The newest installment in his "Save Our Democracy" platform, firebreathing Congressman Alan Grayson introduced two new bills yesterday to dull the impact of last week's Supreme Court decision, which determined that corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money on elections. Grayson called the 5-4 ruling the "worst since Dred Scott."

The first bill, patriotically titled the "America is for Americans Act," bans political expenditures from any corporation with foreign owners. "Foreigners cannot vote in our elections, so they should not be allowed to spend unlimited money to buy votes either," Grayson said in a press release. "If we do not limit foreign influence, we will soon have 'the Distinguished Member from Russia' or 'the Esteemed Senator from Saudi Arabia.'"

The second bill introduced last night demands that companies "cannot have it both ways" when it comes to "campaign propaganda." The "Pick Your Poison Act" would force corporations to choose between lobbying congress to further their political agenda and supporting candidates in election years. "If they want to use hired guns to influence lawmakers," Grayson said, "they need to stay out of the election process."

Among the six bills Team Grayson says can "Save our Democracy" are measures to implement a 500% excise tax on corporate contributions, apply antitrust laws to PACs, and require corporations to disclose SEC filings on funds used to influence public opinion.

Grayson's outspoken demeanor has earned the freshman congressman the unfortunate reputation as the liberal antidote to GOP Reps. Michele Bachmann and Steve King, both prone to exaggeration and ideological grandstanding. But these measures could strike a chord among lawmakers who think the Supreme Court went too far last week by extending the free speech rights for individuals to massive corporations.

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Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), chair of the influential House financial services committee, says Obama's lastest regulatory crackdown on Wall Street could make it into law in as soon as few months. Frank, who said the president's flurry of recent financial reforms surprised him, told the Financial Times in Davos, Switzerland, that the administration's new proposals could very well be included in an existing financial services bill already in the works within his committee. (To watch the full interview with FT's Gillian Tett and Frank, click here.)

More from the FT story:

This essentially gives a new systemic regulator the discretionary power to clamp down on banks' proprietary businesses or force banks to shrink in size—if necessary. Until recently, this aspect of the bill had not garnered much attention, since there has been a wider controversy about the future identity of a systemic regulator.

However, Mr Frank argued that Volcker's plan could be incorporated within this enhanced definition of a supervisory authority—and said he was sure that a bill would be in place well before the mid-term elections in November, if not signed off by Chris Dodd, his counterpart in the Senate, within weeks. "I think Chris will get a bill out in March."

Overall Mr Frank said the drive to de-risk banks was to be applauded. "I wish banks had fewer ways to make money than deposits," he said. He also expressed confidence that the US reforms could form part of a wider regulatory blueprint that would be incorporated elsewhere, including in Europe—dismissing scepticism that Mr Obama's initiative had upset a measured, internationally co-ordinated response to the future regulation of the world's banks.

It was quite possibly the most important election in recent Sri Lankan history, the first peacetime vote in more than three decades. Newspapers around the globe reported that 70 percent of the electorate turned out to reelect President Mahinda Rajapaksa in early elections on January 26th. Yet, as one might expect from a country that less than a year ago decisively crushed one of the longest and most violent insurgencies in the world at an enormous cost to human life, elections were fraught. Fraught in a way only Sri Lankan politics would be: challengers lobbing accusations of war crimes at each other; one blocking the other from voting...for himself; and a supposedly king-making minority that never appeared.

Rajapaksa beat his ex-General Sarath Fonseka, who delivered the coup-de-grace in the government's 26-year-long war with the separatist LTTE (Tamil Tigers) and subsequently suffered a massive falling out with the President, his erstwhile ally. (Both had hoped to ride their post-war popularity into office). Widely seen as the dark horse after he threw his hat in the ring last month, Fonseka was endorsed by Tamil National Alliance and other minority groups; his victory, many felt, would have proved that despite the extreme violence that characterized the LTTE endgame, the Tamils could still be king-makers in Sri Lanka. 


In tonight’s State of the Union address, President Barack Obama is expected to propose what’s generally being called an “automatic IRA.” This scheme for increasing individual retirement savings is being touted as a "common sense" approach to the pension crisis, a "third way" that enjoys broad bipartisan support. But lurking just beneath the surface of this popular proposal is a potentially massive gift to Wall Street--and possibly, a back-door route to undermining Social Security in favor of private investments.

