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Republican Pledge: A Rotten Egg for the Middle Class

7:14 am in Uncategorized by Leo W. Gerard

When Herbert Hoover ran for president in 1928, the Republican party promised his victory would assure the prosperity of “a chicken in every pot.” This week, Republicans proffered a similar pledge to America.

Hoover won, and in 1929, after a decade of GOP rule in Washington, Republicans did deliver something foul to Americans. It wasn’t the much-anticipated cooking hen. It was the Great Depression.

Now in the Great Recession, also delivered during a GOP presidency, Republicans have presented a new promise. They pledged to withdraw all unspent Recovery Act money to prevent it from employing even one more worker; kill health care reform to stop 30 million Americans from getting affordable insurance; slash $100 billion from federal programs protecting the middle class; preserve tax cuts for the rich and cut government regulation — like oversight of Gulf-oil-gusher-BP and contaminated-egg-producers Jack and Peter DeCoster.

This time, the GOP downsized the “chicken in every pot” promise. Instead they’re pledging a salmonella-poisoned egg.

In 1932, Americans wisely rejected re-electing Republican Hoover, who is regarded as one of the nation’s most inept leaders, and chose instead Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt, revered as one of the best. This fall, it’s crucial that Americans choose sagely again, selecting Democrats intent on reforming Washington and protecting the nation’s middle class.

Eight years of Republican rule in Washington climaxed with the worst recession since the Great Depression. Since that downturn officially began in December of 2007, poverty, unemployment and foreclosures have risen while middle class income and health insurance coverage have fallen.

The poverty rate increased to the worst level in 16 years, with 3.7 million people slipping from the middle class to the ranks of the poor in 2009. One in seven Americans now is impoverished. More than 8 million workers have lost their jobs, and 2.3 million families have lost their homes to foreclosure. Nearly one in four mortgage holders is under water, meaning they owe more on their house than it’s worth. Also, last year, the number of uninsured Americans rose by 4.4 million to 50.7 million — 16.7% of the population. It was the largest annual increase since the government began collecting comparable data in 1987.

By contrast, on Wall Street, where unrestrained and unregulated bankster recklessness caused the recession, happy days are here again. The banks that taxpayers bailed out have resumed paying million-dollar salaries and bonuses. The nation’s top 25 hedge-fund managers each took home an average of $1 billion (BILLION) last year. Those hedgers are among the nation’s richest 1 percent, those whose take home pay grew so fast between 1979 and the start of the recession in 2007 that nearly 39 percent of all income growth went to that tiny number of super-wealthy. Only 36 percent went to the bottom 90 percent of the nation’s population.

Democrats, keenly aware of the diverging experiences of the nation’s sucker-punched workers and its well-heeled elite, have worked to aid the beleaguered middle. They passed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated created between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs by July.

Democrats reformed health insurance so that children with pre-existing conditions can’t be denied insurance; senior citizens won’t have to pay for “donut hole” medications; young adults up to age 26 may remain on their parents’ plans, and insurance companies can no longer choose doctors or place lifetime limits on coverage or drop the sick. On top of all that, the Democrats’ reform will lower federal deficits by $138 billion.

Now, Democrats are fighting to preserve income tax cuts for the middle class while eliminating breaks for the rich. The Democrats would continue to lower by $1,132 a year the taxes of median wage earners, those with incomes of about $50,000 a year. Under the Democrats’ plan, the super rich – those taking home more than $1 million a year — would still get a tax cut of $6,349 – six times that of the middle class. But Democrats would have the super rich pay $97,651 in taxes a year that they now pocket.

Democrats think the rich have an obligation to pay those taxes. To get where they are, in the top one percent income bracket, they’ve used tax-subsidized public services at significantly higher rates than the other 99 percent of Americans. That includes services such as roads and airports, civil courts, the U.S. patent office, the U.S. Department of Commerce and professional licensing, regulation and inspection departments.

Republicans don’t agree. They believe the middle class should pay so the rich can continue getting breaks. The GOP believes it is fine to give tax cuts to the rich that will cost nearly $1 trillion over 10 years, but not pay for them. Conversely, Republicans have refused to extend unemployment insurance for the middle class jobless unless that’s paid for. The GOP believes it’s appropriate to continue tax breaks for multi-national corporations that ship jobs overseas but it’s not to extend aid to the middle class unemployed to pay for health insurance.

In their Pledge to America, Republicans promise to take care of the rich. They said they’d change Washington by decimating the very regulation that protects middle class workers and their families and by cutting off money that is providing jobs to the unemployed. The GOP pledges to undermine middle class America.

It might be called a turkey, but even that would inflate its value. It’s a rotten egg hurled at middle America.

No More Deceit — Strictly Regulate Wall Street

8:38 am in Business, Financial Crisis, Legislature by Leo W. Gerard

Recent stories about Wall Street contain a recurring theme: deceit.

For example, this week the CEO of the late Lehman Brothers, Richard S. Fuld Jr., with a completely straight face swore to Congress that he’d been utterly out to lunch on the issue of “Repo 105,” a sleight-of-hand accounting procedure auditors found Lehman used to conceal its debts.

Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil lawsuit charging Goldman Sachs with securities fraud and describing a scheme in which Goldman defrauded clients by selling them a mortgage investment to bet on after secretly permitting selection of its component securities by a hedge fund manager who Goldman knew planned to bet against it.

Also last week, the Senate conducted hearings on failed Washington Mutual following a report by a Senate subcommittee that found the bank’s lending operations rife with fraud, including fabricated loan documents.

