Monday, December 15, 2014

Elizabeth Warren for President : Really!

Elizabeth Warren was told to stay quiet, but she didn’t – and it’s paying off

 December 14 at 8:00 AM   -- Washington Post

In her book released this year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren recounted a dinner she had with President Obama’s chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, in April 2009, when Warren was the outspoken chairman of a congressionally appointed panel probing the government’s response to the financial crisis.
Larry leaned back in his chair and offered me some advice. ... He teed it up this way: I had a choice. I could be an insider or I could be an outsider. Outsiders can say whatever they want. But people on the inside don’t listen to them. Insiders, however, get lots of access and a chance to push their ideas. People — powerful people — listen to what they have to say. But insiders also understand one unbreakable rule. They don’t criticize other insiders.
I had been warned.
Warren ignored the warning.
And if the past few weeks are any indication, she can operate as an insider without giving her up outsider credentials. She’s remained outspoken, but has become even more influential. She hasn't stopped throwing bombs at the rich and powerful — and causing trouble for the White House — but she's won a spot in Senate leadership, changed the shape of congressional debates over financial regulation and continued to draw widespread attention as a potential presidential candidate.
It all helps to explain why – for the 300 former Obama campaign officials who last week urged her to run in 2016 – she is the one they’ve been waiting for.
“Rising income inequality is the challenge of our times, and we want someone who will stand up for working families and take on the Wall Street banks and special interests that took down our economy,” they wrote.
Over the past week, Warren galvanized liberals across Capitol Hill against a government spending bill that weakened a key provision of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law that tightened oversight of Wall Street.
The Senate may have passed the legislation late Saturday, but it was not before Warren and other liberals asserted their power in a confrontation with the White House, joining with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to oppose the legislation.
Warren is also in an unusually public battle with the White House and Treasury Department over Antonio Weiss, an investment banker who has been tapped for a key Treasury position. White House officials say Weiss is deeply sympathetic to Democratic views and is the right man for the job. But Warren has won over several colleagues in trying to block the nomination, saying the administration is too cozy with Wall Street.
It’s a topic she reprised in a speech Friday evening after losing the battle over the spending bill, in which see singled out mega-bank Citigroup as an example of a bank with too much power.
Enough is enough with Wall Street insiders getting key position after key position and the kind of cronyism we have seen in the executive branch,” she said. “Enough is enough with Citigroup passing 11th-hour deregulatory provisions that nobody takes ownership over but that everybody comes to regret. Enough is enough.”
Critics of Warren, even if they're sympathetic to her view, would say that by taking absolutist positions, she won't achieve much more than fiery rhetoric.
On the government spending bill, Obama could have pushed for more, but ultimately gotten less – especially in a new Congress controlled by Republicans next year. And opposing hiring finance industry officials for Treasury jobs, one might argue, is like fighting for a Justice Department staffed with people who never worked for a private law firm.
The history of Obama's presidency, in many ways, is a story of compromises that disappointed liberals but still achieved substantial policy gains for Democrats, including the Affordable Care Act.
Looking forward, the power of Warren and likeminded senators seems only to be growing. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made her a member of leadership. In the next Senate,  the top Democrat on the Banking Committee will be liberal leader Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). The top Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee will be Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-avowed socialist.
It's hard to imagine any of them leading the way on any legislation the Senate will actually consider, and it's equally difficult to know how Warren would respond if she was actually in a position where she had to negotiate legislation. To the degree he seeks congressional accords in his final two years, Obama will be forging them with Republican leadership in the House and Senate, and bringing along as many Democrats as he can.
But should he move far in hopes of a compromise with the GOP — on trade, the budget or any other issue — Obama will likely find Warren leading a liberal flank in opposition. It's hard to know if she would succeed, but the past few weeks show that she has the influence to make a difference.
Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Taming Corporate Power - TheGuardian

