Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Change

I cannot count the number of times this song brought me back from the edge of the abyss we call "cynicism." And so today, on the 20th anniversary of a horrific tragedy, I thought it would be a good time to share it with all of you.

Garth Brooks video: The Change from Big Chief Studio on Vimeo.

What Maureen Dowd Doesn't Know About Feminism Could Fill a Book

Yes, I know. I should just stay away from Maureen Dowd columns. Every time I read one I am reminded that the New York Times gives valuable real-estate space to an idiot. My only excuse for reading this one is that I saw a clip of it on twitter that was so awful, I clicked through. Now I have to write about it to let off the steam. So sue me!

One thing you can say about Maureen is that she is an equal opportunity basher. Now she's all about trashing Hillary Clinton the same was she did Barack Obama and George W. Bush. The truth is that she seems to have a natural inclination to be disgusted by anyone who is either president or who wants to be. I'll leave it to the rest of you arm chair psychiatrists to analyze that one.

In going after Hillary today, Maureen shows that she knows absolutely NOTHING about feminism. To the extent that she has a point other than railing about Hillary, its that she was too masculine in 2008 and is being too feminine this time around.

Here's a news flash for you Maureen...the whole point of feminism is that women get to be whatever the f*ck they want to be. It's their CHOICE. No only that - they can be a bitch one moment and a sweet old granny the next. It is patriarchy that wants to put us in a box that they've labelled "feminine." And it is feminism that says that we don't have to conform to Maureen's definition of what it means to be a woman any more than we have to be Stepford Wives.

What's ironic is that after penning a condescending, misogynist, distorted column about Hillary, Maureen ends by saying that she needs to be ready to take on the condescending, misogynist, distorted attacks from her Republican rivals. Oy Vey!!! As I said, what Maureen doesn't know about feminism could fill a book.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Photo of the Day: Pallin' Around with Tiggers

Ruh-roh. I sure hope Momma Grizzly doesn't find out about this!

A Study in Contrasts

I'm about to write something that will likely get me in hot water with a lot of my progressive friends. But in the end, if I make you pause to think, it will be worth it.

What I want to do is contrast the records of two fairly new Democratic Senators: Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. Senator Warren has 10 months of seniority on Senator Booker - but they both began their terms in 2013. Other than that, their names are rarely mentioned together.

As we've seen, Senator Warren has become the hero of progressives, while Senator Booker became persona non grata when he criticized Democrats and the Obama campaign for going after Romney over his connections to Bain Capital during the 2012 campaign.

Its interesting to note what these two have achieved in their short history in the Senate. On Warren's web site, you can see what bills she has sponsored. There is one of note having to do with student loan refinancing. The other three appear to be symbolic in nature. Looking a bit deeper, we can see who Warren has recruited to be cosponsors on the bill related to student loans. The list is long...all Democrats. On the other issue Senator Warren is known for - punishing Wall Street - there is nothing she sponsored the "21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013," which was never voted out of committee and has not been re-inroduced.*

Booker has made criminal justice reform his signature issue. On that front, he has cosponsored legislation called the REDEEM Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act. The former takes six steps to help those coming out of the criminal justice system be more successful in their attempts to re-intigrate back into society. The latter gives judges more leeway to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences.

Other than tackling different issues (all of which are important to progressives) the other big difference is that Booker is cosponsoring the REDEEM act with Republican Senator Rand Paul. The list of cosponsors on the Smarter Sentencing Act is nothing short of mind-blowing: Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Dick Durban (D-IL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

I know that many names in that group are odious to progressives. But the question is this: Who do you think is more likely to get their sponsored legislation passed in this Congress, Senator Warren or Senator Booker?

I point all this out because I'd like progressives to take a moment to think about how it is that we chose people to be our political heroes. Are they more likely to be those who master the bully pulpit to speak out strongly against our opponents? Or are they those who do the dirty job of building coalitions with people on the other side in the hopes of making life better for Americans? Does it need to be either/or?

When it comes to the political icon whose seat Elizabeth Warren now inhabits in the Senate, I think I know what he would say.

