Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy told reporters that he is concerned that many politically charged issues are coming before the high court. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Starting today, the Supreme Court is hearing two monumental cases relating to same-sex marriage, both at a time when public opinion polls show a growing number of Americans support marriage equality.
A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that 49 percent of Americans support gay marriage and took a deeper look at the reasons why.
The Pew data is most applicable to the case before the Supreme Court determining whether California’s Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in the state, is constitutional. The other case deals with the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which officially defines marriage as between a man and a woman and denies federal benefits to same-sex partners of government employees. A Gallup poll released on Friday found that, if it were put to a vote, 54 percent of Americans would cast a ballot to allow same-sex partners of federal employees to receive benefits, while only 37 percent would vote to not allow it. MORE
Jamie Dimon, Chief Executive Officer of JP Morgan. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)
Earlier this month, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations issued its report on the JPMorgan Chase “London Whale” debacle and subsequent cover-up of $6.2 billion in derivatives trading losses. Subcommittee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan pointed a finger not only at the bank but also said that regulators — notably, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — fell down on the job.”
Last week, former Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation chair Sheila Bair told Bill, “I think it underscores how even in banks that are viewed as very well-managed, there can be major management breakdowns. These actively traded derivatives can generate very, very large losses in a very short period of time [because of] how volatile they are. I think this is all problematic and should inform some future regulatory choices.”
But it seems some members of the House Agriculture Committee aren’t paying much attention to their colleagues in the Senate. They have brought seven bills to the House floor that will weaken federal regulation of derivatives trading. The bills take aim at Title VII of the Dodd-Frank bank reform act — even though Dodd-Frank has not been fully implemented yet.
Why is a farming committee concerned with derivatives? As David Dayen reports in Salon, since the mid-19th century “farmers used derivatives to achieve stability over future prices.” Although derivatives have evolved since the 1850s, futures traders still use them for commodities such as corn and cotton. MORE
Phil Donahue produced the documentary Body of War with Ellen Spiro. (Credit: Ellen Spiro)
I am not sure exactly when the death of television news took place. The descent was gradual — a slide into the tawdry, the trivial and the inane, into the charade on cable news channels such as Fox and MSNBC in which hosts hold up corporate political puppets to laud or ridicule, and treat celebrity foibles as legitimate news. But if I had to pick a date when commercial television decided amassing corporate money and providing entertainment were its central mission, when it consciously chose to become a carnival act, it would probably be Feb. 25, 2003, when MSNBC took Phil Donahue off the air because of his opposition to the calls for war in Iraq.
Chris Hedges (Credit: Dale Robbins)
Donahue and Bill Moyers, the last honest men on national television, were the only two major TV news personalities who presented the viewpoints of those of us who challenged the rush to war in Iraq. General Electric and Microsoft — MSNBC’s founders and defense contractors that went on to make tremendous profits from the war — were not about to tolerate a dissenting voice. Donahue was fired, and at PBS Moyers was subjected to tremendous pressure. An internal MSNBC memo leaked to the press stated that Donahue was hurting the image of the network. He would be a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war,” the memo read. Donahue never returned to the airwaves. MORE
This blog post original appeared on the Colorlines blog.
Trader Fred Reimer works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. U.S. stocks rose strongly this week ahead of a decision by the Federal Reserve about whether to push ahead with aggressive measures to boost the economy. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
As the New York Stock Exchange reached an all-time high this month, you’d think that the good times were back. But that would be incorrect. What happens on Wall Street has very little to do with what’s going on in the real economy. Corporate profits have never been higher, but — excluding the highest earners — real wages are at a 40 year low. With this fundamental disconnect — and political gridlock in Washington — it’s unlikely that our economy will return to health anytime soon.
The good news is that in thousands of communities across America, people are working together to bring about what may be the beginning of a new national economic contract. Where Washington and Wall Street are falling down citizens are banding together, not just to ameliorate the suffering caused by national stagnation, but to launch innovative economic initiatives that might create a brighter, fairer future for everyone. MORE
In her 2012 book, Bull By The Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street From Wall Street and Wall Street From Itself, former FDIC chairwoman Sheila Bair offers dozens of recommendations for reforming our regulatory system to do what it was meant to do. We’ve excerpted three of our favorites.
Sheila Bair testifies on Capitol Hill in 2010. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
1. Keep the Consumer Agency
I don’t know how anyone can say that we have done a good job of protecting consumers in financial services. Payment shock mortgages with abusive prepayment penalties, fee-laden credit cards, excessive overdraft fees — these are three examples of the types of products where disclosures have been inadequate and the products too complex for consumers to understand what they were getting themselves into. Moreover, the situation is worse with regard to nonbank financial providers, for example, payday lenders and money remitters, who charge fees and interest equivalent to several hundred percent. Similarly, the most abusive subprime loans were typically made by nonbank mortgage originators.
