News Feb 2014

From Week of February 24 – March 2

1. Bill Moyers has a great interview with U Penn Prof. Adolph Reed about his essay in the March edition of Harpers, entitled “Nothing Left” about the left’s ill fated adopted habit of supporting the “least best neo-liberal” candidate, rather than working to create real social movements that inform policy regardless of who is in office.

2. Ananya Roy, the wildly popular UC Berkeley Global Poverty Prof. has a new 13 minute educational film, on the subject of which class is dependent on government anyway?  She compares government subsidies for the middle class and Poor and finds the former far more generous.  She concludes with an exhortation regarding the importance of Poor People’s Movements.

3. OP-ED: Rethinking Our ‘Rights’ to Dangerous Behaviors
An alliance of corporations, banks, marketers and others has essentially promoted and benefited from unhealthy lifestyles.

4. THE HOME FRONT: A Nonprofit Lender Revives the Hopes of Subprime Borrowers
An unconventional lender is trying to make it easier for low-income people to buy houses despite the tighter requirements that other lenders adopted after the mortgage bust.

5. DEALBOOK: Credit Suisse Helped U.S. Clients Hide Billions, Senate Report Says
The report says the bank helped its American customers evade taxes through a variety of means, including opening accounts in the name of shell companies and sending Swiss bankers to the U.S. to secretly recruit new clients.

6. Government By the People Act and here’s the bill’s text
AltB member thinks this bill is important to support now b/c the Senate could go to GOP in November, in which case it would be much harder to get this bill passed.

7. Somewhat old but we had overlooked:Regulators Report Megabanks Can’t Adequately Track Derivatives Positions — perhaps they shouldn’t be using them if they can’t track or report them. Another London Whale to come.

8. Nicholas Kristof When Even the Starting Line Is Out of Reach on how and why poor kids are handicapped from the beginning. Society could easily improve things and we would all benefit.

9. A knowledgeable dissenting view on the Post Office Bank from Lisa Servon who will be speaking at Alt-Banking in a few weeks. Note that while we think she is justly skeptical about whether the Postal Savings Bank really would provide value to the poor, her preamble about the Post Office itself being in need of saving, itself, is wrong. As John Dennie noted last week, the dire financial straits of the Post Office were entirely the creation of those who want to privatize it. If they just left it alone and let it meet the same standards as other enterprises, it would be fine.

10. DEALBOOK: The So-Called Blackstone Bill, Resurrected
If a proposal by Representative Dave Camp goes through, publicly traded private equity firms would either have to take themselves private again or pay corporate-level taxes, Victor Fleischer writes in the Standard Deduction column.

11. DEALBOOK: Mortgage Servicer’s Ties Raise Regulatory Concern
State and federal regulators are worried that Ocwen is mishandling some of the mortgages it services, citing examples of shoddy paperwork and faulty technology.

12. Despite Bloomberg’s reputation for business efficiency, this Sandy program seems to have been particularly bad. Where does this money really go  and what is the real reason it is not being distributed?

13. Future Tense: Ghost in the machine: Automation and future employment
podcast on automation, globalization and how it relates to increasing inequality

14. DEALBOOK: Citigroup Says Mexican Subsidiary Was Defrauded of as Much as $400 Million
Citigroup said on Friday that it was revising its results for the fourth quarter and 2013 after it discovered a fraud involving its Mexican banking unit, Banamex, and an oil services company.

15. OP-ED: Renting Judges for Secret Rulings
Delaware courts would resolve business disputes behind closed doors.


From Week of Feb. 17- Feb 23.

1. Another entertaining and informative Disorderly Conduct podcast episode is out, including segments on the Post Office Inspector General’s report on Post Office Banks, and a critique of the insidious proposed selections to the CFTC’s Advisory Board.

2. Lisa Servon (coming to visit us as a guest speaker soon), has a piece in The New Yorker on pay day loans.

3. From Mother Jones, UC Berkeley Researcher Christopher Petrella, may be the foremost public analyst of the private prison system. He s out with a new study about how across pretty much every state which has pursued a private prison strategy, minorities represent a higher percentage of the incarcerated population in the private, as compared to remaining public, facilities.  This is an indication that when a privatization system makes money off of bodies, they will seek-out the cheapest inputs, which here are the minority ones because there is less pressure to provide them good medical care and rehabilitation serves.

