FDL Book Salon Welcomes Zephyr Teachout, Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United

Welcome Zephyr Teachout (Fordham Univ) and Host Matt Stoller (MattStoller.com) (Twitter)

Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United

If there’s one way to summarize Zephyr Teachout’s extraordinary book Corruption in AmericaFrom Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, it is that today we are living in Benjamin Franklin’s dystopia. Her basic contention, which is not unfamiliar to most of us in sentiment if not in detail, is that the modern Supreme Court has engaged in a revolutionary reinterpretation of corruption and therefore in American political life. This outlook, written by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the famous Citizens United case, understands and celebrates America as a brutal and Hobbesian competitive struggle among self-interested actors attempting to use money to gain personal benefits in the public sphere. 

What makes the book so remarkable is its scope and ability to link current debates to our rich and forgotten history. Perhaps this has been done before, but if it has, I have never seen it. Liberals tend to think that questions about electoral and political corruption started in the 1970s, in the Watergate era. What Teachout shows is that these questions were foundational in the American Revolution itself, and every epoch since. They are in fact questions fundamental to the design of democracy. (more…)

Rep. Maxine Waters, CPC Members to Eric Schneiderman: Hire Rep. Brad Miller as Your Cop on the Beat

The Congressional Progressive Caucus met with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman today for a hearing on how to prevent a million foreclosures.  Not much happened at the hearing.  More interesting was a letter sent by members of the CPC authored by Maxine Waters to Eric Schneiderman asking him to hire Rep. Brad Miller to run the fraud task force. Here’s the letter text and the letter itself.

Dear Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group Co-Chairs:

We are writing to you today in your capacity as co-chairs of the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) Working Group to request that you select Representative Brad Miller (NC-13) to be the executive director of this new task force.

Rep. Miller has the best mix of skills and experience to steer this new Working Group. As colleagues of Rep. Miller in Congress, we’ve seen that he’s committed his career to protecting consumers and fighting financial fraud. His achievements include authorship of the Mortgage Reform and Anti-Predatory Lending Act of 2009, which was ultimately included in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Rep. Miller also co-wrote the original legislation that led to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has been a fierce and prescient advocate for principal reduction, and has fought to reform mortgage servicing. The Congressman has likewise been a leading advocate in Congress for the financial protection of servicemembers facing economic hardship and foreclosure.

Finally, it is important to note that prior to entering Congress in 2003, Rep. Miller was a civil litigator with 20 years of experience.

In January, President Obama announced that the RMBS Working Group “will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.” The primary means of achieving these goals is through an investigation into the creation and sale of securities backed by residential mortgages leading up to the 2008 financial crisis, and prosecution of any wrongdoing uncovered. We agree that this effort is crucial to providing long-awaited restitution to homeowners and investors, restoring the integrity of American capital markets, and preventing the next financial crisis.

With that said, we were dismayed by recent press reports indicating that the RMBS Working Group does not yet have phones, office headquarters, or an executive director. We understand that the task force is leveraging pre-existing enforcement efforts and staff at participating agencies, but we remain concerned that the Working Group has not independently established a robust infrastructure commensurate with the charge of investigating this component of the 2008 financial crisis.

With three months having passed since the initial announcement of the creation of the RMBS Working Group, we fear that this group’s efforts may be stalled. The best way to reignite this important undertaking is to hire a qualified, aggressive and committed executive director, and give them the power and budget to hire the necessary support staff. Without quick action in this regard, public confidence in the Working Group may be at risk.

We would welcome the opportunity to speak with you further about this request, and we are eager to do anything we can, as Members of Congress, to facilitate the success of the RMBS task force.

Sincerely,

RMBS Task Force Ltr

The only question in the housing finance complex is whether there is any credible threat to the servicers, regulators, and politicians who run the system.  That’s the only thing that can get them to negotiate an end to the morasse we’re in.  The mortgage settlement negotiations were for a time a threat, because state officials could have gone after the banks.  They’ve largely given up that leverage.  This letter is an implicit rebuke to Schneiderman on that score, since we already know that the task force isn’t going to hire Miller because of concern that he would actually go after the people that committed wrongdoings.

In other Congressional news, George Zornick of The Nation reports on Republican oversight over the Schneiderman/Obama mortgage fraud task force.  Rep. Patrick McHenry sent a letter with the following questions:

1. Please explain in detail the mission and goals of the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group.

2. Please provide a detailed accounting of the Residential Mortgage-Backed Working Group’s anticipated staffing, funding (both state and federal sources), and expenses.

