Tammy Baldwin introducing resolution against weak foreclosure fraud settlement

Tammy Baldwin, a Wisconsin Senate candidate and current member of the House of Representatives, is going to introduce a resolution on foreclosure fraud and the ongoing negotiations between the nation’s five largest banks, fifty forty-four state Attorneys General, and the Obama administration. Amanda Terkel of Huffington Post reports:

Baldwin’s resolution states that any settlement should follow three guidelines: 1) Banks that engaged in fraudulent behavior “should not be granted criminal or civil immunity for potential wrongdoing related to illegal mortgage and foreclosure practices,” 2) the federal government and state AGs should “proceed with full investigations into claims of fraudulent behavior by mortgage servicers” and 3) any monetary sum paid by the banks should “appropriately compensate for, and accurately reflect, the extent of harm to all victims.”

“We have to do the best we can to make innocent victims whole. But secondly, especially in light of the taxpayer bailout of the biggest banks, we owe taxpayers a solemn effort to do everything we can do to uncover what went wrong and whether laws were broken,” Baldwin said in an interview with The Huffington Post. “Part of that is to make certain this won’t happen again. That, to me, is one of the most basic responsibilities we have.”

David Dayen at FireDogLake has a copy of Baldwin’s proposed legislation. It’s simple and powerful, while including a stinging indictment of the big banks who have systematically been stealing peoples’ homes.

I don’t know that this resolution has much hope of passing the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, but it’s a strong statement that the anger we see around the country in the Occupy movement has made its way into the Capitol building. Good for Tammy Baldwin, a new member of the Justice Democrats.

Third Way advising Tea Party to support Super Committee

The conservative Democratic think tank Third Way has written a policy memo as to why the Tea Party should support the Super Committee making big budget cuts, as opposed to the sequestration that would happen if the Super Committee can’t come to agreement . Some examples of Third Way’s reasoning to support this version of austerity and not the automatic cuts include:

  • 12,000 Criminals Evade Incarceration
  • Possible Prison Furloughs
  • A More Porous Southern Border
  • Gun Purchase Delays

Basically Third Way is saying that unless the Super Committee gets to make big cuts to the federal budget, the automatic big cuts will make America filled with dangerous brown people and Tea Partiers will have a harder time buying guns to defend themselves.

Remind me again why any Democrat would listen to Third Way’s advice?

NYT editorial on Elizabeth Warren

The New York Times has an editorial in praise of Elizabeth Warren and her candidacy for Senate in Massachusetts. Interestingly (though also accurately) they highlight her ability as an effective messenger on the economy and class issues:

Democrats should not be cowed by conservative taunts that the speech advocated “collectivism,” and use this argument to push back against the Republicans’ refusal to raise the taxes of people who make more than a million dollars a year — sometimes far more. Senate Democratic leaders say they plan to employ poll-tested phrases like “Tea Party economics” and “Tea Party gridlock” in their campaign for a jobs bill and beyond. They would be better off listening to Elizabeth Warren.

I would hope that other Democrats do listen to Warren, though I’m less interested in them appropriating her messaging for its efficacy than adopting the ideology that stands behind the messaging. I don’t want to see a bunch of faux populist rhetoric from Democrats, but I do want to see politicians who are populist. I don’t think many incumbents are populists and I’m not excited by them trying to steal the thunder from those who are actually hearing the complaints of economically disenfranchised people and being responsive to them. That said, one of the supposed virtues of a Senator Warren would be her ability to bring this effective advocacy for the poor, working, and middle classes into an institution which his almost entirely captured by the wealthiest 1%. If the only way to bring conservative Democrats to a better place that gets better results is through cynical analysis of what is polling well, fine. But the existence of political success will be valuable only to the extent that the policies advocated in this messaging are enacted. And now does not seem like the right time to lie to angry voters about what you will or will not do for them.

Elizabeth Warren, political power, and the banks

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

Suzanna Andrews Vanity Fair has a long article on Elizabeth Warren, one of the most effective advocates for the middle class:

Arrayed against Warren, and today against the very existence of the C.F.P.B., was the full force of what many, most notably Simon Johnson, the M.I.T. professor and former International Monetary Fund chief economist, have called the American financial oligarchy: Wall Street firms and banks supported mainly by Republican members of Congress, but also politicians on the other side of the aisle, along with members of Obama’s own inner circle.

