Monday, April 13, 2009


Immigration Reform and Hard Times
The Obama administration said last week that it would begin a major push for immigration reform this year. The country’s two big labor federations just announced that they are joining forces to support that effort, which includes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. That’s double good news.

The administration is saying that it will keep its promise to fix the broken system, even if it means pushing the hottest of hot buttons: legalization, the dreaded “amnesty” that sets the Republican right wing ablaze and makes many Democrats quiver.

We are also heartened that American labor is speaking with a united voice in hard times, rejecting the false claim that fixing the immigration system will somehow hurt American workers. Even in a bad economy — especially in a bad economy — getting undocumented immigrants on the right side of the law only makes sense.

Administration officials said President Obama planned to speak publicly about the issue next month and would convene working groups this summer, à la health care, to begin discussing future legislation. Immigrant advocates were ecstatic, though it is important to note that this was not a promise to move a bill, only to start the debate. Even that is not going to be easy. Reform was thwarted in the last two Congresses by obstructionist Republicans committed to the delusion that expelling 12 million people amounts to a realistic policy.

The country has suffered mightily in the meantime. American workers and businesses continue to be undercut by the underground economy. The economic potential of some of the country’s most industrious workers is thwarted. Working off the books — and living in constant fear of apprehension — they earn less, spend less, pay less in taxes and have little ability to report abuses or to improve their skills or job prospects.

The ingredients of reform are clear: legalization for the 12 million, to yield bumper crops of new citizens, to make it easier to weed out criminals and to end the fear and hopelessness of life in the shadows; sensible enforcement at the border that focuses resources on fighting crime, drugs and violence; a strengthened employment system that punishes businesses that exploit illegal labor; and a future flow of workers that is attuned to the economy’s needs and fully protects workers’ rights.

The last point has been a sticky one with some unions. The agreement between the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and Change to Win — a rival federation that includes service employees, the Teamsters and carpenters — will center on a new approach to future immigration, a compromise in which an independent national commission calibrates the size of temporary-worker programs each year, based on conditions in labor markets. It may not be a perfect plan, but after years of vitriol, it’s encouraging to hear calmer voices outlining smart reform.

We expect to hear more from Mr. Obama soon. It will take courage to defend the wisdom and necessity of fixing the immigration system. It will take even more courage to engage in the serious fight to do so. It is what the country needs and what American voters elected Mr. Obama to do.

Tea Parties Forever

Tea Parties Forever
This is a column about Republicans — and I’m not sure I should even be writing it.

Today’s G.O.P. is, after all, very much a minority party. It retains some limited ability to obstruct the Democrats, but has no ability to make or even significantly shape policy.

Beyond that, Republicans have become embarrassing to watch. And it doesn’t feel right to make fun of crazy people. Better, perhaps, to focus on the real policy debates, which are all among Democrats.

But here’s the thing: the G.O.P. looked as crazy 10 or 15 years ago as it does now. That didn’t stop Republicans from taking control of both Congress and the White House. And they could return to power if the Democrats stumble. So it behooves us to look closely at the state of what is, after all, one of our nation’s two great political parties.

One way to get a good sense of the current state of the G.O.P., and also to see how little has really changed, is to look at the “tea parties” that have been held in a number of places already, and will be held across the country on Wednesday. These parties — antitaxation demonstrations that are supposed to evoke the memory of the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution — have been the subject of considerable mockery, and rightly so.

But everything that critics mock about these parties has long been standard practice within the Republican Party.

Thus, President Obama is being called a “socialist” who seeks to destroy capitalism. Why? Because he wants to raise the tax rate on the highest-income Americans back to, um, about 10 percentage points less than it was for most of the Reagan administration. Bizarre.

But the charge of socialism is being thrown around only because “liberal” doesn’t seem to carry the punch it used to. And if you go back just a few years, you find top Republican figures making equally bizarre claims about what liberals were up to. Remember when Karl Rove declared that liberals wanted to offer “therapy and understanding” to the 9/11 terrorists?

Then there are the claims made at some recent tea-party events that Mr. Obama wasn’t born in America, which follow on earlier claims that he is a secret Muslim. Crazy stuff — but nowhere near as crazy as the claims, during the last Democratic administration, that the Clintons were murderers, claims that were supported by a campaign of innuendo on the part of big-league conservative media outlets and figures, especially Rush Limbaugh.

Speaking of Mr. Limbaugh: the most impressive thing about his role right now is the fealty he is able to demand from the rest of the right. The abject apologies he has extracted from Republican politicians who briefly dared to criticize him have been right out of Stalinist show trials. But while it’s new to have a talk-radio host in that role, ferocious party discipline has been the norm since the 1990s, when Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, became known as “The Hammer” in part because of the way he took political retribution on opponents.

Going back to those tea parties, Mr. DeLay, a fierce opponent of the theory of evolution — he famously suggested that the teaching of evolution led to the Columbine school massacre — also foreshadowed the denunciations of evolution that have emerged at some of the parties.

Last but not least: it turns out that the tea parties don’t represent a spontaneous outpouring of public sentiment. They’re AstroTurf (fake grass roots) events, manufactured by the usual suspects. In particular, a key role is being played by FreedomWorks, an organization run by Richard Armey, the former House majority leader, and supported by the usual group of right-wing billionaires. And the parties are, of course, being promoted heavily by Fox News.

But that’s nothing new, and AstroTurf has worked well for Republicans in the past. The most notable example was the “spontaneous” riot back in 2000 — actually orchestrated by G.O.P. strategists — that shut down the presidential vote recount in Florida’s Miami-Dade County.