3. Please distinguish in detail how the work of the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group will differ from the existing work of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.

4. Insofar as the Financial Enforcement Task Force has achieved “limited success” and “has fail[ed] to produce any major prosecutions stemming from the housing crisis,” how will the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group achieve different results?

5. The Office of SIGTARP recently announced a 72-month sentence for a defendant convicted of defrauding financial clients who sought mortgage modifications. If the Office of SIGTARP continues to pursue convictions stemming from illegal mortgage-related activities, please explain what enforcement gap the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group will fill.

6. Please explain how the work of the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group will be affected by any settlement agreement executed by state attorneys general and large financial institutions. Will such a settlement affect the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group’s ability to pursue actions against the financial institutions who are parties to the settlement? If so, how?

7. To the extent that the work of the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group is not duplicative or redundant and actually succeeds where other efforts have failed, will the settlement agreement with state attorneys general preserve all avenues of relief and compensation for any newly identified homeowner who was not in default yet foreclosed upon anyway?

While Zornick implied that these questions are meant to harass the task force, I don’t actually see any proof of that.  They are reasonable questions.  It’s pretty obvious that McHenry and his Republican colleagues don’t have good intentions on bank prosecutions, but then, neither does the Obama administration.  So it’s just more kabuki to make it look like there’s a fight, when in fact it’s a bunch of pedantic silliness over who gets a better parking spot.

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Eric Alterman: Why We Are Liberals

4f08fc78f3516822f7e6e1fe1747a955.jpgA Political Handbook for Post Bush America

Eric Alterman helped to create my awareness of modern politics. His book, What Liberal Media, along with Blinded by the Right, the Clinton Wars, and Before the Storm, taught me more about the political system and how it really worked than anything I had ever read.

Alterman helped me understand coalitions, modern media politics, and the right-wing, and I am forever indebted to his brilliant and brave intellectual arguments. What Alterman excels at is chronicling the structural lies embedded in our media and society that undermine liberal politics. He did this with What Liberal Media, where he systematically deconstructed the idea that the press is liberal, and did this in 2003.

The ‘So Called Liberal Media’, or SCLM for short, was a term he invented and used to great effect, such that is is now conventional wisdom in Democratic activist circles and among Democratic elites that the media has certain biases, but liberalism is not one of them. It is this intellectual work that led to, among others, the Fox News debate fight, the organizing against Nedra Pickler, and the understanding of how swiftboating operates.amazon.gif

I was surprised that his latest book, Why We’re Liberals: A Handbook for Post-Bush America, confused me. It’s a compendium of attacks on liberals, from his entire chapter on why liberals are not considered patriotic, with a useful analysis of the arguments conservatives have made about our relationship with the military and why those arguments are incorrect. He systematically goes through the litany of conservative arguments about liberalism, that we’re gay hippy loving terrorist anti-gun anti-family murderers of the unborn that embrace perversion so long as it’s subsidized by a government funded by taxes from working families who we will stop at nothing to break up with politically correct racial bigotry. (more…)

FDL Book Salon Welcomes Wes Clark

timetolead.thumbnail.JPG(Please welcome General Wesley Clark, A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor and Country author of in the comments — jh)

And they did. They really did. They stood up, men from South Texas and the Bronx and Kansas and California, in a firefight in a jungle in Southeast Asia. Men who had been plucked out of their lives, threatened with jail if they refused, some who held master’s degrees, others who hadn’t finished the tenth grade, they were firing from the hip and the shoulder, a dozen men, moving into the jungle to sweep what turned out to be a small enemy base camp. This was my company. These were my men. And I was still flat on my face, struggling to keep the medic off of me so I could direct the fighting.

Wes Clark’s memoir, A Time to Lead: For Duty, Honor, and Country, is an extremely readable book that wrestles honestly with deep themes about politics, international strategy, and the nature of leadership. It’s the story of General Wes Clark, an irrepressibly optimistic man who believes in leadership, the U.S. Army, and the ability of energetic groups of people with integrity to get things done. Clark’s love is the army and the people in it, and he wrote this book because he believes that America is not having the honest dialogue necessary about our place in the world. By intellectual training and professional background, Clark is a strategist who has sat at the intersection of the military, diplomacy and policy-making since his time at Vietnam. Right now, the army is bearing the brunt of our national choices, while the country at large gives up "very little", which is illustrative of the larger problem (more…)

FDL Book Salon: The Thumpin’

51erpfceodl_aa240_.jpg(Ordinarily we have book authors on Book Salon to discuss their works.  We were approached by the publisher to review the book and we invited author Naftali Bendavid to join us but did not hear back.  We decided to review the book anyway — JH)

Update:  MissLaura also has a review at DailyKos

Hi FDL!  You are the bestest community evah!  I was on a plane today to San Francisco, and I ended up reading The Thumpin': How Rahm Emanuel and the Democrats Learned to Be Ruthless and Ended the Republican Revolution, the new book out on Rahm Emanuel.  Jane and I were emailing, and she asked me to do a review.  And how can I say no to you fine people?  You really made the election happen with your phone calls, donations, creative work, and shoe leather (though don't expect to find any of that in this book). 