* The previous statement that Sen. Warren had never sponsored legislation related to Wall Street was an error and has been corrected.

Politico Redefines Political Correctness

Given that the Clinton campaign has suggested that they are going to run on President Obama's record rather than away from it, I found this headline at Politico to be rather provocative: Clinton's Real Opponent: Barack Obama. But when I read it, I found that they were talking about something very different than what I'd assumed.

The gist of the article goes like this: When a sitting president's job approval rating is below 50%, a candidate from their party is not likely to win. In several swing states with a high white population, Barack Obama's approval rating is lower than would otherwise be expected.

The case they are trying to make gets rather convoluted and eventually left this reader with the thought that some political scientists just have too much time on their hands. But other than that, I was amazed at how far the authors were willing to go to avoid saying the obvious: Among white voters, Barack Obama's approval rating is affected by racism.
When you combine the lower support among whites for Obama nationally with what we know about race and political affiliation in America today, it makes sense that the whiter a state is, the lower the president’s current job approval.
The really fascinating part is that, rather than give this article a title like: Clinton's Real Opponent: Racism Against Barack Obama, the folks at Politico came up with one that suggests that the President is the problem (i.e., Clinton's "opponent").

Personally, I find the whole topic of "political correctness" to be a distraction. But perhaps these days we might suggest that publications like Politico think it means that we should avoid naming racism and instead, blame the results on black/brown folks.

Friday, April 17, 2015

"This Is Embarrassing"

You wanna see President Obama get angry? Here ya go...

Right Wingers: How Dare You Teach My Child Empathy!!

I tend to ignore most of the really outrageous stuff that is peddled by right wingers these days. But I saw one today that touched on something that I feel pretty strongly about. Apparently they are outraged (warning: wing nut link) that a high school World and U.S. History teacher gave her students this assignment:
It is not difficult to imagine what Ms. Urban is trying to accomplish with this assignment. Her students have been studying the history of Muslims in America and she is asking them to try articulate what the world looks like through their eyes. On the one hand, this writing assignment is a check to see if the students have absorbed the material they have reviewed so far. But on a deeper level, it is a classic way to help children learn empathy for people who - at first glance - seem very different from them.

Apparently some parents and right wing news outlets think that is dangerous. I can't think of anything I would disagree with more strongly. That's because I happen to agree with President Obama, who said that one of our most significant challenges today is to deal with our "empathy deficit."
“Unity is the great need of the hour.” That’s what Dr. King said. It is the great need of this hour as well, not because it sounds pleasant, not because it makes us feel good, but because it's the only way we can overcome the essential deficit that exits in this country.

I’m not talking about the budget deficit. I’m not talking about the trade deficit. Talking about the moral deficit in this country. I’m talking about an empathy deficit, the inability to recognize ourselves in one another, to understand that we are our brother’s keeper and our sister’s keeper, that in the words of Dr. King, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”
For those on the right who claim to be Christians, I would remind them that when Jesus was asked about how we inherit eternal life, this was his answer: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself." When pushed to define who is our neighbor, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. Knowing a little history tells us that, for the Jews of Jesus' time, the Samaritans were hated in much the same way that some people hate Muslims today.

I would hold up Beth Urban as exactly the kind of teacher we need today. The fact that some people can't see that is perhaps the best indication of why we are so divided.

Posturing on Iran

The reaction from Republicans and some pundits to the fact that President Obama is likely to sign a bill that allows Congress to weigh in on a final deal between Iran and the P5+1 countries has been a bit amusing to watch.

For example, Sen. Corker - chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee - wanted to make sure that everyone knew that neither the President nor any of his staff had been consulted.
“By the way, I know they’ve made comments that somehow they have been working with me,” he said. “I can tell you nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve had no conversations about the substance of this bill with any principal, whether it be the president, Secretary Kerry or others.”
Heaven forbid that anyone would think that Republicans would work with the President on a piece of legislation! Remember this one next time someone (cough - Ron Fournier - cough) does their pearl-clutching about how "both sides are to blame" for the gridlock in Washington.

