Alameda Group Hosts Economics Talk by Scheer (Part II)


(Note: This is the second blog on journalist and author Robert Scheer’s visit to Alameda; the first blog was published earlier and is still online.)

While speaking to a group of over 50 Alameda residents and visitors at the Alameda Free Library on Saturday, November 13, Robert Scheer explained the President Obama had understood many of the causes of the U.S. economic crisis, which the author explained date back to the Clinton era.

“He nailed it, so why did he bring in Clinton people and people who were getting paid by Wall Street?” Scheer asked.

Scheer argues that the banks and other financial organizations didn’t deserve a bailout. (He pointed out that ex-Citigroup CEO Sandy Weill just bought the Shanel estate in Sonoma County for $31 million, bringing one of Wall Street’s biggest gainers from the period of financial deregulation to the Bay Area.)

Homeowners and consumers deserve both more legal protection and strong government support, he says. The mortgage sellers “were trying to sign as many people as possible,” and they did, he explained.

He labels Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “poverty pimps” in his latest book. “They used the poor and everyone else,” he said in his talk.

At the end of his talk, the journalist opened up the floor to members of the audience and began a discussion of what should be done to address our financial and economic issues. To begin, Scheer says, we should stop home foreclosures.

“We need a consumer’s movement,” he said. Rather than blaming the individual, we should be criticizing and moving to change a system that allows banks to charge interest rates of 38% for credit cards and get away with other unreasonable policiies.

He also thinks that without the power that unions once enjoyed, the interests of the middle class and its allies are being lost in the election debates and media discussions. Also, as wealth has become more and more concentrated at the top, fewer members of society strive to change the system as they move up — including politicians.

Politicians should embrace public financing, he notes. But, in general, the system is rigged against those without the funds to play. “This is not Jeffersonian democracy,” Scheer said.

To fix the broken system, we have to move for tough change, like restoring the separation of trading or investment banking and retail banking, he explains. “But the mainstream media ignores this,” Scheer added.

Fundamentally, Scheer says, it is a matter of “how we talk to people and explaining to them that real change is in their best interest, rather than repeating the same old blabber in the media.”

“Who messed up?” he asked. “Consumers assumed the documents they signed had been vetted,” in other words, had be scrutinized from a legal perspective.

“We can’t let people beat themselves up and buy the narrative that they are the ‘losers,’ ” in this situation. “It was all a scam with no protections in place,” Scheer concluded.

Janet Levaux