Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) to resign amid many accusations of sexual harassment

From today’s LA Times:

Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, resigned Tuesday after his support among fellow Democrats collapsed amid accusations of sexual harassment by several female employees.

Conyers endorsed his son, John Conyers III, in a rambling radio interview with Detroit host Mildred Gaddis.

“I am retiring today, and I want everyone to know how much I appreciate the support, incredible undiminished support I’ve received,” Conyers said.

Conyers’ use of the word “retiring” rather than “resigning” left some uncertainty over when he was vacating the congressional seat he has held since 1965. Later in the day, however, he sent a letter to congressional leaders saying he was stepping down “effective today.”

Conyers’ replacement will be chosen in a special election.

The Detroit-area seat is strongly Democratic, so Conyers’ departure will not affect the balance of power in the House. But it does set up a potential family fight: While the congressman endorsed his son to succeed him, a great-nephew, state Sen. Ian Conyers, has publicly said he intended to seek the seat.

The announcement by John Conyers came after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), fellow Congressional Black Caucus leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and increasing numbers of House members urged him to quit as former aides offered detailed accounts of inappropriate sexual advances he had made over decades.

A longtime civil rights activist — the only remaining member of Congresswho was elected in the 1960s — Conyers is the highest-profile political figure to be forced from office in the midst of a national debate over sexual harassment that began weeks ago with accusations against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.

Conyers has continued to deny any wrongdoing, although on Nov. 26, he agreed to step down as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee in what served as the first acknowledgment of his vulnerability.

Read the entire article here.

Sexual harassment claims in Congress have been buried from public oversight

From today’s Buzzfeed by P. McLeod and L. Villa:

Michigan Rep. John Conyers, a Democrat and the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not “succumb to [his] sexual advances.”

Documents from the complaint obtained by BuzzFeed News include four signed affidavits, three of which are notarized, from former staff members who allege that Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Judiciary Committee, repeatedly made sexual advances to female staff that included requests for sexual favors, contacting and transporting other women with whom they believed Conyers was having affairs, caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public. Four people involved with the case verified the documents are authentic.

And the documents also reveal the secret mechanism by which Congress has kept an unknown number of sexual harassment allegations secret: A grinding, closely held process that left the alleged victim feeling, she told BuzzFeed News, that she had no option other than to stay quiet and accept a settlement offered to her.

“I was basically blackballed. There was nowhere I could go,” she said in a phone interview. BuzzFeed News is withholding the woman’s name at her request, because she said she fears retribution.

Last week the Washington Post reported that the office paid out $17 million for 264 settlements with federal employees over 20 years for various violations, including sexual harassment. The Conyers documents, however, give a glimpse into the inner workings of the Office of Compliance, which has for decades concealed episodes of sexual abuse by powerful political figures.

Read the entire article on Congressional coverups here.

In MT Special Election, Voters Must Reject GOP candidate Greg Gianforte

Not only is freedom of the press under assault from the rise of “fake news” and the lack of critical thinking in this country, it is also under physical threat from politicians who are treating reporters like punching bags.

Today Montana is holding a special congressional election for its “at-large” House seat to replace Ryan Zinke who Trump appointed to be Secretary of the Interior earlier this year. The contest is between Democratic candidate Rob Quist, a popular musician and rancher, and Republican candidate Greg Gianforte, a New Jersey millionaire who was rejected by the state’s citizens in November in his race to become governor against the popular Democratic incumbent Steve Bullock.

The special election is turning out to be referendum: not only about Trumps’ presidency and GOP policies, because many citizens of the state are deeply unhappy with proposed legislation to overturn the Affordable Care Act, but also about the lack of civility and decency in American politics.

On the night before the election, Gianforte assaulted Ben Jones, a reporter for The Guardian at a campaign event, right before he was scheduled to give a televised interview with a Fox News correspondent and her crew. Here is how Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna described the incident:

At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, “I’m sick and tired of this!” 

