Two big stories from Bernie Sanders

Here are two pieces on Bernie Sanders website from July, this year. Both are unusually illuminating. The first shows that the audit of the Fed, which Bernie ordered, revealed that a total of 16 trillion dollars went secretly to bail out big banks. The second argues that if the rich were taxed at levels of the 1960s, the debt would simply disappear in one decade.

The Fed Audit

July 21, 2011

The first top-to-bottom audit of the Federal Reserve uncovered eye-popping new details about how the U.S. provided a whopping $16 trillion in secret loans to bail out American and foreign banks and businesses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. An amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders to the Wall Street reform law passed one year ago this week directed the Government Accountability Office to conduct the study. “As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world,” said Sanders. “This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else.”

Among the investigation’s key findings is that the Fed unilaterally provided trillions of dollars in financial assistance to foreign banks and corporations from South Korea to Scotland, according to the GAO report. “No agency of the United States government should be allowed to bailout a foreign bank or corporation without the direct approval of Congress and the president,” Sanders said.

The non-partisan, investigative arm of Congress also determined that the Fed lacks a comprehensive system to deal with conflicts of interest, despite the serious potential for abuse. In fact, according to the report, the Fed provided conflict of interest waivers to employees and private contractors so they could keep investments in the same financial institutions and corporations that were given emergency loans.

For example, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase served on the New York Fed’s board of directors at the same time that his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed. Moreover, JP Morgan Chase served as one of the clearing banks for the Fed’s emergency lending programs.

In another disturbing finding, the GAO said that on Sept. 19, 2008, William Dudley, who is now the New York Fed president, was granted a waiver to let him keep investments in AIG and General Electric at the same time AIG and GE were given bailout funds. One reason the Fed did not make Dudley sell his holdings, according to the audit, was that it might have created the appearance of a conflict of interest.

To Sanders, the conclusion is simple. “No one who works for a firm receiving direct financial assistance from the Fed should be allowed to sit on the Fed’s board of directors or be employed by the Fed,” he said.

The investigation also revealed that the Fed outsourced most of its emergency lending programs to private contractors, many of which also were recipients of extremely low-interest and then-secret loans.

The Fed outsourced virtually all of the operations of their emergency lending programs to private contractors like JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo. The same firms also received trillions of dollars in Fed loans at near-zero interest rates. Altogether some two-thirds of the contracts that the Fed awarded to manage its emergency lending programs were no-bid contracts. Morgan Stanley was given the largest no-bid contract worth $108.4 million to help manage the Fed bailout of AIG.

A more detailed GAO investigation into potential conflicts of interest at the Fed is due on Oct. 18, but Sanders said one thing already is abundantly clear. “The Federal Reserve must be reformed to serve the needs of working families, not just CEOs on Wall Street.”

To read the GAO report, click here.

Fed Audit

Plutocracy: If Corporations and the Rich Paid 1960s-Level Taxes, the Debt Would Vanish

By Sam Pizzigati

July 26, 2011

Once upon a time in America, back a century ago, our nation’s rich paid virtually nothing in taxes to the federal government. And that same federal government did virtually nothing to better the lives of average Americans.

But those average Americans would do battle, over the next half century, to rein in the rich and the corporations that made them ever richer. And that struggle would prove remarkably successful. By the 1950s, America’s rich and the corporations they ran were paying significant chunks of their annual incomes in taxes — and the federal projects and programs these taxes helped finance were actually improving average American lives.

America’s wealthy, predictably, counterattacked — and, by the 1980s, they were scoring successes of their own.

Today, the rich and their corporations no longer bear anything close to their rightful share of the nation’s tax burden. The federal government, given this revenue shortfall, is having a harder and harder time funding initiatives that help average working families. The result: a “debt crisis.”

This “debt crisis” in no way had to happen. No natural disaster, no tsunami, has suddenly pounded the United States out of fiscal balance. We have simply suffered a colossal political failure. Our powers that be, by feeding the rich and their corporations one massive tax break after another, have thrown a monstrous monkey wrench into our national finances.

Some numbers — from an Institute for Policy Studies report released this past spring — can help us better visualize just how monumental this political failure has been.

If corporations and households taking in $1 million or more in income each year were now paying taxes at the same annual rates as they did back in 1961, the IPS researchers found, the federal treasury would be collecting an additional $716 billion a year.

In other words, if the federal government started taxing the wealthy and their corporations at the same rates in effect a half-century ago, the federal debt to investors would almost totally vanish over the next decade.

Similarly stunning numbers have come, earlier this month, from MIT economist Peter Diamond and the University of California’s Emmanuel Saez, the world’s top authority on the incomes of the ultra-rich. These two scholars have shared some fascinating “what ifs” that dramatize how spectacularly the incomes of our wealthiest have soared over recent decades.

In 2007, Diamond and Saez point out, taxpayers in the nation’s top 1 percent actually paid, on average, 22.4 percent of their incomes in federal taxes. If that actual tax burden were to about double to 43.5 percent, the top 1 percenter share of our national after-tax income would still be twice as high as the top 1 percent’s after-tax income share in 1970.

So why aren’t we taxing the rich? Why are we now suffering such fearsome “debt crisis” angst? Why are our politicos so intent on shoving the “fiscal discipline” of layoffs and cutbacks — austerity — down the throats of average Americans?

No mystery here. Our political system is failing to tax the rich because the rich have fortunes large enough to buy off the political system. Again, some numbers can help us better visualize that plutocratic big picture.

In 2008, the IRS revealed this past May, 400 Americans reported at least $110 million in income on their federal tax returns. These 400 averaged $270.5 million each, the second-highest U.S. top 400 average income on record.

In 1955, by contrast, America’s top 400 averaged – in 2008 dollars – a mere $13.3 million. In other words, the top 400 in 2008 reported incomes that, after taking inflation into account, amounted to more than 20 times the incomes of America’s top 400 a half-century ago.

But 1955’s top 400 didn’t just make far less than 2008’s top 400. The rich in 1955 paid far more of their income in taxes than today’s rich. In 2008, the new IRS data show, the top 400 paid only 18.1 percent of their total incomes in federal income tax. The top 400 in 1955 paid 51.2 percent of their total incomes in tax.

The bottom line: After taxes, and after adjusting for inflation, 2008’s top 400 had a staggering $38.5 billion more left in their pockets than 1955’s most awesomely affluent.

Multiply that near $40 billion by the annual tax savings the rest of America’s richest 1 percent have enjoyed over recent years and you have an enormous war chest for waging class war, billions upon billions of dollars available for bankrolling think tanks and candidates and right-wing media.

In the face of these billions, should the rest of us, America’s vast non-rich majority, just toss in the towel? Our counterparts a century ago certainly didn’t. They challenged their rich, on every battlefront imaginable. They eventually prevailed. They sheared their rich down to democratic size.

We can do the same.

Sam Pizzigati is the editor of the online weekly Too Much, and an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.


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