Senate Republicans, plus one Democrat (Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska) blocked the Democrats from moving on Wall Street reform (4/26 and again 4/27). Democrats needed 60 votes to shut down the Republican filibuster but they could only muster 58. (Majority Leader Harry Reid then switched his vote to enable him to bring up the bill again.)

Nelson’s opposition was a mild surprise, but apparently he was irritated that he couldn’t get another special deal to exempt existing derivatives contracts from regulation. That is a major concern of Nelson’s sponsor, Omaha financier Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway Inc. holds $63 bln in derivative contracts and doesn’t want to put up more collateral as the proposed regs would require. It’s a little ironic that Buffett in 2002 had warned that derivatives, which are bets on the future price of a good, were “financial weapons of mass destruction.” The misuse of derivatives related to mortgage securities led to the financial meltdown.

There is some suspicion that the whole financial reform carnival is stage-managed so that Republicans could vote against the Democratic bill on the first round, making the unsubstantiated charge that the bill would enable further bank bailouts. In fact, after voting to keep the debate going, most Republicans left the Senate chamber to get back to fundraising. Rather than conduct the debate on the Senate floor, Republican leaders went back behind closed doors in the hopes of getting Democratic leaders to cave on a few points to let Republicans save face and then come back and pass a bill.

But Republicans are facing pressure to cut a deal, too. People might not be sure whether they really needed health insurance reform, but they know that the banks need new regulation to at least put clear the card sharps out of the casino. Republicans managed to get the Tea Party to stand up for the poor, beleaguered insurance companies, but they are having a little more trouble working up much sympathy for the greedy oligarchs who, as one union organizer said, “crashed the economy and got bailed out by taxpayers.”

Also, it’s a little harder for Republicans to make the charge that Obama is in bed with Goldman Sachs after Obama’s Securities and Exchange Commission voted 3-2 to pursue fraud charges against the megabankers for running a derivatives scam — and the two commissioners who voted against pursuing the matter were the Bush holdovers. Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, have been shaking down Wall Street for contributions. And now the Republican senators were voting in bloc to stop the Wall Street reform bill from even coming up for debate.

As it stands now, four commercial banks — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup — control 40% of the nation’s $8 tln in bank deposits. Two investment banks — Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley — hold one third of the security industry’s $4.4 tln in assets. They nearly wrecked the world economy, browbeat Congress into bailing them out and then, flush with Federal Reserve cash, the bankers refused to relax credit for small and medium-sized businesses who had been forced to cut back, and the bankers balked at cutting breaks for the middle-class families who were sinking under the weight of ill-advised mortgages. Eight million jobs were lost, one in every eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure, $11 tln in household wealth was destroyed and cities, school districts, counties and states teeter on the edge of bankruptcy. But instead of pitching in, the megabanks spent $130 bln on executive bonuses and are pouring $1.4 mln a day into the Senate to stop real reform. “This is a fight about which side are you on — Main Street or Wall Street?” said Heather Booth, executive director of Americans for Financial Reform (ourfinancialsecurity.org), a coalition of unions, consumer and community organizations. “Main Street is organizing, forcing the politicians to decide whether they follow the money or support the American people.”

Simon Johnson, author of 13 Bankers: Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown, suggested at BaselineScenario.com (4/27) that the Democrats react to the stalling by strengthening the bill. “To win on this issue in November, the Democrats may need to simplify their message and make it more powerful,” Johnson wrote. “Some relatively pro-Wall Street Democrats are reluctant to do this, but if the Republicans stand united, nothing will pass — so why not propose something stronger that will go down to clear and memorable defeat, particularly after a searing debate?”

Among the populist amendments are Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)’s proposals to audit the Federal Reserve and break up the banks that are “too big to fail;” proposals by Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) to reinstate the Depression-era Glass-Steagall rules that were repealed in 1999 or proposal by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to institute the Volcker Rule, which would bar banks from speculating with their own money; Sanders’ amendment to strengthen oversight and regulation of ratings agencies; Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.)’s amendment to make the Consumer Financial Protection Agency independent of the Fed; and Reed’s amendment closing a loophole that might let private equity firms, venture capital firms and hedge funds avoid registering with the SEC.