At a time of record corporate profits, a time when 14 million Americans are out of work, when millions have lost their homes and, according to the Census Bureau, the ranks of those living in poverty has grown to one in six—that Elizabeth Warren could be publicly kneecapped and an agency devoted to protecting American consumers could come under such intense attack is, ultimately, the story about who holds power in America today.

The article goes on to discuss the creation of the CFPB and the massive amount of money the banking industry spent to oppose it. Despite their opposition, the CFPB was created and Warren was eventually picked by the President to get the agency up and running.

One of the things that Vanity Fair does well is tease out the reasons and ways in which Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, President Obama’s top adviser on the economy, has opposed Warren at every turn:

“Geithner hated her,” says a former administration official. Part of it was seen as personal because she had scorched him in public. But the whole thrust of her work on the oversight panel—getting the facts out to the public—was at odds with Geithner’s perceived conviction, shared by the Wall Street establishment, that the details of the banks’ TARP rescue should be hidden from public scrutiny whenever possible in order to give the banks time to recover, an assessment that a Treasury spokesperson disputes, insisting that “Secretary Geithner initiated unprecedented disclosure requirements for financial institutions.”

I hope it’s startling to you to be reminded that Geithner thought “that the details of the banks’ TARP rescue should be hidden from public scrutiny whenever possible.” It’s a strong reminder of who he is, what he believes in, and who he thinks his core constituency as Secretary of the Treasury of the United States is.

Beyond whatever ideological sympathies exist within the Obama administration towards Wall Street, they have demonstrated a strong political need to keep bank executives happy with them. Wall Street is a key part of the Obama re-election campaign’s fundraising base.

In early spring, several weeks before Obama’s April announcement that he was running for re-election, 24 Wall Street executives gathered in the Blue Room of the White House for a meeting with the president. According to the New York Times account of the meeting, Obama spent more than an hour listening to the financiers’ thoughts on the economy, the deficit, and financial regulation. After the meeting, Obama would follow up with phone calls to the executives who had not been able to attend. The event, the Times wrote, was organized by the Democratic National Committee and “kicked off an aggressive push by Mr. Obama to win back the allegiance of one of his most vital sources of campaign cash.” The financial industry contributed $43 million to Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, a record haul. But his relations with Wall Street had soured—remarkably many of them were enraged over his criticism of their bonuses in late 2009, which is also when he called them “fat cat bankers.”

I don’t think politics are the sole reason that the President decided to fire Elizabeth Warren, though it’s certainly a contributing factor. As the administration tries to leverage #OccupyWallStreet into electoral support, it’s important to remember that Wall Street is their actual political power base, not the people protesting it.

Andrews’ piece is also a strong reminder of how successful Elizabeth Warren has been at confounding powerful political players, from Geithner and Obama to former Senator Chris Dodd and the entire banking lobby. She out-organized the banks, as well as opponents on both sides of the aisle, to not only get the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau created, but get the interim job running it. She’s shown tremendous political prowess. She’s now running for Senate in Massachusetts and seems to have a very good shot at not only the Democratic nomination, but winning the seat. While there are reasonable questions about whether or not moving towards the Democratic Party is a better choice than moving away from it, if elected, I would hope that she continues to fight against Democratic officials who are captured by Wall Street. She will have to carve out space within an institution which resists independent voices, but if there’s anyone who has demonstrated an ability to function at a high level amidst politicians who are only accountable to wealthy elites, it’s Warren.

Liberals should join #OccupyWallStreet, not nitpick

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

John has been posting regularly on #OccupyWallStreet, particularly highlighting the disgusting and brutal NYPD attacks on non-violent protestors. I also highly recommend Sarah Jaffe’s rich and detailed post at Alternet, which does a great job contextualizing why people have been occupying Wall Street for more than 11 days at this point.

But I want to highlight a piece by Glen Greenwald today which goes directly to the criticism many ostensibly progressive people and organizations have levied against the #OccupyWallStreet movement. It’s not shocking that bankers and the mainstream media are dismissive of this expression of popular outrage against the power wealthy elites have over our economy and our political system. This is an expression of anger at the lack of accountability to the needs of the 99% of our citizenry who don’t ge t to buy time with the President at $35,000 a pop. Greenwald writes:

But for those who believe that protests are only worthwhile if they translate into quantifiable impact: the lack of organizational sophistication or messaging efficacy on the part of the Wall Street protest is a reason to support it and get involved in it, not turn one’s nose up at it and join in the media demonization. That’s what one actually sympathetic to its messaging (rather than pretending to be in order more effectively to discredit it) would do. Anyone who looks at mostly young citizens marching in the street protesting the corruption of Wall Street and the harm it spawns, and decides that what is warranted is mockery and scorn rather than support, is either not seeing things clearly or is motivated by objectives other than the ones being presented.

