Saturday, June 17, 2017

Editorial: Bad Bills Rising

While most of the nation was distracted by former FBI Director James Comey testifying to the Senate Intelligence Committee about Donald Trump’s attempt to obstruct justice in the FBI probe of the Trump campaign’s ties with Russian officials and computer hackers in the 2016 election, House Republicans passed a bill to repeal most of the Dodd-Frank regulations of the finance industry, and Senate Republicans plan to move on their bill to gut Obamacare before the public finds out what’s in it.

The House on June 8 along partisan lines approved the deregulatory Financial CHOICE Act 233-186. It does away with many of the “onerous regulations” that Democrats passed in 2010 to prevent a repeat of the excesses that led to the financial crisis of 2007-08. Republicans would reduce federal scrutiny of big banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Wells Fargo, as well as other large financial institutions, such as Insurance companies.

Republicans have targeted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a consumer watchdog agency created in the Dodd-Frank Act. The new bill would let the president hire and fire the head of the CFPB and it gives Congress authority over the CFPB’s budget, which is now funded by the Federal Reserve. It strips the CFPB’s authority to regulate “small-dollar credit,” including “payday loans, vehicle title loans, or other similar loans” that saddle borrowers with extremely high interest rates. The CFPB in 2016 proposed rules to curb abuses by predatory lenders, requiring them to ensure a borrower will be able to make payments on time, and making repeat lending to the same people more difficult.

The GOP bill also reduces the CFPB’s ability to levy hefty fines against financial institutions for “unfair” or “deceptive” practices, as it did last year when Wells Fargo was fined $100 million for opening two million accounts customers did not ask for or know about. And it reverses efforts by the CFPB to limit forced-arbitration clauses, which prohibit consumers from bringing traditional lawsuits against financial institutions, requiring them to participate in private, often expensive, proceedings to resolve disputes outside the regular court system.

The bill also repeals the Volcker Rule, which prohibits big banks from using depositors’ funds to participate in certain risky investment activities. It also eases annual “stress tests” measuring the ability of the largest banks that are considered “too big to fail” to withstand financial shock. It removes the government’s ability to restructure a failing financial institution and it repeals the limits set by the Fed on how much banks can charge consumers and retailers for using debit and credit cards.

The bill also would eliminate the Labor Department’s “fiduciary rule,” which requires brokers to act in the best interest of their clients when providing investment advice about retirement plans. After years of development the rule was completed last spring under the Obama administration and the first parts of the rule went into effect June 9. The Trump Labor Department could try to weaken the fiduciary rule before it takes full effect next January.

The CHOICE bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, has argued that the bill will protect consumers and smaller community banks that are burdened by the cost of complying with Dodd-Frank’s regulatory structure. But Hannah Levintova noted at that FDIC data on community banks contradicts Hensarling’s point: In 2016, community bank earnings grew by $507.9 million from the previous year, and they gave out small business loans at more than twice the rate of noncommunity banks.

“This is a dangerous piece of legislation,” Steny Hoyer, the House minority whip, said on the House floor.

Republicans, who have a 52-48 Senate majority, will need Democratic support to get the Financial CHOICE Act through the Senate, where 60 votes are needed under regular rules, unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decides to nuke the filibuster for legislation the way he did in April to confirm right-wing Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Republicans could try to pass a more limited version of the bill with a simple majority through the same reconciliation process they intend to use for the health care repeal bill. Senate Banking Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has made overtures to ranking member Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), but Brown is holding the line. “Democrats have shown we’re willing to work with Republicans to tailor the rules where it makes sense, but not if it means killing the reforms that have made the financial system safer and fairer,” Brown said before the House vote. Democrats and other progressive groups argue that banks need more oversight, not less. They noted that banks reported record profits last year, despite the Dodd-Frank rules, and Wall Street bonuses rose for the first time in three years.

Trump backed the deregulatory bill, but he has said he would “look at” a return to some of the features the old system under the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, which prohibited traditional banks from doing the riskier work of investment banks. Nobody seems to know what he means. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have introduced a “21st Century Glass-Steagall” bill that would prevent banks from acting as both commercial lenders and investment banks, but Trump has brought in five former Goldman Sachs executives to look after his economic policies. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs executive, has told the Senate that a “bright line” between commercial and investment banking could hurt lending and capital markets activity that “support a robust economy.”

Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president who is now Trump’s top economic adviser, recently told Bloomberg that a “21st Century modern Glass-Steagall” could allow the US to better “tailor regulation” in a way that increases lending.

On the Republican effort to replace Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Senate Majority Leader McConnell has started the process to rush Trumpcare 2.1 through the Senate on a fast track with very little transparency. Republican senators have been working behind closed doors to craft a deal that could secure 50 votes they need to pass the bill under the budget reconciliation process. But the Senate bill apparently won’t be much improved from the House bill, which the Congressional Budget Office said would cut $834 billion from Medicaid and cause 23 million Americans to lose health coverage. Republicans need that $834 billion to pay for tax cuts for the rich, so you can expect those savage cuts to remain in the bill. Also look for provisions allowing states to waive essential health benefits, including coverage for pre-existing conditions at standard rates, and allowing insurance companies to charge older people — aged 50-64 —up to five times what they charge younger people.