And then there are the pundits like Peter Baker, who's latest article opens with this:
In his assertions of executive power to advance his agenda in an era of gridlock, President Obama has been largely on offense. But his latest battle with Congress not only left him on defense, it actually broke the gridlock. Against him.

Mr. Obama’s abrupt decision to sign a compromise version of legislation on Iran that he had previously vowed to veto was a bruising retreat in his larger campaign to act without Congress’s getting in his way.
I suspect that folks like Baker don't realize that the very reason why most Americans hate politics is because this is how it is so often framed: offense/defense, win/lose. It's all a game.

If you actually read through Baker's whole article, you will find that his conclusion seems at odds with his own opening statement. He ends by quoting Harold Hongju Koh, a former top lawyer in the State Department, who says that President Obama made lemonade out of lemons. Doesn't sound much like a "bruising retreat" after all, does it?

Imagine with me for a moment if, instead of this kind of nonsense, we were hearing that the legislative and executive branches of our government had come up with a compromise that respected the role of Congress, but didn't put the negotiations with Iran at risk.

Nah...nobody wants to hear good news like that, do they?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Obama on Racism circa 1995

It is always fascinating to find articles and video about Barack Obama from the past. Recently a group called 22-CityView in Cambridge released the video of a reading and book discussion on Dreams From My Father by Obama back in 1995. At the time he had graduated from Harvard Law School, moved back to Chicago, was working as a civil rights lawyer and had recently married Michelle.

The reading is from what I remember as the most racially poignant part of the book. It takes place when he was 16 and includes the incident when his maternal grandmother was frightened by a black man at her bus stop as well as an interchange Barack had about that with Frank Marshall Davis.

In the discussion after the reading, Obama talks about how he has reconciled the anger he experienced as a teenager and how his faith gave him an optimism about our ability as Americans to deal with the racial divide.

If you can find the time to watch this video (introduction and reading until 25:10, then Q&A), you will be reminded that we have a President who has had his own unique experience of racism and taken a deep personal journey to not only understand himself, but how his life is part of the greater American story.

A Presidential Campaign Focused on Foreign Policy

It has become conventional wisdom these days that Republicans want the 2016 presidential contest to focus on foreign policy. While they seem to have a knack for critiquing what President Obama is doing in that arena, they are offering precious little by way of alternatives.

President Obama summarized his approach pretty well early on in his presidency when he gave a speech in Cairo, Egypt.
For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared.
Recently he added an interesting dynamic to that statement.
Obama said his view was that “engagement,” combined with meeting core strategic needs, could serve American interests vis-a-vis these three countries [Burma, Cuba and Iran] far better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America, with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities...
What has emerged is a pattern of working with our allies via partnership to take the risk of engagement with countries from whom we have been isolated as opponents.

In contrast, Senator Rubio and Governor Walker have now both gone on record saying that if they are elected president, they would opt out of any deal the U.S. and P5+1 countries might negotiate with Iran and reimpose sanctions. Additionally, Rubio said he would roll back the diplomatic ties President Obama is working on developing with Cuba. I suspect that before long, most 2016 Republican candidates will join them in making these promises.

What is clear is that they are rejecting the idea of working in partnership with our allies - which calls into question the line we've heard from some of them recently about how it is the President who is has lost the trust of our allies. Opting out of a potential deal with Iran would be a slap in the face to our European friends and returning to our Cold War posture with Cuba reignites resentment from our Central/South American neighbors.

While most of these 2016 candidates are comfortable publicly rejecting President Obama's strategy of working in partnership with our allies,  they stop short of discussing an alternative to his work on engaging our opponents. Once we've lost the support of our allies around the globe, what is their alternative to stop Iran from attaining nuclear weapons? They fail to articulate one.

For example, listen to this hodgepodge on the subject from Senator Rubio as he acknowledges that his proposal to opt out of any deal with Iran and reimpose sanctions unilaterally will not be very effective.
But from the United States' perspective, while we want our allies to join us in this endeavor, and certainly sanctions against Iran would be more effective were they in conjunction with our allies around the world, we have to look out for our own national security concerns. And in my mind, if the president wanted this to be a permanent deal that survived his presidency, he would have brought it to Congress.
Just as you expect him to finish his thought about how we "look out for our own national security concerns" with ineffective unilateral sanctions against Iran, he completely switches gears and says President Obama should bring the deal before Congress for approval. Kinda leaves you with a "WTF?" Doesn't it?

