Tuesday, May 24, 2016

On Blackmail, Abortion,and Mercy: A Michigan Tale

Lee Chatfield is a Freshman Republican representing a district in Michigan that includes my low income county, Chippewa, along with some of the richest counties in the state.  His heart, he says, is with God, so naturally he ran as a Tea Party candidate.  He works with the Republican majority to undermine crucial social programs in our beleaguered state because, I don't know--tough love, boot straps, nanny state, the poor don't need it, the rich do, sin, punishment, retribution, all of the above.

He's young, good looking, clean-cut, has four small kids, a beautiful family, a nice life.  He doesn't look mean or judgmental or even clueless.  But he's a Republican in a state where meanness and intolerance are expected from his kind, so from what I know, he's toeing the mark, following the line, giving it all he's got to ignore the plight of the people he represents, justifying instead the GOP/Koch/ALEC/Mackinac Center assaults on the poor and the disenfranchised.

But something happened that should, by all rights, make him reconsider the need to go on the attack against innocent people whose backgrounds he couldn't possibly understand:  Last week his wife became the victim of a potential blackmailer.

On Friday, Lee announced on Facebook that his wife, Stephanie, had a secret that was about to be exposed.  When she was in high school she had an abortion. She went to a party, she doesn't know what happened, she became pregnant and she panicked.  She had an abortion and she's regretted it ever since.

I'm not here to judge Lee Chatfield's wife.  This is her own personal business and she deserves the right to keep it quiet.  But it's out in the open now and she and her husband handled it as well as could be expected.  In the statement included on Chatfield's Facebook page, his wife Stephanie talked about the shame she felt and still feels.  She talked about how her faith helped her through it. She talked about her pro-life stance and how it has made her more empathetic toward women who might find themselves in her shoes but who now need the kind of guidance that would keep them from having to abort their own babies. She asked for understanding.

What she didn't talk about was the fact that her husband is a hard-headed proponent of killing off Planned Parenthood.

Candidate Lee Chatfield at a Planned Parenthood protest.

Another protest view
 Last year the 26 year old Christian school teacher ran on a platform that included stopping Medicaid payments associated with the ACA, dropping protections for the LGBT community, and making good on a promise to defund Planned Parenthood.

In August, he headed a protest rally in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic in Petoskey, bragging it up about putting an end to the evils going on in there.

In November he won the election against Jim Page, the Democrat who ran on a platform of increasing funding to public education, increasing the minimum wage, ending Right to Work in Michigan, addressing environmental issues, and improving health care for all.  He won it by attacking all of those ideas, using the defunding of Planned Parenthood as the icing on the cake.

Lee Chatfield's wife has lived for years with her own perceived shame over an abortion. She has that right. It's her life. But when she joins her husband in his attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood, an organization celebrated for its work in helping millions of women with their reproductive needs, she infringes on the rights of other women.  While Planned Parenthood doesn't advocate abortion as the only outcome for an unplanned pregnancy, they do add it to their list of options. Options. They're not in the business of killing babies.  They don't sell baby parts. They don't deserve these wrong-headed, dishonest attempts to shut them down.

Stephanie Chatfield didn't deserve to be outed over her very private decision to have an abortion, either. I hope, when all this blows over, she can empathize with women finding themselves in her shoes and can finally understand that our lives cannot be subject to someone else's decisions about them.

Out of misery comes mercy.

I read that somewhere.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks & Liars)

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bernie Sanders' Ugly Break Up with the Party He Wooed

Yesterday, four days after a small riot took place at the Nevada State Democratic Convention over what Bernie Sanders' supporters say were rule changes depriving Bernie of FOUR DELEGATES and a win that was never going to happen because he had already lost Nevada in FEBRUARY, Bernie Sanders issued a statement warning the Democratic Party that there's a new sheriff in town and they've been really, really bad so whatever happens, it's on them, not him.

Considering that Roberta Lange, the hapless state party chairwoman who got herself into a bit of a mess over party rules, was being bombarded with harassing phone calls at all hours of the day and night, not to mention DEATH THREATS, some of us thought maybe Bernie would call for his people to just calm down.  Don't go there.  I'm telling you.

But, no, Bernie instead took it as an opportunity to blast the Democrats for not listening to him when he told them there was a revolution going on.  What did they expect would happen?  It's a revolution, dammit! R.E.V.O.L.U.T.I.O.N!!

Now, okay, the Democratic Party--my party, if I haven't told you often enough--is in bad need of a shake-up.  I'll be the first (okay, maybe not the first) to admit that. We strayed away from many of the foundations FDR built for us more than three quarters of a century ago, and, in the process, allowed the Republicans to ride rough-shod over the entire country.

We didn't fight hard enough against them, which means we didn't fight hard enough for the people who counted on us. We thought we could work with those guys--constitution, common good, our country tis of thee, something, something--even though ever since Eisenhower they've made it clear they would just as soon grind us into guano as look at us.

But here's the thing about us Democrats. We're still better than they are. Way better. So much better, Bernie Sanders, the Independent Democratic Socialist Revolutionary, didn't feel the least bit ashamed about joining up with us in his quest to become the One and Only Democratic Party presidential candidate.

Bernie, as much as he would now like to disclaim any affiliation with us, or even affection for us, made the first move.  HE joined US.

He has a message and it's a good one: Let's do all we can to help people who are hurting, either  because of governmental policies now in place, or because of a lack of protective governmental policies. Who couldn't get behind that?  I myself applauded him for getting the message out loud and clear.  We, the Democrats, haven't done a good enough job.  Now we're in a position to change that, and Bernie wants to help us. Yay!

That was when the Democrats were still "we".  Now we've become "they". The accusations are flying; neither side wants to admit any wrongdoing.  Looks like we're heading for a divorce.  It could get ugly.

