Sunday, May 02, 2010

How bad does crap have to smell?

Connecticut US Senator Chris Dodd, as a head of the banking committee regulates banks. He took bribes from banksters. He is still on the banking committee after being caught being a complete scumbag. Do the math.

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Financial Overhaul Likely To Be Major Highlight In Dodd's Long Political Career


Christopher J. Dodd moved through the U.S. Capitol in a bubble, a blur of constant motion encompassed by a nimbus of youngish Senate staffers

"Blanche!" he bellowed, spying Sen. Blanche L. Lincoln, a Democrat from Arkansas, on his way back to his office Tuesday morning. Making a break from the bubble, Dodd dashed over for a few minutes of hushed conversation with Lincoln, who helped write new regulations on the derivative market that are part of Dodd's effort to clamp down on Wall Street.

Then he was off again.

Last week was a dizzying whirl of votes, meetings, phone calls, floor speeches and press scrums as the Connecticut Democrat worked furiously on behalf of a 1,400-page bill that will transform the way the nation's financial system is regulated. For 2 1/2 days, Senate Republicans blocked a parliamentary measure that would have allowed debate to start, before relenting Wednesday afternoon. A vote is expected by Memorial Day.

Scarcely four months after helping to shepherd the health care overhaul through the Senate, Dodd is once again at the center of the most urgent item on the president's agenda. And despite the humbling cascade of events that led him to declare, on the front steps of his East Haddam home on a freezing January day, that he would not run for re-election, he remains one of the most relevant men in Washington.

"A lot of legislators never get to do in a lifetime what he's done in a year," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. "It's been quite remarkable. He's carved out a lasting and important legacy."

Colleagues, reporters and other Beltway types are calling the financial regulatory bill the capstone of Dodd's 30-year Senate career.

"It's just come up the way it has, not by my design," Dodd said in an interview in his office, where the desk is piled with Legos and decorated with the crayon drawings of his two young daughters.

He made the choice last summer to remain chairman of the banking committee instead of taking the reins at the health, education, labor and pensions committee after the death of its chairman, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Dodd had already passed on the chance to lead the foreign relations committee and, even though foreign affairs and the children's issues overseen by the health committee interest him far more than the complex arcana of the American financial system, he opted to remain at banking.

"I just felt, in light of the crisis going on in the country, to walk away from that, no matter my appetite being elsewhere, I just wouldn't have been comfortable," Dodd said. "I thought I had a responsibility to stick with it."

While Dodd's bill gives the federal government greater oversight of the nation's economic infrastructure, he has repeatedly said that it won't prevent another downturn. Instead, the overhaul aims to guard against the type of financial collapse that overtook the nation last year, which makes it exactly the kind of transformative legislative accomplishment that a liberal reformer would want to put his name on.

And the man whose reputation was badly damaged by the perception that he was too close to Wall Street is now devoting his waning months in the Senate to a populist — and politically popular — crusade against the abuses of the very industry that has given his campaigns millions of dollars over the years.

"There is significant irony there," observed Kevin J. McMahon, chairman of the political science department at Trinity College in Hartford. "One might ask the question: If this legislation had passed last year, [would] Dodd have been in a better position to seek re-election?"

Dodd's political journey — from respected senator to sputtering presidential candidate to scandal-whacked, public opinion pariah to respected senator — is nearly over.

Yet in this final phase of his legislative career, he is, once again, playing the roles he has always relished: the fiery reformer who happens to be one of the chamber's most effective deal-makers, the Capitol Hill insider who is a powerful advocate for kids and cops, the good-humored back-slapper who has made friends on both sides of the aisle.

"He is an unrequited liberal who believes all that stuff," said Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican from Utah who came to the Senate four years before Dodd and worked with him closely on landmark child-care legislation. "On the other hand, when we worked together he was always open to good ideas.

"I count Chris and his wife as very close personal friends," Hatch continued. "He's as close to me as Sen. Kennedy was and that's really close. That doesn't mean we didn't fight each other all the time, but in those fights, he was always willing to look across and see if there was common ground and so was I."

On Tuesday, Dodd began his day at 4:21 a.m., when his younger daughter, Christina, crawled into her parents' bed. He later took his girls to school and had breakfast with his wife.

But the person he probably saw almost as much as his family was Sen Richard C. Shelby, the courtly Alabamian with urbane tastes who is the senior Republican on the Senate banking committee. At 75, Shelby is a decade older, and a head taller, than his Democratic counterpart, and the two men have been negotiating partners on the financial overhaul bill for the past 14 months. Last week, they held several closed-door meetings, sometimes with staff present, sometimes just the two of them, as a knot of reporters waited in the hallway outside.

The GOP's stall tactic prompted several moments of mini-drama in the marbled halls of the Capitol. At one point, Republicans asserted that orthodontists and other small businesses that allow customers to pay for services over time would fall under the purview of the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the key part of Dodd's bill. Dodd's banking committee staffers quickly dashed off a press release saying that orthodontists are, in fact, exempt.

Dodd insisted that his private negotiations with Shelby were fruitful; in public, however, he kept the rhetorical pressure on, secure in the knowledge that, unlike health care, the financial overhaul is popular with the public. The Capitol Hill lambasting given to Goldman Sachs executives on Tuesday only underscored the point.

