Invasion of our privacy has become so widespread that too many of us just shrug our shoulders, rather than raising hell. Drug tests and psychological profiles at work; credit-card companies selling information about what we buy; fingerprints taken when you renew your driver’s license; medical records open to just about anyone who wants to peek; etc., etc.
But here’s a case of the Powers-That-Be going way too far – your banker is about to become a spy for federal authorities, and it’s you and me the bankers will be spying on. The F.D.I.C., the Federal Reserve, and other banking regulators have quietly proposed a new regulation that would require banks to develop a “Know Your Customer” program. Sounds friendly, but don’t expect coffee and doughnuts. The banks are to create “profiles” of each and every one of us with a bank account. They are to know every source of income that you have, how much you routinely deposit, and how much and where you spend. If you deviate from your regular pattern of deposits and withdrawals, your bank is to report this to the Feds – which could bring you a visit by the F.B.I., I.R.S., or D.E.A.
The pretext for this wholesale violation of constitutional rights is to help authorities detect any laundering of drug money through bank accounts. But, say you sell your boat and deposit $10,000 in your account. This doesn’t match your profile, so a red flag goes up, and somewhere far away a federal agent opens a file on you.
The F.D.I.C.’s official deadline for public comment about this mugging of basic liberties was February 6. To join the fight, go to www.networkusa.org, or fax your objection directly to the F.D.I.C. at (202) 898-3838.
WALL STREET WELFARE
The politicians of both political parties are bragging that they’ve “reformed” welfare by kicking the most egregious moochers off the dole. But here’s a shocking new report of massive welfare abuse and scandal in New York City.
This particular nest of welfare grubbers is not located in a slum tenement, though it’s no less addicted to the public handouts and is absolutely brassy in its demand for more. In this case, an armored car full of taxpayers’ money is being shipped to a rather posh address: 11 Wall Street. That’s the location of the New York Stock Exchange, the golden temple where Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, and other money changers make billions in fees attached to unproductive speculation and mergers.
Why are New York taxpayers sending a fat welfare check to these gabillionaires? Because the stock brokers want a new building, and if state and local governments don’t put up the cash, the New York Stock Exchange says it will high tail it across the Hudson to New Jersey, or maybe even to Atlanta or Tucson. In other words, the New York Stock Exchange has taken a page from the playbook of sports owners and other corporate executives who engage in highway robbery by demanding new facilities and other special breaks, threatening to relocate to some other city if they don’t get their money.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Governor George Pataki are two New York Republicans who’ve been fierce in criticizing the poor for taking welfare, but they have turned out to be embarrassingly liberal in their generosity to these Wall Street moochers. They plan to build a new $450 million welfare palace for the Stock Exchange on the entire block across the street from its present location, and to give it another $450 million in cash and tax breaks.
You don’t need a crystal ball to see America’s economic future – just look at what’s happening in the world around us.
Specifically, check out Asia and Latin America, where domino after domino is falling as a result of speculators’ greed and misguided International Monetary Fund bailouts of the greedy. Barely a year ago, such nations as South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Brazil, and Mexico were being hailed by Washington and Wall Street as models of triumphant capitalism, with surging economies based on the free flow of cash pouring in from global speculators.
But then the Asian Tiger and Latin Bull began staggering about eighteen months ago, and the I.M.F. rushed to pour billions of tax dollars into their failed banks and collapsing currencies. Of course, that money ultimately flowed into the pockets of wealthy investors from Wall Street and elsewhere – who had made the financial mess in the first place. These fair-weather capitalists got bailed out, but the local economies were devastated.
In Asia, wages have plummeted, prices are skyrocketing, and middle-class aspirations are being crushed. Unemployment has tripled in many nations and, by next year, 50 million Asians will have been hurled into poverty. In scenes recalling our own Great Depression, it’s now common to see Asian professionals in the streets trying to peddle food to passersby.
Yet, under pressure from the I.M.F. and global speculators, governments in Asia and Latin America are imposing harsh austerity measures to cut spending and deficits. In Mexico, for example, President Zedillo is pushing policies to raise the price of tortillas, fuel, and phone calls, while cutting corporate income taxes. Likewise, Brazil’s President Cardoso is trying to lay off thousands of government employees, hike the payroll tax for social security, and increase the tax on people’s ATM withdrawals.
Prediction: if and when this global collapse reaches our shores, the middle class will be the first to pay.
Jim Hightower’s radio talk show broadcasts daily from Austin. His book, There’s Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos is now in paperback. Find him at www.jim hightower.com, or e-mail: [email protected] tower.com.