At this point, we know that Hillary Clinton has expressed support for the outcomes of President Obama's latest foreign policy initiatives. But it is not clear yet whether she would embrace his strategies of partnership and engagement. Those are questions we should be paying attention to in a presidential contest focused on foreign policy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Obama's Refusal to Play the Lame Duck Affects the Clinton Campaign

A few months ago, Ron Brownstein got a fascinating quote from an Obama advisor.
One senior Obama adviser says the administration "To Do list" after 2012 included thinking "about how you lock in the Obama coalition for Democrats going forward. Because it's not a 100 percent certainty that they come out for the next Democrat." Part of the answer, the adviser said, was to pursue aggressive unilateral action on "a set of issues where we have an advantage … and believe are substantively the right thing to do" and dare Republicans to oppose him.
That came in the midst of a several bold moves by President Obama following the 2014 midterms that surprised Republicans - who were expecting a contrite lame duck for his remaining two years in office. And its why last week Greg Sargent wrote this:
If Obama gets his way, two of the most important pieces of his legacy — an Iran deal, and a global climate treaty — will involve comprehensive international settlements. Hillary Clinton will all but certainly support an eventual Iran deal, and she’s already pledged to protect all of Obama’s climate actions “at all cost.” Thus, she will be for international engagement as the solution to two of the most pressing problems the country faces: The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and climate change. Meanwhile, on Iran and climate, the eventual 2016 GOP presidential nominee will probably have pledged to undo whatever Obama has achieved — locking him on both fronts into a position of staunch opposition to international engagement.
While Sargent only mentioned the Iran deal and a potential global climate change agreement in Paris later this year, we can add things like President Obama's executive action on immigration and his normalization of our ties to Cuba as issues that will likely shape the agenda for the 2016 presidential race.

What is interesting about all this is how it changes the historical narrative so often cited lately about how difficult it has been for a party to win the presidency after a two-term leader from their own party. The modern-day precedent has typically been set by presidents who found themselves embroiled in scandals during their second term - which contributed to their lame-duckness (Reagan with Iran/Contra, Clinton with impeachment and Bush with Iraq/financial crisis). The dynamics will be very different this time around.

And so it should come as no surprise that - as Chozick, Haberman and Martin point out - Hillary Clinton has decided to run on President Obama's record rather than triangulate between he and Republicans.
Rather than run from Mr. Obama, she intends to turn to him as one of her campaign’s most important allies and advocates — second only, perhaps, to her husband, the other president whose record will hover over her bid...

Nick Merrill, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said that she “is proud of what was accomplished, both as President Obama’s partner on critical issues of national security, and on the progress made on the domestic front” and that “a campaign would be about laying out her own vision for tackling our toughest challenges.”
Given the current political dynamics, that is a very good move.

But it leaves the Clinton campaign with one remaining challenge - how to address the problem of gridlock and polarization that has plagued Congress and its relationship with the President. The truth is, there's not a good answer to that question. The only way Hillary can present herself as someone who can change that is to suggest that it is at least partially President Obama's fault. Only the truly deluded or completely uninformed believe that.

An alternative for Hillary would be to name Republican obstruction outright and promise to challenge it head-on. There are those on the left who would love to hear that kind of message and think that President Obama's major failures have been linked to his unwillingness to throw harder punches at the opposition. But that doesn't seem to be a risk the Clinton camp is prepared to take.
Walking a fine line, Mrs. Clinton will try to present herself as more capable of working across the aisle than the current administration, without directly criticizing Mr. Obama.
What is fascinating about all of this is to think about the way the relationship between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has been shaping so much of our politics since 2008. We are still 18 months from the next presidential election and its clear that Obama is going to play through to the buzzer. More than a primary opponent, Hillary's campaign will largely be shaped by that reality.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Opponents of TPP Haven't Convinced Me

I'll say right up front that I am - as yet - undecided about whether or not to support the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. For a lot of liberals, there's a slam dunk case against it. But the arguments haven't convinced me yet.

