Archive for May 4th, 2009
I just watched the movie Soapdish again, and I really believe that it’s a perfect farce. A wonderful farcical plot, which—since it involves the production of a TV soap opera—occurs in a milieu with which all the cast are familiar. And, of course, the plot and resolution of the movie itself are soap operatic. And the cast is superb. Altogether, a movie to treasure.
Provoked in part by China’s reaction to the world flu threat, a rich flow of responses about the country’s sensitivity to outside criticism, its responsibilities as a major world power, the current state of its public morals, and the rest. In response to this recent message asking for greater Western "understanding" of China and saying that outsiders go much easier on Indian than on China, an eloquent reply from Xiaoxiao Huang:
I am also an overseas Chinese, but I don’t share the sentiment the Chinese reader has shown in his two messages to you. I’d like to share with you my opinion of his take on the role of the media, and China’s human rights issue.
I am always suspicious of the whole concept of a united "Western Media" against China as if Fox News, Le Monde, and Süddeutsche Zeitung were controlled by a multi-national Central Propaganda Department. As a Communications major, my understanding of the news media is that they should truthfully report and inform to the best of their knowledge. It is not the job of the Western media (or media of any origin) to "encourage" and babysit a foreign country. Maybe it’s time that the Chinese try getting used to the fact that every Western country is "unique" as well, some of them believe in things that we do not believe, and it’s OK.
The reader suggest that the Western media "tolerate the minor human rights problems and individual sufferings". I’ll bet that this reader’s rights have never been violated before. Based on the message of the reader (that he was financially able to support himself to go to the West and has stay "several years" so far), my guesses are that he’s from a comparatively well-heeded family; he lived in a secured environment when he was in China; and he’s not even remotely close to anyone who had been beaten to death because of police brutality (or any other kind of human rights violation). It’s very ironic to see such comment shortly after push-ups became suicide-inducive in Guizhou, and the game of "Eluding the Cat" became lethal in Yunnan. I wonder how many people have to die for ridiculous reasons before the reader could realize that the real problem is not that human rights issues are "minor" in China, but that they are too remote to have an impact on him.
We’re used to talk about what "the Chinese" think based on what we see on the Internet. A recent study by CNNIC shows that China has 300,000,000 netizens. A lot. But China also has a huge population of 1.3 billion. So those who can afford to access the Internet were less than a quarter of the population in the first place. And of those who do have access, the majority of them live in urban area, hence, in general much well-off than the rest of China (and pretty indifferent to the rest of China as well).
Since China has a huge population, tightly controlled domestic media, and usually very successful propaganda schemes, it’s very easy to be completely ignorant of the suffering of many fellow citizens and call a big issue "minor" simply because one is not personally affected by it. I see that the U.S has some human rights issues of her own. But no concerned American citizens would think that the "minor" problem of sexually abuse an Iraqi prisoner (not even a "fellow citizen"!) in Guantanamo is "tolerable".
On the India analogy. India has two things that China desperately needs: democracy and transparency. It’ll be very strange for the Western media to "misunderstand" China and be "hostile" toward her, if China happens to have either.
I don’t get this. Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent:
Lotta good that did.
The Obama administration last Friday issued an official statement in support of mortgage lending reforms that would allow some struggling homeowners to avoid foreclosures by filing for bankruptcy — an option that’s prohibited under current law. Too bad for housing advocates and imminent foreclosure victims, the statement arrived a day after the Senate voted to kill a bill — sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — that would have provided the bankruptcy changes the White House endorses.
The oddly timed statement is just the latest evidence that the Obama White House, while claiming to support the bankruptcy reforms, also hasn’t gone out of its way to see that they’re passed. A New York Times editorial calls out the administration today:
The Obama administration sat by last week as 12 Senate Democrats joined 39 Senate Republicans to block a vote on an amendment that would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify troubled mortgages.
Senator Obama campaigned on the provision. And President Obama made its passage part of his antiforeclosure plan. It would have been a very useful prod to get lenders to rework bad loans rather than leaving the modification to a judge.
But when the time came to stand up to the banking lobbies and cajole yes votes from reluctant senators — the White House didn’t. When the measure failed, there wasn’t even a statement of regret.
