The Score to Strive For: F to D+

I went into my bank to order checks for a new account. While waiting, I saw a sign that said the name of the bank that owns mine. I knew it was a French bank, but I had not known its name: BNP Paribas. Since I had nothing else to do with the time, I took out my phone and looked up the name of the bank on the internet. On its page it proclaimed for itself “the commitment of a responsible bank.” There was also a link in recent news stating that PNB Paribas had been ranked the highest in the world of any bank for corporate social responsibility by Vigeo. Vigeo is considered the leading European expert in assessing companies and organizations with regard to their practices and performance on environmental, social, and governance issues. It has launched under its proprietary brand a range of indices identifying companies which demonstrate best performance in corporate social responsibility in the context of their field of investment. Companies featured in the Vigeo indices are those achieving the highest score on all criteria, judged on 38 sustainability drivers under which Vigeo reviews company performance measured against up to 330 indicators. PNB Paribas ranked as the banking sector leader, with a set of scores of between 52% and 64% in all the areas examined.

Huh. So the top bank ranking, one worthy of self congratulation and laudatory commendation, scored what would be the equivalent of an F to a D+ in the American grading system. That’s the BEST score of any bank. If the BEST score of any bank in corporate social responsibility is failing to D+ I wonder how dismally the others performed. I have some idea and it’s not good. Hell, world giant HSBC openly laundered money for Mexican drug cartels; regular banking must seem saintly in comparison. If a corporate responsibility ranking of failing to D+ is enough for a bank to consider itself credible, no wonder the world is in such a dismal state.

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There But for the Grace of God

Yesterday at the grocery store, the clerk asked if I would like to donate my bag credit to charity. Sure, why not. I said that the store should donate the money to the large numbers of homeless parents and children I have seen around the city in the last few months.  The clerk said, “Well, they could go to a shelter. They just choose not to because they make more money begging.”

Her attitude bothered me a lot, and it is typical of many who see homeless people and presume that their way is the only way and that if the poor person just did what they were “supposed to” then maybe things would be different. It’s such a paternalistic, patronizing view. It presumes so much and absolves personal responsibility, not of the poor person, but of the holder of the opinion.

Just because someone is homeless, it does not mean that person is stupid, made poor choices, deserves it, etcetera. In today’s economy, where the super wealthy have gotten away with robbing us blind and they use our assumptions about the poor against us to achieve their agenda, slipping from the middle class to homelessness is not such a stretch. I see it all the time.  In just the last two months, I have had six chapter 13 clients who had to convert or modify their plans because their employers laid them off or cut their income in half. Does this make my clients stupid, their choices poor, do they deserve it? No. The longer we keep blaming the victims, the longer we will allow what is happening to our world continue to happen.

I responded to the grocery clerk that just because there are shelters doesn’t mean the person can get into them. Having a child is not a sure thing. Shelters are full. Shelters are not easy to come by. But I realized after I left that this had been the wrong answer. What I should have said instead was, “So what? Just because they are poor, they have to take your version of how they receive a handout for their homelessness to be acceptable? Who are you to decide that your way is the only way for them? Why is it that because they are homeless they suddenly accede the self and the right to make those choices? Why isn’t making more money begging an acceptable choice, and how is that different than you choosing a different job because you might earn more? Why shouldn’t they be able to make that choice if it gets their child fed?”

I didn’t say this. As is often the case, I thought of the best answer after I was gone. I should have said it, and next time I will. We have got to change the supercilious theory that because someone is poor they deserve it. And in today’s climate, we should all be thanking the heavens and saying to ourselves, “There but for the grace of God go I.” It’s a slippery slope and it doesn’t take much to end up at the bottom of it, especially in this country where we give billions to banksters while we scold poor people for using food stamps. It’s truly obscene.

We Need to Band Together

Fighting the tea party, fighting other religions or non-religions, fighting anyone who doesn’t agree with our views just keeps us all form pointing to the real causes of our collective global crises.  Follow the money, and in every case you’ll end up at the big bankers, who seek global domination.  They are succeeding and we help them when we are polarized against each other.

Get informed, speak up, and connect with others.

Bank locally.

Buy and invest responsibly and locally.

Audit the federal reserve.

Keep the internet fair and open.

Support independent media.

Support organic, non GMO farming.

Require election and campaign finance reform.

Advocate for renewable and free energy.

Bring integrity and healing to our current condition.  Limit government control to the protection of individual rights and the commons.  Live solely by voluntary cooperation: Rules, but no rulers.

The US Government Hands OUR Money to the Banks Who Steal From Us

The US Government hands over OUR tax money to the banks who have driven us to this desperate economic situation that is hurting so many people.  This should cause serious concern.  Regardless of what you think of the Occupy movement, you should care that the government hands off your money to crooks, money that is supposed to be used for our schools, keeping our air and water clean, functional highway systems, and taking care of the needy.  There isn’t any money for any of these things because it has been given away to rich thieves.

See this transcript from the documentation proving these massive bailout transfers.  The original document can be seen here.

Federal Bailouts:  Money for Nothing
~ by Alan Grayson

I think it’s fair to say that Congressman Ron Paul and I are the parents of the GAO’s audit of the Federal Reserve. And I say that knowing full well that Dr. Paul has somewhat complicated views regarding gay marriage.

Anyway, one of our love children is a massive 251-page GAO report technocratically entitled “Opportunities Exist to Strengthen Policies and Processes for Managing Emergency Assistance.” It is almost as weighty as that 13-lb. baby born in Germany last week, named Jihad. It also is the first independent audit of the Federal Reserve in the Fed’s 99-year history.

Feel free to take a look at it yourself, it’s right here. It documents Wall Street bailouts by the Fed that dwarf the $700 billion TARP, and everything else you’ve heard about.

I wouldn’t want anyone to think that I’m dramatizing or amplifying what this GAO report says, so I’m just going to list some of my favorite parts, by page number.

Page 131 – The total lending for the Fed’s “broad-based emergency programs” was $16,115,000,000,000. That’s right, more than $16 trillion. The four largest recipients, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, received more than a trillion dollars each. The 5th largest recipient was Barclays PLC. The 8th was the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, PLC. The 9th was Deutsche Bank AG. The 10th was UBS AG. These four institutions each got between a quarter of a trillion and a trillion dollars. None of them is an American bank.

Pages 133 & 137 – Some of these “broad-based emergency program” loans were long-term, and some were short-term. But the “term-adjusted borrowing” was equivalent to a total of $1,139,000,000,000 more than one year. That’s more than $1 trillion out the door. Lending for these programs in fact peaked at more than $1 trillion.

Pages 135 & 196 – Sixty percent of the $738 billion “Commercial Paper Funding Facility” went to the subsidiaries of foreign banks. 36% of the $71 billion Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility also went to subsidiaries of foreign banks.

Page 205 – Separate and apart from these “broad-based emergency program” loans were another $10,057,000,000,000 in “currency swaps.” In the “currency swaps,” the Fed handed dollars to foreign central banks, no strings attached, to fund bailouts in other countries. The Fed’s only “collateral” was a corresponding amount of foreign currency, which never left the Fed’s books (even to be deposited to earn interest), plus a promise to repay. But the Fed agreed to give back the foreign currency at the original exchange rate, even if the foreign currency appreciated in value during the period of the swap. These currency swaps and the “broad-based emergency program” loans, together, totaled more than $26 trillion. That’s almost $100,000 for every man, woman, and child in America. That’s an amount equal to more than seven years of federal spending — on the military, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, interest on the debt, and everything else. And around twice American’s total GNP.

Page 201 – Here again, these “swaps” were of varying length, but on Dec. 4, 2008, there were $588,000,000,000 outstanding. That’s almost $2,000 for every American. All sent to foreign countries. That’s more than twenty times as much as our foreign aid budget.

Page 129 – In October 2008, the Fed gave $60,000,000,000 to the Swiss National Bank with the specific understanding that the money would be used to bail out UBS, a Swiss bank. Not an American bank. A Swiss bank.

Pages 3 & 4 – In addition to the “broad-based programs,” and in addition to the “currency swaps,” there have been hundreds of billions of dollars in Fed loans called “assistance to individual institutions.” This has included Bear Stearns, AIG, Citigroup, Bank of America, and “some primary dealers.” The Fed decided unilaterally who received this “assistance,” and who didn’t.

Pages 101 & 173 – You may have heard somewhere that these were riskless transactions, where the Fed always had enough collateral to avoid losses. Not true. The “Maiden Lane I” bailout fund was in the hole for almost two years.

Page 4 – You also may have heard somewhere that all this money was paid back. Not true. The GAO lists five Fed bailout programs that still have amounts outstanding, including $909,000,000,000 (just under a trillion dollars) for the Fed’s Agency Mortgage-Backed Securities Purchase Program alone. That’s almost $3,000 for every American.

Page 126 – In contemporaneous documents, the Fed apparently did not even take a stab at explaining why it helped some banks (like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) and not others. After the fact, the Fed referred vaguely to “strains in the financial markets,” “transitional credit,” and the Fed’s all-time favorite rationale for everything it does, “increasing liquidity.”

81 different places in the GAO report – The Fed applied nothing even resembling a consistent policy toward valuing the assets that it acquired. Sometimes it asked its counterparty to take a “haircut” (discount), sometimes it didn’t. Having read the whole report, I see no rhyme or reason to those decisions, with billions upon billions of dollars at stake.

Page 2 – As massive as these enumerated Fed bailouts were, there were yet more. The GAO did not even endeavor to analyze the Fed’s discount window lending, or its single-tranche term repurchase agreements.

Pages 13 & 14 – And the Fed wasn’t the only one bailing out Wall Street, of course. On top of what the Fed did, there was the $700,000,000,000 TARP program authorized by Congress (which I voted against). The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC) also provided a federal guarantee for $600,000,000,000 in bonds issued by Wall Street.

There is one thing that I’d like to add to this, which isn’t in the GAO’s report. All this is something new, very new. For the first 96 years of the Fed’s existence, the Fed’s primary market activities were to buy or sell U.S. Treasury bonds (to change the money supply), and to lend at the “discount window.” Neither of these activities permitted the Fed to play favorites. But the programs that the GAO audited are fundamentally different. They allowed the Fed to choose winners and losers.

So what does all this mean? Here are some short observations:

(1) In the case of TARP, at least The People’s representatives got a vote. In the case of the Fed’s bailouts, which were roughly 20 times as substantial, there was never any vote. Unelected functionaries, with all sorts of ties to Wall Street, handed out trillions of dollars to Wall Street. That’s now how a democracy should function, or even can function.

(2) The notion that this was all without risk, just because the Fed can keep printing money, is both laughable and cryable (if that were a word). Leaving aside the example of Germany’s hyperinflation in 1923, we have the more recent examples of Iceland (75% of GNP gone when the central bank took over three failed banks) and Ireland (100% of GNP gone when the central bank tried to rescue property firms).

(3) In the same way that American troops cannot act as police officers for the world, our central bank cannot act as piggy bank for the world. If the European Central Bank wants to bail out UBS, fine. But there is no reason why our money should be involved in that.

(4) For the Fed to pick and choose among aid recipients, and then pick and choose who takes a “haircut” and who doesn’t, is both corporate welfare and socialism. The Fed is a central bank, not a barber shop.

(5) The main, if not the sole, qualification for getting help from the Fed was to have lost huge amounts of money. The Fed bailouts rewarded failure, and penalized success. (If you don’t believe me, ask Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan.) The Fed helped the losers to squander and destroy even more capital.

(6) During all the time that the Fed was stuffing money into the pockets of failed banks, many Americans couldn’t borrow a dime for a home, a car, or anything else. If the Fed had extended $26 trillion in credit to the American people instead of Wall Street, would there be 24 million Americans today who can’t find a full-time job?

And here’s what bothers me most about all this: it can happen again. I’ve called the GAO report a bailout autopsy. But it’s an autopsy of the undead.

Courage,

Alan Grayson

The Shocking Truth About the Crackdown on Occupy

The Shocking Truth About the Crackdown on Occupy  The violent police assaults across the US are no coincidence. Occupy has touched the third rail of our political class’s venality.

by Naomi Wolf

This post is a reprint and can be found here.

