“I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of New York and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of mayor of the city of New York according to the best of my ability, so help me God.”
When Bill de Blasio becomes mayor of New York City in twenty days he’ll recite a fifty-three-word oath in which, basically, he’ll promise to try his hardest to “faithfully discharge” his duties.
That doesn’t begin to describe what he’s signed up for. Not only is de Blasio moving from the low-profile, low-power post of public advocate—a kind of civic watchdog unique to New York and invisible to many of its citizens—to the enormous challenge of managing a $70 billion budget and occupying the most intimately scrutinized elected position in America. He has to do all that with the hopes of the progressive movement on his back.
That may sound naïve or hyperbolic, but that’s exactly what some people said about de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” critique, and they were wrong on the politics and on the policy.
Sure, if you’re so inclined, you can look at de Blasio’s résumé, with his stint at the side of the “New Democrat” Clintons and his nimble traipse through the politics of real estate development, and conclude that the mayor-elect is more shrewd strategist than true believer. But it doesn’t matter. Whether in his heart he’s Chance the Gardener or John Doe or the Real Deal, people want him to be the Real Deal, so that’s what he’ll be expected to be.
And if you detect New York chauvinism at work here, tell me, what progressive has a higher profile or a bigger mandate to reverse the erosion of American working-class living standards than the guy who’ll be mayor of a city with more poor residents than Philadelphia has people?
The scope of that potential and the size of the challenge confronting de Blasio are why The Nation and City Limits are teaming up to produce this blog on the transition now underway and the first 100 days of the mayoral term that begins January 1.
There is no question that New York City is at a crossroads. De Blasio’s surge this fall had even Crain’s, the leading business publication in town, acknowledging the reality of income inequality. The New York Times is this week giving unprecedented space to a series about a homeless girl navigating the city remade not so nicely by the Bloomberg era. A coalition of big foundations set up a tent in Tribeca to collect people hopes and suggestions for the first Democratic mayor since 1993.
“It feels like a New York transformed, for me,” says Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy. “There’s a world of issues where it feels clear that the de Blasio administration is going to move with significant progressive policies in line with what we’ve been fighting for for years,” like paid sick leave, a municipal ID, stronger living wage provisions and more.
So, yeah, there’s an amazing array of hopes being pinned to de Blasio. But there are questions, too. At his Election Night victory party, people voiced doubts about the winner even as they cheered the size of his margin. Can he help the poor without neglecting the environment? Can he afford to empower black and Latino communities and gay and lesbian organizations? Can he deliver?
To some degree, John Lindsay—the last progressive who tried to transform New York—had it easier. He didn’t have to fret about being compared to John Lindsay. De Blasio will always have to worry that any hint New York is slipping back to the bad old days will cost him the support of the city’s center, and especially the editorial boards.
That’s why the mayor-elect made the decidedly conventional picks of Anthony Shorris, a veteran mover and shaker, as first deputy mayor and, for police commissioner, William Bratton, who in some ways pioneered the stop-and-frisk strategy that Ray Kelly put on steroids. Fact is, de Blasio needs a skilled manager in City Hall and someone with editorial-board credibility at One Police Plaza. “You’ve got to make people comfortable,” says one veteran pol. “He’s got to send business a signal and the elites a signal.”
Meanwhile, the city’s left is scarred by disappointment with Barack Obama, who never even pretended to be as progressive as de Blasio but still managed to accommodate away much of the hope invested in him.
Yet progressives seem to recognize that they need to give de Blasio some room to operate. Thus they largely acquiesced to the choice of the un-beloved Bratton. “I think people are very sympathetic to the fear that we are one crime spree away from putting the whole progressive agenda on the rocks,” says one advocate.
Of course, the looming question is, will something come up that has progressives pushing back? People recognize the unique political requirements for police commissioner and first deputy mayor. But when it comes to the schools chancellor, or the head of the city’s social services department, de Blasio will be under more pressure to name someone who excites people. There is already some concern that the mayor-elect has backed away from a promise to have an inclusive process for selecting the next schools chief.
