Tag capitalism

The Financial Institutions Fight Back

A Look at the Unapologetic Greed of the Financial Sector
by Stephanie Basile

After causing the largest economic collapse in recent memory and taking our taxpayer dollars to help themselves (but no one else) weather the storm, the financial institutions have somehow decided that the financial laws in this country are too strict! Two recent news stories in the New York Times illuminate just how incredibly greedy and unapologetic the people running these institutions are, and just how unwilling the federal government is to challenge this unmitigated greed.

It’s important that we, as activists, are aware of the aggressive and often behind-the-scenes lobbying that the industry does so that we can challenge and offer an alternative voice to the destructive behavior of the financial institutions.

First, the federal government has apparently decided that the financial institutions can be trusted to police themselves! A July 7th story details how the government adopted new guidelines which allow corporations to report their own crimes to the government. They can then negotiate a deal in order to delay or altogether avoid criminal prosecution.

In one example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) began an investigation into Beazer Homes, one of the nation’s 10 largest home builders. They found that Beazer took part in such fraudulent activities as offering a lower mortgage rate if buyers paid an extra fee, but then not giving them the lower rate, and enticing homeowners by offering down payment assistance, but not disclosing that it then raised the price of the house by the same amount. After learning of the HUD investigation, Beazer paid a law firm to conduct its own investigation. The company ended up entering into an agreement with the government in which it would pay consumers and the government $55 million in exchange for the HUD dropping its investigation, thus avoiding criminal charges.

Eerily, this brings us one step closer to the ideal corporatist state, in which the lines between corporate power and government power are not just blurry but nonexistent. With these new guidelines, now we don’t just have a government that weakly enforces the law, but instead actually allows corporations to police themselves and pay their way out of criminal prosecution.

Then on July 14th, the Times featured a story on Steve Bartlett, the head of Financial Services Roundtable, which represents 100 of the country’s largest financial institutions. Bartlett is on a mission to challenge the injustices done to the financial institutions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which Obama signed into law in July 2010. This bill contains nearly 300 new rules aimed at regulating the financial institutions.

While the bill don’t substantially change the unwieldy amount of power already enjoyed by the financial institutions, these pesky new rules are offensive enough that Bartlett and others are lobbying hard to have at least two dozen of them repealed. Among the offensive rules: executive compensation disclosure, in which companies must disclose CEO pay and the ratio of CEO pay to median pay of regular employees. There’s nothing about actually limiting the absurd amount of money CEOs make, just filling the rest of us in on the enormous gap between CEO and employee pay. Another rule: improved credit rating guidelines, in which credit rating agencies must follow tighter accounting guidelines when issuing credit ratings. This measure addresses the problem in which credit rating agencies often mislead investors by releasing overly positive credit ratings.

The powers that be do not like these rules, and they’ve gone into hyper-defense mode. The Times reports that Wall Street spent $52 million in lobbying in the first three months of 2011, up 10% from the previous quarter.

Barlett estimates that the new rules will cost the financial industry $14 billion. Even in the world of cutthroat lobbyists and shrewd businesspeople, Bartlett is known for being particularly aggressive. The Times article quotes him as saying, “I wish I could look the other way. I’ve got 14 billion reasons to be aggressive.”

Nowhere in Bartlett’s “14 billion reasons” is the human cost caused to working families all around the country thanks to the reckless corporate greed of his clients. But then again, in the corporatist state, in which government’s sole purpose is to ensure unlimited power and profits for corporations, pesky things like people’s livelihoods just don’t factor into the equation.

Stephanie Basile is a union organizer who lives in Brooklyn.

Subversive Activism Workshop at NYU

Andy Stepanian, cofounder of the Sparrow Media Project & defendant in the landmark SHAC7 trial will dissect contemporary activist movements, highlighting which tactics are working, when they work best, and how a diversity of tactics often yield the largest benefit. Andy will reflect on his past involvement with non-violent direct action movements, his role in the campaign to close down Huntingdon Life Sciences, as well as his current with Sparrow work as a grassroots activism PR consultant.

