Weekly Audit: Massive Protest In Wisconsin Shows Walker’s Overreach

 

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

About 100,000 people gathered in Madison, Wisconsin to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s new anti-collective bargaining law. The state Senate hurriedly past the bill without a quorum last Wednesday. Roger Bybee of Working In These Times reports:

The rally featured 50 farmers on tractors roaring around the Capitol to show their support for public workers and union representatives from across the nation, stressing the importance of the Wisconsin struggle. Protesters were addressed by a lineup of fiery speakers including fillmaker Michael Moore, the Texas populist radio broadcaster Jim Hightower, TV host Laura Flanders, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, and The Progressive editor Matt Rothschild, among others.

The bill is law, but the fight is far from over. The Wisconsin Democratic Party says it already has 45% of the signatures it needs to recall 8 Republican state senators. So far, canvassers have collected 56,000 signatures, up from 14,000 last weekend. The surge in signature gathering is another sign that the Walker government’s abrupt push to pass the bill has energized the opposition.

Polling bolsters the impression that Walker overreached by forcing the bill through with a dubious procedural trick. Simeon Talley of Campus Progress notes that, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, Americans oppose efforts to limit the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

Jamelle Bouie of TAPPED notes that the enthusiasm gap that helped elect Scott Walker last year has disappeared. In June 2o10, 58% of Democrats said they were certain to vote compared to 67% of Republicans. In March 2011, 86% of Democrats and 85% of Republicans surveyed said they would certainly vote.

Firefighters shut down bank

Wisconsin firefighters found a way to get back at one of Scott Walker’s most generous donors, Madison’s M&I Bank, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd reports in AlterNet. Firefighters Local 311 President Joe Conway put a call out to his members who banked with M&I to “Move Your Money.” Firefighters withdrew hundreds of thousands of dollars of savings in cashiers checks. The beleaguered bank closed its doors at 3pm on March 10.

John Nichols of the Nation reports that other unions got in on the act. He quotes a pamphlet distributed by Sheet Metal Workers International Association Local 565:

“M&I execs gave more money than even the Koch Brothers to Governor Walker and the Wisconsin GOP,” the message goes. “M&I got a $1.7 billion bailout while its CEO gets an $18 million golden parachute. Tell M&I Bank: Back Politicians Who Take Away Our Rights (and) We Take Away Your Business.”

Nichols explains that the next big step in the fight to overturn the bill will be the Wisconsin Supreme Court election, set for April 5. Assistant Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg is challenging conservative state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser. Legal analysts have raised serious questions about the bill and the process by which it was passed. A court challenge to Walker’s law might stand a better chance if a liberal justice replaces the conservative pro-corporate Prosser.

Guess what? We’re not broke

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly takes on a GOP talking point, the myth that the United States is broke. It’s a convenient claim for those who wish to make massive cuts to popular programs without having to justify taking them away. If we don’t have the money, we don’t have the money. If it’s a choice between cuts and bankruptcy, cuts suddenly seem not only acceptable, but inevitable.

But the United States has a $15 trillion economy, immense natural resources, a highly educated workforce, and countless other economic advantages. The problem isn’t a lack of resources, it’s extreme inequality of distribution. Over the last 20 years, 56% of income growth has been funneled to the top 1% of the population, with fully one third of that money going to the richest one-tenth of one percent.

Benen notes that the Republicans didn’t think we were broke when they were advocating for a $538 billion tax-cut package, which wasn’t offset by a dime of cuts.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Banker Bonuses: Not Such a Wonderful Life?

Astonishingly, bankers may have surpassed lawyers, journalists, and child pornographers as the country’s most reviled people. They did this through a combination of tanking the world economy; extorting money and property from customers and the government; and downright, naked and stupid greed.

Oh, and complaining they weren’t paid enough to do it.

A recent informal Vanity Fair poll indicated 56% of banking greedheads felt their bonuses weren’t large enough. Clearly, this is indicates an IQ so low or hubris so large they shouldn’t be trusted with piggy banks, much less handle your life savings and the wealth of the world.

What’s the Big Deal?
Many have made a big deal about the unfairness of this arrangement. Many have claimed the inequities of the US corporate compensation system is making us into a country of overwhelming class division. In short, many have been right. But the emphasis on class warfare and inequality is only half – maybe less than half – of the picture.