But wait!  Is that reconciliation I see around the corner? Bernie Sanders' go-to guy, Jeff Weaver, just said on national TV that no matter how much it looks like Sanders is trashing the Democrats, calling them corrupt dishonest establishment whores bought and paid for by Wall Street, and, even worse, "low energy", of course he'll do what he can to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.

Of course. Because if Bernie Sanders is anything, he's a uniter, not a divider. And if the Democrats don't agree, well, screw 'em.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Clinton to Trump: I'll Take the High Road and You Take the Low Road

Now that Donald Trump is the GOP presumptive nominee he's pulling out all the stops, going after Hillary Clinton, the Dem's presumably-presumptive nominee, not in ways that have to do with issues, or even qualifications, but in ways that only a blustery blow-hard of a presidential poseur would do.

Clinton, the savvy politician, says "bring it on but I'm not going there". Trump will see that as weak.  He'll see that as the woman thing.  What he won't see is the double-whammy already arcing toward him, lobbed by the many who are sick to death of his ignorant, childish bullying. 

What Trump still doesn't get--and maybe never will--is that for all his popularity he has many more haters than fans.  Those thousands filling every venue, cheering him on, are the same thousands who filled Sarah Palin's venues, cheering her on whenever she went on the attack against the establishment.  It fills a need, it satisfies an itch, clichéd beyond all reason ("I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!"), but it does nothing to change what most everyone sees as a dysfunctional government.

The way to make change is to get involved.  In Trump's case, a first step might include a high school civics class.  The GOP nominee for president has built his case for being president by showing the world it pays not to know anything about being president.

He aced the test, not by studying or giving the right answers, but by blasting everyone who tried to tell him he's not ready to graduate.  He's the E-minus student running against the Valedictorian, having full confidence that he can bully his way to a diploma.

Everyone who has any sense left in their beaners is laughing at Donald Trump.  It's a serious issue when someone as ridiculously unequipped is this close to the presidency, but barring that, Trump is a joke gone hilariously awful.

Famously funny cynic Fran Lebowitz made an all-too-rare appearance on the Tonight Show, professing her newfound love for Hillary while eviscerating Trump: 
"[Being president] is a really hard job and the idea that they want someone who's not a politician.  It's like calling someone, saying "I have a horrible leak in my apartment.  Do you know someone who's not a plumber?"
But while we're laughing at Donald and scoffing at his equally windbaggish sidekicks, Hillary Clinton is diligently working at proving she has the chops to run the Big Things.

About Trump, she says, "I'm not running against him.  He's doing a fine job of doing it himself."  She's talking, now, about the primaries, but if she wins the candidacy she'll be running against a beast already boasting of the savagery to come.

He's less than one week into his presumptive nomination and it has already started.  The issue of Bill Clinton's affairs is like red meat to Trump the predator, so it was never a matter of if, but when.

From CNN:
"Donald Trump on Friday accused Hillary Clinton of being "an unbelievably nasty, mean enabler" of her husband's alleged affairs and accused her of destroying the lives of his accusers.

The remarks are the first time that Trump has raised the former president's alleged affairs and Hillary Clinton's behavior amidst a flurry of accusations since becoming the Republican Party's presumptive nominee. Trump had previously accused Clinton of being an 'enabler' to her husband's behavior, but he ramped up his rhetoric on Friday.
'She's been the total enabler. She would go after these women and destroy their lives,' Trump said, adding, 'She was an unbelievably nasty, mean enabler, and what she did to a lot of those women is disgraceful."
Trump did not expand upon what he believes Clinton did to 'destroy' the lives of those women."
If it were anyone else but Trump this might seem reckless, and in the real world, considering the rumors about his own checkered past, he would know enough to leave it alone.  But he's confident enough to go ahead because he knows he can always count on that tried and true standby, the double standard. 

Let me repeat: The sexist double standard, double standard, double, that's DOUBLE standard

Yes, I'm crying "sexism".  I'm not just crying it, I'm shouting it, I'm trying to figure out how to bounce it off the moon, sending it awash all over the planet. Blatant, ugly, corrosive sexism.

(And by the way, CNN got it wrong:  This is not the first time Trump has called her an enabler over Bill's affairs.  Back in January a group of GOP women urged him to drop it.  Fat chance.)

No matter what scandal Trump wants to use as ammunition against Hillary Clinton or anyone else who gets in his way, the real scandal is Trump himself.  His behavior is not acceptable, or even normal.  Most of the people voting for him wouldn't put up with him in their own living rooms for a single day, let alone four years.  I don't pretend to know what goes on in their minds.  It's one thing to be sad and disappointed and frustrated and angry at the perpetrators of what looks like wholesale destruction of the very fabric of our society, but it's quite another not to know you're backing a goddamn idjit for president.

