Banks and Our Money

Are the banks using TARP money to – successfully – lobby the Senate?  Sure looks that way.  I first heard this story on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown when he interviewed Arianna Huffington.  But the best story  is by Ryan Grim on the Huffington Post.

The Senate on Thursday rejected an effort to stave off home foreclosures by a vote of 51 to 45. It was an overwhelming defeat, with the bill’s backers falling 15 votes short — a quarter of the Democratic caucus — of the 60 needed to cut off debate and move to a final vote.

The death of the bankruptcy reform measure — which would have allowed a small number of homeowners who met strict conditions to renegotiate mortgages under bankruptcy protection — is a major tactical win for the banking industry. But allowing the foreclosure crisis to continue unabated may end up being a failed strategy for the financial sector.

A little background from the Washington Post.

The measure would have allowed bankruptcy judges to modify troubled mortgages, lowering the interest rate or principal balance, a process known as a cramdown. Bankruptcy courts can already make those changes for a second home or investment property, but not a primary residence.

This would impact owners who are seeing home values drop to the point that the mortgages are larger than what the home is worth.  Sentator Richard Durbin was the primary sponsor and the bill was back, a little tepidly, by the Obama Administration. So back to Ryan Grim.

The Chamber of Commerce has deemed the vote a crucial one that will be heavily counted in its annual scorecard, and those who voted yes will pay a financial price from the Chamber and the banking industry.

Other Democrats stuck with the banks against the homeowners. Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) was wheeled into the chamber and pointed his finger in the air, signaling a yes vote, then dramatically swung it down, as if taunting the backers of the bill.

Sens. Jon Tester (Mont.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) all voted with the banks, as they told the Huffington Post they would. Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) voted no, as did the new Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Sen. Michael Bennett (D-Colo.), Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) voted no as well.

Earlier this week, Durbin concluded that banks that “frankly own the place.”

How much did the Senate go for?

The banking and real estate industry has funneled roughly $2,000,000 into Landrieu’s campaign coffers over her 12-year career, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. The financial sector is Nelson’s biggest backer; he’s taken $1.4 million from banks and real estate interests and another $1.2 million from insurance firms. Tester has fielded roughly half a million in his two years in office. Lincoln has taken $1.3 million from banking and real estate interests.
Carper has raked in more than $1.5 million. Baucus, chair of the finance committee, has been on the receiving end of $3.5 million over his career. Specter has hauled in more than $4.5 million and Johnson has gotten some $2.5 million.

So don’t these Senators realize how we got into this mortgage mess to begin with?  I see crazy loans made way above a homes value even in good times whose owners are now in trouble.  Where are the mortgage bankers getting the money to lobby?  I thought they were in trouble and needed taxpayer help.  I say, no more bailout for any mortgage bank which lobbied against this bill.

By the way, there is also a list of Senators who voted their consciences:  Evan Bayh, Mark Warner, Jim Webb, and Ted Kaufman (who is not running for re-election).  We need to thank them for their votes.

The Slow Drip of Torture Revelations

Sometimes it feels like torture.  Everyday it feels as if there are new revelations.  Everyday there is more speculation about why President Obama doesn’t come out and say he will or will not support prosecution of Bush administration officials.  I have said before that I think he is waiting to see what Congress does and what the Justice Department finds in various investigations.  I think he doesn’t want to be seen as too eager and too partisan.  I understand why many are frustrated.  After all, the Republicans brought impeachment procedings and had a multi-year investigation by a special prosecutor about what was essentially a personal crime by President Clinton.  The whole thing sapped energy from things that Clinton could have been doing and I can understand that Obama wants to pass some of his real agenda first.  I want to see criminal prosecutions in the courts, although Judge Jay Bybee is an exception who needs to be impeached.

John Nichols writing in the Nation says

And President Obama, who erred on the side of the transparency demanded by the American Civil Liberties Union in its long campaign to obtain the memos, gets points for ordering an end to the use of the torture techniques they outlined and for expressing at least a measure of openness to a “further accounting” and perhaps prosecution of wrongdoers. But Obama’s fretting about inquiries “getting so politicized” and suggesting a preference for shifting responsibility to a bipartisan independent commission are unsettling.As a former constitutional law lecturer, Obama should have a firmer grasp of the point of executive accountability. It is not merely to “lay blame,” as he suggests; it is to set boundaries on presidential behavior and to clarify where wrongdoing will be challenged. Presidents, even those who profess honorable intentions, do not get to write their own rules. Congress must set and enforce those boundaries. When Obama suggested that CIA personnel who acted on the legal advice of the Bush administration would not face “retribution,” Illinois’s Jan Schakowsky, chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s subcommittee on oversight and investigations, offered the only appropriate response. “I don’t want to compare this to Nazi Germany, but we’ve come to almost ridicule the notion that when horrific acts have been committed that people can use the excuse that, Well, I was just following orders,” explained Schakowsky, who has instructed aides to prepare for a torture inquiry. “There should be an open mind of what to do with information that we get from thorough investigations,” she added.

There must also be a proper framework for investigations. Gathering information for the purpose of creating a permanent record is only slightly superior to Obama’s banalities about wanting to “move forward.” Truth commissions that grant immunity to wrongdoers and bipartisan commissions that negotiate their way to redacted reports do not check and balance the executive branch any more than “warnings” punish speeding motorists.

Impeaching Bybee, as recommended by Nadler and Common Cause, would send the right signal. But it cannot be the only one. The House Judiciary Committee should examine all available avenues for achieving accountability–including the prospect of formal action against former officeholders, up to and including the sort of impeachments imagined by Mansfield and his compatriots in 1974. And Nadler and Feingold should use their subcommittees to begin outlining statutory constraints on the executive branch. The point, again, is not merely to address Bush/Cheney-era crimes but also to dial down the imperial presidency that has evolved under the unwatchful eye of successive Congresses.

“Congress…must be vigilant to the perils of the subversive notion that any public official, the president or a policeman, possesses a kind of inherent power to set the Constitution aside whenever he thinks the public interest or ‘national security’ warrants it. That notion is the essential postulate of tyranny,” California Congressman Don Edwards warned thirty-five years ago, when too many of his colleagues thought Nixon’s resignation had caged the beast of executive aggrandizement. That vigilance, too long delayed, is the essential duty of every member of Congress who swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution.

Here’s most recent example of the drip of revelations.  It appears that former Secretary of State Condi Rice might also be implicated in a conspiracy.  Keith Olbermann ran this tape  of her trying to defend torture.

So I say the Congress should begin impeaching Jay Bybee and we should let the relevatiions continue.  I’m not sure when enough will be enough to begin criminal proceedings but I’m sure Eric Holder will figure that out.