Growing up, a fox named Robin Hood stole from the rich and the powerful who found protection in the likes Prince John, a lion, and the Sheriff of Nottingham, a wolf. The Disney film used stereotypes of animals to portray the central aspect of the characters’ role in the plot and to show the young audience a lesson. Robin Hood runs afoul with the law but the cause is just. His theft from the well to do, while unlawful, is just because it attempts to ease societal unrest and the correct the wrongs done by terrible leaders.
Today, Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham exist in the presence of Wall Street and the ever capitulating Congress. No real person or entity could claim to be Robin Hood but the National Nurses United union comes close. They are demanding a financial transaction tax on Wall Street.
Nurses around the country rallied last week as a modern day Prince John dictated his thoughts to his sheriffs… Wait… Jamie Dimon, the CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase, testified to Congress. Yeah, that’s it.
Dimon’s company ran afoul last month when a trade cost the company $2 billion (and now could be upwards of $8 billion). Instead of testifying under oath like most people do, Dimon faced softball questions from people that depend upon the generosity of the likes of Dimon. They believe they must have the financial support of Wall Street types to run and win their re-election campaigns… badgering Dimon would harm their chances in November. I think some people call this “biting the hand that feeds you.”
Robin Hood’s crime was not one of stealing. The powers that be had already done that. The powers that be in today’s world readily steal from the working class each and every day. They’ve abused foreclosure laws to steal people’s homes. They’ve abused workers’ rights to steal people’s hard earned wages. And over the last few decades the process went nearly unnoticed and resulted in the greatest income inequality seen since the Great Depression.
The real crime of Robin Hood came because he dared to challenge the powers, he attempted to fix the ills of his community, and he did so in a way that embarrassed Prince John to no end.
A Robin Hood like character could be of great value today. Corporate powers turned our democracy into a mere symbol and took away the reality of rule by and for the people. We could see a shift of power if we implemented the financial transaction tax, as proposed by the nurses union.
The tax would raise about $350 billion a year and help curb speculative trading that drives up the price of gas at the pump for everyday consumers.
“In cities and towns across the country and around the globe, people are hurting,” said Matt Kavanaugh of Health GAP in a statement. “Millions have been pushed into poverty, our social safety net has been shredded, and the winnable fights to end AIDS, food insecurity, and environmental destruction lack the resources to succeed. By adopting the Robin Hood Tax in America, we could go a long way towards solving our nation’s, and our planet’s, most pressing concerns.”
Sadly, the Robin Hood tax would require the Sheriffs of Nottingham to buck their Prince John. It would endanger their campaign funds, crush their hopes of an even more lucrative job after leaving Congress, and harm their current standing.
Ultimately, it was King Richard’s return that saved Robin Hood and restored order for the people. Who could be King Richard in this modern day? The people? What would happen if we returned to our democracy by fully engaging in the process. Not just a few phone calls for a candidate or a small donation. I am speaking of a larger electorate taking part in this thing we call democracy. It may have started with the activism from the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street… but it will take masses calling for justice and accountability.
Our democracy will not be safe from Prince John and a corrupt Sheriff until King Richard returns… you know what I mean.
I am about to take off for a nationwide action by the National Nurses United union that calls for a Robin Hood tax on Wall Street. The events in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and other major cities coincide with J.P. Morgan Chase’s CEO, Jamie Dimon testifying in front of Congress. The tax is a measly half a percentage point on trades but would have a huge impact on our country.
Check out the video below that features hard working nurses, actor Mark Ruffalo, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and more!
J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon testified in front of Congress last week after his bank last billions in a single trade. Five members of Occupy Our Homes attempted to silence Dimon during the hearing, demanding that he face the homeowners his bank is foreclosing on.
Deborah Harris, a former paramedic and now disabled, lost her home to Dimon’s bank. She used a microphone to call him out but was quickly grabbed by security. Four other people chanted in support but were also escorted out of the hearing.
“I told him to face up to the little people, like me, who had saved up for years only to have their homes taken by giants,” said Harris in a statement. “When they slapped the handcuffs on me, I felt very proud that I was a voice who stood-up.”
Chase and other big banks have foreclosed on hundreds of thousands of people after receiving billions of dollars in bailout money from the federal government. This forced Dave Johnson to wonder:
If debt is bad, why is giving free money to banks so they will lend (put you in debt) better than giving free money to people to pay off debts?
“I found it shocking that Jamie Dimon, a billionaire who is responsible for taking thousands of people’s homes, can go before a congressional committee, just apologize, and walk away,” said Micah Bales, an organizer with Occupy Our Homes-DC. “While those of us who are standing for those that lost their homes are hand-cuffed and thrown in jail.”
