Wednesday, April 28 Nine Circles of Hell!


Banks ramp up lobbyist spending against financial reform
Immigration could give GOP short-term gains, but has plenty of long-term risks
Cops hate new Arizona immigration law
Mexico warns citizens about “regressive and racist” Arizona immigration law
Hispanics face problems integrating into US society
Obama gets support of … Moammar Gaddafi?
Hamas arrests Palestinian dissidents
Most Israelis believe “there is too much freedom of expression”
Greek collapse “is like Ebola … you have to cut your leg off … to survive”

Banks ramp up lobbyist spending against financial reform
The Guardian

US banks pouring millions into bid to kill Barack Obama’s finance reform bill

America’s major banks are pouring millions of dollars into an apparently successful attempt to weaken Barack Obama’s finance reform bill, currently stalled in Congress by Republican opposition.

In the face of deep public anger over the financial crisis and government bailouts, banks have flooded Congress with lobbyists seeking to curtail key parts of the sweeping regulatory bill – such as provisions to create an office for consumer protection and more strongly regulate the vast derivatives market.

JP Morgan Chase is at the forefront of lobby spending with $1.5m (£980,000) in the first quarter of this year alone – a sharp rise on the same period in 2009 – followed closely by Citigroup. Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs have also spent more than $1m on lobbying Congress this year, more than double their previous spending.

The banking industry is second only to healthcare interests in the amount it spends on political lobbying.

Last year, America’s eight leading banks and finance houses spent $30m to influence legislation. The broader financial industry has more than 2,600 lobbyists registered with Congress.

The battle over the finance reform bill is principally driven by politics, with Republicans making a unified stand against it in an attempt to inflict an embarrassing defeat on Obama – or at least force a climbdown – ahead of the mid-term elections.

But Dave Levinthal of the Centre for Responsive Politics (CRP), which monitors the flow of lobby money, said that the influence of lobbyists swarming over Capitol Hill can be seen in the fate of individual elements of the legislation.

“It’s remarkable that in a year in which the economy was in tatters that financial institutions would be spending more on lobbying than they ever have,” he said. “We can tell that there are things that are not in the bill that would have been there if it wasn’t for the concerted lobbying. Robust consumer protection for instance. It’s very watered down.”

Immigration could give GOP short-term gains, but has plenty of long-term risks
The New York Times

Immigration Issue Poses a Complex Test for 2 Parties

The immigration flare-up that has engulfed Washington has emerged as a political challenge for Republicans and Democrats alike as they struggle to deal with the complexities and emotions of an issue that is scrambling party and geographic lines.

On Tuesday, two prominent Republicans in Florida, another state with a big immigrant population — Jeb Bush, the former governor, and Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Senate — expressed reservations about the Arizona law, even as other Republican lawmakers supported it.

In the short term, Mr. Reid’s vow to tackle immigration legislation this year could hurt some Democrats in the fall elections, causing problems with voters who view immigrants as competition for tough-to-find jobs and illegal immigration as a drain on social services, analysts from both parties said. That could especially be a problem for first- and second-term Democrats representing blue-collar states particularly hard hit by the recession.

But the Republican Party could face long-term risks if it is identified with legislation cracking down on illegal immigration at a time when Hispanic voters are emerging as an increasingly large and engaged part of the American electorate. The Arizona law has enraged many Hispanic groups, who see it as a form of racial profiling.

“Immigration is the most explosive issue I’ve seen in my political career,” said Mark McKinnon, who was a senior adviser both to Mr. McCain and to President George W. Bush, who also supported giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.

“This is an issue on which Republicans salivate over short-term gains without much thought to the longer-term damage it will do the party,” Mr. McKinnon said.

But, he said: “Arizona may force the Democrats’ hand to push for immigration reform. Unfortunately, an election year is the worst time to move good public policy on this issue.”

Both parties agree on the need for better border security. But each also has to balance how to deal with illegal immigrants already in the United States against the desires of powerful constituencies. These include Hispanics who would like to see many illegal immigrants given a chance to become legal, employers who rely on the cheap labor they provide and working-class voters who see undocumented workers as threats to their jobs and wage levels.

For all the recent talk about moving ahead on an immigration bill, it appears unlikely that Congress will act this year, especially since no Senate Republican now seems willing to work with the White House on the issue. Mr. Reid said he would bring up energy and climate change legislation first, leaving it unclear whether the Senate would have time to tackle immigration this year.