From Paul Krugman, "The Making of an Ignoramus".
"Truly, Donald Trump knows nothing. He is more ignorant about policy than you can possibly imagine, even when you take into account the fact that he is more ignorant than you can possibly imagine. But his ignorance isn’t as unique as it may seem: In many ways, he’s just doing a clumsy job of channeling nonsense widely popular in his party, and to some extent in the chattering classes more generally.
"Last week the presumptive Republican presidential nominee — hard to believe, but there it is — finally revealed his plan to make America great again. Basically, it involves running the country like a failing casino: he could, he asserted, “make a deal” with creditors that would reduce the debt burden if his outlandish promises of economic growth don’t work out.
The reaction from everyone who knows anything about finance or economics was a mix of amazed horror and horrified amazement. One does not casually suggest throwing away America’s carefully cultivated reputation as the world’s most scrupulous debtor — a reputation that dates all the way back to Alexander Hamilton."
How many times have you seen me quote George Will, signalling that I actually agreed with him?  It's not a trick question.  This will be the first:
"Donald Trump’s distinctive rhetorical style — think of a drunk with a bullhorn reading aloud James Joyce’s “Finnegan's Wake” under water — poses an almost insuperable challenge to people whose painful duty is to try to extract clarity from his effusions. For example, on Friday, during a long stream of semi-consciousness in Fort Worth, this man who as president would nominate members of the federal judiciary vowed to “open up” libel laws to make it easier to sue — to intimidate and punish — people who write “negative” things. Well.
Trump, the thin-skinned tough guy, resembles a campus crybaby who has wandered out of his “safe space.” It is not news that he has neither respect for nor knowledge of the Constitution, and he probably is unaware that he would have to “open up” many Supreme Court First Amendment rulings in order to achieve his aim. His obvious aim is to chill free speech, for the comfort of the political class, of which he is now a gaudy ornament."
So, okay, enough about Trump.  (Oh, except, did you see that wild Twitter war with Elizabeth Warren?)

How is Hillary preparing to be president?  She's scouring the country, sitting down with actual people, lending her ear, even when she knows she'll get an earful.  She's  talking about issues and not innuendo. She's building a base of supporters, both inside and outside of politics. She's going out on interviews, presenting her qualifications, applying for the highest job in the land as if it really were a job and not a joke, a conquest, or a power trip.

We're still in the midst of the primaries so I need to mention that Bernie Sanders is still in the running as the Democratic candidate.  Bernie Sanders, to his credit, is not Donald Trump.  Donald Trump, to no one's surprise, is keeping his hands off of Bernie Sanders.  In fact, Trump gleefully announces to each and every audience that he's going to steal Bernie's best speeches against Hillary and use them as if they were his own.  (Because Bernie knows some words, I'm guessing.)

Right now, Hillary Clinton is running against two opponents and holding her own.  If she wins the nomination she'll be going against Donald Trump.  Trump's big threat is that he hasn't even started on Hillary yet.

Someone needs to remind him that he's running for president, not chief comical inquisitor.  It's serious business, and gotcha games are for kids.

But don't look at me.  I'm not telling him.  Not that he'd listen to a nasty old bag of a broad, anyway.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks & Liars)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"Deal Me In": Hillary plays the Gender Card.

Let's be clear:  Hillary and I are all for playing the gender card.  Hell, men have been doing it since the dawn of mankind. (See what I did there?)

The top job in this country has been held by that other gender since George Washington became our first president in 1789.

Women couldn't even vote until 1920.

It wasn't until 1932 that the first woman was elected to the Senate. Since then, only 31 women have served in that office.

Of the  435 members of the House of Representatives, fewer than 20% are women.

Only 39 women have ever served as state governors.

In too many workplaces women are still paid less than men in the same job.

Our body parts are under attack daily by people who want to take away our right to own them unilaterally.

Our sex makes us vulnerable in every aspect of society, even here in America, even in the 21st Century.

So when we say out loud that it's our turn, that's because it's our turn.  Nothing subversive about it.  It's our damn turn.

As of this morning it looks like Hillary Clinton will be running against Donald Trump for the top job. She'll pull out all the stops to prove she's far more qualified to be president than he ever could be. He'll be using what he sees as his male privilege to attack her.

He won't give up. But I've got news for him: Neither will she. And neither will we.

Dismiss us at your peril, you cocky loser.  Bring it on. You and the rest of your pals dealt this card. Now sit down, shut up, and watch how it's played by the other side.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks & Liars)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Today we Celebrate the Earth. Tomorrow, Business as Usual

(Today is Earth Day in America.  The first, 46 years ago, was a big deal.  It was 1970.  We were in the mood to celebrate the earth and to warn against the destruction of our natural places.  Now we're watching again as our supposed caretakers are licking their lips at the thought of all that land open to rape-for-profit.  

I wrote and published this piece six years ago so you'll note some outdated references.  I present it again today as a history and a celebration of Earth Day.  We're at that point, and maybe beyond, where our own safety is at stake.  The earth is our only home.  We owe it to her--and to ourselves--to keep her healthy.)
"On April 22, 1970, 20 million people, 2,000 colleges and universities, 10,000 grammar and high schools and 1,000 communities mobilized for the first nationwide demonstrations on environmental problems. Congress adjourned for the day so members could attend Earth Day events in their districts. The response was nothing short of remarkable, and the modern American environmental movement took off.
My major objective in planning Earth Day 1970 was to organize a nationwide public demonstration so large it would, finally, get the attention of the politicians and force the environmental issue into the political dialogue of the nation. It worked. By the sheer force of its collective action on that one day, the American public forever changed the political landscape respecting environmental issues."
Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Dem. Wisc - Founder of Earth Day.

Created by Walt Kelly for Earth Day, 1970

I remember that first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.  The scope of it was astonishing and really surprising. It was a grassroots movement in the best sense of the phrase, and we all felt good about it.  (Most of us, that is.  The day after, The Daughters of the American Revolution branded  the Earth Day commemoration "distorted" and "subversive".  (It didn't help that the first Earth Day happened to fall on the 100th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin's birth.)

What Gaylord Nelson originally proposed was a nationwide teach-in on school campuses.  He chose April 22 because it would fall after Easter break but before final exams.  It was spring.  The earth was renewing itself.  Environmentalism was gearing up and in motion,  and it was a fine time to give the earth a day.  Richard Nixon was president and, while he didn't participate in any of the day's events (maybe because a damned Democrat came up with the idea), he was actively talking about attacks on the environment and the steps the government would need to combat them.  Pollution was a big issue already, and steps had been taken to de-smog the cities.  It was working.  (Nelson had actually talked to JFK in the early 60s about the need to draw attention to the environment, and a day to commemorate had been thrown out there then.)