The fact that the Tea Parties are not getting in Republican senators’ faces and yelling for the scalps of bankers is all the proof you need that the teabaggers are not an authentic populist movement.

WHERE ARE MODERATE REPUBS? Among the Republicans who cheered Arizona’s “Show Your Papers” law were Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-Calif.) who said “trained professionals” can identify illegal immigrants by clothing and behavior. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said, “If that’s what the people of Arizona want to do, then certainly they have that right.” Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said he didn’t “see anything wrong with that [the Arizona law].” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Arizona has the right to send the message that the federal government has not done a good enough job.” And Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) commended “Arizona for standing up for the Rule of Law and protecting American workers.”

Others were noncommittal but unwilling to denounce the bill. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said: “And my own view is until the federal government does our part back here by providing the resources that are necessary, and that could include, by the way, the financial resources to support National Guard troops on the border, then you are going to see more of this. It won’t just be the state of Arizona that passes laws like this.” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said, “I haven’t had a chance to look at all the aspects, but I do understand why the Legislature would act.” Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “I haven’t studied it.” Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio): said, “It has a 70% approval in Arizona and I think we ought to respect the people of Arizona and everyone should make their own decisions.”

The first Republican member of Congress to speak out against the Arizona law, according to ThinkProgress.org, was Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.). “I strongly disagree with the Arizona immigration law,” Diaz-Balart told the Miami Herald (4/23). “It alters American tradition and long-standing policy making immigration law enforcement a federal matter. Marco Rubio (R), Florida Senate candidate and the son of Cuban immigrants, said he has some “concerns” about the law, adding, “Throughout American history and throughout this administration we have seen that when government is given an inch it takes a mile.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared the law “unconstitutional” and “un-American” (4/27).

Some Republican former congressmen expressed their doubts. Tom Tancredo, who was known as a far-right ideologue on immigration when he represented Colorado, said he supported the state taking action on enforcing laws the federal government hasn’t enforced, but he questioned the wide latitude given police officers. “I do not want people here, there in Arizona, pulled over because you look like [you] should be pulled over,” Tancredo told a Denver TV station.

Joe Scarborough, former GOP congressman from Florida, said on his MSNBC show (4/27), “It does offend me when one out of every three citizens in the state of Arizona are Hispanics, and you have now put a target on the back of one out of three citizens, who, if they’re walking their dog around a neighborhood, if they’re walking their child to school, and they’re an American citizen, or a legal, legal immigrant — to now put a target on their back, and make them think that every time they walk out of their door they may have to prove something. I will tell you, that is un-American. It is unacceptable and it is un-American.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Fox News (4/23) called the bill an “irresponsible” and “misguided” measure that “threatens basic notions of fairness” and will open the state to a “plethora of lawsuits” that will prove “very, very costly ... It’s going to be one lawsuit bonanza.”

Then there was Bill Kristol, who said on Fox News (4/25) the state law will not violate anyone’s civil rights. “Will a few people get stopped perhaps because some policeman has reasonable suspicion that a person is illegal? Will he be stopped perhaps on the street and asked to provide his driver’s license? Yes. That is the huge horrible civil rights violation that’s going to occur 5 times or 8 times or 13 times in Arizona.”

That was too much for Juan Williams, who replied, “Bill Kristol said 8 to 13 times … someone’s going to stop some guy on the street. No. Let me tell you something, anybody now with a Hispanic accent, anybody with brown skin is going to get harassed.”