This assault by a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives on a reporter reflects the “zero sum” politics of elections in recent years, and it has to stop. The rise of social media and its outsize influence on electoral politics has come at a cost: the decline of civility and decency among and between citizens and their elected officials.

There is also another cost: with very little consequence for saying whatever people believe, the rise of “fake news” and outright lies have become part and parcel of this political in-fighting. This trend is disturbingly self-evident in the press release provided by the Gianforte campaign after the incident.

Shane Scanlon, who is Gianforte’s spokesperson, should not just be ashamed for lying about the incident in an effort to cover it up; he should also be charged with obstruction of justice for lying to law enforcement officials during the course of their investigation. What Scanlon describes in this press release is falsified by three eye-witnesses who confirmed the details supplied by the reporter to Gallatin County sheriff’s detectives that Gianforte assaulted him.

Unfortunately, over 200,000 Montana voters have already cast mail-in ballots before the campaign was over. If voters do not reject Gianforte at the ballot box today, he should withdraw from consideration. And if he fails to do that, and he is welcomed with open arms to Congress, it will be dark day for Montana history and American democracy.

JP Morgan’s Dimon lies to Congress

Today marks the second day of testimony before Congress from JP Morgan’s CEO and chief financial officer Jamie Dimon regarding a multi-billion trading loss the bank recently disclosed to investors.

Despite an increasingly heated debate about financial regulation and banking reform Dimon and other CEOs from the nation’s largest banks have insisted all along that oversight is not necessary, that financial institutions are capable of policing themselves. His testimony before the Senate Banking Committee today included the same naïve assessment—or is it “bad faith”?—despite the fact that risky investments with massive social and economic consequences has become standard operating procedure in the unchecked derivatives markets.

Dimon claimed the loss was an “isolated incident” and spent much of his time defending a pipe-dream vision of the economy called the “free market.” When Sen. Jeff Merkeley (D-OR) asserted that the government had already bailed out Chase Bank in 2008 from similar risky ventures, Dimon (falsely) asserted, “You’re factually wrong.”

Maybe Dimon’s wealth has insulated him from reality and the truth because he is dead wrong, and someone should put his impromptu lying in its context.

  • Fact:  JP Morgan/Chase was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2008 after it colluded with other banks, insurers, and credit agencies in packaging toxic assets and selling them on the derivatives market, all the while betting against its own toxic assets as a form of insurance fraud.
  • Fact:  The U.S. taxpayer bailout of its risky and unethical behavior amounted to $25 billion.
  • Fact:  The recent disclosure of a trading loss on he same derivatives market is likely to reach $5 billion, proving beyond a reasonable doubt that JP Morgan continues its pattern of risky and unethical behavior.
  • Fact:  The U.S. needs serious financial regulation and banking reform. Without such efforts financial institutions like JP Morgan and their lying-for-a-living CEOs will continue to erode the economy, our trust in one another, and the social fabric as well.

American Trust Inc., or Why we are losing the battle for our democracy

 A Gallup News Poll released Monday is telling. Americans trust their bankers more than their elected officials. According to the poll, 64 percent of Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of Congress as low/very low. This is the lowest rating since the poll was first started in 1976 to rate the public’s perception of the trustworthiness of various professions. Congressional representatives (and presumably senators) are now tied with lobbyists, who are consistently ranked at the bottom along with the ubiquitously sleazy profile of used car salesmen and telemarketers. (Won’t somebody give good ‘ol Gil a break?) In other words, well over half of Americans believe their politicians are liars.

This dim view of American democracy is consistent with the public’s low disapproval rating of the job Congress is doing, or not doing as it were. An overwhelming 82 percent of the electorate is dissatisfied with its performance, whereas 10 years ago an average of 60 percent of those surveyed approved of the job Congress was doing. Times have changed. Or have they?

Two troubling facts stand out when placed alongside these statistics.