Industry was king, and the environmentalists, alarmed at water, ground and air pollution levels, were talking to brick walls (when they weren't batting their heads against them).  In 1962, the year Rachel Carson published "Silent Spring", 750 people died in London's smog.  In 1965, four days of inversion held down a cloud of filthy air that killed 80 people in New York City.  In 1969, Cleveland's Cuyahoga River caught fire. Earlier that year, an oil platform six miles out from Santa Barbara, California, blew out, spilling 200,000 gallons of oil, creating an 800 square mile oil slick that settled on 35 miles of California shoreline.  Almost 4,000 birds were killed, along with fish, seals and dolphin.  

Enough had finally become enough, and under Lyndon Johnson and a congress that could see clearly now (even though the rest of us were still lost in a choking, eye-watering, salmon-colored, man-made smog), we saw a Clean Air Act, a Clean Water act, a National Wilderness Preservation System, a Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, a National Trails System Act, and, for what it was worth, a  National Environmental Policy.

That all changed, of course, when Ronald "A tree is a tree" Reagan became president.  For the Department of Interior, he chose James Watt, a notorious anti-environmentalist, to head it. He chose Ann Gorsuch, another determined anti-earthling, to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  What a laugh that was--or might have been, if it weren't so serious.  They were chosen for the same cynical reasons George W. Bush chose his department heads--so that regulatory agencies could, from the inside, be forced to stop regulating.  

Gale Norton, GWB's choice for Secretary of Interior was called "even worse" than James Watt, by the Defenders of Wildlife.  I shuddered over that one.  I remembered James Watt, and I thought nobody could cause as much havoc on our little section of the earth as that little man did.  I thought we had learned something along the way.  I thought all those Arbor Days and Earth Days and global warming warnings had taught us all something.  Some of us obviously weren't listening.

But now we're in the era of Obama and former Colorado senator Ken Salazar is the Interior secretary.  The jury is still out on him; his voting record was either for or against the environment, depending on what I'm assuming was the alignment of the stars or the fullness of the moon.  I don't know.   But he's showing signs of bucking the oil industry, and he isn't necessarily doing what his naysayers thought he would, so I'm willing to cut him some slack for a while.

Lisa Jackson is the current head of the EPA. She's a chemical engineer, which seems like a start, and she said this in Newsweek:  "The difference between this administration and the last is that we don't believe we have an option to do nothing."  I like that.  But she seems to think there's no cause for alarm over offshore drilling.  That makes me more than a little nervous, considering the above-mentioned Santa Barbara incident, and the 11-million-gallon Exxon-Valdez incident, and today's oil-rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana.  (I hope she remembers that the EPA is 40 years old this year, too.  In fact it's a few months older than Earth Day--all the more reason for it to be the designated caretaker.)

This Earth Day, 40 years after the first, got a lot of play in the news and on the internet, but I was hoping to see crowds out there giving it their best.  I didn't expect teabags, of course, but what I wouldn't give for a sea of tie-dyes and peace signs and flower garlands. . .  The aroma of patchouli. . . 

All those things I thought were pretty silly in the day are looking downright good to me as I take note of the day we promised to give Earth a chance.

"Sometimes I wonder if Lewis and Clark shouldn't have been made to file an environmental impact study before they started west, and Columbus before he ever sailed.  They might never have got their permits.  But then we wouldn't have been here to learn from our mistakes, either.  I really only want to say that we may love a place and still be dangerous to it.  We ought to file that environmental impact study before we undertake anything that exploits or alters or endangers the splendid, spacious, varied, magnificent and terribly fragile earth that supports us.  If we can't find an appropriate government agency with which to file it, we can file it where an Indian would have filed it--with our environmental conscience, our slowly maturing sense that the earth is indeed our mother, worthy of our love and deserving of our care."

Wallace Stegner, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs

(Cross-posted at Crooks & Liars)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Mortgage Fraudsters and Their Get Out Of Jail Free Card

I don't have to tell you that when it comes to Big Money I know nothing. Beyond coming deliciously close to balancing my checkbook once in a while and/or putting a few pennies away in a sock or a next-to-no-interest savings account, finances are a complete mystery to me.  I know people who do know something about Big Money but when they talk about it, it's in a foreign language.  Pretty sure.  When they're talking about billions and trillions they might as well be talking about the enormity of the galaxies.  No comprendo, buddy.  Don't even waste your time.

So when I read a story in USA Today about Goldman Sachs finally getting around to agreeing on a settlement for bilking mortgage customers out of billions of dollars over many years, causing many thousands of them to have to default and move out of their homes, their fine seemed colossal enough where even I should have been screaming with joy.  Over $5 billion!  Dollars!
The glimpse of the New York-based banking and investment giant's internal review process came as Goldman Sachs acknowledged it marketed and sold tens of billions of dollars in residential mortgage-backed securities without weeding out questionable loans as investors had been promised.

“This resolution holds Goldman Sachs accountable for its serious misconduct in falsely assuring investors that securities it sold were backed by sound mortgages, when it knew that they were full of mortgages that were likely to fail,” Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart Delery said as the Department of Justice, state attorneys general and other officials announced the finalized agreement.
They weren't the only ones, of course.  In February, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $1.2 billion for their part in cheating on mortgages.

From USA Today:
NEW YORK -- San Francisco bank Wells Fargo Wednesday said it has agreed to fork over $1.2 billion to settle allegations that it fraudulently certified loans in connection with a government insurance program.

In a 2012 lawsuit, the U.S. government accused Wells Fargo of sticking it with "hundreds of millions of dollars" in Federal Housing Authority insurance claims as a result of years of "reckless" underwriting and fraudulent loan certification.
As a result, FHA had to pay out insurance claims on thousands of FHA-insured mortgages that defaulted, the government said.
Around that same time in February, Morgan Stanley agreed to pay $3.2 billion.

