Monday, January 26, 2015

CONGRESS URGE PRESIDENT OBAMA TO REFUSE TRANSFER OF “MANPADS” TO SYRIAN COMBANTANTS


WASHINGTON – Over two dozen Members of Congress, led by Reps. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) and Ted Yoho (R-FL), issued a letter to President Obama urging him to maintain his policy of refusing to transfer shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (“MANPADS”) to Syrian combatants.

The letter encourages the Obama Administration to uphold the policy towards Syrian combatants that have been vetted and trained by the U.S. Department of Defense or the Central Intelligence Agency.

MANPADS can be fired at aircrafts by individuals on the ground and can be easily hidden or transported in the trunk of a car.  U.S. and Israeli officials have expressed concern that they could be used by terrorists to bring down commercial airliners, including in Israel.  Former CIA director David Petraeus said last year that the possibility of a civilian airliner being shot down by a MANPAD was “always our worst nightmare.”  According to the Arms Control Association, thirty fatal MANPAD attacks have resulted in almost 1,000 civilian deaths since the first known use against a civilian aircraft in 1978.

In late 2014, the headquarters of the CIA-backed milita Harakat Hazm— one of the biggest recipients of U.S. arms including powerful TOW anti-armor missiles —was overrun by Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s primary Syrian affiliate.  Harakat Hazm fled its positions, leaving behind many of their weapons that were seized by al-Nusra.

In the 113th Congress, Reps. Conyers and Yoho proposed a collaborative amendment to H.R. 4870, the “Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015” that would have prevented the transfer of MANPADs to any party in the Syrian Civil War.  The House of Representatives approved the amendment unanimously in June 2014.

In addition to Reps. Conyers and Yoho, the letter was signed by Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT), Steven Cohen (D-TN), John Garamendi (D-CA), Water Jones (R-NC), Rick Nolan (D-MN), Mo Brooks (R-AL), Hank Johnson (D-GA), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Alan Grayson (D-FL), Bill Posey (R-FL), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Joseph Pitts (R-PA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Brian Babin (R-TX), Tom Rooney (R-FL), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Randy Weber (R-TX), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Curt Clawson (R-FL).
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Thursday, January 22, 2015

CONYERS: IT IS TIME TO STOP ATTACKING WOMEN’S ACCESS TO HEALTHCARE AND START GOVERNING


WASHINGTON – Today, during debate on the House Floor of H.R. 7, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) urged his colleagues to vote against the unnecessary legislation.  Rep. Conyers delivered the following remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to H.R. 7, the so-called “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” 

“Today, on the 42nd Anniversary of Roe v Wade, the majority is launching yet another attack on women's health and constitutionally-protected right to choose whether to carry a pregnancy to term. 

“Most importantly, this bill will make it virtually impossible for a woman to obtain abortion services even when paid for with purely private, non-Federal funds.

“It accomplishes this end by denying tax credits to income-eligible women and small business employers who choose insurance coverage that includes abortion.

“Through its novel tax penalty provisions, H.R. 7 departs radically from existing law, taking away women’s existing health care and placing their health and lives at risk.

“Despite the claims of its sponsors, H.R. 7 does not codify current law and it is notabout the regulation of federal funds.
           
“There is no federal abortion due to the Hyde Amendment, and the Affordable Care Act maintains that policy and law. 

“For more than 30 years, Congress has prohibited federal funding of abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother, through provisions in like the Hyde Amendment in annual appropriations bills.

“Nothing in the Affordable Care Act changes this.

“So what is H.R. 7 really about?  Plain and simple, it is an assault on women’s health and freedom.

“Members should understand that a vote for H.R. 7 is not a vote to codify existing law.  It is, instead, a vote to attack women’s health and freedom.  

“H.R. 7 also eradicates the authority of the District of Columbia to make decisions about how appropriated funds are used for the health care of the District’s citizens.
           
“If H.R. 7 should become law, the District’s discretion to make the funding decisions that best serve the needs of its residents will be permanently restricted.

“H.R. 7's permanent restriction on the District’s use of its own local funds should be rejected.  Women and families who live in the District should not be subject to additional harm simply because of where they live.

“The Administration ‘strongly oppose[d]’ a nearly identical bill last Congress, saying the legislation ‘would intrude on women’s reproductive freedom and access to health care; increase the financial burden on many Americans; unnecessarily restrict the private insurance choices that consumers have today; and restrict the District of Columbia’s use of local funds, which undermines home rule.’




