Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Bank of America”

Creating Coalitions Pt. 2

Following on from Monday’s post, I have been summarizing Mark Bittman’s excellent article in the NYT. Mr. Bittman stresses the realization of “an oligarchy in this country, one that uses financial strength to gain political power, one that fights and bullies for its “right” to make money regardless of the consequences to the earth or anything on it.

Exxon will do all it can to prevent meaningful climate change legislation; Cargill and Pepsi will fight any improvement in agriculture or diet that threatens their profits; Bank of America would rather see homeowners go under than discuss changes in financial structures. And so on.”

Mass movements have begun to emerge as one method to break this ring of influence and the Occupy Bank Transfer Day is an outstanding example. To organize at both the personal and local level can have a resounding effect. 

The second focuses on voting. Very few Presidents, our present one might be an exception, initiate change. Again, Mr. Bittman: “Does anyone believe that Lyndon Johnson wanted to combat racism, or that Richard Nixon cared about American troops or Vietnamese citizens? No: they were forced, respectively, to support civil rights legislation and to begin ending the Vietnam War. Forced by masses of Americans marching, yelling, demonstrating, sitting in and more — Americans driven by their conscience, not by profits.”

This makes the organization and coordination of huge numbers of citizens absolutely critical. We need to identify politicians who are willing to shun corporate money and pressure in favor of reflecting the needs of their constituents. This is so much more difficult than taking several million dollars to support your campaign.

We can sit around and complain of the blatant undemocratic process of corporate sponsorship of politicians or we can focus on establishing a list of candidates that are true to their principles and will rely on mass support from the street. The alternative is to create our own big interest PACs, and this has its own scary elements to it.

A few weeks ago, I bemoaned the idea of ‘playing their game,’ but now I am not so sure that we can create a sustainable framework whereby politicians are elected and held accountable by their voters.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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Occupy Report Card – Roger Ingalls

A few days ago I got into a mildly hot discussion with a few people over the Occupy Movement. It started due to a news report about protesters stealing property from a church that allowed them to sleep on the premises.

A few in the discussion group concluded that the Occupy folks were just a bunch of thugs causing problems and haven’t done anything worth noting. The rest of us disagreed and took the position that you can’t judge the whole movement based on a few bad apples that caught the eye of Mainstream Media.

picture from dawnstephensbooks.com

Our discussion then turned to accomplishments by Occupy Wall Street. The naysayers initially said the movement hadn’t done anything but eventually gave them some credit for helping with the roll-back of the $5 transaction fee proposed by Bank of America. After chatting further, many of us thought the rebirth of civil disobedience and mass public protesting in the U.S. were positives and should be credited to the Occupy Movements.

“The Tree of Liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants”, Thomas Jefferson.

A small group of us that are, generally, pro Occupy, thought the movements biggest accomplishment was education of the masses. Prior to the whole Occupy thing, the public, as a whole, never discussed the inequity of the Top 1% versus the Bottom 99%, rarely cared about how politician received money for campaigning or gave many thoughts to how Big Business sets government agenda. Now these issues are on the tongues of people everywhere, of all ages, races and economic standing. This is an awesome accomplishment. Awareness is the first step.

Occupy Revolution Year One gets an A+.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Bank Transfer Day

A friend of mine was frustrated with the General Strike on Wednesday in Oakland and with the Occupy Wall Street in general. While a member of the 99% and sympathetic to the cause, she had just heard from a worker at the Port of Oakland, who is paid hourly and worried that he lost a day’s income that he needs to feed his family.

From Star Wars to General Strike.  – Thank you to Oakland Mofo for the beautiful photo. 

We are hurting the very people we are supposed to be fighting for, she said (these are my words). Do you really think we hurt the 1% at the ports? She went on to complain that it is frustrating that there is no clear agenda and no clear tactics that will hurt those we are challenging to change their selfish and greedy practices.

