Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The D.C. "Bubble" Is Real

Mrs. Matthews Goes to Washington...
(And Discovers the D.C. "Bubble" Is Real)
words and photos by Cindy A. Matthews

It's been pointed out how our office holders in Washington D.C. live in a "bubble" and have little idea (or is it interest?) of what is happening outside of the bubble. They exist inside the small and cozy world of politics, busily wheeling and dealing with their peers. The struggles of ordinary Americans couldn't be further from their minds. To live "inside the beltway" is to ignore the rest of the country, its needs and desires. This disconnect with the voters could very well lead to dire consequences, as recent presidential election results demonstrate.

I caught a glimpse into this inside-the-beltway mindset recently on an "unpaid lobbying" trip to our nation's capital. I joined a citizens' activist group from Ohio along with others from West Virginia, Indiana, and Kentucky. We traveled to D.C. to meet with twenty-six congressional offices to help build support for the Return to Prudent Banking Act introduced by Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH, 9th District). Better known as the New Glass-Steagall, the bill would return American banking practices to the tenor of the original 1933 act signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Glass-Steagall Act, which was repealed by Congress in 1999, made the big banks divest from the speculative, risky side of commercial banking, protecting the ordinary people's savings and home mortgages that had been lost in the devastating 1929 stock market crash, resulting in the Great Depression.

Congresswoman Kaptur at her press conference after the bill's introduction stated since the 2008 mortgage crisis the "mega-banks" (Citibank, Wells Fargo, Goldman-Sachs, etc.) have only grown in size. Their net worth has gone from being 17% of the gross domestic product to over 50%. All this wealth has been siphoned from ordinary Americans who lost their homes, their pensions and their 401Ks in the banking crisis, a frightening parallel to the situation that faced President Roosevelt. 
Many financial experts have stated a student loan debt crisis could dwarf the negative effects of the 2008 mortgage crisis and could happen anytime now. We must act quickly and decisively to prevent economic disaster by passing a New Glass-Steagall Act.

The heartening news is that both the Republican and Democratic Parties' Platforms say they want to reinstate Glass-Steagall regulations. Along with Kaptur, Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC), Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) are co-sponsoring the bill. Even Mr. Trump stated during his campaign that he supported a return to the Glass-Steagall. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reiterated that Trump supported reinstituting the Glass-Steagall--not once, but twice at a press briefing. 

The citizen activists presented Congresswoman Kaptur with 637 signatures on letters addressed to President Trump reminding him of his campaign promise. At least three hundred more electronic signatures and comments were made online in the short span of a month, and the activists asked that these signed letters and electronic signatures be presented to Mr. Trump as a reminder of the thousands of others who would gladly sign if given a chance. Fifteen state legislatures have passed memorial resolutions supporting the tenets of the Return to Prudent Banking Act as well. 

Most Americans want real protections for consumers by prohibiting the transaction of banking activities by securities firms. With so much going for it, what could prevent the Return to Prudent Banking Act from becoming law? The banking and financial industries could spell the end of Kaptur's bill, as they have the greatest number of lobbyists on Capitol Hill and give the most contributions to campaign war chests of both Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps even more daunting is the inside-the-beltway mentality that affects our elected representatives' outlook on the situation. 
This was the most enlightening aspect of the entire trip--talking to the congressional staffers, the eyes, ears and brains of their bosses. I'm not kidding. Without these dedicated young people, our representatives would get nothing done (even if that's their real intent). The staffers we conversed with stated plainly that if they don't get a sense from their constituents that the New Glass-Steagall is important, then they will simply will advise their bosses not to waste time and energy supporting it, no matter how essential it could be for the good of our economy and the betterment of ordinary Americans.

This is true on any number of issues--fracking, health care, education, veteran's affairs, etc. If a congressperson or senator doesn't hear much on a particular topic, it doesn't register on their consciousness. They run (and I do mean run) in and out of the Capitol for votes and committee hearings all day long... They don't have time to waste on inconsequential things.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) isn't on board yet with the New Glass-Steagall. Why? He's too busy obstructing Trump's appointments at this time. Yes, that was his answer to our question if he would support a senate version of Rep. Kaptur's bill. It was disappointing, to say the least, but if that's the main topic he's heard from his staff...
So, what can we ordinary Americans do? If we can get several thousands of our friends, family members, colleagues and neighbors to write post cards and letters to their congressperson or senator, the staffers will have to take notice of our concerns. They will be forced to bring up the subject with their boss. We learned that congressional offices receive anywhere between 50,000 to 60,000 letters per year . You can see where things can get lost and confused in the volume of correspondence, but a huge stack of letters on one subject--say, the Return of the Prudent Banking Act--will catch their attention. These staffers will then inform their boss how important this issue seems to be to potential voters. That could make all the difference in a bill gaining a new sponsor and increase its chance of becoming a law.

Showing up in person at your representative's  D.C. or local office when he/she is home and asking questions at town halls makes a big impression on them. Now is not the time to be shy. Now is the time to concentrate on focusing your elected officials' attention on  important issues
Sen. Portman's Coffee Meet & Greet

But is there anything we can do to break the "bubble" that keeps our elected officials separate from the rest of us unwashed masses once and for all? It's a question that haunts me. 

Everyone--and I do mean everyone--we met in D.C. was extremely polite and professional. Their manners, clothing, hairstyles, culture, the hallways... You name it and it's polite and professional. It is a cozy, little world where a representative or senator from a far distant state, homesick and lonely, has only his/her professional colleagues for companions in town. They hang out with their "co-workers" a lot after hours, you could say. (Congressional office suites are not separated by state or party affiliation, but by seniority and wherever they can squeeze you in. Literally. We met one staffer on the top floor that used to be used for storage until recent times. Their office suite is a renovated storage closet!)
The kindly Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) supports fracking.
Believe it or not, I didn't notice any animosities between staffers or representatives of the two establishment parties. It's all "one big happy family" in the Congressional offices in Washington D.C. They really do get along and treat each other with outward respect--no matter how tough they try to portray themselves standing against the opposition. This polite milieu is clearly evident and extends to all visitors. I shook hands with Republicans who want to get rid of the A.C.A.--something that's been keeping me alive these past few years--and I felt nothing but respect and admiration for these kind and genteel individuals, even knowing their voting records.

