with China on fast track to ratification (Canadian Business): http://www.canadianbusiness.com/article/102764–flawed-investment-treaty-with-china-on-fast-track-to-ratification-critics

 
Canadians are nervous about China trade pact. They should be (iPolitics): http://www.ipolitics.ca/2012/11/14/dnp-trew/

 
China Treaty Uproar Signals Growing Rift Between Ottawa, Grassroots Conservatives (Dogwood Initiative): http://dogwoodinitiative.org/blog/china-canada-treaty

 

 


Avaaz.org is a 16-million-person global campaign network that works to ensure that the views and values of the world’s people shape global decision-making. (“Avaaz” means “voice” or “song” in many languages.) Avaaz members live in every nation of the world; our team is spread across 19 countries on 6 continents and operates in 14 languages. Learn about some of Avaaz’s biggest campaigns here. To ensure that Avaaz messages reach your inbox, please add avaaz@avaaz.org to your address book. To change your email address, language settings, or other personal information, www.avaaz.org/en/contact, or simply go here to unsubscribe.
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Attention WalMart Shoppers: Cynical Hypocrisy In Aisle Two November 20, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Labor, Uncategorized.
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by Abby Zimet

With more and more WalMart workers joining protests and threatening to join a nationwide walkout on Black Friday, the company has filed a complaint with the National Relations Board arguing that workers seeking a decent wage and reasonable working conditions have “created an uncomfortable environment and undue stress on Walmart’s customers, including families with children.” So if the lousy syntax wasn’t bad enough, the company that by some estimates pays its CEO more in one hour than it pays its retail employees in a year – a wage so low that most of its employees with kids live below the poverty line – is saying they’re worried about families with children? R-i-g-h-t. They also threaten to hold those uppity workers “accountable.” Accountable?! Now there’s an idea. More on why this strike matters. And a reminder: If you’re shopping, go local.

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