1. The incumbency rate in Congress has been above 80 percent since 1964. That means less than 20 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives turns over from year to year. In the Senate the numbers vary slightly more but not by much. Since 1964 the incumbency rate in the U.S. Senate has never dropped below 50 percent, and since 1982 it has remained steady at 70-80 percent. What does this mean? Despite skepticism of both the profession and institution, Americans continue to send the same people back to Washington over and over again. In short, they reward the apparently poor performance of representatives and senators by reelecting them. (This fact can be related to the alarming salaries and bonuses that corporate executives are giving themselves despite their poor performance. Got Enron-fever, anyone?)

2. In addition, Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of various business professionals higher than Congress. Only 22 percent of responders ranked real estate agents as low/very low, 26 percent for bankers, 32 percent for executives, 37 percent for lawyers, and 40 percent for stockbrokers. This means that on average Americans trust big business more than democracy despite the fact that the former is paying off the latter to do its dirty work, and despite the fact that the public is supposed to exercise control over the latter with the power of voting.

What is troubling about these statistics is that Americans are clearly losing (have lost) control of their democracy, and the numbers explain exactly why this is happening. They basically trust the corporate world (slightly) more than their politicians. Yet it is corporate America that is getting its way in Washington and having its way with America—by flooding the nation’s capital with billions of dollars in election money, corporate sponsorship of policy think tanks, and downright graft. Even though the electorate is apparently aware that the honesty and ethical standards of politicians have been compromised, they are alarmingly less aware that the source of that corruption can be traced to corporate America.

For all the vaunted talk of the Tea Party’s renewal of responsible government it is the anger and frustration reflected in the Occupy movement that best reflects the political reality. The exclusive blame for America’s problems lies neither with politicians and big government, nor corporations and their greedy executives. There is plenty of blame to spread around there, and OWS has taken an important first step in exposing this evil collusion between elected officials and big business. When it comes down to it, the electorate shares much of the blame for sending the same people back to Congress year after year, effectively preserving a perverse incentive structure for rewarding incompetence and corruption. Maybe it’s time to run for Congress?

“Supercommittee” comes up short

After weeks of intense and bitter negotiation, the so-called “Supercommittee,” the special Congressional Committee charged by President Obama to find a bipartisan plan for reducing the budget deficit, has failed to reach a compromise. Last week Democratic members of the committee were hopeful that one Republican would agree to support a tentative bipartisan package that includes agreements on tax rates, spending cuts, and changes to entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Democrats blame Republicans for refusing to compromise on either tax rates or tax increases, while Republicans blames Democrats for not proposing serious cuts that bring federal spending into line with their ideological vision of smaller government. Democrats claim that Speaker of the House Jim Boehner (R-OH) killed the hard efforts of the panel on Thursday by offering legislation to increase new revenue by $3 billion in new revenue, which would be devastating to entitlement programs millions of Americans rely on.

Both parties are stuck on the question of tax reform because Democrats rightly believe that the wealthy have benefited too much from the climate of deregulation and corporate malfeasance, and as a result should pay their fair share in a system they exploit and profit from. Republicans are sticking to their long-time (and patently false) position that taxes frustrate economic growth and spur entitlement spending. In short, Democrats believe in the Grand Compromise between democracy and capitalism first initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, while Republicans believe in every man (literally) for himself.

The failure of the committee to reach a compromise agreement is troubling for the anemic economy, and signals that the bipartisan rhetoric of both Democrats and Republicans cannot be trusted. Yet the elephant in the room is that Republicans care little about a healthy, functioning government and want to substitute private decision-making for democratic procedure. Economists of all political persuasions are in agreement on this point:  there can be no serious deficit-cutting proposal that does not both cut entitlement spending and raises taxes. The gap is too large and growing larger daily, so President Obama must find a way to tap into the political energy unleashed by the Occupy Wall Street movement, and demand that Republicans give up their fantasy of a tax-free world. It’s high time everyone paid their fair share, including Republicans and their rich and powerful benefactors.