Posts tagged ‘Big Government’

Senator Schumer ‘very heartened’ by Boehner’s ‘fiscal cliff’ speech; let them become distincted



Senator Schumer 'very heartened' by Boehner's 'fiscal cliff' speech (via The Christian Science Monitor)

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a key political strategist for his party, says he was “very heartened” by the tone of House Speaker John Boehner’s remarks Wednesday indicating he could accept a budget deal that included new federal revenue if it were linked to tax reform. “I was heartened, very…

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A Rare Look at Why The Government Won’t Fight Wall Street | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone


A Rare Look at Why The Government Won't Fight Wall Street | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone.

The great mystery story in American politics these days is why, over the course of two presidential administrations (one from each party), there’s been no serious federal criminal investigation of Wall Street during a period of what appears to be epic corruption. People on the outside have speculated and come up with dozens of possible reasons, some plausible, some tending toward the conspiratorial – but there have been very few who’ve come at the issue from the inside.

We get one of those rare inside accounts in The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins, a new book by Jeff Connaughton, the former aide to Senators Ted Kaufman and Joe Biden. Jeff is well known to reporters like me; during a period when most government officials double-talked or downplayed the Wall Street corruption problem, Jeff was one of the few voices on the Hill who always talked about the subject with appropriate alarm. He shared this quality with his boss Kaufman, the Delaware Senator who took over Biden’s seat and instantly became an irritating (to Wall Street) political force by announcing he wasn’t going to run for re-election. “I later learned from reporters that Wall Street was frustrated that they couldn’t find a way to harness Ted or pull in his reins,” Jeff writes. “There was no obvious way to pressure Ted because he wasn’t running for re-election.”

Kaufman for some time was a go-to guy in the Senate for reform activists and reporters who wanted to find out what was really going on with corruption issues. He was a leader in a number of areas, attempting to push through (often simple) fixes to issues like high-frequency trading (his advocacy here looked prescient after the “flash crash” of 2010), naked short-selling, and, perhaps most importantly, the Too-Big-To-Fail issue. What’s fascinating about Connaughton’s book is that we now get to hear a behind-the-scenes account of who exactly was knocking down simple reform ideas, how they were knocked down, and in some cases we even find out why good ideas were rejected, although some element of mystery certainly remains here.

There are some damning revelations in this book, and overall it’s not a flattering portrait of key Obama administration officials like SEC enforcement chief Robert Khuzami, Department of Justice honchos Eric Holder (who once worked at the same law firm, Covington and Burling, as Connaughton) and Lanny Breuer, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

Most damningly, Connaughton writes about something he calls “The Blob,” a kind of catchall term describing an oozy pile of Hill insiders who are all incestuously interconnected, sometimes by financial or political ties, sometimes by marriage, sometimes by all three. And what Connaughton and Kaufman found is that taking on Wall Street even with the aim of imposing simple, logical fixes often inspired immediate hostile responses from The Blob; you’d never know where it was coming from.

In one amazing example described in the book, Kaufman decided he wanted to try to re-instate the so-called “uptick rule,” which had existed for seventy years before being rescinded by the SEC in 2007. The rule prevents investors from shorting a stock until the stock had ticked up in price. “Forcing short sellers to wait for the price to tick up before they sell more shares gives a breather to a stock in decline and helps prevent bear raids,” Connaughton writes.

The uptick rule is controversial on Wall Street – I’ve had some people literally scream at me that it doesn’t do anything, while others have told me that it does help prevent bear attacks of the sort that appeared to help finally topple already-mortally-wounded companies like Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers – but what’s inarguable is that Wall Street hates the rule. Hedge fund types or employees of really any company that engages in short-selling will tend to be most venomous in their opinions of the uptick rule.

Anyway, Connaughton and Kaufman were under the impression that new SEC chief Mary Schapiro would re-instate the uptick rule after taking office. When she didn’t, Kaufman wrote her a letter, asking her to take action. When that didn’t do the trick, he co-sponsored (with Republican Johnny Isakson) a bill that would have required the SEC to take action.

Nothing happened, and months later, Kaufman gave a grumbling interview to Politico about the issue. One June 30, the paper’s headline read: “Ted Kaufman to SEC; Do Your Job.”

The next day, the Blob bit back. Connaughton was in the basement of the Russell building when a Senate staffer whose wife worked for Shapiro shouted at him. From the book:

“Hey, Jeff, you’re in the doghouse.” He meant: with his wife.

“Why?” I asked.

“That Politico piece by your boss.”

I was taken aback but tried to downplay the matter. “We just want the SEC to get its work done.”

“Remember,” he said. “We all wear blue jerseys and play for the Blue Team. I just don’t think that helps.”

When Connaughton told Kaufman over the phone what the staffer said, Kaufman exploded. “You call him back right now and tell him I said to go fuck himself in his ear,” Kaufman said.

Similarly, when Kaufman tried to advocate for rules that would have prevented naked short-selling, Connaughton was warned by a lobbyist that it would be “bad for my career” if he went after the issue and that “Ted and I looked like deranged conspiracy theorists” for asking if naked short-selling had played a role in the final collapse of Lehman Brothers. Naked short-selling is another controversial practice. Essentially, when you short a stock, you’re supposed to locate shares of that stock before you go out and sell it short. But what hedge funds and banks have discovered is that the rules provide “leeway” – you can go out and sell shares in a stock without actually having it, provided you have a “reasonable belief” that you can locate the shares.

This leads to the obvious possibility of companies creating false supply in a stock by selling shares they don’t have. Without getting too much into the weeds here, there is an obvious solution to the problem, which essentially would be forcing companies to actually locate shares before selling them. In their attempt to change the system, Kaufman and Connaughton discovered that the Depository Trust Clearing Corporation, the massive quasi-private organization that clears most all stock trades in America, had come up with just such a fix on their own. Kaufman recruited some other senators to endorse the idea, and as late as 2009, Connaughton and Kaufman were convinced they were going to get the form. “I said to Ted, ‘We’re going to change the way stocks are traded in this country.'”

But before the change could be made, Goldman, Sachs issued “data” showing that there was “no correlation” between naked short selling and price movements. When Connaughton asked an Isakson staffer what the data said, the staffer, intimidated by Goldman, replied, “The data proves we’re full of shit.” Connaughton looked at the data and realized instantly that it was a bunch of irrelevant gobbledygook, even firing off an angry letter to Goldman telling them the tactic was beneath even them.

But Goldman’s tactic worked. A roundtable to discuss the idea was scheduled by the SEC on September 24, 2009. Of the nine invited participants, “all but one” were for the status quo. Connaughton expected the DTCC representatives to unveil their reform idea, but they didn’t:

Afterwards, I went over to [the DTCC representatives] and asked, “What happened?” Sheepishly, and to their credit, they admitted: “We got pulled back.” They meant: by their board, by the Wall Street powers-that-be.

Essentially the same thing happened in Kaufman’s biggest reform attempt, the amendment to the Dodd-Frank bill he co-sponsored with Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, which would have broken up the Too-Big-To-Fail banks. But the Brown-Kaufman amendment, which was really the meatiest thing in the original Dodd-Frank bill, the one reform that really would have made a difference if it had passed, just died in the suffocating mass of the Blob. The key Democrats one after another failed to line up behind it, and in the end it was defeated soundly, with Dick Durbin, the number two man in the Democratic leadership, giving it this epitaph: “a bridge too far.”

Again, those interested in understanding the mindset of the people who should be leading the anti-corruption charge ought to read this book. It’s the weird lack of concern that shines through, like Khuzami’s comment that he’s “not losing sleep” over judges reprimanding his soft-touch settlements with banks, or then Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney Ray Lohier’s comment that the thing that most concerned him – this is the period of 2008-2009, the middle of a historic crimewave on Wall Street – was “cyber crime.”

On the outside we can only deduce the mindset from actions and non-actions, but Connaughton’s actually seen it, and with the book you get to see it too. It’s scary and definitely worth a read.

Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/a-rare-look-at-why-the-government-wont-fight-wall-street-20120918#ixzz26sqMxULA

Obama hits China on trade and Romney on China | The Ticket – Yahoo! News


Obama hits China on trade and Romney on China | The Ticket – Yahoo! News.

Campaigning Monday in the pivotal battleground of Ohio, President Barack Obama hit China over allegedly underhanded competition that hurts American workers, and knocked Mitt Romney as being for unfair trade practices before he was against them.
Equality Armando Olmos

You read this

“We don’t need folks who during election time suddenly are worrying about trade practices, but before the election are taking advantage of unfair trading practices,” Obama told a crowd of some 4,500 cheering supporters in Cincinnati.

The Republican presidential nominee has recently redoubled his attacks on the president over China as both men court blue-collar workers who blame Beijing’s rise for the decline of American manufacturing. It’s a sentiment with overwhelming support in Congress, where many accuse the rising economic power of keeping its currency artificially low against the dollar—a move that helps keep its exports cheaper relative to American competition.

The former Massachusetts governor has promised that, if elected, he will formally designate China a currency manipulator, a step that could trigger retaliatory sanctions—and, many experts warn, precipitate a trade war.

Obama, who has sometimes struggled to reach white working-class voters, accused Romney of benefiting personally from seeing American manufacturing jobs flow to China. The president charged that, as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital, his rival invested in firms that moved jobs to Asia.

“He made money investing in companies that uprooted from here and went to China,” Obama said. “Now, Ohio, you can’t stand up to China when all you’ve done is sent them our jobs.”

The Romney campaign vigorously disputed that allegation, with spokesman Ryan Williams accusing the president of “recycling false and debunked attacks.”

“He can’t tell the people of Ohio about his record of fewer jobs, more debt, and lower incomes,” Williams said in a statement. “And even members of his own party have loudly condemned his inaction toward China.”

(The Republican National Committee also blasted out a series of quotes from Democrats, including Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, which had criticized the Obama administration for not designating China a currency manipulator. Obama aides say the yuan is artificially cheap, but that the issue is best addressed either at the World Trade Organization or through bilateral negotiations—even though such talks have yielded little progress. Legislation meant to escalate the pressure on Beijing has stalled in the Republican-held House of Representatives in the face of opposition from potent sectors of big business.)

Obama’s trip came as the U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced new steps to challenge China’s allegedly improper subsidies to its auto and auto-parts sectors.

The Obama administration is also escalating another trade enforcement action, begun in July, against what it says are unfair anti-dumping and countervailing duties on some $3.3 billion in U.S. automobile exports to China.

“You can talk a good game, but I like to walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” Obama said.

Romney’s tough rhetoric on China reflects how a challenger can use foreign policy issues to his or her advantage: Candidate Obama did the same thing on China in 2008, pushing then-President George W. Bush to boycott the Beijing Olympics. In 2000, candidate Bush hit the Clinton administration’s record on China and described the rising Asian power as a strategic competitor. And in 1992, candidate Bill Clinton accused then-President George H.W. Bush of accommodating the “butchers of Beijing.”

Each time, the candidate turned president muted his more strident criticisms and worked to bring Beijing into international institutions and get its cooperation on a range of thorny issues, like nuclear programs in North Korea and Iran. Advisers to Romney insist that he would keep his pledge.
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California Tries to Lead Way on Health Law – NYTimes.com – California to Pave the way for Single-Payer


California Tries to Lead Way on Health Law – NYTimes.com.

SACRAMENTO — The meeting came to order, the five members of the California Health Benefit Exchange seated onstage with dozens of consumer advocates and others looking on. On the agenda: what to name the online marketplace where millions of residents will be able to shop for medical coverage under President Obama’s health care law.
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Times Topic: Health Care Reform

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Max Whittaker for The New York Times

Peter Lee

An adviser presented the options, meant to be memorable, appealing and clear. What about CaliHealth? Or Healthifornia?

Or Avocado?

“I am kind of drawn to Avocado,” declared Kim Belshé, a member of the exchange’s board of directors, which is hustling to make dozens of decisions as

Florida primary saw early voting surge across state – Tampa Bay Times


Florida primary saw early voting surge across state – Tampa Bay Times.

TALLAHASSEE — More people took advantage of early voting in last month’s Florida primary than in any primary before it, despite Democratic fears that fewer days of early voting would suppress turnout.

According to state elections officials, more than 367,000 people went to early voting centers, or about one of six voters who showed up. That compares to 363,000 in the 2010 primary and 240,000 in 2008 (Florida has had early voting since 2002).

Even more voters cast absentee ballots through the mail.

Kate Graves of Brandon voted at the Bloomingdale branch library six days before the primary, one of more than 20,000 Hillsborough residents who voted early.

“It’s the convenience factor,” the 79-year-old retiree says. “At my age, I don’t like standing in line. As soon as they opened up the voting, I took advantage.”

Graves has something else in common with other early voters: like the majority of them, she’s a Democrat.

In the five counties with the most early voters in the primary, Democrats made up 51 percent of voters and Republicans 39 percent, with the rest not affiliated with a party.

Many factors influence turnout from the weather to voter interest in primary races to the date of the election. The primary on Aug. 14 was two weeks earlier than usual, and the statewide turnout was 20.5 percent.

