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Reposted from Elizabeth Warren by Frank Whitaker

When I learned last winter that I would have a seat on the Senate Banking Committee, I was very happy because I knew it would give me the opportunity to ask tough questions and push for some accountability from Wall Street and its regulators.  In the last six months, that's exactly what I've tried to do.

Again and again, I've been making a simple point to anyone who will listen: we need to learn from the financial crisis of 2008 and, moving forward, to prevent the kinds of high-risk activities that made a few people rich but nearly destroyed our economy.

Now it's time to launch the next push. I joined forces with Senators John McCain, Maria Cantwell, and Angus King to introduce the 21st Century Glass Steagall Act of 2013 to reinstate and modernize core banking protections.

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Reposted from Frank Whitaker by Frank Whitaker

You don't have to be a genius to figure out that Hillary Clinton is already running for President, if your homepage on Daily Kos screams "Hillary For President" every time you log in.

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Reposted from by Frank Whitaker

Matt Taibbi places discredit where discredit's still quite overdue, squarely in the laps of the securities-ratings agencies, focusing upon Standard & Poor's and Moody's (the two largest in the sector), and their extremely material corruption and how that substantially contributed to Wall Street's downfall in 2008; all in his latest feature set to appear in the July 4th issue of Rolling Stone, entitled: "The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis."

Citing the fraud-filled details of two, pathetic Structured Investment Vehicle ("SIV") securities issued by Morgan Stanley, "Cheyne" and "Rhinebridge," as prime examples of the rampant greed that created the societal mess that will take a generation for America to fix--if it ever does, and that IS highly questionable at this juncture--Taibbi takes us on another trademark, wild ride.

As Taibbi notes, it is regrettably far too typical of so many realities on Wall Street (and throughout our society), post-crash, as we learn from Senator Al Franken in this piece that abso-freakin'-lutely nothing has been accomplished to properly address this problem (even though Franken valiantly tried to do just that) inside the pathetically captured Beltway, ever since. Then again, as many misdirected souls in our country -- and even some at Daily Kos -- would ask these days: "What problem?"

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Reposted from Liberty Equality Fraternity and Trees by Frank Whitaker

Earlier this evening, the Senate voted to confirm Obama's nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, a man that the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute described as an "excellent choice" for the position. The Senate showed him some bipartisan love with a vote of 93 to 4 to 1.  Carl Levin (D-MI), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) voted aginst him.  Why do I have three parts to the vote, you ask?  Barbara Boxer (D-CA) merely voted present, which (to me) implies an uneasiness with the nominee but an unwillingness to vote against the president.

Why should we care about the U.S. Trade Representative, a position that gets less attention in the news than many other cabinet appointments?  Well, we should because Froman, the current Assistant to the President of the United States and Deputy National Security Advisor for International Economic Affairs, has been actively involved in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal ("NAFTA on steroids") and will become its chief negotiator. To understand the significance, we need to learn a bit about Froman's background and a bit about the TPP.

Froman was the Chief of Staff to Robert Rubin at the U.S. Treasury under Bill Clinton from 1997 to 1999.  Robert Rubin, the force behind Clinton's neoliberal economic agenda, presided over the deregulation of the financial industry in the late 1990s.  The Huffington Post's Dan Froomkin has described "Rubinomics" as the "combination of deregulatory zeal, deficit obsession, free tradeism and general coziness with fat-cat Wall Street bankers" epitomized by Rubin. Over the past few years, Robert Rubin has been shilling for austerity as well, bringing his influence to Brookings's Hamilton Project and the Center for American Progress, the latter which only abandoned its austerity crusade this past month.  

Rubin's push for deregulation under Clinton culminated in the passage of the Financial Services Act of 1999, which entailed the repeal of Glass-Steagall. This act allowed banks to "affiliate with financial services" and allowed a financial holding company to operate several different subsidiaries relating to financial services.  It also enabled Citibank and Travelers to finalize their 1998 merger and officially become Citigroup Corporation; the bill was, for all practical purposes, designed with Citi in mind. Having created his own new source of lucre, Rubin left the Treasury to work for the newly-created Citigroup, and Froman followed. Froman served as a managing director at Citigroup, President and Chief Executive Officer of CitiInsurance, and head of Emerging Markets Strategy at Citigroup. You may remember Citigroup from such recent events such as the global financial crisis and the lack of accountability that followed.

Even more troubling is the aforementioned Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal the Obama administration has been negotiating in closed-door talks with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam--and perhaps soon Japan and China. The only publicly available information about the TPP has come through leaks, and the administration has kept members of Congress minimally informed as well.  The administration has prohibited Congressional staffers from reviewing the full text and from discussing its specific terms with trade experts and reporters.  The corporations that would benefit from the TPP have been, of course, embraced with open arms into the negotiations, and labor and civil society groups have been allowed into talks only if they promise to keep all negotiations confidential and not publicly speak out against them.