Join us on Tuesday, April 26 at NYU’s Kimmel Center, Room 803 from 6:00 to 7:30 PM

You can RSVP this event on facebook HERE*

A Plea for Progress

As Election Day is upon us, I vacillate between continuing to play my assigned role in the sham of American “democracy” (i.e. voting for someone who will, in the end, cater not to the needs of the people, but to whichever corporation has financed her/his campaign) and casting a non-vote of protest. This year, however, I’m firmly in the camp of voting; with a caveat and a plea. Too often, I’ve encountered the argument and fallen prey to it, myself, that voting for a progressive or radical third party is simply enabling the cause of the right wing. This is why, contrary to my instincts, I, an avowed and proud Socialist, voted for Barack Obama, who has proved himself to be an avowed and proud Wall Streetist. The logic is convincing: If we cast our ballot for the Green Party, one of the Socialist Parties, et al, we will simply take votes from the Democratic candidate, thereby ensuring the victory of the Republican. The first problem I see with this argument is that it presupposes that the Democrat is any better than the Republican. The only discernible difference between the two parties is that the Republicans make no pretense of caring for anyone but the banking class. Both parties perpetuate war; corporate subsidies; taxation favorable to the wealthy; a practiced anti-labor stance and a disregard for civil liberties.

I recall watching Jay Leno, during the 2004 presidential campaign season, as he derided, admonished and belittled Ralph Nader for siphoning votes from John Kerry. I also recall the revulsion and anger I felt at Leno’s condescension and audacity. Then, it occurred to me: the establishment has a fine-tuned apparatus in place to keep a third-party candidate from making a real showing in the polls, let alone actually winning a seat (an interesting exception being Vermont, whose citizenry is wise enough to have elected and reelected the Democratic Socialist, Bernie Sanders). It’s the age-old weapon of assuring conformity: terror. Forward-thinking people are browbeaten into submission for fear of the Republican winning. This is why union members continue to vote for a Democratic Party that has betrayed them, laughing as it cashes the checks culled from the hard-earned wages of working people. In my state, New York, the Democratic candidate, Andrew Cuomo, last week declared in a New York Times interview (read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/25/nyregion/25cuomo.html?_r=2&hp) , that he would take on the unions; that business has been victimized in my state. Really? The preponderance of Starbucks and not-really-the-mayor Mike Bloomberg’s support of Wal Mart establishing a foothold in my city (in spite of the people’s successful actions to prevent this malignant entity from poisoning our community) suggest otherwise. Still, co-opted parties, such as the ironically named Working People’s Party, which has bowed its head and endorsed Cuomo, and rank-and-file union members have averred their support for this establishment marionette of the ruling class. When I ask them why, the answer is the same: We fear the victory of the Republican candidate. Well, I counter with this: What if every one of us—and make no mistake, we constitute an overwhelming majority, which is the source of capital’s fear. Let’s really frighten them and be unified—voted for a candidate who actually is one of ours; who is a union member; who is not for sale? The answer is that the Democratic Party would cease to be relevant. This is good. This party acts as a means of confusing the working class and poor. Let a party of the people take on the Republicans.

 

This Tuesday, I petition all forward-thinking people to cast an honest vote; not a lesser-of-two-evils vote. Personally, I’m voting screw-both-of-the-evils, and abjuring both wings of the single capitalist party. If we all did this, we just might find that our so-called “representative government” actually represents us. People, as the great lover of humanity and justice, imprisoned for exercising his right to free speech (read, speaking an uncomfortable truth), Eugene Debs exhorted us, 105 years ago, GET OUT OF THE CAPITALIST PARTIES! Vote in the interests of people, not profit and capital. Peace, love and a knowledge that we will win!

 

I leave you with the words of that phenomenon, Helen Keller, on the fallacy of American two-party politics: “Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.” Let’s reject capital’s parties, this Tuesday, and cast a vote for life.

 

- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on http://sparrowmedia.net .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.