Pre-Dodd-Frank, the Federal Reserve Board had the job of writing the consumer rules for financial products, and its efforts were woefully inadequate. The core problem, I believe, was that the Fed’s responsibilities for monetary policy and safety and soundness supervision always came first. Insufficient attention was given to what was happening to consumers. What’s more, when the Fed did write consumer rules, they were generally lengthy and highly complex, making it difficult for consumers to understand their rights. The complexity and cost of complying with the rules also forced many community banks out of the business of consumer lending.
It is a very good thing that Congress has now created an agency devoted exclusively to consumer protection. I have high hopes that this new agency will work hard to simplify and strengthen consumer protections, while bringing much-needed enforcement of consumer rules to the nonbank sector. People of goodwill can differ on the structure of the new agency. I prefer that a regulatory agency have a board instead of a single director. A board brings a diversity of viewpoints that can help guard against regulatory capture, which is one of the reasons why I believe the OCC — if we keep it — should also be headed by a board. But the continuing debate about the structure of the consumer agency should not impede its ability to carry out its important functions. The agency deserves to have a Senate-confirmed head to lead it. MORE
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., center, flanked by then-Sen. Barack Obama, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. speaks at the Library of Congress in Washington to outline their agenda for reform in the wake of the scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Jan. 18, 2006. From left are: Obama, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., Reid, Pelosi and Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Center for Responsive Politics
A Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) report released yesterday found that the number of registered lobbyists in Washington has declined from its 2007 peak, and the amount of money being spent on lobbying has declined since 2010. But that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s less lobbying going on in Washington, writes report author Dan Auble.
“[F]ormer lobbyists have not moved far, and they are still likely influencing policy from the shadows,” writes Auble, a researcher who oversees the center’s lobbying and revolving door databases. Auble found that, of the lobbyists who were registered in 2012 but are not registered in 2013, at least 46 percent are still at the same firm, and an additional 15 percent are working within the same industry.
By law, anyone who spends more than 20 percent of their time lobbying is required to register. “The 20 percent threshold for filing is based largely on the honor system,” wrote Auble in a live chat yesterday. “Within a firm, there may be record keeping on an hourly basis, but many lobbyists will be on retainer and simply have to estimate whether they’ve met the limit.” MORE
Health care workers on strike. (Credit: SEIU1199NW)
“Providence Health & Services is a not-for-profit Catholic healthcare ministry committed to providing for the needs of the communities it serves — especially for those who are poor and vulnerable.”
So reads the Providence website. But ask the members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW what they think of the five-state health care giant’s commitment to vulnerable workers, and they paint a very different picture.
More than 700 union workers went on strike in Olympia, Washington, to protest the nonprofit’s unilateral decision while at the bargaining table to switch employees from an affordable health care plan to a high-deductible plan. These workers at Providence St. Peter Hospital — which include everyone but the doctors, registered nurses and social workers — and the Providence SoundHomeCare and Hospice earn an average of $31,000 annually. MORE
Despite these horrific outcomes, the anniversary of the Iraqi invasion passed with little fanfare in the nation’s capitol. As Peter Baker writes in today’s New York Times, Tuesday came and went “with barely passing notice in a town once consumed by it” in what amounts to a “conspiracy of silence.”
Neither party had much interest in revisiting what succeeded and what failed, who was right and who was wrong. The bipartisan consensus underscored the broader national mood: after 10 years, America seems happy to wash its hands of Iraq. …
President Obama, who rose to political heights on the strength of his opposition to the war, made no mention of it in appearances on Tuesday. Instead, he issued a written statement saluting “the courage and resolve” of the 1.5 million Americans who served during eight years in Iraq and honoring the memory of the nearly 4,500 Americans “who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
In the movie adaptation of their book, All the President’s Men, “Follow the money” was the succinct advice given to Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein by their secret source Deep Throat as they struggled four decades ago to get to the bottom of the Watergate burglary. The scandal ultimately brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon.
Deep Throat’s three words are even truer today; money remains at the root of corruption in government and politics. Efforts to reform campaign finance in the decades since Watergate have been upended, unleashing torrents of cash from undisclosed sources.
Following the money is journalist Matea Gold’s beat. A political reporter in the Washington bureau of the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, she says the story of the 2012 elections was the dark money spent to influence the outcome. Moyers & Company senior writer Michael Winship spoke with her at last week’s Lessons of Watergate conference, organized by the citizen’s lobby Common Cause. MORE
Former Senator Russ Feingold speaks at a Common Cause conference to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Watergate.
Although the Watergate scandal and its web of bagmen and illegal contributions led to some new, much needed election rules and regulations, it took 30 years until the McCain-Feingold campaign reform act in 2002 made unprecedented changes to the way elections are funded.
We were “moving in the right direction,” former Senator Russ Feingold, co-sponsor of the McCain-Feingold law, said to Moyers & Company senior writer Michael Winship at Common Cause’s recent conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of Watergate. But the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision — which Feingold describes as “lawless, almost absurd” — and other rulings have eviscerated campaign finance reform in America. Nonetheless, Feingold believes that scandal and change will come — that the current system of virtually unlimited and often anonymous campaign monies is not sustainable and “will fall of its own weight.”
Listen to Feingold and Winship’s exclusive conversation here: