Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Modest Proposal: The Corporate Control Act of 2010

The Corporate Control Act of 2010

1. No corporation or other business entity engaged in interstate commerce shall be established, deemed, recognized, defined, or otherwise accepted as a "person" under the U.S. Constitution, Federal Law, or Federal regulations.

2. No corporation or other business entity engaged in interstate commerce may influence or appear to influence any Federal election, law or regulation, using any corporate or business personnel, fiscal or material resources. For the purposes of this paragraph, "influence" means any actions taken or any resources used to influence, either directly or indirectly.

3. Any provisions of current Federal law or regulation in conflict with, or which appear to conflict with paragraphs 1 or 2 are hereby repealed, stricken and voided.

4. Any violation of paragraph 2 shall be considered a felony. The officers and directors of any corporation or other business entity engaged in interstate commerce convicted of violating paragraph 2 shall be subject to imprisonment of a minimum of one year, and a maximum of five years. Any corporation or other business entity engaged in interstate commerce convicted of violating paragraph 2 shall be subject to fines of up to $1,000,000/day for each separate day and each separate act violating paragraph 2.

5. The provisions of this Act shall be construed broadly, so as to deter both direct and indirect violations of this Act.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Is Prosecuting Torturers Justice or Retribution?

Mr. Obama repeatedly has said that he wants to look forward, rather than back, on the torture issue. In this, he is violating his oath of office, when he swore to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the land. The history of the Bush administration's justification and use of torture is not a minor thing to be let go of as "bygones." These were not misdemeanors, committed in an excess of zeal in the aftermath of 9/11. These were high crimes, under any definition, and the President has the duty to investigate and prosecute.

It is not enough to issue executive orders banning torture. Many of Mr. Obama's good deeds to date consist of orders reversing the worst of the Bush policies. However, this is government by decree, easily reversed by the next President, unless fixed in law and firmly enforced. In the case of torture, the law already was clear, and letting it go sends the message that the highest level of U.S. government can get away with high crimes.

Protecting those who conducted the torture, with the argument that they were told it was legal, also is a mistake. We must never forget the Nuremburg principles, which stated clearly that "I was just following orders" is not a valid excuse for terrible crimes. The principle is the individual's responsibility to just say "no" to illegal and immoral orders. If we did not excuse Germans, who may have faced death for refusing orders, how can we excuse U.S. operatives, who faced at most career derailment? The good person who goes along with evil, is just as guilty.

Arguing that the CIA and others would be demoralized by such prosecutions is perverse. The CIA would be strengthened by the prosecutions, and those within it who want to uphold the law would be encouraged. The CIA needs to be proud of its behavior, not to be a example to the world of our worst behavior. Investigations and prosecutions, including the highest levels of the administration, are the best way to purge this horrible past, and to move forward with a renewed sense of purpose.

This is justice, not retribution. If all are to be equal before the law, then Bush, Cheney, and all those involved in torture must be brought before the bar. Mr. Obama, respect your oath of office, and do what is right.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Financial Bailout Principles (2)

o If it is too big to fail, it is too big: break it up.
o Corollary: No more giant international investment houses.
o Corollary: No more national media conglomerates; the media need to be local and independent.
o Restore the barrier between banking and investment houses.
o Protect the public over failed management: fire the executives and managers who created the mess.
o Get serious about freezing foreclosures
o Eliminate adjustable mortgages completely.
o Restore the laws against usury.
o Stop protecting shareholders in failed financial firms.
o Stop the fear of letting large firms go bankrupt: let the market clean itself up.
o If necessary, let the government be the lender to the people, until the system stabilizes.

We voted for change; we voted for bold; it is time for the President to take charge and show true leadership.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Taxing the Rich, Slowly

Mr. Obama has proposed eliminating the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which is fine. However, not for another two years! Let's see now: the wealthy have enjoyed lower taxes for over six years, reducing Federal income and increasing the deficit by several hundred billion dollars a year.