First of all, I think President Obama is right. We live in a globalized world and trade with other countries is a fact of life. Our only option is to create the best conditions for ourselves and the rest of the world. And so its not a matter of simply rejecting trade deals, its the content that matters.

Simply screaming NAFTA! doesn't cut it for me. All trade deals are not the same. As an example, both the United Auto Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers supported the free trade agreement President Obama negotiated with South Korea a few years ago. So its clear that there are good trade agreements and bad ones.

Just as we've had to note lately that no agreement with Iran over their nuclear weapons program is going to be perfect, we have to accept that no trade deal is ever going to be perfect. By nature, negotiations like this mean making compromises. Ultimately then, the question will be whether or not TPP is good enough.

The overall answer to that question is "we don't know." We do know that Congress and various groups that will be affected have been consulted during the negotiations. But in order to protect the nature of the process, a lot of what has been agreed to is still either in process or secret.

Recently Wikileaks leaked a chapter related to investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). It allows foreign companies and investors to sue federal, state, or local governments over changes to their laws that unfairly affect their businesses and to have those suits heard before a tribunal with the World Bank or the United Nations. Opponents of TPP fear that this will be used to sue U.S. jurisdictions for regulations related to climate change or labor laws.

But as this article points out, there are a few things to keep in mind:
  • This kind of ISDS is already included in 3,000 trade agreements around the globe, including 51 in which the U.S. is currently involved,
  • Over the last 25 years, the U.S. has experienced 17 investor-state cases, 13 of which went before tribunals, and has not lost one (for comparison, during that same time the federal government was sued 700,000 in domestic courts),
  • Even if the U.S. lost a case before an ISDS tribunal, they do not have the power to change laws,
  • Leaked documents contain mitigating language like "“nothing in this chapter” should prevent a member country from regulating investment activity for “environmental, health or other regulatory objectives.” So there is clearly an attempt by negotiators to protect critical areas.
So excuse me if I'm not ready to set my hair on fire yet about all that.

Until we can review the actual agreement, the final area I consider in all this is the track record of those who are lined up on either side of this issue. Many of those who oppose TPP are the same ones who thought that Dodd/Frank was weak tea and Obamacare was simply a give-away to private insurers. It is impossible to avoid the question of whether or not their opposition is more about the agreement's lack of purity when, as I stated above, the question is really whether it's good enough.

Over the last six years it has almost always been a good idea to bet on President Obama. He is not above making mistakes. But I think he's clearly proven that his North Star is what is best for the American people. The old line about him being a sell-out to the corporate world has lost all it's punch by now. So when it comes to this agreement, it is really about whether or not he and his staff can execute - not their motivations.

It's also interesting that the Obama administration has put together a group called "Progressive Coalition for American Jobs" to lobby for approval of TPP. Members include former governors Deval Patrick and Christine Gregoire as well as former Dallas mayor and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk. While I am especially impressed with the inclusion of Patrick, it might also be that mayors and governors are more attuned to the impact of trade on jobs and businesses than certain senators who are speaking out against TPP.

I view the whole issue of fast-track authority over TPP as a separate issue from assessing the quality of the agreement. And that's where the pragmatist in me really takes over. As I've written before, this Congress has abdicated its role on foreign policy. Opening the approval process up to members of the Senate is a guaranteed way to kill the treaty (perhaps what the opponents want) just as surely as President Obama's submission of his ISIS AUMF was killed. We can certainly work for the day that our Congress is able to function around foreign policy in a meaningful way. But that is certainly not the case right now.

That's my assessment so far. I'd suggest that if liberals want to win over pragmatists like me in fighting TPP, they haven't done so yet.

President Obama: "Those Days Are Past"

Yesterday I wrote about how - in negotiations with Iran - President Obama has been willing to honestly acknowledge our country's past intervention in their affairs. But that kind of covert action against a democratically elected government was not limited to Iran. From the 1950's through the 1980's the United States engaged in the same kind of activities all over Central and South America under the banner of fighting the Cold War. As just one example, the current President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, was imprisoned and tortured by the dictator who was installed after a U.S. supported coup in that country in 1964.

