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Halting the bipartisan deregulate-a-palooza, with Alexis Goldstein

Donald Trump ran a faux-populist campaign for office, bashing Democrats for being too close to Wall Street. But in office, it’s a different story. Alongside Congressional Republicans and a handful of Democrats, he’s been busy deregulating the banks, dismantling consumer protections, and otherwise handing Wall Street a bunch of gifts–to say nothing of the tax cuts. I spoke with Alexis Goldstein of Americans for Financial Reform to explain why, when we’re still living in the wake of 2008, deregulate-a-palooza is bipartisan policy–and how to stop it.

It is basically déjà vu all over again, is the short answer. It is like it is the 1990s and it is full speed ahead on ripping up all of the rules that we put in place after the last financial crisis. There are a few different things that are going on. One thing that is happening is in the consumer space. One of the best things that came out of the last crisis was the creation of this consumer bureau that was the brainchild of Elizabeth Warren, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It was one of the few places that was actually looking out for the little guy and if your bank rips you off for like $15, you could complain and pretty quickly usually get a resolution because they have this complaint system and the Consumer Bureau would reach out to the company on your behalf. It is amazing. The other thing that they did is they sued companies and tried to get back money that financial companies had stolen from people. They got back billions of dollars to millions of Americans. Trump installed this guy, Mick Mulvaney, who is this Tea Party guy who was already at the Office of Management and Budgets, so this is his other job. He is basically like Scott Pruitt at the EPA, a longtime foe of the bureau, running the bureau and dismantling it from within. When you complain, there is this database you can look at. So, if you have a company that is really giving you the run-around, you can look into the database and see if other people have had the same problem. Mulvaney wants to take the complaints offline so you can’t read them anymore. There were a bunch of lawsuits that the Bureau was pursuing against payday lenders that were totally scamming people and charging them like 300% interest. He dropped some of those lawsuits. He totally eliminated the Office for Students and Consumer Protection, which was one of the best – in my opinion – offices looking out for student loan borrowers. That is the consumer space. Then, if you look into the more bank-y, more systemic risk, more crisis kind of stuff, we are also seeing rollbacks there. We are seeing proposals to undo Dodd-Frank. Then, the third piece is partially Trump, partially GOP, but also, there are Democrats to blame. There were these really big pieces of legislation that was recently signed into law, that kind of makes a future bailout more likely. It is sort of like Congress is doing bad things and then, Trump is doing bad things in both the consumer space and the financial systemic risk space. It is all the bad things.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Defeating the attack on food assistance–for now, with Rebecca Vallas

A lot of things wind up embedded in the massive, regularly-renewed piece of legislation known as the “farm bill” each year, and one of the most important–at least, to the 40 million Americans who rely on it–is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, previously and still commonly known as food stamps. The program has been in the sights of Republicans, fresh off a victory on tax cuts, who want to pay for those cuts by slashing benefits to working people and the poor. Rebecca Vallas has been following the progress of these attacks and the broader push by the Right to put “Work Requirements” on everything, and she joins us once again to talk about how the farm bill was defeated and how SNAP might be saved.

A little bit of background on what the SNAP program is. It used to be called food stamps. People might be familiar with that name for the program, but today it is called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It helps about 40 million Americans put food on the table in any given month. Now, the benefits that it provides are already extremely meager. Just $1.40 per person per meal. Just pausing there for a second. Imagine that as your food budget, but you have got Republicans in Congress saying, “Nope, that is too much. We have got to actually take some of that away from people who are struggling to put food on the table.”
That is what this what this farm bill would have done, is to make a program that is already incredibly meager, where families already, by and large, report running out of food by the third week in the month. It is to make that program even harder to access for people when they are facing hard times. And the people that it targets, by and large, are people who are struggling to find work or can’t get enough hours in their job. That is who would be most hurt by this proposal.
Now, what happened last week, is we saw total unity among Democrats. We saw Democrats saying, “This is a heartless bill that I can’t vote for” and we saw that from every single Democrat in the house. What we saw in the Republican caucus was really disarray. Not super dissimilar from what we have seen on a number of occasions with a number of pieces of legalization where Republicans can’t quite seem to agree on how heartless they want to be.
We actually saw the bill go down literally in the middle of the voting. It seems like Republicans weren’t aware that they didn’t have the votes to pass the bill. So, we saw Democrats in lockstep say, “No, I can’t vote for a piece of legislation that takes food away from as many as 2 million Americans,” which is what this bill would have done. And we saw Republicans split between wanting to see the bill be even crueler and take even more food away from even more people. In some cases, in the case of moderate Republicans, we saw them saying, “Actually, I am realizing this is going to be bad for me in November.”