And then there’s the White House statement itself, which makes a carefully phrased endorsement of “appropriately tailored bankruptcy language,” but leaves open the possibility that it’s not including the Durbin proposal in that description.
The Administration also supports appropriately tailored bankruptcy legislation to provide a mechanism for homeowners who are out of other options to file for bankruptcy and implement a responsible plan to pay the debts that they are able to pay. Notwithstanding the Senate vote on the Durbin Amendment, the Administration looks forward to working with the Congress to address this issue.
This statement makes the most sense if you replace “notwithstanding” with “after spurning.”
James Fallows has a good post that begins:
The Atlantic has been your one-stop site for all aspects of the "F-22 question" — the decision on whether to buy more copies of the Air Force’s latest fighter plane. Mark Bowden’s article in the magazine here; various perspective from me here, here, and here; SecDef Robert Gates’s rationale in calling off purchases discussed here and here.
Apart from the F-22, the other fighter in gestation over the past decade has been the "Joint Strike Fighter," known as the F-35, shown here in vertical take-off mode for use by the Marine Corps. (Photo via Discovery channel). It is also designed to take off and land "normally," from a runway, for the Air Force version, and a from an aircraft carrier deck for the Navy’s…
The exclusive 4 minute extended version of the moment 13,500 people spontaneously sang Hey Jude together in Trafalgar Square. Everyone involved arrived thinking they could be dancing – no-one had any idea how the event would unfold.
Thanks, people: Canadian health officials have found the new H1N1 flu virus in a swine herd in Alberta. They apparently caught it from a human who recently traveled to Mexico. (Reuters) The USDA says in a hasty statement, Not to worry, the virus is still not in our swine, but um, stay away from pigs if you’re sneezing. We don’t want them to catch this bug made from their genetic material that definitely didn’t come from them in the first place.
It ain’t no hamthrax: The Times reports that the WHO said Saturday that there was no evidence of sustained spread in communities outside North America, which would fit the definition of a pandemic. New Scientist concludes that it spreads barely well enough to keep itself going, so we may not be headed for a repeat of 1918. Or are we? Turns out the 1918 flu pandemic, caused by another H1N1 virus, started with a mild, early wave that exploded with a much deadlier second phase.
H1N1 virus tied to hogs, from unimpeachable source : In accessible scientific prose even this English major can follow, pandemic flu reporter Debora MacKenzie outlines the genealogy of our little un-friend H1N1, explains how and when the swine variants mixed with human and avian ones, and lays the blame squarely but restrainedly at the feet of the livestock health industry, which knew about its potential danger but didn’t communicate much with its human-monitoring colleagues. “The evidence suggests that swine flu was a disaster waiting to happen,” she writes. (New Scientist) Meanwhile over at Grist, Tom Philpott rolls up the New Scientist article and uses it to swat Big Pork, whose representative keeps on insisting that “it’s not swine flu, it’s human flu,” as if that’s going to resuscitate pork chop sales.
H1N1 virus tied to hogs, from a source no one will listen to : In a dense, heavily footnoted piece, Michael Greger, MD, cites numerous cases of mutated swine-flu outbreaks in pig factories around the U.S. and explains why they are perfect breeding grounds for ever-newer forms of deadly viruses. But since he’s also the director of public health for the Humane Society, you will probably not be seeing him on Fox News. (HSUS.org)
Caught in a pig lie : Don’t miss Debora MacKenzie’s accompanying, far more outraged blog post about how everyone’s closing ranks to keep this from harming the pork industry. “So if you cross your fingers behind your back and keep a straight face you can state baldly that this virus has not been seen in pigs before,” she writes. “Well, obviously this virus is different – its siblings have never spread readily in people before either. But the people making these statements know perfectly well that the Mexican flu virus is the very recent descendant of one of the triple reassortants that have been circulating in the US for a decade.” (New Scientist)
Pope-ularity contest : CNBC’s Erin Burnett sat down with Smithfield CEO Larry Pope today for a friendly nuzzle, apparently designed to help the pork industry get the message out that you can’t catch influenza from your bacon. Which is true (as far as we know). Pity that message had to be delivered with a nice juicy helping of lies, aided and abetted by the USDA, about how there is “No tie-in between this influenza and any pigs” and “absolutely no evidence that ties influenza back to our industry.” (Uh, guys? Meet Ms. MacKenzie and lots of science-y types, above.) Other Pope statements that had us gagging: “I’m extremely proud of how we are from a corporate social responsibility standpoint.…We do something in all the communities that we do business.” Related: Pope also sent a letter to all employees reassuring them that the company was doing everything it can to prop up its share price combat the “sensationaliz[ation] of this serious illness.” Because, Pope assured them — articles like “Boss Hog,” Rolling Stone’s searing indictment of the company’s environmental, animal welfare, and labor record notwithstanding — “our first priority as a company is to ensure the health and safety of our herds and our employees so that consumers can trust our products.” (Smithfield Foods)
The other fright meat: The National Pork Board will launch a national media campaign next week to assure consumers that pork is safe. (Brownfield) This one will be paid, we assume, versus the volunteer one going on right now.
