Mary Jo White, Obama's new nominee to head a key financial regulatory agency, has quite a reputation: Sen. Chuck Schumer has called her "tough as nails," and when the president announced the pick yesterday, he warned, "You don't want to mess with Mary Jo." But when it comes to policing the big banks, is she really such a hard nose?
Many financial reformers are psyched the president chose White, the first female US attorney in Manhattan, to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, one of the federal agencies that oversees financial markets. They say that choosing someone with fierce prosecutorial experience and success in cracking down on white-collar crime signals Obama's intention to follow through on the liberal agenda he laid out in his inauguration speech Monday, and keep banks on a tight leash. At the same time, though, White has also defended Wall Street execs in private practice, and has the backing of big shots on the Street.
Want to buy an AR-15 for a friend who happens to be in a Mexican drug cartel? The way gun laws stand right now, you can: It's not illegal to purchase guns for a criminal. And federal laws surrounding gun trafficking across the border are notoriously weak. Legislation that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) unveiled Wednesday would help fix that.
The Stop Illegal Trafficking in Firearms Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), strengthens laws governing the "straw purchase" of firearms, or the buying of guns or ammunition for someone who is prohibited from owning one. Under current law, it is only a crime to transfer a firearm to someone else with the knowledge that the person will use it in a crime. So prosecutors usually cobble together "paperwork" violations such as lying on federal forms in order to bring charges against a straw purchaser. Leahy's bill prohibits weapons transfers in which the transferor has "reasonable cause to believe" that the firearm will be used in criminal activity, and sets up heavy penalties for doing so.
Since Obamacare was enacted in March 2010, House Republicans have voted dozens of times to repeal it. And no, the Supreme Court decision upholding the sweeping health care act hasn't stopped those efforts. While these kinds of moves are pretty much symbolic at this point, the law's conservatives foes are making one more push that they are pretty sure will finally do the trick. Too bad it won't work.
The socialism-killer, the Obamacare haters say, is the states' power to refuse to set up health insurance exchanges, the online marketplaces where people who don't get insurance through their employer will be able to shop for coverage and pick up federal subsidies to help pay their premiums. If states don't set up their own exchanges—and most Republican governors have already refused to—the federal government will do it for them. Still, conservative news sites and advocacy groups are spreading the word that this spells the end of the Affordable Care Act. "States' Refusal to Establish Exchanges Could Undo Obamacare," says the Daily Caller. "Obamacare in Peril as GOP Governors Refuse to Run State Exchanges," says PolicyMic. The tea party group FreedomWorks has launched a snazzy campaign with a website called BlockExchanges where you can consult an "action map" to find out "where your state stands on resisting the Obamacare exchanges" and join the "last stand in the fight against the Left's health care takeover."
Cendy, an undocumented immigrant, tells her story for The Dream Is Now.
Undocumented immigrants' moment for political agency may have finally arrived. Obama says he will push for comprehensive immigration reform in the first months of his second term, and Republicans—who realize they can't just rely on old white people to win future elections—are praising similar plans. Now, as immigration proposals begin to take shape in Congress, the grassroots are rustling, too. Activists launched a new online campaign on Tuesday, called The Dream Is Now, pushing for the passage of DREAM Act-style legislation to give permanent legal status to undocumented immigrants.
Created by filmmaker Davis Guggenheim and Steve Jobs' widow, Laurene Powell Jobs—both education activists—the campaign's centerpiece is an "interactive documentary," where undocumented young people can "come out" as noncitizens and tell Americans how DREAM Act provisions would affect them. The immigrants, their families, and friends can also post photos and sign a petition to tell Congress to create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth. The Dream Is Now is alloverthesocialmedias, too (#thedreamisnow).
Servicers, which collect mortgage payments from borrowers and work out terms of a loan, are supposed to explore all alternatives to foreclosure before reclaiming a home, and to give homeowners a fair and clear evaluation process. But as millions of borrowers fell behind on payments in the wake of the financial meltdown, loan servicers got slammed by tons of added legwork and administration, and many more got perverse incentives to fast-track borrowers into default. Some servicers put on a spectacular show of incompetence and outright fraud, routinely losing paperwork, "robo-signing" people into wrongful foreclosures, and locking people out of their houses when the borrowers thought they were on road to loan modification. Much of this is still happening. The new CFPB rules are supposed to help fix it. (A similar set of regulations targeting mortgage lenders was released last week.)