Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

US Federal Marshals Picking Up Student Loan Defaulters . . .

Alan Collinge of the Student Loan Justice Org sent me an email yesterday.

Bad Stuff from Texas . . .

Hey Bill!

This is a scary story. They are arresting people en masse in Texas over student loan debt.

I got on the Thom Hartmann show to talk about it:

There’s no direct tie-in with the for-profit prison thing, but for some reason the one reminds me of the other!!!

Anyhow, I hope all is well on your end!


If you go out on the internet, you are going to see a lot about this with the Washington Post blowing it off and Tyler Durden at Zero Hedge treating this incident as more than just a single occurrence. Did some Googling and ended up with “Sputnik News” and the Washington Post. Tossed Sputnik News and read the Washington Post article. Here is what the WP had to say:

“If you’ve defaulted on federal student loans, you can breathe more easily. You won’t be arrested for simply failing to make payments.”

More to the story:

“Marshals had made several attempts to contact Aker to appear in federal court, according to Hunter. Notices were sent to numerous known addresses. Marshals spoke with Aker by phone and requested that he appear in court, but Aker refused, a statement from officials said. So a federal judge issued a warrant for Aker’s arrest for failing to appear at a December 2012 hearing.”

The sum we are talking about here is $1500 before collection agency fees and the costs of federal Marshals contacting the debtor and dragging Paul Akers away to jail. What the WP’s Michelle Singletary misses in this is the case is in federal court with federal Marshals dispatched to pick up Mr. Akers for a debt of $1500. If this is not unusual to the WP columnist as she notes, it is highly unusual to me and I too have been involved with student loans for years. So what gives?

29th District Texas Congressman Gene Green: “the federal government has been contracting out student-loan collections to private debt collectors, who are allowed to deploy the U.S. marshals as their enforcement arm.

There’s bound to be a better way to collect on a student loan debt,’ said the congressman. Around Houston, that “better way” involves 1,200 to 1,500 arrest warrants. Student debt is at an all time high in the U.S., where students hold an average of $35,000 in federal debt, according to an analysis of government data on “Edvisors.”.”

This appears to be over reach by the US Department of Education if this is really happening; but a closer look revealed, judges are going after people who do not show up in court. You can be held in contempt for this and also if the judge believes you are deliberately failing to pay. Both occurrences will get you a place in prison. The bigger question is why does a private collection agency get to use federal court and federal marshals to collect $1500? And yes I already know the US Department of Education is a federal being.

Even so, seven armed US Marshals? What if the Justice Department treated bankers and investment firm gamblers in a similar manner? Something is awry when the US Department of Education allows debt collectors to resort to Federal Court (which already has a lack of Federal judges due to Republican legislators blocking Pres. Obama nominations). I wonder how this will play into the gov., the pres., the Koch Bros, CAP and other supposedly lib and prog. think tanks wanting to let prisoners out of prisons due to harsh sentencing. But wait a minute, these are past and present students and they do not count. There is so much wrong here, it is difficult to know where to begin.

So is this just one “toss-away” to scare students or maybe a federal judge exercising his judicial moxy or as the WP columnist says this is not a precursor of more arrests to come? According to the WP article:

“’If anyone out there thinks that it is the top priority of the U.S. Marshal’s Service to arrest student-loan violators, they are sadly mistaken,’ Richard Hunter, chief deputy U.S. marshal for the southern district of Texas, told me (WP columnist) in an interview.”

29th District Texas Congressman Gene Green says more to come as the US Dept. of Education cracks down on student loan defaulters in Texas (for now).

At Zero Hedge, Tyler Durden confirms the Congressman’s belief;

“Our reliable source with the US Marshals in Houston say Aker isn’t the first and won’t be the last.

They have to serve anywhere from 1200 to 1500 warrants to people who have failed to pay their federal student loans.”