Here's a taste of what we know so far about the TPP (courtesy of Public Citizen):

•    Foreign corporations would be able to attack member nations’ health and environmental laws before foreign tribunals to demand taxpayer compensation for policies they believe undermine their future profits.
•    Large pharmaceutical companies would have longer monopoly control on drugs, effectively cutting off access from millions in developing countries and raising prices here at home.
•    No more Buy America or Buy Local preferences.
•    Member countries would have to accept food that does not meet national safety standards and would have to limit food labeling (such as for GMOs).
•    Internet service providers would be required to “police” user-activity (Think SOPA/PIPA), and individual violators would be treated the same as large-scale for-profit violators.
•    The TPP would entail backdoor financial regulation, prohibiting bans on risky financial services and undermining efforts to end “too big to fail.”

Last month, during a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Elizabeth Warren questioned the head of the Export-Import Bank about the backdoor financial deregulation that appears to be in the TPP.  Last week, she sent a letter to Froman demanding more transparency in the negotiating process.  Froman denied the request.

Earlier today, Warren announced that she would oppose Froman's confirmation, referencing his rejection of her calls for greater transparency:

For months, the Trade Representative who negotiates on our behalf has been unwilling to provide any public access to the composite bracketed text relating to the negotiations.  The composite bracketed text includes proposed language from the United States and also other countries, and it serves as the focal point for negotiations.  The Trade Representative has allowed Members of Congress to access the text, and I appreciate that.  But that is no substitute for public transparency.

I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it.  This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.

I believe in transparency and democracy, and I think the U.S. Trade Representative should too.

I asked the President’s nominee to be Trade Representative — Michael Froman – three questions:  First, would he commit to releasing the composite bracketed text?  Or second, if not, would he commit to releasing just a scrubbed version of the bracketed text that made anonymous which country proposed which provision.  (Note: Even the Bush Administration put out the scrubbed version during negotiations around the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement.)

Third, I asked Mr. Froman if he would provide more transparency behind what information is made to the trade office’s outside advisors.  Currently, there are about 600 outside advisors that have access to sensitive information, and the roster includes a wide diversity of industry representatives and some labor and NGO representatives too.  But there is no transparency around who gets what information and whether they all see the same things, and I think that’s a real problem.

Mr. Froman’s response was clear:  No, no, no.  He will not commit to make this information available so the public can track what is going on.

As Warren notes, even the Bush administration provided more transparency in its trade negotiations than the Most Transparent Administration Ever has.

I thank Warren--along with Levin, Manchin, and Sanders--for voting against Froman and for transparency and democratic accountability instead.  Sanders, in particular, has been the only senator to take a stand from the left against the worst of Obama's nominees like Jacob Lew and John Brennan.  We need more like him--and like Warren--in the Senate.

Reposted from Frank Whitaker by Frank Whitaker

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Reposted from Joan McCarter by Frank Whitaker
Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren addresses delegates during the second session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, September 5, 2012.    REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Corporate interests are increasingly winning their day in court, Sen. Elizabeth Warren told the American Constitution Society in a speech Thursday, and it's getting worse.
Here in Washington, power is not balanced,” Warren said on the opening day of the 2013 ACS Convention. “Instead, power is becoming more concentrated on one side. There are powerful, deep-pocketed corporate interests lined up to fight to protect their privilege and to resist any change that would limit corporate excesses.” [...]

“These big corporate interests are savvy,” Warren continued. “They fight every day on Capitol Hill and in the agencies, devoting enormous resources to the task of bending legislation to benefit themselves. But they also devote enormous resources toward influencing the courts.

“Why? Because they know that influencing those who interpret the law is another extremely effective way to achieve their goals.  In our democracy, when we write our laws, reasoned debate, public opinion, and political accountability are all factors that can thwart the efforts of powerful interests.” [...]

“Follow this pro-business trend to its logical conclusion, and sooner or later you'll end up with a Supreme Court that functions as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Chamber of Commerce,” Warren said.

(Read the full transcript of her speech here.)

We're nearly there, with a Supreme Court that's given the Chamber of Commerce a huge number of wins in recent years. The Chamber and other corporate interestes have become more aggressive about bringing suits, and the courts are responding in their favor.

