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

Reigniting Competition in the American Economy

Via Alternet:

“Reigniting Competition in the American Economy”: Keynote Remarks at New America’s Open Markets Program Event

By Elizabeth Warren

June 29, 2016

Thank you, thank you. As Barry mentioned, before I was a senator, I was a law professor. What he didn’t say is that I taught contracts, secured transactions, and bankruptcy—all courses related to the functioning of competitive markets. I love markets! Strong, healthy markets are the key to a strong, healthy America.

That’s the reason I am here today. Because anyone who loves markets knows that for markets to work, there has to be competition. But today, in America, competition is dying. Consolidation and concentration are on the rise in sector after sector. Concentration threatens our markets, threatens our economy, and threatens our democracy.

Evidence of the problem is everywhere. Just look at banking. For years, banks have been in a feeding frenzy, swallowing up smaller competitors to become more powerful and, eventually, too big to fail. The combination of their size, their risky practices, and the hands-off policies of their regulators created a perfect storm, resulting in the worst financial crisis in 80 years. We know that excessive size and interconnectedness promotes risky behavior that can take down our economy—and yet, today, eight years after that financial crisis, three out of the four biggest banks in America are even bigger than they were before the crisis and two months ago five were designated by both the Fed and the FDIC as “too big to fail.”

The concentration problem—and particularly the idea of too-big-to-fail in the financial sector—gets a lot of attention. But the problem isn’t unique to the financial sector. It’s hiding in plain sight all across the American economy.

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Phil Ebersole: Monopoly power and what to do about it

Blogger Phil Ebersole writes today in a post titled “Monopoly power and what to do about it” (all boldface in original):

The trouble with the U.S. economy is monopoly power.

Concentrated business power means less consumer choice, less opportunity for entrepreneurs and greater concentration of wealth.

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren described the problem very well in a speech on Wednesday.  If you care about this issue, I strongly recommend that you click on the first link below.

She noted that five banks have been designated as “too big to fail” by the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

But that situation is not limited to the banking industry.  Four airlines (down from nine in the past 10 years) control 80 percent of all airline seats.  If American, Delta, United or Southwest were to be in danger of ceasing operations, could there be any doubt that the government would want to keep them flying at all costs?

There’s another problem with concentration in the transportation industry, and that is the incentive to abandon small and remote communities and concentrate services in a few hubs.   The second article linked below describes how concentration in the airline, railroad and trucking industries has harmed small cities in the Heartland. “Flyover country” wasn’t always flyover country.

Concentration means less consumer choice.  Warren pointed out that more than half of Americans who with Internet or cable television service use Comcast.  Yet, she said, a third of U.S. citizens who theoretically have access to high-speed Internet service can’t afford it.   Americans pay more than Europeans for Internet service and get worse service.

Concentration gives large companies the power to block emerging competitors.  Recently, Warren said, complaints have been filed against Google for using its search engine to harm rivals of its Google Plus user review feature, against Apple for making it difficult for rivals of Apple Music to offer streaming services via i-Phone and against Amazon for steering customers to books published by Amazon to the detriment of other publishers.

Even with straight-out competition, there is the “Wal-Mart” effect.  When a big box store comes to town, small locally-owned businesses fail.

And when economic power is concentrated in the hands of a just a few, the “job creators” have the power to drive down middle-class wages while enriching themselves.

∞∞∞

The solution to this problem, Warren said, is simply to enforce the anti-trust laws as originally written.

The reason that they aren’t is a neoliberal philosophy of business regulation that took hold in the late 1970s, which held that the most important thing was not competition, but business efficiency.  If Amazon can serve customers more efficiently that a local bookstore, then, according to this idea, there was no reason for the local bookstore to exist.

That could be true only if Amazon, Wal-Mart, Comcast and other big corporations were owned and operated by altruists, who passed along the gains in economic efficiency to customers, workers, suppliers and the local community.

But even when consolidation produces economic efficiency that benefits consumers, economic efficiency isn’t everything.   Concentration of economic power means concentration of political power, which results in the kind of dysfunctional economic system we have now.

The benefit of Warren’s proposals is that they do not require action by Congress.   All they require is enforcement of the letter of the law.

I myself would go beyond this.  In banking, for example, and maybe Internet service and other industries, there is a benefit in a public option.   And in some cases, there is a need for public utility-type regulation.  But a return to traditional anti-trust enforcement, as Warren proposes, would be a big change for the better.

LINKS

Elizabeth Warren’s Consolidation Speech Could Change the Election by Paul Glastris for the Washington Monthly.   This includes the complete transcript of Warren’s speech.   Of course what’s important is whether her proposals are actually put into practice, not whether they help Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump.

Bloom and Bust: Regional inequality is out of control, here’s how to reverse it by Phillip Longman for the Washington Monthly.

Monopoly Power Is on the Rise in the US: Here’s How to Fix That by Mike Konczal for The Nation.

ANTITRUSSSTTT!  (Bernie Sanders did SO talk about antitrust during his campaign.  A LOT.  But thank you, Elizabeth Warren, for picking up that mantle now) by Beverly Mann for Angry Bear.

Okay, so other than that Ebersole listed my post after those articles by those two lesser lights, this is thrilling.  I mean, that this issue, so critical to the central themes driving this election cycle, is actually gaining genuine attention, so long overdue.

This movement, our movement, which began in the fall of 2011 with Occupy Wall Street, is on track to cause a political and economic earthquake.

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ANTITRUSSSTTT! (Bernie Sanders did SO talk about antitrust during his campaign. A LOT. But thank you, Elizabeth Warren, for picking up that mantle now.)

A detailed update follows the original post.

____

Is the window closing on Bernie Sanders’s moment? A number of folks, your humble blogger included, have suggested as much. We’ve argued that with Democrats seeming to unite behind Hillary Clinton, it’s possible that the longer Sanders withholds his endorsement for her in the quest to make the party platform more progressive, the less leverage he’ll end up having.

But a new battleground state poll from Dem pollster Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps suggests Sanders’ endorsement could, in fact, still have a real impact, meaning he may still have some genuine leverage to try to win more concessions designed to continue pushing the party’s agenda in a more progressive direction.

A Sanders endorsement of Clinton could still make a big difference, Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, Washington Post, yesterday at 3:24 p.m.

____

Paul Glastris reports that a speech Elizabeth Warren gave that was virtually ignored by the news media could provide a template for an argument about the economy that changes the course of the presidential election. — gs

— Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, Washington Post, yesterday at 6:21 p.m.

Just about exactly a year ago—early last summer—as Clinton was picking up the pace of her campaign appearances and formulating her substantive arguments, she said something that the news media caught onto immediately as really strange.  In an attempt to woo aspiring and current small-business owners, she did her default thing: She adopted a Republican slogan and cliché, this one that government regulation and bureaucracy are the main impediments to starting and expanding small businesses, and are, well, just making the lives of small business owners miserable.

Federal regulations and bureaucracy, see.

It shouldn’t take longer to start a business in America than it does to start one in France, she said, correctly.  And it shouldn’t take longer for a small-business owner to fill out the business’s federal tax forms than it takes Fortune 500 corporations to do so.  Also, correctly.  And as president she will … something.

There were, the news media quickly noted, though, a few problems with this tack.  One was that regulations that apply varyingly to other than a few types of small businesses—those that sell firearms and ammunition, for example—small-business regulations are entirely state and local ones and are not of the sort that the federal government even could address.

Another was that Clinton was relying upon a survey report that provided average times to obtain business licenses in various cities around the world, for companies that would employ a certain number of employees within a numerical, midsize range (or some such), and that cited Paris as the only French cities; showed that the differences in the time it took on average to obtain a business license there and in several American cities was a matter of two or three days, and that only Los Angeles (if I remember correctly) among the American cities had a longer average time than did Paris; and that the all the cities listed had an average of less than two weeks.

Some folks (including me, here at AB) also noted that the actual time it takes to open a small business depends mostly on the type of business, often the ease of obtaining a business loan, purchasing equipment such as that needed to open a restaurant, leasing space, obtaining insurance, and ensuring compliance with, say, local health department and fire ordinances.

And one folk (me, here at AB) pointed out that the relative times it takes to fill out a federal tax form for a business depends far more on whether your business retains Price Waterhouse Coopers to do that, or has in-house CPAs using the latest software for taxes and accounting, or relies upon the sole proprietor to perform that task.

But here’s what I also said: Far, far more important to the ease of starting a business and making a profit in it than regulatory bureaucracy—state and local, much less and federal ones—is overcoming monopolistic practices of, well, monopolies.*

I didn’t just mean Walmart and the like, I explained.  I also meant the monopolistic powers that aren’t obvious to the general public.  Such as wholesale suppliers and shippers.  And such as Visa and Mastercard, which impacts very substantially the profitability of small retailers and franchisers.

Which brought me then, and brings me again, to one of my favorite examples of how the Dems forfeit the political advantage on government regulation by never actually discussing government regulation, in this instance, what’s known as the Durbin Amendment.  It limits the amount that Visa and Mastercard—clearly critical players in commerce now—can charge businesses for processing their customers’ credit card and ATM card transactions.

Talk to any owner of a small retail business—a gas station franchise owner, an independent fast food business owner, an independent discount store, for example—about this issue, as I did back when the Durbin Amendment was being debated in Congress.  See what they say.

The Durbin Amendment was one of the (very) precious few legislative restrictions on monopolies, on anticompetitive business practices, to manage to become law despite intense lobbying of the finance industry or whatever monopolistic industry would be hurt by its enactment.  To my knowledge, though, it was never mentioned in congressional races in 2010 or 2014, or in the presidential or congressional races in 2012. Antitrust issues have been considered too complicated for discussion among the populace.

Which presumably is why the news media never focused on the fact that Bernie Sanders discussed it regularly in his campaign.  And that it resonated with millennials.

And also presumably, it’s why the news media ignored Elizabeth Warren’s speech on Wednesday entirely about the decisive, dramatic effects of the federal government’s aggressive reversal over the last four decades of antirust regulation and the concerted failures of one after another White House administration (including the current one) to enforce the regulation that remains.

Here’s what Glastris wrote in preface to his republishing of the full Warren speech:

Yesterday, straight off her high-profile campaign appearance Monday with Hillary Clinton, Sen. Elizabeth Warren gave a keynote address about industry consolidation in the American economy at a conference at the Capitol put on by New America’s Open Markets program. Though the speech has so far gotten only a modicum of attention—the press being more interested in litigating Donald Trump’s Pocahontas taunts—it has the potential to change the course of the presidential contest. Her speech begins at minute 56:45 in the video below.

Warren is, of course, famous for her attacks on too-big-to-fail banks. But in her address yesterday, entitled “Reigniting Competition in the American Economy,” she extended her critique to the entire economy, noting that, as a result of three decades of weakened federal antitrust regulation, virtually every industrial sector today—from airlines to telecom to agriculture to retail to social media—is under the control of a handful of oligopolistic corporations. This widespread consolidation is “hiding in plain sight all across the American economy,” she said, and “threatens our markets, threatens our economy, and threatens our democracy.”

As our readers know, economic consolidation is a subject the Washington Monthly has long been obsessed with—see hereherehereherehereherehereherehere, and here. In our current cover story, Barry Lynn (impresario of yesterday’s event) and Phil Longman argue that antitrust was the true legacy of the original American Populists and a vital, under-appreciated reason for the mass prosperity of mid-20th Century America. But this legacy, and the new Gilded Age economy that has resulted from its abandonment, is not a narrative most Americans have been told (one reason why even the “populist” candidates running president have shied away from it).

