Facebook Badge

Toll Free Numbers To The Washington Switchboard

1-866 338-1015
1-866 220-0044

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Bailout: How Capitalism Killed Democracy | | AlterNet

The Bailout: How Capitalism Killed Democracy | | AlterNet

As a financial crisis became a political panic, capitalism murdered democracy (ironically, while pursuing a vaguely socialist bailout). Only, unlike a typical horror story, the dead body wasn't hidden, it was dumped in the nation's public square.

The fiasco started, like most, with unreasonable demands. Under threat of financial meltdown, capitalism's corporate lobbyists asked our democracy to forsake its usual deliberations and hand over $700 billion of taxpayer money in less than a week.

Many were surprised when democracy responded with such valiant defiance. As television screens split between the floors of the stock exchange and the House of Representatives, lawmakers initially voted with their constituents and against the bailout.

That's when this husband-and-wife argument escalated into a grisly crime of passion.

CNN's Ali Velshi frothed that "the banks and the companies don't care about the intricacies" of democratic deliberations. A CEO angrily told CNN that "the money is being held hostage to the political process" -- as if government resources are rightfully Wall Street's. And as the Dow tanked, the Chamber of Commerce threatened retribution against recalcitrant lawmakers.

The final deathblow came from TINA, shorthand for "There Is No Alternative" -- the motto that Margaret Thatcher used to peddle her corporatism, and that Washington and Wall Street used to promote theirs.

Whether it was a Barclays Capital executive telling reporters "there is no choice" or Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., insisting that "this needs to be done and it needs to be done right away," responsibly democratic prescriptions were pulverized by capitalism's deranged mantra of inevitability and urgency. To even mention, as economist Dean Baker did, that the taxpayer giveaway could exacerbate the crisis was to risk flogging by columnists like Tom Friedman. The sycophantic flat-earther vilified bailout opponents (i.e., most Americans) as mentally incapacitated deadbeats who "can't balance their own checkbooks."

By the time the fight hit Congress' upper chamber, senatorial morticians were embalming democracy's corpse. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., permitted consideration of just one alternative, and he rigged parliamentary procedure to guarantee its defeat.

Yet, if capitalism took democracy's life through a perverse legislative process, then it robbed its grave with the bailout bill's substance.

American democracy is defined by vesting government power in systems and rules, not in individuals and whims. We have been, as John Adams wrote, "an empire of laws, and not of men" -- until now.

Instead of responding to this meltdown by updating regulatory institutions or investing in job-creating infrastructure, the bailout proposes giving one unelected appointee -- the Treasury Secretary -- complete authority to dole out $700 billion to bank executives, with little oversight. And here's the scary part: That lurch toward dictatorship was motivated not just by crony corruption, but also by a deeper ideological shift.

We now face market forces uninhibited by democratic governance -- Chinese dictators and Saudi princes can move trillions of dollars without so much as a press release. This bailout, marketed as a speed enhancer, is an aggressive attempt to discard democracy's checks and balances and pantomime that kind of autocracy.

While our political culture still required a public sales job (thus, the fearmongering), the bill's czarism aims to permanently euthanize democracy in the name of improving our capitalism's global agility. In that sense, this week's spousal killing wasn't random. It was the beginning of a systematic assault on our Constitution and a radical departure from Franklin Roosevelt's original covenant -- a dangerous "new deal" we must say "no deal" to.

Monday, September 29, 2008

My Vote For President Of The United States 2008

Date: September 9, 2008

by Jeff Cohen
Founder & CEO of USElections.com

It's that time again....

Yes, it's time for me to enlighten you as to my vote for the President of The United States.

By November 4th, over 1 million people will visit USElections.com & I am ready to divulge my choice.

As a registered independent voter and a very open-minded person, I sit back and watch the mindless politicking, back-stabbing and sheer madness unfold with a beer and bowl of popcorn before I finally reach my verdict.

It's no secret that I have found the past 8 years to be a complete, undisputed train-wreck. Here are just a handful of problems we face:

  • a $10+ trillion dollar national debt,
  • horrific deficits,
  • an abysmal, crashing domestic economic policy,
  • increasing job losses,
  • a growing housing & credit crisis,
  • a debt-ridden middle & lower classes,
  • an unbelievably corrupt banking system,
  • a non-existent energy policy,
  • an inept FDA and unsafe food supply,
  • 2 poorly run wars,
  • pathetic border security,
  • and a shoot first you're not allowed to ask questions later foreign policy.

Old friends & allies must be standing beside each other asking "what the bloody hell happened to the USA - the beacon of freedom?" We're also just a Texas two-step away from becoming a police state thanks to our wonderful Patriot Act.

Our current adminstration sold us out. Period. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Please take your croneys and country-wreckers with you.

A side note: Does anyone else find it troubling that we will try to impeach a president for lying about getting some hot oral sex in the oval office and hurting no one, but not a president who starts a $600 billion dollar bullshit war in Iraq, based totally on bogus evidence, which has gotten over 4,000 of our troops killed and 30,000 more wounded?

I'm thrilled the "surge" is making progress. Our troops rock! The mega-bribing of all the local militias to fight with us is also speeding up the process. But we shouldn't have gone into Iraq in the first place. They didn't attack us on September 11. Al Qaeda did. And by the way, where's Bin Laden? How about sending more troops to Afganistan to finish the job. How about providing our troops with the armor they need as well while we're at it.


Now to our congress. They are so bought off by big corporations & their lobbyists who fund their election-time "war-chests" that they wouldn't know how to act on behalf of the average American citizen if it hit them square in the face. Enough with the sex scandals too. Keep it in your pants for heavens sake.

It is an utter disgrace and time for a change before this country goes bankrupt. Oh wait, we are. I believe the new terminology is "insolvent." How much more paper money can we possibly print up? How many more crooked bailouts does the American taxpayer have to pay for?

If I could vote for "none of the above" I would do so on principle alone. However, our country is controlled by two parties: the Democrats and Republicans. So, my choice comes down to the better of two options or lesser of two evils - whichever you prefer.

First, my thoughts on the dog and pony shows we call conventions.

Democrats: I felt inspired and hopeful. Yes, it's true. You folks have great speechwriters. Barack Obama's speech was captivating. I also saw a large, very diverse crowd of Americans cheering him on. Every age group, blue-collar, white-collar & every ethnicity represented. Most importantly, I caught a glimpse of a vision. Vague, of course, but at least a glimpse. And I like what I heard. But, is it "change we can believe in?" Your guess is as good as mine.

Republicans: How many elitists and geriatrics can you fit into one auditorium? I found the tone, gross inaccuracies, and let's scare the American people one more time stale and disturbing. I saw no vision at all in your speeches. At least not one I want to look forward to. Did I actually hear the words "change is coming?" What a complete farse. I started laughing. I'm not taking the bait this time. The only thing you've remembered to change the in the past 8 years is your underwear between debacles.

Another side note: The Republican slogan "Country First" doesn't do anything for me. We all know we are Americans. What kind of image is it supposed to elicit? I'm drawing a blank. A subtle war cry, maybe? Hey Democrats, how about countering that with "Families First." That should piss off the far right who think they own family values but are stunningly supportive of Palin's unwed pregnant teenage daughter. How two-faced.

Enough digressing and marketing advice.

The candidates.