Right on.

And if that isn’t enough, I offer as a reminder the words of one of the women who was assaulted by NYPD officer Anthony Bologna this past weekend:

“I have respect for police officers, but that man assaulted me,” Ms. Elliott said. “Bizarrely. Stupidly. Needlessly.”

In a functional system of justice, this officer would be arrested and charged with assault. I’ll be watching to see if that happens and I suggest you do too.

Yves Smith on Melissa Harris-Perry

Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism responds to Melissa Harris-Perry’s post on The Nation that racism is driving the abandonment of Barack Obama by white liberals. Harris-Perry has been one of the more prominent reflexive defenders of President Obama, but her charge of racism is serious and merits evaluation. Smith does that, as well as connecting her piece to strong criticisms from Brooklyn College professor Corey Rubin and Jon Walker at FireDogLake. Walker points out that Obama doesn’t have a white people problem, he has an everyone problem.

But I’m more interested in Smith’s critique of the core difference in the Democratic Party that create rifts around really big issues, not just identity politics:

The left is obsessed with what ought to be peripheral concerns, namely, political correctness and Puritanical moralizing, because it is actually deeply divided on the things that matter, namely money and the role of the state. The Democrats have been so deeply penetrated by the neoliberal/Robert Rubin/Hamilton Project types that they aren’t that different from the right on economic issues. Both want little regulation of banking and open trade and international capital flows. Both want to “reform” Medicare and Social Security. Both are leery of a welfare state, the Republicans openly so, the Rubinite Dems with all sorts of handwringing and clever schemes to incentivize private companies that generally subsidize what they would have done regardless (note that Americans have had a mixed record in providing good social safety nets, but a big reason is our American exceptionalism means we refuse to copy successful models from abroad).

The powerful influence of moneyed interests on the Democratic party has achieved the fondest aims of the right wing extremists of the 1970s: the party of FDR is now lukewarm at best in its support of the New Deal. Most Democrats are embarrassed to be in the same room with union types. They are often afraid to say that government can play a positive role. They were loath to discuss the costs of income inequality until it became so far advanced that it is now well nigh impossible to reverse it. After all, that sort of discussion might sound like class warfare, and God forbid anyone on the mainstream left risk sound like Marx.

So the Democratic party (and remember, our two party system makes the Democrats the home by default for the left) pretends to be a safe haven for all sorts of out groups: women, gays, Hispanics (on their way to being the dominant group but not there yet), blacks, the poor. But this is stands in stark contradiction to its policies of selling out the middle class to banks and big corporate interests, just on a slower and stealthier basis than the right. So its desperate need to maintain its increasingly phony “be nice to the rainbow coalition” branding places a huge premium on appearances. It thus uses identity politics as a cover for policy betrayals. It can motivate various groups on narrow, specific issues, opening the way for the moneyed faction to get what it wants.

The Democratic coalition, let alone the liberal/progressive movement (such as it is), has huge internal conflicts. The CWA supports a merger between AT&T and T-Mobile, while opposing net neutrality. Progressive leaders like Eric Schneiderman oppose the merger, as do internet freedom activists. A transpartisan spectrum of groups supports net neutrality. It’s OK that these differences exist. But it’s not OK to ignore them and their implications. As Smith points out, things get even more pointed when we look at the conservative economic policies of huge swaths of the Democratic Party.

What we’re seeing with #OccupyWallStreet is that people are arriving at conclusions about the ways this country actually works on their own, without liberal politicians or progressive groups telling them what they are, let alone how to act in response. It strikes me that a lot of white liberals are upset with Obama for the same reasons black and Hispanic liberals are upset with him – namely, his policy ideas don’t work for them and he repeatedly bashes the progressive base. Could there be elements of racism in this? Sure, particularly unintentional and structural racism. But it doesn’t explain what is well explained by looking at well-documented (and documentable) policy differences.

Elizabeth Warren on Class Warfare, Public Goods

Professor Elizabeth Warren:

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No!

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear.

You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.

You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.

You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.

You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.

But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Brilliant stuff.

