Posts tagged with 'Joshua Holland'
by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger
Such unaccounted for political donations may end up allowing those accused of wrongdoing to go free. As Joshua Holland details for AlterNet, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission may have provided a lifetime supply of get-out-of-jail-free cards to corporate criminals.
The Kentucky senate race serves as a prime example. The Democratic candidate, Jack Conway, is currently Kentucky’s attorney general. Conway is also currently prosecuting a nursing home for allegedly covering up the sexual abuse of one of its residents.
But that nursing home is owned by Terry Forcht, a millionaire who gives prodigiously to right-wing causes. He poured money into Karl Rove’s organization, American Crossroads GPS, which ran ads backing Conway’s Republican opponent, Rand Paul. Guess who came away with the victory last night?
As Holland emphasizes, the mid-term elections are just how the first phase of the justice system’s corruption plays out. Eventually the mere threat of attack ads could be enough to prevent needed prosecutions. Corporate bigwigs could literally get away with murder, and pay for it only through attack ads.
by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger
Corporate America is on the attack in every state. As Joshua Holland explains for AlterNet, outside groups have spent somewhere between $750,000 and more than $2 million in an attempt to unseat Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) in a state where ad buys come cheap. But Braley is almost certain to win anyway, even if his lead isn’t quite as comfortable as it was in 2008, when he took 64 percent of the vote. This is what corporations and wealthy elites are willing to pony up in races they’re sure to lose.
Most of that money comes from two groups: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a front-group for some of the nation’s largest corporations, and America’s Future Fund, a right-wing front-group founded by GOP lobbyist and ethanol executive Nick Ryan. Public News Service‘s Eric Mack highlights the races in Hawkeye state that are unusually flush with cash.
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission earlier this year, corporations and wealthy elites now have license to spend unlimited sums to promote candidates they like (or attack ones they don’t). Things are already getting out of hand. Outside groups are dumping millions of dollars into obscure races this year—even in places where they appear to have almost no chance of victory.
by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger
They’ve been flying around in a private jet like Wall Street CEOs, except they’re heading to “grassroots” rallies instead of merger talks. Meckler and Martin don’t say how outraged, ordinary citizens can find the money to support such extravagance, and they don’t have to. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in this year’s Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission, they can now accept unlimited funding without disclosing the identities of their donors.
No one would even know about the jets themselves, but Meckler and Martin never counted on Mother Jones, or a reporter named Stephanie Mencimer. Using public flight-tracking information, the Tea Party Patriots’ flight schedule, and some serious attention to details in the group’s own videos, Mencimer was able to figure out which jet the not-so-populist duo were using. She then traced the plane to Raymond F. Thomson, founder and CEO of a semiconductor company called Semitool, which he sold last year for a cool $364 million.
It’s both sad and hilarious to see the secret financial arrangements of the super-rich masquerading as grassroots activism. But it also shows the lengths to which reporters must go to actually report on political spending in the wake of Citizens United. There is no documentation to follow, just the contrails of private jets.
by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger
Corporate cash does funny things to people. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) got into office by pledging to fight “special interests,” but just a decade or so later, he’s running one of the biggest special interest shows in Washington. It’s easy to see the appeal. As the fancy funding backing the Tea Party demonstrates, big money buys big things—from elections to populist outrage.
In a piece for Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard details some of DeMint’s serious campaign finance flip-floppery. During his first bid for Congress in 1998, DeMint denounced the Political Action Committee (PAC) mechanism as a tool deployed by “special interests” that “corrupts” the electoral process. But today, DeMint is the single most important figure and fundraiser for Senate Tea Party races. He has endorsed and pledged millions of dollars to support fringe right-wingers Senate candidates Christine O’Donnell (Delaware) and Rand Paul (Kentucky). DeMint has funneled this money through his own Political Action Committee (PAC) known as the Senate Conservatives Fund. DeMint even pledged to “fight for reforms that allow only individual contributions to campaigns.”
But as I note in a blog for Campaign for America’s Future, DeMint isn’t the only power player pouring money into the Tea Party. DeMint’s 12 Tea Party Senate candidates have reaped over $4.6 million from Wall Street for this election—excluding Wall Street cash that has been funneled through DeMint’s PAC. So much for all that grassroots rage against bailed-out elites. (more…)
by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger
Last week, Social Security advocates learned something they had long suspected. Arguments for cutting Social Security aren’t really about economics or the deficit. They’re all about waging war on social services.
In short, some very prominent policymakers are out to dismantle Social Security on ideological grounds. The most recent example of this view comes from Alan Simpson, a former Republican Senator from Wyoming who now serves as co-Chair of President Barack Obama’s Federal Debt Commission. Earlier this summer, Simpson was caught on video spreading absurd lies about Social Security, but his latest outburst explains why he’s been so willing to distort the facts. Simpson simply hates Social Security.
As Joshua Holland highlights for AlterNet, Simpson fired off a nasty email to Ashley Carson, who advocates for elderly women, in which he referred to the most successful social program in U.S. history as “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” (more…)
By Zach Carter, Media Consortium Blogger
Unemployment figures in the U.S. are staggering: The official rate stands at 10.2%, the highest in 26 years. A broader measure that includes people who are involuntarily working part-time or who have given up looking for work is at 17.5%. That’s a full-blown economic emergency.
But, as Joshua Holland explains for AlterNet, President Barack Obama’s response to the unemployment crisis has not matched the urgency of his response to the crisis on Wall Street. This isn’t just unfair, it’s bad economics. (more…)
by Zach Carter, TMC MediaWire Blogger
President Barack Obama rolled out his plan to overhaul financial regulation last week. While much of the Obama plan relies on the same regulators and structures that led to the current meltdown, there is one key exception. The establishment of an independent Consumer Financial Protection Agency would give ordinary citizens a seat at the financial policy table for the first time and prevent the abuses in credit card and mortgage lending that have wreaked havoc on households all over the country.
The new agency is the brainchild of Harvard University Law School Professor Elizabeth Warren. As chair of a key oversight panel for the Treasury Department’s bank bailout program, Warren has uncovered major deficiencies in the government’s handling of the plan, including nearly $80 billion in overpayments to bailed-out banks. American News Project features footage of an interview with Warren, who explains why we need a separate agency to regulate on behalf of consumers.
Several bank regulatory agencies, the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Office of Thrift Supervision are already charged with writing and enforcing consumer protection rules for credit cards and mortgages, but have generally abandoned these duties to act as cheerleaders for their banks.The current structure’s problems are two-fold. First, the current regulators are funded by fees levied on the very banks they regulate. When there are several different bank regulators, regulators compete to offer the weakest oversight and attract more banks, and, in turn, more funding. The process quickly becomes a race to the bottom. When the subprime mortgage boom was surging in 2003, the OCC, a federal bank regulator, went to court to ensure that the state of Georgia’s tough predatory lending laws could not be enforced.
Second, the regulatory agencies tend to look at the health of the bank, rather than the quality of the loans it makes. If a commercial bank like Citigroup makes a really outrageous predatory loan, then sells that loan to an unregulated investment bank like Goldman Sachs, Citi’s regulator doesn’t particularly care. A new regulatory agency that answers exclusively to consumers rather than banks would be a very meaningful change for the financial system.
The rest of the overhaul is a little frightening. As William Greider explains for The Nation, instead of crafting explicit rules to curb obvious abuses, Obama’s plan relies very heavily on ceding power to the Federal Reserve. Under the new framework, the Fed would both oversee “systemic risk” in the financial architecture and regulate the banks that have become “too big to fail.” This, Greider emphasizes, is a very bad idea. The Fed has repeatedly proven itself to be uninterested in regulating banks. Citi needed $45 billion in direct cash infusions from the U.S. taxpayer and hundreds of billions of dollars in other guarantees to stay afloat, as Nomi Prins writes for Mother Jones. Who was charged with regulating the company and making sure such an outrage never occurred? The Fed.
