Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hillary Blames Bernie for an Old Clintonite Hustle, and That’s a Rotten Shame/The Democratic Choice: Change or Continuity

Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Hillary Blames Bernie for an Old Clintonite Hustle, and That’s a Rotten Shame
Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders during a break at the NBC-YouTube Democratic presidential debate on Sunday in Charleston, S.C. (Photo: Mic Smith / AP)

    The Clintons have no shame, that much you can count on. That stupefying arrogance was on full display in the most recent presidential campaign debate when Hillary Clinton countered Bernie Sanders’ charge that she was compromised by her close ties to Goldman Sachs and other rapacious Wall Street interests with the retort: “Sen. Sanders, you’re the only one on this stage that voted to deregulate the financial markets in 2000, ... to make the SEC and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission no longer able to regulate swaps and derivatives, which were one of the main causes of the collapse in ’08.” 

     Hillary knows that the disastrous legislation, the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA), had nothing to do with Sanders and everything to do with then-President Bill Clinton, who devoted his presidency to sucking up to Wall Street. Clinton signed this bill into law as a lame-duck president, ensuring his wife would have massive Wall Street contributions for her Senate run. 

    Sanders, like the rest of Congress, was blackmailed into voting for the bill because it was tucked into omnibus legislation needed to keep the government operating. Only libertarian Ron Paul and three other House members had the guts to cast a nay vote. The measure freeing Wall Street firms from regulation was inserted at the last moment in a deal between President Clinton and Senate Banking Committee Chairman Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who had failed in an earlier attempt to get the measure enacted. Clinton signed it into law a month before leaving office. 

    Sanders soon figured out that he and almost all other Congress members had been tricked into providing a blank check for the marketing of bogus collateralized debt obligations and credit default swaps made legal by the legislation, of which a key author was Gary Gensler, the former Goldman Sachs partner recruited by Clinton to be undersecretary of the treasury.

     Eight years later, when President Obama nominated Gensler to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, it was Sanders who put a temporary hold on the nomination, stating: “Mr. Gensler worked with Sen. Phil Gramm and [former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman] Alan Greenspan to exempt credit default swaps from regulation, which led to the collapse of AIG and has resulted in the largest taxpayer bailout in U.S. history.”

    Today, Gensler is the top economic adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. And the CFMA—key legislation that was “one of the main causes of the collapse in ’08,” enabling the great recession—is an enormous embarrassment that her husband on occasion reluctantly has conceded was drafted by his top aides and signed into law by him with great enthusiasm.

     In an awkward power-couple footnote, Greenspan, chief prophet of radical banking deregulation, is married to NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell, one of the two debate moderators Sunday night, who pointedly challenged Sanders with questions about his integrity in his call for reform of the economy. But not as awkward as Hillary having been prepped by her debate adviser Gensler to attack Sanders for his vote for legislation that Gensler wrote when working for her husband.

    Who are these Clintonites who now have the temerity to blame Sanders for the economic hustles they authorized?

   Gensler in 1999 testified before Congress in support of the total deregulation of toxic derivatives: “OTC derivatives directly and indirectly support higher investment and growth in living standards in the United States and around the world.” As for the credit default swaps, the phony insurance packages that brought AIG to its knees and almost destroyed the world economy, Gensler testified that they should be exempted by his proposed legislation from regulation existing under the Commodity Exchange Act: “swap transactions should not be regulated under the CEA.” Had they been, the financial crisis could have been avoided.

    Along with Gensler, Robert Rubin, who was Clinton’s treasury secretary and a former Goldman Sachs chairman, and Lawrence Summers, a Rubin aide who succeeded the treasury secretary before the bill was passed, engineered this legislation, which became law and which Hillary Clinton now has the effrontery to blame on Bernie Sanders. 

     The same Rubin-Summers wrecking crew had also destroyed the sensible restraints on Wall Street greed, implemented as the Glass-Steagall Act by the administration of Franklin Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression. Hillary Clinton defends the repeal of Glass-Steagall’s separation of commercial and investment banking, while Sanders wants it reinstated.

     That repeal, as well as preventing any regulation of the toxic mortgage packages and swaps that still hobble the world economy and wiped out the fortunes of black and brown people with particular severity, is Bill Clinton’s horrid legacy, and it is one that his wife now attempts to blame on Bernie Sanders. Shame.

© 2015 TruthDig

Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Democratic Choice: Change or Continuity

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders appear on stage together during Sunday's presidential debate hosted by NBC and YouTube. (Screenshot: NBC News)

   Ten million people watched the Democratic debate on Sunday despite Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s best efforts to bury it on a holiday weekend night after the NFL playoffs. All three candidates had strong moments in a generally substantive debate. By the end, the exchanges between the two front-runners, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton, clarified the choice they offer Democrats between change and continuity.

     Clinton, the favorite, made a calculated decision to wrap herself tightly to Barack Obama. She praised his health care reforms and pledged to “defend and build on the Affordable Care Act” and to “make it work,” dismissing Sanders’ call for a Medicare-for-All plan as starting a “contentious debate.” She touted President Obama’s financial reforms as “one of the most important regulatory schemes we’ve had since the 1930s,” and promised to “defend President Obama for taking on Wall Street…and getting results.” She celebrated his economic record and promised to build on it. Naturally she defended his foreign policy record that she helped build as secretary of state.