“The fact that this bill has been brought to the Floor at the last minute and that Members are foreclosed from offering any amendments today is yet further proof that this legislation is simply intended to be yet another polemic attack on the Constitution’s protections for certain members of
our society, an attack against our deliberative legislative process, and an attack against the citizens of the District of Columbia. 

“Accordingly, I strongly urge my colleagues to oppose this egregious bill and I reserve the balance of my time.”

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Saving Our Republic From Citizens United

By John Conyers, Jr.
Dean of the U.S. House of
Representatives
John Cconyers, Jr.
When Benjamin Franklin walked out of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, a woman standing outside the hall asked him what sort of government the delegates had created. Franklin responded, "A republic, Madame, if you can keep it."
While this republic was born without legal franchise for people of color and women, it has marched steadily for more than two and a quarter centuries toward fulfilling its promise. It remains a great achievement of human history that Americans established a democratic republic -- governed according to the will of its people rather than the whims of a despot -- and that we've been able to keep it.
Today, on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, in the face of limitless anonymous political donations and dramatically widening inequality, it's an open question whether we can keep our republic. Our government is slowly starting to look more like an oligarchy, governed according to the whims of a special few. Thankfully, there are straightforward steps Congress can take right now to reverse this deeply troubling trend.
On Jan. 21, 2010, the Supreme Court majority in Citizens United v. FEC declared it unconstitutional to restrict a corporation from contributing money to support or attack candidates, opening the door to unlimited contributions from shadowy outside groups, including Super PACs and tax-exempt nonprofits. In the five years since then, spending by such outside groups has more than doubled, and the cost of winning an election has increased astronomically. In the most competitive Senate elections of 2014, more than 70 percent of the outside spending benefiting winning candidates came from undisclosed sources.
Unlimited secret money, coupled with rising inequality, creates a vicious cycle for democracy. The wealthiest among us are able to buy votes for politicians who pledge to cut their taxes, rig financial rules in their favor, and remove regulations requiring them to protect workers and the environment. All these actions make the rich richer and, in turn, enable them to purchase more political support. Lax campaign finance laws lock in a permanent governing class. The absence of disclosure requirements makes this governing class utterly unaccountable.
This not only damages our national character but directly impacts lives. With 95 percent of economic growth since the end of the Great Recession accruing to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population, working people lack the purchasing power to pay for college, mortgages, or many basic goods and services. While over two thirds of the public believes that "the government in Washington ought to see to it that everyone who wants to work can find a job," a recent study indicates that only 19 percent of the wealthiest Americans, who disproportionately fund elections, agree.
While multinational corporations and Wall Street titans have taken maximum advantage of Citizens United, small businesses have also been negatively impacted by the flood of campaign money. A new poll conducted by Small Business Majority found that 88 percent of small-business owners view money as a negative force in politics, and 66 percent believe Citizens United has hurt modest-sized firms.
But history gives us reason for hope.
As former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has pointed out, the corporate "robber barons" of America's late-19th-century Gilded Age would drop sacks of money on lawmakers' desks in exchanges for business favors. Public outcry gave rise to the progressive movement and the nation's first campaign finance laws -- as well as the major labor protections, antitrust enforcement, and food and product standards.
To take on our modern crisis of corruption, Congress needs to pass legislation to repeal Citizens United, require transparency in political contributions, and empower small donors.
As Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee, I have been proud to help lead the fight for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to reverse the Supreme Court's unprecedented application of the First Amendment to corporations, giving Congress and the states specific authority to regulate corporate expenditures on political activity.
Today my Democratic colleagues and I will reintroduce the DISCLOSE Act to require that corporations and outside groups disclose all political spending to the Federal Elections Commission.
To counter the flood of big money and ensure that candidates spend time hearing from regular citizens rather than elite contributors, we need frameworks that encourage small donors. That's why I support Congressman John Sarbanes' "Government by the People Act" to match small donations with federal dollars and amplify the voices of ordinary concerned citizens.
After the last Gilded Age, the great jurist Louis Brandeis said the nation had a choice: "We can have a democracy or we can have great wealth in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
The same remains true today.
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HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER JOHN CONYERS ANNOUNCES DEMOCRATIC SUBCOMMITTEE ASSIGNMENTS FOR THE 114TH CONGRESS

WASHINGTON– Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) announced the Democratic subcommittee assignments for the 114th Congress:

Subcommittee on Constitution and Civil Justice
Ranking Member Steve Cohen (TN-09)
Jerrold Nadler (NY-10)
Ted Deutch (FL-21)

Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet
Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (NY-10)
Judy Chu (CA-27)
Ted Deutch (FL-21)
Karen Bass (CA-37)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02)
Suzan Del Bene (WA-01)
Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08)
David Cicilline (RI-01)
Scott Peters (CA-52)
Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
Steve Cohen (TN-09)
Hank Johnson (GA-04)

Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations
Ranking Member Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18)
Pedro Pierluisi (Puerto Rico – Res. Comm.)
Judy Chu (CA-27)
Luis Gutierrez (IL-04)
Karen Bass (CA-37)
Cedric Richmond (LA-02) 

Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security
Ranking Member Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
Luis Gutierrez (IL-04)
Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18)
Pedro Pierluisi (Puerto Rico – Res. Comm.)

Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law
Ranking Member Hank Johnson (GA-04)
Suzan Del Bene (WA-01)
Hakeem Jeffries (NY-09)
David Cicilline (RI-01)
Scott Peters (CA-52)

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

CONYERS LAUDS PRESIDENT OBAMA’S COMMITMENT TO BOLD INVESTMENT IN AMERICA’S FUTURE


WASHINGTON – Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13) released the following statement after President Obama delivered his 6th State of the Union Address to a Joint Session of Congress: 

Dean of the U.S, House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
“Tonight, President Obama presented a powerful vision for America's economic success in the 21st century.  By focusing on education, career training, and basic financial security for working families, he demonstrated that we can achieve sustained and inclusive prosperitynot by slashing budgets, but by investing in people.

“The President's proposals to strengthen and expand proven programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit and career and technical education at community colleges are both not only good ethics, but also smart economics.  In the long run, these policies will help to reduce poverty and debt by giving working people the purchasing power they need to boost the economy and provide middle class stability for their families.  

“I applaud the President for his prudent attention to the unprecedented rise in income inequality, which threatens the character of the country as well as our economic future.  While 95 percent of the economic gains since the Great Recession have accrued to the Americans at the top 1 percent of the economic ladder, wages for the nation's working families have remained stagnant.  This is not because the majority of Americans aren't working hard enough—people are working harder than ever.  Rather, it is because the rules of the economy are increasingly skewed in favor of the top 1 percent.  Consider how stock markets are booming and worker productivity keeps rising, yet average take-home pay remains flat.

“The President's proposals to finance essential national investments in education, the safety net, cybersecurity, and infrastructure by increasing taxes on the wealthiest Americans and fees on the biggest financial institutions are a step in the right direction.  But it is up to Congress to finish the job.

For far too long, America has shown its dissatisfaction with the ineffectual state of the Congress.  It is up to both chambers to work in a truly bipartisan fashion and follow President Obama’s lead on these initiatives in the interest of the American people.  The future of this great nation depends on it.”