Pork industry squealing like a stuck pig: Swine flu, which caused hog prices to drop 10% this week, could not have come at a worse time for the pork industry, staggering since late 2007 from record high feed prices and suffering from the same recession as the rest of us. Reuters reporter Bob Burgdorfer regurgitates whole, without attribution, the Big Pork party line that the “flu…has no connection to pigs other than containing swine flu genetic sequences.” (Reuters) Related: HuffPo writer David Kirby, author of a forthcoming book on CAFOs, blasts Reuters for editorializing about the “wild theories” of swine flu’s origin in “evil factory farming” (kinda like we do, but hey, we’re a blog, not an international news agency).
This little piggy: Hog farmer and most frequent Ethicurean commenter Walter Jeffries writes about how H1N1 is affecting his pork sales. As he told Fox44 News in a TV interview, it’s not. (Sugar Mtn Farm)
Tick tock pig clock: Good, detective-show-style rundown of how U.S. and Mexican germ sleuths first realized they faced a new type of disease and began racing to isolate its earliest origins. (Wall Street Journal) The L.A. Times has its own version (which, by the way, also says the virus originated in pigs).
Healthcare reform, STAT!: Nicholas Kristof beats the drum for national healthcare, saying “The flu crisis should be a wake-up call, a reminder that one of our vulnerabilities to the possible pandemic is our deeply flawed medical system.” Sounds like all the makings of a blockbuster movie: millions of Americans without access to health care, a severe recession, overextended hospitals, and a nasty new killer virus. (NY Times.com)
Very cool—but uses flash, EP.
Take a look, and you can see why I can easily buy organic produce.
If you don’t want people to think of your party as a collection of racists, how about not putting racists in important positions? Jeff Sessions as Ranking Member on Senate Judiciary, for example. He once told a white civil rights lawyer that he was "a disgrace to his race" for litigating voting-rights cases.
The Oklahoma GOP recently held their state convention. And judging by the party platform they adopted, it seems the GOP rebranding effort has a long road ahead. The platform is genuinely creepy – and apparently uninfluenced by Meghan McCain’s Twitter feed. (The blog Forever in Hell has multiple posts on the platform, and was my original source. The GOP platform itself is available here and here*).
Anyway, I know Kevin Drum has previously noted the looneyness of the Texas GOP platform. And the Oklahoma platform has a lot of similarities. You know, all the good stuff you’d expect like withdrawing from the UN, restoring the gold standard, requiring biblical creation education, and Taliban-like intrusions on all matters related to sex (e.g., abortion, pornography, indecency regulation, no-fault divorces, Gardasil vaccinations).
But what’s most scary about this platform is its obsessive focus with homosexuality. The level of hate and vitriol directed at homosexuals by this document – adopted by a state political party – is jarring. If the national GOP is curious about the source of its image problems, look no further than to the Oklahoma GOP platform. It’s legitimately frightening. (On an aside, I think the intensity of this institutional hatred further supports judicial efforts to protect equality).
What’s most disturbing is that the platform references homosexuality again and again in multiple sections. But of all these references, the section below takes the taco – it’s truly the worst thing in the entire document.