ARIZONA TRUCK DRIVER HELD FOR BIRTH PROOF. A truck driver says he was stopped at a weigh station outside Phoenix, Ariz., 4/21 and he was detained by immigration officials because he did not have his birth certificate on him. The driver, Abdon, who didn’t want his last name used, told KTVK-TV in Phoenix he showed the agent his commercial driver’s license. When asked for more ID, he told them his Social Security number. Then he was handcuffed, placed in a van and taken to the immigration office in Phoenix, where he was held while an agent called his wife at her job and told her to bring his Social Security card and birth certificate. Luckily, she was able to produce the papers for her husband and herself. Both Abdon, who speaks with a Spanish accent, and his wife, Jackie, were born in the United States and said they are infuriated that keeping important documents safely at home is no longer an option. “It doesn’t feel like it’s a good way of life, to live with fear of being stopped, even though we are okay, we are legal … we still have to carry documents around,” Jackie said.

A spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the TV reporter it was standard operating procedure to ask for someone’s birth certificate to verify if a person is in the country legally. She said it had nothing to do with the state law, which has not taken effect, or racial profiling.

Other Mexican-American truckers say they will avoid Arizona. Jesus Serrano, an independent trucker who hauls Mexican-grown produce from Nogales, Ariz., to Los Angeles, told McClatchy Newspapers (4/24) about 70 truckers in California and Arizona have agreed to stop moving loads into or out of Arizona in protest of the new law and he hoped to get 200 drivers on board. “We’re Hispanic; we’re Mexican. We’ve been saying, ‘Are we going to be getting stopped on our way to the store when we’re walking to get lunch somewhere?’” Serrano said. About 40% of Mexican produce consumed in North America comes through Nogales.

GRAHAM SHOCKED BY POLITICS IN CONGRESS. Lindsey Graham professed himself shocked and angry by the news that Democrats intended to move on immigration reform, prompting him to abruptly yank his support for climate change legislation, potentially killing it. But Greg Sargent noted at The Plum Line (4/26) that back in March, Graham told Obama that he wanted immigration reform to move this year. After a private meeting with Obama, Graham said, “The Administration must make this a priority as securing our borders is a confidence building measure in the eyes of the American people. I also encouraged the Administration to become engaged with the unions on the creation of a temporary worker program which meets the needs of business community.” Of course, at that time, Graham was trying to stop the President from moving forward on health care reform. Now that Obama wants to move on the issue that Graham said he should do in March, Graham thinks he should move on climate change.

DEMS READY ‘CITIZENS UNITED’ REACTION. Democrats plan to introduce legislation that would sharply limit the ability of foreign-connected companies to participate in US politics and require greater transparency from corporations, unions and nonprofit groups that pay for political advertising, the Washington Post reported (4/23). The proposal, drafted by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), is aimed at blunting the effect of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling in January that permits companies and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money for or against political candidates. President Obama has sharply attacked the ruling, and many Democrats fear it will unleash a flood of corporate spending that is likely to favor Republicans. According to a confidential summary, obtained by the Post, corporate chief executives or group leaders would be required to publicly attach their names to ads, much like political candidates are required to do. It would also mandate disclosure of major donors whose money is used for “campaign-related activity.” The measure would require powerful trade groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce for the first time to identify the companies that fund its political-related spending.

Other Democrats propose a constitutional amendment to strip a corporation’s personhood for First Amendment purposes.

Public Citizen (citizen.org) supports a constitutional amendment to ensure that corporate money doesn’t overwhelm democracy and clarify that the First Amendment is for people — not corporations. It also proposes measures giving congressional candidates a public financing alternative to elections bankrolled by corporations, and shareholders a say over corporate spending in elections.

A nationwide poll from Quinnipiac in April found that 79% of residents disapprove of the Citizens United ruling.

INSURER CANCELS BREAST CANCER VICS. WellPoint, a major health insurance corporation, routinely launches aggressive investigations of customers with breast cancer to find reasons to rescind their coverage, Reuters reported (4/22). According to government regulators and investigators, the affected customers had paid all their premiums and had no problems with their insurer until their cancer diagnoses. The health insurance reform law will prohibit such rescissions in October, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote a letter (4/22) to WellPoint CEO Angela Braly, urging her to immediately end the “deplorable” practice.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s blog noted that in the last five years 20,000 individual insurance policies were rescinded by three insurance companies (Assurant, UnitedHealth Group and WellPoint). WellPoint evaluated employee performance in part on the amount of money saved through retroactive rescissions of health insurance policies.