So what’s the implication of the fact that Republicans are refusing to grow up, the fact that they are still behaving the same way they did when history seemed to be on their side? I’d say that it’s good for Democrats, at least in the short run — but it’s bad for the country.

For now, the Obama administration gains a substantial advantage from the fact that it has no credible opposition, especially on economic policy, where the Republicans seem particularly clueless.

But as I said, the G.O.P. remains one of America’s great parties, and events could still put that party back in power. We can only hope that Republicans have moved on by the time that happens.


Credit Card, Bank Fee Hikes Spark Outrage

Banks Hike Fees Despite Bailout Billions; Consumers and Congressional Panel Ask Why

The billions of dollars that banks have received in taxpayer funds since last year have been a growing source of outrage for American consumers. And in recent months, some banks have added serious insult to injury, leaving Americans like Tony Cesnik fuming about hikes they're seeing to their credit card rates and other bank-related fees.

"The banks have been given billions of dollars of tax money and only lend it out if customers are willing to pay extortion rights," said Cesnik, a Concord, Calif., resident, in a message to "The banks need a legal spanking. They are acting like spoiled brats!!"

Myriad banks have steadily been increasing credit card interest rates for some card holders in recent months. Bank customers are also seeing spikes in other fees: charges for bounced checks and ATM surcharges are climbing, according to, a Web site that surveys financial institutions.

Scores of Americans sent angry messages to about bank rate hikes. But everyday consumers aren't the only ones who believe something is awry -- the congressional panel that oversees the government's bank rescue plan, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, is taking an interest in the issue.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that complaints about bank fee spikes have prompted the Congressional Oversight Panel to launch a probe into the issue.

A panel official told ABC News, however, that there is no investigation under way but rather the issue may be covered in a future report.

"The people who subsidizing the activities of the banks through their tax dollars are the same people who are furnishing the high profits through consumer lending," Elizabeth Warren, the chairwoman of the panel, told the The Wall Street Journal. "In a sense, we're asking taxpayers to pay twice."

Banks Profits Reported This Week
Outrage over the higher fees has grown even as banks, which are due to release first-quarter earnings reports in coming days, have said they've seen a profitable start to 2009.

Last week, Wells Fargo said it expected record first-quarter earnings of $3 billion. Earlier this year, executives at Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase also said they are seeing profitable quarters.

But despite those positive results, the banks have also raised fees and credit card interest rates. Most recently, Bank of America -- which has received $45 billion TARP funding -- announced that it was raising interest rates on credit card customers who carry a balance.

One reason for such increases, some say, is that banks are trying to compensate for rising credit card defaults. But that reasoning just isn't enough for consumers like Gary Gates, of Marcellus, N.Y.

"You might be able to justify a small increase," Gates said in a message to, but the banks "go overboard."

Why Rate Hikes? Banks Cite Tough Economy, High Borrowing Costs
A Bank of America spokeswoman told that credit card customers who saw increases had their rates rise from below 10 percent to "the low- to mid-teens."

Betty Reiss said that the increase in loan defaults by Bank of America customers and other factors, including relatively high borrowing costs between banks, contributed to the bank's decision to raise rates.

"This is about properly pricing our portfolio either based on risk or realigning a portion of the portfolio that is priced below what is prudent in the current market," Reiss said.

Citigroup, which has received $50 billion TARP funds -- the most of any bank -- declined a request for comment.

The American Banking Association defended the banking industry today.

"I think the key thing to recognize is that what banks are doing is reacting to broader economic forces, the fact that we are in a recession," said ABA spokesman Peter Garuccio. "Whether we like it or not we're all less credit worthy today than we were just a few months ago."

Garuccio said that it's become harder for banks to fund credit card lines because it's more difficult to package credit card loans and sell them as securities.

"Roughly 50 percent of all credit card loans are funded through securitization," he said. "Because of the freeze up that has occurred in the capital markets that source of funding is relatively dry now."

Help for Credit Card Customers?
There is some relief on the way for credit card holders. Late last year, the Federal Reserve created new rules to protect cardholders from some interest rate hikes.

The rules include a restriction that will allow credit card companies to raise rates on existing credit card balances only when card holders are more than 30 days late, when they are receiving a promotional interest rate with a defined expiration date, or if the interest rate is tied to a specific market index, such as the London Interbank Offered Rate. Under the restriction, card companies would still be able to raise interest rates on new charges.

Bank Customers Close Accounts
The rules, however, don't go into effect until next year. For now, Congress is considering legislation that would impose similar rules sooner.

Some aren't waiting for government help to address their credit card troubles: They're closing their accounts.

"I believe the banks are not considering that the consumer can change banks, and I can assure you that I will," wrote Mary Wiles of Topeka, Kan. "It is like a slap in the face and I take it very personally."

For more on what you can do about high credit card interest rates, check out the latest column from ABC News consumer correspondent Elisabeth Leamy.

With reports from ABC News' Charles Herman and Justin Rood.



This past Sunday morning, 12 April 2009 had another example why
CNN is truly the best News Channel in the world!

When the news broke about CAPTAIN RICHARD PHILLPS
rescue from pirates at sea by our military.

CNN broke the news story while MSNBC had prefab programming
and actually was running a Video Professor commercial when
CNN broke the story.

Meanwhile FOX News Channel was running a pre record talk

So much for covering the news!

I know CNN has its faults but it really does cover real news story best without too
Much of opinionated adjunct introductions.

Hart Kirch