This passage comes from a section called “Commendations” (p.29):
7. We commend state Representatives Wright, Blackwell, Christian, Coody, Duncan, Enns, Faught, Johnson, Kern, Key, Liebmann, Moore, Murphey, Osborn, Ownbey, Reynolds, Ritze, Sanders, Terrill, and Thomsen for opposing inclusion in the House Journal, the introduction of an openly homosexual minister’s male “fiancé”.
At the beginning of Oklahoma’s legislative session last February, the only openly gay Oklahoma legislator invited a gay pastor to give the opening prayer. In introducing himself before that prayer, the pastor had the audacity to say: “dear friends, my wonderful parents, and my loving partner and fiancé, Michael.”
Well, that last bit crossed the line and several GOP legislators objected and wanted his subsequent prayer excluded from the official House record. They lost 64-20, but the Oklahoma GOP felt the need to formally commend the Fightin’ Twenty in its party platform for their efforts. Nice work team.
Note too the platform’s quotation marks around fiancé. You can almost feel the Christian love and tolerance. (Also, Jones has a blog and wrote about the incident here).
This obnoxious provision, however, is far from alone. Below the fold, I’ve listed other provisions in the platform that explicitly reference homosexuality (I excluded hate crime stuff, but that should arguably be in too).
As you’re reading, note how many different sections of the platform reference homosexuality in some way. Note too the provision that would – by my reading – ban homosexuals from being teachers or interacting with children in any professional context.
It’s an eerie and creepy obsession. It’s more than that actually. It’s just hateful – and that’s about as precise an adjective as I can conjure to describe the Oklahoma GOP at the moment.
STATEMENT OF PRINCIPLES (p.3) …
Continue reading for some amazing statements in the Oklahoma GOP’s principals.
I won’t do this often, but I wanted you to see how well she analyzes what the mainstream media attempt to feed us:
By: emptywheel Monday May 4, 2009 8:13 am
The NYT allowed a bunch of gosslings to tell them a story anonymously that they were unwilling–at least partly for legal reasons–to say on the record. They told a story of Porter Goss heroically refusing Stephen Hadley’s (and by association, Dick Cheney’s) pressure to keep the CIA in the torture business.
Acutely aware that the agency would be blamed if the policies lost political support, nervous C.I.A. officials began to curb its practices much earlier than most Americans know: no one was waterboarded after March 2003, and coercive interrogation methods were shelved altogether in 2005.
Provoked by the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and pushed by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who had been tortured by the North Vietnamese, the 2005 bill banned cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Top C.I.A. officials then feared that the agency’s methods could actually be illegal. Mr. Goss, who had succeeded Mr. Tenet at the C.I.A., wrote a memorandum to the White House saying the agency would carry out no harsh interrogations without new Justice Department approval.
The national security advisor, Mr. Hadley, was angered by the C.I.A.’s response. He called Mr. Goss at home over the Christmas holidays to complain; Mr. Goss, backed by his lawyers, would not budge. Mr. Hadley decided he could not push the C.I.A. to do what it thought might be illegal.
But there’s a problem with this story.
Grenier was head of Counterterrorism at the CIA during the Christmas holiday of 2005-6. Yet he was fired within weeks of Goss’ heroic stand against torture because–CIA sources said–he was "insufficiently forceful" against al Qaeda.
His boss at the clandestine service, the nation’s senior human intelligence officer, was said to regard him as insufficiently forceful in the battle with al Qaeda.
"The word on Bob was that he was a good officer, but not the one for the job and not quite as aggressive as he might have been," one official said.
Vincent Cannistraro was more explicit about what "not aggressive enough" means: that Grenier was opposed to waterboarding.
Vincent Cannistraro, a former head of counter-terrorism at the agency, said: “It is not that Grenier wasn’t aggressive enough, it is that he wasn’t ‘with the programme’. He expressed misgivings about the secret prisons in Europe and the rendition of terrorists.”
Grenier also opposed “excessive” interrogation, such as strapping suspects to boards and dunking them in water, according to Cannistraro.
And while Grenier himself said the continued disappearance of the High Value Detainees was a big part of the problem, he also raised the insufficient clarity in law following the McCain Amendment–precisely the problem Goss is said to have confronted.
