Something Liberals and Conservatives Can Agree On: Slow Down Washington’s Revolving Door!

  

I’m writing this on a really hot, clammy day in New York.  So, forgive me if I’m a little bit steamed.

Recently, political journalist Matt Taibbi sounded an alarm that should have sparked a national debate about the conduct of ex-Attorney General Eric Holder.  The story was crowded out by the furore over Donald Trump, and the fuss about the crowded field of Republican Presidential candidates.  Once again, personalities trumped real matters of importance. 

While in office, Holder, the nation’s top law enforcement official for six years, was repeatedly criticized for failing to send a single senior banking boss to jail for playing a role in the mortgage fiasco that led to the 2008 financial crisis. 

Taibbi calls him a Wall Street “double agent” for returning to his lucrative partnership at a powerful law firm, known for defending financial firms.  At the very least, Holder’s actions raise questions about the cozy relationships between top officials and the industries they are supposed to regulate.

His case is far from the only one.  This widespread practice by the Beltway’s power players has a profound impact  on the system of corporate subsidies, tax breaks, and other ways that special interests benefit from their ties to Congress and the Administration. 

“The revolving door phenomenon is particularly acute in the financial services sector,” writes Craig Holman of he liberal group Public Citizen.  “Statistics published by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York show a dramatic rise in the movement of financial executives into positions as financial regulators, and regulators into private sector financial firms, growing threefold over the last decade.” 

  
Liberals aren’t the only ones to call for action.  In this week’s episode of our How Do We Fix It? podcast, University of Tennessee Law Professor Glenn Reynolds, a well-known libertarian conservative blogger on Instapundit, calls for a surtax on top or regular earnings of at least 50% on pay hikes received by former senior government officials when they go back to the private sector.  

 “There are all kinds of laws to limit influence peddling and they’ve all been failures,” Reynolds told us.  Powerful interests are willing to pay large amounts of money to former cabinet members and top officials for what they know. “It seems only fair for the government to share in those profits.”

The revolving door, where Washington D.C. “Fat Cats” jump back-and-forth from powerful government positions to highly-paid lobbying and industry jobs, is a “corrupting influence,” says Reynolds.  He sees the tax code as the most powerful instrument to reduce this corrosive threat to our democracy.

His proposal may not go anywhere, but Glenn Reynolds, Matt Taibbi, Elizabeth Warren and others who’ve called to laws to slow down the “automatic door” deserve far more attention than they’ve received so far. 

 

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Hacking, Data Theft, And Why Adam Levin Scared the S**t Out of Me

    
My friends and family sometimes tease me about being an optimist – seeing the world as a better place than it really is. 

Well, last week the guy here in the photo turned me into a gloomy pessimist about the dangers of hacking and the data theft. Unless our security systems get better fast, mayhem might be around the corner. The threat to individuals, businesses, the government, and the financial system is scary. 

After years of thinking that Adam Levin was perhaps was a little bit alarmist on the subject, I’ve come around to his way of thinking.  Adam, who’s the co-founder and Chairman of credit.com and the security firm IDT 911, has turned me into a hacking hawk. 

“This is a pandemic,” he said this week on our podcast How Do We Fix It?  “It’s depressing when people say there’s fear-mongering going on in the identity theft world. There isn’t enough fear-mongering.” 

He’s right.  We’ve been inundated with the shock-horror of over-the-top news media coverage about the omnipresent threat of criminals, rapists, and child abductors lurking in our midst.  But arguably, not enough has been made of criminals and spies breaking into the computer systems that all of us rely on.  

Only last week, the head of The Office of Personnel Management was finally forced to resign after it was revealed that highly sensitive personal data involving more than 22 million people was stolen. 

A couple of weeks ago, Fortune published a hair raising account of last November’s break-in at Sony Pictures. The attack was a huge embarrassment for the firm as private emails became a matter of public gossip and scandal. For several weeks, one of the biggest players in Hollywood was forced back to an era of faxes and typewriters. Its computer systems were frozen.

We are all at risk of being victims.

So how do you reduce your threat?  Adam says we all need to consider that this is a potential threat to our money, property and privacy. Here are some of the tips that he recommends.

– Remember the 3Ms. MINIMIZE your risk of exposure

Don’t carry your social security card with you, in case your wallet or purse is stolen.  Limit the number of credit and debit cards that you have.  Secure your computer and smartphone with strong passwords. Be careful about giving your social security number to any business or health care provider that does not really need it. 
– MONITOR your personal finances.  Get a free credit report every year at http://www.annualcreditreport.com.  Also, go http://www.credit.com and other sites and get a free reading of your credit score.  Check your bank and other financial accounts as frequently as possible.

– If you become an identity theft victim, MANAGE the damage. Adam says there are programs to help consumers. Some are free through your work or insurance company.  Identity protection services offer instant alerts in case someone tries to apply for credit using your name.  The Consumer Federation of America has a helpful site: http://www.idtheftinfo.org.

– Credit cards offer more protections for consumers. “With a credit card, it’s their money. With a debit card it’s your money,” says Adam. If you’re a victim of debit card fraud it can take 7-10 days for the bank to return the money to your account. 

– If anyone calls you and starts asking for your information, hang up. Don’t give it to them. Use as many different passwords as you can for websites that you visit.