The Guardian view on taming corporate power

Transnationals are mighty, but they’re not beyond government reach. If politicians are pressed by the grass roots, democracy could still battle back
As Prem Sikka of Essex University observes: 'Corporations have no loyalty to any place, people or co
 As Prem Sikka of Essex University observes: 'Corporations have no loyalty to any place, people or community.' Photograph: Mark Lennihan/AP

In this early 21st century, we are bedevilled by size. Economies of scale have allowed firms to grow until they straddle the globe like colossi, beneficiaries of the last century’s turbocharged capitalism. But it is the sheer expanse of those companies, how they consequently behave and how that affects the countries and continents in which they trade that cause disquiet. Of the top 175 economic entities in the world in 2011, whole nations included, 111 were giant corporates.
There has been diagnosis aplenty, but in the Taming corporate power series this week, the Guardian has sought to pinpoint potential remedies. The debate is often a despairing one. Giant firms, reluctant to have their territorial ambitions or profit potential curbed, will deploy lobbying and sharp PR to persuade lawmakers to think otherwise. They make menacing virtue of their multinational structures, threatening uncooperative states with taking their business elsewhere. The result is a source of power that has grown beyond democracy’s reach.
At one level, transnational businesses are simply structures for organising economic activities. By dint of their border-straddling scale, they do much to foster world trade. But as Prem Sikka of Essex University observes: “Corporations have no loyalty to any place, people or community.” Rage about tax avoidance, predatory competition and environmental despoliation occasionally triggers calls for practical action to temper or even punish corporate irresponsibility. But always the disincentive is the scale of the task. In the real-life face-off between the democratic David and the corporate Goliath, David can look puny indeed.
And yet – then as now – Goliath is not invincible. As our writers have searched for answers, some things have become clear. First, governments already possess many powers that they shrink from using. They could smash monopolies and force firms vying for public contracts to pay a living wage. They could, if they wanted, reform political funding and get a regulatory grip on the lobbying that leads to warped laws. Just as governments have imposed freedom of information on themselves, they could – in principle – shine a light behind the corporate veil. They could also, between them, agree that taxes will be calculated on where sales are made, not where profits are reported.
Local authorities could reassert their territorial power too. This week we highlighted how Enfield council has been campaigning to force utilities to give work to local firms and for banks to lend more to local business, with the threat that those that do not comply will be named and shamed. Prof Sikka called for a rethink of company law, balancing the terrific legal privilege of limited liability with a removal of the duty to advance shareholder interest at the expense of all other stakeholders. That mirrors the line of thinking pursued by our economics editor Larry Elliott, on what he called “the nuclear option”. Namely, the withdrawal of this limit on liability – that’s the L in PLC – from those irresponsible corporates that show negligence to their workers, their customers or their supply chains. All of these would, of course, require great will from legislators. For all the scandals, they seem unlikely to find such resolve on their own.
If there is to be a genuine effort to reshape the relationship between communities, nation states and multinationals, the pressure will have to start in communities themselves, instilling in our representatives the fear that there will be a price to pay for being in hock to corporate interests. The pressure is, perhaps, most likely to start at the grass roots – outside party structures, which are so often compromised by corporate funding. There is some early sign of that in the activities of the better trade unions, and in popular campaigning groups like UK Uncut. There is progress, too, in those parts of Europe where anti-austerity campaigns are increasingly pushing corporates centre-stage.
The status quo endures because there is, at present, too little incentive to assault a system that allows companies unquestioned freedom and unfettered prospects for enrichment. And then we come back to the intimidating scale and the accompanying complexity. These forces for inaction may yet prevail, but let it no longer be said that alternatives do not exist.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Wall Street Wants Previously Disasterous Perks in GOP Shutdown Blackmail