Now, it may be that Jose Rodriguez (the "boss at the clandestine service" described in the first excerpt) decided to sack Grenier without the input of or against the wishes of his own boss, Porter Goss (precisely the tale, of course, that Goss tells about the destruction of the torture tapes just months earlier). It may be that Cheney went through Goss to Rodriguez to get him to fire Grenier (note, in the NPR interview, Grenier makes it clear he was unloved at the White House). It may be that Grenier was the source of the pushback that Goss now claims credit for. It may really be that Rodriguez and Grenier supported the same policies, but just despised each other.
But if Porter Goss really did resolve this issue at the end of 2005, then it would have mooted one of the big reasons for ousting Grenier. Nevertheless, Grenier was sacked, just weeks later. (Then again, Goss himself was sacked just months later.)
Now, I don’t know what the explanation is–why Goss claims to have stood against torture in December-January but then overseen the firing of someone for being insufficiently pro-torture in February. Maybe, there’s a perfectly good explanation. But for the moment, the gosslings refusing to say these things on the record for legal reasons aren’t giving that good explanation.
From the Center for American Progress:
On Friday, Supreme Court Justice David Souter officially announced his intention to resign at the end of the Court’s term in June, setting up President Obama for a key decision that will shape his legacy. Making a surprise appearance during the White House press briefing that afternoon, Obama explained that he will choose someone with not only "a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity," but also a "quality of empathy." "I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book," said Obama. "It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives — whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation." Obama has also promised to consult with both Democrats and Republicans on his pick, but conservatives automatically went into attack mode just hours after news broke of Souter’s departure. During the Bush administration, congressional Republicans insisted that presidents should be allowed wide latitude to choose their Supreme Court nominees and claimed that the use of the filibuster when approving them is unconstitutional. Will they adhere to these views now that a Democratic president is in office?
From the Center for American Progress:
In the wake of President Obama’s release of Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel torture memos, several members of Congress have been pushing for a "truth commission" that would independently investigate the previous administration’s approval of torture. Thus far, the idea has sparked the ire of many congressional Republicans. Yesterday, on The Chris Matthews Show, NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kelly O’Donnell reported that some congressional Democrats were considering "a different way to go at accountability of the so-called torture memos." "Senior Democrats have told me that they might look at the possibility of were there false statements made to Congress, was there any perjury, when some of the people involved in policy and legal parts of all of that appeared before Congress a few years ago," she explained. Though O’Donnell reported that some "senior Democrats" are seeking "a different approach" to investigating the Bush administration’s torture policies, at least one top Democrat is still pushing for a truth commission. In a Boston Globe op-ed yesterday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) wrote, "I still believe my proposal for a Commission of Inquiry remains the best way to move forward with a comprehensive, nonpartisan, independent review of what happened.
ThinkProgress’s Faiz Shakir lays out the process:
Last week, in an appalling show of corporate greed, “a small group of speculators” sank the Obama administration’s proposed Chrysler deal for just “an extra fifteen cents on the dollar.” The selfish greed of the hedge funds may, however, have produced a good result by forcing Chrysler into the bankruptcy process.
The New York Times reported on Friday, “whatever the outcome, this bit of brinkmanship — which many characterized as a game of chicken with Washington — has become yet another public relations disaster for Wall Street.” But instead, this story of corporate greed has now been turned into a right-wing attack on President Obama. Here’s how it happened in three simple steps.
Step 1: Right-Wing Radio Gives Corporate Hedge Funds A Venue To Attack Obama
In an interview with Detroit-based conservative talk show host Frank Beckmann on Friday, Tom Lauria — a corporate lawyer representing the hedge funds calling themselves the Committee of Chrysler Non-Tarp Lenders — alleged that one of its members, the investment firm Perella Weinberg, was “directly threatened by the White House” if it did not cooperate with the Obama’s administration’s rescue plan. (Perella was Rahm Emanuel’s former investment partner.)
Lauria claimed that Perella withdrew its opposition to the government deal because the White House threatened “that the full force of the White House press corps would destroy its reputation if it continued to fight.” (Listen here.)