You can video of the disruption here (about four minutes in).
In California, ACCE is fighting for a Homeowner Bill of Rights. The proposed legislation would allow homeowners to defend their homes in court if banks break the law. This seems common sense enough and sad that a community organization must fight for this on the state level.
Sadly, we do. The Dimon’s of the world hem and haw in front of Congress and walk away freely. They manage the money and disperse it where it benefits them the most. Guess where that is?
Nearly 32 years ago President Jimmy Carter addressed the American people in speech about a crisis in confidence, specifically the growing mistrust in our democracy. The speech itself is still incredibly important and relevant to our current situation. By this point in time the corporate interest had already begun its assault on American government. That’s not to say all corporations are evil and all government is inherently good. Both exist because of human creation and as such have faults and problems but attacking the very essence of our political system and the involvement of the people allows an unprecedented power grab.
For years the corporate interests had been spending millions of dollars to undermine any kind of energy reform and blocked forward progress during the crisis in Carter’s presidency. As Dave Johnson notes:
the smear machine, the propaganda, the mass repetition of carefully crafted anti-government and in-it-for-yourself messaging, etc. – so people were just blindsided by it.
Three decades later, the corporate interests have more influence and power than ever. The working class sees little of the progress made during that time and our democracy is further fractured. This campaign took hold of so many and pushed the country to the right… away from doing right by the people and instead doing right for the bottom line of global corporations.
Carter said it was a “fundamental threat to American democracy.”
Nothing could be closer to the truth. It’s why so many are fighting in the Occupy movement. It is why so many dedicate their lives to advocacy organizations. It’s why I write and do my best to draw attention to exactly what Carter points out.
With just hours to go before her home was set to go up for auction by Citibank, Colleen McKee Espinosa found solace in the bank’s decision to cancel the scheduled sale. Furthermore, the bank approved a loan modification after denying her multiple times.
The fight became arduous for McKee Espinosa, especially after the bank declined to accept back payments when she fell three months behind. As a result the bank moved to foreclose on her and sell it out from under her.
Months of activism by hundreds of community members, lead by her son Nick Espinosa, along with Occupy Homes Minnesota, Occupy Wallstreet, and the Minnesota Nurses Association, helped create the public pressure needed. Citibank ultimately caved due to the community support and agreed to modify her loan from the remaining six years into 7.5 years. It reduced their payments by a third but kept them in their home and allows the bank to continue collecting money! All of this just a day before it was going up for sale.
“I’m so relieved that my family’s home of 16 years will not be on the auction block tomorrow,” McKee Espinosa in a statement. “We are grateful that Citibank has decided to accept my payments, and we look forward to signing the final paperwork.”
Over the last few months homeowners have fought alongside occupiers and community members to stall foreclosures by aggressive banks. Minnesota quickly became ground zero dating back to last November.
Nick Espinosa, who I met briefly at Netroots Nation, presented on the foreclosure crisis and how the occupy movement is responding to it. Little did he know that his mother would find relief through the work just days later.
“This negotiation represents a victory not just for our family, but for millions of families facing foreclosures across the country,” said Espinosa in a post. “Countless families could stay in their homes if banks simply modified their loans based on the actual market value and reduced their principal, instead of the price to which banks inflated them before they crashed our economy.”
Nick also mentions Monique White and Bobby Hull as success stories just in the Twin City area. The Occupy Homes Minnesota group vows to continue fighting for other homeowners as well. The victory should serve as a momentum gather and allow them to rally more community members to the cause.
Banks accepted a taxpayer bailout after they very nearly destroy the world economy. Today, they did one bank did one good thing for one homeowner. Tomorrow activists will continue pushing for another act of good will, and another, and another. Colleen and Nick fought for their home. Others joined them because of a close friendship or a profound desire to correct an injustice. It was a personal mission for many involved. The banks simply do not have that on their side. In the end we can, must, and will win.
WellPoint executives hemmed and hawed at questions pertaining to political spending at Wednesday’s annual shareholders’ meeting. Health plan members and union leaders, who represent members with WellPoint health insurance, wanted to ask CEO Angela Braly why the company spends money to influence policy that contradicts their business model. Outside a group of people wearing white jumpsuits labeled “WellPoint cleanup crew” took care of the toxic money coming from the company’s political spending. They were denied entry to the hotel and had to leave the toxic mess upstairs.
