For those who saw me on the Fox Strategy Room this morning and want to know more about Edda Lopez, here’s a video (which I was proud to help film) telling Edda’s awful story about how the banking industry — and lack of regulation — failed her and her family.
Edda’s story had a happy ending — because the community organizing group National People’s Action joined forces with Edda and finally got Bank of America to agree to her original mortgage adjustment. But millions of people like Edda aren’t as fortunate — which is why financial reform was so urgently needed.
When I first arrived at Edda Lopez’s house, I wondered how this elderly woman lives on the second floor of her elevator-less home despite being wheelchair bound. After an hour with Edda, I no longer wondered. Edda is a fighter. She fought for her family and her way of life, persevering even after her home burned down and her husband died a few years later. And now, Edda is fighting Bank of America.
Bank of America services one out of every four mortgages in the United States and is responsible for more foreclosures than any other bank in the country. And now Bank of America is foreclosing on Edda.
Edda lives in Bronx, NY, on a tree-lined side street with playgrounds and parks nearby. You think it might be different, being in the big city, in one of the poorest parts of the nation. But Edda’s block looks a lot like the small towns and suburbs that speckle our country. You would feel right at home in her cozy living room or the wide front porch Edda’s husband once built with her sons.
When Edda’s husband died in 2005 and she lost her job in 2008, she still held on. Edda was approached by a mortgage re-financing company who promised to lower her monthly payments. But buried in hundreds of pages of documents were loopholes and scams. Edda was surprised to find herself an unwitting victim of predatory lending and a sub-prime mortgage. Her payments actually went up.
She tried again. Edda re-negotiated her mortgage with another, more-reputable bank and got her payments down to $2,101 a month, which she could handle. Everything was fine until, in early 2010, Bank of America bought Edda’s mortgage and announced her payments would be at least $1,000 higher. What? Edda called Bank of America and only then found out that they had rejected her modification and Bank of America considered Edda behind on her loan for failing to pay the higher amount all along. On the phone — and only because she called them — Bank of America told Edda Lopez that her home would be sold at auction on June 26, 2010.
To all those who blame the hundreds of thousands of families facing foreclosure for their predicament and argue that big businesses like Bank of America should be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, in the spirit of “free market” capitalism and the American way, you need to meet Edda Lopez. Edda is just like the many other hardworking Americans, struggling to play by the rules and reach their dreams but repeatedly knocked down by cheating, greedy corporations. Since when did the American dream turn into corporate-only heaven?
You can watch a video about Edda Lopez and sign a petition to protect her home at http://showdowninamerica.org/edda-lopez. The community organization National People’s Action has made over 23 formal requests to meet with Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan to demand an end to unjust foreclosures for Edda and thousands of other American families. Today, Edda will at a vigil outside the $1 billion Bank of America Tower in New York along with her family, community leaders and clergy members praying that Bank of America does the right thing. It’s a sad day in America when hardworking families are reduced to praying for their livelihoods to the gods of big banks.
A few hours ago, I joined over one hundred grassroots leaders from the Alliance to Develop Power as they stormed the Capitol office of Sen. Scott Brown to demand a meeting. When Brown was elected, he promised to be a “big tent Republican” and represent all of Massachusetts. Since his election, the Alliance to Develop Power and hundreds of other grassroots organizations have placed calls, sent letters and even held a press conference to request a meeting with Brown. Their requests have gone ignored.
So a hundred-plus everyday folks from Massachusetts, already in town to protest how big bank lobbyists are trying to kill financial reform and our economic recovery, paid a visit to their newly-elected Senator to ask him to live up to his “big tent” promises.
Here’s an exclusive video I shot from inside Scott Brown’s office as it’s taken over by protesters:
Here’s more on the action from a great piece on Congress.org:
The Alliance said they had requested a meeting with the lawmaker in writing but did not hear back. Chief of Staff Steven Schrage, who appeared shortly after the police, denied knowledge of such a letter. He advised the group to fill out an online form to request a meeting.
“We process our requests the same way for everybody,” he told them. “He’s not going to run around the country for people.”
That stirred up the crowd, but the group’s leaders simply held their fists up in the air — a prearranged signal to the others to remain quiet. Police asked everyone to step out while the leaders negotiated with Schrage.
Ultimately, the chief of staff agreed to set up a meeting within the next two weeks.
The Massachusetts voters who demonstrated in Sen. Brown’s office — representatives of the Alliance to Develop Power in Springfield, MA — noted that while on the campaign trail, Brown promised to fight against big bank bailouts but as Senator has acted in lockstep with the financial industry. Most recently, Sen. Brown voted against the Brown-Kaufman safe banking amendment, which would break up the big banks and benefit average Americans and the economy. Who’s in that tent of yours, Senator Brown?