City Limits has covered urban policy in New York since the fiscal crisis, always with an emphasis on stories that affected low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, the outer boroughs—sort of the “second city” in the Dickensian reference de Blasio made a slogan. Racially skewed policing, income inequality, affordable housing…those 2013 buzzwords have been our stock in trade since ’76. We can get deep into wonk territory on land-use policy or charter school co-locations, but we see all of it as part of the bigger endeavor to create a more just city.
That means we can be tough on officials, especially ones who speak the language of progress. (We’ve been tough on de Blasio at times: A profile I wrote in 2009 ticked off his spokesperson, who thought I took cheap shots. He was probably right.)
But now de Blasio is more than just another ambitious politician: He’s to be mayor of the greatest city in the world and the bearer of a multitude of hopes and expectations. We’ll be watching who he brings in to help him, the speeches he makes, the policies he changes and the moves the game’s other players—the press, advocates, labor, state pols and local leaders—make. The first 100 days is a crude convention, but it will give us a sense of who the 109th mayor of New York really is.
“He’s a real progressive dude,” says the veteran pol. “More progressive than people realize.”
Read next: What does the choice of Bill Bratton for NYPD commissioner signal about the future of de Blasio’s tenure?
Most members of Congress were pleased with themselves Thursday.
They agreed to agree—crossing lines of partisanship and ideology—on an austerity budget that, as Oregon Congressman Peter DeFazio has noted, “won’t create jobs, get the economy back on track, or meaningfully cut the deficit.”
That’s not the worst of it.
“At the end of the day, the bill abandons 1.3 million Americans who desperately need unemployment insurance, and does nothing to promote economic growth or job creation,” Congressman Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, explained Thursday. “Furthermore, the legislation is paid for on the backs of the middle class and military families, while not touching the wealthiest amongst us and allowing corporations to continue to benefit from tax loopholes.”
Pocan and DeFazio could not bring themselves to back the deal.
But they were outliers, two of the thirty-two Democrats who voted no, along with sixty-two Republicans.
The vast majority of House members—from both parties—backed the deal, which prevailed on a 332-94 vote.
So where does that leave America?
Let’s turn to National Nurses United, a union that parts company with both major parties on questions of public welfare, for a diagnosis.
“There is no reason to cheer an agreement that requires unwarranted pension cuts for federal workers, including VA nurses who earned that pension, underfunds nutrition programs and fails to extend assistance for the long-term unemployed,“ says union co-president Jean Ross, RN.
NNU refused to get on board for the bipartisan deal that takes the worst ideas of Wall Street–aligned Republicans and puts a Democratic stamp of approval on them.
Why? Because they understand the agreement—which was developed by a conference committee on which House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, played a defining role—as an expression of the austerity agenda that has stalled economic recovery and job growth in the United States and abroad.
“Austerity budgeting, reflected in this latest deal, continues the disturbing focus by politicians in both parties in Washington, who should be fighting for jobs at living wages, restoration of the disgraceful cuts in food stamps, healthcare for all, housing assistance, and other human needs, not simply how to please Wall Street and the banks,” says NNU’s Ross. “For our patients and our communities, it is past time to replace cuts for workers with revenues from Wall Street to revive Main Street.”
There was a time when austerity budgeting was accepted as valid—or, at least, necessary—to addressing the circumstance of countries where deindustrialization and economic setbacks have caused revenue shortfalls. But, in recent years, The Economist, the Financial Timesand the International Monetary Fund have recognized that austerity agendas based on in budget cuts and a failure to invest in infrastructure and development tend to lock in patterns of high unemployment and slow growth.
Countries fall into dysfunctional patterns, making cuts that lead to more cuts, and this stalls job creation, reduces labor-force participation and makes recovery more difficult. It is, as economist Paul Krugman suggests, an “awesomely destructive” pattern.
Congress should get this by now. Unfortunately, as an analysis from the budget analysts at the Campaign for America’s Future notes, “Somehow Washington has failed to get the message. This deal doesn’t end the cutting; it only reduces its severity. It doesn’t generate jobs; it only cuts fewer of them. It doesn’t help the economy; it only reduces the harm to it. Surely we can do better than that.”
