What The Today Show Totally Missed With Its Coverage of Michael Moore’s Wealth

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Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, the director of films like Roger and Me and Bowling for Columbine, and his wife Kathleen Glynn are separating after 22 years. The proceedings have revealed to the public the extent of Michael Moore’s finances, including a large mansion in Michigan.

This morning, The Today Show seized on this news to portray Moore as a hypocrite: how could someone with a “blue collar” image, they ask, have this much money?

Let’s be absolutely clear: that question is ridiculous.

First of all, someone with a blue collar upbringing can most certainly attain great wealth over the course of their life and still maintain the composure, sensibility, and ideals they were raised with. That’s common sense. It’s called economic mobility, and it is something that Americans have felt great pride in throughout our history.

But let’s make something else abundantly clear: Michael Moore and other critics of our economic system do not oppose wealth.

Seriously. This has been a libel against all economic progressives, displayed prominently during the 2012 election when Mitt Romney and others accused President Obama of opposing the very idea of wealth and success (thus the obsession with taking “you didn’t build that” out of context). It’s the insult hurled at anyone who criticizes big money in politics: we are told that we are “jealous” of the Koch Brothers’ massive wealth, because why else would we say mean things about them?

And The Today Show bought completely into this frame, calling Moore’s politics “contradictory” with his big house and his full bank account.

But it’s not contradictory, because Michael Moore doesn’t oppose wealth. Senator Elizabeth Warren, another target of these claims, doesn’t oppose wealth. The millions of Working America members who take action to address income inequality don’t oppose wealth, pursuing wealth, or accruing wealth.

What we oppose, and will continue to fight against, is the following:

The use of massive wealth to rig our democracy in your favor. We respect the right of Charles and David Koch to grow their business, to hire workers and put out a product. But in addition to running a business, they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists, think tanks, and a constellation of political organizations to insure their company’s success at the expense of others.

For instance, there’s nothing “free market” about the Kochs’ efforts to tax consumers of solar energy in an effort to keep them addicted to the petroleum they produce. If Apple lobbied for a law that would add extra taxes for Android users, there would be an enormous outcry. This isn’t different.

The use of massive wealth to destroy the ladder of economic mobility that helped create that wealth in the first place. Anyone who runs a business has the right to manage their workforce as they see fit, within the bounds of the law. But businessmen like the Koch Brothers, Art Pope, Rex Sinquefield, and Dick DeVos don’t stop there. Through campaign donations, TV advertisements, lobbyists, and other tactics, they have tried (and often succeeded) in changing laws that protect workers’ rights, wages, and retirement. The DeVos family’s near single-handed funding of the “right to work” effort in Michigan is exhibit A.

Knocking rungs off of the ladder of economic mobility doesn’t create wealth, it destroys it.

The use of massive wealth to deceive consumers. Elizabeth Warren didn’t set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) because of a hate of Wall Street and the people who work there. Yet, Wall Street banks spent a fortune lobbying against the creation of the CFPB, and they continue to make weakening the agency and broader Wall Street reform a key priority.

Warren understood that when information was presented clearly to consumers–without tricks, traps, and hidden fees–they would be better able to select the products that worked for them. That understanding would allow Wall Street companies to compete on a level playing field, with the best plans and products winning. If that’s not capitalism, what is?

So can Michael Moore criticize inequality while enjoying economic success? Absolutely. Moore just happens to be one of those wealthy people who doesn’t feel the need to use his wealth to destroy others’ ability to become wealthy as well.

That’s not being contradictory, that’s being decent.

Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s fight for fair wages and corporate accountability.

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The CEO of Goldman Sachs Just Admitted Inequality Is A Problem. Here Are Three Ways He Can Help.

Lloyd Blankfein is CEO of Goldman Sachs, one of the most largest and most notorious investment banks, with $915 billion in assets.

During his appearance on CBS “This Morning,” Blankfein argued that massive income inequality is “a very destabilizing thing.”

Not only does income inequality slow growth, Blankfein said, it also contributes to political divisiveness:

Income inequality is a very destabilizing thing in the country, a very polarizing thing in the country. In other words, it’s responsible for the divisions in the country. Those divisions could get wider. If you can’t legislate, you can’t deal with problems. If you can’t deal with problems, you can’t drive growth, and you can’t drive the success of the country.

