Econ4 on housing

Via Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism.

Econ4 economists put out a statement on housing accompanying this video. It includes this passage, which I think is spot-on:

We oppose treating the nation’s housing as a bundle of assets to be sliced, diced, flipped, and bailed out in pursuit of inflated profits and bonuses.

We call for reality-based, ethically grounded housing policies that restore stability to families and sanity to markets.

We call for mandatory partial reductions of mortgage principal whenever this can keep a family in its home. We call for America’s best run housing non-profits to be paid to provide the counsel required to determine when such modifications will work. We call for civil and, when necessary, criminal sanctions on banks and loan-servicing companies whose employees intentionally obstruct implementation of mandated loan modifications.

We call for amending bankruptcy laws to restore pre-2005 rules that protected families and communities from bank depredations.

We call for immediate return to the rule of law by requiring those who seek to foreclose to demonstrate they have the proper title and rights to do so – with stiff legal penalties if they ignore the law.

In response to recent moves by the top 1% to buy distressed housing and convert it to rental stock as absentee landlords, we call for local, state and national standards to protect families from predatory rental practices.

We extend our support to all who are working in the private, non-profit, and public sectors to promote access to affordable and stable housing as a human right of families and an asset for communities.

Neil Barofsky for SEC Chair

Matt Stoller interviews Neil Barofsky, who says he’d be happy to serve as chairman of the SEC, if the President nominates him. He and Stoller talk about what he would do as SEC Chair and the important role the SEC has to play to regulate the banking system and make sure we don’t ever go through another collapse like 2008.

Barofsky would make a stellar pick for the SEC. Not that my opinion goes far, but still, he’d be a great choice.

Brilliant!

Alex Pareene offers up some great strategic advise for Democrats in DC:

If Democrats want to get the big pundits on their side, they should pull a Boehner and just name whatever it is they’re trying to pass “The Simpson Plan.” That should be the name they use when they reintroduce card-check. And cap-and-trade. Planned Parenthood should rename itself “The Simpson-Bowles Planned Parenthood” and then no one will ever again try to defund it, I promise.

The funniest part of this is that Pareene thinks Democrats would introduce legislation to provide any sort of increase in power for America’s workers.

On self-immolation

Yesterday the 92nd Tibetan self-immolated in Tibet while calling for freedom since 2009, most in the last year. Think about that for a minute – 92 Tibetans have set themselves on fire while calling for an end to China’s occupation of Tibet.

In Foreign Policy, Michael Biggs has a piece on the differences between suicide bombers and self-immolators. The Chinese government has tried to depict Tibetan self-immolators as terrorists. But Biggs points out that self-immolators aren’t trying to scare people, but send a message about how deeply they hold their beliefs:

Suicide protest does not achieve these ends; its logic is communicative rather than sanguinary. To quote Oxford sociologist Diego Gambetta, “Martyrdom is as strong a signal of the strength of a belief as one can get: only those who hold their beliefs very dear can contemplate making the ultimate sacrifice of dying for a cause.” Choosing a painful means of death — burning, most obviously — amplifies that signal still more. The communication, moreover, can be directed toward various audiences. Sometimes it is a disinterested and faraway public, and the self-immolator hopes to attract the public’s attention and win its sympathy. At other times the self-immolator addresses his or her own group, hoping to enhance the group’s commitment to the cause.

Biggs sees this as a phenomenon which will continue, even in the face of more repression in Tibet:

So far, the recent wave of Tibetan immolations has not yielded any tangible political success. Repression has only increased in the Tibetan areas of China, and expressions of sympathy from the majority Han population within China are rare. Western public opinion, which already favored the Tibetan cause, has no means of exercising leverage over China. But it is too soon to assess the consequences of these immolations. Gauging their effect on Tibetans within China is effectively impossible given the degree of repression.

What we can predict is that suicide protest will continue. Its communicative logic is no less potent than the suicide attack’s sanguinary logic — and it is more readily carried out. A suicide bombing requires organization, coordination, and technical skills to prepare explosives. In conflict zones like Afghanistan, the attacker also needs assistance to reach what are often fortified targets. Suicide protest does not require organization. There is no defense against the practice, short of the total suppression of information. Where information about suicide protest can be suppressed completely, there is hardly any reason to perform it. In today’s world, the totalitarian control formerly exercised by the Soviet Union or Maoist China is no longer feasible, at least for a country participating in the global economy. For evidence, look no further than China’s inability to prevent us from reading about — and in some cases even watching — the immolations in Tibet.

Biggs is likely correct, though it’s hard to imagine this tragic epidemic is continued to be met by functional silence by the world’s governments. As long as China’s continued response is one of repression, Tibetans will continue to struggle to throw of the yolk of their occupation. More Tibetans will likely see self-immolation as their only option for impactful political organizing. It’s hard to comprehend the depths of despair felt by Tibetans inside of Tibet, but at the same time, these actions tell you how deep it must be, even if it is a depth beyond comprehension.

Organizing & Occupy Sandy

Yotam Maron has a good piece on Occupy Sandy and turning community organizing in response to a crisis into organizing to produce proactive policy solutions that we need. It’s definitely worth reading.

Community-based organizing around mutual aid creates a tremendous opportunity to move people affected by crises to a new political viewpoint that is informed both by what happened to them and by who and how they were aided in response. That’s why organizing victims of bank greed in the foreclosure crisis and fossil fuel company greed in the climate crisis makes so much sense. Finance capital and the fossil fuel industry are two of the most powerful sectors in our country and the world. We will only be able to shift power from these few massive corporations to people in a democratic way when opportunities to organize and provide aid are seized in moments of crisis. Think of it like a reverse shock doctrine.