The It’s a Wonderful Life banks of yore were paragons of charity and virtue compared to the ginormous money-maws of today. Despite bankers being beholden to no one other than their hand-selected boards and compensation committees, they make business decisions based on a monthly horizon to enhance their ‘pitiful’ quarterly bonuses. A banker looking beyond a quarter would be locked up in the Insane Banker’s Asylum for the Criminally Greedy. One looking out into the vastness of time – next year – would be executed for their danger to society.

That short-sightedness explains their Nostrasdumbassian inability to have seen the economic crash coming. That blindness to the danger of their own practices screwed their customers, the public – and not least of all – their investors. And now that they’ve good and thoroughly fu*cked their investors, they’re back to the same asinine practices as before, except – like a anitbiotic-immune bacteria – they’ve strengthened and widened the gap between what is legal and what is common sense.

Exercising their much vaunted “skills”, they’ve used taxpayer money, much of which was skimmed off for last year’s bonuses, to ‘reinvest’ and reap near-record profits this year – thereby clinching this year’s bonuses too. The only people dumber than the bankers are their stockholders. They’ve cheered as bankers laundered the money into record profits, either blindlessly stupid or so greedy they don’t recognize this as what it is…a ponzi scheme.

Bernie Madoff must be so proud.

Because they need binoculars to see the ends of their noses, they don’t see that everything will happen again. Their penchant for driving resources offshore to avoid the taxes that comprised last quarter’s stunning economic ‘recovery’ make it harder and harder to extort money from a US government with less and less of it to give. Meanwhile, all those cozy offshore havens – many of which are as friendly to America as a pack of rabid wolverines – are perfectly positioned to nationalize our money to pay for their own bait and switch schemes.

And as the macro-economic robbery continues, the bankers will again be shocked at another “completely unexpected” event. All those jobs that moved or disappeared to make companies more “profitable” steadily depleted the pool of potential customers with money for the banks to steal use to continue the ruination of their Holy Grail – capitalism.

Oh, and that’ll be a $130 million bonus for the trouble.

Where Do I Sign Up?
Bankers – in fact, almost all business US Big Wigs – receive huge bonuses if profits go up or they go down. They receive bonuses from the very companies they ran into the ground to keep their “expertise” with the company. They get bonuses because they successfully lobby each banking reform attempt into a cozier and cozier government/business alliance that – guess what – awards them bigger bonuses. Investors look the other way as long as money is coming into the Ponzi triangle and most complain for show only when the dividends come due and the banks can’t pay them. Then, they angle for a big bonus to pay their wizards of financial acumen to figure out some other way to steal twice as much money – partly used for big bonuses – next quarter.

Many supporters of corporatism über alles claim the execs deserve the big bucks because they are risk takers. The only problem with that axiom is that they take those risks with other people’s money and get paid whether the risks pay off or not.

Unbridled greed is leading them to not only kill the goose that laid the golden egg, but eat the egg, dine on the goose, and steal  their neighbor’s fowl for another mighty fine meal. One paid for with unsustainable bonuses.

Ain’t it a wonderful life?

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

Banker Bonuses: Not Such a Wonderful Life?

Astonishingly, bankers may have surpassed lawyers, journalists, and child pornographers as the country’s most reviled people. They did this through a combination of tanking the world economy; extorting money and property from customers and the government; and downright, naked and stupid greed.

Oh, and complaining they weren’t paid enough to do it.

A recent informal Vanity Fair poll indicated 56% of banking greedheads felt their bonuses weren’t large enough. Clearly, this is indicates an IQ so low or hubris so large they shouldn’t be trusted with piggy banks, much less handle your life savings and the wealth of the world.

What’s the Big Deal?
Many have made a big deal about the unfairness of this arrangement. Many have claimed the inequities of the US corporate compensation system is making us into a country of overwhelming class division. In short, many have been right. But the emphasis on class warfare and inequality is only half – maybe less than half – of the picture.

The It’s a Wonderful Life banks of yore were paragons of charity and virtue compared to the ginormous money-maws of today. Despite bankers being beholden to no one other than their hand-selected boards and compensation committees, they make business decisions based on a monthly horizon to enhance their ‘pitiful’ quarterly bonuses. A banker looking beyond a quarter would be locked up in the Insane Banker’s Asylum for the Criminally Greedy. One looking out into the vastness of time – next year – would be executed for their danger to society.