And there is no evidence that Democrats have the votes to get anything through. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has been the leading Republican advocate for changing immigration laws — filling a gap left by Mr. McCain — announced the other day that he would not support acting on immigration this year. He said Mr. Reid was making a mistake in trying to push something through.

Cops hate new Arizona immigration law
The Christian Science Monitor

Arizona immigration law puts police in ‘impossible situation’

Local law enforcement agencies have moved front and center in the national debate over immigration reform with the signing of Arizona’s SB1070 immigration law.

The law – signed Friday by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) – requires law enforcement to check the residency status of those thought to be in the country illegally. Police unions were divided on the issue and some leading law enforcement agencies petitioned Governor Brewer not to sign the bill – fearing racial profiling and loss of the public’s trust.

Police face contradicting missions, critics argue. “This obviously puts police in an impossible situation because it requires them to pursue two goals simultaneously: to enforce the immigration laws; and to enforce the criminal laws, keep the peace, provide assistance, and all the other ordinary tasks of police officers,” says Joel Jacobsen, assistant attorney general, criminal appeals division for New Mexico. “Which goal should they pursue?”

Under the new law, the consequences for victim and perpetrator will not align, says Mr. Jacobsen. “It will frequently not be possible to do both, because the officer will be required to arrest perpetrator and victim both, and the punishment experienced by the victim of a violent crime will frequently be more severe and life-disrupting – deportation – than that experienced by the perpetrator – a night in jail, perhaps” …

Untrained local law enforcement have engaged in racial profiling in the past, one study found. The US Inspector General released a study evaluating Section 287(g) laws – those that in 1995 authorized the federal government to partner with local law enforcement agencies to perform immigration law enforcement functions, says Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan, a political scientist at the University of California, Riverside. “The Inspector General found that, because the local police personnel were not trained, there were instances of racial profiling in the implementation of these laws,” he says.

Mr. Ramakrishnan says police departments don’t like SB1070 for two reasons.

One, it distracts police from their energies put into other crime and law and order. Two, immigrants are subsequently less likely to report crimes or serve as witnesses if their legal status is going to be questioned.

“The biggest trend in policing in the past two decades has been community policing in which cops walk the local beat and spend much time gaining the trust of the people,” says Ramakrishnan. “This puts that trend entirely in jeopardy – it is a very big deal for them, indeed.”

Mexico warns citizens about “regressive and racist” Arizona immigration law
The Associated Press

Mexico issues travel alert over new Arizona law

The Mexican government warned its citizens Tuesday to use extreme caution if visiting Arizona because of a tough new law that requires all immigrants and visitors to carry U.S.-issued documents or risk arrest …

Arizona’s law — slated to take effect in late July or early August — makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally and allows police to question anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. Lawmakers said the legislation, which has sparked huge protests and litigation, was needed because the Obama administration is failing to enforce existing federal laws.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry issued a travel alert for Arizona after the law was signed, warning that its passage shows “an adverse political atmosphere for migrant communities and for all Mexican visitors.”

The alert said that once the law takes effect, foreigners can be questioned at any moment and detained if they fail to carry immigration documents. And it warns that the law will also make it illegal to hire or be hired from a vehicle stopped on the street …

Arizona’s law — slated to take effect in late July or early August — makes it a state crime to be in the U.S. illegally and allows police to question anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant. Lawmakers said the legislation, which has sparked huge protests and litigation, was needed because the Obama administration is failing to enforce existing federal laws.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry issued a travel alert for Arizona after the law was signed, warning that its passage shows “an adverse political atmosphere for migrant communities and for all Mexican visitors.”

The alert said that once the law takes effect, foreigners can be questioned at any moment and detained if they fail to carry immigration documents. And it warns that the law will also make it illegal to hire or be hired from a vehicle stopped on the street.

A Mexican government-affiliated agency that supports Mexicans living and working in the United States called for boycotts of Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Suns until those organizations rebuke the law.