But he also said something else. When the show’s host pointed out that many people are speaking out against income inequality but fewer are taking action, the bank CEO agreed. “Yes, full stop. If there was a lever to pull and a button to push, we would pull it and push it.”

Technically he is correct. There is not a lever or a button. But there are very clear policy solutions that would go a long way toward alleviating the destabilizing force of income inequality:

The financial transaction tax. Also called the “Robin Hood tax,” the FTT is a small fee on stock and bond trades, derivative contracts, and swaps of other complex Wall Street instruments. It would amount to about $0.0003 per dollar, or $18 a year for the median 401(k) holder, but would produce an estimated $352 billion in revenue over 10 years. That extra revenue could be used to pay for things Congress claims we can’t afford: renewing unemployment insurance, restoring cuts to SNAP, investments in infrastructure, and assistance to state and local governments who have been forced to layoff thousands. To folks like Blankfein, who has a $2 million salary and tens of millions more in bonuses, the FTT would feel like a blip.

Raise the minimum wage. This is one you’re familiar with. Raising the minimum wage to $10.10, as proposed in the Harkin-Miller bill filibustered by Senate Republicans, would raise the wages of 27.8 million workers, grow GDP by about $22 billion, and create roughly 85,000 net new jobs. As one of the world’s most powerful bankers, Blankfein support for raising the minimum wage–and his refusal to support politicians who oppose it–would have a huge impact.

Stop attacking the CFPB. The banking lobby, of which Goldman Sachs is a large part, viciously opposed the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2010 (as detailed by author and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren in her bestselling book). But since its creation, the CFPB has recouped millions of dollars for consumers from mortgage, credit card, and banking companies that were skirting or outright breaking the law. Oftentimes, the offending companies are directly scams at the most vulnerable Americans: debtors, students, veterans, low-income families and families of color. Forget outright support–if Blankfein called off his lobbying team from attacking and attempting to weaken the CFPB, the Bureau’s future and its ability to recoup losses for consumers would be more secure.

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Obstruction Loses! American Homeowners Win! The End of the DeMarco Era.

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Sometimes, small changes can have big impacts.

If the debate over the Senate’s parliamentary procedure in the case of presidential nominations made you want to take a long snooze, no one would blame you. But thanks to new Senate rules, a minority of senators can no longer block a presidential appointment for no reason without standing up and saying why.

And thanks to this long-awaited rules change, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) has its first new director since the Bush Administration: former North Carolina Rep. Mel Watt.

Democrats have taken advantage of their weakening of filibusters and muscled through the Senate President Barack Obama’s pick to lead a housing regulation agency.

By 57-41 Tuesday, senators confirmed Rep. Mel Watt to lead the Federal Housing Finance Agency.

Obama nominated the North Carolina Democrat in May but he’s been in limbo ever since. Republicans have said he’s not qualified, while Democrats say the 21-year House veteran has the needed experience.

Until Tuesday, Watt’s nomination was blocked because Democrats needed 60 Senate votes to end a GOP filibuster. But last month, the chamber’s majority Democrats lowered that threshold to a simple majority.

Here’s why this is a big deal for American homeowners:

Since Republicans in the Senate wouldn’t allow a fair vote on a new FHFA Director, we were stuck with Bush’s guy: Ed DeMarco. DeMarco was a longtime opponent of government efforts to help homeowners affected by Wall Street’s brazen fraud and abuse. Specifically, DeMarco opposed the practice of “principal reduction,” encouraging banks to rewrite mortgages for underwater homeowners. Time after time, he rejected proposals from the Obama Administration to lend this kind of assistance to struggling people who had lost their homes or were about to lose their homes.

“I don’t know what DeMarco’s specific legal mandate is,” wrote economist Paul Krugman, “But there is simply no way that it makes sense for an agency director to use his position to block implementation of the president’s economic policy…This guy needs to go.”

DeMarco continued his harmful policies to the very end:

DeMarco was so extreme that he even opposed allowing lenders to sell foreclosed homes back to the previous owners, even if they had been victims of predatory loans and even if they made the best offer to purchase the house. Realizing that Watt would soon be sitting in his seat, DeMarco — on the eve of the vote to confirm his replacement — put into place mortgage fees that punish homeowners in states that have enacted strong protections against foreclosure abuses.

Rarely does one person stand in the way of relief for so many. But DeMarco was that guy. And now he’s gone.

Housing and community groups have high hopes for new Director Watt, a member of Congress who supported the creation of Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and worked to get anti-predatory lending provisions into the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill.

