George Goehl: Have Corporations Purchased our Government?March 10, 2011
Whether you consider yourself a progressive or libertarian, an atheist, an agnostic, we need to consolidate around a core problem: massive corporations having purchased control of the government that is profitable for them and destructive for us.
On this episode of Radio Free Dylan, we’re joined by George Goehl, Executive Director of National People’s Action. This very week they led a protest at the National Association of Attorney General’s Convention in Washington, D.C. They’ve demanded that America’s Attorneys General and other bank regulators stand up for homeowners and the American taxpayer to force the banks to accept a strong settlement when it comes to their practices in American housing.
Additionally, they’ve just launched MakeWallStreetPay.org, a campaign to make sure that instead of cutting grandma’s pension, jobs, and kids’ education, we focus on the real issue of making sure Wall Street and other big corporations become full-fledge members of the taxpaying public.
In this podcast, Dylan and George go through some of the unfathomable, systemic, massive financial extractions and institutional tax avoidance by the big banks that are ultimately bankrupting our country and our future.
Check out their efforts must-read full report at MakeWallStreetPay.org.
- Download the entire report here: Big Bank Tax Dodges Bankrupt States: How Wall Street Speculation and Tax Avoidance Are Starving Public Revenues
- George Goehl’s latest article at The Nation, We Found The Money, And It’s On Wall Street
DYLAN: Welcome to Episode 37 of Radio Free Dylan. We're joined today by George Goehl. He is the Executive Director of the National People's Action who this very week led a protest at the National Association of Attorney General's Convention held in Washington, D.C. The organization has been demanding that America's Attorneys General and other bank regulators ultimately stand up for homeowners and the American taxpayer to force the banks to accept a strong settlement when it comes to their practices in American housing. Of course, so far the settlement has no evidence of being strong. George and his organization have a new campaign aptly called Make Wall Street Pay. You can check out their website at MakeWallStreetPay.org. They call it a campaign to make sure that instead of cutting grandma's pension, jobs, and kids' education, we focus on the real issue of making sure Wall Street and other big corporations become full-fledge members of the taxpaying public.
George, why do you think it is that neither political party is willing to take on the banks and instead takes it out on young people with their unemployment, old people with their pensions and teachers and cops with their jobs?
GEORGE: Yeah, I think the biggest problem we face in this country right now is corporations have completely hijacked our democracy, and the Tea Party’s advanced a narrative that says, government is the problem; and I think really it's big corporate power and corporate of the problem. Government is the prize, and we’ve got to fight and reclaim it. So whether you care about healthcare, the environment, jobs, housing, banking reform; we all face a common foe, and that's corporate control over democracy. And that was the big reason we were in D.C. was to challenge the banks and create a situation where our elected officials are in a, “Which side are you on?” moment. Are they going to continue to side with Wall Street and the big banks that crashed the economy? Are they going to finally step up and show some concern for the American people's bottom line.
DYLAN: And I think not to be too cynical but it's obvious at this point that absent some meaningful threats or leverage from the American people, neither political party has any interest in doing what you're describing.
GEORGE: I think you're exactly right. I mean history has shown that they're pretty comfortable in the place that they're at. I mean it really -- it's amazing that three years since the crisis hit, Wall Street crashes the economy; they needed taxpayer bailout; they keep handing out bonuses, and to date they've not been paid -- they've not paid a dime to clean up the mess that they created. And so we feel like we’ve got to shift the conversation from a narrow debate around budget which means balancing a budget on the back of the American people who have already paid a price for this crisis, and shift the revenue and make sure the exact banks that got us here paid their fair share to get us out of this mess.
DYLAN: Not to mention the deal with the monopoly healthcare, the energy extraction, the military industrial complex; all of these things that ultimately create a culture of joblessness and underwater housing that destroy a revenue. You released a report earlier this week which we will link to on DylanRatigan.com called Big Bank Tax Drain: How Wall Street Speculation and Tax Avoidance are Starving Public Revenues. What are some of the key things you spell out in that report?
GEORGE: I mean one of the big findings is that Bank of America has really been a driving force in kicking families out of their homes. Their 2010 refund shows that they got $666 million refund in terms of their taxes which I don’t know how the number 666 came up, but that was the -- that's the real number. And then the year before that, they got a $3.5 billion refund. So while they're asking grandma to make a sacrifice; they're asking school children to make a sacrifice, and school teachers, big banks like Bank of America are not paying their fair share. Even worse, then you find out that they've got 371 tax-sheltered subsidiaries and over 200 of those are located in the Cayman Islands. So we've got to -- it's clear, there are very few elected officials that are going to lead on this issue. It's going to take a movement. It's going to take everyday Americans moving from fingers on a keyboard to boots on the ground out into the streets and put pressure on the banks and put pressure on our elected officials.
DYLAN: If you look at the core -- the crux of the problem as an interface between large corporations and our government, and the government has the prize that is now been basically purchased by those who are destroying our country, how much leverage -- and are we right to look to the state attorneys general to be the ones who can solve this?
GEORGE: That's a tough one. I mean I think right now this AG investigation and potential settlement is the best chance American homeowners have had over the last few years. What's failed in terms of every policy that's come out of the administration thus far has been -- it's been all carrot and no stick. Nothing's been made mandatory and banks have not been made to reduce principal on mortgages. So we feel like this is a huge opportunity. But yeah, we're going up against an incredible lobbying force that it gives AGs every motivation to not drive for a hard settlement. We feel like we've got a two-month window. If more Americans can join the fight, we've got a website specifically on the foreclosure campaign called CrimeShouldn’tPay.com where we've engaged tens of thousands of homeowners around holding AGs accountable and holding banks accountable. But there's no doubt, if we wait for folks up on Capitol Hill at the state house, at the White House to lead the way, we'll be waiting a long time.