“WellPoint’s practice of dropping anyone’s coverage when they get sick — whether a woman with breast cancer or any other patient — is exactly the kind of insurance company abuse our new health care law prohibits,” Pelosi said.

“Soon every American can be secure knowing that their insurance companies cannot cancel their coverage because of an illness.

“And when Republican leaders call for repeal of the health reform law, they are endorsing a return to these abusive policies that have no place in our medical system.”

WASHINGTON STATE WILLING TO SOAK THE RICH. Washington state voters may be in the mood to follow the lead of Oregon voters who approved tax increase on high income earners and corporations in January to balance the state’s budget. A poll by Survey USA (4/21) found that 66% of Washington respondents would support a state income tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples making twice that if it cut the state property tax by 20% and ended the business and occupation tax for small businesses, as proposed by Initiative 1077. Washington currently has no income tax. Jonathan Singer noted at MyDD.com (4/22) that this measure, which would increase revenue while not raising taxes on the middle class, earns strong support across the board from the Washington electorate — not only from Democrats (75% support) but also from Independents (63% support) and even Republicans (57% support).

Initiative supporters need to collect more than 240,000 petition signatures by 7/2 to get on the November ballot. For more information see www.yeson1077.com or phone 206-225-4610.

SNEAK ATTACK ON GMO FOOD LABELING. The US delegation to a United Nations meeting on food safety and labeling standards is adopting a position that would make it virtually impossible to label foods as “GMO-free” anywhere in the world. According to draft language circulated by the Food and Drug Administration, the US will oppose a proposal at an upcoming meeting of the Codex Alimentarius that would allow the labeling of genetically engineered food. Consumers Union and more than 80 family farm, public health, environmental and organic food organizations have raised concerns that the US position will create major problems for American producers who want to label their products as “GMO-free.” Unfortunately, rather than taking a proactive stance on GMO labeling and standing up for the rights of American citizens, the Obama administration has incorporated pre-existing Bush administration positions stating that Codex should not “suggest or imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods,” CREDO Action reported. To join CREDO Action in calling on the US delegation to support proposals to allow countries to make their own decisions on labeling genetically engineered foods, see (act.credoaction.com/campaign/label_gmo/).

SEIU VP EYES LEADERSHIP. Mary Kay Henry, a leader of the health care division of the Service Employees International Union, has locked up the votes to succeed Andy Stern as union president, Steven Greenhouse reported in the *New York* Times (4/27). Stern had endorsed Anna Burger, the secretary-treasurer, but union officials told the *Times* Henry, 52, an executive vice president, has the support of locals representing nearly 60% of the union’s 1.9 mln members. Several service employee union officials said many leaders and members preferred Henry because Burger was viewed as too close to Stern, generating fears that she would take a top-down approach like the one many say he has taken. Shortly after Stern announced his plans (4/12), four executive vice presidents sent an e-mail message that developed huge momentum for Henry. It said: “Mary Kay’s greatest strength is her ability to build consensus and create a highly effective team around shared goals and responsibilities. Mary Kay is the type of leader who motivates rather than demands.”

Politico.com reported (4/26) that Henry circulated a memo to SEIU leaders to ensure “a smooth and unified transition” and downplay the perception that her election would mark a rupture with Stern’s leadership. She described herself as “enormously proud” of the union’s political successes, including among them the election of President Barack Obama and the passage of health care reform legislation. Henry also promised she would “expand” the union’s political efforts in 2010 as well as renew the commitment to organizing. She also promised to decentralize power that had been concentrated by Stern and said she would try to defuse turf wars with other unions, notably UNITE HERE.

