Friday, May 07, 2010

Grannies and veterans

"We've been here even in the worst possible weather, in pouring rain and exhuasting heat," Joan Wile tells Clyde Haberman (New York Times) for his report on the weekly protest against the wars still held every Wednesday "on Fifth Avenue at the eastern entrance to Rockefeller Center" by the Grandmothers Against the War. Haberman reports this week saw the Grannies "330th consecutive Wednesday" protest. Heberman reports:

Anne Moy went there by bus from the Lower East Side. It was important to her, she said, to register her opposition to the wars. At 92, she was the oldest on the protest line. She beat Lillian Lifflander by two years. Jenny Heinz, 65, was another regular, even though she was in the midst of treatment for breast cancer. Bert Aubrey, 76, had to lean on a cane, his knees not what they used to be.

As so many rushed to walk -- no, run -- to run away from calling out the ongoing wars because a Democrat now occupies the White House, the Grandmothers Against the War have remained firm -- even with some of them having endorsed Barack. 330 Wednesdays (one Wednesday the police prevented the protest) speaks to commitment and so does protesting against what you know is wrong regardless of who is running the war. Joan Wile is also the author of Grandmothers Against the War: Getting Off Our Fannies and Standing Up for Peace.

In other news, Pamela E. Walck (Savannah Now) reports, "A group of Savannah area musicians is joining forces with area businesses this weekend to help raise money to build a handicap-accessible home for a Fort Stewart soldier seriously wounded in Iraq in 2008." Jason Letterman is the veteran and Homes For Our Troops explains:

Army SSG Jason L. Letterman lost both of his legs, suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries and fractured his shoulder and pelvis from an IED explosion in Farasiyah, Iraq in May 2008 while conducting a mountain patrol.
Homes For Our Troops wants to build a specially adapted home for SSG Letterman to help him move forward in his recovery. But we need your help!

Walck notes:

If you go
What: Red Gate Benefit concert
When: Noon-7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Red Gate Farms, off Chatham Parkway
How much: $15 general admission; $10 with military I.D.

In other veterans news, Mark Mueller (Star-Ledger)reports that US House Rep Rush Holt has introduced a proposal to address military suicides and that he's named the measure after the late Sgt Coleman Bean who served two tours of duty in Iraq and took his own life after he was unable to get needed medical help in the US. Holt is quoted stating, ""Two federal agencies charged with helping prevent suicides among our returning troops utterly failed Sgt. Bean and his family. We cannot allow another family to lose a son or daughter, a father or mother, a husband or a wife because of bureaucratic buck-passing."

Meanwhile Kelly Schlict (WSAW -- link has text and video) reports from Fort McCoy on the training the 724 Engineer Battalion of the Army National Guard received before deploying again to Iraq.

In Iraq, the problems never end. Environmental News Service's "Water Sacrcity Endangers Iraq's Migratory Birds" notes yet another problem facing the country:

To mark World Migratory Bird Day this Sunday, the nongovernmental organization Nature Iraq is joining its BirdLife International partners around the world to celebrate bird migration, and to highlight the difficulties facing some the world's most threatened species.
The Mesopotamian marshes in the region of southern Iraq between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers are especially important for wintering waterbirds, and Nature Iraq has worked to restore these marshes after they were 90 percent drained under Saddam Hussein's regime. After several years of richer water flows, the marshes are again drying up because of drought and upstream dams.
"Iraq is, for good reasons, focused on security and development, but unless the country acts soon, many important species will simply not be here in 10 years' time," said Dr. Azzam Alwash, CEO of Nature Iraq.

Last month's "Nouri's doing the best he can!" included an excerpt of Michael Barker's "Mother Jones And The Defence Of Liberal Elites" (Swans Commentary). The excerpt mentioned the International Republican Institute. The IRI's Deputy Press Secretary Jennifer Allen states, "I want to let you know that IRI did not 'back' the coup in Haiti in 2004; the USAID Inspector General investigated the Institute's work and found that there was no wrongdoing on IRI's part. If you want more information, you can find the facts about IRI's work in Haiti, which ended in 2007, at" And, via SourceWatch, you can learn more about IRI by referencing the following:

The IRI has criticized editorials by the Boston Globe and the New York Times and reporting by the New York Times on their alleged role in Haiti. You can find their take on it at their website and we'll note their rebuttal to a New York Times article via a letter they sent the paper (which was printed in altered form, below is the letter as they wrote it)