I wanted to find out, in reading this book, whether Rahm is just an interesting tool of his times, or a genuinely transcendent strategist looking to shift the architecture of politics to suit a certain vision of America.  Every election poses this question, usually with one or two figures standing out as key symbols of a changing electorate and political landscape.  Every significant election is both a unique event with its own leaders, technologies, and tactics, while also serving as a signal of larger historical trends.  Andrew Jackson's ascent to power had economic roots, but with him and his populist and violent politics came the innovation of the modern political party system.  Like Karl Rove and George Bush or William McKinley and Mark Hannah, Jackson had Martin Van Buren as an architect of the new contours of power.  In the 20th century, it was LBJ as the manager of Democratic midterm chances in the 1940s who pioneered the use of mass amounts of cash in political campaigns from a centrally directed source, funneling oil money from Texas and labor money from back East to Democrats nationwide (yes, America has been run from Texas for a long time). 

One could point to James Carville, Karl Rove, direct mail guru  and New Right icon Richard Viguerie or Bush Sr strategist Lee Atwater as political innovators, though a more likely icon would be Newt Gingrich, who centralized fundraising and training with his GOPAC in the late 1980s, sought new mechanisms for outreach in his use of C-Span, talk radio and cable news throughout the decade, and reaped the fruits of these innovations in 1994.  In the Democratic Party, the least well-known but possibly most influential party icon would be Tony Coehlo, the DCCC head in 1982 who created the first K-Street Project, and recruited business PAC money and the 'moderate' Democrats plaguing our party ever since.  Coehlo sold access to donors, and he as much as anyone helped bring about 1994 and the last sixteen years of extremist politics.

So the question on my mind was whether Rahm Emanuel is one of these iconic figures? So far, it's hard to say conclusively where he fits in. His political work on NAFTA in 1993 was truly extraordinary, and though immoral, showed immense talent as a pure matter of political tacticianship. His fundraising capacity, chutzpah mostly, is legendary, and for good reason. In politics, he gets to the point. If you've ever listened to a politician speak, and heard them thank everyone in the room one after the other, you know how refreshing this is. And now he's the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, in charge of some policy work, some whipping work, and rapid response-style messaging. Regardless of what we think of him, he's respected by fellow members in the House for his strategic sense. I don't know if he is good at strategy or not, though it strikes me that it doesn't really matter that much, since he's not particularly progressive and so whether he's good at getting stuff done is less important than identifying what he actually wants to get done and seeing where he needs to be supported and where he needs to be opposed.

(more…)

FDL Book Salon: The Thumpin’

51erpfceodl_aa240_.jpg(Ordinarily we have book authors on Book Salon to discuss their works.  We were approached by the publisher to review the book and we invited author Naftali Bendavid to join us but did not hear back.  We decided to review the book anyway — JH)

Update:  MissLaura also has a review at DailyKos

Hi FDL!  You are the bestest community evah!  I was on a plane today to San Francisco, and I ended up reading The Thumpin': How Rahm Emanuel and the Democrats Learned to Be Ruthless and Ended the Republican Revolution, the new book out on Rahm Emanuel.  Jane and I were emailing, and she asked me to do a review.  And how can I say no to you fine people?  You really made the election happen with your phone calls, donations, creative work, and shoe leather (though don't expect to find any of that in this book). 

I wanted to find out, in reading this book, whether Rahm is just an interesting tool of his times, or a genuinely transcendent strategist looking to shift the architecture of politics to suit a certain vision of America.  Every election poses this question, usually with one or two figures standing out as key symbols of a changing electorate and political landscape.  Every significant election is both a unique event with its own leaders, technologies, and tactics, while also serving as a signal of larger historical trends.  Andrew Jackson's ascent to power had economic roots, but with him and his populist and violent politics came the innovation of the modern political party system.  Like Karl Rove and George Bush or William McKinley and Mark Hannah, Jackson had Martin Van Buren as an architect of the new contours of power.  In the 20th century, it was LBJ as the manager of Democratic midterm chances in the 1940s who pioneered the use of mass amounts of cash in political campaigns from a centrally directed source, funneling oil money from Texas and labor money from back East to Democrats nationwide (yes, America has been run from Texas for a long time). 