What amazed me yesterday was how Warren synthesized the main points of virtually everything we’ve published into a single speech that, while long and wonky, was Bill Clintonesque in its vernacular exposition. You can imagine average Americans all over the country listening, nodding, understanding.

Though many in the press didn’t notice the speech, you can best believe Hillary Clinton’s campaign operatives were paying attention (Trump’s too, I’ll bet). That’s why I think the speech has the possibility of changing the course of the campaign. The candidate who can successfully incorporate the consolidation message into their campaign rhetoric will an huge, perhaps decisive advantage. Hillary has already signaled, in an op-ed she published last fall, that she gets the larger argument. Yesterday, Elizabeth Warren showed her how to run on it. You can read the full prepared text below.

I’m thrilled.  Except for that parenthetical that says “even the “populist” candidates running president have shied away from it, which is inaccurate regarding Bernie Sanders. The link is to an article by Glastris in the November/December 2015 edition of Washington Monthly titled “America’s Forgotten Formula for Economic Equality,” which regarding Sanders concludes based upon an answer to a question by Anderson Cooper at a then-recent televised debate in which Sanders asked the question about how he expected to win the presidency as a democratic socialist failed to mention the issue of antitrust, that Sanders did not campaign on the issue of the demise of antitrust law and enforcement.

But as it happens, I knew that was incorrect.  One of my fondest memories of the Sanders campaign dates back to a detailed first-person report by a journalist covering the Sanders campaign in Iowa last summer, who attended a rally not as journalist but instead from the cheap seats in the midst of the attendees.  I can’t remember the journalist or the publication, and was unable to find it just now in a search.  But I remember this: He sat next to a young woman, blond, cheerleadery-looking, who whenever Sanders said a word or phrase referencing one of his favorite topics, would stand up, thrust her arm up in a punch-the-air motion, and shout the word or phrase.  Cheerleader-like, the reporter said.

One of the words?  Antitrust.  Or, as the young woman said it, “ANTITRUSSSTTT!”

In searching for that article, which as I said I couldn’t find, I did find a slew of references by Sanders to antitrust—the economic and political power of unchecked and ever-growing monopolies—in reports about his rallies.  One, about a rally in Iowa, for example, quoted Sanders as saying that Agribusiness monopoly has reduced the prices human farmers receive for their products well below their market value in a competitive economy.

Other statements made clear the critical reason that Sanders has so focused on the call to break up the big banks: their huge economic and political power.  Including the resultant demise of community banks of the sort that made America great when America was great—for obtaining small-business loans and mortgages, anyway.

So here’s my point: If you click on the link to that Democracy Corps poll, you’ll see what so many people whose heads are buried in the sands of the pre-2015 political era (including the ones who constantly trash me in the comments threads to my posts like my last one) don’t recognize.  All that the Democrats need do in order to win a White House and down-ballot landslide is to campaign on genuinely progressive issues, and genuinely explain them.

Which is why Warren is so valuable to the Dems up and down the ballot.  And why Sanders is, too.

Warren endorsed Clinton last week, and on Tuesday campaigned with her in a speech introducing her, singing her praises, and trashing Donald Trump.  Headline-making stuff.  But not the stuff that will matter most.  When she goes on the road and repeats her Wednesday speech, not her Tuesday one, and then asks that people vote Democratic for the White House on down, it will matter far more.

And that is true also for Sanders. But I don’t expect many politicos over the age of 40 to recognize that.

Glastris’s piece yesterday in titled “Elizabeth Warren’s Consolidation speech Could Change the Election.” Yes.  Exactly. Consolidation.  As in, monopolies. And monopolistic economic practices and political power.

Antitrusssttt!

Surprisingly, apparently in response to the release of the Democracy Corp poll yesterday, hours after suggesting that Clinton was about to begin campaigning as a triangulator because Sanders was refusing to endorse her, and anyway that’s what some Clinton partisans have been urging, someone in the Clinton campaign rescinded that, indirectly.  Presumably, it was someone under the age of 40.

Or someone who reads Angry Bear.  Probably someone who’s under 40 and reads Angry Bear.

Rah-rah! Sis-boom-bah!

*Sentence edited slightly for clarity. 7/2 at 10:43 a.m.

____

UPDATE: Greg Sargent is reporting now:

The latest draft of the Democratic Party platform, which is set to be released as early as this afternoon, will show that Bernie Sanders won far more victories on his signature issues than has been previously thought, according to details provided by a senior Sanders adviser.

The latest version of the platform, which was signed off on recently by a committee made up of representatives for the Sanders and Clinton campaigns and the DNC, has been generally summarized by the DNC and characterized in news reports. Sanders has hailed some of the compromises reached in it, but he has vowed to continue to fight for more of what he wants when the current draft goes to a larger Democratic convention platform committee in Orlando coming weeks, and when it goes to the floor of the convention in Philadelphia in late July.

But the actual language of the latest draft has not yet been released, and it will be released as early as today. It will show a number of new provisions on Wall Street reform, infrastructure spending, and job creation that go beyond the victories that Sanders has already talked about. They suggest Sanders did far better out of this process thus far than has been previously thought. Many of these new provisions are things that Sanders has been fighting for for years.

We already know from the DNC’s public description of the latest draft of the platform that it includes things such as a general commitment to the idea of a $15-per-hour minimum wage; to expanding Social Security; to making universal health care available as a right through expanding Medicare or a public option; and to breaking up too-big-to-fail institutions.

Warren Gunnels, the chief policy adviser to the Sanders campaign, is Sargent’s source.  Gunnels listed six additions to the platform draft:

1) Eliminating conflict of interest at the Federal Reserve by making sure that executives at financial institutions cannot serve on the board of regional Federal Reserve banks or handpick their members.

2) Banning golden parachutes for taking government jobs and cracking down on the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington.