The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature’s decision to cut early voting days from 14 to eight in 2011 remains highly controversial. Democrats accuse Republicans of seeking to manipulate, for partisan advantage, a type of voting favored by Democrats, especially African-Americans, while Republicans say the new scheme adds flexibility.

Many more people are expected to vote early in the presidential election in November, and elections officials are emphasizing the convenience of voting early due to the unusually lengthy ballot, with 11 proposed state constitutional amendments.

Late Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice gave final approval to the eight-day early voting schedule in five counties that are under U.S. civil rights oversight. All five will offer 12 hours of early voting from Oct. 27 through Nov. 3, as a panel of federal judges had proposed.

In the primary, those five counties — Hillsborough, Monroe, Collier, Hardee and Hendry — offered 12 days of early voting instead of eight because they were still bound by the old election laws.

Early voting turnout in those counties in the primary was greater, said University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith.

Smith compared early voting in the five “covered” counties with the rest of the state and found that early voting was higher in counties with more early voting days. He said that shows that longer early voting periods boost voter turnout.

Smith and a fellow researcher, Michael Herron of Dartmouth College, found that 18.96 percent of voters voted early in five counties with more early voting days, compared with 15.39 percent who voted early in the rest of the state.

The largest of those five counties, by far, is Hillsborough.

The story of early voting is vastly different on the other side of Tampa Bay.

The only urban county where early voting remains very unpopular is Pinellas, where Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark emphasizes the ease of absentee voting by mail instead.

Voters are heeding Clark’s message: Fewer people voted early in Pinellas last month than in comparatively tiny Monroe County in the Florida Keys.

A mere 1,612 Pinellas voters cast ballots at one of three early voting sites, while 102,341 cast absentee or mail ballots. A total of 140,000 people voted county-wide, a 23 percent turnout.

The mail-in voters included William Ott, 67, of Clearwater, a Largo High School graduate who has been voting in Pinellas since 1966 and who remembers a bad experience with long lines in a past election. That and health issues changed his method of voting.

“I finally gave up and said, ‘Okay, I’m going to vote absentee,” Ott said. “I didn’t want to do it. I enjoyed the experience of going down to the polls on Election Day.”

Ott likes a feature on the Pinellas elections website that allows him to track his ballot to be sure it’s counted. “Now that’s kind of cool,” he said.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

EARLY VOTING TOTALS

These five counties had the most early voters in the Aug. 14 primary election:

Miami-Dade 38,670

Hillsborough 20,213

Orange 17,818

Duval 17,697

Broward 16,335

State total 367,205

Source: Department of State

DEMOCRATS FAVOR EARLY VOTING

A breakdown by party in the five counties that had the most early voters:

County Democrat Republican Other

Miami-Dade 20,477 12,824 5,369

Hillsborough 8,463 10,503 1,247

Orange 8,702 7,290 1,826

Duval 8,260 8,476 961

Broward 10,735 4,288 1,303

Sources: County supervisors of elections

Health Care Premiums Rise Modestly, Report Says – NYTimes.com


Health Care Premiums Rise Modestly, Report Says – NYTimes.com.

A family with employer-provided health insurance now pays just under $16,000 in annual premiums, an increase of about 4 percent over a year ago, according to a study released Tuesday by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation.

Individual policies purchased through an employer rose even less, increasing just 3 percent from last year to an average of $5,615, the study said.

“It is a year of very moderate increases in premiums and health care costs,” said Drew Altman, the chief executive and president of Kaiser, which tracks health care spending. The foundation surveys more than 2,000 small and large employers each year.

The increase, to $15,745 from $15,073, contrasts with the 9 percent increase Kaiser reported from 2010 to 2011, which gave rise to concerns that health care spending might begin rising rapidly again.

Kaiser said the lower premiums were a sign that the rise in health care costs continued to be modest. But the study’s authors were cautious about the explanation, wondering whether the smaller increases in recent years signaled the start of a long-term trend or were simply the result of a slow economy.

“We don’t know if health care premiums and costs will shoot back up and by how much when the economy improves,” Mr. Altman said. Insurers generally base the premiums they charge on what they expect the health care costs of their members will be.

Analysts generally agree that the deep recession and the sputtering recovery have helped keep health care spending — and insurance premiums — lower than the double-digit increases experienced in 2004 and before. In 2002, for example, Kaiser reported a 13 percent jump.

