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

Credit Card Interest Rates

Marquette Nat. Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp., 439 U.S. 299 (1978). In a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision, the court held states anti-usury laws regulating interest rates unenforceable against nationally chartered banks based in other states.

Justice William Brennan: It was the intent of Congress when it passed the National Banking Act, nationally chartered banks would be subject only to federal regulation by the Comptroller of Currency and the laws of the state in which they were chartered, and that only Congress or the appropriate state legislature could pass the laws regulating them.

This was one of the more important decisions by SCOTUS as it allowed banks chartered in one state to have the same interest rates in other states, offer credit cards nationally, and beat out the bank competition in other states who might be subject to stricter regulations.

At the time Justice Brennan felt congress would act to allow states to have more freedom in regulating banks within their borders by changing the National Banking Act. “This impairment may in fact be accentuated by the ease with which interstate credit is available by mail through the use of modern credit cards,” he allowed. “But the protection of state usury laws is an issue of legislative policy, and any plea to alter [the law] to further that end is better addressed to the wisdom of Congress than to the judgment of this Court.”

Of course, it did not happen. And who said Congress had any wisdom or care for their constituents?

Perhaps, someone can point to another time when Congress has altered the National Banking Act. The only other time I can recall was when Congress repealed Glass-Steagall and altered the National Banking Act to allow Sandy Weil’s Citibank to acquire Travelers Insurance and move into investing on Wall Street.

More recently, Bernie Sanders has introduced new legislation. In the past, Bernie had introduced legislation in 2009 to cap interest rates which went “no-where” quickly. There are probably other Senate or House members who have also attempted to cap interest rates and ran thee banking gauntlet opposing any such change to their usurious interest rates and other charges.

In a joint statement;

“The American people are sick and tired of being ripped off by the same financial institutions they bailed out ten years ago. If we are going to create a financial system that works for all Americans, we have got to stop financial institutions from charging outrageous interest rates and fees.”

Both Senator and Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Congressional Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are teaming up on a bill to cap credit card and payday loan interest rates at 15%. In some cases, this is 50% lower than what is being offered today for what is termed as riskier loans or short term payday, etc. types.

Moving on and considering other presidential candidates who may have a difference of opinion than Sanders. It is no secret Delaware Senator Joe Biden has been a big supporter of banks since the seventies and has sponsored and helped to put into play many new laws which prevented students from getting relief or declaring bankruptcy to them from the signature loans made to them. When then President Obama spoke out against credit-card lenders calling them “‘outrageous’ and ‘looked forward to reviewing additional legislation that caps interest rates,'” VP Joe Biden was silent on the issue. Joe knew which side his bread was buttered on then and for that matter today also. Constituents can expect no help from Joe Biden.

When a similar bill capping credit card interest rates at 15% was introduced, half of the Democrats joined Republicans in 2009. It lost 60 to 33. This gives you an idea of how deep the politics run between Banks and the conservative Republicans and Democrats. Consider for a moment how long it took for either party to make this an issue or at least one party. Since 1978 . . .

In particular, I am eager to see how Joe Biden responds to Bernie Sanders proposal to cap interest rates. “Biden is more reliant on the kinds of big donors and high dollar events Democratic primary voters frown upon.”

Run75441 (Bill H)

GAG. (And Paul Krugman is just so, so mystified that so many progressives support Sanders. Be mystified no longer, dear professor.)

Dan Crawford gave me the news this morning before I’d already learned of it. He emailed me with the subject title: “Merrick Garland…here we go!” He linked, without comment, to the NYT article on the announcement.

I responded:

UGH. I guess the idea is that there just aren’t enough super-establishment Supreme Court justices already. We definitely need one more.

And Krugman is just so, so mystified that so many progressives support Sanders.