John McCain. I used to like this 'maverick' when indeed he was a maverick. I'd have considered voting for him 8 years ago. Maybe even 4 years ago. His straight talk express over the years has been refreshing. Of all the Republican candidates, I am thankful it's him. The 'religious right' has screwed us enough. Anyone remember the term "separation of church and state?" Our founding fathers must be rolling over in their graves by now. My 3 big issues with McCain are his self-expressed lack of understanding of our economy, his drill, drill, drill energy policy (sheer, unadulterated lunacy & stupidity), and if he is elected president I believe he will bring about World War III. Lest you not forget his Bomb-Bomb-Bomb-Iran jingle? Or the increasing tension with Russia lately. Is his age a problem? Yes, it's a concern but not a deal breaker. I think his dinosaur ideology is the problem I have with him. Our country needs to move forward in an entirely new & different direction. A prosperous future begins with an innovative energy policy as we are all finally waking up to - and he DOES NOT HAVE ONE. Period. Don't bother arguing with me on this. He is simply a continuation of the past 8 years with maybe some minor tweaks. The rich will get even richer and the lower & middle classes will continue to be shredded to a pulp. Nothing will change. You'll just be even poorer than you are now. Is Sarah Palin a high-risk gamble for VP, orchestrated to rally their conservative base with a fresh face? Yes. Is she qualified for the job? No. Not even remotely. Her 15 minutes of fame are about up. Having Palin one heartbeat away from the "big chair" is frightening. I cannot vote for this ticket. No way.

I do not think John McCain is the man who has a fresh, creative, optimistic approach to move our great country forward at a time when we desparately need one.

Oh, and if John McCain does win, and 2 Supreme Court Justices need to be replaced (which is very likely), a woman's right to choose will become an illegal, arrestible crime. No exceptions. If God-forbid you were raped, too bad for you as well. Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. Abortions will be reduced to dark, secret back-alley procedures. For the wealthy though, they'll get on a plane, go on "vacation" outside the USA for a few days, and miraculously come back no longer pregnant.

Barack Obama. Like many, I've been drawn to him since his locomotive began gaining steam. Yes, I know, it was supposed to be Hillary's nomination. I expected it to be Hillary too. But she lost me with her fabricated sniper fire story. I didn't trust anything that came out of her mouth after that. Sorry Hil. So, I continued watching Obama from afar with increasing intrigue. Speech after speech. Debate after debate. Amazing crowds and a growing sense that this guy could actually pull it off and win come November. My conclusion? I feel his message of hope, change and compassion for others is genuine - and at a time of great need in this country. He articulates himself well and has, to date, stood above the fray despite the endless loads of crap thrown in his direction. He has survived, and even thrived, thru controversial remarks by both him and those in his life. His campaign has remained unbelievably consistent and on message. He appears to be a stand-up guy who, if elected, would garner both trust and sound decision making here AND overseas. What do I base this on? Is it his experience? No. Experience is apparantly overrated. Just look at the past 8 years. All the experience in the world didn't help the current moronic administration one bit. It's based on character and integrity. It's about the people who will be around him. I believe Barak Obama will surround himself with the best qualified people who will assist him with the goal of shaping an inspiring path forward. We need jobs, healthcare, infrastructure, education and a better economy. Like NOW. The $600 billion dollars wasted in Iraq could have funded much of this and made our lives, and our childrens lives, better. Once on this path forward again, we can then begin to repair the incredible damage to our reputation and leadership we have destroyed abroad. Obama's trip overseas showed that beacon of hope to our friends and allies waiting for the USA to show even the faintest of heartbeats. It's also why 22 nations are praying we get this election right and vote Obama. Joe Biden as VP? Excellent first decision. Bravo.

My Vote for President of The United States:

Barack Obama

My Vote For President Of The United States 2008

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I recommend taking all of your money out of these banks and move it to credit unions.

    As our friends in the financial sector were passing the hat among taxpayers last week for $700 billion in bailouts to cover their crappy mortgage investments, they were simultaneously condemning the House of Representatives' passage of a "Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights," which aims to crack down on some of the industry's more troublesome practices.

    The legislation - HR 5244 - would, among other things, end card issuers' self-proclaimed right to change interest rates at any time. Instead, a 45-day notice would be required for any increase.

    It also would give cardholders more time to pay by requiring issuers to mail bills at least 25 days before the due date, as opposed to the current 14 days.

    Similar measures are being considered by the Federal Reserve, the National Assn. of Credit Unions and the Office of Thrift Supervision. But they wouldn't carry the force of law and could be weakened by more industry-friendly regulators down the road.

