December 22, 2011 - 10:25am ET
Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to effect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security.
MORNING MESSAGE: That $335 Million BofA Settlement: The Good, The Bad, And The Very Ugly
OurFuture.Org's Richard Eskow: "The Obama Administration announced a $335 million settlement deal with Bank of America to settle charges of discriminatory lending practices. ...The Justice Department deserves praise for responding to illegal bank behavior more aggressively than it's done in the past. So does the Occupy movement, and so do the many Americans who have expressed their outrage over the lack of prosecutions and sweetheart bank deals. ... But while the Justice Department has taken a first step, the proposed agreement seems designed to do only the bare minimum its framers hoped would be needed to quell public outrage. While it will be sold as bold and decisive, it's not. In fact, this deal perpetuates some of the worst failings of past settlements the government's made with big banks."
Bank of America Settles Up
BofA Agrees to Record $335 Million Fair-Lending Deal With U.S. [Bloomberg Businessweek]: "Bank of America Corp. will pay a record $335 million to compensate Countrywide Financial Corp. borrowers who were charged more for home loans based on race and national origin. Countrywide, acquired by Bank of America in 2008, assessed higher fees and interest rates to more than 200,000 black and Hispanic borrowers, the U.S. Department of Justice said yesterday in a statement. The lender also steered minorities into higher-cost subprime mortgages from 2004 to 2007, even when they qualified for prime loans, the agency said."
Mary Bottari, at OurFuture.org, says "Break up Bank of America before it breaks us": "On Monday, Bank of America (BofA) stocks briefly traded for under $5. Yes, you could buy a share of BofA for less than the noxious debit card fee they tried to force down your throat. BofA is massive, with assets equivalent to 15 percent of U.S. GDP. So why is it trading for the price of a latte? Because Wall Street's dirty little secret is that BofA is a zombie bank. Now the reek is getting too strong to ignore."
Simon Johnson writes that no one is above the law, including banksters: "The American ideal of equal and impartial justice under law has repeatedly been undermined by attempts to concentrate power. Our political system has many advantages, but it also provides motive and opportunity for resourceful people to become so strong they can elude the legal constraints that bind others. The most obvious example is the oil and railroad trusts at the end of the 19th century. A version of the same process is happening again today, but what has become concentrated is not a vital energy source or the nation's transport arteries but rather something much more abstract – financial sector risk."
Fat Cats Bite Back
Bankers Join Billionaires to Debunk 'Imbecile' Attack on Top 1% [Bloomberg Businessweek]: "Jamie Dimon, the highest-paid chief executive officer among the heads of the six biggest U.S. banks, turned a question at an investors' conference in New York this month into an occasion to defend wealth. 'Acting like everyone who's been successful is bad and because you're rich you're bad, I don't understand it,' the JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO told an audience member who asked about hostility toward bankers. 'Sometimes there's a bad apple, yet we denigrate the whole.' Dimon, 55, whose 2010 compensation was $23 million, joined billionaires including hedge-fund manager John Paulson and Home Depot Inc. co-founder Bernard Marcus in using speeches, open letters and television appearances to defend themselves and the richest 1 percent of the population targeted by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators."
Former broker Joshua Brown pens an open letter to Jamie Dimon: "No, Jamie, it is not that Americans hate successful people or the wealthy. In fact, it is just the opposite. We love the success stories in our midst and it is a distinctly American trait to believe that we can all follow in the footsteps of the elite, even though so few of us ever actually do. So, no, we don't hate the rich. What we hate are the predators. What we hate are the people who we view as having found their success as a consequence of the damage their activities have done to our country."
Robert Greenwald catalogs Dimon's misdeeds, and goes on to 'denigrate the whole': "After all, the so-called 'bad apples' actually reflect a systemic problem: those who use their wealth for destructive purposes are rewarded instead of punished, even when their tactics are illegal. Wealth doesn't always come from making products that people enjoy or investing in small companies à la George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life. Things really are worse for the 99% because of a rigged system that allows certain rich people to play by different rules than everyone else. So, Jamie Dimon, are you bad just because you're successful? No. You're bad because your success comes at everyone else's expense. You're right about one thing, though: you just don't get it."
GOP Payroll Tax Cut Damage
Loss of the payroll tax cut may push many Americans to scale back [Huffington Post]: "Across the country, Americans are bracing for another financial hardship: smaller paychecks starting in January, if Congress doesn't break a deadlock and renew a Social Security tax cut. The tax cut, which took effect this year, benefits 160 million Americans – $1,000 a year, or nearly $20 a week, for someone making $50,000, as much as $4,272 or $82 a week for a household with two high-paid workers. ...If Congress doesn't renew the two measures for 2012, analysts say the economy's growth would slow by as much as 1 percentage point. Less money in paychecks means less consumer spending, which powers the U.S. economy. Many people who say they already depend on each paycheck for living expenses say they can't cut spending deeply. Instead, they'll trim at the edges, wherever they can."