GOP CELEBRATES GUNPOWDER TREASON PLOT. Josh Marshall of TalkingPointsMemo.com is bewildered (4/23) that “The Republican Governors Association is embracing the mantle of a 17th-century radical who tried but failed to pull off a mass casualty terrorist attack to kill the King of England and all of Parliament.” As Michael Scherer reported for *Time*’s Swampland blog (4/23), “The Republican Governors Association has embraced the symbolism of [Guy] Fawkes, launching a rather striking website, RememberNovember.com, with a video that showcases far more Hollywood savvy than one can usually expect from Republicans. Again, the Fawkes tale has been twisted a bit. This time, President Obama plays the roll of King James, the Democratic leadership is Parliament, and the Republican Party represents the aggrieved Catholic mass.”

Steve Benen noted at WashingtonMonthly.com (4/24) that Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.) organized a right-wing rally on Capitol Hill on Guy Fawkes Night 11/5/09, in the hopes of killing health care reform. After characterizing her followers as “insurgents” and “freedom fighters,” she urged far-right activists to, in her words, “scare” federal lawmakers. Benen concluded, “It’s a reminder that the Republican mainstream made a right turn at scary, and have arrived right at stark raving mad.”

Ironically, Guy Fawkes Night is celebrated in England for the failure of Fawkes’ plot to blow up Parliament on 11/5/1605, inspiring the popular verse: *Remember, remember the fifth of November / Gunpowder, Treason and Plot. / I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason / Should ever be forgot.*

MOVE ON FROM LIBERALISM. Liberalism is dead, Sam Smith declares at The Progressive Review (prorev.com), as liberal elites became disconnected from average people. “It started going into its final throes when liberals jumped aboard the Clinton campaign, claiming that the toy boy of the Democratic Abandonship Council was really a one of them. Later on, even the anti-worker and anti-environmental trade deals, the assault on welfare, and the deep corruption didn’t dissuade them. They were, if you asked, ‘being realistic.’” Smith wrote. “... The 2008 election offered the last big opportunity for liberals to show their worth. They found their candidate, elected him and then continued cheering as he escalated the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan, created a weak and ineffective economic recovery program, failed to deal with soaring foreclosures, announced plans for offshore oil drilling and a return of nuclear power, supported Israeli apartheid, signed an extension of the Patriot Act, approved unconstitutional wiretapping, opposed the protection of gay marriage, and created a huge new subsidy for private health insurers in the false name of universal healthcare.

“In short liberals sold themselves out with Clinton and now have sold us out with Obama.” But he sees hope for progressive populism, “which is to say a politics that is both progressive and also appeals to the American mainstream.” A progressive populist platform, Smith wrote, might include:

• A return to the 40 hour week established by the New Deal six decades ago. One recent survey found that 63% of Americans work more than a 40-hour week, with 40% working more than 50 hours a week. One reason for this: it save employers money on the anti-liberal private health insurance system that Obama has just boosted.

• A limit on credit card usury, such as a return to the sub-10% levels of the 1980s.

• Court-supervised restructuring of mortgages in foreclosure cases.

• A real public works program — such as one aimed as returning our rail system to its late 19th-century level — emphasizing jobs and visible improvements to the lives of communities.

• A big growth in support for small business, largely ignored by both major parties.

• A single-payer healthcare system.

• Support of community and state banks, cooperatives and other alternatives to the economic institutions that almost destroyed our economy.

“A progressive populist politics would be based on respect for all Americans, not just those who meet the cultural, class or ideological standards of an elite,” Smith wrote. “Unconvinced voters — from Tea Party members to the apathetic — would be regarded as a market and not a menace. It would be the job of the progressive populist politics to change their minds. This means replacing the MSNBC model of ‘aren’t they stupid’ with what the Quakers called the concept of ‘reciprocal liberty,’ i.e. you can’t have your freedom unless I have mine. In other words, all sides need to rediscover the idea of tolerance towards those with whom we disagree.”

From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2010


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