    The House bill still needs to be tackled by the Senate, and it's unclear what its chances are there. The Bush administration has signaled its opposition to the legislation.

    "The timing of all this couldn't be more glaring," said Bill Hardekopf, chief exec of LowCards.com, a website that tracks credit card rates and trends. "While banks say they would be tanking without taxpayer money, here comes a bill that would help taxpayers, and the banks say it isn't right.

    "I'm amazed that there's not more humility at a time like this."

    Humility? The banking industry couldn't have been bolder in its opposition to the House bill. Within minutes of the 312-112 vote approving the legislation, American Bankers Assn. President Edward Yingling issued a statement denouncing the move.

    He said the bill would "increase the cost of credit for consumers and small businesses across the country, result in less access to credit for consumers and businesses alike, and may further roil the securities markets - all at a time when our economy can least afford it."

    JPMorgan Chase & Co., which became the largest U.S. bank by deposits Thursday when it acquired much of Washington Mutual Inc., similarly wasted no time in blasting the House bill as the wrong medicine at the wrong time.

    "In today's turbulent economic times, consumers deserve a careful and balanced approach when considering potential changes to consumer credit and the credit card industry," the bank said in a statement. "Consumers have benefited from a competitive marketplace that allows for pricing based upon risk."

    The banks essentially are arguing that enactment of the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights would make plastic more expensive for consumers by preventing issuers from imposing higher rates on riskier customers, although the bill includes no such language.

    "We are very concerned that this bill would significantly hinder our ability to price the risks of lending and would result in less credit being made available to creditworthy borrowers at the worst possible time, with generally higher prices for those who do receive credit," said Bank of America Corp. spokeswoman Betty Riess.


    "They're using the I'll-take-my-toys-and-go-home argument," said Linda Sherry, a spokeswoman for Consumer Action. "But that won't be the case. They'll keep fighting for our business."

    She said banks would still be able to offer competitive terms for preferred customers. And for riskier customers, she said, banks could still raise rates or even do the unthinkable: turn them down for cards.

    Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing. According to the Consumer Federation of America, the 50 million U.S. households that carry a credit card balance from month to month face an average debt load of $17,000.

    With the economy going down the toilet and home foreclosures at record levels, I can think of more than a few families that would benefit from less plastic in their lives.

    A Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights would level the playing field by protecting consumers from questionable late fees and sudden rate hikes, and requiring clear disclosure of terms and conditions.

    That doesn't seem too much to ask of an industry that has no problem asking taxpayers to cover its bad bets.

    Enjoy the bailout, boys. This isn't over yet.

t r u t h o u t | Banks Love Bailout, Hate Credit Card Curbs

As banks fail, credit unions deserve a look

Typically, people prefer to put their money in large banks. Most like the extra sense of security and the variety of features and services they offer.

But lately, Mr. Big Bank has taken on the characteristics of a high maintenance relationship: fickle terms, low returns, hefty fees and -- finally -- the meltdown.

So some people have started flirting with the competition. Credit unions in particular are getting a good once-over, and many like what they see.

"We have seen some pretty strong growth this year," said Joe Mecca, a spokesman for Coastal Federal Credit Union in Raleigh.

Coastal Federal has added 13,600 members this year, an 8.5 percent increase, Mecca said. It also has seen a nearly 60 percent increase in new checking accounts; loans are up 20 percent.

"This is all organic growth," Mecca said. "We have not opened any additional branches."

Consumers are starting to realize that credit unions are no longer small entities with few branches and ATMs, he said.

Coastal, for instance, is part of a national ATM network of credit unions with more than 50,000 machines across the country. Many credit unions are also members of the service center network, which gives credit union members access to 3,400 branches nationwide.

What has remained true of credit unions is they can charge slightly lower-than-average fees for certain services because of their not-for-profit status.

For example, Mecca said, Coastal charges $25 for an overdrawn account and $27 for a bounced check. Holden Lewis with Bankrate.com said some banks charge as much as $35. Coastal has a checking account that pays 5.01 percent interest and requires no minimum balance. It also has competitive credit card rates.