This deceit illustrates that America’s largest financial institutions can’t be trusted to refrain from crashing the world economy again. In fact, when the big banks announced their first quarter earnings recently — Citigroup $4.4 billion; Bank of America, $4.2 billion; Goldman Sachs $3.46 billion, and JPMorgan $3.3 billion; Morgan Stanley $1.8 billion – it turned out that much of that money was made by their trading divisions – the very ones that dragged them – and the U.S. economy – down during the crisis in 2008. These are the same risky trading practices that cost taxpayers a $700 billion bank bailout, their savings, their jobs, their businesses.

Clearly, these bankers can’t control themselves. And the “free market” has failed to moderate their behavior. Strict regulation is essential, including re-instituting the Glass-Steagall Act and other rules that will prevent financial firms from growing too big to fail; forcing the banks themselves to pay for liquidation of big financial institutions; placing on open markets trades of those secretive derivatives that brought down AIG and that the SEC says Goldman used fraudulently; and creating an independent consumer financial protection agency to stop practices like predatory lending, usurious interest rates and hidden fees.

Congress lifted bank regulations over the past three decades, including the Glass-Steagall Act passed after the 1929 stock market crash to reduce speculation and conflicts of interest and to prevent “too-big-to-fail” financial institutions by forbidding the combination of investment and commercial banks. Like gullible investors in subprime mortgage bonds, the politicians who reversed those rules bought the argument that the free market would regulate itself. This is the same argument 1,500 Wall Street lobbyists are using, along with millions of dollars, right now in attempts to persuade lawmakers to stop worrying their little heads about seriously regulating Wall Street.

Main Street, where foreclosures continue at a record pace and unemployment remains painfully near 10 percent, desperately needs its own 1,500 lobbyists and millions in influence dollars. It will have the power of thousands of voices at a “Make Wall Street Pay” rally April 29 in the heart of New York City’s financial district, one of several protests across the country organized by the AFL-CIO.

On Main Street the need to forcefully re-regulate to prevent another Great Recession is clear; it’s not in Washington, D.C. In fact, weakening the already-too-soft financial regulation bill proposed by Sen. Chris Dodd is a crusade for Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, whose campaign coffers have received more money from security and investment firms than from any other category — $1.3 million. Like a Wall Street banker, McConnell is using deception. For example, he harped all last week that an “orderly liquidation fund” in the Dodd bill was a “bailout fund.”

It’s not. It would be created with fees on banks – not taxpayers. And it’s not for bailouts that preserve banks. It is for bank liquidation. It would pay for the orderly closing of too-big-to-fail banks. Ezra Klein of the Washington Post ridiculed McConnell’s claims, and Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the Nation, described McConnell’s attacks on the bill as fraudulent.

All of the sudden on Monday, McConnell changed his mind about Dodd’s bill. Coincidentally, that was three days after the SEC filed the fraud suit against Goldman Sachs, making railing against financial reform appear not quite so politically wise to Republicans anymore. It’s all about the politics in Washington, D.C.

McConnell said he had new optimism that Wall Street reform would pass because Democrats had resumed bipartisan talks and, he said:

“I’m convinced now there is a new element of seriousness attached to this, rather than just trying to score political points.”

Listening to McConnell is like hearing Lehman’s Fuld, who got a $22 million bonus six months before his financial firm filed for bankruptcy, swear to Congress he knew nothing about the “Repo” accounting procedure Lehman used to conceal $50 billion in debts. Following his testimony, Anton R. Valukas, the examiner in the Lehman bankruptcy, told Congress that his investigators found a person who had discussed Repo with then-CEO Fuld and e-mails to Fuld describing it.

The problem with McConnell and his new-found eagerness to pass “bipartisan” legislation is that the Dodd bill needs to be strengthened, not weakened with compromises thrown to Senate Republicans, all 41 of whom signed a letter last week saying they’d vote against it.

Before compromises remove from this bill the power to effectively regulate, Congress needs to review what Goldman is accused of doing. Ezra Klein of the Post described it best:

“Goldman Sachs let hedge-fund manager John Paulson select the subprime-mortgage bonds that he thought likeliest to explode and put them into a package called Abacus 2007-AC1. Paulson, who guessed early that the market was heading for a crash, wanted to bet against these bonds. But he needed someone on the other side of the bet. So Goldman went out and found him some suckers, or, as Goldman called them, “counterparties.” . . .But here’s the rub: Goldman didn’t tell the counterparties that Paulson had picked the bonds. ‘Goldman wrongly permitted a client that was betting against the mortgage market to heavily influence which mortgage securities to include in an investment portfolio, while telling other investors that the securities were selected by an independent, objective third party,’ said Robert Khuzami, the director of the SEC’s division of enforcement.”

Khuzami’s description makes Goldman’s behavior sound a lot like lying.

The real economy in this country – the one that manufactures, builds and produces tangible products – can’t afford a Wild West financial economy. The real economy depends on banks to finance business expansion and everyday transactions. All of that froze in the Fall of 2008 because of Wall Street’s reckless, inadequately-regulated gambling.

In a speech in New York City on Thursday, President Obama reinforced that some bankers "forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is family looking to buy a house, and pay for an education, open a business, save for retirement."

Obama also referenced the issue of dishonesty when he said this in New York:

"A free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it."

If McConnell-style deceit about the financial reform bill continues in the Senate, serious regulatory reform won’t happen. Half measures won’t work. Only robust financial reform will end Wall Street’s freedom to deceive.