Friday, May 08, 2009
Elizabeth Warren continues her role as American heroine speaking truth in a world and area unaccustomed to truth. Her most recent declarartions about the so-called stress tests say much about what's going on as Marvin Gay would say:
FARAI CHIDEYA: And now we’ve got more from Elizabeth Warren. She’s the Chairwoman of the Congressional Oversight Panel, charged with following the billions of dollars the government is giving to financial institutions through the TARP program. The oversight panel issues a report today that looks at TARP, small business lending and credit available to families with credit cards. Elizabeth, you’ve tackled the credit issue before, in part in your work as a professor and as an author. Let’s listen to a real-life example from one of our listeners. Last April we heard from Philamena from upstate New York to tell us her credit card story.
Listener Philamena on tape: I was talking to Bank of America yesterday because of a letter we received. We have over a 700 credit score. Never paid a bill partially, always in full, and they decided to halve our credit availability.
FARAI CHIDEYA: Is that something that the companies should be held accountable for, restricting credit at a time when there is so much government funding going to try to loosen credit? And we’re talking here about people who have good or decent scores.
ELIZABETH WARREN: Right. So this is the big policy question that’s on the table right now: Should a condition of receiving taxpayer support be that you use a little more customer-friendly practices?
: Because in theory they’re getting almost free money from the Feds and they can jack up these fees and interest rates on the other side. That’s a huge business, I’d like to get into that.
ELIZABETH WARREN: No kidding. And it really boosts your profits and, you know, for the companies, that works out really well. It’s a way to boost up your profits and maybe you’ll be able to pay back your government money eventually, you’ll be able to weather this crisis. But it’s also, potentially, very destabilizing to a lot of families that budgeted close to the wire, they’re making their payments, they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. You jerk up those interest rates, you cut back on the credit line, and they’re in real trouble now.
FARAI CHIDEYA: Your book The Two Income Trap was something that you did with your daughter. Which I find, particularly as a woman, I find that fascinating. What was it like to team up to do that kind of important work with your own child?
ELIZABETH WARREN: Well, you know, we were looking at all this data that I had. I had a new study out on families that had filed for bankruptcy and I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with these date and my little baby granddaughter was born. This is Amelia, my daughter’s, baby. We kept having these conversations around when she was born and finally that became the frame to the book. We don’t really frame it that way in the book, but the truth is it’s about what happened in one generation. What it meant to start a family in the early 1970s, and how it worked on income, and housing, and schools, and costs, and budgets and savings. And what it’s been like to start a family in the early 2000s. And the world has changed profoundly in that one generation snapshot, and that’s what we ended up writing the book around.
FARAI CHIDEYA: So many people thought, “OK. This is great.” We’ve had second-wave feminism that has allowed women to go to work, and women are still having kids, and the guys are still working, what’s wrong with that equation of everything being cool?
ELIZABETH WARREN: The problem is I just keep looking at this from the economics. I’m just a straight forward… I’m just a money girl. I want to see at the end of the day what’s happening. And here’s the bottom line on what’s happening: The only way over one generation that families in one generation that families are making any increase in money is by putting a second person into the workforce. That is, the wages of a man, I hate to tell you this, adjusted for inflation, median earning male makes $800 less than he used to one generation back.
: She was looking at me, like, I just got a pay cut here.
ELIZABETH WARREN: Just wanted you to know, $800 down.
FARAI CHIDEYA: Get those kids out working.
ELIZABETH WARREN: So the only way we can continue to get some kind of rise in family income was by putting a second income in. But the problem is core expenses outstrip that — housing, health insurance, transportation, child care and taxes, because families are paying on these two salaries. At the end of the day, today’s two-income family has less money left over after those five basic expenses than the one-income family had a generation ago.
: So you’ve got your headphones on there?
ELIZABETH WARREN: I’ve got them on.
: Listen to this sound here.
Sound of credit card machine
: You know what that sound is?
