By Ruth Conniff on April 13, 2010

As Congress returns from spring break, the Senate is getting ready to take up the financial reform bill that contains financial-industry watchdog Elizabeth Warren's big idea: the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

The House passed its version in December, much to financial industry lobbyists' dismay. Now they are focused on torpedoing reform in the Senate.

The key talking point reform's opponents are using to try to sink the bill is that it represents a "bailout."

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Thus, on Tuesday on Fox News, Congressman Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, referred to the bill as a "permanent bailout."

And, in a speech today on the Senate floor, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared: "The American people have been telling us for nearly two years that any solution must do one thing - it must put an end to taxpayer funded bailouts for Wall Street banks. This bill not only allows for taxpayer-funded bailouts of Wall Street banks. It institutionalizes them."

Pence and McConnell are borrowing those lines straight from Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster who wrote a memo, leaked to HuffingtonPost, advising Republicans to tar all efforts to regulate the financial industry as more "bailouts."

As I write in the cover story in the forthcoming issue of The Progressive, Republicans and the banks have taken that advice to heart, and are busy spreading disinformation about financial reform, especially in key states where members of the Senate Banking Committee and vulnerable Democrats are up for election in 2010.

Americans have such an ambivalent relationship with Wall Street, and the banks have such a long history of cozy relations with both political parties, that voters can easily be confused about the contents of financial regulatory legislation.

"One of the things about the financial industry that’s different from health care and other issues, is that on these other issues people have a relationship--they know their doctor, they deal with their insurer--and they feel more comfortable," says Heather Booth of Americans for Financial Reform. "The financial industry is a secret club. You don’t even know what words like 'derivatives' mean. If you put a scary ad out there, people think, 'Gee, maybe that’s true.'”

Public insecurity about financial issues creates a perfect opportunity for banks to hide wrongdoing and members of Congress who take their contributions to run for cover.

Americans for Financial Reform is one of a handful of groups that are trying to hold the big banks accountable, and to push members of Congress to support a reform bill with real teeth. While the group applauded Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd for moving forward with the "Restoring American Financial Stability Act," and praised the consumer protections in the bill as well as the process for unwinding previously "too big to fail" banks when they collapse, it is also calling on the Senate to strengthen some aspects of the bill. In particular, the group opposes the bill's "council of regulators," which could overturn decisions made by the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, calls for more effective regulation of shadow markets and what it calls the "casino economy,” and the dismantling of so-called "systemically important" institutions that are so big they pose a major risk to the global economy.

To hear Mitch McConnell talk, you would think he agreed with those goals.

"We need to end the worst abuses on Wall Street without forcing the taxpayer to pick up the tab," McConnell said on the floor of the Senate. "The way to solve this problem is to let the people who make the mistakes pay for them. We won't solve this problem until the biggest banks are allowed to fail."

In fact, the Republicans' main target is the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. Rather than curtail the banks' power, they want to maintain the unregulated environment that allowed the last Wall Street collapse. That was the topic of a meeting last week in New York City between McConnell, Senator Jon Cornyn, Republican of Texas, the Republican Senatorial Committee chair and chief fundraiser, and a group of hedge fund managers. Along with killing reform, Cornyn and McConnell discussed the importance of Wall Street funding for a Republican takeover of Congress.

The irony is, if the Republicans achieve that goal, it will be fueled by a combination of populist resentment of the big banks and a big influx of Wall Street cash.

Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive magazine.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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