The nurses have an idea for how to do better. The union wants a Robin Hood Tax on high-stakes Wall Street trading—particularly speculation in stocks, bonds, derivatives and currencies. This tax is outlined in legislation developed by Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, who proposes “a small tax on Wall Street transactions to meet the needs of our nation.”
Ellison voted against the budget deal Thursday, saying: “The budget deal passed today is a compromise—it compromises the financial security of federal employees, the long-term unemployed and working families…. This is a case where ‘compromise’ in Washington means asking Americans to sacrifice more.”
The nurses agree.
“The sham of the present debate in Washington, DC, is that real fiscal solutions to slow growth and high unemployment, hunger, disease and poverty exist, but have been taken off the table by lobbyists for Wall Street,” says Ross. “It’s time Congress proves to the American people that Wall Street doesn’t run our government.”
Read Next: John Nichols lays out what makes this a “cruel, irresponsible” budget deal.
Students and veterans helped deliver big campaign victories for the Democratic Party in recent elections. Now, some Democratic lawmakers are thanking them by trying to ensure that predatory businesses can rip them off and saddle them with a lifetime of debt.
TheNation.com has learned that a small group of House Democrats, led by Representatives Rob Andrews of New Jersey and Alcee Hastings of Florida, are organizing an effort within the caucus to protect the for-profit career college industry from any meaningful regulation. The two congressmen are among the largest recipients of campaign cash from the industry. Campaign finance data compiled by TheNation.com show Hastings has received $54,500, and Andrews $78,547, from for-profit college executives and political committees.
Unlike non-profit private or public universities, proprietary career colleges exist to make money; lot's of it. For-profit colleges take in some $33 billion in taxpayer money annually, funds designed to help veterans and students afford college. For many critics, the entire industry is built upon fraud. Multiple investigations show systematic deception in the industry -- recruiters lying to students about job placement rates, students graduating with incredibly high debt with few employment prospects, and marketing campaigns that obscure what is often a low-quality education.
Students that have gone to for-profit colleges are not only more likely graduate with high levels of debt -- for-profit students hold $31,190 dollars in debt on average, compared to $17,040 at private, nonprofit institutions and $7,960 at public colleges -- they are also three times as likely to default on their loans.
As Adam Weinstein reported for Mother Jones, for-profit colleges have also targeted returning soldiers to take advantage of their GI benefits. “Some for-profits have cleaned out students' military benefits while also signing them up for thousands of dollars in loans without their knowledge. A vet who enrolled at the largely online Ashford University after being told the GI Bill would cover his tuition ended up owing the school $11,000,” Weinstein noted.
In 2010, the Department of Education proposed modest rules to mandate that taxpayer money would only go to for-profit schools that could demonstrate that a reasonable number of their students were able to gain jobs after graduation. An intense lobbying effort followed. Career colleges, including the University of Phoenix, Kaplan Higher Education, Devry Inc., The Art Institute (owned by Education Management Corporation), Corinthian Colleges, Grand Canyon University, among others, pushed back through a sophisticated influence campaign. Think tanks and other NGOs were co-opted by industry, dozens of lobbyists were hired, and for-profit colleges pumped campaign contributions into the accounts of lawmakers opposed to the rule. The industry also flooded the department with astroturfed letters. The Obama Administration finally issued a much-watered down version of the rule. Then, the for-profit colleges sued and persuaded a judge to strike it down.
This year, the Obama Administration has promised to re-propose the regulation, and today will reconvene a meeting with stakeholders to move forward with a new version of the “gainful employment&rdquot; rule. During debate over the last version of the rule, virtually every House Republican, joined by a number of Democrats, worked to defeat the regulation. The process seems to be repeating itself this year, with Andrews and Hastings circulating a “Dear Colleague” letter asking other House Democrats to sign a document asking the administration to back down. The letter, obtained in draft form by by TheNation.com, asks lawmakers to contact David Opong-Wadee, a staffer to Hastings, if they would like to join the anti-gainful employment regulation group.
Notably, the Association for Private Sector Colleges and Universities, a trade association for the industry, has given only to two House Democrats in the last three months: Hastings and Andrews.
