The Silence of the Shams

One month into the Occupation protests, our editorial staff of one got to wondering what, if anything, the Democratic members of the U.S. Senate had to say about the movement. The answer is: nothing.

Since the corporate media tried its best to suppress news of the OWS protests, it stood to reason that it would suppress any reaction to it. So, this Sunday, we went to the U.S. Senate home page and clicked on the links to the Senators' official pages. We checked each senator's Pet Issues & Legislation as well as their “Newsroom” and press release sections. The absence of any comment at all on a growing world-wide protest against bankster and corporate graft and pillage told us all we might ever have needed to know.

The silence in the United States contrasts with the eagerness of German politicians of all stripes to show their solidarity colors. Monday's on-line issue of Der Spiegel reported that Chancellor Merkel's finance minister, Wolfgang Schäubel, vowed to take the protests “very seriously” adding that banks needed to submit to “clear controls.” The leader of the center-left Social Democrats, Sigmar Gabriel, stated that “we have to force the banks back into their role as servants to the real economy.” Even the pro-business Free Democrats came out in favor of stronger bank regulation.

According to Spiegel, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso chimed in, calling for legislation to criminalize “abusive behavior” by the banks. Future head of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi said that “the young people have a right to be furious.”

But in the United States Senate — the self-proclaimed “world's greatest deliberative body” — the deliberation was so intense one could hear the sound of flesh on flesh hand-wringing. What to do? What to do? For now, the fearless tribunes in the Democratic Party have evidently decided that mum is the better part of mutt (that's German for “courage”).

As depressing as the silence was the burble and blather that brimed over from the senatorial home pages. With allowances for “local varietal packaging,” all senators lent their voices to the same cant. After expressing various degrees of outrage at Iran's dastardly, nefarious narco-for-hire bomb plot, they went on to assure their readers that: we had to rise above politics in order to get our “fiscal house in order,” find a long-term solution to our budget crisis, while helping our struggling middle class by supporting the president's jobs bill, cutting taxes for small businesses and supporting more free trade agreements.

All that is why Senator [so-and-so] supports [such-and-such bill] to provide incentives and support for his/her state's [energy/agriculture/green technologies/old technologies/transportation/research/whatever…] sector.

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Senator Jeff Bingham (D-NM) informs his readers that “we can lower deficit only by cutting spending or increasing taxes.” Senators Max Baucus (Dem-Montana) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) ask constituents to send in their ideas about the debt.

Senator John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) announces that he is “Keeping Massachusetts' Fishing Industry Strong” and then pronounces that “The American people deserve a serious dialogue about our fiscal situation, discretionary spending, entitlements, and revenues. We need a long-term solution.”

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) feels constrained to tell us that he “supports a strong middle class” and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), standing in front of a sign that reads EXXON 4.29, 4.39 and 4.59, assures us that he “has a long record of standing up for consumers.”

California Senator Dianne Feinstein trumpets her bill to “ban dangerous chemicals in Baby Products” while Senator Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ.) announces that he is working on legislation to “elminate” smuggled tobacco. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) tells us that she supports legislation to promote medical device innovation and boost international tourism. “Minnesotans believe in hard work, fair play and personal responsibility,” she intones, “We believe that no matter where you come from, if you work hard….” etc. etc.

Virtually all senators acknowledged that the country was in a “recession” and that millions had been thrown out of work and stood in danger of loosing their homes. But they spoke of this as if the recession were something that just kind of, well, happened, like a storm or something. The causal connect between bankster malfeasance and the global economic crash was simply not spoken.

Within this public relations wasteland, a few senators intimated, tepidly and indirectly, that bad banking may have had something to do with the economic crisis.

Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) announced that, as Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights, he takes “an active role in seeing that a competitive marketplace ensures the lowest possible prices for high quality and innovative goods and services.” It might appear odd that he is silent on Bank of America's debit-card charges until one deciphers the code-speak. What Kohl thinks will insure low prices is a “competitive marketplace” — in other words market magic will do the trick. Taking an “active role” in laissez faire is quite a feat.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Oh.) says he's been fighting for Ohio’s middle class families who are demanding Congress address weaknesses and loopholes in our financial regulatory system. Apparently he has teamed up with Senator Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) to “continue fighting for good, effective regulations that balance consumer protection and allow for sustainable economic growth.” But “economic growth” is simply what official Washington calls corporate or banking profit. The juxtaposition between “consumer protection” and “economic growth” bespeaks the usual trade-off that will seek to get by with as little consumer (or environmental) protection as possible without cutting much into profits.

Four senators spoke with some specificity about banking and/or investment reform.

Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) trumpeted that fact that he “co-sponsored and championed bankruptcy reform legislation in the Senate. After years of stalemate on this issue, Congress finally passed a bipartisan bankruptcy reform bill in 2005.” That's the bill that makes it more difficult for ordinary people to get out from under crushing bank debt.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced that she had supported the Dodd-Frank bill in order to create a “new transparency of our financial markets to keep our economy stable, growing, and working for all.” At the same time she pointed out that “the future well-being of New York City depends on the recovery of the financial sector.”

Senator Carl Levin (D-Minn.) went a little further promising to “support continuing efforts to protect consumers from abusive practices in the financial industry” and to insure that the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, would not be “watered down” by federal regulators.

Unfortunately, the Dodd-Frank “reform” was pretty much water to begin with. It provided the clear-view of “transparency” but it did nothing to control usurious interest rates or to sever the connection between commercial banking and investment speculation.

Only Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fl.) addressed part of the overall problem stating that the Dodd-Frank bill's limitations on commodity index swaps had been so eviscerated by federal regulators that the ultimate effect would actually be to “encourage speculation and make markets more volatile.” Nelson's Anti-Excessive Speculation Act of 2011, would set limits on energy contracts … aiming to cap the overall level of speculation in the market….”

Thus, of all the Democratic senators, four addressed banking issues directly (one on the wrong side of aisle) and none at all had any response to the broad discontent in the streets against a financial-corporate capitalist system that works to despoiling peoples economic and social well being.

That left Bernie Sanders (Ind-Vt.) as sole voice on the “liberal-left” to speak up for the protestors and to call for fundamental reforms. [Read]

While there is nothing inherently wrong in senators functioning as a conduit for funding specific projects in their home states, what was dismal (beyond the utterly smarmy blather) was the bland acceptance of the systemic status quo. The usual and vaguish cant about making this system work better simply refers to tinkering around the edges. The Democrat senators are incapable of acknowledging that the system is fundamentally disfunctional and requires deep-cutting and pervasive reforms. Their dilemma is to find a way to seem to support the protest movement without giving it any momentum.

© Woodchip Gazette, 2011