I’ll post at more length later today; I don’t have time right now.  But at the risk of drawing attention to the attention of the Secret Service, in an unpleasant way, I will take the time right now to say to Obama: Drop dead.*

And I’ll take the time to note this: The title of the NYT article is “Obama Chooses Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court.”  Its subtitle? “Appeals Court Judge Is Respected by G.O.P.”  Well, the G.O.P. that the Washington in-crowd hasn’t noticed isn’t all that popular right now with, um, some of the G.O.P.


*Na-na-no; this is said facetiouslyThe  drop-dead part, that is. Please, Secret Service. Really.  I don’t like Joe Biden all that much, either.


UPDATE:  This blog post in Slate by someone named Michael Gerhardt, whom I’d never heard of before and who is not identified there by anything other than his name, makes me cringe.

This guy’s bottom line: Yup, can’t be a merit nominee to the Supreme Court unless you’ve been an intrinsic part of the Centrist Establishment in Washington for, say, several decades.

And interestingly narrow definition of merit, wouldn’t you say?

Okay, well, actually he is identified by more than his name.  He’s a Centrist Establishment person.  Just an educated guess, but still ….

Fittingly, the post title is, “Merrick Garland deserves to be on the Supreme Court.”  Because what matters is what Merrick Garland deserves, not what the multitude millions of people whom the Supreme Court pretends don’t exist.  Or just aren’t worth the time of such an august group.  Or even a moment’s thought.

Then again, there is this hopeful note, also from Slate.  It’s by Jim Newell, Slate’s main political analyst.

Added 3/16 at 6:32 p.m.


UPDATE TO UPDATE:  Calmer now.  Reread Jim Newell’s awesome article and agree with every word of it.  Including why Obama almost nominated Garland to fill John Paul Stevens’ seat for real. Which pretty much sums up why I can’t stand Obama and don’t want a third Obama term in the person of a chameleon.

Added 3/16 at 7:10 p.m.


PS: Greg Sargent writes:

I’ll bet that a big part of his selection was that Garland was willing to go through the process knowing he probably won’t get to actually serve on the court, while a younger judge who could have another chance later might not want to.

In thinking about it more, I’m betting that that was a very big part.  As in, none of the others would accept the nomination, and told Obama so.

Repubs apparently now think they can have the last laugh.  Senate Repubs reportedly now are considering whether to confirm during the lame duck session after the election if Clinton wins.  But of course, then Garland would be expected to withdraw if Obama does not withdraw his name saying that Clinton and the new (Democratic-controlled) Senate should handle it.

This post is starting to feel not like a blog post but like a blog.

Added 3/16 at 8:36 p.m.


PS TO PS:  Yup.  It’s been officially confirmed by go-to-Centrist Ruth Marcus: Garland resoundingly (her word) deserves to be confirmed, and what really matters is what Garland deserves.

Her piece is titled “A Supreme Court nominee too good for the GOP to ignore.”  I’m not kidding.  That’s its title.  You really have to read this thing.  The whole thing; you don’t want to miss the part about her running into him on the street after she became a well-known Washington Post journalist.  Her piece apparently is not intended as a parody of a Washington insider’s view, although it does double duty as that.

Yup. This post is a blog unto itself.

Added 3/16 at 9:02 p.m.

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.

Hamlet’s Decision is Bad News for Janet Napolitano

Okay, I get Joe Biden’s extreme, unabated grief over the death of his son last May.  But there are, in my opinion, no circumstances under which the Hamlet pose, with its many, many leaks from friends, should have gone on beyond Labor Day.  There are, after all, (or should have been, anyway) some important considerations beyond his feelings and his ambition.  Such as the Democratic Party’s interest in not having to deal with what became a ridiculous spectacle of sorts.

Biden would not have won the nomination, even if he had not pronounced himself the ultimate triangulator who could get triangulation things done, as he did yesterday.  But he did.  Which was about to prompt me to notify AB readers that Biden said two years ago that Janet Napolitano should be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Seriously.  He said this.  The idea of Janet Napolitano as a Supreme Court justice would have warmed the hearts of Hispanic and African-American voters, of course, given their fondness for Sheriff Joe Arpaio and 1980s-‘90s-era tough-on-crime criminal laws and still-current police tactics and outrageous prosecutor conduct.  Because we don’t have enough current Supreme Court justices who are overt proxies for law enforcement folks who engage in outrageous misconduct, see.

