On April 25, 2010, a day before a vote that would decide whether the Senate would debate financial reform, Senator Bernie Sanders spoke of the oft-stated belief, some enormous economic engines are to “Too Big To Fail.”
Senator Sanders presented the numbers beginning with the big four (4). Bernie Sanders bellowed, there are 4 major banks in our country. These are Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, and CitiGroup. Many in the audience might have recalled that three of these Tapped the Fed for Financing in August 2007.
At the time, the fourth of these financial institutions, Wells Fargo, declined to comment in regards to its status. Rather than state whether this giant holder of greenbacks had borrowed from the Federal Reserve discount window, Wells Fargo declared it had “ample funds.” By April 2010, the other depositories did as well. In the Spring of this year, actually days ago, headlines blared. Good news, Big Banks Are Back as JPMorgan, Citigroup Turn Corner. Perchance, ironically, as average Americans struggled to survive, Bloomberg Business Week reported there was reason for “optimism.”
Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co., beneficiaries of $140 billion in taxpayer funds, reduced loan-loss provision expenses from last quarter and said the bottom of the credit cycle was past. Their investment-banking arms capitalized on fixed-income trading, leading to combined first-quarter profits of $13.4 billion, the most since the second quarter of 2007 before the crisis began. Citigroup reduced reserves for the first time since 2006.
As the bully banks built their revenues, Americans depleted theirs. Even when economic times are tough, or perhaps especially when it is difficult to make ends meet, in our Credit Card Nation: (we may be) Addicted to Debt. It is not that consumers wish to be obsessed with spending, scientists say, this might be habit. Purchasing patterns were well learned and established long before the current recession. After all, since the 1950s, Americans have been trained to say, charge it. Indeed, “More credit cards are issued in this country than any other country,” said John Ulzheimer of Credit.com. That’s nearly 700 million, more than two cards for every American.
In truth, in the last year and one half, people have cut back. Since the recent Recession began, people have tightened their purse strings. Nonetheless, circumstances did not allow them to climb out of debt. On March 5, 2010, CreditCards.com cited a glaring truth; “Americans increased their overall consumer debt in January (2010) for the first time in a year, even as they continued to trim their credit card balances.” The conclusion, “Unemployment remains a challenge.”
As Americans count pennies, Bankers build bigger vaults. After all, fiscal tycoons invested well for many years. Financiers found a niche and a captive audience, one the money merchants now hold hostage. Statistically stated, Senator Bernie Sanders shared . . .
The four financial institutions issue 2/3 of the credit cards
The four fiscal stalwarts hold 1/2 of all mortgages
These giants own and control 7 Trillion Dollars which happens to be 50 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States of America
Thus, the question must be asked. Is there reason for optimism when the banks do well, or might the bank profits correlate to greater consumer debt. Possibly, the answer to that query may not be as meaningful as the response to another. What can Americans expect once the Senate debates the essential question, “Are these financial institutions too big to fail or just too big to exist?” Will citizens remain at the mercy of the miserly billionaire Bankers, or will the American people be set free to financially flourish?
Citizens heard the news. In West Virginia, twenty-five people perished. Hard-working miners left their homes and loved ones, never to return again. Upper Big Branch, a colliery owned and operated by the Massey Energy Company exploded from within. The cavern, filled with gas, was often thought to be a death trap. Family, friends, and familiars knew this, as did government officials. Actually, any American who cares to be cognizant of the countless considerations associated with coal mining could have predicted what occurred only days ago. Yet, most choose not to think of their own culpability in the most recent deaths. Nor do our countrymen and women contemplate the constant infirmity and harm they do to our fellow humans. We are busy.
Nonetheless, that does not negate that we have blood on our hands. Every person who resides in this country is partially responsible for this blast and the loss of bodies who will forever lie still. We, the people, love our luxuries and all the energy these consume. We allow ourselves to be appeased, and say nothing of our dependence on coal. We only wish to free ourselves from foreign fossil fuels. Hence, we declare, coal is clean.