Wall Street Demands Derivatives Deregulation In Government Shutdown Bill

Posted: Updated: 
WASHINGTON -- Wall Street lobbyists are trying to secure taxpayer backing for many derivatives trades as part of budget talks to avert a government shutdown.
According to multiple Democratic sources, banks are pushing hard to include the controversial provision in funding legislation that would keep the government operating after Dec. 11. Top negotiators in the House are taking the derivatives provision seriously, and may include it in the final bill, the sources said.
The bank perks are not a traditional budget item. They would allow financial institutions to trade certain financial derivatives from subsidiaries that are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. -- potentially putting taxpayers on the hook for losses caused by the risky contracts. Big Wall Street banks had typically traded derivatives from these FDIC-backed units, but the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law required them to move many of the transactions to other subsidiaries that are not insured by taxpayers.
Taxpayer insurance helps banks secure higher credit ratings for their derivatives, since taxpayers assume some of the risk, which in turn makes the banks more profitable.
Last year, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) introduced the same provision under debate in the current budget talks. The legislative text was written by a Citigroup lobbyist, according to The New York Times. The bill passed the House by a vote of 292 to 122 in October 2013, 122 Democrats opposed, and 70 in favor. All but three House Republicans supported the bill.
Himes was passed over for leadership positions after the 2014 midterm elections, which he said he interpreted as unrest within the Democratic Party over his strong ties to financial elites.
"My guess is, it was a factor, which is disappointing because I think the criticism is way off base," said Himes, who previously worked at Goldman Sachs.
It wasn't clear whether the derivatives perk will survive negotiations in the House, or if the Senate will include it in its version of the bill. With Democrats voting nearly 2-to-1 against the bill in the House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) never brought the bill up for a vote in the Senate. President Barack Obama opposed the bill ahead of the House vote, as did former FDIC Chair Shiela Bair, former House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), currently the top Democrat on the Financial Services Committee.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Engendered Priorities

The Corporate Gerrymander

Meet the Fortune 500 Companies Funding the Political Resegregation of America

| Fri Nov. 21, 2014 6:00 AM EST      Mother Jones

Over the past four to five years, the United States has been resegregated—politically. In states where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans and presidential races can be nail-biters, skillful Republican operatives have mounted racially-minded gerrymandering efforts—the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts—that have led to congressional delegations stacked with GOP members and yielded Republican majorities in the state legislatures.
In North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, to name just three, GOPers have recast state and congressional districts to consolidate black voters into what the political pros call "majority-minority districts" to diminish the influence of these voters. North Carolina is an especially glaring example: GOP-redistricting after the 2010 elections led to half the state's black population—1.1 million people—being corralled into one-fifth of the state legislative and congressional districts. "The districts here take us back to a day of segregation that most of us thought we'd moved away from," State Sen. Dan Blue Jr., who was previously North Carolina's first black House speaker, told the Nation in 2012.
A major driving force behind this political resegregation is the Republican State Leadership Committee, a deep-pocketed yet under-the-radar group that calls itself the "lead Republican redistricting organization." The RSLC is funded largely by Fortune 500 corporations, including Reynolds AmericanLas Vegas Sands,WalmartDevon EnergyCitigroupAT&TPfizerAltria GroupHoneywell InternationalHewlett-Packard. Other heavyweight donors not on the Fortune 500 list include Koch Industries, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and the US Chamber of Commerce. At the same time these big-name firms underwrite the RSLC's efforts to dilute the power of black voters, many of them preach the values of diversity and inclusion on their websites and in corporate reports.
As part of its Redistricting Majority Project—which, tellingly, is nicknamed REDMAP—the RSLC, starting in 2010, poured tens of millions of dollars into legislative races around the country to elect new GOP majorities. Next it provided money and expertise to state officials redrawing political boundary lines to favor the Republican Party—and to shrink the clout of blacks, Hispanics, and other traditionally Democratic voters. Unlike its Democratic equivalent, the RSLC has vast sums at its disposal, spending $30 million during the 2010 elections, $40 million in 2012, and $22 million in 2014.
Here is a partial list of RSLC donors—how much they donated to the group in the past four years and what they each have had to say about their own efforts to foster diversity. (All the companies on this list did not respond to requests for comment except for Altria Group, Citigroup, and Reynolds American, which declined to comment.)
Altria Group
"[W]e foster diversity and inclusion among our workforce, consistent with our leadership responsibilities and core values." (Source)
"AT&T’s 134-year history of innovation is a story about people from all walks of life and all kinds of backgrounds coming together to improve the human condition. It is our diversity, coupled with an inclusive culture that welcomes all points of view, which makes us who we are: a great place to work, a desired business partner and a committed member of the communities we serve." (Source)
Blue Cross/Blue Shield
"Let's get there together—with one perspective we can go far, with many perspectives we can move beyond all limits. Join an organization that values diversity." (Source)
"We see diversity as a source of strength." (Source)
"We recognize, celebrate, and support diversity and inclusion, which is at the very heart of our culture." (Source)
Devon Energy
"Devon believes diversity, the collective mixture of similarities and differences of our employees, is a valued asset." (Source)
Reynolds American
"Reynolds American and its operating companies have long recognized, valued and enjoyed the many benefits that diversity brings to both our employees and our businesses. Our commitment to diversity is a strong demonstration of the core values that our companies share." (Source)
US Chamber of Commerce
"Diversity and inclusion programs can provide valuable resources to recruit and retain a strong employee base that will generate novel ideas." (Source)
"Diversity has been at the core of our culture since Sam Walton opened our doors in 1962…We can only help our associates, customers and partners live better if we really know them. And that means understanding and respecting differences and being inclusive of all people." (Source)

