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Rev. Jesse Jackson Discusses the Current Political Landscape (Part 1)

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I was down in Chattanooga, Tennessee, today [last week] at Volkswagen at their plant there. I saw workers, black and white working together, bidding for contracts together.

Under the old South, Volkswagen wouldn’t have located in the South, because you would not locate in an apartheid zone. Before 1964, you couldn’t have had the Dallas Cowboys and the Charlotte Hornets’ behind the “cotton curtain.” You couldn’t have had the Olympics in Atlanta. You couldn’t have had the Super Bowl in New Orleans or in Atlanta behind the “cotton curtain.”

When the curtain of legal segregation came down, it enabled several things to happen: international commerce could invest in the South without stigma. People like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and Gore and Bush could run from the South, without the stigma of being from the South.

It freed the South of stigma – racial stigma. It opened up the South for new investment and for new relations.

All of that comes post-1964.

So, in many ways, to profess hesitance about that Act is a real painful throwback in time – for all Americans.

Kathleen Wells: But does it portend anything? Does it speak to the future? Where we are moving?

Rev. Jackson: Well, I think in the struggle between going forward by hope or backward by fear, hope is winning. But there is an element of fear that seeks the undercurrent – a fear undercurrent.

I’ve seen America maturing. It gives me my hope. August 28, 1955, Emmitt Till was lynched. In that America, it was so insensitive that there was no real pursuit of those that killed him, neither by the state of Mississippi nor the federal government. The guys that killed Emmitt Till lived 40 some years after that before they were hunted down… and most people right from the start knew who they were.

I once asked Mrs. Parks, “Why didn’t you go to the back of the bus, knowing the risk that was involved? She said: “I thought of Emmitt Till, and I couldn’t go back.” That was a huge moment on August 28, 1955.

On August 28, 1963, eight years later to the day, Dr. King was in Washington at a huge multicultural, multiracial rally, dreaming of a new America.

August 28, 2008, President Barack Obama received the Democratic nomination in Denver, Colorado.

So if one looks at August 28, ’55, August 28, ’63, and August 28, 2008, we see the maturing of America and the growth.

So, while Obama didn’t win or he scantily won folks in the south, in a comparative sense, one sees that hope is winning.

Kathleen Wells: Well, I appreciate your optimism.

Rev. Jackson: I know the undercurrent is present today, because even in 2010 we are free, but not equal. That’s a different paradigm. One might say that while it’s midday in our politics, it’s still midnight in our economy.

We have an African American President; Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House, and two-three women on the Supreme Court. It’s commonplace to elect women as mayors -- a gay woman in Houston and two black governors [one] in Massachusetts [and the other in New York].

Kathleen Wells: But this is symbolism, and it’s only a handful.

Rev. Jackson: But my point is, when it’s real dark, a little light will do you.

One sees the breakthrough of morning in our politics, but not in our economy – our political democracy is different from our economic free enterprise system. And you elect in politics every two, four, or six years, and the people do speak.

But politics is based a lot on legacy, inheritance and access, and laws of perpetual protection. There are two sets of rules there. And there is a dynamic interplay between government and politics as we’ve seen in the Gulf crisis, where you had corporations leveraging access to government regulators. The corruption of the overseers and the greed of BP – that combination made the world’s greatest ecological disaster, because of lack of integral integrity, and oversight, and greed by corporations.

That same combination – lack of Congressional and regulatory oversight and greed – led to our problem with the banks. We bailed them out, with interest-free money, not linked to lending, not linked to reinvesting in America, paralleled with their rise in historic, record home foreclosures. So, even today, home foreclosures are outdistancing loan modifications.

Kathleen Wells: And this is what – the shrinking of the middle class is what is impacting John and Jane on Main Street. So, despite this symbolic victory and appearance that we are getting from having the first black President and all the other symbolic/beautiful things that we can see – the Supreme Court, etc, etc. –John and Jane on Main Street are suffering.

Rev. Jackson: They are suffering, in part, because of our trade policy. We’ve gone from 16 million to 11 million manufacturing jobs in about the last eight or nine years. We have been closing plants for a long time now – in a sense, subsidized by our government for a long time — so now we have plants closing, jobs leaving, going to ever cheaper labor markets – without regard for human rights.

And while plants are closing and jobs are leaving, drugs and guns are coming. That’s what serves to undermine and subvert the economy.

And while drugs and guns are coming in to our neighborhoods and schools, we will not revive the ban on assault weapons. Consider this: we’ve lost 6,000 Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last six years. But we lose 30,000 a year to gunfire alone - and another 100,000 people who are injured. That’s both a health hazard and a national security risk.