Indeed, it is a dirty black rock and does many dastardly deeds when mined and burned. We cannot wash our hands of the climate we change when we cut mountaintops and strip the land. Our intentional use of coal causes injury and illness. Intellectually we know this; yet, we think ourselves innocent. In truth, the American people cannot absolve themselves; the many tragedies we accept, over and over again. The supposed accidents are what we create!
The operator of the West Virginia mine that exploded on Monday, killing at least 25 people, was warned by federal officials just over two years ago that it could be cited for having a “pattern of violations,” which would have allowed far stricter federal oversight of the mine. But the mine escaped the stepped-up enforcement even though it continued to amass violations, federal records show.
Why, after such a long history of injury and death, does coal mining remain so dangerous?
The mine, known as the Upper Big Branch and operated by the Massey Energy Company, was warned that it had a “potential pattern of violations” in a Dec. 6, 2007 letter from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). The letter noted that the mine had received 204 violations that were deemed serious and significant over the previous two years, well above average.
But six months later, the safety agency announced that the Upper Big Branch mine, and 19 others that were warned that December, had all instituted plans to fix their problems, and had received fewer violations. They all escaped the added oversight, which would have allowed the federal government to close down the mines every time they found a significant violation.
Then, in 1965, there was a vision. President Lyndon Johnson addressed the tragedy that existed in America, poverty. He had hoped to give birth to a Great Society. Mister Johnson dreamed of the day when the truth of America reflected the richness that is often said to define this country. Yet, his aspiration was deferred. In a desire to create a Great Society, or two, one at home and one overseas, Lyndon Johnson lost his bearing. Ultimately, he destroyed most of what he hoped to build. As President Obama begins his walk down a similar path, people ponder; what might President Obama plan and unintentionally promote.
For President Johnson, a single war, not the one on poverty, but instead the fight on foreign soil stood in the way of his, and America’s, true success. The fiscal burden was a heavy weight on the nation’s budget. Nevertheless, President Johnson insisted that the Administration ardently pursue American involvement in Vietnam while spending billions of dollars on domestic problems. Much like our present President, Mister Obama, who eagerly escalates the war in Afghanistan, Lyndon Johnson believed he could attach inequities on the home front and still secure a win on distant shores.
Each Commander-In-Chief seemed to understand the excessive strain on the economy; yet, Johnson and Obama remained stalwart; they could do it all. President Johnson, in time, relented. He resigned himself to defeat. He had not succeeded in his fight against poverty; nor did he triumph in Vietnam. Lyndon Johnson exited the Executive Office without the legacy he had hoped to leave. Mister Obama, some say will realize the same fate. Others observe that he has a luxury that President Johnson did not have. Obama, just as his immediate predecessor had, learned from history.
In the mid-1960s, the Great Society was born and brushed aside. The futility of the battles and American blood shed was a load too large for average citizens to bear. Ordinary people protested. The emphasis President Johnson had hoped to place on poverty was lost. Thus, the desire to eliminate dearth in the world’s wealthiest country went by the wayside. The thought to offer equal opportunities to the economically oppressed was forfeited. Combat was far more visible then the poor. This truth taught all President’s since Johnson that if you want the people to support your agenda, hide what you do not want the people to see.
Today, photographs of struggles do not fill the airwaves. Earlier Administration made certain of this and the American people accepted the bliss of ignorance. People in the States prefer to believe that they support the soldiers, even though American policies lead these young men and women to slaughter.
Radio Broadcasters barely, rarely, or never mention the body counts abroad. Homeless persons, huddled together for warmth on the streets of the world’s wealthiest nation do not cause a stir. Journalists just walk right past the indigents. The fortunate few impecunious, those who can afford a room are easy to avoid, especially since they had dispersed. The Suburbanization of Poverty helped to further isolate individuals who, most Americans, wish to keep invisible.
In the year 2010, there is no need to mention a misery out of sight, not the war in the Middle East or the economic conflict between the classes. Announcers would rather rant, rage, and argue about Party politics, report on ploys, or discuss the latest and greatest scandal.
Then and now, the underprivileged are, time and again, avoided, ignored, or intentionally hidden. Embarrassed by their plight, the destitute do not speak up. On occasion, these individuals are overwhelmed with what they must to do just to survive. This serves Administrations well. Issues, silently secured away from the masses, and the media, also work well for our Congressmen and women.
