Archives for category: Wall Street

The new year is nearly upon us—what to expect is anyone’s guess, but what we should strive for is increasingly clear. Broadly, we need more equality, greater justice and a more peaceful, sustainable world. Here is an excellent outline of some of the specifics, courtesy of Senator Bernie Sanders from neighboring Vermont.

Dear Thomas,

I want to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a very happy new year. I also want to express my gratitude to you for the political support that you have given to me, and for all of your efforts in trying to move our country and the world in the direction of peace, justice and environmental sanity.

As we survey our country at the end of 2013 I don’t have to tell you that the problems facing us are monumental, that the Congress is dysfunctional and that more and more people (especially the young) are, understandably, giving up on the political process. The people are hurting. They look to Washington for help. Nothing is happening.

  • The middle class continues to decline with median family income some $5,000 less than it was in 1999.
  • More Americans, 46.5 million, are now living in poverty than at any time in our nation’s history. Child poverty, at 21.8 percent, is the highest of any major country.
  • Real unemployment is not 7 percent. If one includes those who have given up looking for work and those who want full-time work but are employed part-time, real unemployment is 13.2 percent — and youth unemployment is much higher than that.
  • Most of the new jobs that are being created are part-time work at low wages, but the minimum wage remains at the starvation level of $7.25 per hour.
  • Millions of college students are leaving school deeply in debt, while many others have given up on their dream of a higher education because of the cost.
  • Meanwhile, as tens of millions of Americans struggle to survive economically, the wealthiest people are doing phenomenally well and corporate profits are at an all-time high. In fact, wealth and income inequality today is greater than at any time since just before the Great Depression. One family, the Walton family with its Wal-Mart fortune, now owns more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans. In recent years, 95 percent of all new income has gone to the top 1 percent.
  • The scientific community has been very clear: Global warming is real, it is already causing massive problems and, if we don’t significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet we leave to our kids and grandchildren will be less and less habitable.

Clearly, if we are going to save the middle class and protect our planet, we need to change the political dynamics of the nation. We can no longer allow the billionaires and their think tanks or the corporate media to set the agenda. We need to educate, organize and mobilize the working families of our country to stand up for their rights. We need to make government work for all the people, not just the 1 percent.

Before we talk about 2014, let me ask you a favor. Do you know of friends, family or co-workers who might be interested in receiving our email newsletters and updates? If you do, please forward this email and encourage them to sign-up for occasional updates. They can sign-up for our emails by clicking here.

When Congress reconvenes for the 2014 session, here are a few of the issues that I will be focusing on.

WEALTH AND INCOME INEQUALITY: A nation will not survive morally or economically when so few have so much while so many have so little. It is simply not acceptable that the top 1 percent owns 38 percent of the financial wealth of the nation, while the bottom 60 percent owns all of 2.3 percent. We need to establish a progressive tax system which asks the wealthy to start paying their fair share of taxes, and which ends the outrageous loopholes that enable one out of four corporations to pay nothing in federal income taxes.

JOBS: We need to make significant investments in our crumbling infrastructure, in energy efficiency and sustainable energy, in early childhood education and in affordable housing. When we do that, we not only improve the quality of life in our country and combat global warming, we also create millions of decent paying new jobs.

WAGES: We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We should pass the legislation which will soon be on the Senate floor which increases the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour, but we must raise that minimum wage even higher in the coming years. We also need to expand our efforts at worker-ownership. Employees will not be sending their jobs to China or Vietnam when they own the places in which they work.

RETIREMENT SECURITY: At a time when only one in five workers in the private sector has a defined benefit pension plan; half of Americans have less than $10,000 in savings; and two-thirds of seniors rely on Social Security for more than half of their income we must expand Social Security and make sure that every American can retire with dignity.

WALL STREET: During the financial crisis, huge Wall Street banks received more than $700 billion in financial aid from the Treasury Department and more than $16 trillion from the Federal Reserve because they were “too big to fail.” Yet today, the largest banks in this country are much bigger than they were before taxpayers bailed them out. It is time to break up these behemoths before they cause another global economic collapse.

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: We are not living in a real democracy when large corporations and a handful of billionaire families can spend unlimited sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. We must expand our efforts to overturn the disastrous Citizens United Supreme Court decision and move this country to public funding of elections.

SOCIAL JUSTICE: While we have made progress in recent years in expanding the rights of minorities, women and gays, these advances are under constant attack from the right wing. If the United States is to become the non-discriminatory society we want it to be, we must fight to protect the rights of all Americans.

CIVIL LIBERTIES: Frankly, the National Security Agency (NSA) and some of the other intelligence agencies are out of control. We cannot talk about America as a “free country” when the government is collecting information on virtually every phone call we make, when they are intercepting our emails and monitoring the websites we visit. Clearly, we need to protect this country from terrorism, but we must do it in a way that does not undermine our constitutional rights.