In a video spot for GritTV, former senior banking regulator William Black argues that it makes little sense to allow banks to become too big to fail at all. Sturdier regulations are better than nothing, but the real solution is to break them up. “Why would we allow banks to be so big that they threaten the global economy?” Black asks.
Going back to Prins in Mother Jones: Elsewhere, the regulatory revamp is simply too vague to be helpful. Regarding derivatives—the financial weapons of mass destruction that destroyed AIG—it’s not clear if Obama wants to regulate the entire industry, or a small, meaningless fraction. Obama’s plan is to require that “standardized” derivatives are traded on exchanges and allow “customized” derivatives to escape investor scrutiny. But the Treasury never explains what the difference is between these “standard” and “custom” products, or how it will make sure banks don’t game the system.
Lest we forget, this crazy finance system brought us the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate, by conservative measures, is at 9.4% and rising. You may have noticed the stories about “green shoots” signaling the first inklings of economic recovery circulating through the media. But these signs are only promising, AlterNet’s Joshua Holland explains, if you take them completely out of context and ignore all of the other terrible news. The economy is in great shape … except for the millions of foreclosures that will take place this year, the skyrocketing unemployment rate, the decimated retirement funds, and the mountains of credit card debt weighing down the average U.S. consumer.
Serious consumer protections are nothing to scoff at, especially after watching an outbreak of predatory mortgage lending spawn an economic collapse. It comes as no surprise then, as Tim Fernholz notes for The American Prospect, that the bank lobby is already working to water down the new consumer protection agency’s powers. But even if a regulator for consumers makes the final legislative cut, with so many drastic problems in the current financial regulatory structure, the Obama plan simply does not do what is necessary to fend off another crisis.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit StimulusPlan.NewsLadder.net and Economy.NewsLadder.net for complete lists of articles on the economy, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.
by Nezua, TMC MediaWire Blogger
In 2008, a disturbing trend developed in mainstream media regarding Mexico. While Mexico’s President Felipe Calderón began his aggression against the Cartels roughly two years ago, the resulting uptick in violence was of no real interest to mainstream media. But when the U.S. Joint Forces Command report Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008) was issued in November, 2008, and declared Mexico and Pakistan nations in danger of a “rapid and sudden collapse,” mainstream news outlets and certain politicians began broadcasting fears of violence spilling over into the US.
Coverage quickly snowballed into a cycle of reporting grounded in unsubstantiated fear, which led to calls to further militarize the border. Democracy Now! highlights how President Obama’s readiness to deploy the National Guard to the border is directly linked to the sensationalized mainstream coverage. In an interview with host Amy Goodman, Laura Carlsen, director of the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program for the Center for International Policy, says:
When we started to look at some of these articles talking about spillover of Mexican violence into the United States, what we found is that there’s no evidence of that whatsoever at this point. … In the case of using statistics, like there’s a lot of talk about the number of kidnappings in Phoenix, it turns out that many times those statistics are spurious, and they have no backup. They’ve been invented, or they’ve been twisted in many cases.
This is a real warning sign for us, because when we see an exaggerated threat assessment, as we’re seeing right now in terms of spillover of Mexican violence to the United States, it’s generally a prelude to militarization.
And it is: Truthdig reports on “a crime-fighting operation targeting Mexican drug cartels on a scale not seen since the battles against the US mafia” in F.B.I. Runs for the Border.
The War on Drugs has returned, via aid/force packages like Plan Mérida that simply recycle failed plans (like Plan Colombia). Under increased militarization, drug production actually goes up, as does the body count, but the seizure of drugs decreases.
In the interests of full disclosure, the increasing exploitation of the Mexican people and militarization of border towns like Ciudad Juarez and El Paso—my father’s birthplace—affect me on a deeply personal level. My father was the first of Herreras in my family to be born here. I am a citizen. He makes sure to remind me that my abuela (grandmother) gained her green card legally. I read of harm done to people like my grandmother—legal and undocumented and citizens alike—in jails teeming with neglect and hatred and it disturbs me. Immigration must be discussed as a human, not military issue.