This just goes to confirm my belief of the present effort by the Koch Bros, CAP and other liberal think tanks in addition to the conservative/libertarian think tanks on changing sentencing guidelines and releasing thousands from prison due to harsh sentencing. This has nothing to do with having sympathy for those caught up in preordained sentencing guidelines for repeat offenders and druggies as much as it has to do with changing the law to keep corporate management out of jail for violating EPA laws, banking laws, etc. In this instance, the ploy is to shift “mens rea” on to the prosecution alleviating the need of corporations having to prove they and their management did not know the law (in such cases you ask for jury trials now). We are again being hoodwinked by the Koch Bros who wish to piggy back this shift on present legislation sponsored in part by Congressman John Conyers who sees African Americans getting out of prison now incarcerated due to harsh sentencing guidelines. A noble effort; but, it should not give Corporate America and its heads a free get-out-of-jail card.

We will stick it to present and former students who typically have little money to pay back aggressively formatted loans, fight back against debt collectors in court, and send multiples of federal marshals to their homes to drag them to court while giving heads of Corporate America a lenient alternative. Who thought of this???

“If justice means a prison sentence for a teenager who steals a car, (or for that matter defaults on a student loan [myself]) but it means nothing more than a sideways glance at a CEO who quietly engineers the theft of billions of dollars, then the promise of equal justice under the law has turned into a lie. The failure to prosecute big, visible crimes has a corrosive effect on the fabric of democracy and our shared belief that we are all equal in the eyes of the law.” Senator Elizabeth Warren; “Rigged Justice: 2016 How Weak Enforcement Lets Corporate Offenders Off Easy>”

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Hillary Clinton’s not very good at math.

The truth is, we aren’t a single-issue country.  We need more than a plan for the big banks. The middle class needs a raise.

— Hillary Clinton, last night in her Nevada-caucuses victory speech

We’re not a single-issue country?  Who knew?  That’s a peculiar message on which to hang her campaign—as she has been doing for the last two or three weeks, since the previous tack proved ineffective—given that that previous tack was that, for women, there actually is only a single issue: breaking the glass ceiling for women presidential candidates.

But every time Clinton makes this baldly false claim about Sanders’ campaign, Sanders should refer her to, perhaps, a mathematician.  Or to a Feb. 16 article by John Wagner, the Washington Post’s lead reporter on the Sanders campaign (and my favorite reporter covering that campaign; he’s just really straightforward in his reporting, very much like reporters of yore), titled Post Politics ‘Single-issue’ candidate Bernie Sanders touches on 20 issues during a Michigan campaign stop.

Wagner, unlike Clinton, can count.  All the way up to 20.

Not incidentally, the campaign stop that Wagner was reporting on was at Eastern Michigan University’s huge Convocation Hall in Ypsilanti, a largely African-American city that borders on Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan.  It also is near many metro-Detroit blue-collar suburbs.  The rally gained media attention for its huge crowd and very long waiting lines that began forming several hours before the event, in very cold weather.  And also for the crowd’s raucous enthusiasm—a crowd, it was clear from the videos and photos, that truly did look like America.  Or a large segment of Democratic and other non-Tea Party America.  Except that metro Detroit does not have a large Latino population.

But Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and California do.  And in Nevada, which also does, Sanders won the Latino vote by eight points, according to entrance polls.

In other words, Sanders no longer has a racial-minorities problem.  He has an African-American problem, and possibly mainly one that does not extend to rustbelt states.  Latinos apparently have no longstanding emotional tie to the Clintons, and African Americans in the rust belt may not have an unbreakable emotional tie to this couple.

Colorado, whose primary is on Mar. 1, not only has a large Latino population and (like Nevada) a relatively small African American population; it also has, I read a few months ago, the youngest population in the country.  And it is home to one of the country’s most liberal college towns, one with a population of nearly 100,000 and a student body of about 30,000, and also another state university with a good-size student body (27,000) in a city of more than 150,000.

The state also has a very large information-tech industry and a relatively huge number of environmentalists.  While the state itself is split politically about evenly between Democrats and Republicans and their respective leaners, its Democrats skew much more progressive than Nevada’s.

But Clinton may very well be wrong that she has a winning campaign soundbite even in the rust belt with “The truth is, we aren’t a single-issue country.  We need more than a plan for the big banks. The middle class needs a raise.”  Partly, that’s because she doesn’t seem to have a plan for the big banks.  And partly, because Sanders’ policies would result in larger raises than hers for the middle class and for those who make minimum wage and therefore are not in the middle class.