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Monday, January 19, 2015

John Conyers, who first proposed an MLK holiday, marks 50 years in Congress

John Conyers, who first proposed an MLK holiday, marks 50 years in Congress


Four days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a junior member of Congress introduced a bill to establish a federal holiday to honor the slain civil rights leader.
Five decades later, the holiday is on the calendar, and that lawmaker, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), is now the longest-serving member of Congress.
Monday presents a unique bit of historical symmetry for Conyers, who marked 50 years in Congress this month. Both his longevity and the holiday are testaments and byproducts of the civil rights struggles led by King. For the first time, the 85-year-old will observe the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday as dean of the House, the ceremonial title for the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives.
“To me, [King] is the outstanding international leader of the 20th century without ever holding office. What he did — I doubt anyone else could have done,” he said.
An Army veteran and lawyer by training, Conyers worked with King and other civil rights activists in the South before coming to Congress. While many Americans are filling theaters to see the Oscar-nominated movie “Selma,” Conyers can recall his own visits to the Alabama town in the months preceding the infamous “Bloody Sunday” march.
After a series of deadly police confrontations that left black men dead in Missouri and New York, a new generation of Americans is mobilizing around concerns about issues of law and justice. Conyers said these new battles mirror the struggles that propelled him into public life.
Issues of justice and equality remain top-of-mind for Conyers, one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus and the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
“We’ve always had a very tense relationship between the African-American community and police, law enforcement, particularly young African American males,” he said.
“The one thing I notice is that there’s more attention being focused on racial police incidents, the use of police force than ever before,” he added. “It isn’t that these kinds of events weren’t happening before.”
The deaths of Michael Brown, who was killed by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, and Eric Garner, who died after being placed in a chokehold by a New York police officer, have compelled Republicans to engage on an issue they rarely discuss publicly. Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said late last year that he expected his caucus to continue exploring “unanswered questions” in the wake of the two men’s deaths.
“I do think that the American people deserve more answers about what really happened here and was our system of justice handled properly,” he said at the time.
Conyers said that Boehner’s remarks contrast sharply with the Congress he joined in 1965. Then, he was one of only five African Americans in office. Now, there are 48.
“We’ve gone from where there was flat-out segregation and there was a fairly sizable school of members of Congress who believed in segregation and did not see it as a constitutional or legal problem in any respect. Now that doesn’t exist anymore,” he said.
But he’s disturbed by how other Republicans talk about race. He’s not surprised by the news that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) once spoke to a white supremacist group while serving in the Louisiana legislature. Scalise apologized and has distanced himself from the group, and other GOP leaders are eager to move on.
“I don’t know who the group was, I don’t know what he said, but this complete denial and almost cover-up of that is not very encouraging,” Conyers said.
Conyers wants Congress to have a candid conversation about race but says he can find few Republicans willing to engage him.
“Considering the political circumstances that the Republican majority find themselves in, I think they’re less than eager to want to get into this,” he added. “But I think like everything else, it’s sort of inevitable. You can’t get away from some of the questions that are being raised and the discussion going on.”
Conyers and House Democrats plan to spend this year drawing attention to ongoing concerns with voting rights after the Supreme Court invalidated parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. The court struck down sections of the law dealing with the special scrutiny imposed on states with a history of discrimination, compelling Congress to come up with a new formula based on current data to determine which states should be subject to the law.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said last week that he sees no need to revamp the law — yet another sign of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats.
“We have not seen a process forward that is necessary to protect people because we think the Voting Rights Act is providing substantial protection in this area right now,” Goodlatte said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Conyers is undeterred.
“The Supreme Court kind of threw us a curveball on that, but look, that’s happened before,” he said. The court’s decision makes voting rights “a new, big issue,” he said. But, he said, people should be mindful that things have been much worse.
A petition dispute nearly kept Conyers off the ballot last year, but he prevailed in court and earned nearly 80 percent of the vote on Election Day. Despite younger challengers eager for the seat and his advancing age, he’s preparing to run again in 2016.
“The reason I think I’m going to run again is that I’ve never thought about stepping aside,” he said. “I still enjoy my work. There’s still plenty of challenges, new ones arising.”
He’s especially worried about the nation’s growing dependency on technology.
“In this age of cybertechnology, of computerization, of drones, the ability to commit ourselves to national, local, international military activity is much easier now than it used to be,” he said. “Unless we’re dealing with that, there’s no way we can make the nation and the nations of the worlds, the peoples on the planet safer. We have this super-technology that’s making it easier to commit violence.”
Conyers is one of seven men — all of them Democrats — to serve in Congress at least 50 years, and he relishes the irony in succeeding his former boss, former congressman John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), as the chamber’s longest-serving member. Conyers was once a Dingell staffer, and their fathers were close.
Dingell was the last member of Congress elected in the 1950s. Conyers is the last current member of Congress to have been elected in the 1960s. His next-nearest colleague is Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), who came to Congress in 1971.
Conyers introduced the bill proposing the King holiday on April 8, 1968 — four days after King was killed. Ronald Reagan didn’t sign the law making it a federal holiday until 1983.
Many Americans use the three-day weekend for ski trips or beach vacations, and many businesses discreetly mark down prices to draw in shoppers. Conyers will celebrate at a series of events in his district. He’s heartened that the holiday is so widely observed.
“King is still studied, honored, remembered, and the holiday is still meaningful,” he said. “It is not just another day that you have to go to work.”
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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Radical Deregulation Won't Bring Real Growth