Biden took one—and, to my knowledge, only one—important and gutsy step regarding civil rights in his entire career: In the spring of 2012 he publicly stated his support for same-sex marriage, forcing Obama to do the same.  But that just isn’t enough for me, or any other progressive, to have wanted him to become the Democratic nominee.  At least now we won’t have to suffer through his primary candidacy.


UPDATE: Heather Digby Parton in an article in Salon today captures perfectly the depth of Biden’s delusions as he revealed them so stupefyingly yesterday.  H/T Greg Sargent.  (Her article was written before Biden’s announcement today.)

Dismaying. Just plain dismaying.

Did Clinton Really Agree That Denmark Is an Inspiring Example for Democrats to Cite?

Denmark isn’t a middle-class, capitalist, entrepreneurial country?  Because it has universal healthcare, free college, free day care, and guaranteed family and medical leave?  Really, Secretary Clinton?  Really?

— Me, here, Oct. 14

No doubt surprising many of the people watching the Democratic presidential debate, Bernie Sanders cited Denmark as a role model for how to help working people. Hillary Clinton demurred slightly, declaring that “we are not Denmark,” but agreed that Denmark is an inspiring example.

Paul Krugman, Something Not Rotten in Denmark, today  OCT. 19, 2015 Paul Krugman

The subject of both of those quotes is, of course, Clinton’s already-famous statement about Denmark in last week’s debate:

We are not Denmark — I love Denmark — we are the United States of America.  We would be making a grave mistake to turn our backs on what built the greatest middle class in the history of the world.

I love Paul Krugman and I think his column today about the specifics of Denmark’s social democratic system and also its recent monetary and fiscal policies is terrific.  As is the fact that these things are, this week, very hot topics.  Thanks to last week’s debate.

But as I said in one of four posts I’ve written here at AB that mention that comment by Clinton — the first of my posts on this is here — I don’t see how those two consecutive sentences can be interpreted to mean anything but a preplanned sleight of hand intended to suggest that Denmark is not a capitalist country and has a weak middle class, and that Sanders’ proposed policies would destroy the middle class.

As I said in that post, we turned our backs on the greatest middle class in the history of the world when we elected Ronald Reagan and then spent most of the next three decades enforcing and expanding upon his ideological vision.  But agree or not with that assessment, what seems to me indisputable is that Clinton’s two-sentence comment is a statement that universal healthcare, free college, free day care, and guaranteed family and medical leave would amount to turning our backs of the American middle class.

My point here is not to beat the horse that I think I killed in those earlier four posts; in the last of the four I promised not to write another one bashing her, at least for a while.  It is instead to again express the hope that Clinton stops running the kind of campaign she’s running, and run one that is far less reliant on focus-group-tested soundbites, slogans and sleights of hand that one or another member of her army of consultants suggested to her .  After all, a big part of Joe Biden’s appeal and also Bernie Sanders’s is that they talk like ordinary people in ordinary conversations, not like Chatty Cathy dolls.

My point also is to publicly wonder why Krugman thinks Clinton agreed that Denmark is an inspiring example for Democrats to cite.  Because I think she indicated the opposite.


Post edited slightly for clarity. 10-19-15 at 9:32 p.m.

Harry Reid Throws Down the Gauntlet In Front of … Obama. Hurray. [UPDATED]

Obama pushed forward despite strong reservations expressed by top congressional Democrats — especially Reid — who privately described it as a “bad deal” that would increase Republican leverage in future budget fights. …

Reid figured Democrats could get a more favorable agreement if they waited. When Reid saw an offer that Obama had considered pitching to McConnell on Sunday, which included provisions opposed by Senate Democrats, the majority leader crumpled up the document and tossed it into the burning fireplace of his Capitol office.