Race and Religion as Red Herrings

“Post-racial America.” Remember that term? Just two short years ago, when many progressives believed (or convinced themselves—I humbly admit that I was among this group, and broke my rule of never voting for a Republocrat) that Barack Obama was not, in fact, a marionette of Goldman; Blackwater; Boeing; General Electric, et al, this was a slogan of the proverbial dawn after the stygian horror of the Cheney presidency. Well, the hangover has hit hard, on many fronts and, true to form, post-racial America has proven itself to be as virulently racist as always; an ignominious tradition remains unbroken.

 

Throughout our history, different groups have been identified by the ruling class as “other,” as hostile to the virginal and perfect American way. First were the indigenous, who were dealt with in the most pragmatic way possible: they were deceived and exterminated. When Adolf Hitler, that paradigm of all things nefarious, once claimed that he admired the Americans because they/we saw a racial problem and solved it, it is time to take a sobering inventory of the nation’s record on race.

 

Today, the targets du jour are what I call the unfortunate M&Ms: Muslims and Mexicans. Of course, African-Americans, women, socialists and LGBTs, to name but a few, are always conveniently present as the majority’s punching bags, but the headliners in today’s newspaper of hate are the aforementioned. To anyone who doubts this, I simply point to the two main race/religion-based controversies garnering most of the nation’s attention: that vile piece of legislation, SB1070 and the 9/11 mosque controversy.

 

That some of these people are simply malevolent souls, drinking from the trough of hate, is undeniable. Most, however—and this I must believe, or else my fight is futile—are terrified people being misled by the power structure which has manipulated their very real fears to serve a status quo. This is an American tradition as ingrained as baseball and the Fourth of July. During the early independence period, many of the veterans of the revolution; people who believed in the lofty ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the gentry who simply wished to keep their ill-gained wealth, rather than share it with King George III, expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that the new boss was, in fact, the same as the old boss. These defrauded souls (rightly) identified the problem as one of class. Naturally, they felt solidarity with enslaved Africans and the beleaguered indigenous. Here, arguably, is where the concept of racial identity was introduced into the American consciousness. The elite made a concerted effort—and succeeded—to deceive the white underclass that, through Draconian Calvinism, they too would raise their standing; that their identifying on class lines was erroneous and that their race made them superior. This was a flawlessly executed example of the British practice of divide-and-conquer. After two centuries, it appears that the student has outdone the teacher.

Sadly, nothing has changed. I engage, exhort and excoriate some white members of my class, yet still they adhere stubbornly to the canard that “anyone, regardless of status, can be president in the US,” and all the implications of that sad platitude; that naïve Algerism. I receive looks of disdain when I mention class-consciousness. These fellow victims of an iniquitous system subscribe to the lie that race and religion are the salient issues. Instead of looking upward at their enemy, they look laterally, at the very people of all races and faiths who are trudging with them through the morass created by those above. They are mesmerized by the diversions of race, ethnicity and religion.

 

Unless we are Choctaw; Arawak; Cherokee; Mohican, et al, we are all (with the exception of my African-descendent brothers and sisters whose ancestors were brought here, against their will) immigrants. Nobody has any right to own land, anyway; this is as preposterous as the idea of owning the air or the rain. Still, as this unhappy and exploitive system remains in place, it would be good to remind my white siblings that they are all children of immigrants.

 

As for the supposedly sacrosanct status of Ground Zero and its immediate environs, where is the outrage over New York Dolls, the strip club, just two blocks away? The McDonald’s within the same proximity? As a greater mind than mine has elucidated, this latter filthy entity has purveyed more suffering and death than any of the malignant souls behind 9/11 ever could hope to achieve. By the spurious logic of Donald Trump and his attendant cast of clowns, there should never be a church constructed in Oklahoma City because Timothy McVeigh identified himself as a Christian. Do we see the illogic? The hypocrisy?

 

The elites have once again succeeded, but there is time. Race and religion are red herrings. The real issue—the truism that makes the capitalists shudder in their overpriced shoes—is class. When we, the 95% majority are galvanized and unified, justice isn’t far away.