That short-sightedness explains their Nostrasdumbassian inability to have seen the economic crash coming. That blindness to the danger of their own practices screwed their customers, the public – and not least of all – their investors. And now that they’ve good and thoroughly fu*cked their investors, they’re back to the same asinine practices as before, except – like a anitbiotic-immune bacteria – they’ve strengthened and widened the gap between what is legal and what is common sense.

Exercising their much vaunted “skills”, they’ve used taxpayer money, much of which was skimmed off for last year’s bonuses, to ‘reinvest’ and reap near-record profits this year – thereby clinching this year’s bonuses too. The only people dumber than the bankers are their stockholders. They’ve cheered as bankers laundered the money into record profits, either blindlessly stupid or so greedy they don’t recognize this as what it is…a ponzi scheme.

Bernie Madoff must be so proud.

Because they need binoculars to see the ends of their noses, they don’t see that everything will happen again. Their penchant for driving resources offshore to avoid the taxes that comprised last quarter’s stunning economic ‘recovery’ make it harder and harder to extort money from a US government with less and less of it to give. Meanwhile, all those cozy offshore havens – many of which are as friendly to America as a pack of rabid wolverines – are perfectly positioned to nationalize our money to pay for their own bait and switch schemes.

And as the macro-economic robbery continues, the bankers will again be shocked at another “completely unexpected” event. All those jobs that moved or disappeared to make companies more “profitable” steadily depleted the pool of potential customers with money for the banks to steal use to continue the ruination of their Holy Grail – capitalism.

Oh, and that’ll be a $130 million bonus for the trouble.

Where Do I Sign Up?
Bankers – in fact, almost all business US Big Wigs – receive huge bonuses if profits go up or they go down. They receive bonuses from the very companies they ran into the ground to keep their “expertise” with the company. They get bonuses because they successfully lobby each banking reform attempt into a cozier and cozier government/business alliance that – guess what – awards them bigger bonuses. Investors look the other way as long as money is coming into the Ponzi triangle and most complain for show only when the dividends come due and the banks can’t pay them. Then, they angle for a big bonus to pay their wizards of financial acumen to figure out some other way to steal twice as much money – partly used for big bonuses – next quarter.

Many supporters of corporatism über alles claim the execs deserve the big bucks because they are risk takers. The only problem with that axiom is that they take those risks with other people’s money and get paid whether the risks pay off or not.

Unbridled greed is leading them to not only kill the goose that laid the golden egg, but eat the egg, dine on the goose, and steal  their neighbor’s fowl for another mighty fine meal. One paid for with unsustainable bonuses.

Ain’t it a wonderful life?

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

Weekly Audit: Tax Cuts for the Rich Extended

By Lindsay Beyerstein,  Media Consortium Blogger

Congressional Republicans and the White House  struck an agreement in principle on Monday night to extend all the Bush tax cuts for 2 more years in exchange for extending unemployment benefits. The GOP agreed to the so-called “Lincoln-Kyl compromise” a partial 2-year extension of the Bush estate tax cuts on estates worth over $5 million. If the deal had not been struck, estate taxes on estates over $5 million would have gone back up from 0% to the pre-cut rate of 55%. Instead, the rate will be 35% for the next 2 years.

The GOP also agreed to a short-term “stimulative” 2 percentage-point cut off the 6.2% payroll tax we all pay on income up to $106,800. The good news is that a payroll tax holiday will provide the most noticeable tax relief to low- and middle-income Americans. The bad news is that payroll taxes fund Social Security, so cutting the tax means starving a program that most directly benefits average people. Social Security is not in crisis yet, but steps like these could push the program into worse financial straights where significant benefit cuts become inevitable. It’s almost as if the GOP, having failed to spark panic about an as-yet non-existent Social Security crisis, is determined to engineer one.

All these gimmes for the rich were the price of a partial extension of unemployment benefits. The stakes couldn’t have been higher. If Congress had failed to act, 2 million people stood to lose their benefits this month and another 7 million would have run out before the end of next year, reports Andy Kroll of Mother Jones.

