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Today’s Flickr photo

The Barkhor in Lhasa, Tibet. Flickr photo by Alex '77.

If you read one thing today . . .

This is a late entry but this gem from Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) might very well be the quote of the year. Bachus, the incoming chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, clearly gives a new meaning to the phrase “letting the fox guard the hen house.” Bachus told Mary Orndoff of the Birmingham News , it’s the banks, not Congress that should be calling the shots. This despite the fact it’s those same Wall Street bankers who drove our economy into the ground with their reckless deal making.

Bachus, in an interview Wednesday night, said he brings a “main street” perspective to the committee, as opposed to Wall Street.

“In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated, and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks,” he said.

He later clarified his comment to say that regulators should set the parameters in which banks operate but not micromanage them.

Overheard

Kevin Sessums with The Daily Beast interviewed Kevin Spacey about his new film “Casino Jack,” which is about everybody’s  favorite disgraced K Street lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Spacey on fact being stranger than fiction:

But these kinds of stories based on real events—like Recount and now Casino Jack—are filled with characters that are so larger than life and the decisions and judgments are so outrageous and the excesses even more outrageous when money and power and influence become such an integral part of the political process. All of that is so crazy that it is inherently funny. You couldn’t f*#king write this shit. It’s far more funny because it is real. We’re not making this stuff up. This shit happened.

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The Department of Justice’s filing of a civil lawsuit today against BP for the deaths of 11 workers and the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history is a needed step in holding the corporation accountable.

However, Public Citizen remains concerned that the escrow fund is inadequate to cover BP’s obligations – a concern that has been confirmed over the past few months. It’s clear that the $20 billion set aside won’t begin to cover the cost of damage. More money must be found for the victims of the disaster.

In addition, the civil litigation stemming from the disaster remains focused on BP Exploration and Production, a remote subsidiary of the parent company, thereby enabling BP to avoid responsibility.

And Congress has yet to pass the comprehensive reforms needed to help ensure this kind of disaster can’t happen again. It is astounding that after all that happened – 11 deaths, 4.9 milllion gallons of oil spilled, beaches in five states sullied and closed, fishing in large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico closed, countless livelihoods ruined – Congress couldn’t get its act together and ensure that future oil drilling is safer for workers and the environment.

Tyson Slocum is the director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program.

If you read one thing today

A Virginia judge’s ruling against the Obama health care plan shows that the constitutional challenges to the law “can no longer be dismissed as frivolous,” writes the NYT’s Kevin Sack. Judge Henry E. Hudson of Federal District Court in Richmond came down strongly against the health care reform, just as two other judges in other states had upheld it.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court will have to resolve the conflict, and many court watchers already expect a characteristically close decision. But what is now clear is that the challenges from dozens of states to the law’s constitutionality can no longer be dismissed as frivolous, as they were earlier this year by some scholars and Democratic partisans.

“All the insiders thought it was a slam dunk,” said Randy E. Barnett, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University who supports the health care challenges. “Maybe a slam dunk like weapons of mass destruction were a slam dunk.”

“All the insiders thought it was a slam dunk,” said Randy E. Barnett, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University who supports the health care challenges. “Maybe a slam dunk like weapons of mass destruction were a slam dunk.”

Overheard

And this from Politico on how President Obama feels he’s perceived by the American public:

“I don’t think there’s a sense that I’ve been successful,” Obama told Colorado’s 9NEWS. “I think people still feel that over all, Washington is about a lot of politics and special interests and big money, but that ordinary people’s voices too often aren’t represented, and so my hope is that we’re going to continue rebuilding a trust in government.”

Weissman

WikiLeaks is under attack from powerful government and corporate officials and entities. The attacks are an assault not only on WikiLeaks, but on freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of the Internet.

Of greatest concern are the efforts to deny WikiLeaks access to the Internet and to financial services. We do not know of publicly available evidence that these efforts — which include reported denial of service attacks on WikiLeaks websites from unknown sources, terminated service agreements from companies like Amazon and PayPal, and shuttered bank accounts around the world — have been coordinated by the U.S. government, though many suspect this to be the case. Public Citizen has submitted Freedom of Information Act requests that we hope will reveal more about the government’s response.

What we do know is that the actions of powerful corporations to sever commercial relations with WikiLeaks occur in the shadow of what major media outlets have called a government declaration of war against WikiLeaks. Amazon reportedly decided to stop providing computing services to WikiLeaks after contact from the office of U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). PayPal says it cut service to WikiLeaks in response to statements from the U.S. State Department.

Whether or not coordinated, Public Citizen condemns the unconstrained and unaccountable actions by corporations and the government to deny a disfavored website, nongovernmental organization or journalist enterprise access to the Internet and financial services. Continue Reading »

Stunning Statistics of the Week:

  • $4 million: The amount U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski raised during the 2010 election cycle
  • $1.26 million: The amount spent by a super political action committee (PAC) sponsored by Alaskans Standing Together to re-elect Murkowski. Much of that came from corporations.
  • $250,000: What Murkowski’s own PAC raised
  • Nearly $2 million: What Murkowski’s opponent, Joe Miller, raisedNote: Murkowski won a long-shot write-in campaign.