3) Prohibiting Wall Street from picking and choosing which credit agency will rate their product.

4) Empowering the Postal Service to offer basic banking services, which makes such services available to more people throughout the country, including low-income people who lack access to checking accounts.

5) Ending the loophole that allows large profitable corporations to defer taxes on income stashed in offshore tax havens to avoid paying less taxes.

6) Using the revenue from ending that deferral loophole to rebuild infrastructure and create jobs.

Okay, folks.  While being credited to Sanders, this far more likely is a blunt-force impact of Warren, since every one of these points concerns Warren’s particular area of interest: financial industry regulation.

But there are, I believe, clear Sanders hallmarks in there, too: particularly item 4, empowering the Postal Service to offer basic banking services, which makes such services available to more people throughout the country, including low-income people who lack access to checking accounts.

In other words, Warren is the intermediary between the Clinton and Sanders campaigns.  And in exchange for her unbridled campaigning for and with Clinton has combined her own top priorities—precise legislative ones that Warren has the deep expertise to demand and to draft, e.g., items 1 and 3—with one very specific one of Sanders and with more generic ones of his as well, e.g., items 2 and 5.

This will be an unbeatable platform and team.  During the campaign, and in the four years that follow.

Game on.

Update added 7/1 at 3:34 p.m

 

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A Clinton Blank Check? Or a Sanders Blank Check?

Long-time Republican strategists and campaign consultants privately acknowledge they are so certain of Hillary Clinton’s victory – and so worried about its impact on Senate races and GOP control of the Senate – that they are already considering a controversial tactic that explicitly acknowledges Donald Trump’s defeat.

The tactic, used by congressional Republicans two decades ago, late in the 1996 campaign, involves running television ads that urge voters to elect a Republican Congress so that Clinton won’t have “a blank check” as president.

When will GOP Senate campaigns throw Trump under the bus?, Stuart Rothenberg, Washington Post, today

The obvious Dem Senate and House candidates’ response would be, I would think:

Here’s what the Sanders congressional wing will propose: …  Clinton will sign most of it.  It’s not Clinton who, by voting for a Dem-controlled Congress, you’ll be giving a blank check.

Which is why Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are aggressively campaigning for a Dem Senate and a Dem House.

Enough said.  I would think.  (Well, okay, it would have to be said more subtly than that, since Clinton, after all, will be the presidential nominee.  But that wouldn’t be hard to do.)*

It is, in other words, the specific policy proposals that matter.

*Parenthetical added 6/28 at 8:46 p.m.

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Forget ‘Women and Children’. Women ARE Children. Right?

Okay, y’all know about the controversy: At Sunday night’s debate in Flint, Clinton interrupted Sanders, repeatedly, and tried to talk over him.  And at one point Sanders said to her, “Excuse me. I’m talking,” and, then, when Clinton again interrupted him, said “Wait a minute. Wait. Could I finish? You’ll have your turn, all right?”

Oh, the horror. At least according to an army of political journalists.  Most of whom work for the Washington Post.

Clinton is A WOMAN CANDIDATE.  And she’s running to become the first WOMAN NOMINEE OF A MAJOR POLITCAL PARTY FOR PRESIDENT.  Ergo, commentaries titled “What Bernie Sanders still doesn’t get about arguing with Hillary Clinton,” in which Janell Ross mentioned that Clinton’s campaign was equating Sanders’ comments to the infamous conduct by Rep. Rick Lazio, Clinton’s 2000 Republican senate-campaign opponent, and who seems to agree with that.  And ‘Excuse me, I’m talking’: Bernie Sanders shuts down Hillary Clinton, repeatedly,” the title of a blog post by Peter W. Stevenson, also a Fix-er.  And this from The Fix blog leader writer Chris Cillizza in his post-debate Winners and Losers take on Sunday night:

Losers

Bernie Sanders: The senator from Vermont had effectively walked a fine line in the previous six debates when it came to attacking Clinton without coming across as bullying or condescending. He tripped and fell while trying to execute that delicate dance on Sunday night. Sanders’s “excuse me, I’m talking” rebuttal to Clinton hinted at the fact that he was losing his temper with her. His “Can I finish, please?” retort ensured that his tone and his approach to someone trying to become the first female presidential nominee in either party would be THE story of the night.

Well, it was THE story, I guess, among journalists and others who never forget that Clinton is running as a WOMAN but who don’t consider in these writings that she’s campaigning on a platform of equal treatment for women.  Equal pay for equal work.  Break down glass ceilings and other barriers.

Well, at least the glass ceiling that supposedly still exists that would be trying to keep, say, Elizabeth Warren from the White House, had she sought it.  And who, I’m betting, does not consider herself such a delicate flower that she shouldn’t be treated, on the campaign trail or elsewhere, that same a man would be treated in the same circumstances.

And who can actually distinguish between a male campaign opponent who repeatedly physically approaches his female opponent on a debate stage and shoves a document in her face and demands that she sign it, and a male campaign opponent who finally draws the line on a debate stage that his female opponent has repeatedly crossed.

I do not believe that Sanders would not have said exactly the same things to a male opponent.  And I do believe that the criticism is the very height of hypocrisy by a candidate whose primary shtick has been that her election is necessary in the service of equality for women.  And, for that matter, by political commentators or anyone else who professes concern about double standards for women and men

But I also think Clinton came into that debate Sunday night with the very intent to be in-your-face-obnoxious.  And some pundits caught this:

Sanders shot back that if people truly had a problem with the comment that Sanders made, they should look at the speaking time Clinton was given and at the number of times she interrupted the Senator.

“Well, I think that given the fact that during that debate she ended up going on many occasions [over the time allotment] – and when I was speaking she interrupted me. I didn’t interrupt her, despite the fact that she spoke longer.”