“WellPoint and its subsidiaries give financial support to the anti-union governors of Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio, who are trying to nullify the Affordable Care Act and roll back workers’ right to bargain for a better life,” said the organization Health Care for America Now.
The Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, mandates individuals to purchase health insurance and thus providing millions of more customers to companies like WellPoint. Nonetheless, WellPoint’s CEO serves on the board of America’s Health Insurance Plans, a group that contributed $86 million to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s fight against health insurance reform. This despite the company endorsing key provision the chamber was against.
Three-quarters of their political contributions went to Republicans in the 2010 and 2012 election cycles. Chief architect of the Republican budget agenda, Paul Ryan, received $15,000 in the last two cycles alone. Ryan proposed a budget that would essentially do away with Medicare and has blasted Obama’s health care plan. WellPoint has spent $4.4 million dollars on campaign contributions since the 2006 cycle, according to records from OpenSecrets.
“They use our money to fund other organizations that are fighting collective bargaining rights, workers’ rights, and immigration rights,” said Michael Torres, AFSCME Local 3395 that represents Indianapolis librarians. Torres and others were able to ask questions during a question and answer session at the end of the meeting after everything had already been voted on. Not content with that one person took to the mic and encouraged shareholders to vote against the board. Michael Pryce-Jones, of CTW Investment Group, wanted to speak to the shareholders about a few of the board members conflicts of interest. He was denied the opportunity and escorted out of the meeting by security. More on the group’s reasoning can be found here in the pdf and in a short interview with Pryce-Jones below.
As it stands WellPoint does not have a committee to oversee its political spending. This can lead to serious conflicts of interest without proper oversight. It also serves as a cause of why WellPoint participated in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s campaign to prevent the passage of the Affordable Care Act when the company endorsed it.
One shareholder presented Braly with 15,000 signatures on petition asking for more disclosure. The vote on greater disclosure took place prior to the open question and answer session. Shareholders overwhelmingly rejected the idea of greater disclosure but then again most shares tend to be held by executives.
Between 60 and 70 people marched outside of the hotel chanting “WellPoint get off it. People over politics.” “This is what democracy looks like.” Meanwhile a large balloon blimp calling for a stop to corporate greed floated above. At roughly 9 a.m. the meeting adjourned and executives walked out glaring at the protesters. Activist shareholders soon followed and lead a march to WellPoint’s headquarters a couple blocks away. The insurance company has nearly 34 million customers, trailing only UnitedHealth Group, and runs Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliates in 14 states.
WellPoint security locked down the building as protesters carried yellow tape declaring a quarantine of the area due to the toxic money that dropped from the ballon.
“They skirted around the issues,” said Dave Wallace, President AFSCME, Local 1117 in Los Angeles. “I wanted to ask why they are using our members premiums to fund legislation that will cause our demise.”
Over the last four years Braly has received $21.63 million in total compensation while the stock price of her company has dropped three percent. No word on what they have received on their investment of $4.4 million to dozens of federal politicians but things look good for the company… not for the people.
“Bank of America, Bad for America” went the chant of protesters outside of the Charlotte headquarters with a large ball and chain marked with the word “DEBT” sitting it the background. Meanwhile shareholders piled into the annual meeting that serves as a formality of transparency for publicly traded companies . Unlike previous years, executives experienced something more than formality as people armed with shares of the big bank came to the mic demanding answers and accountability for Bank of America’s alleged fraudulent mortgage practices, funding in predatory payday loan stores, investing in dirty coal, and crashing the economy. The laundry list of wrongdoing by the bank cost millions of families their homes and their health.
According to a Bloomberg report from the inside a shareholder complained of his stocks loss of value and called the bank a “felon.” CEO Brian Moynihan responded with a loaded defense saying, “We abide by the law every day.” That is anything but true.
Even after spending millions upon millions of dollars in lobbying fees over the last few years the banks efforts to write the laws failed them. If, as Moynihan suggests, the bank followed the law then why did they need to settle a foreclosure fraud case with the federal government? The illegal practices of the bank, and others because BofA did not act alone, caused tremendous personal harm to hardworking people.
Maria Reyes came from California to tell her heartbreaking story. Before Bank of America bought Countrywide her family bought a home in Hayward, located in the Bay Area, but the conditions of the loan were later found to be deceitful. Countrywide put down her husband’s income as $5,000 a month when he was actually on workers’ compensation. To make matters worse her two sons, also living in and paying for the home, lost their jobs in the construction business during the economic collapse. She only had the house for five years before Bank of America refused to work with her and foreclosed on the home. You can hear Maria tell her story through a translator in the video below.
