Robert Reich and Robert Scheer at Occupy L.A. Teach-In
Last weekend former Labor Secretary Reich and Truthdig Editor Scheer, who, in his own words, got a little wound up, were among the luminaries teaching in at the Occupy LA encampment.
More speakers can be found here.
Transcript of Scheer’s talk:
I think we just witnessed a historic moment, before, with Robert Reich. At least for me; it was incredible, it was a Jeffersonian moment. It was what, really, the Founders—for all of their imperfections, and I’m aware of them—had in mind when they thought of this whole idea of a constitutional democracy based on the individual. And here you had a guy who—by the way, I don’t know, he got a good introduction. But in the Clinton administration there was a battle of the two Bobs. There was Robert Rubin and Robert Reich. And Robert Rubin, who had come from Goldman Sachs into the Clinton administration, represented everything that has been evil about our government. He carried water for Wall Street; he’s the one who’s responsible for the repeal of Glass-Steagall; he’s the one that’s responsible for the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that ended any regulation of derivatives that have gotten us into all of this trouble. And through the legislation that he pushed through, working with Phil Gramm, working with the Republicans, getting Bill Clinton to sign off on it. And Bill Clinton, just at a conference paid for by his foundation at Georgetown University—they didn’t even mention Glass-Steagall. They didn’t even mention the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. These people have created incredible mischief for the whole world’s economy. They brought the system to its knees, and they had a conference celebrating Bill Clinton, and they didn’t even mention those sad chapters.
And in that administration, the one person—I think he was there by accident, because he had been Hillary Clinton’s professor, and he knew Bill Clinton, and he’s a brilliant man. Robert Reich was the one consistent voice in the Clinton administration who was against what was called welfare reform, which ended the federal poverty program. That’s why we have a situation now where we have 46 million Americans, 22 percent of children, living below the poverty line, and we have no federal, national program that was called welfare reform. We have another group of about 45 million Americans who the New York Times today labeled as “almost poor,” meaning they couldn’t survive in any major city. And by the way, recent studies have shown that this impovertization of America has now expanded more rapidly into the suburban community than the urban community. So this is very widespread; poverty is now as American as apple pie. It’s the norm.
And in that administration—I’ve written a book about this, and I’ve written lots of columns; some of you have read them—the one name that consistently came out was that little guy that was here before, Robert Reich. [Applause] And I remember when I was writing my book—I’m going to take a little time, since I was supposed to take 15 minutes, and then I won’t speak later, it’s OK. I’m getting wound up. [Applause] When I was writing my book, I was interviewing lots of different people. And let me just say, I used to work over there at the Los Angeles Times, and there’s still some good people there. But I remember when I was covering financial deregulation, the mass media in America not only was indifferent to the dire consequences of reversing the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the mass media was a cheerleading component … because they wanted the Telecommunications Act that would allow them to control television and print in the same market. They were cheerleaders for deregulation. And this fantasy that Wall Street lobbyists had been pursuing ever since the ink dried on those sensible rules of the road, imposed during the Depression by Franklin Delano Roosevelt—those sensible rules of the road to save capitalism from itself, to put some limits on greed—the lobbyists had been trying to get those things changed, but for six decades they couldn’t do it. And they couldn’t even do it when Ronald Reagan was president. Reagan certainly had the fantasy. He certainly talked the game, but he also had the savings and loan crisis. And because of the savings and loan crisis, at the end of Reagan’s administration he actually had to, under tremendous pressure, tighten regulations rather than loosen them.
So going to a question that was raised about the Democratic Party before, this never could have happened were it not for Bill Clinton and his triangulation. [Applause] It’s something that we have to remember, because we’re always suckers for the lesser evil; we’re always suckers for our friends; we’re always suckers for people who talk a good game. But I’m telling you, as a matter of fact, that what happened here was not the normal flow of capitalism. It was a sting operation. It was a scam. There are lots of problems; problems of globalization, problems of global warming; yes, they’re real problems. But we are the victims of something that would have put the Mafia in jail forever. [Applause] We are the victims of a sting operation. These collateralized debt obligations; these credit default swaps; these bets upon bets upon bets. Taking people’s homes and making them gambling chips in a casino. Playing with people’s fantasies, hustling them—go down to a bank here and they say, ‘Oh, did you capture the equity in your home yet? Why don’t you try this? Have a cappuccino.’ Right down there!And we swindled people. Sixty percent of Latino wealth—not income—60 percent of Latino wealth in this country has disappeared. Fifty-three percent of African-American wealth has disappeared because of this housing meltdown. Playing with people’s dreams, turning their castle into a nightmare. We have 50 million Americans that have either lost their homes or are going to lose their homes soon. We have a disaster of national proportions. We have reversed all of the gains since LBJ was president and we talked about a war on poverty. All of the gains. Income inequality now is back in the levels of 40, 45 years ago. We’ve wiped out, undermined the American dream. And let me tell you something, my friends who are progressive, who have voted Democratic. I voted for Obama, full confession. If anyone had told me the guy I voted for would have put the same scoundrels back in power that led Bill Clinton to write off those laws, I wouldn’t have believed it. But it happened. [Applause]