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Resistance is not enough: an election-year pledge, with R.J. Eskow

To really reverse the Trump agenda, RJ Eskow argues, “resistance” is not enough. Instead, a program for making material changes in people’s lives is necessary for motivating people to come to the polls. In order to head off the politics of personalities and the inertia of Democratic leadership, a group of activists have come together to write a platform for change. RJ Eskow is one of the writers of that pledge, and he joins me to discuss it.

When we talk about the Democratic Party, I always feel we have to distinguish the rank and file members of the party from the people of influence who have power and the party leadership, because I think there are two very distinct populations. I have written a lot over the past year about the opinions of Democratic Party-registered Democrats. They want the party to move left. They want new leaders. Polling shows that they are strongly progressive economically.
Then, of course, it is no secret to you or most of the people reading this, that there is an entrenched resistance to that form of resistance within the Democratic Party. I think there will be a lot of people who are hoping that the party can make it to victory in November without committing to any specific transformative economic agenda. That is, enough to say, “Oh, that Trump. We hate him. He is awful. Don’t you hate him, too? Come on out and vote.” There are only two ways that can play out in my book.
…But, if the rank and file can pressure the party, can demand an agenda like this from the party, things will be different because more leaders will commit to it, more people who will prevail in the primaries who stand for this kind of an agenda, the party will really be something people can identify with, and I think that greatly improves its chances in November and its chances going forward.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Clipping the hedge funds that own Puerto Rico’s debt, with Jonathan Westin.

What are hedge funds for, anyway? That’s the question that the Hedge Clippers, a coalition of organizers and researchers targeting secretive financial institutions, has been asking for a while. They’ve had some success, notably in getting New York City’s pension funds out of hedge funds, and they’ve set their sights on Puerto Rico’s debt and the hedge funders that own it. Jonathan Westin of New York Communities for Change and Hedge Clippers joins me to discuss.

Essentially, they are glorified debt collectors. That is what the hedge fund managers are acting as. In many cases, they are the ones that hiked up all the spending and borrowing. They created the debt and frankly there is no reason Puerto Rico should pay it back. That is part of what Trump was talking about when he was talking about cancelling the debt. I actually think there are a lot of people in this country that can sympathize with the huge amounts of debt that are piling up and the question of “where is all of this money going in our country and in our economy, and frankly, globally?” It is a continuing push and consolidation of all of the wealth and capital in this country going to folks like these hedge fund managers, while every day Americans are struggling and having to rely on debt to live. This is everyday America. “I am able to pay my rent and water bills by living on credit cards. I am able to send my kid to college by borrowing tons and tons of money.” So much of how we live now is debt created by Wall Street. In this case, it is an entire island and country that they have impoverished. I think we are now seeing the tragic ramifications in a post-Hurricane Maria world. The only way they are going to get back on their feet is with heavy investments into the infrastructure of Puerto Rico and not putting that money into the pockets of hedge fund managers that are trying to collect immoral debts.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.

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Tax policy matters, with Marshall Steinbaum

Trump’s tax plan has dropped and is a huge giveaway to the owners of capital. Despite many promises on the campaign trail to put people back to work and to pay attention to the needs of working people and the unemployed, Trump’s plan is, economist Marshall Steinbaum notes, Republican tax policy on steroids, larded with giveaways to the rich and those who live off their wealth. He joins us to explain how to fight it, and why the fight over tax policy is at the heart of the fight against inequality.

We have eliminated progressive taxation in this country or vastly reduced it and the effect of that has been to increase the incentives that rich people and powerful people have to dominate the economy to their own benefit. We used to have a statutory maximum individual income tax rate of 90% over a very high income and what that is is basically making it illegal to be rich. Not surprisingly, if you make it illegal to be rich, people don’t want to be as rich as they used to be. I was having this debate about the history of progressive taxation in the United States. There were no rich people by today’s standards in 1960. Like none. Now we have tons of them and they are richer than they ever were before and that is because we stopped taxing them so it became more worthwhile to earn more. If you are wondering why the owners of one gigantic profitable corporation would want to merge with another gigantic profitable corporation and cut tens of thousands of workers and chop off their supply chain and raise prices to consumers because you have no other place to go, that is exactly why. If their tax rates were still 90%, it would be illegal to increase their income from where it currently is, more or less, and there would be no incentive to do that.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.