Dem Sen. Kerry stops fundraising while on Super Congress

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

A rare moment of political integrity emerges from the Super Congress process, thanks to Senator John Kerry:

“I’m not meeting with a lot of lobbyists; I’m meeting with people I choose to meet with, who can inform me, assist in the process of crunching numbers and dealing with consequences, and so forth,” Kerry told the Globe last week in his first extensive interview about his committee membership.

“I will not fund-raise; I will raise no money,” the senator told the Globe. “I’m not raising any money while the committee is working.”

Asked why, Kerry said: “Because I don’t want people to think that I’m being leveraged by contributions. I just don’t want want the appearance of money being associated with anything I do on this.”

The Super Committee became a lobbyist free-for-all the moment it was formed, with industries large and small throwing millions of dollars towards getting their views heard by members of the Super Congress. That includes lots of fundraising events and it is every bit as slimy as it sounds. Good for John Kerry.

Of course, we will have to wait and see if the lack of lobbyist meetings and big dollar fundraisers nets a more progressive result from Senator Kerry and the committee as a whole. But at least on paper, this is a positive step.

Kilgore v Stoller

In Salon, Ed Kilgore responds to Matt Stoller’s piece on Obama’s destruction of the Democratic Party. Kilgore basically says that a primary of Obama isn’t likely because Obama still has strong support among base voters, though he looks at personal approval ratings, not the 32% of Democrats who want a primary. Kilgore also dismisses Stoller’s historic examples of past primaries of incumbents, essentially on the grounds that these happened a long time ago.

But what stood out to me in Kilgore’s piece was his explanation for why he thinks elite leaders of progressive institutions aren’t really unhappy with Obama. He writes:

While there has been plenty of angry grumbling about the administration’s performance in labor circles, there are no signs of “dump Obama” sentiment. Indeed, far from launching a big, dangerous foray into presidential nominating politics, many labor leaders are talking about a strategic shift into state elections where GOP governors and legislators are presenting a more visible existential threat to their constituencies and their influence.

The meaning of this shift towards local races is that labor leaders are choosing to take money that could be spent supporting Obama’s reelection and spending it elsewhere. It is a sign of base discontent and one that makes the chances of Obama’s reelection smaller. Given that one of Stoller’s main points that Kilgore is actually attempting to respond directly to is that Obama remains electable, this is not an effective example for Kilgore.

Like Stoller, I think the odds of there being one primary or many favorite son candidates is negligible. But Kilgore’s piece really doesn’t get at the reasons for that. If Kilgore really wanted to rebut Stoller from a fact-based place, he would cite the near-total capture of progressive interest groups by the Democratic Party. Absent an analysis focused on that, Kilgore really is just being dismissive out of hand towards a thoughtful and original analysis of the 2012 election and what Democrats could be doing to express their displeasure with Obama.

Obama’s Power: Dems on deficit committee now want more than $1.5t in cuts

Originally posted at AMERICAblog

There is an emerging consensus amongst the Democrats who will serve on the deficit commission (aka Catfood Commission 2, Electric Class Warfare) that the mandate of $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts is insufficient.

Democrats on the new joint deficit Super Committee will seek more than the $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction they’ve been tasked with finding, in order to help offset some of those costs.“All of us would like to set as a target for ourselves even more than $1.5 trillion,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who’s also the top House Democrat on the Budget Committee, told reporters at a Tuesday Capitol press conference.

For those not paying attention, President Obama (after Warren Buffett said it in his much-linked NYT op-ed) called for the deficit commission to go beyond $1.5 trillion in cuts. The Democrats on the commission, including liberals like Xavier Becerra, have moved to be where the President has been saying the commission should go. When Obama gives a speech tomorrow night (and a subsequent one in following days more specifically about deficit cuts), it will direct Congress as to where he thinks these cuts beyond $1.5 trillion should come from. Sadly, the answer seems to be Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

David Dayen points out that this is a pretty clear rebuttal to the notion that the President is not capable of shaping the course of legislative and policy debates, especially with regard to Congress as a coequal branch of government.

If you listen to [Obama’s] public statements, he clearly wants this tax cut and spending cut agenda to go forward. And now, his Democratic colleagues on the Catfood Commission, even the putatively liberal ones like Xavier Becerra, are mimicking him. That’s because a President has a lot of influence and power.

Take this as a reminder that President Obama is not weak and certainly not dis-empowered from pursuing the agenda he wants to pursue.