Are you a member of an advocacy group? You need to put your cause on hold and join the Move to Amend.

The other day, I was stopped by a person on the street that “wanted to talk to me.” Turns out he was a member of Greenpeace, and he and some associates were out that day working the streets, trying to take their message of environmentalism directly to the people.

The first though that came to my mind was this – What are you doing wasting your time on the streets talking about environmentalism? Don’t you know the Energy and Natural Resource lobbies have given over $600 million to members of Congress during the last decade, while Greenpeace has given a measly $315K during the same period? That’s five-hundredths of 1% of the money Energy companies have given, companies which usually are diametrically opposed to the goals of environmentalists. Who do you think lawmakers are listening to? In the face of such obscene amounts of cash, do you think your voice has any chance of being heard by lawmakers with the actual power to enact real change?

It has no chance, and while I applaud your efforts in reaching out to people to spread your message, those efforts are wasted.

If Greenpeace truly wishes to advance any of its goals, they need to put those goals aside for now, and focus on a new, singular goal – that of adding their voice and dedicating their resources to the cause of amending the constitution to get money out of government and leveling the playing field so that their voice does matter once again.

That goes for every advocacy organization in America. Greenpeace, NORML, Electronic Frontier Foundation, PETA, Sierra Club, etc, etc. Any and every advocacy group whose interests run counter to entrenched business interests stand little or no chance in advancing those interests unless they join in the pay-to-play bonanza that is American government. Even if they do, their financial coffers are a drop in the bucket compared to the money available for spending by corporate giants.

Like so many websites and organizations did in the unified opposition to PIPA/SOPA, advocacy groups across America need to unite under the one common cause of amending the constitution to cleanse our political system of the corrupting influence of money. Doing so would catapult this issue to the forefront of national discourse, and get us on the fast track to restoring our democracy and making our government work for us, rather than for money.

So Greenpeace guy, thanks for your efforts. But you need to take off that Greenpeace jacket and put on your Move to Amend one.


The Wealth Gap – It’s Not A Liberal vs. Conservative issue. It’s an American issue.

There is no question that the wealthiest 1% in America have seen their incomes skyrocket over the last 30 years, while wage stagnation and decline have been the reality for the remaining 99% of us. Preferential policies enacted by government (lower taxes, less regulation) have largely contributed to this dramatic shift in earnings.

One thing about the wealth gap issue in America that has so galvanized me is the fact that it negatively impacts so many people (99% of us!), and yet so many of us are unsupportive of any efforts to address the imbalance.

Look at these polling numbers:

  • 32% of Americans (nearly one-third) oppose raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans (Gallup, Sept 2011)
  • Roughly that same number (36%) oppose greater regulation of Wall Street banks (Gallup, Apr 2010)
  • Only 33% (again, one-third) of Americans support the Occupy Wall Street movement (PPP, Nov 2011)
  • A smaller though still significant number of Americans (23%) think that top Wall Street executives, if found guilty in perpetrating the 2008 economic crisis, should not be prosecuted (Time, Oct 2011)

In essence, one-third of Americans have seen their incomes stagnant since the 1980s, have lost their homes or seen the value of those homes fall dramatically since 2008, are unemployed or underemployed, are drowning in debt, and yet are fine with the way things are and even oppose efforts to make things better for themselves.

This is a travesty and a testament to the effectiveness of the wealthiest 1% in essentially convincing the rest of us to vote against our own economic interests.

The New York Times says that incomes for the top 1% of Americans begin at $386,000 (and average $717,000). That said, there is a simple test to determine where you should stand on the key issues of:

  • Raising taxes on the wealthy
  • Holding Wall Street executives accountable for their willful destruction of the global economy
  • Reinstating regulations that used to be in place that were designed to prevent meltdowns like the 2008 crisis

The test? Simply ask yourself, “Do I earn more than $386,000 a year?”.

If your answer is “Yes”, then you are among the top 1% of income earners in the United States, and logically you should be opposed to all of these key initiatives. (And are probably not a reader of my blog.)

Conversely, if your answer is “No”, then logically you should be in support of these same issues. 