She is right. I think I argued with her and probably lost because I knew she is right (Don’t tell her I wrote this!). I reminded her about the post that my colleague Tom Rossi wrote with a clear list of demands, but I had to concede about tactics.

But today, we can do something…and I mean today. As part of the Occupy Wall Street campaign there is a call for people to move their money from for-profit financial institutions to credit unions. So far, almost 80,000 people have made the commitment on Facebook to “send a clear message that conscious consumers won’t support companies with unethical business practices.”

Patelco – my credit union

 

More than $4.5 billion have been moved into new savings accounts in credit unions according to CUNA. 80% of credit unions  are recording significant member growth since the campaign began at the end of September, which was a reaction to the debit card fees that have since been dropped. 

Skeptics say that even if the entire 80,000 were to move their money, this would represent less than 1% of just Bank of America’s customers. There is an estimated $7.5 trillion in banks, including loans and savings. B of A has 57 million customers.

However, there is potential here to make Wall Street listen, even if not to bring it to its knees. The rescinding of the debit card charges is a good lesson. Even when chasing the most profit, a company, even one the size of B of A has to listen to its clients.

And what if every one of those 80,000 who signed up persuaded 5 of their friends. 400,000 people could transfer $30 million. November 5th was the date set for protestors to complete their transfers because the organizers wanted to create a measurable impact. I regret not writing on this earlier. But even if you cannot get out today and transfer your money, or want to research deeper, the banks will take notice if more people continue to protest by moving money into the people-friendly (and people-owned) credit unions. 

Thought the organizers of Bank Transfer Day want to distance themselves from Occupy Wall Street, history (and even in a year’s time) just might record Bank Transfer Day as the most effective measure to come out of this time period. It might also be a turning point in the utilization of the Internet to make strategic strikes and to conduct dissent away from demonstrations, something which is often regarded by people as intimidating.

And perhaps in a year, my friend and I might look back on this period of time together as one of change and one of pride.

 

 

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Occupy Anagrams – Roger Ingalls

The authorities in Oakland violently broke up the Occupy Protest and a handful of people got hurt, one seriously. Anger is everywhere. People are scared.

It’s been a troublesome day so let’s take a breath and not think about it for a few hours. Instead, let’s laugh at some Occupy Movement anagrams.

What is an anagram? It is a rearrangement of the letters of one word or phrase to form another word or phrase. A very simple example is rearranging the letters of “Evil” to get “Vile”.

Anagram: “Occupy Wall Street” becomes “Replace Slutty Cow”. Slutty Cow is a euphemism for politicians that prostitute themselves for corporate money. The Occupy Wall Street movement wants to replace the slutty cow.

Anagram: “Wall Street” becomes “Well Set Rat”. Well Set Rat is a euphemism for Wall Street fat cats that use tax payer bail out money to pay themselves big bonuses. They are well set.

Anagram: “Bank of America” becomes “Croak A Mean Fib”. Something a bank CEO does during a Congressional Hearing. They tell lies.

Anagram: “Bank of America” becomes “Fake Brain Coma”. Something bank executives do during a Congressional Hearing. Similar to pleading the fifth or using Reagan’s Iran Contra excuse, “I don’t recall”. They fake a temporary brain coma.

Anagram: “Bank of America” becomes “Mafia Con Break”. Mafia Con Break is a euphemism for a bank executive’s vacation.

Anagram: “Wells Fargo Bank” becomes “Grown Fake Balls”. Wall Street bankers know Congress won’t come after them for unethical business practices because elected politicians have grown fake balls.

Anagram: “Wells Fargo Bank” becomes “Legal Barf Wonks”. Legal Barf Wonks are corporate lawyers employed to keep bank executives out of prison.

Anagram: “Chase Bank” becomes “Bean Shack”. A Bean Shack is a place to store money.

Anagram: “Chase Bank” becomes “Bane Hacks”. The bane hacks on Wall Street destroyed the economy with reckless behavior.