In the below video from GritTV, Rosa Clemente, Immigration Campaign Director for Amnesty International USA, talks about the lack of response from the Obama Administration on immigration, even though ICE is predicting 400,000 arrests in 2009 and our 2009 budget allots 6.1 billion to the construction of new prisons. How many of those prisons will be detention centers?
Opponents of immigration reform (and often immigrants themselves) often imply that they really do adore legal immigrants. Joshua Holland makes it clear how very tenuous that line is in AlterNet’s I Married an Illegal Immigrant. Holland writes that “the difference between legal and illegal is often a matter of simple chronology rather than a reflection of the character of the person in question.”
Disguising undocumented “aliens” as an unwanted, criminal horde, rather than productive members of our own society runs counter to American ideals of freedom and equality. It becomes easier to simply lock down the border and take a harsher stance, even if many of those who migrate were displaced by our own government’s actions in the first place.
The Drug War model is a failed method of dealing with immigration, even though Obama seems intent to resurrect it. Writing for The Progressive, Yolanda Chávez Leyva says:
For more than twenty years, those of us who live on the border have witnessed the increasing militarization of the border. The border wall is a daily reminder of this, as are the helicopters that fly over our neighborhoods, the checkpoints manned by the Border Patrol and local law enforcement, as well as the daily harassment of citizens who happen to have darker skin. We are frequently the target of various “wars” —against undocumented migration, against terrorism and now against drugs. I am tired of living in a war zone.
The model of “war” has not worked, and it will not work.
President Felipe Calderón—who Democracy Now! reports was elected in “the most controversial election in Mexican history”—is spoken of glowingly by our politicians, who are full of praise for his violence against the Cartels. Elena Shore details some of this language for New America Media.
Going back to Lauren Carlsen’s interview with Democracy Now!: “It’s completely unacceptable to ask a society to accept higher levels of violence as a sign that we are winning the drug war.” She’s right. We will never “win” the “drug war.” The body count is growing. More prisons are being built. People of color are the primary victims. And now, President Obama talks of sending the military down to meet Mexico’s military at the border. But what about the people caught in the middle? What about the people suffering in ICE’s custody today? What about the 400,000 more that ICE plans to capture in 2009?
We need better solutions than more guns and more soldiers. Militarization simply leads to more violence.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration. Visit Immigration.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on immigration, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy and health issues, check out Economy.NewsLadder.net and Healthcare.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.
As Congress finally winds down what House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., refers to as “the session that will not die,” most of us have already contracted cases of outrage exhaustion from the barrage of Wall Street-related absurdities that the government has embroiled itself in over the past year.
But do not despair! David Sirota penned two pieces this week vindicating progressive critics of the current regime, one for Salon.com and another for the Campaign for America’s Future, detailing how recent reports from government agencies themselves have revealed the administration’s utter failure to craft a responsible financial rescue package. With the incompetence obvious to everyone, Sirota hopes that, “Maybe, just maybe, our humiliated rulers will start listening,” noting that progressives were right all along about meaningless CEO pay limits and oversight mechanisms in the $700 billion bailout, and overblown rhetoric from Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
The oratorical frenzy surrounding too-big-to-fail Wall Street titans and last-ditch government bailouts has also made it easy to forget that the financial sector actually does desperately need some downsizing, as Joshua Holland reports for AlterNet.
Not only is the financial sector burdened with mountains of worthless debt instruments, it has created broader economic inefficiencies over the past decade by gobbling up a disproportionate share of the total economy. Holland presents a host of frightening statistics about the conditions leading up to the current recession, noting an 11% surge in poverty between 2000 and 2007, lower median household incomes and sluggish job growth. Almost everybody except the financiers, it seems, was hurting, and the global economy will not recover from its economic slide until the financial sector owns up to the losses inherent in its chimerical expansion.