Although clamoring for change, these new lawmakers go straight for the cash
They came in as renegades, determined to upset the system and do things differently. Washington – Congress in particular – won’t do business as usual any more, they vowed. So what are the tea partiers and others who were swept into office on anti-incumbency fervor during the midterm elections doing now? Holding big-money fundraisers, of course. And many of those who newcomers are beefing up their staffs with well-entrenched K Street lobbyists. “Lobbyists for the most part are hired guns that represent corporations and other special interests that pay for them,” Craig Holman, money and politics expert at Public Citizen, told The Washington Post. “Those lobbyists now have direct access to the political agenda of these lawmakers.”

U.S. Chamber’s aggressive tactics prompt consternation by local chambers
The U.S. Chamber was unabashedly aggressive in its attempt to sway the midterms and in particular help conservatives get elected. But its tactics made many of its local affiliates uncomfortable. More than 40 local chambers distanced themselves during the elections from the U.S. Chamber, including Continue Reading »

What’s your number?

A meager $293? That’s the average weekly unemployment check collected by the 15 million Americans looking for work right now. Or $293 million? That’s what outside groups funded primarily by corporations and the very wealthy spent on the 2010 elections.

$75 billion? That’s the windfall coming to people who are already rich if the Bush tax cuts are extended. $145 billion? That’s the record amount Wall Street is paying in bonuses this year.

Trillions? In the wake of the financial crisis, that’s what We, the People provided in bailouts, loans and other supports to save Big Business from its own greed and irresponsibility.

At Public Citizen, our mission is to counteract the policies that cause numbers like these. We can defeat corporate power. But we need your help.

Please contribute $10, $20, $35 or whatever you can today.

Contribute $100 or more and get a free DVD from a selection of popular progressive films!

Corporations just elected their dream Congress. It’s going to take all of us doing everything we can, together, to prevent Congress from rolling back our health and safety protections and showering gifts on their corporate patrons—and to win new public interest initiatives.

Public Citizen will be leading the fight against corporate power in the new Congress, a Congress that will be less critical of corporate America’s agenda than any we’ve ever seen.

The critical first step is making sure we can hit the ground running when Congress returns to Washington in January. That’s why I’m writing now to ask for your help to raise $150,000 by the end of 2010.

Your contribution of $10, $20, $35 or whatever you can afford will be put to work immediately building on our important achievements in 2010 and growing our movement against runaway corporate power.

For four decades, Public Citizen members have stood together to face down corporate power.

I need you to stand with me today.

Robert Weissman is president of Public Citizen.

Today’s Flickr photo

Wikileaks supporters rally in Sydney, Australia. Flickr photo by MrReebDoog.

If you read one thing today . . .

Count David Corn,  Mother Jones’ D.C. bureau chief, as one of the few progressives coming to the defense of President Obama over his acquiescence in extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. In his Politics Daily column, Corn says that after gaining insights from high-level administration sources, he’s of the mind that the president’s decision was less about giving in to GOP demands and more about salvaging something for beleaguered middle-class Americans.

But come this point, Obama had to play a lousy hand — even though it was a hand he had a hand in dealing. And here comes the sympathy.

In meeting after meeting, during which the president and his aides discussed his options, Obama repeatedly asked if anyone could guarantee that were he to put up his dukes, go to the mat, and play chicken with the GOPers, mid- and low-income Americans would end up with the breaks and benefits he believed they need. If he went nose-to-nose, mano-a-mano, and the R’s didn’t blink, they’d be nothing for nobody — and the Bush tax cuts would end for the middle class, mean that come Jan. 1, hard-working Americans would see a smaller paycheck. To make matters worse, this might have an anti-stimulative effect on the economy.

Then what would happen? He might be able to win the blame-game against the Scrooge-ish Republicans — which would be a significant victory, especially heading into the next Congress. But there would be no action until next year, and any tax-related bill would have to originate in the Republican-controlled House and pass a Senate with a larger and more tea party-ish GOP caucus. It could take weeks or months to hammer out a package. What were the odds it would contain as much assistance for the non-rich? In the meantime, working-class Americans would be contending with less money. That is, hurting more.

Overheard:

The progressive uproar over President Obama’s decision to cave to GOP demands over extending the Bush tax cuts extends beyond the president’s shaken grassroots base and outspoken liberal members of Congress — now the voices of dissent are coming from some of his big financial backers. Matea Gold in the L.A. Times writes that Obama’s lack of fight is hurting the Democratic fund-raising effort.

“I would say I’m not a happy camper,” said Paul Egerman, a software entrepreneur in Boston, who said this was the first time he felt Obama reversed himself on a significant policy issue. “That troubles me. I need to be convinced he really had no alternative.”