Anagram: “Hedge Fund Manager” becomes “Greed-Fanged Human”. No explanation needed!

Anagram: “Bank Bailouts” becomes “Satan Bio-bulk”. Bio-bulk is a euphemism for feces.

Satanic poop is probably a good stopping point. I hope these anagrams made you chuckle at least once.

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Roger Ingalls is well traveled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Charging for… Not Charging?

The recent move by Bank of America and others to charge people for using their debit cards provides a porthole into the mind of the corporate person. The corporate person is not a real person that works for a corporation, it is the legal entity that the corporation itself has become – especially in light of recent supreme court rulings.

A corporation is, of course, not really a person and should not be legally treated as such. A corporation much more resembles an ant colony – it’s mindless automatons performing whatever task is needed to satisfy the never-ending hunger of the nest.

Corporations are armies raised to seek profit. There are many ways to make a profit, and to increase your profits. The “free market” fantasy professed by so many politicians (and their corporate owners) promotes the good, old-fashioned way – by making something better than your competitors or somehow offering more value to your customers so that consumers buy more of your products/services.

Another way to make more profit is simply to charge more for the product or service that you already offer. Banks know that it’s a pain for customers to change to another bank, and if gradually ALL the banks charge for the things that used to be free, there won’t be any incentive to change anyway.

To a corporation, an incomplete opportunity to make a profit is seen as a cost. Let me say that again, because it’s an important insight into the inherently disfunctional corporate mindset: If there is some way that money COULD be made, but it is not being fully exploited, that it seen as a LOSS.

Through the lens of this contorted thinking, bankers at BofA and other banks realized that they make lots of money when customers use credit cards, but not debit cards. Hmmmm… How to fix this? It’s simple: charge your customers for using their own money.

How do banks and other corporations get away with changing the basic terms of a debit card or other contract? When you enter into an agreement with a corporation, say for a bank account or something like cell-phone service, the contract explicitly states: “This agreement is subject to change.” What???? Well I certainly don’t have the power to change it. Only they can change it and, guess what? It’s never once been to my benefit.

I’m writing my bank now, in type size 2 (here’s an example), and informing them that they are now paying me 99% interest on my deposits – weekly. I’m sure it will work.

-Tom Rossi

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Tom Rossi is a commentator on politics and social issues. He is a Ph.D. student in International Sustainable Development, concentrating in natural resource and economic policy. Tom greatly enjoys a hearty debate, especially over a hearty pint of Guinness.

Tom also posts on thrustblog.blogspot.com

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Anonymous Hood (by Roger Ingalls)

The Lytel Gest of Robyn Hode (15th century)

Lythe and listen Gentlemen
Who be of Free born blood
I will tell you of a bold yeoman
His name was Robin Hood

Many are taken aback when I equate the group Anonymous with Robin Hood. People fear Anonymous because they dwell in the unlawful area of hacktivism. But remember, Robin Hood was an outlaw too.

The immense power yielded by governments and big corporations can be countered by hackers crippling their electronic infrastructure. Although illegal, Anonymous used their hacktivism to support the Arab Spring, stymie the Westboro Baptist Church, support the Wisconsin protest and help expose Bank of America’s foreclosure fraud, just to name a few. Like Robin Hood, Anonymous championed the little guy against tyrannical power.

Our politicians are increasingly bought and financed by big business. Supreme Court Justices have developed dubious relationships with rich politically active organizations. And Wall Street orchestrated a financial crisis that successfully sucked away much of the middleclass’ remaining wealth. All this has and continues to create a widening chasm between the haves and have-nots. To make matters worse, the U.S. may be turning into a police-state where there’s a “shoot and ask questions later” mentality. Free speech is also under assault with government agencies shutting down cell phones during protests and new laws are inhibiting the video recording of police activities.