Daily Kos' Meteor Blades writes that three million could lose jobless benefits in just ten days: "The astonishing (but not surprising) stubbornness of House Republicans to vote on a two-month extension of the payroll tax threatens to cut off some 3 million Americans from their unemployment benefit checks Jan. 1. Over the next few months, another couple of million would lose theirs. One would think that the imminence of an election year would give the Republicans pause about even the possibility of such an outcome. But the truth is, many are gleeful at the prospect. It's the policy they have been seeking for well over a year."
G.O.P. Hopefuls Finesse Fight on Payroll Tax [NYT]: "The Republican presidential candidates have built their campaigns around a sharp critique of President Obama and Democrats in Congress. But their footing seemed far less certain with the contentious back-and-forth on Capitol Hill suddenly involving an internal Republican feud over the extension of a payroll tax break and jobless pay — especially at a time when Congress's approval ratings are far below those of the president."
GOP Payroll Tax Damage Control
In payroll tax battle, GOP shows cracks under Democratic pressure [Christian Science Monitor]: "Forty dollars is the average drop that some 160 million Americans will see in their paychecks, if Congress doesn't act. A White House call for responses to what a $40 tax hike means to families produced thousands of tweets in just 24 hours. Replies included: 'nearly a tank of gas,' 'feeding my family for three nights,' 'two months of vet care,' 'co-pay for prescription drugs,' and 'default on my mortgage, so I can feed my son.' With just 10 days before the payroll tax 'holiday' and other measures expire, the cost to American families of gridlock as usual on Capitol Hill is immediate and personal. Democrats and the White House are counting on public outrage to force Speaker John Boehner – and the tea-party backed conservatives who pushed GOP leaders to take on this fight – to cave."
Obama calls Boehner, Reid to push two-month payroll tax extension [CNN]: "President Barack Obama called House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid Wednesday as part of an ongoing -- and so far unsuccessful -- effort to resolve a partisan standoff over how best to extend the expiring payroll tax cut, according to the White House. A two-month extension passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support by the Democratic-controlled Senate "is the only option to ensure that middle class families aren't hit with a tax hike in 10 days and gives both sides the time needed to work out a full year solution," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters."
WaPo's Dana Millbank says that the the GOP has gone into damage control mode after the payroll tax debacle: Atop the House chamber Wednesday morning, the flag fluttered in the breeze. In his office underneath the Capitol dome, House Speaker John Boehner twisted in the wind. His House Republicans had killed a bipartisan plan to cut taxes for 160 million Americans, earning themselves an avalanche of criticism and condemnation from friend and foe alike. So Boehner assembled nine of his House Republican colleagues in his conference room, invited in the TV cameras, and proclaimed that Republicans really and truly want to enact the payroll-tax break that they just defeated. 'We're here. We're ready to go to work,' Boehner announced. But the only thing he was working on, it turned out, was damage control."
E.J. Dionne wades into the GOP's Iowa chaos: "Thus the tale of Iowa: a grass-roots Republican Party dominated by a right wing that cannot come together; Paul trying to build on a solid core; Gingrich desperate for unity on the right but under a relentless pummeling; Santorum hoping to be the last person standing; and Romney seeking only to survive Iowa in a strong enough position to profit later from dissension among his foes. For Republicans, it is a campaign in which faith may not be enough, even in the Iowa caucuses, and reason leads more to confusion, perhaps even chaos, than to clarity."
Teagan Goddard says Gingrich's collapse in polls makes for a tight race in Iowa: "A new We Ask America poll is the latest to show Newt Gingrich's implosion could make the Iowa caucuses very competitive. Ron Paul leads with 19%, followed by Mitt Romney at 18%, Gingrich at 16%, Michele Bachmann at 15%, Rick Perry at 11%, Rick Santorum at 9% and Jon Huntsman at 4%."
Hunter, c/o CNS News, has the latest news from the war front — the "War on Christmas," that is: "CNSNews called the officials who put up the tree, but couldn't get an answer on whether any of the ornaments have Jesus on them. They wanted to know if any American politician except Obama was named on an ornament. Again, no answer, probably because the people answering the phones were still passed out from laughter at having to field these questions. Well, that probably means Jesus isn't on the tree, since panicked conspiracy theorizing is pretty much always right, as an organization that purports to "correct" other media outlets (deviously liberal ones) surely knows. And looking at all the ornaments themselves would be really, really hard, so they didn't bother."
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