"We don't have to pay dividends to shareholders," Mecca said. "We don't have to go out and make a profit, because the people we are making money off of own us."

Coastal has many of the services offered by the big banks, including online banking and bill payment and trust and investment services.

My favorite? Coastal can prevent members from overdrawing their accounts in most debit card transactions. "If you have only $100 dollars in your account and you try to make a $110 purchase, that purchase will be declined," Mecca said.

Of course, not everyone can join a credit union. Membership is restricted to specific groups, such as employees of certain companies, government workers and churches. Many allow the immediate and extended family of members to join.

Still, switching your checking account to a credit union might not be the best answer. Banks still offer a much wider variety of services, for instance, allowing you to transfer funds to other accounts at different institutions and get access to international branches, foreign currency exchanges and financial planning services. And bank fees for some services are still quite competitive.

Still, you might want to open a credit union account to take advantage of lower rates on auto loans and the like.

In the end, you may find that you can blend the two types of financial institutions together to benefit from the best of both.

If you are considering moving your money to a credit union, you can find out which credit unions are closest to you at www.creditunion.coop and click on "locate a credit union."

You'll also want to make sure that your money is secure. Most credit unions' secure their deposits through the National Credit Union Administration. The NCUA guarantees deposits for credits unions up to $100,000, the same as the FDIC does for banks. Just ask whether the credit union is insured by the NCUA.

And finally, before joining a credit union, thoroughly check out its services to make sure they meet your financial needs. For example, you may want to know if it offers both debit cards and credit cards.

newsobserver.com | As banks fail, credit unions deserve a look

How Wall Street Can Bail Itself Out Without Destroying The Dollar

How Wall Street Can Bail Itself Out Without Destroying The Dollar
by Thom Hartmann | September 27, 2008 - 1:24pm

For Grover "Drown Government In The Bathtub" Norquist, this bailout deal will work out very well. At a proposed cost of $4,780 per taxpayer, it'll further the David Stockman strategy of so indebting us that the next president won't have the luxury of even thinking of new social spending (expanding health care, social security, education, infrastructure, etc.); taxes will even have to be raised just to pay for the bailout. It'll debase our currency, driving up commodity prices and interest rates, which will benefit the Investor Class while further impoverishing the pesky Middle Class, rendering them less prone to protest (because they're so busy working trying to pay off their debt). It'll create stagflation for at least the next half decade, which can be blamed on Democrats who currently control Congress and, should Obama be elected, be blamed on him.

But there's another way: Create an agency to fund the bailout, loan that agency the money from the treasury, and then have that agency tax Wall Street to pay us (the treasury) back.

It's been done before, and has several benefits.

In the United Kingdom, for example, whenever you buy or sell a share of stock (or a credit swap or a derivative, or any other activity of that sort) you pay a small tax on the transaction. We did the same thing here in the US from 1914 to 1966 (and, before that, we did it to finance the Spanish American War and the Civil War).

For us, this Securities Turnover Excise Tax (STET) was a revenue source. For example, if we were to instate a .25 percent STET (tax) on every stock, swap, derivitive, or other trade today, it would produce - in its first year - around $150 billion in revenue. Wall Street would be generating the money to fund its own bailout. (For comparison, as best I can determine, the UK's STET is .25 percent, and Taiwan just dropped theirs from .60 to .30 percent.)

But there are other benefits.

As John Maynard Keynes pointed out in his seminal economics tome, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money in 1936, such a securities transaction tax would have the effect of "mitigating the predominance of speculation over enterprise."

In other words, it would tamp down toxic speculation, while encouraging healthy investment. The reason is pretty straightforward: When there's no cost to trading, there's no cost to gambling. The current system is like going to a casino where the house never takes anything; a gambler's paradise. Without costs to the transaction, people of large means are encourage to speculate - to, for example, buy a million shares of a particular stock over a day or two purely with the goal of driving up the stock's price (because everybody else sees all the buying activity and thinks they should jump onto the bandwagon) so three days down the road they can sell all their stock at a profit and get out before it collapses as the result of their sale. (We ironically call the outcome of this "market volatility.")