Warren Buffett rides again

I’ve been quite skeptical of the value of Warren Buffett as a key advocate for Democrats around tax policy and social spending (see: here, here, and here). While Buffett is supportive of the not-bad idea that rich Americans should pay higher taxes, he’s been either vague or advocated small increases – while coupling his tax positions to advocacy for cutting spending, including for the social safety net.

On Sunday, to much fanfare, Buffett penned an op-ed arguing for a minimum tax for the wealthy. But his suggestion is fairly small bore: “I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that.” I’m in favor of it as it’s an improvement over the current tax structure, but this is hardly a proposal that merits rampant celebration from the left.

If you have any doubt that this is nothing more than a proposal which would provide the patina of progressive taxation with an eye towards reducing inequality in the US, look no further than Buffett’s comments today, in which he says that of all the people in America, JP Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon would be President Obama’s best choice for a new Treasury Secretary.

Given we are still suffering from the damage inflicted on the economy by Wall Street banks, including Dimon’s JPMC, in the inflation and bursting of the housing bubble, the idea that Dimon would be a good pick for Treasury Secretary is just bonkers.

I’m glad there are people like Buffett who have the courage to say that they are wealthy enough to afford higher taxes. But just because he throws out a tiny morsel clinging to an old, dried-out bone doesn’t mean he’s someone to be elevated a spokesperson for the left in these debates.

 

Facts you probably didn’t know

I didn’t know this one, from David Dayen:

Of course, nobody is questioning why we’re holding to this artificial deficit reduction construct at all. As Jed Graham explains, over the last three years, the US has reduced the federal budget deficit more rapidly than at any time since World War II. This is an artifact of a relatively stronger economy leading to the reduction of spending on automatic stabilizers like unemployment and food stamps, as well as stimulus programs running out. But fiscal policy at the federal level has taken away from growth since mid-2010, and it’s poised to drag much, much more with implementation of these austerity measures. With borrowing costs so low, there’s no logical reason for this except to please elites, who really want lower tax rates and a smaller safety net and think that fearmongering on the deficit could provide a gateway to that goal. [Emphasis added]

The immorality of climate inaction, the fossil fuel industry

I was offline last week, so I missed President Obama’s press conference last week. Included in it were the President’s remarks on climate change, which while acknowledging its existence offered nothing in terms of commitment to action, let alone action the scale needed to confront the climate crisis. Here’s some of what President Obama said:

So what I’m going to be doing over the next several weeks, next several months, is having a conversation, a wide-ranging conversation with scientists, engineers, and elected officials to find out what can — what more can we do to make a short-term progress in reducing carbons, and then working through an education process that I think is necessary — a discussion, a conversation across the country about what realistically can we do long term to make sure that this is not something we’re passing on to future generations that’s going to be very expensive and very painful to deal with.

I don’t know what either Democrats or Republicans are prepared to do at this point, because this is one of those issues that’s not just a partisan issue; I also think there are regional differences. There’s no doubt that for us to take on climate change in a serious way would involve making some tough political choices. And understandably, I think the American people right now have been so focused, and will continue to be focused on our economy and jobs and growth, that if the message is somehow we’re going to ignore jobs and growth simply to address climate change, I don’t think anybody is going to go for that. I won’t go for that.

If, on the other hand, we can shape an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth, and make a serious dent in climate change and be an international leader, I think that’s something that the American people would support.

So you can expect that you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years about how we can shape an agenda that garners bipartisan support and helps move this agenda forward.

Part of what is so confounding to me is the refusal for elected officials, including but not limited to the President, to refuse to understand the scope of the crisis in front of us. And not just the scope, the presence of the crisis as a crisis in the immediate term.

As Bill McKibben has made abundantly clear, we don’t have the time. We need immediate changes to the math behind global energy policy, otherwise the planet is screwed.

Surely in coming weeks and months, we’ll see environmental groups float potential legislative options for the President and Congress to consider over the next four years. While I’m all for some of the brick-and-mortar Beltway environmental groups providing concrete solutions with an eye towards pragmatism as always, I don’t think that’s actually what a left flank looks like.

In this case, the left flank on climate needs to built squarely around morality. Specifically the immorality of continuing to destroy our planet through a fossil fuel-based energy policy (let alone one which enriches a small handful of individuals and corporations at the expense of what will be a potentially infinitely large dollar amount in climate destruction). Continued inaction or action at the snails pace we’ve seen from all American elected officials is simply immoral.

Taking this a step further, it’s clear that at the end of the day, there will be no solution to this crisis without public officials having the moral clarity to say, “The fossil fuel industry is killing our planet. This is a crime against every living person and all future generations. As a result, they can no longer exist.” The left flank of the climate crisis isn’t a set of taxes or tariffs, it’s an abolitionist movement.

If Lincoln had speechified about the danger of wiping out half of the South’s GDP by ending slavery, abolitionists wouldn’t have stood for it. Why should contemporary climate activists stand for Obama or any other politician hiding behind bad economics* in the face of a fundamentally moral question? It’s time for anger, built around moral clarity that is clearly lacking from the debate playing out in DC and in the press.

* The President’s economics are bad – a massive shift to green energy sources would be a huge economic boost, both in terms of jobs created by the required infrastructure creation and the removal of massive negative externalities that come from our reliance on fossil fuels. So not only is he wrong to hide behind economic numbers as an argument against a green energy shift, but he’s using a bad argument.