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Friday, November 21, 2014



The optimates ("Best Men," singular optimas; also known as boni, "Good Men") were the traditionalist majority of the late Roman Republic. They wished to limit the power of the popular assemblies and the Tribune of the Plebs, and to extend the power of the Senate, which was viewed as more dedicated to the interests of the aristocrats who held the reins of power. In particular, they were concerned with the rise of individual generals who, backed by the tribunate, the assemblies and their own soldiers, could shift power from the Senate and aristocracy. They were opposed by the populares.

Many members of this faction were so classified because they used the backing of the aristocracy and the senate to achieve personal goals, not necessarily because they favored the aristocracy over the lower classes. Similarly, the populares did not necessarily champion the lower classes, but often used their support to achieve personal goals.

Keystone “Yea” Votes Took In Six Times More Oil & Gas Money

Senate Keystone “Yea” Votes Took In Six Times More Oil & Gas Money Than Opponents

Senate Democrats successfully blocked a bill Tuesday that would have approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The controversial measure fell one vote shy of overcoming a filibuster, with 59 senators supporting it and 41 opposing. The vote followed the bill’s approval in the House by a much wider margin, with 252 lawmakers voting to advance the pipeline.
The vote largely fell along party lines. All Senate Republicans supported construction of the pipeline but they were joined by 14 Democrats, including three of the four Democrat incumbents who lost their re-election bids earlier this month. For Sen. Mary Landrieu(D-La.), the bill’s main sponsor, the vote was considered an important test of her effectiveness in advance of a Dec. 6 runoff that will determine whether she keeps her seat. In the House, 31 Democrats crossed the aisle to side with the Republican majority.
Construction of the pipeline has been decried by environmental groups and championed by heavyweights in the oil and gas industry. Both of these interests are no strangers to money in politics. The oil and gas industry has long been a generous donor to federal candidates and committees — and increased its donations in 2014 over 2010. In the environmental community, where the League of Conservation Voters has long been the lead player on this front, environmental activist Tom Steyer is 2014′s top overall donor.
Oil and Gas
The 59 senators who voted for the pipeline have received, on average, significantly more money from the oil and gas industry than those who voted against construction. Over the course of their careers, those 59 took in over $33 million in campaign donations from the industry, compared to the approximately $4.2 million received by the 41 who successfully blocked the bill’s approval. On average, those voting for Keystone have received $572,000 from oil and gas interests, compared with just $103,900 for those voting against it.
Among the Democrats, the 39 “nay” votes received $4.2 million from oil and gas, while the 14 who voted with the Republicans received just under $4 million. On average, those voting no received about $108,000, while the Democratic supporters — who disproportionately represent states with strong oil and gas industry presence – received more than twice as much, about $284,000.
But the amount taken in by Democratic Keystone supporters pales in comparison to that received by Republicans, who received $662,000, on average, from oil and gas interests. The 11 Republicans who will be joining the Senate in January have taken in $370,000 on average (likely an artificially small amount since most of these Republicans have had much shorter time periods in which to accrue this money).
In the House, the picture is even more stark. Keystone supporters have garnered $56.2 million from the oil and gas industry over the course of their careers, compared to the $5.2 million that opponents have brought in. On average, a “yea” vote took in around $223,000 over the course of his or her career, while a “nay” vote took in a paltry $32,200. For just the 31 Democrats voting in favor, the average oil and gas tally was $115,349 — slightly less than the Republicans were able to bring in, but much more than the Keystone opponents.