In echoing a 2004 Mother Jones piece, your 1/29/06 article found support for some of disgruntled ex-Ambassador Dean Curran's false charges only among a few Haitians, most of them former associates of President Aristide. All have obvious motivation to impugn IRI's work and none presented any evidence to back their accusations. You also neglected to mention that Curran's predecessors and successors in Haiti praised IRI's programs; you even cropped Curran's predecessor (appointed by President Clinton) out of a photo with IRI officials. You neglected to mention that Colin Powell contradicted a basic tenet of your story when he told you he didn't accept your view that he differed with his Assistant Secretaries over Haiti policy.
IRI is not the reason Aristide had to flee Haiti. If Haiti's democracy had advanced under Aristide, no one would have been happier than IRI and our Haitian employees. Instead, as then-Secretary Powell said, Aristide was "a man who was democratically elected, but he did not democratically govern, or govern well. And he has to bear a large burden, if not the major burden, for what has happened."
Lorne W. Craner
International Republican Institute

The IRI's counterpart is the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs. Those objecting to the IRI (I do) should also be objecting to NDI and, when they don't, that's your first clue that you're dealing with someone who doesn't really have a beef with IRI's actions (or alleged actions) but is just trying to score partisan points.

In the US, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee continues to highlight the economy and finances and we'll note this press release:

Whose Side Are They On: Republican Plan Weakens Wall Street Reform

Senate Republicans have brought forward a CEO-friendly “plan” that fails to protect consumers, investors and businesses from the predatory practices of Wall Street. This proposal, hastily written after Senators McConnell and Cornyn agreed to do Wall Street’s bidding, would leave hard-working Americans susceptible to the same reckless behavior that destroyed over 8 million jobs and trillions of dollars in life savings. It would insert loopholes for lobbyists and water down or eliminate critical provisions found in the Restoring American Financial Stability Act.

The Financial Stability Act, brought forward by the Senate Democrats after months and months of bipartisan negotiations, helps American families, not greedy CEOs. This legislation would put a cop on the beat to allow consumers and investors to make their own decisions and ensure that taxpayers are never left to foot Wall Street’s bill. The Democratic plan holds Wall Street accountable for its reckless gambling by bringing sunlight and transparency to shadowy markets.

A recent report from Americans for Financial Reform[i] demonstrates clearly that while Democrats are fighting for Main Street , Republicans continue to protect big banks and Wall Street:

Bank and Non-Bank Financial Regulation

The best way to prevent bailouts is to restore the strong regulatory structure that Congress dismantled over the past 20 years, at the behest of Wall Street lobbyists. That’s why the Restoring American Financial Stability Act of 2010 establishes a new framework to prevent a recurrence or mitigate the impact of financial crises that could cripple financial markets and damage the economy. A new Financial Stability Oversight Council, chaired by the Treasury Secretary and comprised of key regulators, would monitor emerging risks to U.S. financial stability, recommend heightened prudential standards for large, interconnected financial companies, and require nonbank financial companies to be supervised by the Federal Reserve if their failure were to pose a risk to U.S. financial stability. The Republican proposal, by contrast, contains none of the regulations of large, interconnected financial institutions that are necessary to prevent another collapse.

Republican Proposal Excludes Tough Requirements to Rein in the Largest Financial Companies. Nowhere does the Republican plan require the Federal Reserve to impose tougher capital, leverage, and liquidity requirements, as well as living wills, on the largest and riskiest banking and nonbank financial companies. The Republican alternative would maintain the “Too Big to Fail” status quo.

Republican Proposal Fails to Prevent Non-Financial Institutions Like AIG From Harming the Financial Markets. Nowhere would the Republican plan provide for oversight of “shadow banks” – large, complex nonbank financial companies to prevent future Goldman Sach’s, AIG’s, and Lehman’s (none of which were Fed-regulated before the crisis) from also wreaking havoc on financial markets, the economy, and jobs.

Consumer Protections

The Restoring American Financial Stability Act would establish a new “cop on the beat” to protect consumers. The independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would provide American consumers with the information they need to empower them to make smart financial choices for themselves. The Bureau also will help guard against hidden terms and fine print that trap American families in unfair, deceptive and abusive financial products. By contrast, the consumer protection Council included in the Republican proposal would stifle important new protections necessary to empower consumers to make good financial decisions and to prevent a future crisis.

Republican Proposal Worse than the Status Quo. In the Republican plan, the Council would not be able to issue any consumer protection rules without the approval of prudential regulators, and likely would not be able to issue rules to address unfair, deceptive or abusive practices at all – practices which will stifle consumer protections. That is the status quo, or worse. It was the failure of federal prudential regulators to address consumer protection that led to this problem.

Republican Proposal Protects Abusive Lenders. In the Republican plan, payday lenders, auto dealers brokering car loans, check cashers, debt collectors and the like would be exempt from rules designed to prevent unfair and deceptive practices. Because of weak supervision and lax enforcement, the plan would also make it easy for these entities to violate existing laws and operate under the radar.

Republican Proposal Cuts States Out From Consumer Protection. The Republican plan cuts out the role of the states altogether in enforcing consumer protections. Additionally, gutting Attorney General enforcement of consumer protection laws would, in effect, inhibit states from punishing people who break the law.