The fiscal cliff deal that almost wasn’t, John Bresnahan, Carrie Budoff Brown, Manu Raju and Jake Sherman, Politico, today (H/T Josh Voorhees, Slate)

I’m happy with the ‘cliff’ deal.  That’s because it’s only a start. Here’s what I mean:*

Although he’s been strongly criticized by many liberals for caving on the $250,000 floor for a raise in the income tax rates after saying repeatedly that that was a ‘must’ for him, Obama was, in my opinion, right to sign off on the ultimate deal, in which the rate for incomes above $450,000 will rise to 39.6%–not the earlier-discussed possible compromise of 37% for incomes above $250,000–and in which capital gains taxes also will rise, to 20% for that same group.  

I suspect that a huge factor in Obama’s preference for this deal rather than going over the cliff and forcing an up-or-down House vote on the rate rise on incomes above $250,000 was the issue of the expiration of extended unemployment-compensation benefits for about two million people, the loss of which, whether for a few weeks or permanently, would have been devastating for the people affected and surely would not have helped the economy.  Extension of those benefits may well have been a casualty even of a successful post-cliff bill lowering the floor for the rise in income tax rates.  So might the Earned Income Tax Credit, which of course benefits members of the 47% who Mitt Romney and many other Republican politicians do not think it’s their job to worry about.

So I disagree, for once, with my beloved ideological alter ego, Paul Krugman that it might have been preferable to go over the cliff, even for a few weeks, since little economic damage would have resulted during that brief period.  The damage would have been acute to quite a number of people, if not to the economy as a whole.  That’s important.

Which is not to say that it was reason enough to give away the store.  Which, if the Politico account is accurate, apparently was, as of Sunday, what Obama wanted to do–until Harry Reid reminded him that Senate Democrats would not rubber-stamp his proposal and that approval by the Senate Democrats was as important as approval by the House.  Reid presumably told Obama that he (Reid) would not allow a giveaway bill to be brought to the Senate floor.  Just as Boehner could deny a floor vote on the bill in the House, Reid could do the same in the Senate.  And he would do exactly that on a giveaway of the type that Obama has a habit of offering.  

Among all the commentary about winners and losers from the events and the outcome, there’s been little mention of Reid.  I agree with the consensus about who, among those mentioned in the particular article, won and who lost.  I certainly agree that Biden is a big winner.  I think he’ll be playing a larger role in negotiations and communication with Congress, and that’s good thing.  But I think the negotiations and communications will be with Reid as much as with McConnell and Boehner.  And that’s a really good thing.

For that reason–Harry Reid’s and the other Senate Democrats’ increased importance in negotiations on major fiscal deals–but only for that reason, I don’t share the deep fear that Krugman and many other liberals have right now that Obama will largely hand the advantage to the Republicans.  He may try, just as he did suddenly two weeks ago, when days after saying he wouldn’t budge from the $250,000 tax-rate-increase floor, he spontaneously offered a $400,000 floor and (apparently) a reduced cost of living adjustment for Social Security–which, given his propensity to negotiate with himself rather than requiring the Republicans to negotiate with him, was viewed, by the Republicans and everyone else, as maybe just his opening offer.  

That is the fear: that he will try.  But, slow as he is in picking up on political winds, whether it’s the commandeering by the right of the rhetoric and agenda on economic stimulus issues and national healthcare reform, or, now, anti-rightwing fiscal policy, and respectively responding to or employing those winds, this time he won’t have the luxury of not noticing that Reid and the other Senate Dems are, now, post-election, going to use their enhanced power.  

Krugman ends his blog post today by saying:

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe the Treasury is secretly preparing to invoke the 14th amendment, or issue a trillion-dollar platinum coin, or direct that the whole budget gap be taken out of spending dear to Republicans. But I have to say that I now expect Obama to cave on the ceiling; and so, of course, do the Republicans, which means that the crisis is going to happen.

The only thing that might save this situation is the fact that Obama has to be aware just how much is now riding on his willingness to finally stand up for his side; if he doesn’t, nobody will ever trust him again, and he will go down in history as the wimp who threw it all away.