The environmental community has historically given much less to federal candidates than oil and gas interests have. One reason the tally is lower: We have no way of knowing which donors consider themselves environmentalists. We classify contributions according to donors’ employers, and far more donors work for oil and gas companies than work for environmental groups.
(Spending by the Tom Steyer-funded NextGen Climate Action super PAC, as well as that of other super PACs, is not reflected in these totals, which include only contributions directly to candidates.)
Environmental money largely followed the same pattern that oil and gas money took, but in reverse — Senate Republicans received far less than Senate Democrats (on average just under $11,000 compared to an average of $141,000 for Democrats). Among Democrats, those who voted to build the pipeline received less than those who voted not to: just over $98,000 on average, compared to the $183,000 that Democrats who wanted to deep-six the project raised.
TAE (1)
Similarly, in the House Republicans received far less than Democrats overall, but Keystone-supporting Democrats took in less from environmental groups and their employees than Keystone opponents. Keystone opponents received $6.2 million over the course of their careers, while Keystone proponents were only able to bring in $1.1 million, despite there being many more of them. On average, Keystone’s GOP supporters took in $2,932 from environmental interests while its Democratic cheerleaders brought in $14,196. Keystone opponents, all of them Democrats, took in $38,642 — more than twice as much as their nay-voting Democratic counterparts.
What does it mean?
It probably comes as no surprise that opponents of the pipeline — all Democrats — were more likely to be supported by environmental interests and that proponents were more likely to take in large sums from the oil and gas industry. Those Democrats who crossed party lines are a more interesting story: Although they more closely resemble their Democratic colleagues, they are far less likely to have received significant sums from environmental donors, but have received more from the oil and gas industry than those who voted against Keystone.
They are also less likely to be returning. Of the 14 Senate Democrats who sided with Republicans, four will be departing and many pollsters are speculating that Landrieu will not win her runoff. If she does not return, 65 percent of the Keystone-supporting Democrats will be members of the 114th Congress. Among the 39 Keystone opponents, however, five will not be returning — a yield of 87%. All of those five except for Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) will be replaced by Republicans.
Though the 114th Congress will have more GOP senators, they will have, on average, received less from the oil and gas industry over the course of their careers than the Republicans currently in the Senate, but the difference is slight and probably explained by the incoming lawmakers having had shorter congressional careers than the senators they are replacing.  However, incoming Democratic senators will have received much less, on average, than the current Democratic class: A Democrat in the 114th Congress will have received $100,000 from the oil and gas industry, while a Democrat in the current Congress has received more $155,000.  It looks, therefore, like upcoming Congress’ Senate Democrats will not only be fewer in number, but will have a weaker connection to the oil and gas industry.
For the full data set showing how each member of the Senate voted and how much they received from oil and gas or environment, click here.
All numbers in this story reflect career (back to 1989 at the earliest) totals to members of Congress and are based on data collected from the Federal Election Commission on 11/17/2014. Only itemized contributions of greater than $200 are included in the industry totals.