And partly because it is likely, I would think, that the information contained in a February 19 Politico Magazine article by William D. Cohan, titled “Too-Big-to-Fail Comes Back to Haunt Hillary,” will begin to gain real attention.

The article details Clinton’s ongoing close personal ties with top players in the banking and investment banking industries, and the number of banks and investment firms in addition to Goldman Sachs that paid her more than $200,000 for anodyne speeches at which the guests included top executives at firms that are major clients of these banks and hedge funds.  That, according to Cohan, was the purpose of these events: introductions between Clinton and these clients.

I’m guessing that eventually someone will juxtapose this information with Clinton’s statement at a debate last month that, by definition, she can’t be a member of the establishment because she is running to the first woman president. (This, of course, was still during the height of her multi-issue “Elect me because I’m a woman” campaign phase, the multi issues being “I” and “am” and “a” and “woman”.)  It’s a safe bet that if the person who employs the juxtaposition isn’t Bernie Sanders it will be Donald Trump.  If Clinton and Trump win the nomination of their respective parties.  Or maybe before that.

I read that during the caucuses yesterday Clinton tweeted that “We can’t let a Republican win the election in November,” or something close to that.  I couldn’t agree more.


UPDATE: Apparently the entrance polls regarding Latino voters yesterday are looking wrong.  In a Politico article by Bill Scher, who mentions this, Scher also says that Clinton won African-American voters by pushing a line last week in Nevada that economic issues of the sort Sanders’ campaign has focused on don’t address what matters most to Blacks: systemic racism, particularly its effect of Black wealth.  But apparently Clinton has not offered any clue to how she plans to erase it.  Mainly she just wants African-Americans to know she knows about this and cares about it.

Unlike Sanders, who has no clue about this, or does know but doesn’t care.

Added 2/21 at 2:21 p.m.


Two additional points: One is this by Bruce Webb in the Comments thread:

Bruce Webb

February 21, 2016 3:32 pm

The Latino numbers may not be wrong. The ‘corrective’ was taken by measuring Latino neighborhoods without considering the possibility that these might skew older (and so more Hillary) even as younger Latinos are more dispersed.

Which is typical of ethnic neighborhoods everywhere once outright discrimination starts melting away.

The major exception being the African American community because some very explicit discrimination is likely NEVER to go away. But otherwise you can go to your standard Little Korea or Chinatown or Little Italy and all you find is old people and immigrants. Your third generation native English speakers are out and about in your hipster enclaves and suburbs alike.

So wait for the actual crosstabs before giving this one up.

The other is this: That a huge part of Clinton’s campaign modus operandi consists of misrepresentation of one or another thing about Sanders’ campaign, including the nature or specifics of his policy proposals—er, proposal.  (There’s only one, after all.)  That he is a single-issue candidate is just the latest.  I wish someone would ask her why she’s so reliant as a candidate on misrepresenting her opponent’s campaign—but this has been absolutely the case since she began to realize last fall that Sanders is an actual threat to her candidacy.

It’s hard to see how this helps a candidate who many voters, including many Democrats, believe is less-than-honest.  And yet that apparently doesn’t occur to her.

Added 2/21 at 5:35 p.m.

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I finally agree with (much of) a Krugman criticism of the Sanders campaign. (And why I’m glad he made the criticism in the way he did.) [Clarification added 2/20 at 11:05 a.m.; update added 2/21 at 9:40 a.m.]

Bernie Sanders hates the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which held that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited sums advocating for their preferred candidate. Who doesn’t? Citizens United was a deeply misguided decision that vastly underestimated the state’s compelling interest in preventing the appearance of corruption that massive corporate electioneering inevitably creates. An overwhelming supermajority of Americans despise the decision and wish to see it overturned. That includes most Democrats—which is probably why Sanders recently tweeted a guarantee that his Supreme Court nominees “will make overturning Citizens United one of their first decisions.”