Meanwhile, unemployment continues to rise. The economy only added 39,000 jobs in November when analysts were expecting about 150,000. “At the beginning, some people just thought it was a printing error,” said reporter Motoko Rich on the New York Times‘ weekly business podcast. The overall unemployment rate climbed to 9.8%.

At ColorLines, Kai Wright argues that the time has come for President Obama to seize the opportunity to debunk conservatives’ bad faith arguments for tax cuts above all else:

At the same time, the anti-government crowd’s political hand—if forced—has never been weaker. A depressingly large number of middle-class and working-class Americans now know all too well what economists have long understood: You get a great deal more economic bang out of keeping lots of people from becoming destitute than you do by helping a few people horde wealth. People remain enraged about the no-strings-attached bank bailout, for instance, because they intuitively understand its ramifications. Wall Street is now enjoying a narrow, taxpayer-financed recovery while unemployment, hunger and poverty all continue climbing through the former middle class.

Extending UI makes sense

Tim Fernholtz of TAPPED tackles some of the bad arguments against extending unemployment insurance. Economist Greg Mankiw claims that extending unemployment insurance is just a surreptitious ploy to redistribute income to the poor from the wealthy. Actually, as Fernholtz points out, the point of a UI safety net is to prevent people, 3 million of them in 2009, from becoming poor in the first place. Poverty is very expensive for society at large. If we can keep the unemployed in their homes, spending their benefits in their communities, we can keep the socially corrosive effects of poverty at bay until the economy improves. The social costs of child poverty alone have been estimated at $500 billion a year, Fernholtz notes. The deeper we allow people to sink into poverty, the more difficult it will be for the economy to rebound. On this view, UI is a shared investment in a well-ordered society, not just a lifeline for jobless families.

Why corporate tax cuts won’t create jobs

Jack Rasmus of Working In These Times explains why tax cuts will not create jobs. Simply put, banks and big companies are sitting on over a trillion dollars. Among the nation’s biggest banks, lending to small and medium size businesses, the engines of job creation, has dwindled over 2009 and 2010. America’s biggest companies are sitting on a hoard of $1.84 trillion dollars, which they are not investing in job-creating projects. The Deficit Commission recommended slashing corporate taxes, ostensibly to spur investment and job creation, which would ultimately generate taxable income to help balance the budget. As Rasmus points out, this wishful thinking is predicated upon the assumption that if only corporations had more money, they would invest it to create jobs. The fact that companies are already sitting on huge piles of cash suggests that shoveling more moolah on the pile won’t change the basic dynamic. Perhaps companies are waiting to invest because they know that consumers aren’t keen to buy goods and services when they are unemployed or fearing job loss.

Economic disobedience

At In These Times, Andrew Oxford interviews sociologist Lisa Dodson about her new book on getting by in the low-wage economy. Her research shows that as economic instability mounts, many Americans are quietly taking matters into their own hands:

To understand how fair-minded people survive in an unfair economy, Dodson interviewed hundreds of low-wage workers and their employers across the country, examining what she terms the “economic disobedience” now pervasive in the low-wage sector. From a supervisor padding paychecks to a grocer sending food home with his employees, these acts of disobedience form the subject of her latest book, The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy.

Winner-take all economy

In an interview with Democracy Now!, Yale political science profesor and  Jacob Hacker explains why the Deficit Commission has it all wrong when it comes to tax cuts vs. unemployment benefits.

Hacker studies inequality. He has written a book on how the richest Americans cornered an unprecedented share of the country’s wealth for themselves over the past three decades. The richest Americans have never been in a better position to help the country grapple with the deficit. Yet, as Hacker points out, the Deficit Commission wants to balance the budget on the backs of middle- and lower-income Americans by cutting spending on programs that disproportionately benefit working people and readjusting the tax code to make it even more favorable to the rich.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: Banks Get Big Bucks, Consumers Get Bupkis

 

by Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

Last week, the Federal Reserve announced a plan to buy an additional $600 billion worth of Treasury bonds in an attempt to stimulate the economy. On Democracy Now!, economist Michael Hudson argues that the $600 billion T-bill buy will help Wall Street at the expense of ordinary Americans.

The Fed justifies the purchase as an infusion of cash into the U.S. economy. The buy-up will certainly be an infusion of cash into U.S. banks. In effect, the Fed will help the government pay back the banks that lent money to finance deficit spending. The hope is that these banks, suddenly flush with cash, will help the U.S. economy by lending money to finance projects that will create wealth and jobs (i.e. opening factories and hiring more workers).