One could point to James Carville, Karl Rove, direct mail guru  and New Right icon Richard Viguerie or Bush Sr strategist Lee Atwater as political innovators, though a more likely icon would be Newt Gingrich, who centralized fundraising and training with his GOPAC in the late 1980s, sought new mechanisms for outreach in his use of C-Span, talk radio and cable news throughout the decade, and reaped the fruits of these innovations in 1994.  In the Democratic Party, the least well-known but possibly most influential party icon would be Tony Coehlo, the DCCC head in 1982 who created the first K-Street Project, and recruited business PAC money and the 'moderate' Democrats plaguing our party ever since.  Coehlo sold access to donors, and he as much as anyone helped bring about 1994 and the last sixteen years of extremist politics.

So the question on my mind was whether Rahm Emanuel is one of these iconic figures? So far, it's hard to say conclusively where he fits in. His political work on NAFTA in 1993 was truly extraordinary, and though immoral, showed immense talent as a pure matter of political tacticianship. His fundraising capacity, chutzpah mostly, is legendary, and for good reason. In politics, he gets to the point. If you've ever listened to a politician speak, and heard them thank everyone in the room one after the other, you know how refreshing this is. And now he's the House Democratic Caucus Chairman, in charge of some policy work, some whipping work, and rapid response-style messaging. Regardless of what we think of him, he's respected by fellow members in the House for his strategic sense. I don't know if he is good at strategy or not, though it strikes me that it doesn't really matter that much, since he's not particularly progressive and so whether he's good at getting stuff done is less important than identifying what he actually wants to get done and seeing where he needs to be supported and where he needs to be opposed.

(more…)

FDL Book Salon: “A Country That Works,” Week 1

 074329767901_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_v62665465_.jpg

The number one New Year's resolution for Americans is not to lose weight or quit smoking – it is to get out of debt. — Andy Stern

I'm honored to present Andy Stern's book to the Firedoglake community.  I'm a blogger at MyDD, and over the past few years of blogging I've noticed that different blogs have sort of different neighborhood 'feels' to them.  My sense is that the FDL community is made up of people who get things done, the people on political campaigns who are the essential pieces, the people who don't need credit but make sure that everything works.  When I have the FDL community on my side, I know you will be loyal, smart, and extraordinarily helpful.  And let's just say that political actors should not get on your bad side, because that's a very unpleasant place to be.

FDL and the union movement have a lot in common.  

Literally nothing in Democratic politics could happen without unions.  Labor provides the money for campaigns, the reliable volunteers who show up rain or shine.  Labor helps with field, GOTV, and media.  It's not just that labor provides a lot of help, it's that labor provides help reliably, cycle after cycle.  Unions don't get bored with politics, they don't decide that politics doesn't matter, and union members show up and vote in primaries up and down the ticket.  They invest long-term in voter registration programs, they build infrastructure that the party committees have traditionally scoffed at, and they have been an immense force in progressive politics for a hundred years, holding politicians accountable for their choices in office.  And from what I've seen, union members are much less likely to make political choices based on race-baiting tactics that the right uses so well.  Unions simply create progressive voters.  

(more…)

Late Nite FDL: Let’s Go Real Far-Right…

(Tonight’s guest poster is Matt Stoller of MyDD)

Did you know that not supporting racist vigilante group the Minutemen means that you are not serious about national security?  Well I didn’t, until I read California Yankee at Redstate. This immigration debate sure is bringing some fine people into the Republican coalition. 

Now, let’s drill down a bit into the Minutemen, a group that relies for its support on racist and economically disposessed angry whites.  The Minutemen is part of a wave of ‘nativist’ groups, who usually flourish in economically dour times and channel a sense of rage and powerlessness against immigrants, and usually those with brown skin at that.  Want to know how nice the Minutemen are?  Check out their founder Jim Gilchrist’s statements, from the Southern Poverty Law Center:

Less than a year ago, Jim Gilchrist’s vision of the future was plainly apocalyptic. The country, he predicted to one newspaper reporter, will have "100 tribes with 100 languages," a situation from which "mayhem" will result. "I see neighborhood armies of 20 to 40 going out and killing and invading one another," he said. Too many immigrants, he added, could even result in a full-scale civil war — a situation he suggested might be avoided by inciting a revolution in Mexico.

Check please. 

(more…)