Monday, March 26, 2007

Lets Broaden Our Focus To Include Economic Issues: It’s Time To ‘Stop The Squeeze’

Stop the Squeeze

Another week has passed with most of the progressive community mesmerized by the political game playing in Washington. Don’t we realize yet that a totally compromised political process in Washington, built around wheeling and dealing, will not have the courage or the consciousness to do what must be done to stop the Iraq War?

The House’s latest watered down “withdrawal” bill will never become the law in an environment laced with veto threats and the White House’s efforts to mobilize the military against the Democrats — as if somehow the soldiers can be viewed apart from the war. Alas, the votes to prevail are not there.

Don’t we also realize the debate over what Alberto Gonzalez did or didn’t do is a sideshow. Sure he “did it,” and yes, he’s been caught—but so what?

Let’s acknowledge that the GOP is not the only party that politicizes the Justice System—and, yes, the Clinton Administration did clean house of US Attorneys in its time. The problem here is deeper than mere partisan bickering.

Unfortunately, if Gonzo goes—as he may—another legal Neanderthal who may play the game with an even harder line will replace him.

The mainstream AND indy media focus on every tick and burp in Washington assumes that the politicians are the real power—and often ignores the big money and corporate clout stage-managing the process.

Too many bloggers focus on the smoke and mirrors of politics, as if it is a recreational sport or parlor game, taking polls too seriously and trends not seriously enough. There’s still more of an obsession over the scandal of the day than over the interests in the wings—the people who are financing the politicians and orchestrating their maneuvers.

The political crisis engages the bashing brigade of message point polemicists on the right and left who both tend to ignore economic interests. They are the forces that are devastating the lives of so many Americans who have lost their jobs, can’t pay their bills and are victimized by the growing inequality in our nation, which does not seem to have become a political issue yet.

No one’s marching on the banks or Wall Street to demand economic justice.

Think of all the soldiers who join the military because the pay is better or they have no other choice. Think of all the poor Iraqis being killed by poor Americans who return to find themselves going even more deeply in debt. They are the ones being victimized by payday lenders whose signs advertising easy money line the boulevards outside military bases. Speak to military families and you will find that their lives are harder than ever.

And then meet the folks who are among the 1.1. MILLION Americans on the verge of losing their homes in America because of the subprime loans they took at usurious rates in order to improve their lives by putting a nicer roof over the heads of their families. The companies that gave them the mortgages with no credit checks made small fortunes doing so, but so overplayed their greedy hands that now some have lost BILLIONS and hurt the whole economy. Some economists fear a recession (or worse) because of this time bomb.

How did it happen? The federal regulators were absent without leave and, according to the Wall Street Journal, 52% of the loans were made by scores of predatory independent companies that are not regulated. As Alan Fishbein of the Consumer Federation of America put it, “Only when the market experienced losses and lenders started to shut their doors did real attention start to be paid to the issue.”

What we are seeing, according to Robin Blackburn in Counterpunch, is vicious and legitimated loan sharking. He writes: “In recent times high-profile Wall Street investment banks have brought slick financial reasoning to the base art of loan-sharking. The most vulnerable Americans have been targeted for loans they can ill afford. Those with poor credit histories can be charged at double or triple the interest of a customer in good standing with the rating agencies.”

The details of all of this money grubbing are now in the press, which was also asleep at the switch and is just waking up to the impact that this crisis is having on working America. The story has finally moved from the business section to the news section, from page 50 to page l. Unless something is done, these headlines will lead to breadlines.

While some politicians are starting to talk about this crisis, you have to wonder what they are willing to do. If they won’t really challenge the Bush Administration on the war, even as the war and the President’s popularity sinks into the toilet, do they have the guts to take on the power of the big banks?

Knock, knock progressive bloggers and activists: let’s get on this issue like white on rice. (That’s not a racial allusion—a large percentage of the victims here are, predictably, Americans of color.)

Knock, Knock MoveOn: I wrote to one of your decision makers who told me that this issue is not on a list of issues members said they care about. But the list was made last year. Guess what? This crisis that has long been warned about only just erupted! No one anticipated Katrina either.

Let’s expose the real power in this country—the economic engine driven by the financialization of consumerism that sells us what we don’t need and lends us what we can’t pay back. As we fight the military-industrial complex, let’s not ignore the credit and loan complex.

Last week, in a story about mounting foreclosures, the Journal noted that most of us need not worry about the problem, which, translated, means that the upper class and parts of the middle class can ride out the crisis. That struck one of the readers of the News Dissector blog on as amusing. Faith Carr wrote:

“My family was ahead of the curve on this insanity. After a job loss, losing our 5/3 home, and the bankruptcy before the legislation change, we are living humbly in a 27-year-old trailer in the country. Just wait until those making 100K + have one tiny little bubble in their lives. Gonna fall like the house of cards it is.”

So beware: this crunch affects all of us, and yes, we can do something about it. My film IN DEBT WE TRUST is just rolling out. Help us organize screenings to educate people about the roots of the crisis. The website STOPTHESQUEEZE.ORG just announced a campaign by Americans for Debt Relief Now to make this issue our own.

Join it, because it’s time to fight back.

News Dissector and filmmaker Danny Schechter is the blogger in chief of Comments to

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