We’ll see if Scott Brown lives up to his campaign promises, meets with the Alliance to Develop Power and other grassroots leaders — and actually stands on the side of Main Street who elected him, not just Wall Street lining his pockets. His voters are clearly watching…
I’m spending all day live tweeting with National People’s Action as thousands of everyday Americans decend on K St in Washington to tell the corporate lobbyist doing Wall Street’s bidding that our government should work for the people, not just private profit. Follow along with me on Twitter: @sallykohn
Just when you thought it was safe to look at your 401(k) balance again, a new report from National People’s Action and the Campaign for America’s Future reveals that the pro-big bank deregulators who ruined our economy in government are now working for K Street lobby firms pressing to make the damage even worse.
The kicker is, as much as we might like to blame this mess solely on Republicans, it’s Democrats who picked up Reagan’s baton of deregulation. Robert Rubin and the Clinton Administration laid the groundwork for Wall Street to swallow Main Street whole. And now the top K Street lobbying firm doing big banks’ bidding is not run by a former Tom Delay or Mitch McConnell aid — it’s run by Steve Elmendorf, former chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Dick Gephardt. And Elmendorf’s team includes former top staffers to Democrats including Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Paul Sarbanes.
Both parties should be ashamed. Unlike Arizona cops, the revolving door between K Street and Capitol Hill knows no color. Red, blue, elephant, donkey — come one, come all to the K Street carnival! Whatever ethical guilt you might feel will be more than offset by the generous pay package!
Now, beltway lobbying is generally a smarmy enterprise, but it’s particularly vile in the case of the six biggest banks scrambling to maintain their “too big to fail” protections at the expense of taxpayers. Just for perspective, the American Cancer Society — which lobbies Congress for funding to fight cancer — employs just ten lobbyists. To fight all cancer. Ten lobbyists total. Citigroup alone has 55 “revolving-door lobbyists” who came from Congress or other federal agencies — in addition to all the other lobbyists working for the bank. JPMorgan Chase has 32 revolving-door lobbyists; Morgan Stanley has 19; Wells Fargo 14; Bank of America 12. And on top of that they pay millions to lobbying firms and trade associations that also have lobbyists (a large proportion of those also the revolving-door type).
The ten American Cancer Society lobbyists seek to alleviate cancer. The hundreds of big bank lobbyists want to spread their cancerous greed that is eating away at our economy.
On Monday, May 17, thousands of everyday Americans from across the country will take to K Street to condemn the cozy relationship between Wall Street and Washington. Lobbyists and Congress are in bed with the banks, but the American people are the ones getting screwed. It’s time to shut the revolving door, press Congressional candidates to stop taking contributions from big banks and do what’s right for taxpayers, not Wall Street.
Hasn’t our broken system broken enough families already? Corruption and greed had their chance and only made our economy worse. Let’s hold Congress accountable, cut the cord to Wall Street and K Street and get our economy working for working people.
An 81-year-old widow from Des Moines, Iowa, Ferol Wegner wasn’t the type of person who would normally go to a protest against the banking industry. But that was before she lost 30 percent of her pension in the economic downturn. Without mincing her words, Ms. Wagner blames the big banks. “Fraud, corruption and greed,” she says. “These folks must be held accountable.”
In the great American tradition of populist anger, Ms. Wegner and millions of Americans like her are mad as hell and not taking it anymore. This week, from Kansas City to Charlotte to New York, thousands of Americans who have lost their savings, their homes and their jobs because of Wall Street’s reckless irresponsibility will show up at the doors of big banks across the country. They won’t be knocking lightly. According to Ms. Wegner, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and the other titans of finance did not tread lightly on her financial security. She does not plan to be polite in return.
In a coordinated, nationwide week of actions, the grassroots organization National People’s Action is demanding that big banks stop using customers’ money to lobby against financial reform, stop unnecessary and unjust foreclosures, end the abusive practices of payday lending and other predatory loans, and start making good investments in small businesses and local cities and towns, rather than gambling our economy down the drain. What might seem like common sense proposals to stop putting profits before people and rebuild our economy for all of us are suddenly radical in a climate where Republicans are clamoring to block any meaningful financial reform and stand on the side of Wall Street criminals who destroyed our economy rather than ordinary Americans struggling to recover.
“This is not the America I remember,” says Ms. Wegner. “These banks crashed our economy and gave themselves lavish bonuses as a reward. There must be stricter rules and regulations.”
It is not surprising that the Tea Party, with overwhelmingly wealthier members, is getting so much visibility. Ms. Wegner captures the daily insecurity of ordinary Americans—angry at the big banks but often too busy treading water to make a cup of tea. But it got to the point where Ms. Wegner, couldn’t afford not to act. “My mother lived to 101. If I live that long, my savings will have run out long before. I’ll have social security but that won’t cover all the bills. If I need to go to a nursing facility, I don’t know where the money will come from.” Now, her anger like millions of Americans, is boiling over.
It was one thing for struggling Americans to swallow the bank bailout as an economic necessity. But now that Wall Street firms are reporting record profits and bonuses, even amidst fraud indictments, the injustice is just too much to take. “I’m demanding that justice be served to those of us who are being asked to rescue them,” Ms. Wegner said of the banks. “Who is going to be held responsible and accountable for these crimes against the American people? Who is going to rescue us when our savings are gone?”