Bernie Sanders Has No Idea How the Supreme Court Works, Mark Joseph Stern, Slate, Jan. 22

Okay. As an obsessive Bernie Sanders supporter, and as someone who knows that Supreme Court justices cannot make overturning Citizens United one of their first decisions simply because they want to, I cringed.  To understate it.  There are certain prerequisites to overturning Citizens United: specifically, an existing state or federal campaign-finance law that conflicts with the holding in Citizens United, and a legal challenge to the statute’s constitutionality that has been decided by a federal trial court and then by a federal appeals court, and then then a filed “cert.” petition asking the Supreme Court to agree to hear the case.

Granted, something not all that different than what that tweet proposed did happen in none other than Citizens United, but at least there was an actual statute in existence—McCain-Feingold—which they could, and most of which they did, pronounce unconstitutional.*  (In a follow-up case, they pronounced most of the rest of it unconstitutional.)

But I also knew that Bernie Sanders himself knows this, and that he was not the one who published that tweet.  Some 20-something member of his communications staff did.  I gritted my teeth and said to myself something like: “Okay, Sanders’ campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, has a law degree from Georgetown.  Sanders should order that no tweets or other communications on technical legal issues—or on legal-related things that involve legal technicalities, even his 20-something communications staff doesn’t recognize that it does–ever again be published without approval from Weaver.  Or someone else who has some actual knowledge of actual legal procedure and such.

There are, in other words, certain subjects that plainly require expertise—sometimes extensive expertise—before a statement about them is made. Supreme Court jurisdiction is one of them.  And obviously, macroeconomics is another.

Okay, well, by now y’all know about the controversy concerning a report by UMass-Amherst economist Gerald Friedman, commissioned by the Sanders campaign, that apparently is so of a mirror image of the macroeconomic claims of Arthur Laffer to Ronald Reagan, and Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Mitt Romney, Jeb! Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, etc., to the public.  In this case the claim is that Sanders’ economic-policy proposals will produce something along the lines of 5.3% annual GDP growth, an unemployment rate of less than 4%, and a significant increase in the labor-participation rate (notwithstanding the aging of this country’s population).  You’ve read Krugman’s blog posts about it and you’ve read his column today. Or many one of the other excoriating commentaries about it as well.  Or maybe Krugman’s and some others’.

The growth and unemployment rates apparently are theoretically possible, so it is not quite the mirror image of Laffer economics.  But also apparently, historically it is extremely unlikely.

No one has ever accused me of being an economist, man, but I’ve read enough Paul Krugman blog posts and columns, and AB posts, over the years—including Krugman’s repeated mockery of Jeb!’s promise of 4% GDP growth annually within the last year—for Friedman’s conclusions to raise series questions of accuracy, even to this novice.  Yet Sanders’ campaign began trumpeting the report.

This creates three huge problems, perhaps the most important of which Krugman flags: that if Democrats start pushing voodoo economic theories, they give away a fundamental part of their raison d’être.  The Republicans push voodoo (or highly implausible) economic theories; the Democrats do not.

I’ve argued that a big, big reason why I think Sanders would be a stronger general-election candidate than Clinton is that there is so very much that the Dem candidate should argue against, say, Rubio or Bush or Cruz that would as a practical matter be unavailable to Hillary Clinton to actually argue, but that are at the very center of Sanders’ campaign and Sanders’ appeal. And now suddenly, there is this wrench that’s been thrown into this.

Another huge problem is how extremely easy it is to conflate this issue with the incessant claims—by Clinton, by Krugman, by the Washington Post editorial board, by the Washington Post centrist-left and centrist-right columnists, etc., etc.—that Sanders’ high-profile substantive policy proposals (e.g., Medicare-for-all; tuition-free public colleges and universities) are financially unworkable. These are entirely distinct issues.  Yet just the headlines on some of these stories, which is all that many people will read, makes this conflation very easy.  Some mainstream-media political journalists (inexplicably) are doing it in their articles or blog posts about it.

But counterintuitively, I think Krugman’s column, which identifies and explains the actual issue, will help make clear the distinction.

And then there is this: If Sanders does, as I dearly hope, become the next president, his administration’s economic success will be judged against this.  A 3.5% annual growth in GDP, for example, will be called a broken promise.