If genocide of the middleclass continues, a rebellion is inevitable. To have a fighting chance against the Tyrants, the middleclass will need to form an alliance with a group like Anonymous. Tactically, Anonymous could serve as a deterrent or they could pre-emptively strike to facilitate a more successful protest or other rebellious action.

Do I endorse all Anonymous’ activities? No, but I would want them on my side during a fight.

The Gest of Anonymous Hood (21st century)

Listen up elected fools
Better do what you know is good
We hunt with hacktivist tools
So fear our Anonymous Hood

Click here for Tom Rossi’s Anonymous, Hacking, Killing, and Free Speech

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Roger Ingalls is well travelled and has seen the good and bad of many foreign governments. He hopes his blogging will encourage readers to think more deeply about the American political system and its impact on US citizens and the international community.

Clark Howard Leads The Charge

Clark Howard is the consumer advocate who took on Bank of America when they refused to help a man who incurred legal charges as a result of B of A calling in the police. They suspected the man was in the middle of a criminal act when he was innocently brought a fraudulent check. For more, see here and the post from yesterday.

Clark Howard

Howard is a nationally syndicated consumer advocate who “advises consumers how to save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off.” He hosts a radio show that is broadcast every day on more than 200 radio stations throughout North America. After a career swinging between jobs in both the public and private sectors, he set up a travel agency business in 1981. Six years later, he retired at the age of 31, having sold what he had developed into a chain that spread across metro Atlanta.

A spontaneous guest appearance on a travel show in Florida led to his own program, The Clark Howard Show, which was soon syndicated by Dial Global. In early 2009, The Clark Howard Show was expanded to HLN (formerly the Headline News channel). He is the author of eight books, some of which sat comfortably in the New York Times Bestseller list. While his books are all available through GetClarkSmart.com, Clark tells his listeners that they are cheaper used and can be had for free at the public library!

I think this tells you a lot about the man. I also want you to know that my books are available new and in e-book form on amazon.com, so it shows what kind of man I am.

Clark also invests in his native Atlanta community. He started several civic programs, including Atlanta Volunteer Action, Volunteer Action, Inc., The Big Buddy Program and Career Action. Together with listeners, he has helped Habitat for Humanity built 30 homes in and around metro Atlanta.

Habitat - a great place to volunteer

I think in today’s economic climate, it is hard to act, hard not to just shut down and weather the storm. If you can do that and live with the clock that’s ticking for you, all power to you. For the rest of us, we could do worse than finding a teacher, someone we trust and can follow. This person shouldn’t make money out of your actions. Pay him/her for their time, books etc., but not the products or services that they advise you to buy.

When learning Tai Chi, I met a man who spent considerable money and time, going to every workshop and studying every form of Tai Chi  with every teacher he could find. When we practiced together, his technique was bad. I wondered how someone who learned from so many of the biggest names had failed to grasp the rudiments of the martial art. The answer comes in depth and not breadth.

Do Little, Achieve Much

Jewish proverbs teach us to find a teacher and learn everything we can from them. Only when we have mastered all they have to teach us, should we move on to another teacher. The trick, of course, is finding the right teacher and recognizing that they bring experience and knowledge, but not the gift of foresight. The best thing we can do for ourselves right now is to find the best financial teacher for each of us and then to listen.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Big Banks, Little People Pt. 2

Following on from Monday’s post (if you missed it click here) …

So what’s the problem? Police make mistakes, arrest the wrong person, even charges them. Justice will win out we are taught and Mr. Shinnick walked free … eventually. The problem is that the story wouldn’t have ended there. When most employers hire someone they check our records. Mr. Shinnick had to clear his name and $14,000 and the time he put into it, is an injustice in itself.

The Victim

“The court wants to protect people when reporting criminal activity,” said Paul Glusman, a Berkeley attorney who has written about the Hagberg case. “But this can be abused. At this point, there’s nothing that will protect ordinary citizens from a false police report.” (source)

Shinnick works as a salesman in a San Francisco clothing store. He understands the client:customer relationship and this served only to infuriate him all the more. He felt that Bank of American should not have called the police until they were sure that a crime was in fact happening and that the person in their store was the criminal and not another victim.