Read Next: Jarrett Murphy says everything is at stake in de Blasio's mayorality.
UPDATE: New York Times now reveals it has known about this since 2007 and did not publish. Now with lengthy piece by my old friend Barry Meier. Huff Post's Mike Calderone talks to Meier on the missing years.
Earlier: Don't miss the scoop just posted by the AP on long-missing American in Iran who, it turns out, was working for the CIA. And against all protocols, hired by a rogue element.
It's an incredibe story but because of its sensitive nature—the man, Robert Levinson, is still missing, it was a secret operation, and offiicials lied to us and Congress—the Associated Press debated about publishing it. As they related, “even after the White House, FBI and State Department officials learned of Levinson's CIA ties, the official story remained unchanged. ‘He's a private citizen involved in private business in Iran,’ the State Department said in 2007, shortly after Levinson's disappearance.” Now that it has posted the piece, the AP carried a lengthy explanation.
Read the full story but, since I'm a media writer, here's the AP defending why they are publishing now even though it presents some risk to the CIA man, if still alive. The White House today criticized the AP move, saying it had “strongly urged” it to hold off (it did not admit Levinson was a CIA operative.) From the statement: “We regret that the AP would choose to run a story that does nothing to further the cause of bringing him home. The investigation into Mr. Levinson's disappearance continues, and we all remain committed to finding him and bringing him home safely to his family.”
Here's the full AP statement:
Publishing this article was a difficult decision. This story reveals serious mistakes and improper actions inside the U.S. government’s most important intelligence agency. Those actions, the investigation and consequences have all been kept secret from the public.
Publishing articles that help the public hold their government to account is part of what journalism is for, and especially so at The Associated Press, which pursues accountability journalism whenever it can. This seems particularly true on this subject at a time when the decisions of intelligence agencies are being extensively debated.
The AP has been seeking information on Levinson’s whereabouts from governments, agencies and any other source possible for several years. Government officials tell us that they, too, have hit a wall, though their efforts continue.
In the absence of any solid information about Levinson’s whereabouts, it has been impossible to judge whether publication would put him at risk. It is almost certain that his captors already know about the CIA connection but without knowing exactly who the captors are, it is difficult to know whether publication of Levinson’s CIA mission would make a difference to them. That does not mean there is no risk. But with no more leads to follow, we have concluded that the importance of the story justifies publication.
Read Next: Pratap Chatterjee shows how the CIA bungled the War on Terror.
Last night Michigan’s legislature passed a measure banning coverage for abortion in private health plans. Women who want abortion coverage will have to buy an additional rider, essentially planning for an unplanned pregnancy. I understand why opponents of the measure are calling it “rape insurance”—there are no exceptions for rape and incest, and State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer told her own story of sexual assault and how such a law would have impacted her if she had become pregnant as a result of the attack. It was a brave moment. But the term “rape insurance” does a disservice to women—and to the reproductive justice movement.
It is not just sexual assault survivors who need their abortion covered. Yes, there is an added dimension of cruelty when you’re talking about denying women who get pregnant as a result of rape care and coverage. But we cannot create a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” abortions. Or of “deserving” women. One in three American women will have an abortion, and the circumstances behind that pregnancy is none of our business—and it certainly should have no bearing on whether or not women can afford to access care.
Referring to this measure as requiring women to have “rape insurance” is also a political misstep—what happens if Michigan anti-choicers decide they can live with a rape exception? Most women will still not have coverage for the care they need. This is similar to what happened in Virginia when feminists protested a transvaginal ultrasound mandate as “state rape.” Focusing on the most controversial aspect of the law got a lot of attention, but it also meant that once the transvaginal requirement was removed, low income women still lost out—because an abdominal ultrasound mandate remained, forcing women to pay hundreds of dollars out of pocket for an unnecessary procedure.
I understand why many in the pro-choice movement focus on the most extreme examples when we talk to the media; they are truly harrowing and serious issues. And we need public support—but not at the expense of our feminist values.
As Merritt Tierce, executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund, told me in an interview last month: “The lawsuits and the media coverage always focus on the most sympathetic cases, without acknowledging that while of course those cases absolutely deserve our sympathy, most women will not experience anything like what they see and hear in the media.”