Robert Kerns, a lawyer in Las Vegas, works with families experiencing similar problems. One client that he could talk about consisted of a outright lies and fraudulent practices against an Ethiopian couple that had become naturalized citizens. During the process to obtain a mortgage for their first home they were told one thing while paperwork said another. After they handed over their life-savings for a down payment their proposed mortgage payment doubled. When they threatened to go elsewhere the bank told them they would have to forfeit the down payment. An outright lie but only detectable with the knowledge of the law like Kerns practices.
These stories are not unique to just a few people. It is a story shared by millions of American homeowners who banks knowingly misguided in order to profit. At the same time Moynihan has received millions in compensation, including $7 million last year alone, while the stock price of the bank has dropped in half since he started in 2010. Prior to the financial collapse Bank of America paid a 64 cent dividend, it now sits at a penny.
A mic check commenced after two hours of questions from activist shareholders and dodging by Moynihan.
“Many of you people may think there are a lot of crazies here today, but this is a pushback,” an attendant told Moynihan moments before. “You’re hearing despair.”
Moynihan’s practiced answers gave little comfort to people struggling to stay in their homes or the one’s fighting for cleaner air. According to Sonny Garcia of National People’s Action, victims of the foreclosure crisis stressed the difficulty in working with Bank of America’s customer service and loan modification process. Moynihan responded with the feel good answer of talking with bank representatives after the shareholders meeting. Quick on their feet an organizer from Garcia’s organization responded appropriately:
“So what we have to do to get loan modifications is to buy a stock, stand in line for two hours, get shook down by the police, get intimidated by other security just so we can get a loan modification.”
It contrasts with their recent announcement that the bank is sending out 200,000 letters asking for mortgage holders to apply for principal write down. But digging deeper into the announcement reveals it at a nice publicity stunt as David Dayen notes.
Protesters want to highlight the hypocrisy coming from Bank of America executives and other billion dollar corporations. Their continued ownership of our nation’s democracy has harmed the lives of many of the protesters. Prior to the rally on Wednesday, organizers staged a boxing match titled “Bank versus America” which pitted a person portraying BofA CEO Brian Moynihan and another representing the 99 percent. In the end, the 99 percent won but for now the fight continues.
The youth burdened with massive student loan debt. Homeowners pledged by banks unwilling to work with them. Asthma, cancer, stroke, heart disease added to communities due to dirty coal and mountaintop removal. Neighborhoods and communities destroyed because of a big bank’s desire for profit over everyday people.
This is turning into a very different kind of shareholder season, one that is every bit as much about civic concerns as it is about the price of any stock, as investors have been denied admission to their own annual meetings amid concerns over surrounding protests.
That is the opening paragraph from Fortune. A stark reality for corporations as the growing discontent from activists has moved into the boardroom. Progressive activists around the country will probably smile at the lede believing times are beginning to change.
Bank of America’s shareholders meeting starts at 10 am eastern and the eyes of activists and financial gurus will focus on the outcome. Wells Fargo denied proxy shareholders entrance into their annual meeting two weeks ago. Many believe the same might happen here in Charlotte with roughly 1,000 protesters expected. Four marches will converge near the meeting’s site. Protesters will even hold a boxing match – Bank vs. America.
Yet, Charlotte’s City Manager Curt Walton declared the meeting an “extraordinary event” meaning the police have enhanced rights of arrest. Yup, a city manager (not the democratically elected mayor) did this to protect a corporation from citizens using their First Amendment rights.
Lisa Gilbert, Deputy Director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division, believes the meeting has a potentially large impact on corporation’s political spending.
Tomorrow, shareholders at Bank of America’s annual meeting will vote on a similar resolution that would halt political spending by the bank. That means no contributions to Super PACs. No involvement in the controversial American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). No pouring money into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which then buys attack ads in swing states.
Gilbert backs up the need for such a resolution with some handy facts.
Between 2002 and 2010, Bank of America contributed approximately $6.7 million in corporate money to political activity. The bank’s political action committee has been one of the top five contributors among commercial banks to federal candidates every year for the past decade, giving approximately $12.6 million. What’s more, the bank paid nothing in federal taxes in 2009 and 2010, but got almost a billion dollars back from taxpayers.
This type of political spending amounts to a quid pro quo and should be banned in a democracy. Businesses see these types of expenditures as an investment. One that has unprecedented rates of return. But it all comes at the cost of the public good. Our schools suffer, our infrastructure deteriorates, and our states go bankrupt. No wonder why people are getting pissed and taking their anger to the shareholder meetings.
© Aaron Krager 2008-2013 | Have any questions? Send me an email.