But financial policy failures have not been limited to bad rulemaking and pro-Wall Street philosophy. Even basic anti-fraud protections that have been on the books since the 1930s are not being enforced effectively, as evidenced by the massive fraud scheme allegedly perpetrated by fund manager Bernard Madoff. The Securities and Exchange Commission received several warnings about Madoff’s business practices dating back to at least 1999, according to The Wall Street Journal, but chose to ignore them until Madoff’s system finally collapsed on itself this fall. As Truthdig’s Ear to the Ground Blog points out, fallout from the scandal is so broad that many of those hit by the scheme “might not know yet that they’re broke.”
Over at The Nation, Nicholas von Hoffman notes how the risky investment practices that have led investment bankers to the public coffers this year have also dealt a massive blow to funding for U.S. colleges and universities. Harvard University has officially lost $8 billion of its endowment since June, while the University of Virginia—whose president, John Casteen, serves on the board of directors at the collapsed banking giant Wachovia—has hemorrhaged $1 billion. Students obviously did not demand that these funds be spent recklessly, but students will ultimately pay the price.
Of course, there’s another bailout going on, unless Senate Republicans have their way. The faltering Detroit automobile industry is seeking about $14 billion in government funds, or slightly less than 10% of what taxpayers have already poured into insurance icon AIG, which employs few blue-collar workers and mostly produces useless debt insurance for even more useless debt circulating through Wall Street.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., led a Republican attack on auto unions, refusing to back a Detroit rescue package last week unless union laborers take a major pay cut. But the assault on the working class seems a little misguided, given the willingness of Congress to hurl $700 billion at U.S. banks without any strings on executive compensation.
“Citigroup’s CEO is being paid $216 million this year, yet Corker made no demand that he take a whack in pay,” Jim Hightower writes, even though Citi alone has accepted bailout funds worth over three times what the entire auto bailout would cost.
The chief difference between Detroit’s labor costs and those of its Japan-headquartered competitors is several decades of built-up pension plans. But as Hilzoy writes in a post for The Washington Monthly that the package was already so acquiescent to Republican demands that no serious conservative negotiators would have demanded further concessions.
Republicans do not have a monopoly on economic insanity. Over at The American Prospect, Ezra Klein highlights a troubling quote from Larry Summers, who will be the head economic advisor in Barack Obama’s White House next year. The passage appears in the new book Creative Capitalism, edited by lefty journalist Michael Kinsley:
“As for [Milton] Friedman — I’m not so sure he looks bad,” Summers says. “What is most screwed up today? GSEs, Citibank, regional banks. What is most regulated? Same list. What is least screwed up? Hedge funds and the like. What is least regulated?”
Summers’ “most screwed up” list only holds up if you exclude unregulated firms who were so completely decimated over the past year that they have become extinct. There are no major independent Wall Street investment banks anymore. Lehman Brothers died, Bear Stearns and Merrill Lynch sold to major commercial banks in emergency mergers and both Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley converted to commercial banks to avoid collapse. No regulator has oversight of the entire investment banking corporate structure, and the mega i-banks have simply disappeared.
Same goes for the private subprime mortgage firms like Ameriquest and NovaStar. Wondering why those logos disappeared from NASCAR hoods about a year ago? Those subprime lenders were completely unregulated and they all went bankrupt.
Sadly, the economy is well past the point where government action could fend off a severe recession. At this point, it’s all damage control. The downturn is already hitting demand so hard that even recycling programs are on the ropes, as Air America Media’s Ron Kuby discusses in a radio interview with recycling organizer Meghan McCutcheon. Cash-strapped producers are well aware of consumer pocketbook pressures, and are bunkering down to ride out the recession with as few costs as possible—including cuts in raw materials, recycled or otherwise.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit Economy.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on immigration, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical health and immigration issues, check out Healthcare.NewsLadder.net and Immigration.NewsLadder.net. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of 50 leading independent media outlets, and was created by NewsLadder.
The gurus at the National Bureau of Economic Research have finally acknowledged the obvious: the U.S. economy is in a recession, and has been since December 2007. With Wall Street still on life support and unemployment statistics reaching levels unseen since the heyday of Ronald Reagan, the news was far from shocking, as Truthdig’s Ear to the Ground notes, but still enough to help push the Dow Jones Industrial Average down nearly 700 points on Monday.