Bernie Sanders Responds To Debate Interruptions: Says Clinton Is the Rude One, trofire.com

The actual link is http://trofire.com/2016/03/08/bernie-sanders-responds-to-ridiculous-debate-tone-policing/, so I’m assuming that the original title of the article was “Bernie Sanders responds to ridiculous debate-tone policing”. They shouldn’t have changed the title.

Clinton thinks this type of stuff and her habitual sleight-of-hand misrepresentations of Sanders’ record–a special feature of her debate performance on Sunday–are the path to wrapping up the nomination.  We’ll see about that.

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Do Voters Who Want ‘Change’ Really Care More About the Age of the Candidate Than About the Age of the Candidate’s Ideas? REALLY?

The Marco Rubio debate moment that worries Democrats: When Marco Rubio cast the election as a ‘generational choice,’ he took a page out of the Obama playbook to portray himself as the candidate of future. It could work.

— Title and subtitle of an article in today’s Christian Science Monitor, by Linda Feldman (via Yahoo Politics)

Yup.  Voters are downright clamoring for a return to 1920s economic and social policies—which, point by point by point, actually is what he wants to do.

All those young voters who so enthusiastically supported Obama in 2008 are chomping at the bit, and the ones who have turned 18 since then are so gullible that they think a 44-year-old Ronald Reagan/George W. Bush on steroids is the real candidate of change because, well, y’know, he’s 44.*

So what the Democrats should do, I think, is nominate a 43-year-old Communist Workers Party candidate if one were to run.

I mean … whatever.

Maybe some major polling organization will test out this theory that the age of the candidate rather than the age of the candidate’s ideas is what matters to voters, by including a question about it in its next survey.  The margin of error would be 30 years—the difference in the ages of Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders.

Seriously, of all the asinine canards that political consultants and political journalists sell, this surely rates among the most transparently ridiculous. Although maybe it didn’t really matter after all that Obama ran in 2008 not merely as the youngest candidate but (except for John Edwards) the most progressive.  Or maybe people thought John McCain was the progressive.

Yeah.  That’s it.  People thought John McCain was the progressive.

And they think Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ ideas are old hat.

—-

*Sentence typo-corrected 11/11 at 6:15 p.m.

—-

ADDENDUM: Don’t miss this terrific piece by Adele Stan on the American Prospect website.  (H/T Paul Waldman.)

Although she doesn’t mention Rubio’s age, so maybe it’s not such a terrific piece.  Doesn’t she know that Rubio is 44 years old?

Added 11/11 at 7:03 p.m.

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Making a Difference in American Families’ Lives by Crying ‘Wolf’ about Sexism

“Her campaign has been about how to make a difference in American families’ lives – a cause she’s fought for her entire life,” said [Clinton campaign] spokeswoman, Christina Reynolds. “It’s a shame Senator Sanders’s campaign has decided to make the campaign about political attacks. Voters want to hear about how their candidate will fight for them, not fight each other.”

Bernie Sanders Walking the Line Between Personal Attacks and Political Critiques, Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman, New York Times, today

Absolutely, Clinton’s campaign has been about how to make a difference in American families’ lives, and voters want to hear about how their candidate will fight for them, not fight each other.  Which is why Clinton three times within two days publicly told those very voters and all the world that Sanders told her, and her alone, that she should stop speaking in a literally loud voice about the issue of gun control legislation, and that he did so because she is a woman and he is sexist.

This will make a difference in American families’ lives.  At least the lives of hardworking ones.

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Why Does Hillary Clinton Think We Want Elizabeth Warren to Be Vulnerable?

Hillary Clinton says women are “held to a totally different standard” in politics — and that it’s been that way since she first ran for office.

“You’re expected to be both strong and vulnerable at the same time,” Clinton said in BuzzFeed’s “Another Round” podcast that was published online Sunday. “That’s not easy to do.”

The Democratic frontrunner said it’s “frustrating” for women in “any profession” to be criticized for being themselves.

“It’s just so hard to get people to realize that, you know, we’re all different,” Clinton said. “We may all be women, but we all have our strengths, we all have our weaknesses. We get up every morning and do the best we can. And eventually people either get you or they don’t.”

Clinton said she faced similar sexist questions when she first ran for Senate in 1999 and again during the 2008 presidential campaign — but, interestingly, not during her time as secretary of state.

“Because I wasn’t in politics, people were really nice,” Clinton said. “They said all kinds of nice things about me, which, you know, I appreciated.”

But that changed when she announced her 2016 presidential bid.

“How is a woman supposed to behave? Well, how about the way she is,” Clinton said. “And then people have to figure out her as opposed to her having to figure out everybody else.”

Hillary Clinton: ‘How is a woman supposed to behave? Well, how about the way she is’, Dylan Stableford, Yahoo Politics, yesterday

Yup.  We definitely expect Elizabeth Warren to be both strong and vulnerable.  And since she’s only one of those things, we Democrats are darned lucky that she’s not running for the presidential nomination!

Heck, I’m not sure Warren will even be reelected to the Senate, unless she adopts Barbara Mikulski’s or Debbie Stabenow’s feigning-vulnerability thing. They did it so well that they have both had a cakewalk to reelection.  Mikulski, repeatedly!  And Stabenow, in a swing state!

What concerns me most about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is that she believes, obviously unshakably, that what really matters in this election is herHer personality.  Her gender.  Her ongoing, decades-long war with the Republican Party, not about policy but instead about her.  It permeates every single thing about her campaign.  Because ultimately, yes, it does show, to use her words, the way she is.

One of the ways she is is a politician who is paying consultants exorbitant fees to advise her that she should be a guest on one after another comedy-skit show or women’s daytime interview show, and talk about herself and act silly.  But who apparently don’t advise her that, maybe, her actual problem is that she never actually engages in a back-and-forth discussion publicly about policy specifics and their impact, and that her vaunted toughness toward Republicans has almost nothing to do with the specifics their economic and fiscal policy proposals but instead in defending herself against their allegations of misconduct.

