#OWS WK4: Kaptur and Gramm and Schumer, Oh My.

Tying the tubes of banks that have been, ahem, fornicating with the global economy and impregnating speculative bubbles only to watch them burst, will only hasten the inevitable seismic crash that looms around the corner. Breaking up the banks will happen one way or another…either by the law of the land or the law of nature.

The only phrase in connection with Occupy Wall Street repeated more often than “We are the 99%” is “What do they want?” The former is, of course, the rallying cry inviting citizens to join the movement against plutocracy in America—a show of strength against corporate greed and government corruption. The latter is the response to the growing number of dissenters in the “American Autumn”—criticism for their lacking a coherent list of specific demands. Personally, the only thing I find lacking is the imagination embodied by this mindless question.

The communal process of exploration and debate taking place in Zuccotti Park is like nothing I’ve ever seen. There are plenty of cogent, specific demands to be heard, but only by those who are willing to listen. A good deal of patience and a pinch of intellect are helpful because this isn’t a bumper-sticker movement and the occupiers don’t suffer fools (Geraldo) gladly.

There is no substitute for visiting the park and absorbing democracy, grassroots style. This past weekend my wife and I brought our two children with us to witness history unfolding in Manhattan, as it will someday grace the pages of a textbook, or a tablet, during their college years. With that said, allow me to indulge the frothing masses with a chunk of raw meat by examining one of the cornerstone issues behind OWS: Glass-Steagall.

Breaking the Bank: A Brief History of Glass-Steagall

In short, this was the name of the Act that prohibited commercial banks from engaging in investment-banking activities, among other things. It was established in 1933 to tame the harmful speculative behavior of an industry run amok in the early part of the 20th century; behavior largely credited for the market crash that precipitated the Great Depression. Fast forward to the waning days of the Clinton administration when the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealed the meat of Glass-Steagall and cleared the way for the greatest, most rapid consolidation of banking interests and wealth in recorded history.

Reinstating Glass-Steagall is, of course, easier said than done. Technically, the mechanics of doing it are fairly simple from a structural perspective, though it would cause massive upheaval in the banking world for several years to come. What is almost beyond comprehension are the circumstances that allow banks to continue gambling promiscuously in the world markets, which is a direct result of complementary deregulatory measures, globalization and an extraordinarily loose monetary policy.

These three factors have allowed banks to engage in worldwide investment schemes using cheap, borrowed money in a manner that is both irresponsible and opaque. In other words, be careful what you wish for. Tying the tubes of banks that have been, ahem, fornicating with the global economy and impregnating speculative bubbles only to watch them burst, will only hasten the inevitable seismic crash that looms around the corner. Breaking up the banks will happen one way or another…either by the law of the land or the law of nature.

Protestors from Zuccotti Park to San Francisco are keenly aware of this reality. They have an extremely sophisticated view of the world that goes beyond what we have seen in other movements both here and abroad. It’s their appreciation for complexity and nuance that makes it impossible to translate demands into bite-sized morsels for the media to gobble up and regurgitate into the mouths of shrieking birds in the nest that many television viewers have become.

To make matters worse, our elected federal representatives have no idea how to respond appropriately to a leaderless, populist movement. Apart from some platitudinous, mealy-mouthed responses from ranking Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or truculent, dismissive statements from the likes of Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), the upper echelon of American politics is collectively clicking its heels and hoping to wake up on the farm after the storm.

But there is hope for us yet–from someplace you might not expect.

A Buckeye Bulls Eye

Ohio’s 9th Congressional District cradles the southernmost tier of Lake Erie and has been steadfastly represented by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D) for the three decades. Despite the presence of rollicking Toledo in the westernmost part of her district, things have been pretty quiet in the ninth. Until now.

Ohio’s much ballyhooed loss of two Congressional seats due to redistricting has resulted in a mash up of Kaptur’s 9th district and the neighboring 10th represented by fellow Democratic Congressman, Dennis Kucinich. Kucinich, who has long-represented the most progressive wing of the Democratic caucus, ran back-to-back failed campaigns for the presidential nomination, but he gained more notoriety when he famously called for the impeachment of co-Presidents George W. Bush and Dick Cheney for manufacturing evidence that pushed us into war with Iraq at a cost of nearly $2 trillion, thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of  civilians. Somehow, this effort lacked the same traction and enthusiasm as the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton for, well, you know.