Sadly, as we have seen, this is not the case for fully one-third of Americans.

This is an S.O.S. – a distress signal to those 33% of Americans who have drifted off-course and into shark-infested waters. If you make less than $386,000 a year and you oppose raising taxes on the wealthy, oppose holding Wall Street executives accountable for their reckless endangerment, or oppose greater regulation of Wall Street banks, then my friend, it’s time for a gut-check because you have been hoodwinked!

I’m usually reserved in discussing politics with friends and family, because I understand that you cannot change people’s core values and it’s these core values that largely drive their opinions and hence their votes. But when it comes to income inequality in America, conservative and liberal, black and white, man and woman, we’re all in the same boat. We all share a similar stake, and consequently we all must work to be united. My hope is to win back some of our own who have been left behind economically, and yet somehow have gone over to the other side in support of the very people who work to enrich themselves at literally any and all cost to you and I.

Obama embraces Super PACs: Is he “selling out”? Or was it necessary?

A lot of backlash over Obama’s decision to embrace Super PACs and give donors the green light to jump in the game. I don’t believe his decision necessarily “condones” the use of Super PACs – I happen to agree with his campaign that it was a necessary evil and that they had no choice in order to keep the playing field level. Allowing the Republicans alone to utilize Super PACs would be electoral suicide.

The sad truth is it’s sink or swim for politicians in our pay-to-play system. Yes, Obama could have “sent a message” by taking a moral stance and refusing to embrace Super PACs, but unfortunately the vast majority of Americans just aren’t paying attention to the issue. Not to mention the fact that Americans just don’t do well with subtlety. Consequently any kind of “symbolic” message he tried to send would just be lost on them. Right now we need a President who will be sympathetic to the cause of getting money out of politics, and given the choice between Obama and a GOP candidate, Obama wins hands down.

There is lots Obama could do to show that, while he must play by the rules of the game, he recognizes those rules are flawed and he wants to work to change them. Republic Report clearly spells out those options:

  • Issue an executive order mandating campaign disclosure by government contractors.
  • Strengthen the Federal Elections Commission.
  • Use the Securities and Exchange Commission to empower investors with information about corporate political spending
  • Press for the DISCLOSE Act and other measures to add transparency to the campaigns and elections.

This is going to be a record year for campaign spending thanks to the Citizens United ruling and Super PACs. Obama needs to do everything he can to keep up with his Republican opponent, and we need to do everything we can to get money out of politics so we never have to worry about this issue again!

$26B Mortgage Fraud Settlement: Banks win, homeowners lose, again.

$26 billion sounds like a lot on the face of it. But take a look at the facts from this Yahoo! article:

  • Trillions of dollars of household wealth lost after 2008 market crash
  • Homeowners illegally foreclosed on get $2,000 for their trouble. (Would $2,000 make you feel better about losing your home?)
  • At-risk homeowners can get the balance of their loan reduced by up to $20K (Underwater homeowners owe approx $50K more than their homes are worth)
  • Banks only kick in $5 billion of the $26 billion! The rest of the $20+ billion comes from loan guarantees paid for by investors (i.e. taxpayers, i.e., you).
  • That $5 billion cost is shared between multiple banks, which, after dividing it up, is a mere drop in the bucket for them (JP Morgan and Wells Fargo alone made a combined $33.8 billion in profit just in 2011).

See Yves Smith’s article on other reasons why this deal stinks.

So, congratulations taxpayers on succeeding in having your tax dollars diverted back to yourselves in helping to write down the value of your own home loans so that the banks don’t take the hit!

It’s unreal how, after perpetrating the largest financial fraud in US history while simultaneously wiping out average Americans’ net worth and bringing the global economy to its knees, banks once again get by with a slap on the wrist. But then again, it’s not so surprising, considering how much lawmakers themselves share in the record profits. After all, banks aren’t paying government officials all that money just to have those officials turn around and impose fines for the banks’ illegal activities, now are they?

Super PACs Make It Rain

Super PACs Make It Rain.