But I disagree with Krugman’s political assessment that this indicates that the Sanders campaign and maybe the candidate himself are not ready for primetime.

If not nipped in the bud—repudiated very soon by Sanders himself—his campaign success could begin unraveling; that is true enough.  But every modern presidential campaign makes mistakes, some of them major ones, and the Sanders campaign, unlike the Clinton campaign, is not well stocked with presidential-campaign veterans.  Weaver himself is a novice.

And Sanders and Weaver are navigating a 20-ring circus right now, with several campaign appearances of one sort or another every single day. They both must be exhausted.

What Sanders needs to do—seriously needs to do—is to determine the types of published things ostensibly by Sanders himself (tweets, for example) and by his communications staff are fine for them to publish on their own, and the types of things that are not. Law things, not. Macroeconomics things, not.

For law things, there needs to be a designated person with actual knowledge of law things.  For macroeconomic things, there needs to more than one.  Nothing—nothing—should be published about macroeconomics without prior review by more than one macroeconomist.

I absolutely get the Sanders campaign’s frustration with the incessant torrent of uses of the word “SOCIALIST” to misrepresent Sanders’ actual policy positions.  I share the frustration.  But the way to handle it is to do what Sanders had been doing: Pointing out the capitalist, entrepreneurial success of countries such a Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and … Australia (which has universal healthcare coverage!).

And pointing out that this country’s most entrepreneurial period was the post-WWII period, with tax rates higher than anything Sanders is proposing. A period of organized-labor strength.  Of Glass-Steagall separation of traditional banking and investment banking.  And of aggressive enforcement of antitrust laws and securities laws. And, in 1967, the start of Medicare.

An addition to this torrent came earlier this week from another high-profile Friedman, New York Times columnist and aggressive-centrist Thomas Friedman, who wrote:

Bernie Sanders shows zero interest in entrepreneurship and says the Wall Street banks that provide capital to risk-takers are involved in “fraud.” …

I’d take Sanders more seriously if he would stop bleating about breaking up the big banks and instead breathed life into what really matters for jobs: nurturing more entrepreneurs and starter-uppers. I never hear Sanders talk about where employees come from. They come from employers — risk-takers, people ready to take a second mortgage to start a business. If you want more employees, you need more employers, not just government stimulus.

Apparently he’s been reading too many Washington Post centrist-right and centrist-left columnist columns.  Or else he concluded on his own that such things as breaking up the big banks, or for that matter government stimulus, has nothing at all to do with what really matters for jobs: nurturing more entrepreneurs and starter-uppers.

He is, though, certainly right that these days, if you want more employees, you need more employers.  The large, current employers plow most of their profits into stock dividends and stock buybacks, not into hiring more employees and not into upgrades of such things as manufacturing plants.  The ones here in the States, anyway.

But about the risk-takers whom I’m betting he really has in mind—his wife’s father and uncle, who during the postwar period began one of the first shopping-mall development companies and grew it into the very largest, turning their relatively small family collectively into multibillionaires before the collapse of the shopping-mall real estate business because of online shopping (the family still is extremely wealthy, but not nearly to the extent that it was).

Sanders is in fact the most pro-entrepreneurial of the presidential candidates in either party. He combines Theodore Roosevelt’s antitrust vigor with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal regulation of the financial services and securities industries, and FDR’s and Dwight Eisenhower’s massive building programs, mainly in major infrastructure projects.

What the centrist crowd doesn’t understand, or pretends not to, is that just as in Teddy Roosevelt’s day, there are critical conflicts between the interests of entrepreneurs (current and would-be) and ongoing small-businesses, on the one hand, and large corporations (especially certain types of large corporations), on the other.  One of my favorite examples is what is known as the Durbin Amendment, which pitted the interests of Visa and Mastercard against small retail businesses.  The Democratic Congress pushed it through. The nature of the charges at issue made it especially difficult for small retailers to compete with large ones. Walmart lost on that one; Mom and Pop won.