The disciples of Robert Rubin are the people that have been running the Obama administration. I’m not going to gainsay the achievement of having the first African-American president. I’m not going to gainsay the fact that the guy is incredibly charming and smart. But the fact of the matter is, when he appointed Lawrence Summers—Lawrence Summers, who took over from Rubin, was a disciple of Rubin; and he [Summers] pushed through the Commodity Futures Modernization Act that Bill Clinton signed off when he was a lame-duck president … he didn’t have to do it, Phil Gramm had pushed it through; and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act said, in Titles 3 and 4, that no existing law or regulatory agency will govern these collateralized debt obligations or credit default swaps—we were off to the greed races. And these instruments, and the hundreds of trillions of dollars dominating the world. It’s why the Greeks are in trouble, because they sold their debt on their port and their airport, packages designed by Goldman Sachs; UBS, where Phil Gramm went to work [after he left Congress]; Citigroup, which was made legal because of the reversal of Glass-Steagall; and Robert Rubin. When I worked at the L.A. Times, if I went to a local restaurant and a friend of mine was there and he gave me a beer, I had to spend half the night getting a bill and showing that I paid for it. It would be considered a conflict of interest. But Robert Rubin gets a law passed that made Citigroup legal—the merger of Citigroup and Travelers was illegal!—made it legal, and he goes to work for that bank and gets [$126] million? And he’s the chairman, $15 million a year, and that’s not a crime? That’s too big to jail, is what I said in my last column. [Applause]
So I want to get back to—there are good people. And I just sat here with such admiration for Robert Reich. He doesn’t have to do this. You don’t have to do this. We all got better things to do. Robert Reich could go on the talk shows; he could go to a few conferences; he could speak out. But he didn’t do that. He’s speaking out all over the country. And I want to just remind people, when Bill Clinton put through that welfare reform, that was Pete Wilson’s idea; and Tommy Thompson … that was triangulation. Robert [Reich] was the one guy in the administration that really fought against that. … Robert Reich, if you look at that record, that was a voice of clarity. And I just found it incredibly thrilling to sit here today and see that guy take this word to the people. And he’s doing it all over the country. [Applause]
Now, I just want to make a couple of points before we get to these guys. I told them they can go on as long as they want, and then we’re going to have a lot of questions, but what the hell. I always have a few points, and when I go home—I happen to live near here, so I walked here, it’s OK—when I go home I say, shit, why didn’t I bring that up, or why didn’t I bring this up? So somebody asked before about military. My previous book was about the military-industrial complex. And I think we should understand what has happened. We were supposed to have a peace dividend. The Cold War is over. The first President Bush told us that we could cut defense spending by one-third right away, and he started to do that; and his secretary of defense agreed, and his secretary of defense was Dick Cheney. And then we got this so-called war on terror, and in the name of fighting guys who had box cutters and an arsenal that you could buy for 180 bucks at Home Depot, we built up the biggest military arsenal in the world and spend more than all the other countries combined. Al of the other countries combined; military spending now, at per capita, real dollars, is at the height of the highest of the Cold War, and we claim we don’t have money to solve our problems. It’s absolute garbage. Absolute garbage. [Applause] And this president—again, if someone had told me the president that I voted for would have kept this war going in Iraq and would have escalated the war in Afghanistan, I would have thought, my God, what have I been drinking? But he did.So … they always ask, what do we demand? I think we should demand … that the old New Deal rules of the road be instituted. [Applause] That’s the first thing; that you cannot let these banks go unfettered. Secondly, the question is, what do we get for our money? We bailed them out. Citigroup just settled a case last week where they had to pay $285 million for a $1 billion scam, admitting guilt when Robert Rubin was chairman of the bank. You know what we need back? We need back mortgage relief. I don’t know why we don’t get this clearer, but no one should be thrown out of their home in this country because we don’t even know who owns their homes. Eighty percent of the homes in trouble are owned by a computer bank in Reston, Va., called the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems. So we have to straighten that out. We have to keep people in their homes, because if you don’t solve the housing problem you’re not getting consumer demand back and you’re not getting jobs back.
And I want to make one final point, just so that it doesn’t get lost today. We’ve got to deal with the multinational corporations. And the reason for that is, we have this illusion that somehow the nation state matters. The nation state is invoked all the time; you know, “one nation under God,” blah, blah, blah. They never read Scripture; if this was one nation under God, we wouldn’t let the usurers control the action. We would overturn the tables of the money-changers, you know, if you want to have a come-to-Jesus moment. The fact of the matter is, the nation state exists as a facade. It serves the interests of the multinational corporations. It sends armies to protect their interests; it allows them to park their profits abroad; but it doesn’t do anything to help jobs here. And Robert Reich talked about, yeah, if you want trade, fine—but don’t have child labor. Have the right for unions to organize everywhere; protect consumer rights around the world; you didn’t put that in any of your NAFTAs. That’s the biggest problem.
And finally, the example of that, if you want to know—to cut through, whether the Democrats abandon us, we should demand from them—how in the world did Barack Obama appoint Jeffrey Immelt, the head of General Electric—a company that has 82 percent of its profit abroad, that has two out of every three jobs abroad—and make that guy the head of your jobs council? It is unbelievable.