If we want to battle the stigma around abortion, we cannot separate it out from women’s general healthcare—or suggest, even implicitly, that some people are more deserving of abortion care than others. Michigan’s policy is unjust and sexist, and it punishes women—that should be enough to oppose it.
Read Next: Why Jessica Valenti doesn’t want to watch TV shows anymore.
A federal judge in Winston-Salem today set the schedule for a trial challenging North Carolina’s sweeping new voter restrictions. There will be a hearing on whether to grant a preliminary injunction in July 2014 and a full trial a year later, in July 2015.
This gives the plaintiffs challenging the law, which includes the Department of Justice, the ACLU and the North Carolina NAACP, a chance to block the bill’s worst provisions before the 2014 election. Earlier this year, in July 2013, the North Carolina legislature passed the country’s worst voter suppression law, which included strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cuts to early voting, the elimination of same-day voter registration, the repeal of public financing of judicial elections and many more harsh and unnecessary anti-voting measures.
These restrictions will impact millions of voters in the state across all races and demographic groups: in 2012, for example, 2.5 million North Carolinians voted early, 152,000 used same-day voter registration, 138,000 voters lacked government-issued ID and 7,500 people cast an out-of-precinct provisional ballot. These four provisions alone will negatively affect nearly 3 million people who voted in 2012.
Ironically, it took the North Carolina legislature less than a month to approve the law, but it will take a year before an initial hearing on it and two years before a full trial. That’s because in June 2013 the Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which meant that previously covered states like North Carolina, with the worst history of voting discrimination, no longer had to clear their voting changes with the federal government.
North Carolina passed its new restrictions a month after the SCOTUS decision, making the legislation as draconian as possible because it no longer needed federal approval. The state is crystal-clear evidence of why SCOTUS was wrong to gut the VRA and to treat voting discrimination as a thing of the past. It also shows why Section 2 of the VRA is no substitute for Section 5.
Under Section 5 of the VRA—which SCOTUS paralyzed by invalidating the states covered under Section 4—North Carolina would have had to prove to the Justice Department or a three-judge court in Washington that its new law was not discriminatory. The burden of proof would have been on the state and the law would have been frozen until DOJ or the courts weighed in. Given the clear evidence of disparate racial impact in this case—African-Americans are 23 percent of registered voters in the state, but made up 29 percent of early voters in 2012, 34 percent of those without state-issued ID and 41 percent of those who used same-day registration—the law would have almost certainly been rejected.
Instead, voting rights groups had to sue North Carolina under Section 2 of the VRA, which applies nationwide but is much more cumbersome than Section 5. Now the burden of proof is on the plaintiffs to show evidence of discrimination and the law is in effect until the courts block it. Unless a federal judge in Winston-Salem grants a preliminary injunction in the summer of 2014, the new restrictions will be in place during the 2014 midterm elections (except for voter ID, which goes into effect in 2016). Those who have been discriminated against will have no recourse until after the election has been decided, when there’s a full trial in 2015, on the fiftieth anniversary of the VRA. (A challenge to Texas’s voter ID law under Section 2 of the VRA will go to trial in September 2014.)
The Dallas Morning News reported this week that legislation to strengthen the VRA following the Supreme Court’s decision is stalled in Congress because the GOP leadership has yet to support it. The fight over voting rights in North Carolina vividly demonstrates why Congress should update the VRA.
Read Next: Ari Berman reports on recent attemps to suppress the vote in Ohio by curtailing early voting.
It’s read-’em-and-weep for supporters of the Syrian opposition. The whole enterprise has been on a slippery slope for quite some time, and now it’s tumbled straight down into oblivion. The “official” opposition, the so-called moderates who’ve been halfheartedly backed by the Obama administration since 2011, have been overwhelmed, it seems, by radicals, ultra-radicals and Al Qaeda types. As a result, the administration has officially suspended the supply of nonlethal aid to the Syrian rebels because, well, it’s going to the wrong guys.
