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The Case for Elizabeth Warren … and against Kamala Harris

EASTSIDER-Elizabeth Warren doesn’t talk like a typical politician. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t dress like a typical politician. It’s because Elizabeth Warren is not a typical politician. And maybe that’s a good thing. 

I had never heard of Elizabeth Warren until a year or so after I obtained a “come on down, sign here” Countrywide home loan for our house in Glassell Park. Everyone was telling us how smart we were being with our money, until, of course, the entire financial services industry tanked in 2007-2008, leaving us and millions of other middle-class Americans holding the bag. Suddenly we were about 40% poorer overnight, with a nightmare interest-only loan backed by fudged documents and no answers. 

I got mad. I vowed never to get financially suckered again and I owe my after-the-fact-acquired economic literacy to two amazing books: the first by Yves Smith called, ECONned, and the second by Elizabeth Warren called, The Two-income Trap

From the “How the hell did this happen?” perspective, ECONned is still my bible as to exactly how the financial services industry and their lackeys in Congress systematically proved that for the 1% there is no such thing as Enough. As the inside jacket of the book says, “In ECONned, Yves Smith draws a direct connection between fundamentally flawed financial theories and a series of crises that culminated in the global meltdown of 2007 and 2008.” 

Still a great read, and worth the time. 

From a more bottom up people perspective, there was Elizabeth Warren. Way back in 2003, long before the financial meltdown of 2007-08, Warren published a book, co-written with her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi, called The Two-Income Trap. The four takeaways from the cover were astounding (remember, this was 2003): 

(1) Today’s two-income family earns 75% more than its single-income counterpart a generation ago, but actually has less to spend; 

(2) Having a child is the single best predictor that a woman will end up in financial collapse; 

(3) The average middle-class family can no longer buy a home unless both parents work; and 

(4) This year more children will live through their parents’ bankruptcy than their parents’ divorce

Holy moly, Batman! I had no clue about any of this. And the context for the Warrens’ book was a losing fight against a draconian Bankruptcy Law ultimately passed by Congress; yes, by both parties and by a huge margin. In the Senate, the vote was 74-25, and in the House, it was 302-126. If you want to see how bad the changes were, take a look at a CNN article, with the title of “What you should know about the law, which will make it tougher for consumers to clear their debts.” 

Anyhow, this is not a book review, it’s a summary history of a current Senator who came from ordinary people in Oklahoma, suffered through student debt, child care problems, and came out the other side as a legitimate advocate for you and me against a corrupt financial services industry, and their partner, a corrupt Congress. 

The Meat 

Elizabeth Warren, simply put, has a better understanding about the financial services industry, the 1/2 of 1 percent, and the systematic destruction of our middle class, than almost anyone in Congress other than the bought and paid for majority of Congress that can produce the kind of votes we saw for the Bankruptcy Bill, and the Wall Street bailout choreographed by George Bush, and yes, Barack Obama himself. The Wall Street-over-our-own-people Obama part is covered in Ron Suskind’s Confidence Men

Check out Suskind’s book in Chapter 1 as to how Treasury Secretary Geithner and President Obama first defanged the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and then made sure it wouldn’t go anywhere by denying Elizabeth Warren the slot as Chair: 

What the Treasury Department did, unbeknownst to Warren, was embrace demands from the banking industry to create a bureau under the condition that Warren would not be able to lead it.” 

Most politicians would have been crushed. Elizabeth Warren grew stronger as an advocate for you and me. Got elected to the Senate in 2012. That’s my kind of politician. 

And Why Not Kamala? 

The same reasons that I like Elizabeth Warren are the ones that rule out Kamala Harris for me. Way back in 2008 and after, when hundreds of thousands of Californians, including me, were victimized by the financial services industry and their Mortgage Backed Securities, the State of California participated in a massive national lawsuit against Wall Street banks.

Initially, Attorney General Jerry Brown vowed to do all kinds of groovy things for those of us who had been scammed. Of course, before the suit was settled, Jerry Brown became Governor in 2011, with Kamala Harris (his Deputy AG) becoming Attorney General. 

Long story short, California settled for $445 million cash in 2012, as a part of the national settlement.  Instead of the billions that we should have gotten and exposing the fraud. 

Here’s the rub. A real Attorney General would have been asking for a trial date, not colluding in a patently illegal sellout of the mortgage holders. Not to personalize it too much, folks like me and the others who had filed with the AG’s office for relief never saw a dime. No sir, nada. Harris got the headline, and we got the shaft. 

For a devastating and accurate analysis of all this, check out a Naked Capitalism article on the whole shebang. The headline is “Kamala Harris Tells Big Lie: That 2012 Mortgage Settlement Was a Good Deal for Homeowners. 

While Harris was working on this “great idea,” Steven Mnuchin, our current Secretary of the Treasury, became the California Foreclosure King even as she and Gerry Brown sold cheap. You can read about it here.  

Humbug. 

Finally, as my favorite Sacramento political guru, Dan Walters, observed recently, in a CALmatters article, he tells what Brown and a complicit Kamila Harris did with the settlement money, and without one iota of Kamala Harris fighting for we the homeowners: 

“California received $410 million, most of which was supposed to be used to relieve the financial impacts on homeowners. 

However, Jerry Brown had just become governor when the cash arrived in Sacramento and he was coping with a massive budget deficit that resulted from the financial crisis. So one of the steps he and the Legislature took to balance the general fund budget was to divert $331 million from the settlement into repaying existing housing bonds and offsetting some expenditures in the Department of Justice.” 

And the result? The State got sued, and lost every court case: 

Early this month, three justices of the Sacramento-based 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled that the legislation still doesn’t make the diversion legal and ordered the state to use the $331 million for its intended purposes. 

This debacle was created and choreographed by Jerry Brown, Kamala Harris, along with the entire Democratic Party in the Senate and Assembly. Shame on you all! 

The Takeaway 

The contrast is clear. Elizabeth Warren is just who she appears to be; a regular person who has come through trials and tribulations, is smart as a whip, and who reflects our sense of outrage at the financial services industry taking over Congress, the Presidency, and becoming more obscenely wealthy even as they systematically destroy every safety net that government has provided over the last century (Social Security was 1935). A politician and candidate with a moral compass. 

Personally, I think the only reason she’s not leading in the polls, is she is not a charismatic, smooth talking, preacher pitch, glitzy hustler, like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Hey, I gave Obama money, read The Audacity of Hope, and bought the program, only to find out that he was bought and paid for by Wall Street. I’ll sell you my copy, cheap. Warren is the real deal and we desperately need the real deal now. 

Kamala Harris is smart as well. Unfortunately, she is simply another democratic establishment figure, just like the others who talk pretty and sell us out when they have to choose between “we the people” and politics.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.