Also from USA Today:
“Morgan Stanley touted the quality of the lenders with which it did business and the due diligence process it used to screen out bad loans.  All the while, Morgan Stanley knew that in reality, many of the loans backing its securities were toxic," said acting U.S. Attorney Brian Stretch of California's northern federal district.

Morgan Stanley said its previous financial set-asides for the settlements would prevent the payments from affecting the bank's 2016 earnings. "We are pleased to have finalized these settlements involving legacy residential mortgage-backed securities matters," the bank said.
 Well, isn't that special?  Their bottom line won't be hurt at all by it. BIG sigh of relief.

Note that ugly word "fraudulent".  Note, too, that innocent phrase "agreed to pay"--as if paying, for them, is an option.  Note also too there is no mention of anyone going to jail.  Not a single soul from anywhere within those vast companies had to go to jail for their misdeeds. They couldn't even muster up a single scapegoat.  Nobody.  They paid fines large enough to sustain entire cities but it turns out it's no more than money in a sock to them.  So, big frickin' deal.  Let's move on.

Well, how about we don't this time?  I know for a fact if I did something "fraudulent" or even "toxic" that caused even one family to lose their home, I would be in big trouble.  HUGE trouble.  It would probably cost me everything I owned.  I would surely go to jail. I would be a bad, bad person.  I would even think so myself.  I know for a fact I would not have to option to "agree to pay" for my crime.  I would pay for it, or else.  And I know for a fact I wouldn't be "pleased with the outcome".  That's the point of punishment.  I should be the opposite of "pleased".

When huge institutions cause that much indisputable harm to hundreds of thousands of citizens, when billions of our taxpayer dollars end up having to pay for their crimes, we should expect more from them than a slap on the wrist.  We should expect that they lose everything, and every member of their group who knew anything about it and let it happen should have to spend many thousands of their remaining days in prison

They sure as hell shouldn't be able to "agree" to the amount of their fine, and it shouldn't be pennies on the dollar. They sure as hell shouldn't be pleased at the outcome. And they sure as hell shouldn't be allowed to go back to business as usual.

In August, 2013, Sen. Elizabeth Warren sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder expressing her dissatisfaction with the criminal-free mortgage settlements.  In it she wrote:
"I am concerned that this might be yet another example of the federal government’s timid enforcement strategy against the nation’s largest financial institutions. I believe that if DOJ and our banking regulatory agencies prove unwilling over time to take the big banks to trial or even require admission of guilt when they cheat consumers and break the law — either out of timidity or because of a lack of resources — then the agencies lose enormous leverage in settlement negotiations."
To which I can only add: You can say that again, sister.  We've been living in a system for far too long where the bigger the crook, the lighter they fall. I don't need to know a single thing about high finance to know it's time to end that insane double standard.

So now we come to the elephant in the room: This is a big election year. My candidate, Hillary Clinton, has taken big bucks in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street giants. She says they haven't bought her influence, and so far I haven't seen any signs that they have, but if she is the Democratic party nominee we're going to need to know how close she is to agreeing with Elizabeth Warren.  It had better be pretty damned close.  (Let's not get sidetracked by my admission that I'm supporting Hillary.  We've been through this.  Here's why.)

My party, the Democratic Party, has lost its guts, and it's people like Elizabeth Warren and, yes, Bernie Sanders, who are willing to take up the pitchforks in order to bring some sanity, some fairness, to a system that has fallen all over itself to keep from governing as a full-fledged democracy. 

My party is the party of the people.  It should be obvious to our party leaders that it's their job to make sure we live up to our name.  We've been too long pretending that any move in the direction toward the people makes us better than the Republicans. Not good enough. Anybody is better than the Republicans. 

Big money is the bane of our existence.  When we speak of billions the way we used to talk about millions, we've lost touch with the common needs of the people.  We read the articles about billion dollar fines and tend to forget how many lives were adversely altered or outright destroyed, thanks to the fraudsters working out in the open with no fear of punishment or retaliation.  They didn't get to that place on their own.

Money talked louder than we did and money won.  Now we're in the midst of a crazy election season, and what we're seeing is the equivalent of an angry mob scene.  Somebody's to blame and somebody has to pay. 

Let's hope it's not us again.

(Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

It's my Party and I'll Care if I want To

 Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images
No matter who wins the nomination and ultimately the presidency this year, the Democratic Party is in trouble.  For almost two decades, after the economic successes of the Clinton administration went sour, after things got rough again for the 99 percent, my party didn't try hard enough to repair the damage. They made enemies on the left and made bullies on the right.  And now, when it seems they're finally waking up, both the left and the right are going after them, loaded for bear

George W. Bush and his cohorts systematically and deliberately destroyed a thriving economy, took away the homes and livelihoods of millions of Americans, and lied their way into a murderous, protracted trillion dollar war.  And what did the Democrats do? Not a whole hell of a lot.  With all of the excesses and outrages the GOP and the Right Wing were throwing at us, the Dems were in a perfect position to build a movement so big and so strong the painful realities of the Bush years would have been left to the history books and not to the burdens of generations to come.

Instead, leaders of the Democratic Party took us farther away from our Rooseveltian roots, playing nice while the demons haunted us.  Their refusal to fight back was a puzzlement, disturbing to those of us who still believed our party could do great things.  Then our knight in shining armor--Barack Obama--appeared on the horizon and we thought we were saved.

Obama won the 2008 election, riding in on a colossal wave of hope and change, but when the Democrats were given two full years of nearly unencumbered opportunities they squandered them, allowing the Republicans to go on acting as if they were still in charge.