ELIZABETH WARREN: Yeah, I know.
: That’s the sound of what?
ELIZABETH WARREN: That’s the sound of those credit card processing things.
: Not being declined.
ELIZABETH WARREN: Not being declined.
: Kind of a cliff-hanger for consumers for a long, long time. But in this environment, where we’re told every day there’s a credit crunch. What if these two-income families that you describe as more in debt now than ever before, fall of the edge as a result of the changes that have taken place even in the last few months of this economy?
ELIZABETH WARREN: This is the part that’s really scary. Because when Amelia and I wrote the book, it was still boom times. In fact, a lot of people we talked with laughed at us. You know, “Aw, what do you mean about the deteriorating situation of the American family? Times are great. Party on. Party on.” We are in such a weakened state going into this recession. People are not stopping to account for this, that we’re hitting unemployment, we’re hitting rises in costs, at a time when the American family was already staggering economically. The federal government said in their mortgage mitigation program, that if any bank was going to take TARP money, they had to be willing to participate in the mortgage program to try to help with foreclosures. The question on the table is, should they do the same things on credit cards and other practices? There are a lot of folks, even within my own panel, who said no.
: You say yes?
ELIZABETH WARREN: I’m one of the people who says yes.
FARAI CHIDEYA: Alright, I’m going to have to leave it right there. I’ve certainly have learned a lot from you Elizabeth Warren. Thank you.
ELIZABETH WARREN: Thank you."
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
The Georgian -Russian conflict gets deeper and at the same time more difficult for the average American to understand. The most recent episode involves a mutiny of Georgian forces days before a NATO exercise of sorts followed by histrionic actions by president (nut case) Sakashvili.The really disturbing thing to me is that Obama cannot back off from the reflexively anti-Russian policies of the previous administration. This suggests that the same military-industrial fucks that we have had running the the country are still in charge. Questions to be asked include are why does NATO even exist? Can the U.S. even afford a fraction of the present military budget given the economic implosion we can all see?
Sunday, May 03, 2009
In case you missed it there was an anti-torture rally outside the White House last week in which over 100 participants were arrested, The above clip is from Russia Today of all places.
Meanwhile much discussion goes on in progressive-left circles as to what to think of President Obama. Andy Zee writes on the website of The Revolutionary Communist Party of the U.S.A. of a litany of shortcomings:
"A grievous, shameful and dangerous state of affairs permeates the movements of opposition in the U.S. Their outlook and politics have collapsed into passive acquiescence and even overt criminal complicity with the policies and actions of the ruling class, and are doing so by promoting the deadly illusion that the election of Barack Obama is bringing progressive change.
This is bullshit, it’s knowable, and it must change.
Some basic reality of Obama’s first 80 days:
Obama has escalated the illegal war in Afghanistan with an additional 21,000 troops.
Obama has expanded the war into Pakistan areas, using troops and unmanned drones.
Obama has extended the deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq to 2010—and even that date may be extended by the Pentagon.
Obama said he plans to leave 35,000-50,000 troops plus 50,000-100,000 mercenaries in Iraq after that, effectively continuing the illegal occupation.
Obama said he would close Guantanamo within 1 year, yet prisoners there are still being force fed with tubes shoved down their throats.
Obama approved $60 million to double the size of Bagram prison in Afghanistan.
Obama’s Justice Department has defended the Bush policy of illegal warrantless wiretapping and asserted far broader claims of executive branch immunity than even the Bush regime."
Obviously not only Obama but the anti-war movement in general is not immune from criticism:
"In an act which concentrates the treachery of this collapse, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), the largest anti-war coalition, at their national meeting in December 2008, voted to oppose organizing demonstrations on the 6th Anniversary of the Iraq War on March 19 and 21, 2009. In opposition to mounting a determined struggle to end the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and instead of calling people into the streets to stand with the people of the world, they decided “to mobilize a new base of people who have been inspired by Obama” in a four month campaign in commemoration of Martin Luther King titled, “Beyond War, A New Economy Is Possible: Yes We Can!”