US citizens of all political persuasions are still reeling from images of unparallelled police brutality in a coordinated crackdown against peaceful OWS protesters in cities across the nation this past week. An elderly woman was pepper-sprayed in the face; the scene of unresisting, supine students at UC Davis being pepper-sprayed by phalanxes of riot police went viral online; images proliferated of young women – targeted seemingly for their gender – screaming, dragged by the hair by police in riot gear; and the pictures of a young man, stunned and bleeding profusely from the head, emerged in the record of the middle-of-the-night clearing of Zuccotti Park.

But just when Americans thought we had the picture – was this crazy police and mayoral overkill, on a municipal level, in many different cities? – the picture darkened. The National Union of Journalists and the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a Freedom of Information Act request to investigate possible federal involvement with law enforcement practices that appeared to target journalists. The New York Times reported that “New York cops have arrested, punched, whacked, shoved to the ground and tossed a barrier at reporters and photographers” covering protests. Reporters were asked by NYPD to raise their hands to prove they had credentials: when many dutifully did so, they were taken, upon threat of arrest, away from the story they were covering, andpenned far from the site in which the news was unfolding. Other reporters wearing press passes were arrested and roughed up by cops, after being – falsely – informed by police that “It is illegal to take pictures on the sidewalk.”

In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on “how to suppress” Occupy protests.

To Europeans, the enormity of this breach may not be obvious at first. Our system of government prohibits the creation of a federalised police force, and forbids federal or militarised involvement in municipal peacekeeping.

I noticed that rightwing pundits and politicians on the TV shows on which I was appearing were all on-message against OWS. Journalist Chris Hayes reported on a leaked memo that revealed lobbyists vying for an $850,000 contract to smear Occupy. Message coordination of this kind is impossible without a full-court press at the top. This was clearly not simply a case of a freaked-out mayors’, city-by-city municipal overreaction against mess in the parks and cranky campers. As the puzzle pieces fit together, they began to show coordination against OWS at the highest national levels.

Why this massive mobilisation against these not-yet-fully-articulated, unarmed, inchoate people? After all, protesters against the war in Iraq, Tea Party rallies and others have all proceeded without this coordinated crackdown. Is it really the camping? As I write, two hundred young people, with sleeping bags, suitcases and even folding chairs, are still camping out all night and day outside of NBC on public sidewalks – under the benevolent eye of an NYPD cop – awaiting Saturday Night Live tickets, so surely the camping is not the issue. I was still deeply puzzled as to why OWS, this hapless, hopeful band, would call out a violent federal response.

That is, until I found out what it was that OWS actually wanted.

The mainstream media was declaring continually “OWS has no message”. Frustrated, I simply asked them. I began soliciting online “What is it you want?” answers from Occupy. In the first 15 minutes, I received 100 answers. These were truly eye-opening.

The No 1 agenda item: get the money out of politics. Most often cited was legislation to blunt the effect of the Citizens United ruling, which lets boundless sums enter the campaign process. No 2: reform the banking system to prevent fraud and manipulation, with the most frequent item being to restore the Glass-Steagall Act – the Depression-era law, done away with by President Clinton, that separates investment banks from commercial banks. This law would correct the conditions for the recent crisis, as investment banks could not take risks for profit that create kale derivatives out of thin air, and wipe out the commercial and savings banks.

No 3 was the most clarifying: draft laws against the little-known loophole that currently allows members of Congress to pass legislation affecting Delaware-based corporations in which they themselves are investors.

When I saw this list – and especially the last agenda item – the scales fell from my eyes. Of course, these unarmed people would be having the shit kicked out of them.

For the terrible insight to take away from news that the Department of Homeland Security coordinated a violent crackdown is that the DHS does not freelance. The DHS cannot say, on its own initiative, “we are going after these scruffy hippies”. Rather, DHS is answerable up a chain of command: first, to New York Representative Peter King, head of the House homeland security subcommittee, who naturally is influenced by his fellow congressmen and women’s wishes and interests. And the DHS answers directly, above King, to the president (who was conveniently in Australia at the time).

In other words, for the DHS to be on a call with mayors, the logic of its chain of command and accountability implies that congressional overseers, with the blessing of the White House, told the DHS to authorise mayors to order their police forces – pumped up with millions of dollars of hardware and training from the DHS – to make war on peaceful citizens.