Investment, on the other hand, is what happens when people buy stock because they believe the company has an underlying value. They're expecting the value will increase over time because the company has a good product or service and good management. Investment stabilizes markets, makes stock prices reflect real company values, and helps small investors securely build value over time.

Historically, from the founding of our country until the last century, most people invested rather than speculated. When rules limiting speculation were cut during the first big Republican deregulation binge during the administrations of Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover (1921-1933), it created a speculative fever that led directly to the housing bubble of the early 20s (which started in Florida, where property values were going up as much as 70 percent per year, and then spread nationwide, only to burst nationally starting in 1927 as housing values began to collapse), then the falling housing market popped the stock market bubble and produced the great stock market crash of 1929. That speculation aggregated enormous wealth in a very few hands, crashed the housing and stock markets, and produced the Republican Great Depression of 1930-1942.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of the New Deal, put into place a series of rules to discourage speculation and promote investment, including maintaining - and doubling - the Securities Transaction Excise Tax. Other countries followed our lead, and the UK, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, Greece, Australia, France, China, Chile, Malaysia, India, Austria, and Belgium have all had or have STETs.

Perhaps the most important benefit of immediately re-instituting a STET in the USA, however, isn't that it would raise enough money to bail out the banks and billionaires (and after that crisis is covered, could pay for a national health care system), or that it would encourage investment and calm down markets. Those are all strong benefits, and absent the current Republican Administration bailout proposal would stand-alone strongly.

But the Republican Bush Administration is currently suggesting that we borrow $700 billion (or more) from China and Saudi Arabia and other countries and investors, add that to our national debt, and repay it with interest (making the actual cost over the next 20 years over $1.4 trillion). This is what Republican Herbert Hoover tried in 1931 when he first created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (later totally reinvented by FDR) to bail out the banks in 1931. Hoover's RFC bailed out the bankers, paid off huge salaries in the banking and investment world, bought him a few months (maybe that's the real goal of the Bush/McCain Republicans now - just hold things together until after the elections), but ultimately led to the failure within two years of virtually all the banks in the United States. The bailout failed.

Similarly, in 1998 the Japanese banks were facing a serious crisis of liquidity as the result of a bursting housing bubble in that country. The Japanese government used public funds to re-float a number of large banks that year, and it similarly failed. In one example out of dozens, in 1998 135 billion Yen were given from public tax funds to Ashikaga Financial Group, but the company limped along for a few years and in November of 2003 collapsed again, requiring a second infusion of a trillion yen from public coffers. And, as the BBC reported in a 30 November 2003 article ("Japan Bank Bail-Out 'A One-Off'"): "But experts warn that Ashikaga could be just the tip of the iceberg." Professor of Finance at Tokyo University Takehisa Hayashi said, "It will come as no surprise if we see another Ashikaga case in the near future." And they did.

Japan continues to limp along, as a result of bailing out banks rather than fixing structural problems. (At least the Japanese had enough savings to use their own money, instead of debt, to bail out their banks.)

So bailouts don't work, and never have. And they also have the side effects of damaging a nation's credit, sucking up its taxpayers resources, and (when done with debt) weakening its currency.

So let's go back to what we know works. After Hoover's 1931 bailout of the banks failed, FDR did a cold reboot of the entire system, putting into place strong rules to prevent speculative abuse. And he doubled the STET tax, both producing revenue that more than funded the Securities and Exchange Commission and further prevented a repeat of the speculative bubble of the 1920s that led directly to the Republican Great Depression.

We've done it before. We financed the Spanish American War and partially financed the Civil War, WWI, and WWII with STETs. We stabilized our stock market with a STET from the mid-30s to 1966, and other nations are doing it today. It's time to do it again, this time using the STET so tax Wall Street can pay for its own bailout.