But even that may not be enough. I guess we’ll see.

I don’t think it matters whether that is enough.  Because it is enough that the post-election power has shifted, to a meaningful extent, from the House Republicans to the Senate Democrats.  They will not dictate the terms.  But neither will the House Republicans, however willing Obama still is to let them.  And the shots Obama calls will be as much with Harry Reid in mind as with John Boehner in mind.  Reid, I trust, will insist.  The Republicans do hold some of the cards in the upcoming debt ceiling game.  Just not enough of the cards to run the table against Harry Reid.

*I added the italicized, boldfaced sentences in light of the comments to this post as originally published.

On Being Jack Kennedy

Biden’s use of the famous Lloyd Bentsen put-down of Dan Quail—“Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy”—is getting pretty good play among the punditry. (Yay!)  Now, hopefully, Obama and Biden will educate the public about the tax rates on the wealthy and on capital gains in, say, 1963. 

And on whether, y’know, America was a European-style socialist country back then because of that—as Romney actually has claimed on several occasions during the last year.

And, in case you missed my update to my last post: The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank is the first pundit I know of thus far to GET IT.  
Go, Dana!

Why Last Night’s Debate Will Really Matter—and, yes, it will. [– UPDATE: Dana Milbank GETS IT! It’s a start. Hopefully only JUST a start.]

Not surprisingly, the pundits have concluded that, while the debate last night will stop the bleeding for the Dem ticket—stop the momentum for Romney/Ryan—it won’t make a difference beyond that. People don’t vote for the vice presidential candidate; they vote for, or against, a presidential candidate.

And anyway, Biden smiled too much!  And Ryan was serious and wonkish! 

The problem with that analysis is that Biden was wonkish, too.  And in being wonkish—and in smiling and even laughing at Ryan’s canned claims repeating Romney’s from last week—Biden began the process of pointing the public to the fact that Romney’s biggest hits from last week are based on nonsense.
It is, in other words, the substance of Biden’s performance, rather than the performancestuff that the pundits fixate on, that actually will matter.  In my opinion, one of the most effective moments was Biden’s giving the lie to an important part of the supposed Reagan/Tip O’Neill analogy: that, heading into the negotiations with O’Neill, Reagan didn’t give specifics about what he wanted.  

Another important moment—moments, actually; he did it two or three times—was Biden’s challenge to the claim that six studies showed that the Romney/Ryan tax math would work.  Biden’s emphatically shaking his head and, yes, smiling and then laughing—he wasn’t able to inject comments, and Raddatz (who impressed me less than she did everyone else) played Lehrer; she asked no questions at all about this—his facial reactions got the message across.

I have two complaints, though.  One is that Biden didn’t point out that the Five Point Plan is actually not a plan at all but instead just a statement of generic goals—as is the claim that it will create 12 million jobs, like magic.  Presumably, Obama will do that at the debate next week, and do so clearly and repeatedly.   

The other is that Biden didn’t say, much less emphasize, that it mattered for the policy outcome that Reagan was dealing with a Democratic House as well as a Democratic Senate.*  After the election, the House will continue to be controlled by the Tea Party—and, by Romney’s and Ryan’s own account, they’ll let Congress play a big role in drafting legislation.  That is, the House will support the Romney-Ryan administration in trying to force enactment of … the Ryan budget.  Presumably, Obama will do this, too, at the debate next week, and do so clearly and repeatedly.   

But Biden succeeded, I’m pretty sure, in raising questions in people’s minds about the forthrightness of Romney’s representations last week (reiterated by Ryan last night) , and the truthfulness of his claims.  Obama might actually pick up the ball from Biden and run with it.  
Could happen!


UPDATE: Dana Milbank of the Washington Post gets it! It’s a start.  Hopefully only just a start. 

But … woo-hooo!

*CORRECTION: The sentence was corrected for the sake of clarity to include the words “for the policy outcome”.