Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Bare-Knuckle Brawlers of the New Deal vs. Our Corporate Marionettes

Harold Ickes:

Above: When others tried to stop Marian Anderson from singing the national anthem, because her skin color was different from theirs, Harold Ickes welcomed her. During the New Deal, Ickes served as the Secretary of the Interior and also as head administrator of the Public Works Administration. Described as a "combative Progressive," and an "abrasive, arrogant, thin-skinned bureaucrat," Ickes "spoke out early and often against Nazi anti-Semitism, championed American Indian cultural autonomy, facilitated the work of the New Deal's informal group of black Government officials known as 'the Black Cabinet' and sponsored Marian Anderson's great 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial" ("Born for the New Deal," New York Times, December 9, 1990). Ickes could be downright mean when it came to defending human rights, helping people who needed jobs, and building American infrastructure. That's exactly the kind of nasty disposition we need today. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Harry Hopkins:

 Above: L to R - Harry Hopkins, his daughter Diana, and Winston Churchill, 1943. In his book American-Made, author Nick Taylor describes Hopkins: "...he believed with a fiery passion in the rights of the poor to decent treatment, rights that he expounded with sharp-tongued, impatient wit." When Hopkins died, Churchill wrote: "A strong, bright, piercing flame has burned out a frail body...His love for the causes of the weak and the poor was matched by his passion against tyranny...We do well to salute his memory. We shall not see his like again" (New York Times, January 30, 1946). Hopkins could be abrasive towards those who insulted the less fortunate. We need that kind of abrasiveness today. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

William Douglas:

Above: William O. Douglas with his son, 1939. Douglas was the longest-serving Supreme Court justice in U.S. history, and also one of the more ill-tempered ones. Before he was a justice, Douglas was one of the first leaders of the New Deal's Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC). As head of the SEC, Douglas was not submissive to well-heeled financial interests. When a Wall Street attorney despaired over Douglas's disapproval of the attorney's recipe for financial reform, he asked Douglas, "Well, I suppose you'll go ahead with your own program?" Dougles replied, "You're damned right I will" (Michael Hiltzik, The New Deal: A Modern History, 2011). In the wake of one of the greatest eras of financial fraud, we need Douglas's ill-tempered attitude today. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Ferdinand Pecora:

Above: Ferdinand Pecora, right, 1938. Pecora was one of the first commissioners of the New Deal's Securities & Exchange Commission. During 1933, Pecora had grilled Wall Street executives during the famous "Percora Investigation," which took place in the U.S. Senate. Pecora asked one bank executive: "Is there anyone who knows more about the company's transactions than you?" When the executive replied, "I don't think so," Pecora scolded him, "Then suppose you answer these questions and not have Mr. Law whisper the answer in your ear. Will you?" Three decades later, Pecora wrote about the financial instruments sold to the American Public during the 1920s: "There was a callous disregard of the truth when they offered these bonds to the American investor, a complete and callous disregard of it, that even as I reflect on it now continues to shock me." Pecora was a firebrand - just the type of firebrand we need today, in our current "Golden Era of White Collar Crime." Pecora quotes are from Michael Perino, "The Hellhound of Wall Street: How Ferdinand Pecora's Investigation of the Great Crash Forever Changed American Finance," 2010. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Franklin Roosevelt:

Above: In the audio above, President Roosevelt warns us about organized money. When Roosevelt started to chip away at the political & financial favoritism that had been granted to the super-wealthy, they began to hate him for it. His response? "I welcome their hatred." We need that kind of attitude today, not just from our politicians but from every American voter. YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmR9b56GOac.

The bare-knuckle brawlers of the New Deal stand in stark contrast to the corporate marionettes that govern us today. Everywhere we look, we see politicians stumbling over themselves to punish the middle-class and poor, in service to their wealthy backers (and, no doubt, in service to their own wallets). President Obama failed to back the public option during health care reform; his Justice Department has refused to aggressively prosecute white collar crime; his education department holds the desires of abusive & incompetent debt collectors over the rights of student loan borrowers; and he has helped craft the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement by consulting Corporate America but keeping it secret from the American Public. Hillary Clinton, our likely next president, voted to make bankruptcy relief more difficult for struggling Americans; doesn't want to reinstate Glass-Steagall to rein in fraudulent banks; hesitates on the idea of expanding Social Security (even as the super-wealthy keep adding tens, even hundreds of billions of dollars to their personal wealth every year); and is receiving more Wall Street campaign cash than any other candidate (even as her campaign says she's going to hold Wall Street "accountable" - unbelievable).

As for Republican & Tea Party politicians, well, they're even more deranged than usual. Ben Carson wants to raise taxes on the middle-class and poor so he can lower them for the wealthy; Donald Trump thinks American workers make too much money, even though wages have been stagnant for decades and the middle-class is shrinking; Marco Rubio worships at the alter of the democracy-destroying Koch brothers; and Ted Cruz has to be about the most smarmy politician in U.S. history - and also a millionaire married to a Goldman Sachs manager (just for fun, see "Goldman Sachs Pays $272M to Settle Suit Over [Fraudulent] Mortgage-Backed Securities," "Goldman Pays $550 Million to Settle Fraud Case," and "Goldman Sachs Among the Banks Probed for 'Treasury-Rigging'"). As if all this were not bad enough, the Republican National Committee is trying to protect illegal tax evasion for the super-wealthy, in a brazen quid pro quo effort to get campaign contributions. Further, Republicans in Congress have tried to use the Highway Bill to extort us into giving favors to Wall Street - saying, in effect, "We'll give you infrastructure, if you're willing to be defrauded and victimized." (And they're currently working on legislation to make corporate crime harder to prosecute.)

And not only do Republican & Tea Party politicians cater to people who commit crime & fraud, they also have the gall to make insinuations of laziness to the very people harmed by those corporate fraudsters & criminals, even calling the victims "wild animals" and "lazy pigs." Imagine losing your job, let's say a construction job, because the housing market crashed--a crash caused, in part, by Wall Street's massive and wide-scale mortgage & securities fraud--and then listening to right-wing politicians & pundits telling you what a lazy s.o.b. you must be for not having a job - and then also telling you that your unemployment and food assistance should be taken away because, well, "you're a damn moocher!"   

It is clear that we've descended into a pit of corporate greed, corruption, and crime - and that many politicians are looking the other way, or even endorsing it, in exchange for campaign cash. I think we desperately need some New Deal bare-knuckle brawlers to knock the crap out of Wall Street and their political marionettes. We need some justice, we need some financial law & order, and we need some democracy.

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