“I’ve been in retail for 18 years,” he said. “I know about customer service and dealing with fraud. The way to handle something like this is to take the person into a back room and work things out before you call the police.” (source)

Shinnick felt violated not only by his wrongful arrest, but the way that Bank of America treated him and their refusal to help with the costs he incurred.

Enter a Superhero: Clark Howard doesn’t walk around with a cape (actually he might for all I know), but he is as tenacious as any Batman or Wonder Woman. Clark Howard is a  Consumer Advocate. He has a syndicated radio and TV show and is known throughout the country. According to his website, Howard “advises consumers how to save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off.”

Cleark Howard - The Hero

Howard took up Shinnick’s cause and highlighted it on his website. He spoke with bank officials, and actually offered to pay $7,000 of the fees if the bank would pay the other $7,000. They refused the offer.

Clark then requested that his listeners withdraw money from their accounts. Many indeed closed the accounts  which cost Bank of America between $20 million and $50 million (I have two separate sources) from their Bank of America accounts.

Bank of America had a change of heart.

The Villian?

I actually have a small amount of sympathy for B of A. They could easily have been the victims and need to work to crush fraud which eventually costs all of us – banks and customers. But could they not have found a way to help this victim?

What I really want to point out is how impressed I am with Clark Howard. Beyond anything, he proved that if people stand together over injustices, the little person can receive justice.

Thank you, Clark. You have taught us all a powerful lesson.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Big Banks Little People Pt. 1

Following on from Roger Ingalls’ impressive story about a man who robbed a bank for $1 and went to jail to receive medical care, I want to share another baffling story of the desperate little man.

The real scene of the crime?

At the end of 2005, Matthew Shinnick sold two mountain bikes on Craigslist. He received a check and walked into deposit it at his local Bank of America. He walked out in handcuffs and spent twelve hours in jail. Ironically, Shinnick became suspicious because the buyer sent him a generous amount above the asking price to cover shipping and time spent sending the bikes off. So before cashing it, he told the teller and asked her to verify if there were enough funds to cover the check. He was told that there were and this was a business account.

A few minutes later, four of SFPD’s finest entered the bank and arrested him. The company had put this account on fraud alert. The policemen moved quickly to neutralize the suspect out of concern for the others in the bank. His legs were kicked apart, his hands cuffed and he was never read his rights. When he asked what was happening a policeman told him not to speak.

Shinnick was then held in the bank for 45 minutes while the policemen interviewed the staff in plain view of his neighbors. Five hours later he was photographed, strip searched, fingerprinted and dressed in an orange jumpsuit.

The Victim

 

 

“I was so humiliated, it was beyond belief,” he recalled. “It was an absolute, living nightmare. I felt like I was going to be one of those people who gets caught in the system and has no way of getting out.” (source)

He was then put in a small holding cell with drug dealers and users. There was one bed and one toilet. He stayed in here for several hours until his father came with $4,500 to bail him out.

Twenty-four hours later the district attorney’s office dropped the case, but it took Shinnick almost six months and $14,000 to receive a ruling by the SF Superior Court that he was innocent by “”findings of fact” — a verdict needed to erase all record of the case.

Customer service?

Shinnick asked Bank of America to help affray the legal costs and, while offering sympathy, they refused. The bank also warned that litigation would prove costly and ineffective. A recent Supreme Court decision (Hagberg vs. California Federal Bank, 2004) involved a woman who presented an unusually large check for deposit from her stockbroker. The rest, handcuffs included, is remarkably similar. The judge found for the bank. The only difference, in fact, was that this check was genuine!!!

Could it get any more bizarre. Find out tomorrow… (and if you can’t take the suspense the answer is YES!!!).

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

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