Yet even during this hectic week, when the financial overhaul bill seemed to consume him, Dodd found time for some of the nicer rituals associated with being a U.S. senator. He welcomed two Connecticut school groups that won architectural awards. He luxuriated in the warm praise of activists pushing for paid sick leave, a legislative effort that hearkens to one of Dodd's greatest victories, the Family and Medical Leave Act.

"You're doing great!" shouted Veronica Karsatar, a random stranger from California who came upon Dodd in the hallway as she was heading into a meeting with another senator. "He's like a movie star to me," she confided after he stepped into an elevator.

It's easy to see how some of this stuff could go to anyone's head. Dodd talks to the president frequently. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner visits with him at least every other week, according to the senator's staff.

"Not to sound presumptuous but I'm fairly good at what I do here," Dodd said. "I can't thank the people of Connecticut enough. They gave me incredible opportunity."

As that opportunity comes to a close, Dodd has one more big item on his agenda, one that has nothing to do with the derivative market, the Volcker Rule or Too Big to Fail. Rather, it involves restoring a sense of trust to the U.S. Senate.

"I have great, great reverence for this institution and I want to see it work as our founders intended it to. Where you have a great important debate, and this is one, that we work together as American citizens," Dodd said on the Senate floor Wednesday night, as debate on the bill finally got underway. "We're all in this chamber together."

Dodd, like Kennedy, is a creature of the Senate. Both men shared a respect for the institution and its traditions, said Michael Myers, the former chief of staff for the health, education, labor and pensions committee who worked closely with them. "They wanted to be collegial, wanted to reach across the aisle, wanted to be respectful," Myers said. "Maybe that's a bit old fashioned but it resulted in a lot of amazing achievements."

Dodd's Republican colleague, Hatch, blames the Obama administration for creating the current climate by freezing out the GOP. "I think this administration is basically requiring [Dodd] to make this as awful a bill as they can," Hatch said. "I don't think they think it's awful — the administration just believes in more and more federal government, more and more restrictions, more and more regulations."

Dodd said the Senate is simply going through a "rough patch," much as it did during the McCarthy era of the 1950s.

"I'm determined to use this bill not only to get a good piece of legislation done but to get the Senate back functioning," he told reporters last week. "I sat on the steps, when Lyndon Johnson was vice president, as a page, so I go back 50 years and I actually remembered when things worked."

Today, "one of the things missing in the Senate is trust," Dodd continued. "It's been damaged over the years and I don't want to get into the reasons why but I think it is a problem and we need to restore that."

At one point on Tuesday, Dodd and Shelby met up in the intimate, wood-paneled confines of a Capitol elevator. Sen. John McCain of Arizona was there, too. When Shelby learned that Dodd was being interviewed by a home-state reporter based in Hartford, he volunteered that he had traveled to the Insurance City a few weeks back.

What were you doing there? Shelby was asked.

"Seeing some friends," he responded in a syrupy drawl. The senators shared a knowing chuckle: Shelby is a legendary fundraiser and his friends likely brought their checkbooks.

For Dodd, being a lame duck has its benefits and one of them is not having to constantly shake down donors. (However, he continues to help out colleagues: He was scheduled to appear at a fundraiser with financial industry executives for Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York on Monday, just one week after he compared Wall Street banks to burglars who break into your house and steal your stuff in a speech on the Senate floor. On Friday, after a barrage of criticism, Dodd abruptly canceled, citing a need to remain in Washington to manage the financial overhaul bill.)

"Campaigns are now never ending," Dodd said. "It used to be ... you might have been out starting to raise some money for this year's election eight or nine months out. It never stops now."

Not that money — or even campaigning — was ever much of a issue for Dodd. He has pretty much coasted ever since he defeated former New York Sen. James Buckley to win the open Senate seat in 1980. He has now served longer than any other senator in the state's history.

That kind of easy and predictable political existence might convince anyone that the presidency was within their grasp and, in 2007, Dodd decided to make the leap. He wound up with 0.02 percent of the Iowa caucus vote.

He was lambasted for moving his family to Iowa (he insists it was only for six weeks during the holidays) but Dodd said he has no regrets.

"I suppose if ... someone said in 2007, 'Let me tell you how this is going to end up in Iowa,' I might have said, 'Well, wait a minute,'" Dodd said. But at the time, he decided that, after 33 years in Congress, including his early years as a U.S. representative, he wanted to take a swing at it.

The Senate is filled with guys who ran for president and failed. Most of them, including Dodd's friend, Ted Kennedy, went on to have fruitful second or third acts in the Senate. Not Dodd: His poll numbers started dropping after the presidential bid, a decline that only accelerated with last year's economic crash. Dodd was blamed but he said he began sounding the alarm on the housing market in early 2007, shortly after taking the gavel as banking committee chairman.

While Dodd maintains he might have been able to turn his political fortunes around before the November election, he also says he wasn't sure he wanted another term. He's seen senators who stay too long, their energy flagging, their health failing, yet too proud — or afraid — to leave.

"Everyone knows when to get involved in politics, I suspect. Very few people know how to get out of it," Dodd said. "And it's a harder decision to get out of it than it is to get into it."

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Imagine having millions of dollars and a judge, a bankster, and federal and state law enforcement conspire to rip you off and railroad you to prison. Imagine getting out of prison and having law enforcement storm your house and hold guns to your head to terrorize you into shutting your mouth about being ripped off and to prevent you from filing judicial misconduct charges against a judge, such as Minneapolis, Minnesota Judge Montgomery?

The bankster, Petters:

Tom Petters


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