The combination of the 9th and 10th districts has given new life to Kucinich, who might otherwise have been homeless after Ohio’s redistricting plan, as he is planning to primary Kaptur for the seat. Not to be outdone, the GOP has recruited newcomer Samuel Wurzelbacher to run on the Republican ticket. This development would be of little moment, however, if Wurzelbacher wasn’t none other than “Joe The Plumber,” who made headlines during the McCain-Obama race. Although it was later revealed that he was neither “Joe” nor a licensed plumber, Wurzelbacher became an oft-abused example of the disenfranchised workingman in America. Not content to be a footnote in American political history, Wurzelbacher now seeks to extend his 15 minutes of fame by attempting to join the ranks of hundreds of other talentless slobs who also have no business running the country.

This entire hubbub overshadows one of the most interesting things to come out of this part of Ohio. Earlier this year Kaptur revived a failed effort during the previous Congress to reinstate regulations repealed under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999. Kaptur’s bill, H.R. 1489, is appropriately titled “Return to Prudent Banking Act of 2011,” and it has the support of 45 sponsors, one of whom is Dennis Kucinich.

The men behind the original bill in question—Gramm, Leach and Bliley—are an interesting lot; notable because not one of them remains in government today though their impact is felt every day. Phil Gramm, one of the most loathsome scoundrels ever to hold office, is the reprobate who brought us the Enron Loophole, disastrous tax cuts that destabilized the first part of the Reagan era, and this horrendous bill that bears his name. His darling wife, Wendy, was at the helm of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission when her husband was shepherding through the bill that would castrate the agency and lead to the collapse of Enron and the birth of energy speculation. She went on to head the conservative think-tank, Mercatus Center, which is funded by the Koch brothers.

Thomas J. Bliley, former representative from Virginia, was himself a serial deregulator. Before handing America this pile of legislative crap, he authored the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which paved the way for massive consolidation in the media industry and gave us Orwellian juggernauts like News Corp. that control the airwaves today.  Jim Leach, also no longer in office, is more of a curiosity. Brilliant, progressive and, at times, defiant, Leach of Iowa often stood in opposition to the increasingly conservative members of his party and was eventually ousted by a Democrat write-in candidate. Although Leach was a noted fiscal conservative, his true expertise was in foreign affairs. By attaching his name to one of the most destructive economic bills ever written, an otherwise brilliant career has been sullied in a way only Bill Buckner could understand.

Going Forward

So, Marcy Kaptur “gets it.” The protestors on Wall Street also “get it.” And believe it or not, many of us in the media also “get it.” If the banking system is going to collapse under its own weight and hubris because of the sheer volume of horrible investments still filtering through the economy with zero oversight, what’s the next logical play?

Apart from the obvious, which is to enact H.R. 1489, I think it’s time to grant subpoena authority to the protestors on Wall Street so they can hold those responsible for the economic crisis accountable at a people’s tribunal. Since our judicial system has failed to do that, perhaps it should be left to the people in Zuccotti Park. And just to bring things full circle to New York politics, the first star witness to be called should be Sen. Charles Schumer, poster boy for Wall Street and the senior Democratic elected representative of our state.

Time’s up, Chuck. Your silence on the Occupy Wall Street movement is deafening and incriminating.

Republican Party (1856 – 2010)

There is nothing grand about this old party that preys only on the enmity of the populous. There is nothing admirable or principled about fear mongering. Where are the inspired solutions that made this party great?

GOP Pelosi Image
Here you go, kids: Thinking about becoming a Young Republican? Log onto www.gop.com today to find out more about hate mongering and propaganda!

I don’t care much for the health care bill or the process it went through, but I applaud the intent. Rather than dissecting the bill I would like to offer a quick message to the Democratic Party. Then, if you don’t mind, I would like to speak privately with my party, the Republican Party.

Democrats—please refrain from referring to this bill as an “overhaul” of the system. While it is indeed reform, it doesn’t cure the inherent flaws in the system. No, I haven’t read all 2,500 pages of the bill yet, but cutting Medicare reimbursements and treatment options, while increasing public access to pharmaceuticals, goes against my beliefs. I’m also incredulous at the Congressional Budget Office’s suggestion that this will reduce the deficit. Please don’t insult American intelligence. Having said that, providing the opportunity for 32 million Americans to visit a doctor for the first time outweighs any issues I have with this bill. Just call it a start, not an overhaul.

