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“She Will Be Heard”: Elizabeth Warren Knows Where A Lot Of The Bodies Are Buried, Puts AIG On Notice

When new members arrive in the US Senate, they are supposed to take a seat on a back bench and listen quietly for a couple of years. That is not in Elizabeth Warren’s nature. She had been a US Senator from Massachusetts for only about a week when she broke with etiquette. Warren was outraged that AIG investors were urging the insurance giant’s directors to join them in a lawsuit against the federal government, claiming damages from the federal bailout of their company during the financial crisis.

The freshman senator sent out a tartly worded statement to her many fans and followers. “AIG should thank American taxpayers for their help—not bite the hand that fed them,” Warren wrote. The message swept the blogosphere like wild fire. The AIG directors folded the next day. It is perhaps mistaken to assume her voice alone stopped this corporate ingratitude in its tracks, but that may well be the message absorbed in Washington politics. Try not to provoke this new senator, especially on the stuff she knows a lot about. She might bite back.

Indeed, Senator Warren has renewed the accusation about the AIG bailout she had made a year ago during her Senate campaign. While the Federal Reserve pumped a fortune ($182 billion) into saving AIG from failure and thereby protected Wall Street megabanks from huge losses, the Treasury Department was arranging its own “sleuth bailout,” as Warren charged. Treasury granted an exception to the standard tax rules that delivered billions more to AIG in the form of a special tax break.

The company was effectively relieved from paying any taxes despite the fact that it has returned to profitability and repaid the Federal Reserve loans. The senator called on her supporters to join a campaign to end AIG’s special tax break. “Enough is enough…,” she wrote. “These special tax giveaways give AIG a competitive advantage over its competitors—all the while inflating AIG’s profit numbers and compensation for executives.”

What separates Elizabeth Warren from your typical newcomer to Congress—in addition to the rare gutsiness—is her deep knowledge of banking and finance. For many years, while she taught at the Harvard law school, Warren was a lonely crusader, exposing predatory bankers and the cruel terms by which millions of families were driven into bankruptcy.

Her reputation led to appointment as the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel that investigated the AIG bailout in great depth. The COP final report is itself an extraordinary document of government—clear and concise, an unflinching analysis that describes exactly how the Federal Reserve and the Treasury failed to serve the public interest in their incestuous bailout of Wall Street titans.

“The AIG rescue demonstrated that Treasury and the Federal Reserve would commit taxpayers to pay any price and bear any burden to prevent the collapse of America’s largest financial institutions,” Warren’s report concluded.

She will be heard. The new senator will serve on the Senate banking committee and she already knows where a lot of the bodies are buried. I suspect some of those disgruntled AIG investors are wishing they had kept their whining to themselves.


By: William Greider, The Nation, January 10, 2013

January 11, 2013 Posted by | Banks | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Defense Hawks Swoop”: House Republicans Pushing Back Strongly Against John Boehner On Defense Cuts

John Boehner should probably stop doing interviews.

His reported talk with the Wall Street Journal‘s Stephen Moore that was published Monday under the provocative title “The Education of John Boehner” (an illusion, I am confident, to William Greider’s famous “The Education of David Stockman” piece in late 1981 that nearly got Stockman fired as Reagan’s budget director) is continuing to cause him problems. Intended, presumably, to convey a sadder-but-wiser-and-tougher sense of his negotiating posture on fiscal issues after the “fiscal cliff” deal, the story got lots of attention for Boehner’s assertion that “the tax issue is resolved,” and some for his depiction of the stark differences between himself and the president on every basic fiscal and economic issue.

But the part of the story that’s biting him in the butt right now involves the spending sequestration that was recently delayed for two months, and that had been widely considered a leverage point for the White House with Republicans, given their frantic desire to spare the Pentagon any cuts. The Hill‘s Russell Berman and Jeremy Herb explain:

In his interview with The Wall Street Journal, Boehner said that during the late stages of the fiscal-cliff negotiations, it was the White House — and not Republican leaders — that demanded a delay in the $109 billion in scheduled 2013 cuts evenly split between defense and domestic discretionary programs. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Vice President Biden ultimately agreed to push the sequester back by two months, partially offsetting it with other spending cuts and leaving $85 billion in remaining 2013 cuts in place.

The Speaker suggested the sequester was a stronger leverage point for Republicans than the upcoming deadline to raise the debt ceiling, for which he is insisting on spending cuts and reforms that exceed the amount in new borrowing authority for the Treasury. Therefore, the willingness of Republicans to allow the sequester to take effect is “as much leverage as we’re going to get,” Boehner told the Journal.

Negotiating 101 tells you that you don’t make that kind of assertion unless you’ve got your ducks in a row and know you won’t be undercut by the people you claim to be speaking for. It seems Boehner did not do any of those things:

House Republican defense hawks are pushing back strongly against Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) claim that he has GOP support to allow steep automatic budget cuts to take effect if President Obama does not agree to replace them with other reductions….