As for business loans and home mortgages, Friedman, who neither has a home mortgage nor a small business, may not be aware that the very size of the megabanks makes it ever harder for small local banks of the type that surely funded his in-laws’ startup in Marshall, Iowa back in the ‘50s, to remain in business.  The megabanks, like Walmart, set market prices. And pretty much everything else.

And the collapse of antitrust enforcement has had an enormous effect not merely on direct competition but also on small manufactures in the supply chain of large ones.  The fewer the buyers of the type of part manufactured by the small manufacturer, the less bargaining power the small manufacturer has in order simply to stay in business.

Sanders and his campaign need to bring the conversation back to where it was before this Gerald Friedman debacle.

And I need to end this very long post.


*Sentence edited slightly for clarity and precision. 2/19 at 8:57 p.m.


CLARIFICATION: Reader EMichael and I exchanged these comments this morning in the Comments thread:


February 20, 2016 9:25 am


It is the unforced errors of the Sanders’ campaign that scares me. Perhaps it is simply, as you state, that there are not enough knowledgeable people working for the campaign and that those who are capable are simply exhausted. Kind of scary when there are still nine months before the election. If Sanders wins the nomination, how can the campaign pick up capable people to stop these kind of errors?



February 20, 2016 10:08 am

EMichael, every major presidential campaign makes unforced errors, and the Sanders campaign is chock full of competent people. Clinton’s campaign has made a slew of them.

It’s just that there are some policy areas that require some real expertise in before a statement that has the potential to get a key thing wrong (e.g., the Citizens United tweet) or that requires expertise to evaluate (e.g., macroeconomics projections).

I plan to post a follow-up to this post clarifying some things and making the point that it now appears that Krugman way overblew what the Sanders campaign actually did, which was that its policy director mentioned the Friedman study and praised it as outstanding work. That was all.

But this key point I was trying to make is still valid: that while it is necessary for the Sanders campaign to refute the Sanders-will-kill-entrepreneurship-in-this-country-and-destroy-the-banking-system-and-kill-all-the-apple-trees-in-order-to-keep-Americans-from-making-apple-pie slurs, he should keep the focus of his campaign on his policy proposals and their benefits for their own sake. This macroeconomics controversy has been a big distraction, and–as I said in the post–is one that is far too easy for my comfort to conflate with the issue of the cost of his policy proposals.

The link I included in my comment is to an article on Salon by Elias Isquith, detailing what prompted the controversy and rebutting Krugman’s political argument.

Several other readers in the Comments thread supplied important links, among them: to James Galbraith’s two-page letter to Krueger, Goolsbee, Romer and Tyson deconstructing their high-profile letter that has played such a large role in the controversy; and to an article by David Dayen in the New Republic rebutting Krugman’s political argument.

On second thought I think I’ll just let this Clarification suffice rather than post a separate follow-up post.  I’m tired of this subject.

Added 2/10 at 11:05 a.m.


UPDATE: An exchange between reader Urban Legend and me in the Comments thread this morning:

Urban Legend

February 21, 2016 2:49 am

I am strongly pro-Clinton in the primaries, but Galbraith’s letter seems absolutely unassailable. Nothing justified this assault by Krugman and the others except their feeling that their credibility is undermined because of their giggling at the Bush et al projections. Somehow, the difference between massive stimulus and increasing regressive tax policies — differences they themselves have emphasized for years — escaped them.



February 21, 2016 9:29 am

Urban, that struck me, too, when I read the Galbraith article: Somehow, the difference between massive stimulus and increasing regressive tax policies — differences they themselves have emphasized for years — escaped them.

There is still the (I would think) obvious problem that apparently Friedman didn’t take into account: the ageing of this country’s population in considering projected increase in labor participation. And there probably are other things that he didn’t consider that should have been considered.

And the main point of my point–or at least the intended main point–holds and is important: on subjects that require some technical expertise or special knowledge, it is really important that Sanders have someone with the expertise or special knowledge screen what his campaign is about to say about it.

But Krugman and the others themselves mislead in this.

This is it for me on this subject.

Added 2/21 at 9:40 a.m.

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Two Must-Read Columns in the NYT Today

Nicholas Kristof’s and Linda Greenhouse’s.  They’re on different subjects but, in my opinion, part and parcel of the same thing.


