Hillary Clinton has received a lot of campaign money from the financial industry over the years, and after she left the State Department she gave several lucrative speeches to Goldman Sachs and other big banks, Kevin Drum noted at MotherJones.com (2/8). As Michael Hirsh put it at Politico magazine (4/17/15), this has given her a reputation for being “more than a little cozy” with Wall Street.

Bernie Sanders has been a lot tougher on the financial industry than Clinton has, as Sanders has practically made a career out of attacking Wall Street, Drum noted. As president, he’d make financial regulation a top priority; he’d appoint tougher watchdogs; and he’d use the bully pulpit relentlessly to call out Wall Street’s sins.

“Still, what about Clinton? How cozy with the financial industry is she?” Drum wondered. The only concrete criticism he found was Elizabeth Warren’s statement in 2004: that Clinton had changed her view on the bankruptcy bill after she accepted lots of Wall Street money to get elected to the Senate.

But that didn’t really hold water, Drum decided. Clinton opposed the bill in 1999 because she wanted alimony and child-support payments to take precedence over credit card companies during bankruptcy proceeding. The bill passed anyway, but Bill Clinton vetoed it. In 2001, she brokered a compromise that gave priority to alimony and child support, and then voted for the bill. It didn’t pass at the time, and in 2005 her compromise was removed from the bill. She said then that she opposed it.

“This is classic Hillary. Once George Bush was president, she had no way of stopping the bill—so she worked hard behind the scenes to get what she could in return for her vote. Love it or hate it, this is the kind of pragmatic politics she practices. But there’s no hypocrisy here; no change of heart thanks to Wall Street money (she supported the bill when it protected women and children and opposed it when it didn’t); and no real support for the financial industry.

“What else? Clinton says she gave several speeches in 2007 warning about the dangers of derivatives and subprime loans, and introduced proposals for stronger financial oversight. Apparently that’s true [PolitiFact reported in July 2015].” Drum added, “I’m not aware if she took a stand on the repeal of Glass-Steagall in 1999 [before she was in the Senate], but I don’t think this was responsible for the financial crisis and wouldn’t hold it against her either way. (And it was supported by nearly the entire Democratic Party at the time.)”

The Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which ended government oversight of derivatives purchased or traded by banks, did make the financial crisis worse, but Drum noted that Bernie Sanders himself voted it. Sanders, who was then a congressman, voted for a milder version in the House before Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, added more deregulatory language in the Senate, including the so-called “Enron Loophole,” which barred government oversight of energy trading on electronic platforms, and attached it to a must-pass 11,000-page spending bill. Clinton voted for Sarbanes-Oxley [in 2002, which imposed new regulations on corporate accounting and reporting after the Enron and other scandals], but everyone else did too [including then-Rep. Sanders].

“Clinton has consistently supported increasing the minimum wage—though not to $15. She supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act. She supports higher taxes on the wealthy. She supported repeal of the carried interest loophole in 2007. The Boston Globe, after an extensive review of her voting record in the Senate, summed up her attitude with this quote from a lobbyist: ‘The financial sector viewed her as neutral. Not helpful, but also not harmful.’ Citizens for Tax Justice gives her a generally favorable grade on financial issues.”

OBAMACARE KEEPS WORKING. Republicans are still running for president on the promise that, among other things, they’ll do away with the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which they claim is a “job-killer” that doesn’t work, it’s hurting American families, it’s denying people coverage, and so forth. Simon Maloy noted at Salon.com (2/9) that the criticisms persist despite ever-growing mounds of evidence that they are, in fact, wrong.

The National Center for Health Statistics released a report (2/9) on the uninsured rates nationally and in 37 states over the first nine months of 2015. According to NCHS, the number of adults lacking insurance has plummeted since 2013, when many of the Affordable Care Act’s major provisions went into effect. “In the first 9 months of 2015, 28.8 mln persons of all ages (9.1%) were uninsured at the time of interview – 7.2 mln fewer persons than in 2014 and 16.0 mln fewer than in 2013.”