Not so fast, two defense-minded House Republicans told The Hill.

“I don’t support that,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a member of the Armed Services Committee whose district includes one of the nation’s largest military installations. “You get into dangerous territory when you talk about using national security as a bargaining chip with the president…”

One defense-minded Republican lawmaker said Boehner’s position would amount to a broken promise to his conference.

“In order to get the Republican Conference to pass the debt-limit increase last time, he promised them sequestration would not go in place,” the Republican House member said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “To be using sequestration and these defense cuts in the next debt-limit talks certainly is pretty bad déjà vu for the Republican Conference.”

So all Boehner really accomplished in his boast to Stephen Moore was supplying further evidence that he had it backwards: Obama has the leverage on the defense sequester, and Boehner is just blustering.

You know, there’s a natural tendency to think that people who have risen to the top of any profession are reasonably bright, and are advised by dazzlingly bright folk who truly earn their bloated salaries as strategic wizards. Time and again, that turns out not to be so true.

BY: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 10, 2013

January 11, 2013 Posted by | Budget | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Wrong Hands”: If We Knew Whose Hands Were Right And Whose Were Wrong, Stopping Gun Violence Would Be Easy

The other day, former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly (or as he is for some reason always referred to as, “Astronaut Mark Kelly”; I guess if you’re an astronaut you get that) announced that they have started a new initiative, Americans for Responsible Solutions, to push for new laws to limit gun violence. I have great admiration for both of them and I hope they succeed, but there was something I heard Kelly say in an interview that was worthy of note, and a bit unfortunate. He noted that they’re not trying to take away anyone’s guns, and they’re gun owners themselves. They just want to make sure guns stay out of “the wrong hands.” The problem with this—and I think it’s something well-meaning people probably say a lot without giving it too much thought—is that it assumes that the lines are clear between the right hands and the wrong hands, and if we could just make sure no wrong hands got guns, we’d all be safe.

There are some people who should definitely not have access to guns, like convicted felons, or people with severe mental illness, or teenagers, whose ability to make clear, reasoned judgments is extraordinarily poor. But once you get beyond that, the idea that we can make an a priori distinction between people who should have guns and who shouldn’t is a fantasy. There are around 30,000 gun deaths in America every year, and only a tiny percentage of those are from mass shootings committed by people who have gone completely over the edge. Many gun crimes are committed by people who got their guns illegally, and if you did that your hands are wrong by definition. But that inevitably leaves thousands of gun deaths (including suicides; because of the proliferation of guns in America, we have far higher success rates for suicides here than in other similar countries) attributable to people who would have seemed like “the right hands” until they shot somebody.

The fantasy that society is made up of clearly distinguishable “good guys” and “bad guys” is something the NRA and the gun manufacturers fervently want us all to believe. As Rick Perlstein writes, Ronald Reagan was more responsible than anyone for weaving this idea into the fabric of conservatism:

For them, it’s almost as if “evildoers” glow red, like ET: everyone just knows who they are. My favorite example from studying Reagan was the time news came out that Vice President Spiro Agnew was being investigated for bribery. The Governor of California told David Broder, “I have known Ted Agnew to be an honest and and honorable man. He, like any other citizen of high character, should be considered innocent until proven otherwise.” Citizen of high character: I don’t remember that line in my Constitution. That same week, he said of an alleged cop killer, not yet tried, that he deserved the electric chair.

As long as we continue to believe that we can easily tell who the bad guys are and that every gun death isn’t an argument spun out of control or an abusive husband who killed his wife or an impulsive suicide attempt that might not have ended that way, but instead they were all scenes out of a Schwarzenegger movie, we’ll delude ourselves into thinking that some meaningful proportion of those 30,000 deaths can be prevented if we just take their guns—or, as the NRA would have it, make sure there’s somebody around to return fire when they come for our children. And then we’ll have squandered this opportunity.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January 10, 2013

January 11, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Batty Birtherville”: Birthers Still Trying To Stop President Obama’s Inauguration

They’re willing to give him a pass on the first time, but if Chief Justice John Roberts swears in President Barack Obama this time around, the birthers are ready for him.

In an op-ed published last week by WND, Craige McMillan says Roberts could be impeached by Congress if he swears in the president, whom McMillan says is not a natural-born citizen.

From McMillan’s op-ed:

If you choose the easy course of ignoring our Constitution, it does not change the fact that Mr. Obama is barred by that same Constitution from acting as president. I am sure that if you turn your judicial mind to the ramifications of this fraud, both foreign and domestic, you will understand that the harm you will have done insures your impeachment and eternal dishonor at some point down the road: If not this House of Representatives, then the next, or the next, or the next.

These things do not end well. One need only look to the aftermath of World War II and the Nuremberg Trials to see what awaits. Illegal wars. Illegal debts. Illegal laws. Will the rest of the Supreme Court’s justices, now knowing they are violating their own oath of office, continue the sham through a second presidential term?