“We are making a strong call to the Arizona government to retract this regressive and racist law that’s impacting not only residents of Arizona, but people in all 50 states and in Mexico as well,” said Raul Murillo, who works with the Institute for Mexicans Abroad, an autonomous agency of Mexico’s Foreign Ministry …

Each day, more than 65,000 Mexican residents are in Arizona to work, visit friends and relatives and shop, according to a University of Arizona study sponsored by the Arizona Office of Tourism. While there, the Mexican visitors spend more than $7.35 million daily in Arizona’s stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses, the researchers found …

At the Mexico City airport Tuesday, Mexicans heading for the U.S. said they were very troubled by the new law.

“It’s humiliating,” said Modesto Perez, who lives in Illinois. “It’s really ugly.”

Hispanics face problems integrating into US society
The New York Times

Study Finds Young Hispanics Face Obstacles to Integration

A snapshot of Hispanic youngsters — the fastest-growing group in the United States by age and ethnicity — concludes that the obstacles and inequalities they face today “may hinder the broader integration of Latinos into U.S. society if left unattended.”

If those problems are addressed, though, the authors of the study say, “we can expect that over time Latinos will assimilate” just as earlier immigrant groups did, with an accompanying rise in their social and economic status.

More than one in five American children are Latino. While 92 percent of them are citizens, 58 percent live with one or more foreign-born parents.

The study, done jointly by the Population Reference Bureau and the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil rights group, found that while most Latino children were growing up in two-parent households with at least one working parent, those households tended to be poor or low-income, and in neighborhoods that are socially and economically isolated from better-off families.

Unless current trends are reversed, the study says, by 2030, 44 percent of poor children in the United States will be Latino, compared with one-third today.

But in an interview, Patricia Foxen of La Raza, who co-wrote the study, suggested that the picture could brighten as Hispanics assimilated.

“Other research has found that there have generally been improvements on a number of indicators for Latino children, similar to immigrant groups who have integrated into the country — improved socioeconomic indicators, educational attainment, college attendance, etc.,” Ms. Foxen said.

“Nonetheless,” she added, “that research has also shown that there continues to be a substantial subgroup of Latino children who continue living in poverty, do not finish high school, get stuck in dead-end jobs, etc.”

Ms. Foxen said poverty’s legacy, discrimination, alienation and a general feeling of “not quite belonging” were to blame.

Obama gets support of … Moammar Gaddafi?
The Washington Post

Man’s worst friend?

President Obama won the unstinting support Monday of one of the world’s most prominent leaders. And he is not going to be happy about it.

The dilemma becomes apparent upon revealing the name of this enthusiastic admirer: His Excellency Brother Leader Moammar Gaddafi, Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. His 40 years on the world stage have included such highlights as the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. More recently, the man Ronald Reagan dubbed the “mad dog of the Middle East” showed up in New York, where he attempted to live in a tent during the annual U.N. meeting, at which he spoke 85 minutes beyond his 15-minute allotment, ripped up a copy of the world body’s charter, mused about the assassination of John F. Kennedy and suggested that the U.S. military created the swine flu.

And now he is professing Obama love. “I really endorse and support the policies that he has adopted so far,” Brother Leader said Monday afternoon in a video teleconference arranged by the World Affairs Councils of America. Gaddafi referred affectionately to the president as “our son Barack Obama,” helpfully translating Obama’s name from the Arabic: “Barakah — blessing.”

“We would like to greet the American people who voted for their son, Mr. Barack Obama,” Gaddafi, resplendent in a burnt orange cape, informed the audience watching from the National Press Club. Speaking through an interpreter, the colonel continued: “He is from Africa, from an African descent.”

From Africa? Birther alert!

Gaddafi was not done stirring up conspiracy theorists. “The Muslim world welcomed very much the arrival of Obama to the presidency, because the ordinary citizen knows that President Obama is a youth of an African descent,” the Guide of the Revolution added. “He comes from, originally from a Muslim family, maybe even of an Arab origin. . . . And at least psychologically, it was very useful.”

So, on the same day Obama’s national security adviser apologizes for telling a Jewish joke, Gaddafi declares that Obama has a Muslim family and is “very useful” to Libya. Thanks for your support, Brother Leader.

Hamas arrests Palestinian dissidents

Hamas warned: fear may give way to revolt in Gaza

Security forces of the Islamist group Hamas detained Palestinian political activists overnight for distributing leaflets urging them to ease up on the people of Gaza or face a possibly explosive revolt.

An official of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) told Reuters several members were arrested late on Tuesday and set free on Wednesday.