“I Love The Mosque” T-Shirts Benefiting Victims Of Hate Crimes { recently in the press }            Praise From New York Times Art Director Steven Heller & Print Magazine !,   Essay Challenging Xenophobia by Sparrow’s Andy Stepanian for The Huffington Post

 


- Arthur Smilios is an unapologetic anti-capitalist, musician rabble rouser.   Arthur was the co-founder of the seminal New York punk band the Gorilla Biscuits. Since his days of performing “Cats & Dogs” (a song that encouraged thousands to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle)  Arthur has strived to braid his art with his passion for social justice.  The Sparrow Project has invited Arthur to continue to sound off on the issues he holds most dear through their blog on http://sparrowmedia.net .  Arthur’s articles are written exclusively in his own voice, and may not reflect the views of The Sparrow Project.

Dennis Lyxzen of The (International) Noise Conspiracy on Capitalism, Radical Actions, and Finding Your Own Space to Be Political

The economy seems to be a topic on the mouths of people worldwide. Regardless of which nation, and whatever you want to call it; economic downturn, financial crisis, post-bubble America, or recession, there is no arguing that the economy, specifically capitalism, is a topic that is widely being talked about today. Everyone from pundits on the far right, to radicals on the left are weighing in and making their voices heard on what may be a significant change in the way we operate economically and the way we care for each other socially. It is both bizarre and shocking to see how polarized and nonsensical this fight has become. Some hate the proposals made to fix it, others have been waiting their entire careers for this moment, and all sides are eager to cash in from the PR battle.

 

From Glen Beck, and Alex Jones to Michael Moore and the anti-globalization protesters that converged upon the G20 protests last week in Pittsburgh PA, from right to left each side is fervent and exceptional when it comes to rallying it’s base, but where do the average working class folks sit in this debate? Sadly this battle effects them the most. Furthermore it effects the natural world that we all share, it effects the lives and welfare of animals who are bought, sold and used for profit, and effects some of our basic civil liberties.

noise-conspiracy

Dennis Lyxzen singer of The (International) Noise Conspiracy, The Lost Patrols Band, and front man to the now defunct and arguably greatest punk rock band of all time, Refused, has a lot to say about capitalism, hierarchy, radical actions, and how every-day youth can find their own space to become political. Most of this footage was shot a couple of years ago and we were sitting on it waiting for the right time and fit. With the recent convergences against the G20 nations summit, the release of Michael Moore’s new film Capitalism: A Love Story, and the ever apparent global economic downturn there really is no better time than now to be having this discussion.

Capitalism…

Capitalism, in its simplest terms is a market economy. Things are bought & sold with collateral similar to any old barter system. Free-market, or “laissez faire” (means hands off) capitalism is capitalism with no government, democratic, or social regulation. Within a “free market” economy the only autonomy that is honored is that of the business generating capital. This second version becomes dangerous when companies grow so large their clout outweighs the political clout and voices of the people in it’s region and hence begin to affect policy and governing bodies. This emboldens companies to dodge prosecution in cases involving things like child labor or pollution, and they can impose their will upon that of the people by doing things like privatizing & selling their only potable water resources. When reading the phrase “free market” or “free trade” read this, “the money, capital, and revenue is free to do what it wants” the legalese reads as if capital is a kind of special person, worthy of extra rights and privileges that the average person does not have. The “Free” in “free” market by no means should be misconstrued as “democratic.” More often than not, free trade, and free markets, can actually be the prerequisite for the limitations of freedoms for the individual.

 

Capital, or Capita also when directly translated from it’s Latin root means “head.” Essentially what we see as capitalism today puts a price on everyone’s heads, a price on every thing both living and non-living; from the kitchen sink to a mountaintop presumed to be rich in coal. In a capitalist society everything has a price, and the dollar takes precedence over everything else. At times that dollar takes precedence over compassion, over people, over basic rights.

So what is it’s alternative? Socialism is another word we have heard a lot about lately in the news. More often than not it’s being used as an insult, when a pundit or a TV commentator labels another politician a socialist. Socialism is not all that different from capitalism in the sense that it is still a form of structured government. People still trade things and at times use money, however the difference is that in a socialist economy the government has a hand in economic regulation & social programs. The government takes the power out of the hands of private companies and steps in to assure that the basic needs of the people are being met with things like healthcare, shelter, education, and even subsidies for the arts. Socialism is not a radical or leftist idea, however lately many of the pundits on the right have been quick to label Barrak Obama’s health care proposal a socialist bill and an ominous mile marker in a self-fabricated slippery slope that leads to socialism.

