The Hightower Report
A Monopoly on Voting; and Ideas for Banking Reform
Ideas for Banking Reform
If either party in Washington were to get serious about reining in Wall Street greed-heads, here are two good ideas for achieving that.
The first comes from Bernie Sanders, the socialist senator from Vermont who, ironically, has introduced a bill that is the essence of classic capitalism. His bill's title pretty well sums up its content: the Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist Act.
If a financial institution gets so big that its collapse would threaten to bring down the entire banking system or wreck our economy, Sanders' proposal would require the Treasury secretary to break it up – if you're too big to fail, you're too big. Period. Rather than guarantee a taxpayer bailout for such behemoths, Sanders would cut them into smaller pieces and decentralize their parts to eliminate their threat and increase financial competition. Good for you, Bernie!
Now to England, where bank regulators don't seem afraid to, you know, regulate. Hector Sants, head of Britain's Financial Services Authority, has gone to the core of the banking industry's problem by addressing the culture of executive greed and the lack of ethical accountability. Rather than hiring executives whose primary motivation is to produce huge rewards for themselves, applicants for senior banking jobs are being evaluated for their ability to "set a strong ethical framework" and to foster a marketplace culture that is sensitive to the proper treatment of customers and the larger public.
Already, notes the regulator, the push for a broader sense of responsibility than bankers' own self-interest has caused a number of applicants to withdraw. Excellent. Good for you, Hector!
Hey, Washington – if you really want a financial system that serves the common good rather than uncommon greed, grab these two ideas and go with them.
A Monopoly on Voting
When you cast a vote, should it be counted just as you cast it? "Well, of course," you shout! After all, voting is sacrosanct. Why wouldn't every single one of our votes count just as each voter intended?
They should. But during the past decade, state and local election authorities have ever so quietly allowed a little intrusion to come between the casting and the counting of our votes. The intrusion is called "privatization."
Balloting, which has historically and properly been a purely public function in our country, now relies largely on electronic machines that are made and controlled by a handful of corporations. There have been beaucoup problems with those corporate machines. They're easily hacked, they break down on election day, they divert votes from one candidate to another, they drop votes, they mysteriously add votes – and they're expensive.
But the greatest problem is with the privatization concept itself. Voting is not a commodity or industry; it's a democratic right. To allow private interests to control the balloting mechanism (and refuse to reveal the software code for tallying ballots) is a sacrilege that destroys public trust in electoral integrity. Yet, this privatization is about to be made geometrically worse by monopolization. The largest purveyor of voting machines, ES&S, is in the process of acquiring the second largest, Premier Election Systems, now owned by the notorious Diebold Inc. This sale would give ES&S monopoly control of the voting systems in the vast majority of our cities and states.
Antitrust officials must stop this monopolization of America's most basic democratic process. More fundamentally, though, we must restore full public ownership and management of our voting systems. For more information, see www.fairvote.org.
Jim Hightower was recently awarded the 2009 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship. See "Naked City," for more.