This week, the top rebel commander backed by the United States, General Salim Idris of the tattered Free Syrian Army and its parent group, the Supreme Military Council, was forced to flee from Syria for his life when more radical elements affiliated with the so-called Islamic Front muscled in to his territory. (The Islamic Front is a concoction of radical-right Islamists, formed last month, who are, nevertheless, separate and distinct from the pro–Al Qaeda Nusra Front and the even more radical, Iraq-based Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Shams, or ISIS. Still, the Islamic Front says its goal is to turn Syria into an “Islamic state.”) As The Wall Street Journal put it, succinctly:
Gen. Idris flew to the Qatari capital of Doha on Sunday after fleeing to Turkey, U.S. officials said Wednesday. “He fled as a result of the Islamic Front taking over his headquarters,” a senior U.S. official said.
Oh, and the Islamists also seized control of the warehouses that stock all the goodies that the Obama administration has been supplying to the anti-Assad fighters, including trucks and tanks. Added the Journal:
The Islamists also took over key warehouses holding U.S. military gear for moderate fighters in northern Syria over the weekend. The takeover and flight of Gen. Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army shocked the U.S., which along with Britain immediately froze delivery of nonlethal military aid to rebels in northern Syria.… Two senior officials said the warehouses taken over by the Islamic Front appeared to contain a range of lethal and nonlethal equipment.
Somewhat pathetically, the United States has been holding talks with the Islamic Front. Perhaps the best spin to be put on those talks is that Obama administration wants as many rebels as possible to come to Geneva in January to participate in the peace conference jointly sponsored by Washington and Moscow. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has already said that it will attend, and the rebels are all over the place. In any case, however, the United States has decided to suspend the delivery to support to the rebels until the situation clarifies itself. As The New York Times reports:
Just a month before a peace conference that will seek an end to the grinding civil war in Syria, the Obama administration’s decision to suspend the delivery of nonlethal aid to the moderate opposition demonstrated again the frustrations of trying to cultivate a viable alternative to President Bashar al-Assad.… With rebels feuding with one another instead of concentrating on fighting Mr. Assad…the United States [is] still groping for a reliable partner in Syria.
It’s pretty much a complete and total collapse of the American efforts to back opposition to Assad, whose own forces have put together a string of military victories since the spring, retaking important strongholds and using aid from Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Shiite group, Hezbollah, to do so.
Tony Blinken, the top White House foreign policy official and former aide to Vice President Joe Biden, told a conference that the radicalization of the conflict and the strength of the Islamists might convince everyone involved from the outside to seek a peace accord. But a closer reading of Blinken’s comments seemed to indicate that he was suggesting that Russia would feel compelled to lessen its support for Assad because it fears that the Islamist rebels—who include a number of extremist Chechen fighters who’ll try to wreak havoc in Russia when they return. Reports Foreign Policy:
Speaking at Transformational Trends, a conference co-hosted by Foreign Policy and the Policy Planning Staff of the U.S. State Department, Blinken said that the radicalization of the conflict may create a shared interest among world powers to bring the war to an end. The growing prominence of radical groups has “begun to concentrate the minds of critical actors outside of Syria” and may strip the Bashar al-Assad regime of the key international backing that has so far helped to keep him in power.
“The Russians have a profound interest in avoiding the emergence of an extremist Syria, a haven for extremist groups,” Blinken said. “Many of Syria’s neighbors have the same incentive, and of course we have a strong reason to want to avoid that future.”
Really, Mr. Blinken. Fact is, the United States and Russia have a joint interest in suppressing and eliminating the Islamist rebels. And that’s it. One danger is that Saudi Arabia, which is apoplectic about the impending US-Iran accord and which is equally angry about the US-Russia diplomacy over Syria, may be pouring funds into the non–Al Qaeda Islamist radicals, such as the Islamist Front, just to give the United States a black eye. If so, Washington had better read the riot act to Riyadh.
Read next: Omar Ghabra's personal account of Syria under Bashar al-Assad.
Behind his back, they called him “Tall Paul” in the 1980s and Volcker was indeed awesome then as Federal Reserve chairman alongside Ronald Reagan as president. Together they refashioned government—shifting everything rightward and setting up the triumph of the financial sector that has reigned ever since with its destructive qualities.