As one would expect, the greatest reductions in the uninsured rates have been among the poor. In 2010, per the NCHS report, the uninsured rate for poor and near-poor adults was over 40%. In the first nine months of 2015, the rate had plunged to 26% for the poor, and 24% for the near-poor. The percentages of poor and near-poor children without insurance have been cut in half over the same time period. It’s probably safe to assume that the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid eligibility factors heavily into this reduction, and NCHS found that states that elected to expand Medicaid have seen a sharper decline in their uninsured rates than states that rejected the expansion.

Minority groups have also seen huge cuts to their numbers of uninsured, with Hispanics benefitting the most – the uninsured rate for Hispanics fell from 40.6% in 2013 to 27.9% in 2015. The uninsured rate for blacks fell from 24.9% in 2013 to 14.6% in 2015. The uninsured rate for whites fell from 14.5% in 2013 to 8.8% in 2015.

The state with the highest percentage of uninsured continues to be Texas (16.9%), whose Republican leaders have refused federal funds to expand Medicaid and have sought to obstruct the federally operated marketplace in Texas.

Maloy noted, “After more than a half-decade of loud, angry opposition, the GOP still does not have a viable replacement for the health law they’ve voted dozens of times to repeal. They’re promising that 2016 will be the year that they finally get around to crafting some healthcare legislation, but that promise has been made and broken several times already. The GOP presidential candidates all have various skeletons of healthcare plans that traffic heavily in free-market pabulum but don’t come close to guaranteeing that everyone who gained coverage through the ACA will stay covered after it gets repealed.”

Also, the US Department of Health and Human Services reported (2/4) that 12.7 mln people signed up via the exchanges plus another 400,000 via New York’s Basic Health Program — for a total of 13.1 mln—up from 11.4 mln last year. Add to that 15 mln people enrolled in Medicaid thanks to Obamacare expansion, and Kevin Drum noted at MotherJones.com (2/5) that the total number of people covered this year comes to more than 28 mln.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS WITH ‘FULL JOBS’ REPORT. Republicans have largely refused to acknowledge that President Obama’s economic policies in January produced an unemployment rate below 5% for the first time since November 2007. But Isaiah Poole noted at OurFuture.org (2/5) that “this is still not the time to declare that the job market has healed from the damage done by the Great Recession and the anemic response that followed.” While unemployment below 5% is considered by many to be “full employment,” Poole noted that much work remains to be done.

“A particular key number is year-over-year wage growth of 2.5%, which when you take out of the picture the extraordinary price drops in fossil fuels in the past year means that wage increases are barely – if at all – keeping pace with increases in day-to-day living expenses.

“The job market cannot be declared fully healthy until we see more robust wage gains. Especially since so few private-sector workers have the ability to bargain for wages and benefits through a union, there are only two real wages to spur wage growth: Increase minimum wages, which often causes a ripple that affects workers a tier or two above minimum wage, and spur enough economic growth so that demand for labor exceeds the supply. But he noted that 7.8 mln people are officially counted as unemployed, another 6 mln want to move from part-time to full-time jobs and another 2 mln live on the margins. “Combine that with weak wage growth and it is no wonder that on the Main Streets of America, it feels far from being a full-employment economy.

“It is for good reason, then, that President Obama will propose initiatives in his fiscal 2017 budget that will include a wholesale tax on oil to fund transportation projects – a badly needed job boost for the construction industry as well as a needed augmentation of the weak transportation authorization bill Congress passed last year – and a $5.5 bln jobs program for youths and new entrants to the job market.

“These measures would help heal a job market that is still badly bruised by destructive conservative economic policies that brought us the 2008 collapse and put brakes on what should have been a more robust recovery. The proposals, and others like them, will be scorned by the Republican Congress and subjected to demagoguery by Republican presidential candidates. But that will not sit well with the millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans who are waiting for the economic recovery to come to them, no more than the premature celebration of a ‘full employment’ that is far from full.

COURT STAYS CARBON REGS WHILE POLLUTER LAWSUIT PROCEEDS. The five conservative Supreme Court justices’ decision to “stay” the EPA’s carbon regulations for power plants does not, by itself, destroy what’s left of the Court’s reputation — or even doom the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), Joe Romm wrote at ThinkProgress (2/9).

“Heck, it doesn’t even mean that the United States won’t be able to hit the CO2 reduction target it pledged with the other nations of the world in the Paris Agreement. Indeed, I expect with or without the CPP, the US is probably going to meet its Paris pledge, its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), to cut greenhouse gas pollution 26 to 28% below 2005 levels in 2025,” Romm noted.

“The Court’s stay just stops the EPA from from starting to implement its ‘Carbon Pollution Emission Guidelines for Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Generating Units’ probably until the Court itself rules on it — assuming that the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit rules for the EPA and then the Supreme Court agrees to hear the appeal.”

Senior White House officials said on a media call (2/9) that this was a temporary procedural determination that does nothing to affect the soundness of the rule, nor the White House’s determination to proceed with the rule and to cut emissions, Romm wrote. They expressed confidence that the administration’s climate targets were achievable, citing momentum in the renewable power sector.

“Of course, if the Roberts court ultimately decides to kill the rule 5-4 then that decision will immediately become the leading contender for the worst Supreme Court decision in US history. After all, if the nations of the world ultimately don’t avoid catastrophic warming and if the US is seen as bearing a significant portion of the blame — two entirely plausible outcomes — then future generations and historians will be judging the Court’s decision while suffering in a world with a climate that has been irreversibly ruined for centuries.

The untenability of the decision is pretty clear-cut for two reasons, Romm wrote. “First, the Supreme Court itself said back in 2007 in Massachusetts vs. EPA that the EPA was legally required to put in place such standards once CO2 was scientifically determined to endanger public health and well-being, which it obviously does. As Dave Roberts wrote in 2013: ‘Once more, with feeling: the EPA is required to regulate carbon from existing power plants.’

“Second, given that the EPA was legally required to regulate carbon from existing power plants, the key question is whether the manner it chose to do so is somehow unduly or inappropriately onerous. It clearly isn’t. As George W. Bush’s former EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman explained to me in October, the CPP is ‘the most flexible thing’ the agency has ever done. Whitman pointed out that ‘What EPA did was to allow as much flexibility as frankly I’ve ever seen them be able to create in a regulation.’ That is, the CPP gives more options to states and industry to meet the new standards than it had in any previous regulation, enabling them to use a wide variety of strategies to advance a wide variety of clean energy technologies, including energy efficiency.

“‘I believe they have gone as far as they can possibly go,’ Whitman told me. She has unique experience on this subject, ‘having tried at various times when I was at EPA to provide some flexibility in getting clean-air standards — and getting beaten back every single time and losing in court.’

“So if the Supreme Court ultimately rules against the CPP, that would transparently be seen as a purely political decision. And a baffling one, given Justice Anthony Kennedy’s deciding vote in Mass. vs. EPA. Obviously if the ultimate outcome is that humanity doesn’t preserve a livable climate, then when future generations are looking where to point the finger, [Chief Justice] John Roberts will be on the short list.”

BILLIONAIRES DOMINATE ’16 ELECTION. The 100 biggest donors of 2016 cycle have spent $195 mln trying to influence the presidential election ― more than the $155 mln spent by the 2 mln smallest donors combined — according to a Politico analysis of campaign finance data.

The analysis found that the leading beneficiaries of checks from the top 100 donors were Jeb Bush’s floundering campaign for the GOP nomination (a supportive super PAC received $49 mln from donors on the list), Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton (super PACs dedicated to her raised $38 mln from top 100 donors) and Ted Cruz’s insurgent GOP campaign ($37 mln).

In fact, despite his attacks on his party’s donor class and establishment, Cruz, the Texas senator who won the Iowa caucuses, appears to have locked down the support of four of the top six donors — the Wilks family of Cisco, Texas (the No. 1 donor on Politico’s list), New York hedge fund tycoon Bob Mercer (No. 2), Texas energy investor Toby Neugebauer (No. 4) and Illinois manufacturing moguls Dick and Liz Uihlein (No. 6) ― but only one other donor on the list.

Conversely, a super PAC supporting Cruz’s GOP rival Marco Rubio raised just $22 mln from Politico’s list, but the Florida senator appears to have the support of 14 of the top 100 donors, suggesting his ultra-rich supporters might be willing to spend even more to support him if he survives his widely panned New Hampshire debate performance and emerges as the establishment’s best bet to knock off Cruz and national GOP polling leader Donald Trump.