 

In his interview Lyxzen tells us that it is perfectly fair to criticize capitalism. It is not unpatriotic to question capitalism, in fact it is quite the opposite. People who consider themselves patriotic by definition care about their country, and people who care about their country should care how their country treats other countries both out of self-interest and a sense of justice and compassion. Capitalism is a playing field turned killing field. When competition for profit takes precedence over people you get things like wars for oil, resources, or precious metals. When labor becomes too costly you get morally bankrupt practices like child labor, sweatshops, factory animal farms, or slavery. People should criticize the morality of these things, and people should question the system that perpetuates and often rewards these morally bankrupt practices, capitalism.

 

It is interesting hearing Lyxzen, once named “Sweden’s Sexiest Man” by Elle Magazine, sing about such relevant and essential topics in his music. It’s a jaw dropping experience watching as thousands of fans at the Vans Warped Tour bellow their chorus, “capitalism stole my virginity.” One would have to wonder if the kids singing consider themselves to be an anti-capitalists, or if they just find the hook catchy, or if they despite their political affiliations feel like capitalism has taken something innocent from them in their own lives analogous to stolen virginity. I cringe as I write this, but I think Moore got it wrong when he coined “Capitalism: A Love Story” because it feels a lot less romantic, something like “Capitalism: Date Rape” would fit a little better considering all the forcing, faux sweet talk, dosed drinks, and inflated expectations from jump.

Stolen virginity…

Consider how many people work jobs that make them unhappy simply to pay the bills. Consider every person killed over money. Consider every person who has regretfully degraded, objectified, or potentially harmed their bodies in order to get much-needed money to eat, to pay off school, or feed a hungry child. Consider the boy who was killed for his fresh Nike Dunks, and the first time you heard a story just like that on the evening news. How did hearing that story affect you? Consider everyone who has ever said, “more money, more problems,” and then try to extrapolate that phrase from yourself onto a global scale.

Challenging capitalism, means providing more sustainable and creative solutions to these problems, and it begins with education and reflection before it moves to action. To provide tangible alternatives we must be smarter and more creative than the people pushing for our current system. These things will not happen over night, but we could make things far better in our lifetimes. Take time to educate yourself about the global economy, about capitalism and its alternatives. Don’t be distracted by the stigmas other alternative systems are given, and don’t feel the need to latch on to any particular title like anarcho-communist, or socialist. Instead think for yourself, make educated decisions, and form educated opinions. Capitalism needs critique if we care about justice, animal rights, environmentalism, and basic human rights. These issues are important and need our voices. Visit your local infoshop, radical bookstore, or progressive café, at the bottom of this feature we will be posting a list of infoshops and bookstores across the country, if you know of one that we did not list email us at
info(at)sparrowmedia(dot)net
, and we will be sure to put it up along side the others. Sometimes it seems cliché to say that only you can make a change, but is it a cliché when it is true? History has shown time and time again that things have only changed when someone decided to do something and make that change happen. There is no better time then now to push for that change, and we need to start acting like we give a shit. Find a niche that means the most to you and dig in. Lyxzen tells us to find the issue that means the most to us, “…to choose a struggle that’s connected to your life, your background, your surroundings, your culture, and your age. …that if you find something like, ‘yes this is what makes me fucking go crazy’ or this is something that makes me excited, than you’ve found something worth struggling for.” Be that change that you wish to see, be that change that has so often been promised to us, lets stop waiting for someone else to do it and get it done ourselves.

 

For a list of info bookshops & zine libraries visit http://www.undergroundpress.org/zine-resources/infoshops-zine-libraries/ & http://www.radicalreference.info/altlibraries and when in NYC please visit our favorite radical bookstore, Bluestockings.


For interesting, unique and enlightening perspectives on capitalism & work culture visist http://www.crimethinc.com