4. Privatization Watch: Advocates of market mechanisms say that vouchers will be the savior of our educational system. What could go wrong? … Federal Lawsuit Accuses For-Profit Schools of Fraud.

5. China definitely bears watching as a potential source/location of the next major global crisis. This NYU professor presents a good overview of some of the risks. But I would note that he ignores the enormous environmental degradation that could add another dimension to the crisis. The downside is much worse than he portrays.

6. In case Hurricane Sandy victims were wondering why FEMA doesn’t have the resources to help them, here’s a clue.

7. New York Times Dealbook:Loan Complaints by Homeowners Rise Once More by Jessica Sliver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery. Shoddy paperwork, erroneous fees and wrongful evictions — abuses that previously dogged the nation’s largest banks — are now cropping up among mortgage servicers that collect payments. They get away with a lot because stressed workers don’t have time to keep chasing after them.

8. Danny Dorling, now at Cambridge and one of the foremost thinkers on inequality has a new book out on the London housing market.  Here is a good review from the Evening Standard.  His views seem to echo a lot of what we heard from Moe Tkacik when she visited us as a guest speaker.

9. The American Public School Under Siege, from the Huffington Post.

10. Michael Hudson: Neoliberalism Is Really Neofeudalism, It’s a Dismantling of Democracy

11. New York Magazine article about crashing a party of a secret Wall Street society. And new book Young Money by the same author.

12. Somewhat belatedly noting Joe Stiglitz in The Guardian “The current economic malaise is the result of flawed policies

13. Econ Talk: Calomiris and Haber on Fragile by Design.

How politics and economics interact to give some countries such as Canada a remarkably stable financial system while others such as the United States have a much less stable system. Also, Unit vs Branch Banking. Page has many related links.

Another Alt-B member comments: personally, I found this very disappointing. They blame the crisis on ACORN and Barney Frank as if they were running the country in the early 2000s. Russ Roberts has said in the past that the Community Reinvestment Act had little to do with the crisis but Russ doesn’t challenge the assertion on this podcast.

I agree that a dysfunctional government that is too beholden to special interests is a big problem making past and future financial crises more likely. But they pick on an odd set of special interests to make their case. You can judge for yourself.

From Week of Feb. 10- Feb 16.

1. Matt Taibbi has a full length Rolling Stone Article on Goldman Sacks‘ market manipulations through its move into the supposedly real economy of commodities holdings and storage.  This is must read stuff for us.

2. Huffington Post about Popularity of Post Office Bank idea.

3. Article on Georgia’s Privatization of Probation Services. We have posted on this before, but Georgia’s subjection of released prisoners to the whims of private contractors administering their “supervision” is one of the most poignant examples of the sick intersection between incarceration and finance.  The supervised folk are often hit with service fees four-times the fine assessed for their crime, and if they fail to pay  … they go back to jail.

4. Extra-environmentalist. This is not standard Alt-banking fare, but some of us love this podcast. Last month’s episode was on the need to consciously down-size consumption habits and actually fun ways to do so. Plus, they asked for some of our books to possibly distribute to donors, so they are now a partner.

5. NYT on Fiendish Folks Opposing Minimum Wage Legislation. As we dive into questions of Ethics in our new project, and remembering Julia’s advise to call-out villains … Richard Berman and his firm’s $1.6 take from a non-profit to vociferously oppose a minimum wage hike for the poorest Americans is as villainous as things come. Not for nothing this guy has been called Dr. Evil.

6. NYT on “Zombie Houses”.  AG Eric Schneiderman is proposing legislation to require banks to do something about houses on which they maintain mortgages but which have been abandoned by their owners, and are being left to fall apart.  The twin and twisted scourge of homeless people and peopleless homes seems well suited to provide such darkly emblematic representations of eerie societal decay.  Good thing our Attorney General is doing something, less clear the much more bank-friendly governor and legislature will.