More frightening than the belated use of the r-word– Kevin Drum of Mother Jones called the December start-date all the way back in February in a piece for the Washington Monthly– is the fact that drastic government action to right the nation’s faltering economic ship does not appear to be working. The current crisis has delivered a blow not just to investors and homeowners, but to the work of economist Milton Friedman, a thinker granted almost sacred status in conservative circles. Over at Salon.com, Andrew Leonard highlights a New York Times column by economist Paul Krugman on how Friedman’s monetarist economic theory has taken a hit over the past year. Friedman’s doctrine calls for restricting government relief in times of economic strain to the arena of monetary policy—that is, central banks should increase the supply of money in the economy, but governments should not directly undertake spending initiatives to boost demand.
But while the Federal Reserve has pumped liquidity into the financial sector at every conceivable opportunity over the past year, but the crisis has continued to grind on, spreading from one troubled sector to another. We are clearly out of options that match up with Friedman’s monetarism, indicating that public policy has nowhere left to turn except direct government spending on economic support, as Ezra Klein argues for The American Prospect.
President-elect Barack Obama has vowed to deliver a major fiscal stimulus package as soon as possible after taking up his new job on January 20. Joshua Holland notes for AlterNet that Obama does not have to radically overhaul the economy to implement short-term stimulus that will have long-term economic benefits. Rebuilding our infrastructure with sustainable designs and materials and revitalizing our outdated health care system would both create jobs quickly and prevent other problems looming down the road.
The past week, of course, included the Thanksgiving holiday, and no coverage of the U.S. economy for the period would be complete without a discussion of Black Friday. It appears that the retail sector is about to follow Wall Street and the auto industry into disaster over the next month, as consumer confidence remains at dismally low levels. In a report for The Colorado Independent, Mary Kane explains how the massive loss of housing wealth over the past two years and decades of expensive consumer debt have made people much less eager to pull out the plastic for holiday gifts.
But while one industry after another steadily succumbs to economic reality, some of the people hardest hit by the downturn are not involved in any industry at all. With retirement savings devastated by the financial earthquake, many elderly retired people are now going back to work just to make ends meet, as Leslie Casimir details in a harrowing report for New America Media.
One of the most striking public policy disparities over the past year has been the rabid push from global governments to salvage financial institutions without devoting any serious attention to ordinary people, particularly the poor. The Bush administration has repeatedly argued that allowing major firms to fail would cause significant harm to vulnerable individuals well outside the financial system, but has done almost nothing to directly address the concerns of those people, who do not simply stop being poor once Citigroup gets its groove back. Oneworld.net notes an analysis from the Institute for Policy Studies that reveals the U.S. and Europe have dedicated $4.1 trillion to rescue the financial industry—roughly 40 times what they have spent to fight climate and poverty in the developing world.
The incongruity is reflected not only in the sheer size of the bailout packages compared to the poverty programs, but in the speed of implementation. Literally hundreds of millions of people have been unable to afford to eat for literally decades, but when Bear Stearns hits a liquidity logjam, a solution is in place by the end of the weekend.
Part of this is probably due to the U.S. psychological obsession with both Wall Street and homeownership. Writing for The Nation, Max Fraser discusses the development of pervasive and fundamentally irrational beliefs among bankers and borrowers alike over the past decade, beliefs that have ultimately eroded access to affordable housing despite an explosion in lending between 2004 and 2007. The current crisis proves that we cannot rely on private-sector initiatives or pseudo-public entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to responsibly expand access to homeownership.
Until the government steps in with a meaningful commitment to affordable housing, check out the tips Jane Goetze offers at High Country News on how to survive by living out of your car.
This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy. Visit Economy.NewsLadder.net for a complete list of articles on the economy. And for the best progressive reporting on critical immigration and healthcare issues, check out Immigration.NewsLadder.net and Healthcare.NewsLadder.net.