DYLAN: And how has the response been?
GEORGE: It's been amazing. We generated 5,000 calls to AGs just from homeowners that are organizing online on this issue. And then in terms of the Make Wall Street Pay campaign, tons of people have joined in the last couple of days. We launched it when we took over Bank of America branch in D.C. That video has had 11,000 hits. So people are joining the effort. I think corporate control over democracy and Wall Street and other corporations paying their fair share has the potential to galvanize populous progressive sentiment in this country driving up to the 2012 elections.
DYLAN: I would say I would add the Libertarians to that too. I think you could get a lot of the sort of the free marketeer right wing to join with those progressives. Do you think I'm wrong?
GEORGE: I think that's right. No, I think that's right. I mean when you travel to the heartland of this country, there's a populous sentiment alive and well that goes back to the 1890s. The DNA is still there. People are ready to be organized, but so far there's not been enough leaders speaking to them, and we're hoping we can be one of those leaders. I just would like to say this campaign is driven by National People's Action but also by the PICO National Network, that's a faith-based organizing network, and an organization called the Alliance for a Just Society, and people are collaborating at new levels because they know to take on the big banks, we're going to have to come together.
DYLAN: Well, you certainly have our support with everything that we do here with the show on MSNBC and on the web. Is there an attorney general that you think has the highest probability to be the most motivated to do the right thing? One person who occurs to me is the attorney general in Nevada whose state has suffered among the worst of any because of the housing crisis. Is there somebody that we can get behind who might be a stronger leader than Tom Miller who seems to be the attorney general that's in the front right now largely proposing deals that are apologetic for the banks.
GEORGE: I think it's a tough call. I mean there are a number that have a history of being good on these issues. The Nevada AG is one of those, Lisa Madigan in Illinois is one of those, Eric Schneiderman in New York, but I do think you're right. We need a few to step up and push beyond the edge of what's been proposed thus far, so we can move this conversation forward because right now the 27-page memo that they put forth, that's an opening bid. And as we know when they moved in negotiations with the bank that opening bid will just get weaker. So we need a new opening bid that reaches further.
DYLAN: If you were to look at the core problem, we always talk in this country -- have since its founding about the separation of church and state. Unfortunately, while we were busy looking at church and state, business and state became a totally integrated complex where basically threatened businesses with power can get tax subsidies, tax treatment, tax loopholes. There's a million things; whether it's the energy companies that get all the tax benefits and aren’t forced to pay for the cost of war which is obviously a cost of fossil fuels or for that matter health insurance companies that are given the exemption that they get for their monopolies and their tie to the employer. Every one of these industries has some legislative manipulation that basically allows them to rig the marketplace whether it's the multinational trading pirates, the healthcare companies, the energy companies, or the defense contractors.
Do you see an issue that you think you can most effectively organize, and we could for that matter help you organize around to intervene on this incredibly destructive marriage of large business and the prize of American government?
GEORGE: I think that is the issue that we could galvanize the most people around.
GEORGE: I think it really speaks to people. It resonates with people and aligns with people's experience. This level of concentration of economic power, whether it's big oil or big healthcare or big banks, is what's really crushing our democracy. The biggest deals aren’t cut on Wall Street. They're cut on K Street and on Capitol Hill. That's where the most lucrative work is happening. So if we could all come together, move out of our specific little issue silos around the big agenda of reclaiming government, we might be able to do something special.
DYLAN: I certainly hope so and you have not only my support but the full support of everybody and all the freedom fighters that are involved with the supporting our efforts not only here at MSNBC but on DylanRatigan.com. And with this particular podcast right here, George, it's an absolute pleasure to get the time. Kudos to you for your efforts and please let us know anything we can do to continue to support your efforts to address the -- what I see as the core issue with the dysfunction in this country, and as you point out, so many others do. Thank you, George.
GEORGE: Hey, thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity.
DYLAN: All right. George Goehl, Executive Director at National People's Action. Check it out, MakeWallStreetPay.org and specific to foreclosures, CrimeShouldntPay.org. We'll post again all of this on DylanRatigan.com and specifically the Big Bank, Tax Drain How Wall Street Speculation and Tax Avoidance are Starving Public Revenues. And I think that George made an incredibly valid and important point in that conversation which is the need for all of us. whether you consider yourself a progressive or libertarian, an atheist, an agnostic, I don’t care; to consolidate around the core problem which is massive corporations having purchased control of the government that is profitable for them and destructive for us. This is not a new problem for us.
My take on all this, right after the break.
DYLAN: Again, we've talked about this with Teddy Roosevelt, and George even referred to the populous movement in the 1890s that was the precursor to the emergence of Teddy Roosevelt as a president in the beginning of the 1900s in this country, where he set out explicitly and then the success of presidents after him did follow it up, to break up the consolidated economic power that was JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, Standard Oil, et cetera, at that time. which was doing the exact same thing that mega health, mega military, mega energy, and mega banks are doing to our country right now which is squeezing the life and the money out of our country for the profit of those very small organizations.
So something to think about, something as you debate this with your friends, whatever their political views are. Can we consolidate around the major issue which is the totally dysfunctional relationship and ultimately destructive relationship between massive American corporations and their funding of the American political process? That I think is the beginning of the solution.
I am Dylan Ratigan. Thank you for joining us today on Radio Free Dylan. We'll talk to you next time.