The Gipper did the fun part—cutting taxes from the top down—but Volcker did the heavy lifting. He presided over a long, brutal recession that broke inflation and labor wages and lots more. It was a decisive injury to organized labor He was a civil service giant, brave and also scary. At six-foot-seven, Volcker towered over the pedestrian ranks of Washington politics. Also important bankers and the US Senate. Reagan’s White House staff tried to push him around (though not Reagan himself) and Volcker brushed them off like gnats.
For all those reasons, I see his triumph—finally getting federal regulators to adopt his “Volcker amendment” to limit proprietary investing by the mega-banks—as a melancholy moment. It took three years for regulatory agencies to fend off the thousands of bank lobbyists and approve something. That’s better perhaps than a hollow victory but still far short of the reforms that are needed to get control over the out-of-control mega-banks.
I haven’t read the bill, but the financial press and Wall Street talkers are not impressed. It is something like 850 pages and so dense with loopholes and clever snares it will probably take another three years for bank examiners to understand what they are supposed to do with it.
Meanwhile, the too-big-to-fail banks will go on about their business, getting sweet on America’s troubles and pretty much ignoring prudent restraints. The real solution will not come until another Congress or a new president find the courage to break them up, cut them down to size and restore the old Glass-Steagall division of commercial banking from investment banking. A few years of experience with the Volcker Rule will probably be enough to demonstrate that it’s insufficient to change the behavior of JP Morgan and the banker gang. The risk is that the bankers will go wild again in the meantime.
Paul Volcker must be feeling a sense of personal regret if not guilt. He was present at the creation, after all. As Fed chairman. He blessed the first rounds of serious deregulation that repealed the caps on interest rates and doomed the savings and loan industry that financed housing. However reluctantly, Volcker also engineered the first big rescue of a too-big-to-fail bank—Continental Illinois in Chicago. He could have hung tough but he caved to the bankers. The Fed has lived off that precedent many times since.
The Federal Reserve and Treasury Secretary want us to believe they won’t do it again. I judge from his body language and muted comments that Paul Volcker doesn’t believe them.
Read Next: John Nichols on the cruel, irresponsible and dysfunctional budget deal.
At 11 o’clock last night, Hadi Gharabaghi, a PhD student in cinema studies, learned over email that his colleagues at NYU had voted to unionize. The vote was a landslide—620 to 10—and makes NYU the only private university with unionized teaching assistants. The results carry a twinge of déjà vu: This is a designation that NYU has had before, from 2002 until 2005, when NYU president John Sexton decided to stop acknowledging the union. Strikes and many rounds of negotiations later, the university and the union—a branch of the United Auto Workers, which represents more than 45,000 academic workers across the U.S—agreed late last month that the university would again bargain with the UAW if a majority of graduate assistants voted in favor of representation. The school also promised to remain neutral over the course of the election.
“We should be a major investment for the school,” said Gharabaghi, whose son will soon be turning one. According to the agreement, NYU and union are supposed to immediately begin negotiating—they hope to have a completed contract by the end of the academic year—and one major priority for Gharabaghi is family healthcare benefits. He’s currently on a state-subsidized plan because NYU charges graduate students a 33 percent increase in dependent premiums. “I shouldn’t have to choose between my son and my PhD,” Gharabaghi said.
Read Next:Tom Hayden dismantles the myth of Bill Bratton’s LAPD.
Last night Jon Stewart aptly hit the US media (and blogosphere) coverage of President Obama at the Nelson Mandela funeral this week. As he put it, “No act too petty for our media to completely blow out of proportion.”
There was the handshake with Castro (not even Fidel) and the selfie (was he flirting with the PM, making his wife mad?). And now we have the “hallucinating” guy who was not really signing.
Then Jon faked hanging himself in desperation. I guess he could have called it “Mourning in America.” The segment below. Also see The Guardian on the media and the selfie.
It essentially turned a memorial service for one of the greatest modern leaders into a soap opera. And like any good soap opera, it divided the female players into sexist archetypes: in this case Thorning-Schmidt played the blonde, ditzy seductress and foil to Michelle Obama, the jealous, shrewish wife.