Step 2: Right-Wing Pressures White House Reporters To Take Up Its Attack
After the story was cooked up by right-wing hate radio, it was peddled to members of the White House press corps, at least one of whom took the bait. On his radio show on Friday, right-wing talker Mark Levin discussed Lauria’s claims against Obama, and then called on his listeners to pressure the White House press corps — specifically ABC’s Jake Tapper — to report the story:
LEVIN: Somebody needs to pursue what’s going on in the White House behind the scenes! And stop playing games and making nice! American citizens — whatever walk of life they’re in — should not be threatened by the White House! Should not be told we’re going to drag you through the mud with the White House press corps! So confident is the White House that they have the White House press corps wrapped around their little finger! Maybe Jake Tapper will take a look at this. Ask that doofus — Gibbs.
Levin works for the ABC Radio Networks. Tapper works for ABC News.
Step 3: ABC’s Jake Tapper Picks It Up, Drudge Promotes It
A day after Levin’s show aired, ABC’s White House correspondent Jake Tapper gave the right-wing attacks the platform they were looking for. Tapper reported, “A leading bankruptcy attorney representing hedge funds and money managers told ABC News Saturday that Steve Rattner, the leader of the Obama administration’s Auto Industry Task Force, threatened one of the firms.” After Tapper reported it, Drudge linked to his story and helped give it further amplification:
Both the White House and Perella Weinberg have released statements to ABC News denying the accusations made by Tom Lauria and the right-wing echo chamber. Bottom line: the right wing has morphed a story of corporate greed into a false political attack against Obama.
On my last visit to the dental hygienist, she strongly recommended that I get a Waterpik: my breakfast consists of oat groats, flaxseed, and pumpkin seed, among other things (raisins, cinnamon, and turmeric). The bits of seed and the bran hulls from the whole-grain oats burrow deep between my teeth and in gum pockets, and brushing and even flossing can’t get them out.
So my Waterpik Ultra just now arrived, and of course I couldn’t wait to try it. I brushed with my Oral-B Triumph (which I like much better than the Sonicare, FWIW), then Waterpikked. An amazing amount of detritus was washed out: bran hulls, bits of seed, an occasional flaxseed. It was terrific. I love it.
I wonder whether a saline solution would work even better.
From the Center for American Progress:
In 2007, when the national employment level peaked and before the current recession began, 46 million Americans lacked health care coverage. In a new report, the Center for American Progress’s Nayla Kazzi writes that "today, that number is markedly higher as many workers who have lost their jobs have also lost their employer-provided health insurance." Noting that employers have shed 5.1 million jobs in the last 15 months, Kazzi estimates that "2.4 million workers have lost the health coverage their jobs provided since the start of the recession, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Approximately, 1.3 million of these losses have occurred in the last four months. More than 320,000 Americans became uninsured in March alone, which amounts to approximately 10,680 workers a day." Kazzi’s estimate is conservative since it includes "only individuals who receive coverage directly from an employer, not those who receive coverage through a family member or spouse’s employer." Kazzi argues that "the rapid loss of health coverage demonstrates the fundamental instability of health insurance protections in our current system and the need for comprehensive health reform." "Sixty-two percent of the American public believes that the current economic turmoil makes it more important than ever to take on health care reform, and the need for comprehensive reform becomes all the more evident as conditions in the economy continue to deteriorate and more Americans become uninsured," writes Kazzi.
Last week, as the Senate was poised to kill legislation allowing homeowners the option of bankruptcy to prevent foreclosure, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) provided a grave assessment of Congress’ relationship with the finance industry.
“The banks — hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill,” Durbin told a Chicago radio station. “They frankly own the place.”
To what extent Durbin is correct will be on display this week when the Senate takes up legislation reining in the unfair and deceptive practices commonly used by credit card companies. The proposal, sponsored by Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), would prohibit rate hikes on existing balances, give cardholders longer notice to pay their bills, and prevent card companies from charging fees when customers pay their bills on time. The bill, which has the strong backing of President Obama, has a good chance of passing, but not before the consumer protections are diluted to the satisfaction of at least some moderate senators on both sides of the aisle — lawmakers whose support Dodd will need to overcome a Republican filibuster.