It's a very nice feeling when everyone gets along and stays busy, but this is where the bubble or the inside-the-beltway mentality does its most damage, in my opinion. There's no need for our elected representatives to be accountable to us because they're accountable to their buddies on the Hill who they see daily and get along with so well. Yeah, that must be it. Why be worried or bothered about what people hundreds or thousands of miles away are thinking when your whole social world fits inside the tiny District of Columbia and its environs? (Surveys show that seven of the richest counties in the U.S. encircle our nation's capital. Rich and comfortable. What's not to love? Why ever go home and deal with those noisy constituents?)

Just as we voters need to make our physical presence known to our policy makers, they in turn need to get out of their gilded Congressional offices and see more of us in the flesh. They need to see the reality we deal with on a daily basis. Senator Bernie Sanders stated he didn't know half as much about the suffering of his fellow Americans until he started touring some of the poorest and hardest-hit-in-the-recession areas of the country during his presidential campaign--and he is humble enough to admit it.  

Think, what if we could make that  mind-opening experience of touring the country's economically hardest hit places mandatory for all elected officials? The bubble would burst and never reform. One would hope the wake-up call would change their hearts at least.


Speaking of Bernie Sanders... Here's a funny story about my futile attempts to meet him in person.

Desperately Seeking Bernie
by C.A. Matthews

I've been trying to shake Sen. Bernie Sanders hand  since May 2015. It's a mission of mine--sort of like seeking the Holy Grail was for King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. However, so far no success. 

After attending three presidential campaign rallies (one where I worked as a volunteer), one health care rally, a trip to Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention (didn't see him in the flesh there, alas), and a visit to the inner hallways of the senate office buildings, surely now was the time I'd have my chance to shake my progressive idol's hand and tell him how much I admired him and all he's done for America.

But it wasn't meant to be.
It's not that we didn't actually see Bernie--because we did.  Yes, we saw him for a whole split second. We stopped by Sen. Sanders' senate office between our visits to see others in the same building to catch a glimpse of his name plaque and Vermont flag. Our group took numerous photos of his office--even posing with the large cardboard cut-out of a dairy cow courtesy of Ben and Jerry's. But our only glimpse of Bernie was when he darted into his "private entrance" door as we quickly waved at him in the hallway.

I shouted, "Hi! We're visiting from Ohio. We love you, Bernie!" And then he was gone.

We asked his office staffers if we could shake Bernie's hand quickly and snap a photo, but they said we'd have to make an appointment to do so since the senator was very busy. Next week sometime was the earliest opening. Since we were leaving the next day, we told them thanks, but no thanks.
I guess I should be happy. If I'd finally succeeded after so many attempts to shake Bernie's hand, the universe might have winked out of existence. So, my quest for the "Grail" will continue. Before we left the hallway, I lightly touched the door handle Bernie had last touched. Not quite a handshake, but it'll have to do for a Berner who'd traveled so far... Well that, and a snapshot of me beside a Ben and Jerry's cardboard cow.


Celebrating Diversity and Unity in Greater Toledo

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo hosted the Unified Prayer for Peace event on a sunny Sunday afternoon, opening its doors to all to come and stand united in their commitment to peace and understanding in our country in the wake of the Trump administration's ban on those coming from primarily Muslim countries. Over five hundred were in attendance, including Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH, 9th District) and Toledo city council member Peter Ujvagi, a proud Hungarian immigrant.

A "Unified Prayer For Peace" was lead by Imam Talal Eid. Congregation president Nadia Ashraf-Moghul and Iman Eid both spoke about the support and love they've experienced from the surrounding community over the years. They felt recent actions by our government against immigrants and Green Card holders of Muslim descent did not reflect the true generosity of spirit most Americans demonstrate daily in the Greater Toledo area. 

After the short program, the public was treated to a free dinner featuring ethnic foods as well as coffee and doughnuts.  On their Facebook page, the ICGT stated: "The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo thanks you, our amazing Greater Toledo area friends who came out in great numbers to pray with us. We thank our gracious guests, our beloved Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Councilman Peter Ujvagi, Ms. Joan Schroeder and TK Barger for speaking wonderful words of wisdom. To our guests, you are always welcome to your mosque and your mosque is always open to friends and neighbors. May God Bless you all and Bless our country."

Perhaps the idea of diverse communities cooperating and growing in tolerance and compassion toward one another seems impossible to some, but the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo and the Northwest Ohio area have proven once again how wrong that cynical outlook can be.


  1. Having watched the debate between Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz I can entirely believe the GOP senators in particular live inside a bubble. His comments on health care were crass in the extreme. I mean, praising a woman living with MS, yet not addressing the concerns raised by her question? What's that about?

    1. Yeah, that's the most frustrating thing--getting those in the D.C. Bubble to actual LISTEN to us ordinary people! The bubble keeps them from understanding what we're really saying when we relate how much we are struggling in this economy, and in this world. How can anything be that bad when you have a cushy job and a nice home and plenty of food to eat and health care? Sen. Cruz lives in a fantasy land and thinks we all have the tons of money at our disposal that he has, I guess. He calls it "options" when you have to buy private health insurance but you don't offer a public option for those of us without endless piles of cash in the bank. Talk about living disconnected from the real world of the 99%!


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