See?  She can go toe-to-toe with those Republicans!  Just not in explaining that, contrary to their incessant claims, this country’s most successful and creative period was when income taxes were far more progressive, and far higher for higher-income individuals and for corporations, than they have been during periods of slow economic growth.  And that it was during those decades that most of this country’s dramatic upward mobility occurred.

And that while, say, Marco Rubio makes patently ridiculous claims like that Uber couldn’t exist in any other country because only in the United States is it not banned by regulations instituted at the behest of taxicab drivers and taxicab company owners.  And even here in the United States it didn’t exist in Miami when it did exist in New York City because of those of those regulations that taxicab drivers had managed to successfully lobby the city’s government to kill Uber’s plan to that city.

Mm-hmm.  Only the likes of taxicab drivers lobby for favorable legislation and contracts.  Not, say, private prison corporations.  Although, of course, private corporations taking over government functions in exchange for payment to them of huge public funds and payment by them to, say, Marco Rubio’s campaign funds is capitalism!  And democracy!  Unlike taxicab driver and labor union lobbying.

And Uber operates not just in the United States but in cities all over the world.  Even in Scandinavia.  And also in Miami.  But it didn’t start in Miami.  Probably because of the strength of the taxicab driver lobby there.

For months and months after Clinton announced her candidacy, as it started to become clear that it wasn’t quite taking off as they’d expected, her campaign engaged in an intense attempt via political journalists to characterize her as a wonk. Repeatedly, sometimes several within a few days, there were articles describing her as a wonk.  Which, it turns out, now means, simply, a claimed interest in policy.  (Jeb Bush began to borrow the he’s-a-Wonk-campaign campaign strategy, also with some success.  Jeb Bush is not a wonk, but he is a Wonk.  Then again, he can explain why the left wants slow growth; it’s that it means people are more dependent upon government.”  The thing is, though, that he can’t explain why his brother wanted slow growth.  Or at least wanted much slower growth than lefty Obama has wanted.  Or, if he’s wonkish enough to know why, he has so far kept it to himself.)

After reading yet another Hillary-Clinton’s-a-wonk article, circa July, shortly after she made political headlines with an addition to her website in which she assured small-business owners and people who aspire to be one that she fully understood that the biggest problem in starting and then in owning a small business is federal regulation, and that she planned to get right on that as soon as she’s inaugurated, I said to myself:

Yep.  She’s a wonk.  It’s just that she’s a wonk who thinks small businesses are regulated mainly by the federal government, and  thinks that the locale and the nature of the business are irrelevant to the type of regulations required to start and then operat a small business.

It didn’t occur to her, apparently, to not condescend to small-business owners and aspirants, and state that most small-business regulation is not by the federal government but by states and municipalities. Much less did she think that maybe she should point out that, regarding small businesses, federal regulation usually supports them as against mega-businesses that control such things as credit/debit card payment methods and fees, and as against business-sector monopolies.  That’s what the Durbin Amendment and the Sherman Antitrust Act respectively do.

Then again, in order for her to do that she’d have to have the ability to do that, as well as the willingness to do it.  Bernie Sanders has the ability to do that.  And does do it. So does Clinton’s husband, even now; he did it, extemporaneously, on some complex subject—I can’t remember what, but I read about it—when he appeared recently on some interview show.  Granted, they’re both men.  But Elizabeth Warren is a woman, and she can, and does, do it too.

Hillary Clinton speaks only in soundbites because, apparently, she thinks only in soundbites.  And because, maybe after all, and for all her feminism talk, she believes that complex discussion of such things as the Sherman Antitrust Act and the level of its enforcement (or lack of it), and of Keynesian economics, and of the actual history of federal taxation, spending, and regulation—and the actual nature of federal regulation—are subjects only for male politicians to discuss with journalists for the enlightenment of the hoi polloi.

Clinton doesn’t have to show she’s vulnerable.  But, oh, she does.

And she doesn’t realize that it is she who is really the one with the gender bias.  Or at least for whom it will forever be the 1990s.

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I’m so, so tired of political journalists (including some who I think are generally excellent) misconstruing certain types of poll results. And of pollsters not asking the obvious direct question they need to ask. [Addendum added.]

If ever there were a cycle that seemed poised for a serious argument over what to do — if anything — about the torrents of money sloshing through our politics, you’d think it would be this one. We’re seeing a parade of billionaire sugar daddies looking to sponsor individual GOP candidates. A profusion of clever tactics such as turning over campaign operations to a friendly Super PAC, and running a full-blown presidential campaign while pretending you haven’t declared. Outside groups on both sides pledging enormous expenditures. Relentless media attention to foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation. And so on.

Yet despite all this, the chances of turning campaign finance into a major or compelling issue appear remote: A new poll today finds that fewer than one percent of Americans see it as the most important issue facing the country.

Morning Plum: Americans don’t care too much about big money in politics, Greg Sargent, this morning

Aaaaargh.  Might this be because most poll respondents think they’re being asked directly about the issues that they want politicians and officeholders to address, rather than, y’know, the reasons why politicians and officeholders aren’t dealing effectively—or at all—with those problems and often make policy that worsens those problems?

It turns out that the answer is, yes.  And in the paragraphs following the above-quoted ones, Sargent himself, by discussing the poll questions and results in more detail, makes that very, very clear. Sargent continues:

To be sure, the new New York Times/CBS News poll does find that Americans across party lines think money exerts too much influence over the political process. Eighty-four percent of Americans, including 80 percent of Republicans, believe this. Crucially, the poll shows that majorities of Americans believe this gives the rich more influence over the process, and that they believe public officials reward big donors:

“Two thirds think wealthy Americans have a better chance than others of influencing the election process, while just 31 percent say all Americans have an equal chance to do so….Americans see a frequent quid pro quo when it comes to contributing to an election campaign and receiving benefits once a candidate is in office. Fifty-five percent of Americans think politicians enact policies to benefit their financial contributors most of the time, while another 30 percent think this happens sometimes. Just 13 percent think this only happens rarely or never.”