However, as Hudson points out, there’s no guarantee that the banks are going to use the windfall to build wealth in the U.S. On the contrary, he argues, there’s every reason to suspect that they’ll invest the money overseas in currency speculation deals. Why? Because the Fed has also put massive pressure on Congress to push China into raising its currency by 20%. The banks know this because the House voted overwhelmingly to approve such a threat in September.

If the banks convert their extra billions to Chinese currency, and China raises the value of its currency in response to the threat of an across-the-board U.S. tariff on its imports, then banks that bought Chinese RMB when it was still artificially cheap will reap huge profits overnight.

Later in the Democracy Now! broadcast, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz describes how the U.S. employed a similar strategy of currency devaluation to insulate itself against the ravages of the Great Depression, with devastating global consequences:

So, the irony is that money that was intended to rekindle the American economy is causing havoc all over the world. Those elsewhere in the world say, what the United States is trying to do is the twenty-first century version of “beggar thy neighbor” policies that were part of the Great Depression: you strengthen yourself by hurting the others. You can’t do protectionism in the old version of raising tariffs, but what you can do is lower your exchange rate, and that’s what low interest rates are trying to do, weaken the dollar.

Trade war between the U.S. and China

The U.S. and China have a longstanding trade rivalry, but suddenly the two powers seem to be even more at odds than usual.

William Greider of The Nation argues that plummeting global demand has ratcheted up tensions as the two exporting nations fight over a dwindling pool of customers. The U.S. accuses China of artificially deflating its currency to make its exports cheaper. In retaliation, the U.S. imposed tariffs on Chinese tires and tubular steel. China, in turn, imposed a tariff on U.S. poultry. As I mentioned above, the House voted 348-79 in September to impose additional tariffs on nearly all Chinese imports if China doesn’t revalue its currency, though the Senate has yet to vote on this legislation.

The U.S. acts indignant about China manipulating its currency, but Grieder argues that this stance is hypocritical in light of the Federal Reserve’s decision to buy an additional $600 billion worth of Treasury bonds from the federal government to help finance the budget deficit. One effect will be to weaken the U.S. dollar, which will make our exports more competitive relative to those of China.

Voters reject free-for-all trade

In last week’s midterm elections, voters rewarded candidates who oppose unfettered free trade, according to Kari Lydersen of Working In These Times. According to a new report by Public Citizen, 60 congressional races were fought wholly or largely on trade issues in 2010. Only 37 candidates favored NAFTA-style free trade pacts and half of them lost. Not all the candidates who won on a protectionist trade platform were advocating a progressive agenda of fairly compensating trading partners, protecting American jobs, and upholding environmental regulations. Senator-Elect Rand Paul (R-KY) argued that the World Trade Organization is a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

Anti-union ballot initiatives win big

Mikhail Zinshteyn of Campus Progress brings us an update on the anti-union initiatives that appeared on the ballots in many states last week. Voters in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah approved legislation to preemptively neutralize the already-stalled Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), should it ever become federal law. EFCA, also known as card check or majority sign-up, would allow workers to organize by signing up for a union, instead of going through a grueling National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election process, which makes workers sitting ducks for management threats and propaganda.

Bean there, done that

Move over, Elizabeth Warren. The White House may be poised to appoint one of Wall Street’s favorite Democrats to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Andy Kroll and David Corn report in Mother Jones that Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL) is a favored contender for the job if her still-undecided race for reelection doesn’t work out. That would be heartening news for Bean’s former chief of staff, John Michael Gonzalez, now a leading lobbyist for Big Finance.

Bean, who serves on the House finance and small business committees, has received over $2.5 million in campaign contributions from the financial sector over the course of her 5-year career. Bean was also a big beneficiary of the Chamber of Commerce, which vehemently opposed the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that created the CFPB in the first place. Bean ultimately voted for the bill, but not before she unsuccessfully attempted to water down the consumer financial protections therein, the very provisions Bean would be tasked with enforcing.

“The White House needs to beat back the Bean idea, otherwise they’ll look like fools,” one Democratic strategist told Corn and Kroll. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. She’s a tool of the financial industries.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

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