The practical results: first, the protests that were actually held by others to coincide with the Iraq War’s Anniversary on March 19 and 21 were not as large as they needed to be—which mattered. Then, on Saturday April 4, UFPJ led a dull routine walk through the deserted financial district of NYC with a couple of thousand people revealing their capacity for sapping the life and spirit out of a movement—egregious, but not the heart of the matter."
While the RCPUSA has a few axes to grind other critics are making their thoughts known. John Stauber at the Center for Media and Demococracy takes on MoveOn.org for its apparent shifts in emphasis and policy. He too is disturbed with the now subdued approach to the Wars of America and the loss of focus on economic issues that matter to the vast majority of Americans:
"The main online activist efforts that elected Obama -- his own Organizing for America and the liberal lobby MoveOn -- have become cheerleaders and lobbyists for his legislative agenda, policies that in many instances betray his rhetoric of change. I am referring to Obama's refusal to quickly end the war in Iraq; his military escalation in Afghanistan; his support for Wall Street bailouts; his endorsement of tax subsidies for the coal industry ("clean coal") and the nuclear power industry (saving us from global warming). Obama is about to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on health care subsidies that cater to the insurance industry and undermine the only real solution to the current crisis, the adoption of a single payer health care system such as that enjoyed by the Canadians and most other western democracies.
Yet my email box is filled with missives from MoveOn and other liberal online campaigns that spin these dismal policies as "real change," or ignore them entirely to dampen criticism from the Left of the Obama Administration.
What are grassroots activist organizations to do to avoid marginalization? Peace and justice organizations at the local and state level need to learn and adopt the new media tools of MoveOn and Obama, but use them to give birth to fundamental change that empowers people rather than seeks accommodation with powerful corporate interests. Rather than organizing for an agenda determined by a handful of partisan Democrats at the top, this new organization should work to empower and represent people from the bottom up.......
"In early 2007, I began publicly criticizing MoveOn for co-opting the peace movement on behalf of the agenda of Congressional Democrats. The Democrats gained control of the U.S. Congress in the fall of 2006 based primarily on public revulsion over Bush's war in Iraq, a war that was endorsed from the start by leading Democrats including John Kerry, Tom Daschle, Hillary Clinton, and many others. In early 2007, the Democrats had an opportunity to cut off funding for the war, but blinked. MoveOn, an organization considered by the mainstream media the leader of the peace movement, sided with Speaker Nancy Pelosi in an effort that marginalized the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus and gave Bush all the funding he wanted to continue the war.
The peace movement has never recovered. Although Obama was elected as the peace candidate, his Iraq withdrawal plan is anemic and would leave 50,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely, while he has ramped up the U.S. war in Afghanistan. MoveOn has declared Obama's Iraq strategy a success, even as the war continues, and is refusing to oppose Obama on Afghanistan. Meanwhile the grassroots peace movement that consists primarily of the hundreds of groups that make up the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) coalition are disorganized and dispirited and UFPJ is in danger of going broke.
It's likely that all these groups that comprise UFPJ have among their own existing email lists a total number of peace activists in the millions. Yet they have never figured out how to mobilize these lists to create the sort of mega-list that is wielded by MoveOn. Hopefully down the road a network of non-partisan, web-based local and state activists will come together and create state and national email lists of millions of mobilized activists. Until these grassroots local and state groups learn the tricks of online activism and marry it to powerful grassroots organizing campaigns, real change will be deferred."
Mr Stauber is quite right to suggest another level of organizing is needed in this country to actually reflect the the beliefs and aspirations of Americans who have tossed off Bush-Cheney and don't wish to be coopted by those who at heart have more in common with the usual centers of power in this country. Vigilance is eternal as Che Guevara once said.