Over the last three decades not many of us noticed that to the south of our borders, people rose up and created a "Central/South American Spring" that - with a few exceptions - went much more smoothly that the one we witnessed in the Middle East.

But as Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Randal Archibold point out, our history of intervention has often hampered our relationships with the countries of Central and South America due to the ongoing way it has played out in Cuba. All of that changed when President Obama began the normalization process with Cuba and set up a new tone for the current Summit of the Americas this weekend in Panama.
"It opens the door for the U.S. government by removing this argument that has been a pretext and an issue that has been invoked, not only by Cuba but other countries in the region, as a distraction," said Jose Miguel Vivanco, the director of the Latin America program at Human Rights Watch, who attended a round-table discussion of civil society leaders with Mr. Obama on Friday.
As a result, President Obama was able to say this to the people of Latin America:
"As you work for change, the United States will stand up alongside you every step of the way," he told Latin American leaders and civil society representatives at a forum on Friday. "The days in which our agenda in this hemisphere so often presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity - those days are past."

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Odds & Ends

The White House has not only come out if favor of a ban on "conversion therapy," they've made a video about it featuring some of the LGBT Obama administration staff.

In anticipation of Hillary Clinton's announcement tomorrow, Peter Daou and Tom Watson write about the "dawn of the Hillary Man."

I suppose the good news here is that Republicans have finally found a group of immigrants that they like.
Republicans in Congress are advancing a bill to grant asylum to families who want to home school their children. But the same bill would also restrict granting asylum to migrant children fleeing violence and poverty in Central America.

The bill’s provision would grant asylum for up to 500 individuals “fleeing home school persecution” in countries where home schooling is illegal.
Seriously, it's headlines like this that make me wonder whether or not my sanity is going to survive over the next year or so that it takes Republicans to nominate a 2016 candidate: Awkward or old friends? Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio sit next to each other on flight after NRA conference.

For a little soul-cleansing after that nonsense, go check out this photo exhibit titled: The Fatherhood Project.
Images that we see in our communities and family photo albums on a regular basis but that are rarely, if ever, celebrated by others. At the end of the day, we have to celebrate and inspire each other and stop expecting others to do so.

On a lighter note, serious question:

Finally, here's Pink with a powerful feminist statement about adolescence.

Friday, April 10, 2015

An Example of How Dodd/Frank Is Working

A few weeks ago I wrote about an article in Bloomberg Business that suggested the "too big to fail" banks were shrinking as a result of the regulations contained in Dodd/Frank. On Friday, we got news about one company in particular.
General Electric plans to sell off most of its finance arm over the next two years, redefining the multinational conglomerate as it seeks to complete a transformation begun amid the tumult of the financial crisis.

In addition to huge planned sales of assets outlined by the company on Friday, G.E. will take other significant steps, including bringing back about $36 billion in cash that now resides overseas.

Rapidly shrinking the finance arm, GE Capital — once the most powerful driver of the company’s earnings until it rocked the parent company after the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008 — will erase one of the most prominent legacies of G.E.’s former chief executive, Jack Welch.

But it could also release the company from one of its biggest burdens: strict regulatory requirements that come with GE Capital’s being regarded as a financial institution that is too big to fail...

Perhaps one of the most notable potential consequences of the drastic move is that G.E. will be able to shed its designation as a “systemically important financial institution.” Such status comes with high requirements to keep capital on hand, potentially limiting its financial returns.
As this news points out, a lot of the proposals floating around about how to deal with "too big to fail banks" are misleading because many of these companies aren't "banks" in the way we have typically thought of them. GE is a good example of that. As a result of Dodd/Frank, it has been identified as a "systemically important financial institution" (SIFI) that is subject to special regulation - which provided the incentive for them to downsize.

This is how Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen described it:
“We’re beginning to see discussions that these capital charges are sufficiently large it’s causing those firms to think seriously about whether or not they should spin off some of their enterprises to reduce their systemic footprint,” Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen told the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. “And frankly, that’s exactly what we want to see happen.”