And then:

And get this: 54 percent do not believe political donations should be protected as free speech, and 78 percent support limits on contributions to groups unaffiliated with a candidate. Yet here’s the bad news for campaign finance reformers:

“Very few Americans prioritize campaign finance over other domestic issues when asked to name the most important problem facing the country today. Americans’ top issue priority continues to be the economy and jobs; health care and immigration follow. Less than one percent volunteer campaign fundraising as the most important issue facing the country.”

And then as an afterthought, he adds:

In fairness, the poll reached this conclusion through an open-ended question that asked people to name the single top issue, so who knows how much this means. But even some reform-minded Democrats have lamented the difficulty of turning campaign finance it into a motivating issue.

I love Sargent’s blog and read it religiously most weekdays.  But he, like so many other political journalists, conflates what are two separate categories of issues and draw the wrong conclusion.  And it’s a vicious circle: With the single exception of Elizabeth Warren and now Bernie Sanders, politicians whom the news media pay attention to never, ever, ever directly tie in a particular public policy—mainly, legislation or the lack of it—to actual actions (huge campaign donations, superPac funding, lobbying, and the proverbial revolving door, with industry lobbyists or representatives of, say, the Koch brothers, writing legislation and blocking legislation.  Only Elizabeth Warren actually does that and gets some genuine, meaningful media attention for it.

Obviously, neither Warren nor Sanders is cowed by the results of the incessant polls that ask the right question regarding the usual-suspect issues that poll respondents think is what they’re being asked about—the economy; immigration; foreign policy; healthcare.  Neither Warren nor Sanders confuses the answer to that question with an answer to a question about whether the respondent thinks there is a tie-in between the things they think of as an “issue” as meant in a poll question, and whether the respondent thinks a key reason for the existing problem and the government’s failure to adequately address it, and instead exacerbates it, is that public policy is controlled by the very few, very wealthy people who pay for campaigns in this era.

Sargent links to the CBS online article about the poll, which also says that “[m]ost who think changes are needed are not optimistic that such changes will be forthcoming: 58 percent are pessimistic that changes will actually be made.”

Well … yes.  Exactly.  And Warren and, now, Sanders may well succeed in ending the tautology.  They understand that actual specific information showing direct tie-ins with specific policies or lack of policy would feed upon itself and show that, yes, in fact changes can be made.  But only with a truly new breed of elected officials.

—-

ADDENDUM: Politico’s top article today is titled “Did Elizabeth Warren go too far this time?” But it’s subtitled “The Massachusetts senator’s attack on Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White causes backlash on Wall Street.”  The article, which is lengthy, discusses a 13-page letter Warren sent this morning to SEC Chairwoman Mary Jo White, absolutely ripping White for … well, you should read the article, all the way to the end.

By the end of the article, you’ll wonder why somewhere in the middle of it, it says that Warren’s influence seems to be on the wane and that the letter probably will hasten the waning.  The article has two co-authors, and the headline would not have been written by either of them. So that might be why the article is part details and background, and part what Wall Street and the White House want as the media’s take on the letter’s contents and fallout. I did a double-take when I read this sentence: “The backlash against Warren was the latest indication that populist firebrand’s efforts to push for tougher financial regulation may be losing some momentum.

The backlash against Warren is from Wall Street, the SEC, Mary Jo White’s office, and the CEOs and lobbyists who want the TPP treaty ratified and are selling it as a trade agreement even though, mostly, it’s not.  Warren (and others) object not to the actual trade provisions but to parts of it that do not concern trade as such.  And the SEC rules under Dodd-Frank that Warren angrily says the SEC keeps delaying concern transparency of corporations concerning the CEO’s pay as compared to that of the company’s ordinary employees, and concern disclosure of the identities of the tax-exempt organizations that receive corporate donations, and the amounts of the donations.

The public backlash against this has begun, the Politico article says.  Just call JPMorgan’s corporate offices and lobbying firms.  They’ll tell ya!

As for Wall Street’s public relations offering on it, the part of it that the article discusses with specificity sounds to me ridiculous:

“I don’t understand Sen. Warren’s criticism of White for recusing herself where there is a conflict of interest,” said Wayne Abernathy, a top lobbyist for the American Bankers Association, referring to Warren’s criticism that White isn’t involved in SEC actions when her husband’s law firm represents the companies involved. “Is it that she would prefer that the chairman go forward and participate in enforcement cases despite the conflict of interest?”

No, actually, it’s that because her husband is a partner in one of the premier New York law firms that represent the biggest financial institutions against the SEC and Justice Department during investigations and in civil and criminal litigation. And that her recusal means that the SEC is routinely deadlocked about whether to bring charges in such cases because the remaining SEC commissioners are equally divided between Republicans and Democrats.  How convenient.

Relatedly, Roger Cohen has a terrific column today in the New York Times.  But you have to read to the end to get the relation.

Added 6/2 at 8:58 p.m.

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Jeb Bush discovers a hypothetical he’s willing to address—and assures us that he, unlike Obama, would have ensured a second Great Depression. Jeb for President!

Questioned by a voter inside a sports bar about whether there is “space” between himself and his older brother on any issues, Bush offered a clear critique.

“Are there differences? Yeah, I mean, sure,” Bush said. “I think that in Washington during my brother’s time, Republicans spent too much money. I think he could have used the veto power — he didn’t have line-item veto power, but he could have brought budget discipline to Washington, D.C. That seems kind of quaint right now given the fact that after he left, budget deficits and spending just like lit up astronomically. But having constraints on spending across the board during his time would have been a good thing.”