On the other hand, we globalized capital – with consent from both Democrats and Republicans – without globalizing human rights, without globalizing workers’ rights and women’s rights, children rights, and environmental security.

And that’s the rub of the great global imbalance today. It’s like you have such radical and absurd wealth on the one hand, a sinking middle class and an expanding base of poverty on the other.

What once was horizontal segregation — we could not sit side by side in the theatre, in the church or in the school, in the public park or in the library – that wall has come down -- now we are separated vertically – by the subsidized wealthy and the disenfranchised middle class.

Kathleen Wells: What solutions can you offer?

Rev. Jackson: Well, one is that we must determine that with a recession it can take time for a recovery. But a depression is a state of emergency that demands immediate comprehensive attention.

With America today facing 25 percent unemployment in most inner cities – and higher – that’s a depression. With 50 percent of the youth unemployed, that’s depression.

And so with this state of emergency we must have urgency.

We now must determine whether these huge pockets of poverty — whether in Appalachia or rural Alabama — are in a state of emergency. Or do we accept their plight as “normal” – as if it were natural. This is not natural. It is not normal.

It is NOT normal that we live with 50 million Americans who are food insecure, 40 million Americans who are in poverty, and 25 million who are unemployed.

We determined that we had to, as a national priority, bailout the banks without any punitive action for their greed and their misbehavior.

Now that we have determined those Congress people who allowed them to misbehave on their watch when they had the burden of oversight, and, just as we bailed out the economy, top-down, to stop that hemorrhage, we must now, in a way that is meaningful, address the hemorrhaging in our communities, “bottom- up.”

What Roosevelt did, which was appealing to me, was determine that these banks that were without oversight and out of control had to be restructured, not just re-fortified.

The question is: Do we need three or four banks too big to regulate, monitor and oversee? Or do we need restructured banks that are targeted to fill the need? They may be in Appalachia. It may be a rural bank or an urban bank. We need restructured banks whose mission is to lend, invest and develop.

These big mega-banks and financial institutions – that’s not their mission statement. They will lend if they have to. They will lend commensurate with their investment, but that’s not their mission. Their mission is to make the highest profits possible – ethically or unethically, morally or immorally – mainly through “trading,” not lending. That’s their mission.

It seems to me – you asked about a remedy – we must consider restructuring the banks and financial institutions. We did NOT link the bailout to lending and reinvestment. We should have and now we are “paying for it” again.

Roosevelt fought for a strong FDIC.

Community banks are being wiped out by the droves, because they don’t have the same government “protection” that the Citis and Goldmans and Chases got. The community banks didn’t get billions in stimulus investment. And they are having to play by rules that apply to the big banks, but which hurt them.

I was talking to a banker the other day of a community bank where the insurance fee paid to the FDIC was just $70K a few years ago. But it’s now gone up to $700K, and they must make, right now, a three years advanced deposit. So the banks have to put up $2.1 million, and for a community bank, that’s a death knell.

That rule may have application for, say, Citigroup or Wells Fargo, but a community bank – they cannot take that. That debt ratio wipes them out.

So Roosevelt determined that number one, you must restructure the banks. Number two, you must have a strong FDIC and tough regulation, and number three, every family must have a chicken in every pot.

He addressed the issue of rabid hunger. That’s just a moral imperative. People who are hungry can’t function well. And we need a moratorium on foreclosures because people who are facing unemployment can’t pay the house note. When you can’t pay your house note, your neighbors aren’t sound; your taxpayers aren’t sound.

Right now, we have restructured the banks, and we’ve restructured the deck at the top, but the Titanic sank because water was coming in from the bottom.

We must now look at a part two stimulus. Assuming part one had the best of intentions, I accept that. Part two – we have left lingering a shrinking/sinking middle class and an expanding poverty base and foreclosures outdistancing modifications.

The banks want to modify house, by house, by house, by house, but that’s like trying to fill up the ocean with a bucket. There must be some structural readjustment to home foreclosure.

When one house goes into foreclosure, seven houses next door lose their value; millions of homeowners are now underwater – the amount they owe on their mortgages is higher than their house is worth. When you can’t pay your taxes, then your tax base goes down. Then you can’t pay police, teachers, firemen, libraries, recreations. Whole states and counties and cities are facing massive budget deficits.

So we are looking at a number of cities moving towards municipal bankruptcies.

Rev. Jesse Jackson, second from left, has joined transit workers' unions in their Save Our Ride campaign. (Photo: Streetsblog NYC)