After the Dems lost both houses in 2010, mainly because the voters were fed up and stayed home, the triumphant Republicans found themselves having to share the catbird seat with a gaggle of new and dangerous occupants: The Tea Party.  They came in with no governing experience, making demands so outrageous and out-of-touch the Dems should have been able to turn public opinion against them without much fuss or muss.   It didn't happen. 

In 2012, we won a partial battle but lost the advantages we needed to win the war:  Obama won the presidency but the GOP took back the House and the Senate, this time with more anti-government Tea Party newbies, all willing to suck at the teat of the government while threatening to drain it dry.

Aided and abetted by big money donors with ties to the John Birch Society, the NRA, and the religious right, pushing a pro-business, anti-government agenda with help from the Right Wing media, the GOP swept the board, handing entire states over to pro-business, anti-government leaders who promptly went to work finishing the job of shredding what we bravely but foolishly used to call our unalienable rights.

So here we are, Democrats, just months away from our chance to get it back and do it right this time. Our successes during the Obama years were encouraging, considering the Congress we had, but few and far between. We've just begun to build on them and we can't allow them to be thrown away. We have two presidential candidates to choose from. One of them, Hillary Clinton, is the pragmatic establishment candidate, and the other, Bernie Sanders, is the anti-establishment, pro-revolution counterpoint.

Bernie, the Independent, is closest to our populist roots and tells our story best.  Hillary, the Washington insider, may be better positioned to build on the populist theme and get the work done.  At this writing, it looks like Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination.  Then the job begins. We'll be back to Hope and Change but this time it has to work.

We--and I'm addressing Democrats here--have drifted from being the party of good to being the party of good intentions. "We meant well" is a far cry from "We got it done".  Our party needs a good swift kick in the pants and they're getting it in the person of Bernie Sanders.  People who are disillusioned, disappointed and tired of waiting are flocking to him.  Even those of us who are pushing for a Hillary win are cheering Bernie on.  (Come on.  You know we are. We might grouse at how he's doing it, but he's pressing our leaders to take us back to our inestimable roots. Even if we're not voting for Bernie, we're sitting up and taking notice.  It's been a long time coming and Sanders' candidacy is the catalyst to move it forward.)

We owe Bernie Sanders an enormous debt of gratitude and we'd be wise not to forget it. We are the party of populists and always have been.  We're liberals, we're progressives, we're white collar humanitarians, we're blue-collar do-gooders, we're pink collar nurterers.  We're the unabashed, unrepentant caretakers of our society.  That's what separates us from the other party.  That's what makes it so imperative that we sweep the election in November.  There are people hurting out there and they need us.

If we want to win in November we'll have to work together against the Republicans.  There are two parties in a position to fill the big vacancies.  Only two. If Bernie's people abandon the Democrats, we'll lose.  If Hillary's people stay miffed at Bernie's people, we'll lose.  The anger on both sides is going to have to take a back seat once we choose a candidate, just as it did in 2008 when Barack Obama won on a message of hope, the Democrats went on to hold the majority, and Obama's toughest rival, Hillary Clinton, became his friend, his ally, his Secretary of State.

We have a chance to do it right this time.  The Republicans should, by rights, be easy to beat. (You've seen their candidates, right?)  We have more to offer than they do, but in order to get our message out, in order to draw the most voters, we have to get our leaders to get with the program and agree on what our message is.

Simplified, this is how it goes:  Down with Oligarchy!  Up with Democracy!

The message may be simple but the execution won't be.  But we're Democrats and the other guys aren't.  We've done it before, we can do it again.

Emphasis on "we".

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks & Liars)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mitch McConnell Tells a Big Fat Lie. Or Two.

Today, a little more than a month after Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly while hunting at a Texas ranch, President Obama announced his choice for a replacement.  He has chosen Merrick Garland, a D.C Circuit judge well known by most Beltway pols, almost unanimously endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats during previous nominations, a man whose views range from moderate to conservative, appealing to all but the most liberal among us.

This choice by Obama was, by all accounts, deliberate.  Republicans are on record singing Garland's praises. They go way back, these guys. Good man!  If anyone could get through the gawdawful GOP gantlet this most brilliant choice for SCOTUS would be it.

It was as if Mitch McConnell had been talking to brick walls! The day after Justice Scalia died, mere minutes after taking off his sad face, the Senate Majority Leader wasted no time making one thing crystal clear: This particular sitting president has no right appointing anyone to the Supreme Court during a presidential election year.  It should be the right of the people, McConnell said, and the right of the people doesn't start until January, 2017, when a new president not named Obama will be sworn into office.

Well, some people--even people who knew Mitch McConnell--were stunned!  What?  What did he say?   He said President Obama could nominate up the wazoo but even Jesus Christ almighty wouldn't go up for a vote. (Not his exact words.)  He would never allow a vote on any nominee put out there by Barack Obama.  Period.  End of story.

That was in February.  Today President Obama broke the news to Mitch McConnell that he, Barack Obama, president of these United States has the right to nominate anyone of his choice and the Congress of the United States had both the right and the obligation to vote on his choice. 
At a time when our politics are so polarized, at a time when norms and customs of political rhetoric and courtesy and comity are so often treated like they are disposable, this is precisely the time when we should play it straight and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves because our Supreme Court really is unique. It's supposed to be above politics. It has to be. And it should stay that way.

To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn't even deserve a hearing, let alone an up or down vote, to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court, when two- thirds of Americans believe otherwise, that would be unprecedented. To suggest that someone who has served his country with honor and dignity, with a distinguished track record of delivering justice for the American people might be treated, as one Republican leader stated, as a political pinata. That can't be right.