ADDENDUM: Reader Sandi and I exchanged these comments in the Comments thread here this morning:


February 19, 2016 9:03 am

One way Kristoff didn’t mention that amasses huge fortunes is our tax laws, as pertains to inheritance.

It’s beyond obscene that not only are families like the Scaifes and Kochs able to set up trusts to pass the loot to their kids, that, are structured so that after a few years of giving the proceeds of the trust to charity, the kids then get the whole enchilada with no inheritance or gift tax consequences.

The really brilliant bit is using that generated cash to set up 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4)s to further your political agenda, much of which is to keep the tax laws bent in your direction……………
Power is great, but anonymous power really keeps your enemies on their toes. They never know where you’ll strike from next.



February 19, 2016 9:57 am

Sandi, it absolutely dismays me that the news media and the Republican Establishment think Rubio could beat Clinton or Sanders. The two seminal parts of Rubio’s tax plan are to end the capital gains tax and end the estate tax.

The public, of course, doesn’t yet know this, and it does not occur to the media and Republican Establishment folks that once they learn of it Rubio couldn’t defeat a monkey in the general election.

Yet they all—the pundits of all ideological stripes—keep saying that Sanders’ current strength against the Republican candidates in polls pitting them against Sanders and against Clinton don’t mean much this early, yet the polls showing Rubio’s strength do. But the key thing that supposedly makes Sanders unelectable—that he’s a SOCIALIST—is actually the thing that virtually everyone who’s heard of him knows. Yet the key thing that actually would make Rubio unelectable—his tax plan—has yet to break through to most of the public. Literally; it’s extremely likely that almost no one knows of it.

I’ll add here that it is to Paul Krugman’s tremendous credit that he keeps making that point about Rubio.

Added 1/19 at 10:14 a.m.

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Biden Tips Obama’s Hand On the Choice for the Supreme Court Nomination. (I’m not unhappy about the selection.)

Obama’s choice to replace Scalia, it appears from Biden’s comments this morning, will be Jane Kelly, whom Obama appointed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis, in 2013.

Josh Lederman of the Associated Press reports:

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is looking to nominate a Supreme Court candidate who has enjoyed past Republican support, Vice President Joe Biden said, offering some of the first indications of the president’s criteria in replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia. …

“In order to get this done, the president is not going to be able to go out — nor would it be his instinct, anyway — to pick the most liberal jurist in the nation and put them on the court,” the vice president told Minnesota Public Radio. “There are plenty of judges (who) are on high courts already who have had unanimous support of the Republicans.”

President Barack Obama is looking to nominate a Supreme Court candidate who has enjoyed past Republican support, Vice President Joe Biden said, offering some of the first indications of the president’s criteria in replacing the late Justice Antonin Scalia. …

Although the White House hasn’t publicly disclosed any candidates Obama is considering, he’s expected to look closely at a number of circuit court judges — including some that meet the benchmark that Biden laid out. Sri Srinivasan, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was confirmed 97-0 less than three years ago by the Senate, which also unanimously confirmed Jane Kelly in 2013 to the St. Louis-based Eighth Circuit.

Minnesota is part of the Eighth Circuit. And Kelly, who was an assistant Federal Public Defender in the Northern District of Iowa for 19 years before her appointment to the Eighth Circuit, all but the first five years as the Supervising Attorney in the Cedar Rapids, IA office, notably—it is noted each time her name is mentioned as a possible nominee—received the strong support of Charles Grassley, then the ranking Republican of the Senate Judiciary Committee and not its chairman.

Biden’s choice of local radio station for that interview may be coincidence.  Or it may not be.

Kelly joined the Federal Defender’s Office after completing clerkships for a federal trial judge in South Dakota and an Eighth Circuit judge.  She apparently has never been in private law practice, and also has never worked in government other than in those positions, and never represented a government as an attorney; as an assistant Federal Defender, she opposed the federal government in criminal cases.

Obviously, Obama reads Angry Bear.