WAR AND PEACE: With a large deficit and an enormous amount of unmet needs, it is absurd that the United States continues to spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined. The U.S. must be a leader in the world in nuclear disarmament and efforts toward peace, not in the sale of weapons of destruction.

Let me conclude by once again wishing you a happy and healthy new year — and by asking you to share this email with friends, family and co-workers. They can sign-up for our occasional emails by clicking here.

This is a tough and historical moment in American history. Despair is not an option. Let us stand together as brothers and sisters and fight for the America our people deserve.

Thank you for your continued support.

Sincerely,

Senator Bernie Sanders

To the Senator’s worthy agenda, I would only add this:

GUN VIOLENCE: It’s time we treated gun violence as the public health menace it is. That means real legislative reform and much tougher regulation. This is one of the most, if not the most, politically difficult fights that rational Americans face today, but it is increasingly urgent.

Here’s to a better world in 2014. Happy New Year, everyone.

It could be argued, with a high degree of credibility, that the most serious roadblock to happiness and fulfillment, not to mention health and general well-being for the average American in 2012 is the Republican Party. Or, to be more specific, the practices and principles which are embraced and endorsed by the current incarnation of the Republican Party.

Let’s look down the list. The economy? Still in the tank, thanks to the profligate spending of the Bush administration and the crimes and predations of Wall Street and the banking industry. The environment? Drill, baby, drill—and frack you in the process. Health care? Let’s repeal it. Civil rights? Depends on whose. Women’s rights? Sure, we have lots of special laws just for women.

It is heartening, then, to watch Mitt Romney and the Republicans squirm as the candidate comes under attack for his work at Bain Capital, and for his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns.

Bain of Our Existence
Photo: Evan Vucci/AP, on csmonitor.com

It’s no wonder Romney is defensive about his time at Bain, and about when he ended it. After all, the firm is notorious for outsourcing and layoffs, and for investing in such sterling endeavors as Stericycle, a company that specialized in disposing of aborted fetuses collected from family planning clinics, among other things. And that was an investment that took place in 1999, by the way.

As for the missing tax returns … as so many others have said, the calculation must have been made that it would be more damning to release the returns than to withhold them. Hence Romney’s continued refusal to show anything earlier than his 2010 return. We already know about the offshore accounts Romney has, and we already know he makes tons of money (most of it from his Bain days). What is he hiding? And as a presidential candidate, is he really entitled to hide it?

Let’s keep the pressure on.

Julian Schreibman held another “meet & greet” this past Sunday, at the Brik Gallery on Main Street in Catskill. It was an apt setting—Main Street had rebounded and was doing fairly well prior to the financial crisis; now it is a collection of largely empty storefronts where businesses, restaurants and galleries used to be (including Brik). This made Main Street an ideal setting for the recent, innovative “Wall Street to Main Street” exhibition put on by the Greene County Council on the Arts in collaboration with the artistic wing of Occupy Wall Street. Many of the window displays from that recently concluded exhibition remain, as the photo below demonstrates.

The Writing's on the Wall (or Window)
The Writing’s on the Wall (or Window)
Photo: John P. O’Grady

Mr. Schreibman spoke movingly, as though inspired by the reduced state of the street outside. He railed against America’s growing economic inequality, and vowed to do everything he could to address it. He also:

  • Spoke in favor of the DREAM Act
  • Firmly renounced fracking as bad for New York
  • Emphatically renounced policies of torture and rendition in America’s endless wars (this, in reply to an inquiry about his CIA background, which had nothing to do with field activities)
  • Explained how grateful he was for the help he received in getting a good (Yale) education, and described his belief that every American should be entitled to a chance at the same opportunities he had
  • Denounced our current Republican Congressman for voting against the interests of the 19th District
  • Announced strong support for new policies to stimulate economic growth in our region, including support for family farms and a strategic rural broadband initiative

It was another strong performance by a candidate whose appeal only continues to grow.

Occupy Hudson has been meeting regularly on Mondays at 7th Street Park (or nearby at The Parlor Coffee & Tea House in bad weather) for months now. This past Saturday, May 19, the group went public with an inviting, low-key event in the park.

Occupy Public Space
Photo: Tom Pletcher

It was an "unofficial" event, and I wasn’t able to stay for all of it. As noted, the atmosphere was low-key and friendly. There was some good music, plenty of hula hoops and lots of engaging and thought-provoking conversation, including a very well-led discussion of the commons (thanks, Christine!).