The PFLP leaflets were the strongest public criticism yet of Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and has been clamping down on any behavior it sees as un-Islamic, while recently levying new taxes on the 1.5 million inhabitants.

“People are under huge pressure but they are also afraid to express themselves and we took the responsibility to voice their concerns,” PFLP official Jamil Mezher told Reuters.

The leaflet warned Hamas to beware increasing pressure on the people in a way that could “push the community to rebel against these practices and even to explode in the faces of those responsible.”

It urged the territory’s Islamist rulers to stop violating freedoms, oppressing political opponents and imposing taxes on small businesses in the enclave, whose borders with Israel and Egypt are tightly controlled.

The price of a pack of cigarettes, most of which are smuggled in via tunnels from Egypt, has been raised to cover a 3 shekel (80 cent) tax which goes to Hamas.

Another group, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), urged peaceful protests against Hamas taxes.

Most Israelis believe “there is too much freedom of expression”

Poll: Majority of Israel’s Jews back gag on rights groups

More than half of Jewish Israelis think human rights organizations that expose immoral behavior by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely, and think there is too much freedom of expression here, a recent survey found.

The survey, commissioned by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University, will be presented Wednesday at a conference on the limits of freedom of expression.

The pollsters surveyed 500 Jewish Israelis who can be considered a representative sample of the adult Jewish population.

They found that 57.6 percent of the respondents agreed that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely.

Slightly more than half agreed that “there is too much freedom of expression” in Israel.

The poll also found that most of the respondents favor punishing Israeli citizens who support sanctioning or boycotting the country, and support punishing journalists who report news that reflects badly on the actions of the defense establishment.

Another 82 percent of respondents said they back stiff penalties for people who leak illegally obtained information exposing immoral conduct by the defense establishment.

Greek collapse “is like Ebola … you have to cut your leg off … to survive”
The New York Times

Spain’s Debt Rating Cut as Finance Officials Meet

The ratings agency Standard & Poor’s lowered the debt rating of Spain on Wednesday, its third downgrade of a European country in two days …

The downgrade came one day after the S.& P. cut the ratings of Greek and Portuguese debt, moves that set off a flight by investors away from global equities and into fixed income securities, particularly those in United States dollars.

The news Wednesday set off no such reaction, although an index of Spanish stocks fell about 3 percent. The S.&P. downgraded Spain’s debt one step, to AA, with a negative outlook.

With Greece inching closer to the brink of financial collapse, fear that the debt crisis will spread rattled global markets for a second day on Wednesday as investors awaited a signal from financial leaders gathering in Berlin …

Investors have grown increasingly nervous about the fate of Greece and other economies that use the euro. A recent proposal by European governments to extend a 45 billion euro loan to help Greece pay its bills, together with a smaller pledge by the International Monetary Fund, has done little to calm the markets. Germany’s statement this week that it must first see more deficit reduction from Greece before fulfilling its pledge has only increased concerns that Europe is not united behind Greece.

“It’s like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns,” said Philip Lane, a professor of international economics at Trinity College in Ireland, referring to the Wall Street failures that propelled the financial crisis of 2008. “It is not so much the fundamentals as it is the unwillingness of the market to fund you.”

“The situation is deteriorating rapidly, and it’s not clear who’s in a position to stop the Greeks from going into a default situation,” said Edward Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research. “That creates a spillover effect” …

Ángel Gurría, head of the O.E.C.D., said ahead of the meeting that the euro zone countries had to act “very fast.”

“It’s not a question of the danger of contagion,” he told Bloomberg television. “Contagion has already happened. This is like Ebola. When you realize you have it you have to cut your leg off in order to survive.”

The problem is that it is not just Greece, which expects to receive international aid, but Portugal, Spain and other countries that must issue more debt soon.

“The issue is rollover risk,” said Jonathan Tepper of Variant Perception, a research group based in London and known for its bearish views on Spain. “Spain has to issue new debt to the tune of 225 billion euros this year. Forty-five percent of their debt is held by foreigners. So they are dependent on the kindness of strangers.”

Stock markets in Europe began to tumble late Tuesday after Standard & Poor’s cut Greece’s debt to junk level, warning that bondholders could face losses of up to half of their holdings in a restructuring. The agency also downgraded Portugal’s debt by two notches.