Under Rule 14, McConnell can bypass committees and send the bill directly to the Senate floor as soon as he thinks he has the votes. Senate Republicans have no plans to publicly release the bill before it goes to the floor, because they know the public won’t like it.

Topher Spiro, health policy expert at the Center for American Progress, has been keeping whip counts in both the House and Senate on Trumpcare. He hears that McConnell has written off Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) as no’s, and he’s ready to bring in Vice President Mike Pence for the tiebreaker. So call your own senators to urge a no vote on Trumpcare, and focus not only on firming up Collins’ and Murkowski’s opposition, but also work on vulnerable Sens. Jeff Flake (Arizona) and particularly Dean Heller (Nevada). And potential wild cards such as Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul could derail the bill because they think it’s still not harsh enough on the working poor.

Call your senators at 202-224-3121 and tell them the only replacement for Obamacare should be Medicare For All. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2017

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links
About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the July 1-15, 2017 issue

COVER/Gary Legum
Trump family grift is getting worse

Bad bills rising


Liberals learning to redefine good news 

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Raise hell to keep dreams alive

GOP to squeeze unpopular Obamacare repeal into budget reconciliation;
Cal takes step toward single-oayer health plan;
‘Infrastructure Week’ didn’t show much;
US refuses to endorse G7 statement on climate change;
Electric car sales doubled last year;
EPA chief way off about new coal jobs;
Trump has a record as a liar;
Trump says Qatar funds terror. Qataris wonder if Trump is mad they didn't fund him ...

Workers want a green economy, not a dirty environment

Saving America’s great places

The Republican party’s sickness of the soul

Donald Trump vs. (most of) the planet

Trump’s revealing budget for rural America

The four faces of Trump

Election to head CA’s Democratic Party is disputed

Trump’s reputation as a dealmaker is a sham, walking away from Paris proves it

Trump’s water infrastructure plans in two words: higher rates

Foreclosures lead to flippers’ profits

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Congress flunks the Jimmy Kimmel test, or the deserving sick

Evolving understanding of evolution

Rural communities lose most with health repeal

Divvying up the loot

Neoliberalism and deaths of despair

Dangerous discourse: when progressives sound like demagogues

Burying Aldo Leopold

Who’s the next Dylan?

MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Bill Moyers and Tim Robbins: “We are the Jailhouse Nation of the World”

and more ...

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Editorial: Fire Red Don / Support Reform in Iran

The aftermath of Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey exposed a paranoid Grifter in Chief and a White House in disarray.

Trump sacked Comey on May 9, 110 days into his presidency, and one day after former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee about the White House’s ongoing entanglement with Russian officials.

Yates on Jan. 26 had warned the White House counsel that Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, misled administration officials about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Flynn was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. Yates was fired on Jan. 30 for refusing to support Trump’s flawed travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US. Flynn kept his job as national security adviser until Feb. 13, when news reports finally surfaced that the White House had been warned about Flynn’s security problems.

White House officials first claimed Comey was fired because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein recommended the termination. In his termination letter to Comey, Trump also wrote, “I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation.”

On May 10 Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak — whose presence at the meeting was unannounced — in the Oval Office. American media were not allowed a photo session, but the Russian news service TASS published pictures fom a Russian photographer of Trump laughing with Kislyak and Lavrov in the Oval Office. Trump later told reporters he fired Comey “because he was not doing a good job.”

On May 11 Trump admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt that he decided to fire Comey before he met with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Rosenstein. “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And in fact, when I decided to do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story …”

Trump also said that on three different occasions — once in person and twice over the phone — he’d asked Comey if he was under investigation for alleged ties to Russia, and Comey told him he wasn’t.

That same day, the New York Times reported that, in a dinner with Comey on Jan. 27, Trump asked him for a personal loyalty pledge that Comey refused to provide. After that report, Trump tweeted, “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” It was later reported that Comey had written a memo immediately after the meeting and told other FBI officials about it — one of possibly many memos he had filed for his own protection.

On May 17, Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

On May 18, the Times reported that Comey had been uncomfortable with Trump’s inquiries to him about the investigation. When Trump called him, weeks after he took office, and asked Comey when federal authorities were going to put out the word that he was not personally under investigation, Comey told the president that if he wanted to know details about the bureau’s investigations, he should not contact Comey directly but instead follow the proper procedures and have the White House counsel send any inquiries to the Justice Department, according to two people briefed on the call.

On May 19, the Times reported that not only did Trump disclose classified information to the Russians in the May 10 meeting in the Oval Office, but he told Lavrov and Kislyak: “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the Times. That’s taken off,” Trump said. He added, “I’m not under investigation.”