This has come about in a few ways. One is that nominees have been increasingly from a corporate background. That includes many of President Obama's nominees, probably largely in response to an obstructionist Senate—he's looking for nominees that will get through more easily—but also because it's becoming the norm. But the obstruction, and keeping many federal seats vacant, is part of the problem as well. For example, with the second highest court in the land, the D.C. Circuit. President Obama just announced three nominees to fill all the vacant seats on that court, bringing it from eight to 11. Republicans are screeching about his "court-packing" plan, blithely lying about what court-packing actually is. The part of it that they're not going to talk very much about, though, is that this federal court which has huge power over the regulatory ability of federal agencies is currently dominated by conservatives, hostile to the Obama administration and very corporate-friendly.

Something's gotta give. The best place to start is with the filibuster.

Keep the pressure on. Send an email to your Democratic senators telling them to re-open filibuster reform and make the Senate function again.

Reposted from Scout Finch by Frank Whitaker
Elizabeth Warren at Banking Committee hearing, May 22, 2013
Sen. Elizabeth Warren continues to fight for government transparency. This time, she's taking on the U.S. Trade Representative’s office:
President Barack Obama’s administration should release documents the U.S. and 10 other Pacific-region nations are using as they negotiate a new trade agreement, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said.

In a letter to Michael Froman, Obama’s nominee to lead the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, the Massachusetts lawmaker said releasing details of what is being considered by the parties would give citizens a chance to evaluate the deal before negotiations are completed.

“I appreciate the willingness of the USTR to make various documents available for review by members of Congress, but I do not believe that is a substitute for more robust public transparency,” Warren wrote to Froman, who is now an assistant to the president. “If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”

She seems to be hinting that if the general public knew the details of these secret negotiations, they would be staunchly opposed to the new deal. When Michael Froman was nominated for the post of U.S. Trade Representative in early May, Ilana Solomon at the Huffington Post said his #1 priority should be transparency:
Trade rules affect nearly every aspect of our lives -- the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the price of medicines we may need, the jobs we depend on. It is therefore absolutely critical that the public has a say in how trade rules are formulated and implemented.

Today, trade rules are usually written under a cloud of secrecy. For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- potentially the largest free trade agreement ever -- has been under negotiation for over three years and may conclude as early as this October. And yet, not a single word of draft text has been released to the public. Without draft text, the public is left to guess what may be included in trade deals and is unable to meaningfully engage. Responsible trade begins with public participation.

Hats off to Sen. Warren for once again demanding transparency and action.

Want to see more transparency in trade negotiations? Sign our petition backing up Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s request that all documents being used to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership be released for review by the public.

Reposted from i am not a loan by Frank Whitaker

Last night Senator Elizabeth Warren held a briefing call with over 11,000 students and activists. With the July 1 deadline for federally subsidized Stafford loan rates to double just around the corner, she called on everyone to make their voices heard.

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Reposted from Meteor Blades by Frank Whitaker
Elizabeth Warren at Banking Committee hearing, May 22, 2013
Elizabeth Warren, who by Senate tradition ought to be a meek, eyes-down freshman, turned in another stellar performance Wednesday at a Banking Committee hearing with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew in the hot seat.

Warren began by asking whether Treasury had changed its views on banks that were judged "too big to fail" back in 2008 since four of these institutions have grown 30 percent since then. “When we see the largest financial institutions getting bigger and bigger… it tells us that we are clearly not on the path to resolving too big to fail,” she said. She asked Lew:

“How big do the biggest banks have to get before we consider breaking them up? Do they have to double in size? Triple in size? Quadruple in size?”
Lew said it would not be a good idea to enact any new measures until Dodd-Frank, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, is fully implemented. That law will have its third birthday in July. You can see the exchange below and a somewhat longer version here.

The four banks Warren was speaking of are JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo. They're nearly $2 trillion larger now than they were when the financial crisis struck. With assets of $7.8 trillion, their combined assets are half the size of the entire U.S. economy and the banks hold more than half of America's $7 trillion in deposits.

In April, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Republican Sen. David Vitter introduced a too-big-to-fail bill that would impose capital restrictions on banks as a proportion of the assets. For community and mid-sized banks, that would be eight percent. For the giants of $500 billion or more in assets, 15 percent. Subsidiaries and affiliates of banks would have to be separately capitalized.

In addition, the bill would limit the government's safety net to traditional banking operations not the risky investment practices that led to federal bailouts. At the same time, the bill would reduce regulations on community banks.

The Independent Community Bankers of America support the Brown-Vitter bill as do some current U.S. regulators. Not surprisingly, the bill is under attack by the usual suspects.

Reposted from Frank Whitaker by Frank Whitaker Editor's Note: Re-published from May 17 for the group "Elizabeth Warren for President 2016" -- Frank Whitaker
On Tuesday, fierce consumer advocate and needler of banks Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called out Wall Street regulators for their habit of giving tepid punishments to misbehaving banks, and asked the agencies to justify their policy of settling with the wrongdoers out of court.
Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

It sort of makes you proud to be a Democrat, doesn't it?

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