June 2011

AAUW Lobby Day Tomorrow

The American Association of University Women is hosting its annual Virtual Lobby Day tomorrow, Friday June 17. This year they are focusing on the National Women’s History Museum Act, the Campus SaVe Act, and social security. Participants will be encouraged to engage in a variety of virtual ways. To find out more or to participate, click here.

Mitt Romney Jokes About Being Unemployed

After listening to several people tell him how hard it is to find work nowadays, multimillionaire Mitt Romney jokes that he should tell his story because he’s unemployed, too. What a jackass.

Mr. Romney, most of these people struggle every day to provide for their families, choosing which bill to postpone just one more week in lieu of another one, and pray every day that none of them gets sick because they no longer have health insurance. I should know; my husband has been laid off for three months and I don’t have insurance through my work. Perhaps you should consider your words a bit more carefully before you make a laughingstock out of yourself.

Why is Weiner Not Being Charged with Harassment?

There is all kinds of talk about Representative Weiner’s “inappropriate” behavior, as well as calls for him to resign—mostly over his supposed misuse of tax dollars during his indiscretions—but people are pretty much ignoring the fact that he has sexually harassed a young woman—a teenager, really—by sending her lewd photos of himself and messages that she did not want from him.

In this light, his behavior has crossed the line of inappropriate and into darker territory. Should he resign? The man should be fired for his conduct. I am not sure what the penalties for sexual harassment are in his state, but they should be applied in this case.

New Jersey and Arizona Disenfranchise Most Vulnerable Citizens

How cuts to Medicaid in both states are made on the backs of their most vulnerable people.

    

There is an axiom in this country that says when people most need government welfare programs, they are least able to support them. However, some state legislatures have passed policies or are considering policies that are criminal. For this reason, Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie, and Governor of Arizona Jan Brewer, belong on America's Most Wanted. They have both made proposals and passed legislation that undo the social safety nets of hundreds of thousands of their state's citizens at a time when those programs are more neecessary than ever.

Race In America

Is the dream still deferred?

I was party to a discussion recently that went something like this:

“Affirmative Action is obsolete.”

“That’s crazy, African-Americans and other minorities don’t have nearly the opportunities that whites do.”

“The president is African-American, that proves that they do. They just have to want it.”

U.S. Defaulting Could Have Disastrous Consequences

What it would mean for the world's richest nation to default on its loans.

                                 

     Last month, amid the battle on Capitol Hill to raise the nation's debt ceiling, Republicans began to circulate the idea of a 'technical default' in which the U.S. would essentially miss a couple days worth of interest payments to other nations. This idea has gained ground since, and with the debt ceiling staying put for the moment, more mainstream Republicans have attempted to spin a temporary U.S. default as a positive thing. It would essentially push Congress to pass further spending cuts; 'austerity cuts' that would force reforms in many entitlements and further gouge public services. "Starving the beast", as Daniel Indiviglio of Atlantic Monthly phrased it.

Proof the Bailout Isn't Working

The political world has been rocked. That's right, positively rocked like the audience at a Motley Crue concert in 1988, by the closing of Chet's, a restaurant in Toledo, Ohio that was among several named by President Barack Obama as indirectly benefiting from the Chrysler bailout that allowed a number of car construction plant workers to keep their jobs. Chet's is one of many Toledo-area restaurants within reasonable driving distance of the Chrysler plant that Obama reasoned would only naturally see a continued stream of business from the plant workers. With Chet's recent announcement that it is closing its doors due to financial troubles, we obviously have proof positive that Obama's big business bailout initiative is a complete and utter failure.

Debit Card Battle On Capitol Hill

The Battle of Debit Fees for Merchants May Cost Politicians in Campaigns.

    

Although the media hasn't necessary reported on the topic with as much vigor as say, Mr. Weiner's wiener, the regulation wrangling on Capitol Hill is coming to a head tonight in the U.S. Senate. The battle is over "swipe fees", fees that merchants pay to banks for the privilege of taking customers' debit cards as payment for goods and services. Last month Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) secured an amendment with 64 votes (17 of the Republican) to require the Federal Reserve to cap swipe fees. On one hand, powerful banking and financial institutions' lobbies are working furiously to get enough votes to pass an amendment to delay swipe fee reform. One the other hand, major merchant lobbies, including that of Wal-Mart, are working to pass defeat any delay. It's a meeting of the special interest giants.

      What's at stake is the nearly $16 billion in revenue that is generated annually for banks through the use of these fees. Many small businesses have taken to placing a minimum charge limit on customers because the fees stack up to sizable chunk of the store's profit margin. There have been some recent internet companies that have attempted to create internet pay options that bypass these damaging fees, one of which (Dwolla, based in Des Moines, IA) was profiled in Money Fest last week. The reform swipe fee cap is slated to go into effect July 21st, and will give merchants more flexibility and, hopefully, pass some of the savings on to customers. Banks, however, will need to find a new way to make up those earnings.

     This afternoon Wal-Mart and other large corporate merchant lobbies were able to prevent the banks from attaining a 60 vote majority on the bill to delay, with only 54 senators voting in favor. The amendment will remain open for further discussion.

     What is really interesting about this drama is that many politicians have campaign donors on both sides of the debate, and are now in the untenable position of having to choose which major corporate interest to back. Whichever one they choose, a number of politicians are likely to lose out on campaign dollars for the upcoming campaign season. On the other hand, those freshmen senators that come out strongly in favor of one side or another may have an opportunity to make a powerful ally among corporate interests.

     Ultimately the losers here will be the consumers. Merchants have been struggling under the weight of these steaily increasing swipe fees for years, without the federal government even taking a step toward regulating them until now. Should swipe fee reform work out well, capping banks fees to significantly lower rates, many retailers are not likely to pass those savings on to customers until they've recouped some loss. In addition, the budding market for mobile finance and internet payment entrepreneurs will likely shrivel if merchants are no longer cornered by banks' swipe fees. On the other hand, if the Fed cap is watered-down in the preceding six weeks before taking effect, there will be very little in savings to pass on anyway and retailers will still be feeling the pinch (though perhaps slightly less so). Either way, it's the consumers that, as always, end up footing the bill as these multi-million dollars entities wrangle for pennies on the dollar. C'est la vie.


Why I Deserve To Be Re-Elected

We're getting into the exhausting, year-long election process and, frankly, I'm not looking forward to it. It was a slog the first time, it's gonna be a slog this time, but it's also going to be happening at the same time as the busiest job in the world. I'd really rather not go through this rigmarole again, but I suppose I have to. That in mind, I figured it's time to work on a solid argument for my re-election rather than just rest on the fact that the Republicans don't have a truly worthwhile candidate and would be facing the almost unbeatable incumbent principle even if they had a superstar. So, here's what I've cobbled together from napkin scribbles and little conversations with my staff.

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