It seems we’re all in waiting mode when it comes to Super PACs – waiting to see how much money will flow in, waiting to see how extensively both parties will utilize them, waiting to see how they will impact elections, etc. In her article, Jaime Fuller makes an important point – it’s important to keep a close eye on how this year’s presidential election will be influenced by Super PAC money. But the real potential for Super PACs to influence elections is at the state and local levels.

As Fuller points out, a $1 million donation to a presidential campaign is a drop in the bucket when you have a nearly $800 million war chest as Obama did during his 2008 election. But a $1 million donation to a Senate or House election makes a much bigger impact with a very real potential to swing the election. Again, we’re waiting to see if and how such a scenario will play out this year.

That underscores an important point – time is of the essence in dismantling these Super PACs. The longer they’re allowed to exist, the greater the number of legislators who will be elected into office as a direct result of Super PAC money. It will be extremely difficult to mobilize these legislators to take up any action against Super PACs if Super PACs are the very reason why they were elected in the first place. We need to make 2012 the last year that Super PACs will be able to use unlimited/anonymous donations to influence elections by amending the Constitution ASAP!

Jonathan Haidt: “We need massive groundswell of public revulsion at the fact that our Congress is bought and paid for.”

I couldn’t agree more with Jonathan Haidt in this interview with Bill Moyers. He suggests two things everyone in America needs to do for the sake of making our nation (and therefore ourselves) better. One was to stop demonizing the opposition (100% agree). The other? Develop a massive groundswell of public revulsion at the fact that our Congress is bought and paid for. It just goes to show how important this problem is and how detrimental it is to our country. It is the most important issue of our day, he needed to include it in his list, and I’m glad he did.

Banking exec who helped bring down Glass-Steagall Act – “Oops, my bad.”

For anyone who missed it, Bill Moyers has been using his new show Moyers and Company to delve deep into the most important issue of our lifetimes – that is, the ever growing income gap between the wealthiest 1% of Americans and the rest of us. This week, he had on former Citigroup Chairman John Reed, who was instrumental in the dismantling of the Glass-Steagall act, which many believe helped facilitate the recent economic collapse.

Listening to the interview helped shed light on this hilarious timeline:

  • 1929 – Stock market crashes and plunges America into Great Depression
  • 1933 – Glass-Steagall Act signed into law with the goal being, as Moyers put it, to “prevent investment banks from ever again gambling with people’s life savings, as they had before the market crash of 1929.”
  • Fast forward to 1999 – John Reed decides he wants to resurrect the boom times of the roaring 20’s and merge his commercial bank Citicorp with investment bank Travelers Group (a blatant violation of Glass-Steagall).
  • Reed goes ahead with illegal merger after securing promises from Washington friends that Glass-Steagall would be repealed after the fact.
  • Glass-Steagall is repealed, and banks immediately resume gambling with the people’s life savings.
  • Within a few years, U.S. economy is decimated once again by the worst financial crisis since – wait for it – the Great Depression.

The whole interview was surreal. Reed does a masterful job at feigning ignorance (Who would of guessed we (Wall Street) would end up exploiting this new opportunity to enrich ourselves at the risk of plunging the nation and possibly the world into another Great Depression!? Not me!). In fact, Reed’s response can be summed up as follows:

“Look, we got carried away. Yeah we got rich, but come on! Enriching ourselves was never a factor in trying to dismantle Glass-Steagall! Yeah, I feel bad for all those people who lost their jobs and so forth and so on. Anyway, I guess we all learned Glass-Steagall was a pretty useful law after all. We should probably put it back now.

Watch it.

It was the half-hearted mea culpa of a man who, along with his other millionaire cohorts, have long since reaped the rewards and dodged the consequences of their disastrous meddling with our financial regulations. Wall Street firms made their billions, ordinary Americans were wiped out in the resulting economic collapse, and ordinary American taxpayer dollars were funneled back into those same Wall Street firms in order to protect them from being wiped out too. To all of that, Reed simply responds “I feel bad about it.” Cold comfort for the rest of us who are unemployed, bankrupt, underwater on our mortgages, etc, etc.