A similar credit card reform proposal, sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), passed the House easily last week, but the Senate bill goes even further to protect card users from unexplained fees and surprise rate hikes. The question now on the minds of many anxious consumer and lending advocates is this: How strong can Senate Democrats keep those consumer protections and still have the bill pass the upper chamber?
Standing in their way will be the powerful finance industry, which opposes both chambers’ bills and maintains tremendous influence over Capitol Hill lawmakers. Indeed, the Dodd proposal barely squeaked out of the Senate Banking Committee in March, with Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of bank-friendly South Dakota joining every Republican in siding with the industry to oppose to the bill.
Edward L. Yingling, president and CEO of the American Bankers Association, said last week that the congressional proposals raise “serious concerns” for the group.
“The ABA strongly believes that any additional legislative efforts should strive to achieve the right balance between enhancing consumer protection and ensuring that credit remains available to consumers and small businesses at a reasonable cost,” Yingling said in a statement following passage of the House bill. “We continue to believe that more work needs to be done to achieve that balance.”
Complicating the Democrats’ efforts, Washington policymakers have gone to great lengths — and spent billions of taxpayer dollars — to stabilize the finance industry in recent months. Many of the reform proposals governing the banks — even if they’re done to protect consumers — would likely threaten banks’ profits at the same time Congress is asking them to increase their lending — a dynamic that’s fueled opposition to the credit card reforms and other related proposals.
Then there’s the issue of political contributions. In the 2008 election cycle, the finance industry — including the insurance and real estate sectors — gave more than $463 million to congressional lawmakers, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — more than the contributions from the health care, transportation, agriculture, electronics and defense sectors combined.
“That’s why Congress still listens to these people who created this mess to begin with,” said Kathleen Day, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending, an advocacy group. “Money.”
As further evidence of the industry’s sway, the banks chalked up an enormous legislative victory last week when the Senate killed the proposal empowering bankruptcy judges to reduce, or “cramdown,” the terms of primary mortgages to prevent foreclosure. The vote was clear indication that, despite the economic difficulties faced by Wall Street — not to mention the series of bailouts propping it up — the finance industry still gets much of what it wants on Capitol Hill.
The issue of credit cards, however, might prove to be an exception…
A very good takedown of Rep. Harman:
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about one of the most shameless and absurd spectacles to appear in Washington in some time: the self-righteous, self-obsessed rage expressed by Jane Harman — leading defender of Bush’s illegal domestic eavesdropping programs — upon learning that one of her conversations had been legally eavesdropped upon as part of a criminal investigation into the actions of a suspected Israeli agent. Over the weekend, Harman (along with half of the U.S. Congress) appeared at the AIPAC conference and continued her new anti-eavesdropping crusade, actually vowing to lead an investigation into potential eavesdropping abuses to assure that it would never happen again. Atrios notes just some of the points that makes her behavior incomparably shameless.
But all that said, nothing can top this quote from Harman, uttered near the end of an AIPAC panel discussion after she realized that nobody was going to ask her about this matter and thus brought it up herself. As reported by a pro-AIPAC blogger in attendance:
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) said she is "not a victim" but a "warrior on behalf of our Constitution and against abuse of power" . . . .
But almost 40 minutes into the discussion Sunday morning, as moderator Dan Senor started to wrap up and asked the final question of the four panelists, no one had even mentioned the issue. So Harman took the matter into her own hands — winding up with a spirited defense of the Constitution and AIPAC.
Jane Harman is a warrior on behalf of the Constitution and against abuse of power — that’s the same Jane Harman who tried to bully The New York Times out of writing about Bush’s illegal spying program, who succeeded in pressuring them not to publish their story until after Bush was re-elected, who repeatedly proclaimed the program to be "legal and necessary" once it was revealed, who called the whistle-blowers "despicable", who went on Meet the Press and expressed receptiveness to a criminal investigation of The New York Times for publishing the story, who led the way in supporting the Fourth-Amendment-gutting and safeguard-destroying FISA Amendments Act of 2008, and who demanded that telecoms be retroactively immunized for breaking multiple laws by allowing government spying on their customers without warrants of any kind…