Under the automatic IRA plan, the government would help set up a system of individual retirement accounts in which workers would be automatically enrolled if their employers don’t offer their own 401Ks. A minimum amount of pre-tax earnings–under current proposals, 3 percent–would automatically be deducted from employees’ pay and direct-deposited into their accounts. Individuals could increase the amount of the automatic deposits, or they could opt-out altogether. They would also have some choice about where to place their investments; otherwise, it would automatically be placed in what planners are calling a “diversified portfolio.” 

On the surface, it sounds like a sensible plan. AARP is supporting it, and says it could help some 50 million of the 75 million Americans whose employers offer no retirement plan.  It was developed through a rapprochement between the right and what passes for the left: The idea emanates from a group called the Retirement Security Project (RSP), led by David John of the Heritage Foundation, who hammered out a joint scheme with William Gale of the Brookings Institution. It’s supported by the White House, and expected to breeze through Congress. The publication Life and Pensions reported earlier this week:

After a meeting on Tuesday evening, House Democrats finally seem to be settling on a plan to move forward on health care reform. But there are some major roadblocks standing in the way of their preferred solution—including squeamish senators, uncompromising anti-abortion congressmen, the Democrats' own president, and, of course, the Republicans.

Here's the strategy that House Dems are coalescing around: First, pass the Senate bill. Then, attempt to address some of their members' concerns with that legislation through the reconciliation process—which would allow the Senate to pass adjusted legislation with a simple majority without the risk of a GOP filibuster.

The first big problem with this idea is President Barack Obama, who has so far refused to specifically endorse using reconciliation to move forward on health care. In fact, he has conspicuously refrained from pushing publicly for any particular strategy. All the administration has said is that passing some sort of reform is crucial. That leaves congressional Democrats wondering why they should stick their necks out for a gambit their own president won't endorse. And Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, refused to answer pointed questions on Tuesday about whether Obama would use his State of the Union address scheduled for Wednesday night to endorse any specific strategies for passing health care.

war photo of the day MJ

Spc. Franck Joseph, from Savannah, Ga., assigned to Echo Troop, 3rd Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, runs to refuel and rearm an AH-64 Apache helicopter assigned to Task Force-Lighthorse at the Camp Wright Forward Armament and Refueling Point, Jan. 18, 2010. (US Army Photo from US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brian Bolsvert.)

On Monday, I explained why the Supreme Court's recent decision legalizing unlimited corporate spending (or "speech") in elections based on the premise that corporations are legal "persons" deserving free-speech rights doesn't make sense:

Corporations can never take political action premised on genuine support for a politician's ideas or values. Corporate spending on elections must be predicated on corporate self-interest, because corporations are legally required to maximize profit for their shareholders. They will never be able to participate in elections in a "politically motivated" way. They can only participate in service of their own bottom lines. If a corporation acted against its own interests because their management thought it would serve the greater good (for example, by bankrolling an ad campaign supporting a clean-air law that would cripple the company), that would be literally illegal. 

Justin Fox, the new editor of the Harvard Business Review, agrees:

The "one and only social responsibility of business," economist Milton Friedman wrote back in 1970 in a New York Times Magazine essay that launched a thousand arguments, is "to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game ..." Friedman contrasted this with the multiple responsibilities that an individual — such as a corporate executive — might have "to his family, his conscience, his feelings of charity, his church, his clubs, his city, his country."


The individuals who make up the electorate in the United States are, as Friedman described, beings of many facets — their actions and their views shaped by pecuniary self interest but also by values, beliefs, and loyalties that might conflict with that self interest. The ideal for-profit corporation, on the other hand, is out to do nothing but make as much money as it can "within the rules of the game." It is supposed to behave in a fashion that for an individual would probably be described as psychopathic. And if corporations are allowed to play a decisive role in shaping the "rules of the game," we have effectively put the inmates in control of the asylum.


If corporations are persons, they are — if they behave as Milton Friedman wanted them to — persons with mental and emotional impairments so severe that any decent judge would feel entirely justified in declaring them incompetent.

Great stuff. Fox and Reuters' Felix Salmon have more.

Need to Read: January 27, 2010

 The must-read stories from around the web and in today's papers:


When copies of Ambassador Karl Eikenberry's classified cables showed up on the web site of the New York Times Monday night, the timing of the leak surely seemed suspicious. The controversial memos appeared just as two high-profile events were set to take place later in the week—one a conference in London to discuss Afghanistan's future, and the second President Obama's first State of the Union address where the US mission in Afghanistan is sure to figure in.

The memos, sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the administration formulated its Afghanistan strategy, were first described by the Times in general terms last November. Back then, the disclosure of Eikenberry's dissent was just the latest leak from administration factions that were apparently competing for influence in the Afghanistan debate. According to the latest Times story, the complete memos were ultimately provided by an "American official" who believed Eikenberry's grim assessment "was important for the historical record."

That explanation, said Alexander Thier, the director of the US Institute of Peace's Afghanistan and Pakistan program, doesn't wash. "They want it to be part of the public record because of what motivation?" The leaker, he said, certainly wasn't doing Eikenberry any favors. "There's no question that whatever the motivation of the leaker or leakers they would have had to understand that this would have a damaging impact on Eikenberry's ability to affectively fulfill his duties."

Writing on Foreign Policy's web site today, Peter Feaver, a former National Security Council staffer during the Bush administration, said the leak indicated that the "the internal debate over Afghanistan is ongoing" and pointed to "serious problems within" Obama's "national security team."

Obama isn’t the only world leader getting flak for granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to undocumented Haitian immigrants. A week after the disaster, Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham announced that his government will release 102 Haitian detainees and give them temporary status. This didn't fly well with many islanders, including former immigration minister Loftus Roker. The number of released detainees may seem small, but their discharge is a bold move because it counters the Bahamian capital's pervasive anti-Haitian stance. Here's what Roker had to say about Ingraham's move:

Mr. Roker suggested that those released and granted Temporary Protected Status will either take jobs that struggling Bahamians need, or may not be able to find jobs and will become a burden on Bahamian society.

Sounds familiar. The report continues:

While seeking to assert his empathy for the Haitian people and respect for their history of struggle, he raised the point that the Bahamas is experiencing the highest unemployment levels ever, and last year had a record murder rate.

He suggested that if the government wants to help Haiti it should coordinate relief efforts and send donated supplies on Defense Force boats to the country and "those of us of Haitian abstraction can volunteer to go along and make sure those who need the goods get them."

Roker later adds that he has "always had a Haitian barber" and "the government of the Bahamas has an obligation to the people of the Bahamas." My mom’s family is native inhabitants of the Bahamas, and have held animosity towards Haitian immigrants since 1957 when President Francois Duvalier's election led to a mass exodus. Faced with nationalist objections like these, leaders like Ingraham should be applauded for placing human need ahead of political ideologies. Countries listed below have followed the Bahamas' example by granting TPS to Haitians already living within their borders, or opening their doors to prospective earthquake refugees:

French immigration minister Eric Besson has ordered his department to halt the repatriation of undocumented Haitian immigrants. Besson also announced the implementation of an "exceptional and temporary measure" to allow those affected by the earthquake to enter France. The measure includes providing "humanitarian" visas to people needing specialized medical care in France and allowing Haitians to visit family members.

Canada has expedited immigration applications from Haitians with family members living there. Jason Kenney, Canada's immigration minister, said Haitians in the country will also be allowed to extend their stay. "We anticipate there will be a number of new applications, which we will treat on a priority basis," Kenney declared.

The Dominican Republic has agreed to extend the stay of all Haitians already on the island by six months.

Senegal's president Abdoulaye Wade called for Africa to make room for victims of Haiti’s earthquake to restart their lives on the continent.  “If it is just a few people, we will offer them a roof and a patch of land. If they come in large numbers, we will give them a whole region,” his spokesman said.

Several Caribbean governments, including the Turks and Caicos Islands, have suspended deportation of illegal immigrants, according to BCC Caribbean.