It should be noted that every Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee was invited to the Rose Garden to hear the nomination speech this morning, and not a single one showed up.  Mitch McConnell was a no-show, as well.  He was writing his own speech:

"No way.  No how.  Uh uh. Ain't gonna happen.  Because Joe Biden." (Note: This is a synopsis and not the actual speech. Thank you.)

McConnell, that old constitutional scholar, brought up a previously unknown argument for his side known only by McConnell as "The Biden Rule".  According to McConnell, Joe Biden once said that a president shouldn't be able to nominate a supreme court justice during his final year in office.  There is no Biden Rule and Joe Biden never said what McConnell says he said.  In fact, Igor Volsky made that clear in a ThinkProgress article published right after McConnell made that claim, citing a partial clip of Biden's speech C-Span had put up on their website .
 Conservatives quickly pounced on the clip and used it as evidence to argue that Congressional Republicans are following long-standing precedent in refusing to consider President Obama’s nomination to fill the seat of Justice Antonin Scalia until a new president takes the oath in January of 2017.

 But Biden's full speech undermines their claim. Rather than urging his colleagues to deny Bush's potential nominee a hearing, Biden was bemoaning the politicization of the confirmation process -- hence his suggestion of not holding a hearing in the heat of a presidential election -- and what he saw as Bush's refusal to properly consult with the Senate in selecting a nominee. In fact, just 10 minutes after calling for temporary inaction on Bush's candidate, Biden actually promised to consider a moderate Supreme Court nominee.
Later the same day, Volsky updated his piece to include this:
Joe Biden's office has released the following statement: "Nearly a quarter century ago, in June 1992, I gave a lengthy speech on the Senate floor about a hypothetical vacancy on the Supreme Court. Some critics say that one excerpt of my speech is evidence that I oppose filling a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year. This is not an accurate description of my views on the subject. Indeed, as I conclude in the same statement critics are pointing to today, urged the Senate and White House to work together to overcome partisan differences to ensure the Court functions as the Founding Fathers intended. That remains my position today."

But just today, some three weeks later, Mitch McConnell used that same already disputed Biden claim as reason not to consider President Obama's nominee. McConnell knows he's lying.  He has to know that WE know he's lying. But, true to form, he doesn't care. So now we wait to see who does care.  And what will happen in November if they don't.

Monday, March 7, 2016

When the cameras leave Flint, Michigan Will Still Be Michigan

On January 1, 2011, Rick Snyder, Michigan's new governor was sworn in.  Almost immediately after he solemnly swore to uphold the duties of his office, he made it clear that Michigan was in for a drubbing.  He was going to Make Michigan Great Again. The message was clear: "I'm the boss and you're not. I have friends in high places and you don't. Thanks for the votes, now get outta here."

On March 10, 2011, three months after his swearing-in (and five years ago, almost to the day), I wrote a blog called Michigan is Under Siege: Is Anybody Watching? It highlighted Rachel Maddow's yeoman efforts to draw attention to the plain fact that Michigan was heading toward dictator rule.  She centered her investigation on the emergency manager takeover of Benton Harbor, a poor, black city that had fallen on hard times and desperately needed help, but was far from requiring a potentate.

Among other observations on the new governor's outrageous first efforts at a full-blown takeover, Rachel said this:
Right now, [Michigan] Gov. [Rick] Snyder is pushing a bill that would give himself, Gov. Snyder and his administration, the power to declare any town or school district to be in a financial emergency. If a town was declared by the governor and his administration to be in a financial emergency they would get to put somebody in charge of that town, and they want to give that emergency manager that they just put in charge of the town the power to, “reject, modify, or terminate any contracts that the town may have entered in to, including any collective bargaining agreement."
  Five days later, in a blog called Michigan Under Threat of Dictatorship. NOW Can We Panic?  I quoted from Michael Moore's "Letter to My Fellow Michiganders", sounding the alarm:
What is most shocking to many is that the new governor, who ran against the Tea Party and defeated the right wing of his party in the primaries -- and then ran in the general election as "just a nerd from Ann Arbor" who was a moderate, not an ideologue -- has pulled off one of the biggest Jekyll and Hyde ruses I've ever seen in electoral politics.
Governor Snyder, once elected, yanked off his nice-guy mask to reveal that he is in fact a multi-millionaire hell-bent on destroying our state and turning it over to his buddies from Wall Street.
 On April 26, 2011, in a blog titled We're Michigan and Most of Us Don't Deserve This, I wrote:
Nothing unusual about a new governor being sworn in in early January, but this particular brand-new governor raised hackles in some circles (okay, in nearly ALL circles outside the corporate honchos and people still having Tea Parties in the midst of the rubble) by stepping off the podium and almost instantaneously barking orders to annihilate anyone outside his own elite space who thought they might be entitled to a taxpayer-funded public education, or wages beyond the truly laughable, or even a retirement free of toil and strife.
For most people bent on taking over an entire state that might have been enough, but some days later this man Rick found the Holy Grail.  An existing Financial Emergency Manager Law that he and his Republican-led legislature then got to work enhancing and extending until it no longer would only be used in--okay--emergencies, but could be tweaked to kill the unions, take over public education and. . .oh, let's say. . .fire duly elected officials in cities and towns that may or may not have potentially fatal fiscal wounds but do have too many poor people and thus can't keep the Gov and his court in the style to which they've become accustomed.
 On June 13, 2011, I wrote a blog called The Taking of Benton Harbor and lo and behold, the first inkling of problems with water appeared:
These Republican "small government" devotees took office on January 1 and immediately began dismantling governmental policies and protections, many of which had been put in place long before the parents of these hoo-haws were even born.  As public officials, their not-so-hidden goal is to turn the power of the state over to private interests, and Big Bucks says now is the time.  They can and they will do it, or their name isn't Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.
Just last week Eclectablog's Chris Savage wrote about another Emergency Financial Manager takeover, this time in Pontiac, in order to privatize the water-treatment services and hand them over to a company already in trouble with the DOJ for violations of the Clean Water Act.
Michael Stampfler is Pontiac, Michigan's EFM. He has the dubious distinction of being the first Michigan EFM to use new powers granted by Michigan Republicans to cancel a union contract. What went nearly unnoticed was that last week, he dissolved the Pontiac Planning Commission and replaced it with a smaller number of his own hand-picked, unelected members. But he also did another thing. He made a contract for water treatment services with United Water Services permanent, outsourcing the water treatment to them and laying off city water treatment officials.
And on March 21, 2013, almost three years ago, in a blog called News From Michigan, the Nation's First Dictator State, I wrote: 
It could be that with all that's going on in the world you might have missed what's happening closer to home, in the sovereign state of Michigan.  In just over two years, since businessman and venture capitalist Rick Snyder became governor, bringing along with him a Republican majority in the legislature and in most courts (including the Supreme one), with a push from the Tea Party, the Koch Brothers and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, our beautiful state has suffered under the country's first duly elected dictatorship.