The findings explain why, on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, the super PAC allies of Cruz and Rubio were circling like vultures around the megadonors who have supported rival GOP presidential candidates whose campaigns are floundering, like Bush, or those who have already dropped out, like Rand Paul.

All told, super PACs supporting Bush, Paul and the now-defunct campaigns for the GOP presidential nomination of Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee, George Pataki, Rick Perry and Scott Walker raised $181 mln through the end of 2015 ― the period covered by the most recent Federal Election Commission filings.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s super PAC allies are courting wealthy liberals as they gird for a potentially protracted fight for the Democratic nomination against the unexpectedly vigorous insurgent campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has decried super PACs and has relatively little support from them. While super PACs supporting Clinton in 2015 raised $55 mln ― $38 mln of which came from top donors on Politico’s list, including $8 mln from the fifth biggest donor, New York financier George Soros ― they have struggled to win support from other top Democratic donors.

AT&T FIGHTS TO KEEP ’NET SLOW AS POSSIBLE. Last February, the Federal Communications Commission took sweeping action to promote a fast, fair, and open internet. Its net neutrality ruling made the headlines, but a second ruling preventing states from blocking localities seeking to develop municipal broadband was nearly as huge. Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com (2/8) that both rulings have been fought tooth and nail—and taken to court—by industry. That’s made Chattanooga, Tenn., ground zero in a war financed by AT&T.

Bill Snyder writes at cio.com (2/5) that “Chattanooga, Tenn., is more than 2,400 miles from Silicon Valley, but residents of the Southern city have access to broadband that’s 50 times faster than the majority of Internet connections in technology’s capital. Why, you ask? Chattanooga’s municipally owned electric utility, EPB, provides its broadband Internet.

Chattanooga’s neighbors would like to set up a similar arrangement, but AT&T, which delivers much slower broadband in the area — when it delivers at all — is trying to block the plan, saying the government should not compete with private enterprise.

“Angry Tennessee consumers and legislators aren’t backing down. ‘Don’t fall for the argument that this is a free market versus government battle. It is not. AT&T is the villain here, and so are the other people and cable,’ said state Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Tenn.) at a community rally, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.”

“Just let that sink in for a second,” McCarter wrote. “Chattanooga residents enjoy broadband 50 times faster than Silicon Valley, and it’s a local government that provided it. Which makes AT&T’s claim that government interference is what’s getting in the way of their advancing technology ring pretty hollow....”

In the news article referenced above, an AT&T flak, Daniel Hayes, actually said ‘[p]olicies that discourage private-sector investment put at risk the world-class broadband infrastructure American consumers deserve and enjoy today.’ As if AT&T were actually providing world-class broadband. As if AT&T gave a flying fig about providing world-class broadband to the millions of people who are trapped in markets where it has a stranglehold. They care even less about people in rural communities that don’t have service at all.

“What AT&T is trying to do in Chattanooga definitely has an impact on the rest of the nation—they want to put a stop to municipal broadband there. They want to bully other states and localities and prevent them from doing what Chattanooga has done—actually deliver world-class broadband, with no profit at all going to AT&T.”

CALIFORNIA, MASSACHUSETTS LEAD US SOLAR BOOM. Solar energy is ballooning across the US with California and Massachusetts leading the way, according to a Solar Foundation report unveiled, ThinkProgress reported (2/10).

The US solar industry now employs slightly over 200,000 workers, representing a growth of 20% since November of 2014. What’s more, last year the industry added workers at a rate nearly 12 times faster than the overall economy.

“We are seeing solar in Arkansas, Virginia, Kentucky, all over the place. Arkansas in fact just broke ground on their first community solar project,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of the Solar Foundation.

Still, solar companies expect to expand nearly 15% this year, to 240,000 new workers. According to the report, that job growth is 13 times faster than the US workforce as a whole. The exponential growth of solar energy is happening as coal use declined 25% in the US since 2005. Moreover, solar technology is becoming cheaper. Since 2010, US average installation costs declined 35% for residential use, and 67% for utility-scale installation, reaching prices that compete with natural gas-fired plants. “We are seeing utility-scale contracts in places like Texas and Nevada that blow away anything that even these rock-bottom natural gas prices can meet,” said Amit Ronen, director of the George Washington University Solar Institute.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2016


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