—  Jeb Bush: George W. spent too much money, Eli Stokols, Politico, yesterday

Okay, so Bush has now found a hypothetical that he wants to discuss.  Two hypotheticals, actually: (1) what his fiscal policies would have been between Jan. 2001 and Jan. 2009; and (2) what his fiscal policies would have been between Jan. 2009 and, oh—at what point did the federal budget deficit decline dramatically?  2013? And … what is the deficit now, as compared with the Bush years?  And what role did the Bush tax cuts play in that?

But really, since these are to separate hypotheticals, we—well, the people who actually can ask and maybe get an answer (i.e., the news media; Hillary Clinton)—should ask two sets of questions.

First, we (they) should ask what spending, specifically, Jeb Bush would not have authorized during his brother’s presidency that his brother authorized.  The military spending for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?  The massive spending on increased security after 9/11?  The Medicare Part D prescription-drug law?  The frantic stopgap finance-industry bailout that George Bush’s Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, put together in the fall of 2008 in order to try to fend off a near-complete collapse of the banking system?

Or maybe the initial part of the auto-industry bailout, without which George Bush said the unemployment rate would have jumped to about 20%?

So, would Jeb Bush—knowing then what we know now, about the near-collapse of the banking system, and of the economy, late in his brother’s presidency, and the fact that the Iraq war went on and on and on—have supported his brother’s two massive tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, during his first term?

Just askin’.  Although I’d bet that’s a hypothetical that he’d take even longer to answer than the five days it took him to answer the infamous Iraq one.  Maybe even as long as 18 months.

Then, of course, there’s that second hypothetical that Bush answered yesterday—the one in which he said the budget deficits at the end of his brother’s term seem “kind of quaint right now given the fact that after he left, budget deficits and spending just like lit up astronomically,” indicating that he (Jeb) thinks Obama, in the face of the collapsing economy and banking system, should have … what, exactly?

Cut funding for unemployment compensation, or capped it at its 2007 level?  Refused to allow extensions of it?  Cut funding for food stamp access, or capped it at its 2007 level?

Ended the financial industry bailout begun under his brother?

Let Detroit go bankrupt?  (That wasn’t such a winning tack for Mitt Romney.  But, I mean, ya never know. …)

Ah. Maybe he means the stimulus bill, which provided funding for job training and college for hundreds of thousands of people, especially in states hardest hit by the collapse of the economy.  States like Michigan, Ohio, Nevada, Florida.  And the direct spending from that bill, on infrastructure projects and such.  Y’know, the stuff that virtually all mainstream economists now say helped keep the unemployment rate from reaching Great Depression levels and helped start the recovery.

It’s not surprising, I suppose, that the political media played up Bush’s comments yesterday–at least in headlines and soundbites if not in the actual reportage itself by reporters who wrote full articles about the comments (see, e.g. the quote at the opening of this post, and the title given the article)–as Bush Brother v. Bush Brother.  Because of course it’s the family saga, not the specifics of the policies, that matter, right?*

And some mainstream political reporters, including a couple of them from Politico, where (unrelatedly) the above quotes were originally published, couldn’t analyze their way out of a paper bag.  And Clinton herself pretty clearly has settled on a campaign of mindless clichés, Republican soundbites about federal regulation, and cutesy gimmicks.  Does she really not understand that most small business red tape has nothing at all to do with federal regulations? Or does she just think that most people don’t know the difference between private-bank business-loan operations and federal regulation, and between state and local business regulations—a.k.a., red tape—and federal regulations?  And that no one will ask her what regulations, exactly, she thinks are holding back small-business owners and aspiring small-business owners?

On that last point, she may be right, since she has almost no direct contact with the press and no contact at all with everyday Americans who haven’t been prescreened as props.

So maybe Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley—or Elizabeth Warren—will question the specifics of Jeb Bush’s answers to those hypotheticals.  And the specifics of Clinton’s claim that federal regulations are hindering small business.  Like, which federal regulations, specifically?  And maybe, at least regarding Bush’s, a Dem SuperPAC that is not coordinating with Clinton and her silly campaign, will run web ads or TV ads eventually that do that.

And maybe Sanders, O’Malley, Warren, or a progressive Democratic SuperPAC will point out that the biggest hindrance to small business loan availability, by far, is not federal regulation, or even state or local regulation, but instead federal deregulation—of the banking system.  Specifically, the disastrous repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act.  And mention the incessant Republican push to repeal the Dodd-Frank bank-regulation law, and their fight against instituting the Volker Rule.

Clinton is right that “[t]oo many regulatory and licensing requirements are uneven and uncertain” and that “[i]t should not take longer to start a business in the U.S. than it does in Canada, Korea, or France.” But small-business regulation is mostly, and licensing is entirely, state and local, not federal.  So maybe she’ll get around to pointing that out and detailing what she, as president, would propose as a national fix.  In any event she should not further the Republican misrepresentation that small-business regulation and licensing is done by the federal government. With the exception of federal tax laws, including FICA tax laws, and environmental laws and worker-safety laws, “cutting the red tape that holds back small businesses and entrepreneurs” means tackling state and local, not federal, red tape.

As for my earlier dismay at Clinton’s senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan’s Fox News-ish claim that Democrats support obstacles for small businesses, and are against small businesses having easy access to loans—we don’t want them to compete with Walmart, see—I now get it.  Sadly. Blame imagined Democratic anti-small-business sentiment, and big federal gummint, rather than the deregulated banking industry, for the labyrinthine high-hurdle event that is the small-business loan situation now.

Clinton speaks of her father’s success in opening and running a very profitable small business. His business loans, though, weren’t from banks competing for profits with multinational hedge funds masquerading as JPMorgan Chase Bank, Citibank and Bank of America.

But, as for Jeb Bush, at least he’s honest.  He’s told us now that had he, instead of Obama, been president in the aftermath of his brother’s presidency, he’d have ensured a complete collapse of the economy.  Vote for Jeb!

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