Friday, February 5, 2010

Scheer: Volcker Rules, Howard Zinn, Master Historian

Hi. This is sent you with hope, not promise. President Obama has
made many such decent but untimately empty pronouncements,
starting with ending the war in Afghanistan. I won't count the ways.

However, on some critical domestic issues the president, at last,
seems to be taking a new, more realistic - ie, more progressive -
public stance and activity, and must be encouraged in this by us,
the public. I'm sure Bob Scheer wrote the below with that in mind.

PS: Yesterday's quote following Uncle Ruthie's letter was written
by Howard Zinn. I noticed the omission late in the mailing.

Volcker Rules

By Robert Scheer
Truthdig: Feb 2, 2010

Finally President Barack Obama has come to his senses on financial
regulation. His endorsement of what he calls the "Volcker Rule" for once
puts him squarely on the side of ordinary Americans as opposed to the
banking bandits who have so thoroughly fleeced the public.

The proposal from former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker basically
involves restoring the spirit, if not the letter, of the 1930s
Glass-Steagall banking regulations to prevent another Great Depression. It
means separating the activities of commercial banks, entrusted with the
deposits of ordinary folks, from the antics of the financial high rollers
who are presumably dealing with wealthier and more knowledgeable investors.
Commercial banks were intended to be heavily regulated and insured by the
government to protect the savings of unwary citizens. Less risk-averse
investors and the firms that handled their funds could fend for themselves,
and if there was a collapse there would be no innocent victims requiring a
government bailout.

This setup worked splendidly for more than six decades, until the rules were
changed to permit the merger of the two types of banking activity, which
never would have happened had President Ronald Reagan renamed Volcker as
head of the Fed back in 1987. To reappoint Volcker would have been the
logical move given his spectacular record in taming inflation, which he
brought down to 3.6 percent after it had risen to 11.3 percent thanks to the
energy crisis of 1979. Reagan went with Alan Greenspan instead because of
their shared ideological fervor for unfettered free markets. But the repeal
of Glass-Steagall required bipartisan support, and that eventually came with
the presidency of Bill Clinton, who reappointed Greenspan and his fellow
free-market ideologues Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers to head the
Treasury Department. They joined forces with the Wall Street lobby, and as a
result Glass-Steagall was repealed in 1999 when Clinton signed the law
eliminating it.

Unfortunately, and despite the collapse of the banking system brought about
by the shenanigans of the "too big to fail" conglomerates permitted in the
new deregulatory environment, Obama has wasted the last year and trillions
of taxpayer dollars bailing out Wall Street without putting significant new
rules in place to govern reckless behavior. Only now, with the economic
disaster bankrupting the government, has he turned to Volcker for
leadership. And in testimony Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee,
Volcker offered the essential justification for needed banking legislation:

"The basic point is that there has been, and remains, a strong public
interest in providing a `safety net'-in particular, deposit insurance and
the provision of liquidity in emergencies-for commercial banks carrying out
essential services. There is not, however, a similar rationale for public
funds-taxpayer funds-protecting and supporting essentially proprietary and
speculative activities."
Investment houses would still be permitted to play freely at the Wall Street
casino, but they would have to pay the consequences of their own failure. In
the event that the largest of them approached collapse, the government would
still step in-not to save them but to dispose of the body in a way that did
not endanger the health of others. As Volcker put it, when it would come to
dealing with the impending collapse of an investment giant: "The mandate is
to arrange an orderly liquidation or merger. In other words, euthanasia, not
a rescue."

Euthanasia was applied to Lehman Brothers but not Goldman Sachs, which was
allowed to suddenly jump over the wall to become a commercial bank and thus
eligible for TARP funding and many billions more from the government.

The biggest banks, whether originally commercial or investment banks, are
now screaming their predicted pain at the prospect of new regulations-and no
wonder. An analysis of the five top banks affected, led by Goldman Sachs,
shows they stand to lose $13 billion in revenue next year if the proposed
regulations pass, according to Bloomberg. But there is hope for at least
some bipartisan support for the restoration of a wall separating these two
very different sorts of banking activities, as indicated by a bill
co-sponsored by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to
explicitly restore the safeguards of Glass-Steagall.

Please don't let your eyes glaze over on this issue as a matter of arcane
economic regulation. It's the ballgame as far as breaking the death grip of
Wall Street over our economy. The projected $1.6 trillion deficit is only
the first installment on decades of crippling debt that will pile up because
of the irresponsibility of a radically deregulated banking system. This
should be the only reminder we need that little else matters in the way of
public policy discussion as long as Wall Street bleeds us dry.



Howard Zinn, Master Historian

By Mumia Abu-Jamal
Abu-Jamal's ZSpace Page: Feb 03, 2010

It should surprise no one when a man, nearly 90, dies. It is as natural as
moonlight, as regular as a rainbow after a summer shower.

And yet, the passing of Howard Zinn surprises. He was a few [years] shy of
90, true, but he was still a bright eyed and brilliant lecturer, whose sense
of humor gave a wondrous sparkle to his speeches and humanized his writing.

He is perhaps best known for his masterwork, A People's History of the
United States; 1492 - Present, (Harper Collins, 1980/2003) which sold
millions of copies. Zinn was an adherent [proponent] of the 'history from
below' school of history, and wrote from the perspective of the bottoms of
societies, not the top. He wrote about Black slaves fighting for freedom,
Native folks fighting for sovereignty, poor white workers fighting for the
right to unionize, women fighting for the right to work and vote, soldiers,
gay folks, prisoners, and students struggling to learn about the history of
their country.

And while Zinn was indeed a brilliant, ground-breaking historian, he didn't
write about the poor from a scholars distance; he grew up desperately poor
in New York, joined the Air Force during World War II, and became a
bombardier. Like many young service members, he read incessantly. When he
left the service, he used the G. I. Bill to study at Columbia where he
earned his Ph.D.

And while he earned an advanced degree, he learned things he hadn't planned
on when he taught at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, for his teaching took
place during the eruption of the Civil Rights movement, and student protests
against the U.S. apartheid system of segregation. Spelman, a Black women's
college, had its share of activists, who, when they tried to leaflet, were
stopped, threatened and prevented from leafleting by the cops.

Zinn, teaching legal history and constitutional law to many of these
students, learned that what the law books and cases said meant nothing in
the real-life world of Georgian apartheid. In his 1990 book, Declarations of
Independence, Zinn wrote:

The law was plain. A series of Supreme Court decisions made
the right to distribute leaflets on a public street absolute. It
would be hard to find something in the Bill of Rights that was
more clear cut than this.

I told my students this. But I knew immediately that I must tell
them something else; that the law didn't much matter. If they
began handing out leaflets on Peachtree street and a white
policeman (all police were white in Atlanta at the time), came
along and said "Move!" what could they do? Cite the
relevant Supreme Court cases to the policeman. {p.198}

This was Atlanta: 1961, and the Movement taught Zinn many realities about

Howard Zinn. Historian. Activist. Playwright. Prodigious writer. Father of
the People's History movement. Friend.

From: Z Net - The Spirit Of Resistance Lives


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