Audit Notes: The Swipe-Fee Battle, Homeless Kids, Angelides on Fire

Bloomberg News has an excellent recount of how the debit-card swipe-fee battle was waged. Its headline is just about perfect:

How Wal-Mart Trumped JPMorgan on Debit Cards

Had it just been consumers fighting JPMorgan and the rest, they wouldn’t have had a prayer. Gotta enlist a powerful corporate interest if you’re going to defeat a powerful corporate interest.

There’s lots of good reporting here and it’s well edited:

Together, they deployed more than 500 lobbyists and spent some $30 million, according to people briefed on the expenditures. Their campaigns fanned dissension inside the Federal Reserve and created curious alliances as Tea Party freshmen, Indian tribes, tax activist Grover Norquist and the nation’s biggest teachers union entered the fray.

The retailers flew hundreds of merchants like Cavallaro to Washington; the financial lobby countered with squads from community banks and credit unions. The combatants called on all the tools of public relations: focus groups, TV ads, polls, conference calls with as many as 100 participants — and at least one outright fabricated story planted in the press.

Read it and this excellent Huffington Post piece back to back to see, as the HuffPo said in its headline: “Why Washington Doesn’t Work For You.”

— I missed this fantastic 60 Minutes piece when it first ran in March, but it’s still worth a watch. Scott Pelley goes to Orlando to look at the burgeoning homeless child population, what he calls the “Hard Times Generation.”

It’s heartbreaking and powerful:

Nationwide, 14 million children were in poverty before the Great Recession. Now, the U.S. Census tells us its 16 million - up two million in two years. That is the fastest fall for the middle class since the government started counting 51 years ago.

One of the areas suffering the most is otherwise advertised as “The Happiest Place on Earth,” the counties around Disney World and Orlando. Just on Highway 192, the road to Disney World, 67 motels house about 500 homeless kids. The government counts them homeless if they have only temporary shelter.

In Seminole County schools, 1,000 students have recently lost their homes.

— Finally, Phil Angelides, who headed the ill-funded Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission has an excellent op-ed in the Washington Post. Heckuva lede here:

They say that winners get to write history. Three years after the meltdown of our financial markets, it’s clear who is winning and who is losing. Wall Street — arms outstretched in triumph — is racing toward the finish-line tape while millions of American families are struggling to stay on their feet. With victory seemingly in hand, the historical rewrite is in full swing.

The contrast in fortunes between those on top of the economic heap and those buried in the rubble couldn’t be starker. The 10 biggest banks now control more than three-quarters of the country’s banking assets. Profits have bounced back, while compensation at publicly traded Wall Street firms hit a record $135 billion in 2010.

The astonishing thing about the political events of the last year is how a catastrophe caused by out-of-control capitalists has given new energy to the war on labor rights in Wisconsin and government itself, and particularly sacred cow programs like Medicare.

Which is what Angelides is getting at in his brief tour of how the historical revisionism is playing out:

If you are Rep. Paul Ryan, you ignore the fact that our federal budget deficit has ballooned more than $1 trillion annually since the financial collapse. You disregard the reality that two-thirds of the deficit increase is directly attributable to the economic downturn and bipartisan fiscal measures adopted to bolster the economy. Instead of focusing on the real cause of the deficit, you conflate today’s budgetary disaster with the long-term challenges of Medicare so you can shred the social safety net.

If you are Alan Greenspan, you retreat from your 2008 epiphany in which you acknowledged your “state of shocked disbelief” that “the whole intellectual edifice” of your deregulatory ideology had collapsed. Now, you condemn reform efforts as “the current ‘anything goes’ regulatory ethos” — a phrase that paradoxically recalls your own failed policies at the Federal Reserve. In short, after driving the economy over the cliff, you offer to give driving lessons.

If you are JP Morgan’s chief investment officer, you refute the statement that your chairman and chief executive, Jamie Dimon, made to the FCIC in 2010 blaming the failures of major financial institutions on “the management teams 100 percent and . . . no one else.” You revise your opinion on the causes of the crisis to instead focus blame on government housing policies. The source for this newfound wisdom: shopworn data, produced by a consultant to the corporate-funded American Enterprise Institute, which was analyzed and debunked by the FCIC report.

If you are most congressional Republicans, you turn a blind eye to the sad history of widespread lending abuses that savaged communities across the country and pledge to block the appointment of anyone to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless its authority is weakened. You ignore the evidence of pervasive excess that wrecked our financial markets and attempt to cut funding for the regulators charged with curbing it. Across the board, you refuse to acknowledge what went wrong and then try to stop efforts to make it right.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,