Without awareness for the fallen, soldiers family’s, and the unfortunate thousands who do more than flirt with financial failures, Americans never think to address these costly concerns, poverty and warfare. Legislators in our nation’s Capitol like that.
Therefore, those who lack a more powerful political presence require someone in Washington to talk for them. Lyndon Johnson hoped to articulate what the all too frequently concealed could not.
Today, the disadvantaged have gone the way of the past President. Frequently, they are the objects of scorn. People perceive the wars Johnson waged were lost. Neither Vietnam, the conflict that the Johnson presidency is oft remembered for, nor the Great Society ended the way Mister Johnson envisioned. In truth, no Chief Executive of this country can move the mountains of policies that establish and maintain poverty. That is a task only the people can accomplish. We, the people, if change is to come, must never forget that we are the voice of the downtrodden, or could be.
However, in the many decades that have passed, the public has chosen not to take up the call. Communities separate and on their own have not cared to become Great Societies. Instead, individually, and as neighbors, we have weakened the structure that could have supported those without the dollars to purchase the bootstraps the impoverished are told to use to pull themselves up.
As a nation, we do not provide adequate education for the poor. Thus, success, or jobs that provide a sufficient salary are lost. As a society, we relegate the less skilled to service positions. They may live closer to the more stable and secure citizens, indeed, they may need to in order to survive. Yet, the penniless are no better off. They are barely able to adopt the label of Suburbanites. This poverty-stricken population has boomed; yet, even in the ‘burbs the underprivileged are no better off, just better concealed
Elizabeth Kneebone, Senior Research Analyst and Emily Garr, Senior Research Assistant
The Brookings Institution
January 20, 2010
An analysis of the location of poverty in America, particularly in the nation’s 95 largest metro areas in 2000, 2007, and 2008 reveals that:
By 2008, suburbs were home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country. Between 2000 and 2008, suburbs in the country’s largest metro areas saw their poor population grow by 25 percent-almost five times faster than primary cities and well ahead of the growth seen in smaller metro areas and non-metropolitan communities. As a result, by 2008 large suburbs were home to 1.5 million more poor than their primary cities and housed almost one-third of the nation’s poor overall.
Midwestern cities and suburbs experienced by far the largest poverty rate increases over the decade. Led by increasing poverty in auto manufacturing metro areas-like Grand Rapids and Youngstown-Midwestern city and suburban poverty rates climbed 3.0 and 2.2 percentage points, respectively. At the same time, Northeastern metros-led by New York and Worcester- actually saw poverty rates in their primary cities decline, while collectively their suburbs experienced a slight increase.
In 2008, 91.6 million people-more than 30 percent of the nation’s population-fell below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. More individuals lived in families with incomes between 100 and 200 percent of poverty line (52.5 million) than below the poverty line (39.1 million) in 2008. Between 2000 and 2008, large suburbs saw the fastest growing low-income populations across community types and the greatest uptick in the share of the population living under 200 percent of poverty.
Western cities and Florida suburbs were among the first to see the effects of the “Great Recession” translate into significant increases in poverty between 2007 and 2008. Sun Belt metro areas hit hardest by the collapse of the housing market saw significant gains in poverty between 2007 and 2008, with suburban increases clustered in Florida metro areas-like Miami, Tampa, and Palm Bay-and city poverty increases most prevalent in Western metro areas- like Los Angeles, Riverside, and Phoenix. Based on increases in unemployment over the past year, Sun Belt metro areas are also likely to experience the largest increases in poverty in 2009.
If common citizens are as committed to change as they said they were during the 2008 election cycle, let us look back so that we might move forward. Consider the United States Constitution. This divine document states, that average Americans, can petition our Representatives of what matters, society as a whole. After all, it is we, the people, who place men and women into Congressional offices. Our Senators, and those in the House, know who has the truest influence. Corporations cannot employ our Representatives without our permission. You, I, and even the registered impoverished voter, can, and must, create the Great Society that Lyndon Baines Johnson did not. I think such a provision is our right and responsibility, For as Author John Donne recited . . .
“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…
As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….
No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”