No, Kelly was not on my three-person list of preferred nominees.  But all three of my preferences are men, and because Kelly would be replacing a man, that will free President Sanders to nominate one of them to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Who is a woman.  (It would free a President Hillary Clinton to that, too, but as a practical matter they all will be out of the running unless one of them gets a sex-change operation, and really soon. Ginsburg in 83 years old.)

Luckily, she was a classmate of Obama’s at Harvard Law School. Which may be why he nominated her in 2013 to a federal appeals court, or to any court, even though she was a career public defender.  Rather than a former prosecutor.

I do have a couple of caveats about her, though.  One is that although she’s had reams of experience representing the hoi polloi in criminal cases, especially of course in drug cases, all of her experience is in federal court.  Most criminal cases are state-court prosecutions, and this is where there is rampant misconduct and framing, by police officers, prosecutors, and prosecutors’ so-called-expert witnesses.  And courtesy of a 1996 federal statute that came close to precluding federal habeas corpus review of state-court convictions—and the O’Connor/Kennedy/Thomas/Alito/Scalia/Roberts crowd’s virulently angry and inappropriately aggressive actions—the Supreme Court’s effective rewriting of that statute to make it fully, completely, totally preclude federal habeas review of state-court convictions, state judicial branches and anything that occurs in them are constitutional-rights-free zones to the extent that they want to be.

This although the Constitution’s Article I provides that “[t]he privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.”  For people convicted in state courts, Congress suspended that right two decades ago, at least according to the Supreme Court.  That’s a very long suspension.

So I would prefer someone who has represented criminal defendants in state courts, even though I don’t doubt at all that Jane Kelly well understands this issue.

The other caveat concerns something I’ve noticed over the course of more than a decade: The near-impossibility of obtaining meaningful appellate review in state court or in a habeas petition by female judges if the conviction occurred in a sexual assault case, although there is now a generational divide on this.  Kelly was born in 1964, and is on the young side of that female-judge generational divide.  And there now have been enough high-profile cases in which the allegation was fabricated that perhaps even some of the sisterhood judges have taken note, although I doubt it. This is simply an observation that among older female judges there is an unshakeable, irrebutable presumption of guilt that precludes genuine appellate or habeas review.

Finally, the Wikipedia entry for Kelly includes this: “In 2004, Kelly was attacked while jogging in a park in Cedar Rapids, and was brutally beaten and left barely conscious; her assailant was never identified.”

Yet Kelly did not walk away from her career as an assistant Federal Defender.

From what I know about her, which is almost entirely from Wikipedia and the short blurbs about her in media lists of potential nominees since Saturday, I will be happy if she is the nominee.

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Presidents, Taxes and Economic Growth

Presidents, Taxes and Economic Growth

by Mike Kimel

One of the never-ending debates in economics is the extent to which taxes affect the economy.  Most people are fairly certain that higher taxes slow growth.  They’ve learned this from economists.

To get my own look at the issue, about six years ago, I wrote a post looking at the relationship between the federal tax burden and growth in real GDP, and I did so in the context of Presidential administrations.

To avoid questions about which leads which (i.e., did the tax burden affect the economy, or were tax burdens changed by the political class in response to changing economic conditions), I looked at the change in the federal tax burden over the first two years of a presidential administration and compared that to the % change in the real GDP over years two through eight of that same administration.  (I left out administrations that served less than 2 terms.)

That way, if there was a relationship between the two series there would be no question that taxes were leading the economy rather than the other way around.  Also, two years is enough time for an administration to impose its policies, but not enough time for reality to set in and for it to start flailing about.  Conversely, six years is long enough to see outcomes, and won’t be susceptible to huge movements due to extraordinary positive or negative performance in one outlying year.

Thus, for example, for Reagan, I looked at the annual change in the Federal Tax Burden (i.e., Federal Current Receipts / GDP) between 1980 (before Reagan took office, and therefore the baseline year for Reagan) and 1982, Reagan’s second full year in office.  I then compared that to the annualized % change in real GDP from 1982 to 1988.

Going back to 1932, the first year for which there is National Income and Product Accounts data on a full presidential administration generated a graph that looks like this:

Graph 1 - corrected
Graph 1 (“Corrected mislabeling in the original graphs. Apologies.”)

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