7. NYT on Union Organizing Drive at VW in Tenesseee. Is there any point at which the self-contradicting messages of GOP speech concerning intrusive big government on the one hand, and unionization on the other, will become so extreme, a degree of shame might kick-in?  VW is not opposing the UAW organizing drive at a Tennessee facility, but Tennessee legislators, regularly quick to spout smack about big bad government vs. the poor liberty loving individual, are threatening to withdraw public financial support for the facility if the workers freely and lawfully vote for UAW representation.  What are we missing here?

8.  NYT Letter to Editor on Post Office Sales. Good letter on just the point we discussed last week concerning the crazyness of the falsely cash-starved Post Office now being pressed to sell-off its treasure of nation-wide physical facilities..

9.  Danny Dorling (one of the heroes of inequality theory) has an article, in what appears to be a local Oxford paper with a reference to a speech he recently gave on same. Have not read the speech, but the short article is worthwhile on how countries that did not succumb to the temptation of dropping taxes on the rich, have avoided the worst of the UK / US wealth disparity crisis.  Alas, it is hard to reverse the problem once you have created it

From Week of Feb. 3 – Feb. 9

Group recommendations:

1.  The BBC’s Analysis podcast series has an episode on “popular anarchism” titled The Philosophy of Russell Brand, which is quite well done, and surprisingly supportive (if not wholly so).

2. Free Trade Disagreement.  Very good NYT Op Ed on the (encouraging) problems facing upcoming free trade deals. (also ion Cathy’s e mail)

Here’s the video Allie mentioned last week of Manfred Max-Neef. It is GREAT.  Please watch (also circulated by Cathy in her e mail).

4.  NYT on USPS proposal to offer basic financial services. This NYT commentator offers a cautionary endorsement of the Postal Services proposal to offer basic financial services to the un- or under-banked.  It warns of one needy institution, the USPS, not taking advantage of a needy group, the Poor.  But while caution is always merited anytime a project of this scale is undertaken, isn’t this the kind of thing we want our government doing: noticing an exploited population could be better served by re-focusing the resources of an existing government institution which is itself in search of a new mandate.  Caution is always a good thing; but let’s not adopt the right’s obsession with public-choice cynicism. This is a really good idea, which if done right could benefit both the USPS and the under-banked; and if done wrong … well most anything done wrong is usually a mess.

5. David Simon on Bill Moyers. .This interview by of David Simon, writer of the The Wire hits a lot of the points we are looking to articulate in Ethics, Finance, and Poverty, about how our treatment of The Poor is ethically unforgivable, and and a canary in the coal mine for the rest of the 99%.

6. Currency Scandal. More revelations about global conspiracy to fix currency rates. Josh Snodgrass comments here.

7.  Edward Snowden speaks.  Edward Snowden was interviewed (in English) by German network ARD. it is available here. A transcript and link to video is here (as of 22:35 UTC, 2/4/14).

8. Detroit accuses banks of using its pension plans as a piggy bank (for themselves). New York Times reports.

9  The Middle Class is Eroding. Just Ask the Business World. .An article in the 2/3/2014 edition of the NY Times “cites the following statistic: The top 5% of the American population accounts for a staggering 38% of consumer spending. Broader trends show that between 2009 and 2012, the top 20% of the population accounted for a whopping 90% of the increase in inflation-adjusted consumption.  As a result of this, luxury brands are flourishing and middle-class brands are tanking. Trends like this point to a continuing future of Versace for the rich and  Walmart for the rest. Invitations to the funerals of Sears and J.C. Penney, both of which are currently in hospice, are pending.

10. How Inequality Hollows Out the Soul. Op Ed by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in the 2.3.14 NY Times.  These guys are the leading thinkers on issues of how inequality makes everyone in a society suffer.  Their book The Spirit Level outlines a wide array of maladies inequality gives rise to; today’s article focuses on a shocking panoply of mental disorders at all levels of the steep socio-economic hierarchy.  We talked quite a bit about The Spirit Level in Occupy Finance, and should keep paying attention to what Pickett and Wilkinson have to say.