Now onto my dear fellow Republicans. (And to the guy who clips out my column and scribbles ironically, “Hey Asshole, don’t you know any better words?” whenever I curse, the answer is yes. But today I just can’t seem to find them.)

Republicans are shouting and spitting like a bunch of fucking hyenas as they clamor for face time in the media. They’re filling our inboxes, vandalizing our social networking profiles and polluting the airwaves with venomous messages rebuking the Obama Administration over health care. HEALTH CARE! My fellow Republicans are tearing this nation apart over providing medical care for those less fortunate. Not bank bailouts, war, or wasteful pork spending— Health care. Really?

The behavior among elected Republicans and the dimwitted TV pundits who are whipping America into an absolute frenzy is the worst thing about this bill and has led me to question my long-standing affiliation with the Republican Party. For a moment, I thought it was me; that maybe I had changed and lost touch with Republicanism. So, in seeking to refresh my recollection of what this party stands for, I logged onto the GOP home page.

What I found was as pathetic as it was cartoonish. A complete embarrassment. The site opens to a fiery red screen with Nancy Pelosi, fists and teeth clenched in a fit of rage against a backdrop of flames, with the words “Fire Pelosi” in bold letters emblazoned on the screen. This buffoonery doesn’t torch Nancy Pelosi—it’s Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln who are torched by the flames of dissent and hatred that now embody this once-great party.

Going deeper in the site only serves to highlight the confusion within the GOP. It lists the accomplishments of the Republican Party since its inception and its own core values of today. It proudly claims responsibility for freeing the slaves, establishing Howard University and outlawing the Ku Klux Klan. It touts Republican leadership in writing the 19th Amendment, passing two civil rights acts and ending racial segregation in Little Rock. The list spans two centuries of achievements such as these and others that today seem more in alignment with the Democratic Party, like establishing Yellowstone National Park, building the federal highway system and authoring welfare reform.

This is the party I belong to.

But the current “platform”—if you can call it that—lists only six ideals. The power of the individual, voluntary giving, limited government, low taxes, less regulation and national strength. That’s what it says, but what it practices is hate, because hate sells when the chips are down. Well, here’s the newsflash: The strong Republican individual who enjoyed low taxes, limited government and less regulation didn’t voluntarily give a hand to the 32 million people under eight years of Bush Jr., four under Bush Sr. and eight under Reagan. And the eight under Clinton? We Republicans killed health care then too. So, no. The “voluntary giving” portion of the agenda hasn’t worked.

This bill is what we get for not doing something sooner. Now the Republican Party is calling for true health care reform and vowing to still kill this bill? NOW? Too bad, so sad. Too little, too late. Everything that is wrong with this bill is the fault of every loser in office with an (R) next to his or her name.

From the realm of beyond ridiculous comes the conservative movement. The growing number of so-called “Tea Party” activists are hunting their own, outing those they call Republicans In Name Only, or “RINOs.” They have taken their vituperative agenda to the streets, hurling racial epithets at democratic lawmakers and preaching angry messages to Fox’s ravenous cameras. Television ratings and voter ire are feeding off one another and creating a vortex of hatred that has gone viral and beyond.

There is nothing grand about this old party that preys only on the enmity of the populous. There is nothing admirable or principled about fear mongering. Where are the inspired solutions that made this party great?

I’m calling it. I hereby officially pronounce the Republican Party dead. The GOP died suddenly on March 23, 2010 from a diseased mind and heart. It was 154 years old. The son of Ronald Reagan, grandson of Theodore Roosevelt and great-grandson of Abraham Lincoln is survived only by bastard stepchildren who have squandered the family fortune and sullied its good name.

 A plague on all of your tents, I say. I renounce my allegiance to those who cloak themselves in the shroud of Republicanism without understanding what it means to be so. I stand firmly by the glorious list of accomplishments from which these whores have divorced themselves and await the day a new breed of Republicans rediscovers the true meaning behind the core values of this party. Until then you have lost my vote of confidence and, more importantly, my vote. When you do return to your collective senses and stand for something other than hatred and dissent, I will be there, because a real elephant never forgets.