CategoriesEnvironment Industries Oil & gas

Sarah BrynerSarah, who joined the Center in April 2011, is responsible for overseeing the Center's data analysis and research collaborations. She previously worked as the Center's lobbying and revolving door researcher. Prior to joining OpenSecrets, Sarah was a doctoral student at the Ohio State University, where she also taught undergraduate political science courses in political behavior. Her dissertation, entitled "Politicians Behaving Badly: The Determinants and Outcomes of Political Scandal in Post-Watergate America," incorporates both original data collection and political experiments. She received her Ph.D. from Ohio State in 2014, and her B.A. in political science and biology in 2006.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

U.S. Corporations Now Stashing $2 Trillion Overseas, a total greater than the amount held on U.S. shores.

U.S. Companies Now Stashing $2 Trillion Overseas 

Jeff Cox -  CNBC   November 12th 2014
U.S. companies are for the first time holding more than $2 trillion overseas, according to an analysis that paints a bleak picture of whether that money will make its way home and the limited economic impact it would have even if it does.
Corporate cash has hit $2.1 trillion, a sixfold increase over the past 12 years, Capital Economics said, citing its own database as well as that of Audit Analytics and other sources. There is no official total, but the firm also used regulatory filings that included "indefinitely reinvested foreign earnings" to glean the total sitting outside U.S. borders.
"The latest signs suggest that, as business confidence improves in light of the continued economic recovery, U.S. firms are starting to hold less cash domestically," Capital economists Paul Dales and Andrew Hunter said in a report for clients. "However, the foreign cash piles of the largest firms have almost certainly continued to grow."
"The latest signs suggest that, as business confidence improves in light of the continued economic recovery, U.S. firms are starting to hold less cash domestically."
That total, while daunting in its own right, is now greater than the amount held on U.S. shores, which totals just under $1.9 trillion, according to the latest Federal Reserve flow of funds tally.
Such numbers are bound to get attention in Washington, which for years has been debating so-called repatriation measures that would allow companies to bring their cash back home at drastically reduced tax rates. The new Republican-controlled Congress is expected to take up the issue quickly when it convenes in January.

Little optimism

But the Capital analysis provides little optimism in that regard. Dales and Hunter pointed out that during the 2004 tax holiday "most of that cash was used to fund dividend payouts and share buybacks rather than to boost investment." A Democratic congressional report indicated that the biggest companies receiving the benefits of $360 billion in repatriated funds actually cut a net 20,000 jobs, and that the holiday cost Treasury coffers $3.3 billion.
"This is supported by the results of a 2009 study by the (National Bureau of Economic Research), which found that every $1 that was repatriated during the tax holiday resulted in an increase of almost $1 in shareholder payouts," the Capital note said. "Around $0.80 went towards share buybacks and $0.15 to dividend payments."Very little, then, went to hiring and reinvestment.
Tech and pharmaceutical companies hold the greatest share of overseas cash, accounting for 30 percent of the total. Companies in those sectors specifically have been under fire for a rash of "inversions," or deals that see acquirers change their domiciles from the U.S. to friendlier tax countries.
Companies that would bring the cash home would pay the difference between the local tax rate and the U.S. levy, which is the highest in the world for corporations. Theoretically, the move could provide a 12 percent boost to gross domestic product, but the reality likely will be less substantial.
The U.S. "is also one of the few countries to tax worldwide corporate income, rather than just domestic earnings. This creates a clear incentive for companies to keep their foreign earnings abroad, and this is unlikely to change," Dales and Hunter wrote. "And even if tax laws were relaxed, it seems unlikely that foreign cash holdings would provide any significant boost to the economy."