Ms. Wegner is not terribly optimistic that the big banks will listen. She knows that they are furiously at work spending her money to lobby Congress to kill financial reform, so that they can keep unraveling her economic security to increase their own bottom line. But Ferol Wegner knows she is not alone. Millions of Americans are as fed up as she is and Ms. Wegner hopes that, by raising her voice, others will join her. “We the people still have the power,” she says. “Why not exercise it?”
What else could we do with $5.5 billion in bonuses Goldman Sachs is giving its employees for the first three months of 2010? You’d think that after ruining our economy AND being indicted for fraud, Goldman would have the sense to give the American public the money to spend ourselves.
Actually, on second thought, they did such a great job tanking our economy, I’m sure they deserve it.
Watch my latest video blog with ideas for what else we could spend that $5.5 billion on.
And check out the Showdown in America, with events planned across the country of ordinary Americans telling the big banks enough is enough!
Recently, Texas Gov. Rick Perry fired up a group of Tea Party activists by ranting against “big daddy” government. But when we’re facing the worst economic crisis in decades, brought about by Wall Street’s blatantly greedy and fraudulent manipulation of our economic security for their personal gain, we should be welcoming “big daddy” government with open arms. Wall Street needs a spanking.
But instead, in his speech today to financial sector executives, President Obama was at pains to provide comfort to the crooks of Wall Street rather than chastise them. “I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings.” According to the White House, the President is intentionally avoiding a scolding tone in favor of the sort of plain-people-joining-with-powerful-CEOs bipartisanship that was so plainly absurd in health care reform. Obama’s Kumbaya calculus seems based on two assumptions — first, that the American public doesn’t want their president to fundamentally criticize capitalism; second, that the American public will believe the spoon fed load of crap that Wall Street executives had our economic best interests at heart but just somehow, by accident, went astray.
Average Americans who’ve had their homes pulled out from under their feet, their credit card interest rates quadrupled, their jobs shipped over seas — because the financial industry literally created “investments” that bet against the American dream — are not stupid enough to believe that this was all an honest mistake. Taxpayers who were told that bank bailouts were the only way to save our entire economy from disaster can smell the deception buried beneath record Wall Street profits and bonuses now surfacing in the first quarter of 2010 alone. Our collective critique scratches more than the skin of “a few bad apple” executives here and there. In November 2009, a BBC World Service poll found that 63% of Americans think capitalism in its current form is not working. Since then, everything from the Citizens United ruling to the Goldman Sachs indictment has only confirmed our deep suspicion that the nature of capitalism in America is rotten.
That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in markets and business. Americans are nothing if not entrepreneurial and industrious. But that’s not what capitalism in America looks like today. The version of market economics that’s been shoved down our national throat is designed exclusively by and for the benefit of giant corporations. Big business buys our politicians and writes our laws so they can crush small competitors, pillage our environment and destroy workers lives and human rights and anything else that stands in their way. And because big business owns our media, too, they have the perfect platform to persuade us over and over again that this arrangement is in our collective best interest.
As Americans, we buy a lot of crap, but we’ve finally stopped buying this lie. What’s good for big business is not good for America.
For too long, mass public disaffection with the way capitalism in America is structured has been silenced because politicians and the media, beholden to big business, convinced us there is no alternative. Now, faced with such a sobering and stubborn economic crisis caused by very deliberate flaws in our economic structures, we’re more aware than ever not only that there is an alternative but that we must embrace it. That doesn’t mean socialism. But it does mean aggressively critiquing and re-constructing capitalism so that the market’s primary goal is to work for working class and struggling Americans. The very survival of the American dream is at stake.
On Thursday, April 29, 2010, thousands of ordinary Americans will descend on Wall Street to call for meaningful financial reform that holds big banks accountable and makes our economy work for everyone. Those of us who will be at the Showdown on Wall Street — and the millions of Americans we represent — are worried about our jobs, our homes, our farms, our children’s education, our very way of life. What we’re not worried about is hurting capitalism’s feelings. After all, capitalism never coddled us.
NEW YORK TIMES PROFILE
JOIN SALLY’S EMAIL LIST
FOR A GOOD TIME, FOLLOW
RUMORS ABOUT MELoading Quotes...
TV DOESN’T PAY THE BILLSMake a tax-deductible contribution via our fiscal sponsor, the Grassroots Policy Project
POPULAR TAGS2012 Election 2012 Elections barack obama budget capitalism civility Congress corporations debt deficit democrats economy feminism financial reform Fox News gay rights Glenn Beck government greed ideology inequality jobs marriage equality Mitt Romney Obama occupy wall st occupy wall street Paul Ryan popular education populism president obama progressive protests race racism Republicans Right wing sexism social movements strategy taxes Tea Party unions values Wall Street