    Sanders, her fast-closing challenger, made his case for dramatic change from his first words in the debate:
"As we look out at our country today, what the American people understand is we have an economy that’s rigged…We have a corrupt campaign finance system where millionaires and billionaires are spending extraordinary amounts of money to buy elections. This campaign is about a political revolution to not only elect the president, but to transform this country."

    While Sanders praised President Obama, whom he supported in 2008 and 2012, he made it clear he had differences with him – and that this country needed transformative change. He defended his call for Medicare for All, for breaking up the big banks, for curbing big money in politics, for taxing the rich and using that money to rebuild the country. While praising Obama’s Iran negotiations, Sanders has indicated that he would intervene less, and reform our bloated military budget more.

Incremental Slivers or Transformation

    The contrast was most stark when the candidates addressed the question of how they would get anything done.

Clinton argued that she’d continue Obama’s frustrated efforts to reach out to Republicans:
“I will go anywhere, to meet with anyone, at any time to find common ground. Because maybe you can’t only find a little sliver of common ground to cooperate with somebody from the other party, but who knows? If you’re successful there, maybe you can build even more. That’s what I would do.” (Emphasis added.)

Sanders, by contrast, argued that nothing significant will change so long as the system remains corrupted by big money and special interests.

    “Let’s be honest and let’s be truthful. Very little is going to be done to transform our economy and to create the kind of middle class we need unless we end a corrupt campaign finance system which is undermining American democracy…[W]hat we’ve got to do is create a political revolution which revitalizes American democracy; which brings millions of young people and working people into the political process. To say loudly and clearly, that the government of the United States of America belongs to all of us and not just a handful of wealthy campaign contributors.”

Continuity in a Time of Change

   Many pundits speculate that Clinton chose to wrap herself around Obama to consolidate her appeal to black voters. (Obama is immensely popular among African Americans, who will constitute the majority of voters in the South Carolina Democratic primary, widely seen as Clinton’s “firewall” after Iowa and New Hampshire.) But even in the first debate, when she was still the prohibitive favorite, Clinton offered no policy difference when she was asked for one thing she would do differently from Obama. “I think being the first woman president would be quite a change from the presidents we’ve had up until this point, including President Obama….There’s a lot that I would like to do to build on the successes of President Obama.”

    Obama has served the country with grace and dignity. His policies helped bring the economy back from the Great Recession; his health care reforms have provided health insurance to millions. He is popular among Democrats, and is likely to gain in popularity as his time in office comes to an end.
Yet, nearly 70 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. The economy has recovered but most households are still losing ground. Obama’s effort to get us out of endless wars in the Middle East has been frustrated. Americans are clearly looking for change. Clinton’s great challenge is to establish clearly what she would do differently than the president to make the country work for working people. If the economy falters – as seems increasingly likely – running as Obama’s third term may have more costs than benefits.

Unilateral Disarmament

    This campaign has highlighted – in both the Republican and the Democratic parties – the public’s concern about the corruption of our politics. Donald Trump boasts that his fortune and self-financing free him to tell the truth, in contrast to “politicians” who must cater to those who fund them. Similarly, Bernie Sanders’ decision to go without a super PAC and to raise his funds from small contributions attests to his independence and credibility as someone ready to clean out the stables in Washington.
Clinton has argued, as Obama and others have before her, that while she supports major campaign finance reform, she can’t afford to “unilaterally disarm.” So she’s geared up a sophisticated money-raising operation, set up associated super PACs and nonprofits to take secret donations, and is on the path to raising unprecedented sums of big-money contributions. In the debate on Sunday, she fended off criticisms of her Wall Street support by equating them with an attack on Obama, who also raised significant sums from Wall Street.

    But inescapably, Clinton’s decision to go for the big bucks and the fortune she earned in speaking fees from Wall Street, health insurance and other interests “unilaterally disarms” her credibility as an agent of fundamental change.

    In the debate, Sanders laid out the attack. He decried the fact that one major bank, Goldman Sachs, sent the country two Treasury secretaries, one Democrat and one Republican, even as that bank, bailed out by taxpayers in the financial collapse, was just fined $5 billion for mortgage fraud (without being forced, of course, to admit guilt).

    And he went on: “The leader of Goldman Sachs [Lloyd Blankfein] is a billionaire who comes to Congress and tells us we should cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Secretary Clinton – and you’re not the only one, so I don’t mean to just point the finger at you, you’ve received over $600,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs in one year. I find it very strange that a major financial institution that pays $5 billion in fines for breaking the law, not one of their executives is prosecuted, while kids who smoke marijuana get a jail sentence.”

The Choices They Pose

  These are choices the candidates have made. Hillary Clinton, former first lady, senator and secretary of state, is inescapably the experienced, Washington insider. She has chosen to be the candidate of big money and the defender of continuity. She presents herself as someone who knows how to find common ground to find “slivers” of agreement for incremental change.

     First elected to the Congress in 1990, Sanders has been in Washington longer than Clinton has. But he has chosen to be the populist tribune, the champion of fundamental, transformational reform. And he has walked the walk by spurning big-money politics and funding his campaign from small donations raised almost entirely over social media. His strategy gives his message integrity. Surely this is central to his surprising appeal to the young.

     Clinton runs like an incumbent. She has the experience, the money, the best operatives, the endorsements of gatekeepers, and the universal name recognition. But she’s decided to make herself the candidate of continuity in a time of change. It remains to be seen how wise that choice will be.

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