Part of the reason, they say, is that many consumers have decided not to go to the doctor or have elective surgery during the downturn because of higher out-of-pocket costs.

About half of workers covered by employers now have a deductible of at least $1,000 for individual policies. In 2007, only 21 percent of workers had deductibles that high, according to Kaiser. The study is being published online by the journal Health Affairs.

The report also looked at differences between how much employees are paying for premiums in companies where at least 35 percent of workers earn $24,000 or less a year, compared with how much employees are paying where at least 35 percent of workers earn $55,000 a year.

Employers typically ask workers to pay some share of the overall premium cost out of their paychecks.

Kaiser found that workers at places with more low-wage employees paid on average $1,000 more in premiums than those working at places employing more higher-earning workers. The low-wage employees paid, on average, nearly $5,000 for their share of premiums, while higher-earning individuals paid about $4,000, on average.

Paul Ginsburg, the president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan research group, cautioned against reading too much into survey results for any one year, especially since last year’s findings by Kaiser may have been high.

But, over all, he said, health care spending seemed to be relatively stable. “Recession and the slow recovery are probably the principal factor,” he said.

Some insurance executives are also cautious about predicting that health care spending will not rise rapidly, once the economy recovers. Many have been surprised at how much people have reduced their doctor visits. “I didn’t think I would see utilization this low, either,” said Janice Knight, an executive for Health Care Service Corporation, which operates Blue Cross Blue Shield health plans in states like Illinois and Texas.

Others speculate that there could be something more going on as both patients and doctors adapt to changes stemming from the federal health care law and a determination by private insurers to keep spending down.

When asked to share more of the cost of a branded prescription drug, for example, consumers were more willing to use generic medications, and the Affordable Care Act has numerous provisions that help rein in costs, said David Cutler, a health economist at Harvard University. “The slow economy is only part of it,” he said.

“Every data point makes me more likely to believe that this a fundamental change rather than just a temporary change,” said Mr. Cutler.
A version of this article appeared in print on September 12, 2012, on page B1 of the New York edition with the headline: Health Care Premiums Rise Slightly.

The DNC Through the Eyes of an Illegal Immigrant | PBS NewsHour


The DNC Through the Eyes of an Illegal Immigrant | PBS NewsHour.

Gerardo Torres used to be afraid every day for his life.

“I was very careful when I was driving around not to make any mistakes or bring any attention from the police,” he said.

For the past 20 years, he has been living in Arizona after entering the country illegally from Mexico. And like the millions of undocumented immigrants estimated to be living in the country, he faces the risk of arrest and deportation.

Instead of waiting for an uncertain fate, Torres joined a group of immigrants who have decided to publicly proclaim their undocumented status. They’ve called their project “No Papers, No Fear,” and they are calling for a change to immigration policies that they say have unfairly targeted and criminalized immigrant communities. For the past six weeks, the forty riders have traveled from Arizona to North Carolina in their so-called “Undocu-bus”. Along the way, they stopped to meet with community leaders and other undocumented families — discussing rights and explaining legal strategies to families facing deportation hearings.

Ultimately, the riders’ message has been focused on their final destination: the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. where thousands of delegates, media members, and police have converged for the nomination of President Obama for a second term.

With over 50 million Latinos in America, the group represents a strong base in the Democratic constituency. As in 2008, President Obama has made immigration reform a key part of his platform, and Hispanic voters make up a critical portion of the population in three swing states: Florida, Nevada and Colorado. But members and supporters of the “No Papers, No Fear” project feel that the president hasn’t done enough to fulfill his promise to reform the immigration system.

“That was one of the promise that he made to us,” Torres said. “and we’re hoping this time he’ll listen to us and help us.”

In marches around downtown Charlotte this past week, the group has repeatedly cited the Obama administration’s record for detaining and deporting more immigrants than any other administration in U.S. history and for the implementation of the Secure Communities program, which allows federal immigration records to be shared with local law enforcement agencies to target criminal immigrants.

Several of the Undocu bus riders, including Torres, blocked the street in front of the convention site shouting the words, “undocumented and unafraid,” as an act of civil disobedience this past Wednesday. All ten were arrested for blocking traffic but were released by the next morning.

Torres says he will return to Arizona to fight against the state’s immigration laws, particularly the controversial SB-1070 law that permits police officers to ask anyone for their immigration papers if police suspect them of being undocumented.

“We have come out of the shadows,” said Torres, “and we are no longer willing to stay quiet.”