Even with the global financial collapse, the wealthy can afford to pay taxes, but we will be giving them two more years of windfall. With an enormous deficit this year, can we really afford to be so generous to those who need it least? Restore tax progressivity to those making over $250,000 per year, NOW!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bank Bailout Principles (lost)

Recently, the NY Times reported that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner had prevailed in Administration debates over the shape of the bank bailout plan. His victories included:

o reducing limits on executive pay for companies receiving federal aid
o giving banks flexibility on how they spent the money
o protecting the jobs of current executives
o preserving share value by avoiding bank nationalization

So, he appears to have succeeded in resisting calls for more government control of the banking/investment business. How does this differ from the Bush approach?

Under Bush, banks took the money, and refused to report how they may have used it. The government refused to publish a list of those which had received federal aid. Acquisitions and mergers took place, instead of business and consumer loans. Accountability was lost in the fog.

The public charade of yelling at the managers who created this mess, yields to the reality that they will keep their jobs, and much discretion in using the money.

The Administration also appears to have decided to do nothing about the Bush giveaway. Why not go after the huge bonuses (tax them at high rates?), require aid money to be passed through as loans, condition aid on replacing the directors and executives who failed, let fail those banks deemed too weak to survive, and nationalize banks which refuse to serve the public?

Mr. Geithner is not "change." He is not protecting the public interest. Mr. Obama should fire Geithner, appoint a truly progressive Treasury Secretary, and most important, listen more closely to David Axelrod: dance with the one who brought you to the party. His principles are more in tune with the change we need.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Torturers must be punished

Ruth Marcus’ column in the Post on Wednesday, 31 December, arguing against torture trials attempts to minimize the crime, in a number of incredible ways.

1. She suggests that the threat of internal investigations or Congressional hearings would be effective deterrents. This would be laughable, if the subject were not so serious. The threat of criminal convictions and serious jail time is what is needed to deter those who would torture in the name of patriotism. Remember, this is a crime under both U.S. and international law. It is a crime against humanity. It is inexcusable for anyone, anywhere, to impose torture upon another. Indeed, the threat of punishment needs to be so strong and so credible, that those so inclined would fearfully resist the impulse. An internal investigation? A Congressional hearing? Not threats at all, as experienced under the Bush administration.

2. She suggests that the threat of criminal sanctions did not deter Bush officials anyway. Right: it is actual swift convictions and sentences which would provide the deterrent, not the possibility of someday facing the consequences.

3. She suggests stronger oversight to prevent torture. This is both after the fact and too late, and lacking in penalty: what would the oversight group do, but perhaps censure the torturers? Again, this is not enough.

4. She suggests that the costs of criminal prosecutions would be too high, and that officials could err on the side of excessive timidity. Given the choice between a tortured victim and a timid official, give me the timid official every time. There are some lines which should never be crossed. Torture is one such line.

5. She suggests that criminal prosecutions would drain energy from the new administration. Rather, I believe that the new administration is capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time; it can pursue revitalizing the economy, undoing the legislative and executive excesses of the Bush administration, and presecuting torturers. In fact, it must do this, to restore America’s moral standing with the world.

6. Finally, she raises the bar to “conscious law-breaking.” This is not necessary. Someone who tortures another, relying upon orders, or legal memos, still is guilty. It is time to remember the Nuremburg principles, and seek justice for those who would throw out the law and morality in pursuing their agendas.

Torture is a crime against humanity. In the name of humanity, it must be punished by criminal trial.

A radical fix for housing and the economy

It is time to go further than the current discussion and programs to help America's home owners in a meaningful way. Here is one idea, which would cost the public nothing, and put money into people's pockets for years to come.

We need federal legislation to reset every primary home mortgage in the country to a 4 1/2 % interest rate for the balance of the loans.

This would apply to current long-term mortgages, and convert every adjustable rate mortgage to a 30-year term fixed rate. Lenders would have to redo the mortgage papers at no cost to the borrowers.

In addition, no new adjustable rate mortgages would be allowed, and all new mortgages for the next two years, at least, would be at the same 4 1/2 % 30 year interest rate.

Thus, the industry which created the mess would have to absorb some losses of income, but the home owners would have lower monthly payments, and a better chance of staying in their homes. Foreclosures would be much less likely. The housing sector would be stabilized, at last.