If Trump isn’t under investigation, he might be the only one in his campaign who isn’t — and it wouldn’t speak well of the competence of the FBI agents conducting the investigation.

Comey’s activities as FBI director supervising the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails may have warranted his replacement, but that obviously was not the reason Trump fired Comey. Smart Democrats held back on calling for Comey’s ouster, not wanting to risk Trump and Sessions picking Comey’s replacement.

Trump’s attempts to interfere in the FBI investigation of his campaign warrant not only the appointment of Mueller as a special prosecutor; the House and Senate should name an independent commission to take over the investigation from the congressional committees whose partisan leadership has compromised faith in their abilities to get to the bottom of the scandal.

Impeachment is a strong possibility — and not just of Trump. Vice President Mike Pence also should answer for his role in the campaign and his questionable leadership of the transition team. If Republicans prove unwilling or unable to investigate their president and vice president to see how far the rot goes, voters will have a remedy in 2018: elect a Democratic Congress to do the job that the Grand Oligarch Party refuses to do.

Support Reform in Iran

As the scoops piled up in Washington, Trump fled the jurisdiction, embarking on his first foreign trip as president. In his first stop, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Trump was bowing and curtsying to Arab potentates and signaling that disregard for human rights would not disrupt relations with the Trump Administration. Meanwhile, across the Persian Gulf, Iran was celebrating the re-election of relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who won with 57% of the nationwide vote over a hardline cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, who promised more confrontation with the the West.

Some US right wingers might hope a war with Iran will help Trump, as well as American oil producers by cutting Iranian oil supplies, but crowds of Iranians in Tehran were hopeful that Rouhani’s second term will bring better relations with the West and foreign investment to lift Iran’s ailing economy, as well as the release of Iranian political prisoners, more freedom of speech and fewer restrictions on daily life.

Rouhani’s signal accomplishment during his first term was the deal with the UN Security Council to abandon pursuit of a nuclear weapon. But Trump appeared to rule out any reconciliation with Iran. Instead, he sided with the rival Saudi monarchy, which has used its oil wealth to export a fundamentalist Wahabbi version of Sunni Islam.

In his speech to Muslim heads of state in Riyadh, Trump spoke of a stronger alliance with mostly Sunni Muslim nations to fight terrorism and extremist ideology and to push back against Shiite Iran. In fact, al Qaeda and the Islamic State are Sunni groups against which Iran-sponsored Shiite militias have battled in Iraq.

Iran also backed creation of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political party that has Lebanon’s strongest military force and fought to push the Israeli army out of occupied south Lebanon. Hezbollah is now fighting al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria, Juan Cole noted.

Cole added, “Iranian centrists nowadays have much more power, through the president and parliament, than do any Saudi centrists that might exist.” While the Saudi king has allowed municipal elections since 2005, the king still appoints one-third of city councillors as well as mayors, provincial governors and members of the national Consultative Council, so any groundswell for reform can be squashed by the king’s men. And there is no freedom of speech, or of the press, or of women.

We agree with Cole, who noted that with a population of 80 million, Iran is a substantial country and a huge market, with a GDP similar to Poland’s. “The US and Iran could do a lot of business with another,” he noted. And with the UN sanctions set aside, if we don’t do business with Iran, other economic rivals, including Russia and China, as well as Germany, France and other NATO allies, will be free to set up shop there. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2017

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links
About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive PopulistPO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the June 15, 2017 issue

COVER/Conor Lynch
Future of the resistance: Where does anti-Trump movement go from here?

Fire Red Don; Support reform in Iran


FFA finds its way but at what cost? 

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
Climate change still in early innings

Supreme Court strikes down racially gerrymandered NC congressional districts;
Trump’s common curtsy;
House Dems raking in small-dollar donations;
White House keeps ‘Obamacare’ payments in place another 90 days;
O'Donnell may be outin MSNBC rightward revamp;
White House having H.R. problems;
Days after promise to save food stamps, Trump budget targets them, as safety net is slashed;
Airport lawyers who stood up to Trump under attack
'Essential' toxic waste cleanup program to be slashed;
First rule of pipelines: They leak;
Gingrich pushes discredited conspiracy theory about death of DNC staffer;
Right-wing attacks on Planned Parenthood are working ...

The problem with Iowa

The coming crisis for the world’s farmers

Two impeachable obstructions at play here

Fight back with voting and election reform

What progressives should demand from the FBI

Donald Trump is waging a war on workers

When protests are powerful, the powerful punish protest

Explaining Trump’s base support

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Nostalgia, or careening back to the future

Penny pinching Texas legislators slam family planning

A tinge of fascism

Is Trump’s infrastructure plan an attack on democracy?

Hazards of ‘petty trade’ in Asia

ALEC and the minimum wage

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Punctuate this!


MOVIES/Ed Rampell
Josh Fox’s latest film captures the struggle at Standing Rock

and more ...