Two years ago Edward Snowden started a worldwide debate about Government snooping and  surveillance.  Today, there needs to be a similar outcry over the threat data theft presents to our privacy and security.

What I Learned About Money, Personal Finance and Podcasts From Farnoosh Torabi

  
I’ll never forget the first thing personal finance journalist and podcaster Farnoosh Torabi said to me a few months before I launched our new weekly podcast, “How Do We Fix It?”.

“What is going to be your target audience?” she asked, looking me straight in the eye as we sat down for lunch at a restuarant in Midtown Manhattan.

Well, I have to admit that 7 shows in, I’m still working on that.  

Unlike many podcasts built around niche markets, such as health, wealth, relationships, or being a great entrepreneur, ours is general interest.  Our listeners don’t have exactly the same interests, or three or four favorite Twitter feeds and Facebook pages that they all go to.

The community we are building week-by-week wants solutions to many different problems that bug all of us – whether it’s the challenge of raising kids with good values and curious minds, the struggle of getting out from under a mountain of debt, or how to end boredom in the workplace. 

We’re not in the blame game.  Our show has a positive, independent point of view that shuns the old left vs. right mindset.  

I’ve been watching my friend Farnoosh rather closely to see what ideas we can learn from her about growing an audience.  

The first thing I learned is that she’s a brilliant marketer, who does a great job of using Twitter and the So Money website to promote herself, her guests and ideas.  Farnoosh is also the real deal who cares about her listeners.  In a medium as intimate as podcasting, being authentic is vitally important.

This week I was a guest on her daily show.  After years of interviews where I ask the questions, it was a bit of a shock to have the tables turned!  And Farnoosh was very clear about she wanted from me:  life lessons and good stories about my experience with money.

Her show’s example has helped Jim, Miranda and I (The “Fix It” team) with our podcast.  How Do We Fix It? isn’t just about good ideas and concise solutions.  We also need to tell personal stories.  And we want listeners to give us guidance and suggestions about where our show should go next. 

Unlike the old days, when broadcast and print journalists simply put out a well produced finished product, podcasts are more spontaneous and part of a conversation.

To build support, we’ve just added a pop-up page at our website, urging listeners and supporters to sign-up and suggest ideas for future shows.  Having subscribers who rate our shows in iTunes is vitally important to us.  

In the near future, How Do We Fix It? may launch a Kickstarter page to raise funds to get the message out about our big idea. Our show is about solutions.  We welcome lively minds with fresh ideas, who want to make our country better. That’s why we also picked Farnoosh to be our guest this week.

   

 
Five years after the worst of the recession ended, tens of millions of Americans are still struggling to make ends meet.  For many the assumptions of a comfortable life were swept away with the mortgage mess and near financial collapse in 2008.

 Because the subject can be painful, it’s easy to be in money denial.  Farnoosh makes the case for making financial management a part of your daily life. “A lot of us don’t even take that first step of acknowledging money is important and that it can be a means to achieving a lot of life’s goals,” she says. 

“If you have a story in your head that says ‘I’m not good enough, I’m not rich enough, I can’t work the job that will pay me enough money… Those are just barriers that you’ve created in your mind that are keeping you away from being able to reach financial freedom.”

Farnoosh is not suggesting that we obsess about money, and give it primacy over love, relationships and family.  “You don’t have to give up your morning latte to achieve your goals.”

 

My Favorite Holiday:  July 4th Fireworks and Festivities Celebrate Our Freedoms and Democracy.

  Symbols of pride:  flying the flag for Independence Day.



Happy July 4th!   Independence Day is my favorite holiday.

On this vacation we celebrate something that many of us complain about for the rest of the year: our democratic institutions.

As a first generation American I love the freedom that this country represents.  239 years ago, The United States was the first nation to be founded with a formal statement that asserted the people’s right to choose their own government.  

That’s a pretty cool fact.

The Declaration of Independence was a bold statement of ideals by profoundly practical men.  It’s signficance rolls down through the ages, and continues to be an inspiration to oppressed people around the world.

The words were chosen carefully.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These most famous lines from Declaration give me chills. 

As a radio guy, I applaud NPR’s Morning Edition for its annual tradition of having hosts, contributors and commentators read the Declaration aloud.  

From the beginning – “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another” – until the end – “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” – the sound of those profound words, written at a time of great danger, never fails to impress.

Despite a steady decline in trust in national institutions in recent years,  “questioning the aims and efforts of government is a foundation of American citizenship. It’s how the nation was born,” writes Lynn Vavreck, a professor of political science at U.C.L.A. in The New York Times.  “The colonists didn’t trust King George III, and they carefully laid out their reasons for breaking away from his rule in the Declaration of Independence.”

But still we celebrate the 4th with fireworks, parades and barbecues.   For one day each year it’s time to put aside our complaints about the President, Congress, law enforcement and our system of justice.  We are lucky to be Americans.

At a time of doubt, division and even disgust with government, this country is still a beacon of hope for tens of millions of immigrants and many others who wish they could live here.

Although I was born in the USA, my parents were British and moved me back to England as a child.  After going to school there, I chose to leave my family and return.  I am glad that I did.  

So grab a burger, pour a cold one, and celebrate the Fourth with pride and gratitude for America and the best of its principles.