Volcker Rule

Many banks, bank holding companies and other companies that control insured depository institutions sponsored and invested in hedge funds and private equity funds. As the financial crisis deepened, these activities produced outsize losses, which threatened the safety and soundness of individual firms and contributed to overall financial stability. When banks engage in proprietary trading, there is also an increased likelihood that their interests will conflict with those of their customers. To address this, the Restoring American Financial Stability Act includes the “Volcker Rule,” which would prohibit or restrict proprietary trading. The Republican proposal addresses some of these risks, but includes a watered-down Volcker rule.

Republican Proposal Has a Limited Proprietary Trading Prohibition. The proprietary trading restrictions included in the Republican plan are only for depository institutions, and other entities (presumably affiliates of the depository institutions), and would be restricted only if the holding company is not well capitalized or if the Federal Reserve were to make a determination to that effect.

Republican Proposal Fails to Address Bank-Sponsored Hedge Funds. Nowhere does the Republican plan mention a prohibition of sponsoring hedge funds.

Investor Protections

Many of the key provisions of the Republican plan are already included in the Restoring American Financial Stability Act, including provisions that would authorize the systemic risk regulator to monitor large hedge funds, require hedge fund registration, require more disclosure for asset-backed securities, and reform the municipal securities market. Still, the Republican proposal does not go as far as the Democratic bill to protect all investors – from a hardworking American contributing to a union pension to a day trader to a retiree living off their 401(k).

Republican Proposal Limits “Skin-in-the-Game” Requirements. The Republican plan would require risk retention (“skin-in-the-game”) ONLY for residential mortgage loans, leaving the financial system at risk for securitized loans of other toxic assets.

Republican Proposal Has Inadequate Regulation of Credit Rating Agencies. The Republican plan glosses over the failure in our credit rating system, offering minor tweaks to the current broken structure rather than meaningful reform. Their plan does nothing to strengthen the SEC’s ability to monitor the credit rating industry, nor would it raise obligations for ratings firms to undertake appropriate due diligence, or hold them legally accountable for their actions.

Republican Proposal Fails to Include Meaningful Changes to the SEC. The Republican plan simply rearranges the SEC Divisions, but includes none of the numerous provisions included in the Financial Stability Act to strengthen the SEC and its ability to protect investors, such as the ability to reform mandatory arbitration, GAO audits of SEC internal management controls, a robust new whistleblower program, and an Office of Investor Advocate.

Republican Proposal Fails to Strengthen Shareholder Power. The Republican plan does not include any provisions to strengthen shareholder power through reforms of majority voting, say-on-pay, proxy access, and compensation disclosures – all of which are included in the Financial Stability Act.

Republican Proposal Excludes the SEC’s Ability to Monitor Hedge Funds for Fraud. In contrast to provisions in the Financial Stability Act, the Republican plan excludes the ability of the SEC to monitor hedge funds for fraud.

Republican Proposal Would Increase the Risk of Fraud. The Republican plan makes a drastic change to a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which would decrease the reliability of financial statements, weaken internal controls, weaken the integrity of business operations, increase the risk of internal financial fraud, increase accounting restatements, and reduce investor confidence in financial statements.

Derivatives Regulations

The most important derivatives provisions in the GOP plan are in the Restoring American Financial Stability Act. These include mandatory clearing, mandatory exchange trading, mandatory speculative position limits, prudential capital requirements for swap dealers and major swap participants, margin requirements for uncleared swaps, public reporting requirements, segregation of assets requirement to protect counterparty collateral, and regulation of clearinghouses. Despite these similarities, other provisions in the GOP proposal would weaken provisions in the Financial Stability Act.

Republican Proposal Provides Less Transparency. The Republican plan has no mandatory exchange trading requirement, meaning no pre-trade price transparency and hence no lower costs for users of derivatives, as well as less transparency for regulators and market participants.

Republican Proposal Is Very Bureaucratic. According to the Republican plan, the Federal Reserve, SEC and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) would first establish criteria for mandatory clearing, then the CFTC and SEC would use the criteria to identify swaps for mandatory clearing. Real concerns have been raised about how long will it take for the three regulators in the first step and the two regulators in the second step to reach agreement; and about whether clearing could stalled if the regulators fail to reach agreement.

Republican Proposal Unworkable End User Exemption. By using the “bona fide” definition of an end user, the Republican plan would include swaps dealers, hedge funds, other financial institutions, and systemically risky entities within the end user exemption. This is an unacceptable level of risk to American taxpayers.

It All Comes Down to Whose Side You Are On

If you want a financial system that allows banks to become “too big to fail,” puts your retirement security in jeopardy and leaves consumers vulnerable so Wall Street executives can cash in, then you should support the Republican plan. But if you want a system that protects consumers from losing their homes and their savings, protects jobs and prevents another financial crisis, you should support the Democratic plan to reform Wall Street.

[i] AFR Analysis of the GOP Alternative to S. 3217, April 28, 2010,

Whose Side Are They On: Republican Plan Weakens Wall Street Reform

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