In March of 2011, two months after his inauguration, Snyder pushed through a draconian Emergency Financial Manager law, essentially giving him the authority to appoint one person to take over the governing of any municipality or school system deemed failing by Our Man Snyder.

In November, 2012 the voters, finally coming to their senses, soundly voted down that outrageously unconstitutional law.  A few weeks later Snyder's minions, ignoring the wishes of the voters, not only reinstated the law, they added wording that would keep the voters from ever voting it down again.

This slid by just days after the Republicans stuck it to the already bruised and bleeding unions by making Michigan, the home of the labor movement, a Right-to-Work state

Just last week, the Republican legislature was back working on a bill that would allow health care providers to refuse services to patients/customers for religious or moral reasons.  It's a transparent smackdown of abortion and contraception, but it could also affect anybody from gays to Muslims to blacks to liberal Democrats.
 The point of all this is to amplify the fact that we've been sounding the alarm for years--long before Snyder won his second term handily--and, while there has been some state and national attention from the press, it took a  disaster in Flint--a tragic, wholly avoidable man-made assault on innocent children by poisoning their water with lead--to make what has happened in our great state serious enough to warrant visits from politicians, all too aware of the opportunities, and breathless reporters standing in front of cable news cameras hoping--admit it--to spike their ratings.

On Tuesday, Michigan's Democratic primary election takes place. On Wednesday the politicians, the reporters, the camera crews, and the protesters from outside will pack up their bags and leave.  Will they look back? If past history is any judge, probably not.  The next far-off disaster awaits.

But for the people of Flint, grateful for the attention, hoping it'll finally be the catalyst they need to repair both their city and their lives, let me beg anyone who sees this:  Don't let this die.  Rick Snyder, the governor of Michigan cannot tweet his way out of this.  If he won't at long last take seriously what he has allowed to happen in Michigan, the world needs to camp on his doorstep until he does.

It should be obvious by now that we can't do this alone.

(Cross-posted at Dagblog and Crooks and Liars)

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Bernie and Hillary and Me: Can't We All Be Friends?

I agree with Bernie Sanders on almost everything.  I agree that the minimum wage should be raised--even higher than Bernie advocates.  I agree that workers are being shafted and our jobs have to come back from overseas. I agree that health care for all without stipulations or roadblocks has to become reality.  I agree that we can't keep funding wars around the world.

Photo Credit:  David Goldman/AP

I agree that the Republicans have been complete and total shits for more years than we should have allowed, and that the Democrats have been weak-kneed and back-bone-free when it comes to fighting against them.  (If you want to call that fighting.)

I agree that the money interests have taken over this country and we have to take it back.

I agree that it's way past time for a revolution. (Vive la révolution!)

I get it!  I'm as mad as Bernie is!

And I want Hillary Clinton as president.

Photo Credit:  AP
I've wrestled with my warring sides for a long time, wondering how I could have changed my mind when all along I was sure if Bernie should decide to run he would be my first choice.

It comes down to this:  Bernie is my first choice as revolutionary leader. As revolutionary leaders go, Bernie ranks right up there at the top. But if Bernie should win the presidency, his days as a radical revolutionary leader are over.  (Radicalism is frowned on in the White House. See The West Wing.) He wouldn't in a million years be able to accomplish as much as he might if he stays on the outside pressing for the goals he has outlined during his campaign. 

We need people like Sanders and Elizabeth Warren to be the gadflies, the pushers, but it's nigh impossible to do it from the inside. I'm convinced that's why Warren chose not to run. She knows she can be far more effective as the conscience of a nation from where she is. A president has to be all things to all people. The leader of a revolution has to stay focused on the cause. Bernie, if he wins, won't be able to do that and he'll disappoint the people who are counting on him to make radical change. They'll start a revolution without him, or in spite of him, or against him.

Hillary, no matter how much she would like to be seen as the dewy-eyed outsider, thrives inside the establishment. She knows the players and knows how to play their games. With Hillary it'll be a chess match. With Bernie it'll be hand-to-hand combat.  With the Republicans, it'll be business as usual, and they'll fight dirty no matter who goes after them. 

I see more advantages to getting Hillary, the tougher, more pragmatic candidate, in there, and then helping Sanders and Warren, along with a host of powerhouse liberal Democrats, to get her to where they--and we--want to be.

Bernie has done the country a true service by running for president. He has drawn in and energized crowds of voters who had given up hope that the system would work for them. They're pumped now, as they'll have to be if we're going  to take the presidency away from Donald Trump, or any other spectacularly unworthy candidate the Republicans throw at us.

Eyes on the prize now.  Whether the nominee is Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, we vote for our side.  The Democrats have to win.  Losing at this point is not an option.