Hudson city officials had been notified about the event in advance, and everything went off without any hitches or glitches (that I’m aware of, at any rate). Just by holding this event in a public space, Occupy Hudson performed a valuable service by demonstrating the importance of public space.

Occupy Hudson will soon go live with a new website at occupyhudson.org. Watch for it, and check the online calendar for meetings and events. We hope to see you next time.

Sometimes it helps to lighten up a little, and the creative remix of West Side Story that’s been making the rounds the past couple of weeks is bound to generate a smile, at the very least. The new “Occupy” lyrics are clever and nicely performed, and Officer Winski receives a much-deserved comeuppance. Check it out below if you’ve haven’t seen it before (or even if you have).

BlueInGreene couldn’t let this day pass without saluting our friends and colleagues in the various Occupy groups, who have done so much to bring America’s growing inequality to mass attention. If there is any hope for our two-party political system, it has been born on the streets.

As an example of the great influence Occupy has wielded, here is an angry, profane and engaging article by best-selling American novelist Stephen King on the subject of unequal taxation. Spoiler alert: a quote from the essay’s last paragraph is coming up.

Last year during the Occupy movement, the conservatives who oppose tax equality saw the first real ripples of discontent. Their response was either Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) or Ebenezer Scrooge (“Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”). Short-sighted, gentlemen. Very short-sighted. If this situation isn’t fairly addressed, last year’s protests will just be the beginning. Scrooge changed his tune after the ghosts visited him. Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, lost her head.

Think about it.

We’d planned to show the award-winning documentary Inside Job later this month as part of the “Wall Street to Main Street” exhibition in Catskill. Unfortunately, those plans have changed.

Do let us know if you would like to see this film. If enough of you vote “Yes,” we’ll try to show it at a later date.

The ideas behind Rebuild the Dream—and specifically, the Contract for the American Dream—were what got this group started. Now those ideas are fleshed out in a highly readable and inspiring book by Van Jones, also titled Rebuild the Dream.

Rebuild the Dream

Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy and an environmental activist and former special advisor to the Obama administration on clean-energy jobs, examines the dynamics behind Barack Obama’s election and the forces that have since emerged to challenge him. He pays particular attention to the Tea Party, and seeks to learn what tactics can be adopted from its 2010 electoral success. He also examines the Occupy movement and suggests what it needs to do to accomplish its goals. Mainly, though, Jones issues a clarion call to join the Rebuild the Dream movement to revive the American economy and restore the country’s greatness.

Jones doesn’t pretend this will be easy, but he does bring great optimism to his focus on achieving change through consensus and bottom-up direction, and through community organizing, “crowd-sourcing,” online petitions, digital projects and conferences. He explains how movements fit into a “Heart Space/Head Space” grid, and how progressives need to appeal to the emotions as well as the intellect (a lesson learned from the Tea Party). Finally, he focuses on the Contract for the American Dream, and how it embodies the values that can make America work again.

If you long for progressive change but sometimes despair of achieving it, read this book. Its common sense and can-do attitude will give you a lift. Then, take action. Join the Rebuild the Dream movement. And if you’re in our neck of the woods, join BlueInGreene as well.

A reminder: Catskill’s important Wall Street to Main Street exhibition opens tomorrow at 2 PM. Some of us from BlueInGreene will be attending; perhaps we’ll see you at BRIK or GCCA. We’re sure you will find this exciting collaboration between GCCA’s Masters on Main Street program and the Occupy Wall Street Arts and Culture Working Group well worth attending in any case.

Also, BlueInGreene is having a meeting the following evening, Sunday March 18 at 6 PM, on the Mountain Top. If you’re interested in joining us, send a brief note of introduction to info@blueingreene.org and we’ll send you driving instructions.

Hope to see you soon.

This morning it was announced that the federal government and forty-nine state attorneys general (Oklahoma’s Scott Pruitt wouldn’t sign on because he doesn’t think banks should see any penalty) reached a $26 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Ally Financial and Citigroup. The settlement could provide at least some relief to nearly two million current and former American homeowners. A federal judge must still sign off on the deal.

Under the plan, officials said, roughly $5 billion would be cash payments to states and federal authorities, $17 billion would be spent on homeowner relief, $3 billion would go for refinancing and a final $1 billion would be paid to the Federal Housing Administration. The intent of the settlement is both to stop the housing market’s downward slide and to hold the banks financially accountable for foreclosure abuses. Bank of America, the nation’s biggest mortgage servicer, would pay the most.

This will not be the end of the housing crisis. The settlement is not large enough, and frankly it lets the five participating banks off too lightly. More needs to be done to bring housing back and achieve a truly fair reckoning. Although $26 billion is a lot of money, it’s only a small fraction of the $700 billion in negative equity that exists in the housing market. It’s a start, but only a start.

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