Photo by @CVHaction on Twitter

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It’s Working Already: CFPB Gets $140 Million in Rebates for Capital One Customers

Today marked a big victory today for fairness, economic justice and the notion that rules are to be obeyed, even by big banks. In its first major enforcement action, the Consumer Financial Protection Board has given Capital One, a major credit card company, a $210 million fine for deceptive practices. Of that fine, $140 million is going to be rebated directly to customers.

That’s what holding financial institutions accountable looks like.

According to today’s enforcement action, Capital One was targeting and exploiting people with lower credit ratings, pushing them into credit card products through dishonest marketing or even enrolling them without their consent.

The financial industry isn’t going to do the right thing out of the goodness of its executives’ hearts. It takes rules, and enforcement of those rules, to keep it in check. Strong rules give corporations like Capital One the incentive to do better.

That’s exactly why the financial industry and its allies in Congress fought so hard to keep the CFPB from functioning—by passing bills to try and defund it and particularly by blocking the nomination of its director, Richard Cordray. Now Cordray, the former Attorney General of Ohio, is on the job, and the CFPB is already working on a number of issues, including making mortgages simpler and fairer and reining in payday lenders. (CNN did a great story on the CFPB’s staff this week.)

This is why we passed financial reform, over strong opposition from the banks it would affect. This is why the CFPB exists in the first place—and Cordray put other financial institutions on notice today.

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Agency That Wall Street Did Not Want Announces Changes To Mortgage Industry


CFPB Director Richard Cordray in 2008

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the agency created as part of the 2010 Wall Street reform bill, announced yesterday plans to change the way the mortgage servicing industry interacts with consumers.

“For too long, mortgage servicers have not been held accountable to their customers, and the result has been profoundly punishing to homeowners in distress,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “It’s time to put the ‘service’ back in mortgage servicing.”

The Hill reports on the proposed changes:

Under the CFPB’s proposal, if a homeowner gets behind on their mortgage and is facing foreclosure, the servicer would be required to make a “good faith” effort to contact the borrower and explain the foreclosure process, as well as provide counseling options.

Remember all foreclosures that were approved through “robo-signing?” That means the banks didn’t verify the paperwork – or even check if they technically owned the property – before starting the process of foreclosure.

The CFPB is also considering requiring servicers to have staff dedicated to working with struggling borrowers either facing foreclosure or trying to avoid it. These employees would have easy access to the borrower’s records, as well as the ability to determine if a loan modification could be pursued to avoid foreclosure. A common complaint by struggling borrowers was their inability to discuss their plight with an employee with their servicer.

Right, because a discussion with the servicer might result in the bank having to check their records to see if the seizure of a home was, what’s the word, legal.

Homeowners and policymakers were also frustrated by error-ridden documents at many servicers. Under the CFPB’s plan, servicers would have to address found errors within 30 days, or an even shorter timeframe if a foreclosure or payoff is at stake.

Our response to all of this? Fantastic, and long overdue. And we can’t help but remember how savagely Wall Street and their political allies in Congress fought the creation of this agency, the appointment of its originator Elizabeth Warren as its director, and then again the appointment of Richard Cordray. Now we know why – Cordray is arming consumers with the ability to fend off these long-accepted predatory practices.

The dirty secret about our economy right now is the enormous drag of foreclosures and the inability of homeowners to modify their loans. Sure, there was that much-trumpeted national foreclosure settlement, which resulted in $26 billion in assistance for struggling homeowners. But there were two big problems with that settlement: 1.) you can’t fix $700 billion in negative equity with $26 billion and 2.) in some states (like Wisconsin) anti-worker corporate-backed governors (like Scott Walker) took that money and used it to pay for tax breaks, so homeowners didn’t actually get any of it.

Needless to say, the so-called settlement did very little to alleviate the enormous economic pain felt by homeowners stuck in mortgages with no recourse, owing more to banks and servicers than they could possibly come up with, even if they sold their house.

Edward DeMarco, the acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA), singlehandedly has the authority to reduce the principal on underwater mortgages. This would help families pay for mortgages that cost more than their house is worth. Two weeks ago, the Treasury Department offered to subsidize this process – but still no movement from DeMarco.

We’re very encouraged by what the CFPB is doing to protect future consumers, but we need to urge DeMarco to act – and help those who are struggling now. Sign our petition today.

Photo of Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray from aflcio on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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