The rant, first brought to our attention by The Huffington Post, goes on to urge Roberts to refuse to administer the oath of office.

But The National Memo, a political newsletter and website, is not having it.

In an op-ed called “Today In Crazy,” the publication writes “the reliably unhinged crazies over at WorldNetDaily” are just being melodramatic.

From The National Memo:

“Too bad this particular trip to Batty Birtherville, despite its darkly turgid undertones, is about as legitimate as all the others. It’s the same old song and dance… they demand to see the birth certificate. They are shown the birth certificate. They claim birth certificate can’t be real. Then they start shrieking that he “refuses” to show the birth certificate. They are again shown the birth certificate. They’re then shown the birth announcement from the local Hawaii newspaper from 1961. So they scream louder, “WHERE’S THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE?” because the proof that it exists is overwhelming, and everyone knows that the louder you scream, the more right you are… even in the face of mounting and irrefutable proof that you’re wrong.”

The chief justice doesn’t seem too concerned about the impeachment threats since he’s scheduled to administer the oath both on Sunday, Jan. 20, and Monday, Jan. 21, CBS News reported last week.


By: Abby Rogers, Business Insider, January 10, 2013

January 11, 2013 Posted by | Birthers | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gun Sanity Needs Bipartisanship”: A Political Truth That Must Be Faced By Republicans

The first and most important victory for advocates of sensible gun laws would, on almost any other matter, seem trivial. But when it comes to firearms, it’s huge: Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, attention to the issue has not waned and pressure for action has not diminished.

Please don’t dismiss this achievement. Consider that until so many children were gunned down, the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers for which it speaks were able to block calls for a legislative response in the wake of one massacre after another.

After the shootings at a Colorado movie theater last summer, politicians were quickly intimidated into reciting bromides that drowned a real debate in blather. Nothing happened.

And nothing happened in January 2011 after the mass shooting at a town meeting in Tucson, where Rep. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head. Six people were killed, and 13 others, including Giffords, were wounded.

Her gradual recovery has been a miracle of modern medicine and her determination. Now she and Mark Kelly, her astronaut husband, have been moved by the Newtown, Conn., shootings to help lead the nation’s new turn on gun violence. They marked the second anniversary of the Tucson episode to announce the formation of Americans for Responsible Solutions, and they minced no words in an op-ed piece in USA Today on Tuesday, criticizing “special interests purporting to represent gun owners but really advancing the interests of an ideological fringe.”

“Weapons designed for the battlefield have a home in our streets,” they wrote. “Criminals and the mentally ill can easily purchase guns by avoiding background checks. Firearm accessories designed for killing at a high rate are legal and widely available.”

Giffords embodies this embrace of a new attitude that one might call “solutionism.” It’s heartening that political leaders from states and districts with long histories of supporting gun rights are now breaking with the gun lobby’s extremism.

It’s also encouraging that Vice President Biden, charged by President Obama with responsibility for proposing a comprehensive approach to the problem, is reportedly going big. He is ready to start with the necessary minimum — a renewal of a more effective ban on assault weapons, a ban on high-capacity magazines and extending background checks on private gun sales. The last really matters, since the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns estimates that perhaps 40 percent of all gun sales are made by unlicensed private dealers.

But Biden is also looking at how to improve enforcement of existing laws. The authorities should not be prevented from collecting the data they need both for intelligent policy and to track illegal guns. Measures to crack down on gun trafficking, along the lines proposed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer of New York, should thus be included, too.

But there is a political truth that must be faced: Absolutely nothing positive will happen on this issue unless a substantial number of Republicans insist that we act. And before you give up hope, it’s worth remembering that in 1994, 38 House Republicans supported the assault-weapons ban on a roll call in May, and 46 supported the crime bill, which included the ban, that eventually passed later in the year.

Yes, the GOP is very different now, more conservative and more dominated by Southern and rural voices. But key Republican senators, including Mark Kirk, John McCain and Dan Coats, have been willing to back reasonable gun laws in the past. The GOP’s House majority includes 12 members from New York and New Jersey, 13 from Pennsylvania, 44 from the Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, and 20 from the West Coast.

A large share of these Republicans, particularly those from the Northeast, are growing impatient with the extent to which their party’s image is being shaped by the wishes and opinions of its most right-wing members, many of them from one-party districts in the South. Suburban Republicans especially need to declare their independence from viewpoints antithetical to those held by the vast majority of their constituents.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been working hard with such Republicans, but he needs allies. Groups such as No Labels tout the virtues of nonpartisanship. They could demonstrate their effectiveness by joining Bloomberg’s efforts.

And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is enjoying plaudits from those who see him as blazing an independent path. The former prosecutor should be eager to earn them by standing up for tough action on guns.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 9, 2013

January 11, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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