By John Conyers, Jr.
Dean of the U/S. House of
Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
Throughout the 1920s, Congress was focused on slashing taxes on the wealthy and eliminating business regulations, arguing that a free market could govern itself and that a rising tide would lift all boats.
The results were devastating: Wall Street ran amuck, resulting in the 1929 stock market crash. Wealth became highly concentrated at the top, leaving everyday consumers with too few resources to fuel a meaningful post-crash recovery. Industrial pollution began accelerating, setting the stage for an era of smog and even flammable rivers.
Fast-forward 90 years, and you'll wonder: Why haven't we learned our lesson?
Today -- with majorities they've touted as their largest since the 1920s -- congressional Republicans are pushing the most aggressive deregulatory agenda in nearly a century. My colleagues in Congress should look to both history and to current affairs to learn a simple lesson: Smart regulation is not only necessary for society but can be good for growth.
This is something our constituents inherently understand -- with 70 percent of the general public supporting rules to protect our climate from greenhouse gases, including 56 percent of Republicans. They trust in the power of markets to deliver solutions when regulations properly incentivize reform.
House Republicans' headline bill for this week -- the deceivingly named Regulatory Accountability Act ("RAA") -- exemplifies the wrong-headed approach of the 1920s. The RAA (H.R. 185) would require that all laws implemented through federal regulations be implemented in the weakest and cheapest manner possible with maximum input from industry. The bill would decrease the effectiveness of our landmark environmental protections, create delays that are costly to both consumers and good corporate citizens, and derail many of our most dynamic domestic industries. This is to say nothing of the bill's awful impacts on workplace safety, financial protections, and consumer product safety.
The laissez-faire environmental standards of the 1920s remained largely in place for decades until people could no longer afford to avert their eyes. In 1969 -- the same year of the famous Cuyahoga River fire -- the Rouge River in my own hometown also caught fire. These fires and others in several major cities across the country were a direct consequence of the failure to regulate the use of freshwater systems as sewers, harbors, and dumps. While it's troubling that it took such a conspicuous fiery accident to generate action, Congress finally came to its senses and adopted a smart regulatory response -- the Clean Water Act -- in 1972. Two years later, we passed the bipartisan Safe Drinking Water Act. Both were signed by Republican Presidents.
But the decades of neglect and abuse could not be cleaned up overnight. Thirteen years after the Clean Water Act was passed, a young man died of a rare waterborne disease after falling in the Rouge River and ingesting a mouthful of water. Now, 30 years after his death the Rouge River Basin is in vastly better condition, but it's still recovering -- in spite of decades of work and hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs.
H.R. 185 could erase those decades of environmental progress by forcing agencies and courts to defer to the environmental regulations found in nations like China -- where air pollution cuts life expectancy by five years in the north of the country and 16,000 dead pigs recently filled one Shanghai River. These environmental hazards have direct economic consequences -- easily measured in the responses of the two-thirds of wealthy Chinese who have left China or a planning to do so.
So much money, time, and effort could have been saved with regulations that preempt or quickly address environmental impacts. Unfortunately, too many people want to govern by crisis -- acting only when they are forced to by a catastrophe like a flaming river. This is of course a natural inclination -- we all from time to time refuse to do more than the bare minimum. The GOP's bill this week exemplifies this sort of short-sighted thinking, preferring a pound of cure to an ounce of prevention.
The US public is paying for regulatory inaction with their lives, their health, and ultimately their taxes when the consequences become so egregiously apparent that Congress finally acts. The GOP's 1920s-style deregulation, including bills like H.R. 185, threatens our economy by reducing businesses' expected consequences when they take shortcuts and shirk responsibilities, instead placing the burden on citizens who pay for cancer treatment, and waterway clean-up, and other costs that the polluters should have picked up.
The GOP deregulation agenda also places good corporate citizens at a competitive disadvantage to the greedy and unethical. Every time the good corporate players clean up their mess, source responsible raw materials, and refuse to pass the buck, they fall behind the companies that cut corners to maximize profits. Many of those good guys are eventually forced to play dirty too, or they go out of business.
H.R. 185 and the GOP's broader deregulatory agenda aren't pro-business -- they're pro-bad business. They reward antiquated business models and intransigent managers. As Harvard Business School management guru Michael Porter hasdemonstrated, US firms have shown again and again that they can and will respond with hard work and innovation when regulations offer them flexibility and a fair playing field. Consider how increases in Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards have empowered Motor City to develop cleaner manufacturing processes, build aluminum F-150s, and develop a $30,000 plug-in hybrid that can drive from Detroit to Lansing on a single gallon of gas. Crucially in a global marketplace, adopting energy-efficiency and consumer safety standards ahead of foreign competitors secures an important first-mover advantage. Any company that can make it in a free market isn't going out of business because they -- and their competitors -- have to reduce ozone emissions or prevent fracking fluids from entering aquifers.
Smart environmental regulations are both good ethics and good economics.
The GOP deregulation agenda is about shifting the burden of responsibility from businesses to taxpayers. It's about shamefully low expectations for US industry. In short, it's about a return to the 1920s economic model that yielded unprecedented inequality, mass pollution, and the worst financial crisis of the 20th century.
H.R. 185 is just the beginning. In the months ahead, congressional Republicans will continue to build on their recent actions to approve the Keystone Pipeline (the perfect economic strategy for an aspiring Russian-style Petro-State) and to deregulate Wall Street derivatives (the recipe for an automatic taxpayer bailout for the riskiest gambling). Let's stand up for the lessons of history and defend the prudent role of government.

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