But wait: why on earth would Congress advise violent militarised reactions against its own peaceful constituents? The answer is straightforward: in recent years, members of Congress have started entering the system as members of the middle class (or upper middle class) – but they are leaving DC privy to vast personal wealth, as we see from the “scandal” of presidential contender Newt Gingrich’s having been paid $1.8m for a few hours’ “consulting” to special interests. The inflated fees to lawmakers who turn lobbyists are common knowledge, but the notion that congressmen and women are legislating their own companies’ profitsis less widely known – and if the books were to be opened, they would surely reveal corruption on a Wall Street spectrum. Indeed, we do already know that congresspeople are massively profiting from trading on non-public information they have on companies about which they are legislating – a form of insider trading that sent Martha Stewart to jail.

Since Occupy is heavily surveilled and infiltrated, it is likely that the DHS and police informers are aware, before Occupy itself is, what its emerging agenda is going to look like. If legislating away lobbyists’ privileges to earn boundless fees once they are close to the legislative process, reforming the banks so they can’t suck money out of fake derivatives products, and, most critically, opening the books on a system that allowed members of Congress to profit personally – and immensely – from their own legislation, are two beats away from the grasp of an electorally organised Occupy movement … well, you will call out the troops on stopping that advance.

So, when you connect the dots, properly understood, what happened this week is the first battle in a civil war; a civil war in which, for now, only one side is choosing violence. It is a battle in which members of Congress, with the collusion of the American president, sent violent, organised suppression against the people they are supposed to represent. Occupy has touched the third rail: personal congressional profits streams. Even though they are, as yet, unaware of what the implications of their movement are, those threatened by the stirrings of their dreams of reform are not.

Sadly, Americans this week have come one step closer to being true brothers and sisters of the protesters in Tahrir Square. Like them, our own national leaders, who likely see their own personal wealth under threat from transparency and reform, are now making war upon us.

Oh for Cryin’ Out Loud

I’m a bankruptcy attorney so I am often in contact with collection agencies and whatnot.  I have been doing it long enough that I have also seen a bunch of financial institutions come and go.  It is amazing how many bottom-feeder, rotten-ass lenders turn around and change their name because they are such scum, even people with the worst credit ratings won’t touch them.

One of these is GMAC.  They are now Ally!  They announce it with an exclamation point on their envelopes and return addresses.  Guess what?  We changed our name so now you can pretend we aren’t the same law-breaking, loan sharks we have always been!  Sorry GMAC, or Ally, or whatever.  You still suck.

Another is American General Finance.  Total loan sharks.  Total bottom-feeder scumbags.  Now they are Springleaf!  Ah, how fresh!  How springlike!  How green and new!  No.  The only thing green about them is their diarrhea color. When I saw that they had become Springleaf, I actually exclaimed, “Oh, for cryin’ out loud!”  Hence the name of this post.

People out there in America, if you happen to read this, don’t borrow money.  If you do borrow money, only do it for a home loan.  If you do that, don’t borrow it from a bottom-feeder loan shark. If you are borrowing from a bottom-feeder loan shark, you can’t afford what you are getting the loan for.   Leave them all alone.  They’re horrible and they don’t deserve your business.

Move Your Money

I’m very excited about a movement brewing to move money out of the big four banks (Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America) and into smaller, community-based banks.  The big banks took our bailout money, then earned record profits, returning to the same practices that caused the collapse in the first place.  In spite of their profits, they have cut lending by 100 billion dollars in spite of the bailout money that was intended to get them lending again.

In the meantime, local community banks, most of whom avoided the corrupt practices of the big banks, are having difficulty getting by, and government policies that keep propping up the big guys are making things more difficult for banks who have followed the rules.

A group of people came up with an idea to help the little banks while simultaneously sending a message with teeth to the greedy, corrupt thieves who caused the meltdown in the first place.  The idea is simple.  If enough people move their money out of the big four and into smaller, local, solvent institutions, the system will become more balanced so it can be stronger, more stable, and productive, working for economic growth instead of against it.

You can get more information at the website www.MoveYourMoney.info.  The site will have a page where you can enter your zip code to find a highly ranked local bank in your area.

Move your money.  Let’s show those banks who think they are too big to fail that we aren’t putting up with their corruption any longer.