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

The Bizarre Attempt to Present Bernie Sanders As the Democrats’ Donald Trump

Stranger things have happened in American politics, but the sudden surge of Democratic/populist Bernie Sanders and Republican/populist Donald Trump puts one in mind of alternate universes.

And I don’t mean Miss Universes.

Both men are holding second place in some polls behind Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, respectively. And both are steadily ascending in the polls at a greater pace than anyone could have predicted — or imagined.

Sanders, a socialist running on a platform that should send shivers up the spines of most Americans, drew his largest crowd of the season — nearly 10,000 — in Madison, Wis., last Wednesday night. The anti-establishment candidate, who wants to break up big banks and redistribute wealth, makes President Obama (and Clinton) look like robber barons by comparison.

— The unexpected rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, Kathleen Parker, Washington Post, Jul. 3

Stranger things have happened in American political journalism, but really, it’s not a shock that political pundits equate Sanders and Trump.  Not all political pundits.  Just some of them.  Several, actually; Parker’s piece is one of three or four commentary or analysis pieces I’ve read in the last few days that suggests not simply that the surge of attention and poll recognition is, in each case, unexpected, but that these two both are on the crackpot fringe.

Since Trump is appearing mentally unhinged, Sanders must be borderline-crazy, too.  After all, neither is part of his respective party’s establishment, and therefore, necessarily, both are extremists.  And equally so, since they both rose dramatically in their party’s polls during the same short period of time.

Yup, reinstituting the Glass-Steagall Act separating deposits-and-lending banks from investment-banking-and-derivatives-speculation financial institutions, and federally insuring only the former, is just like accusing Mexican immigrants of bringing drug traffic to this country and raping American women!  Not to mention babbling incoherently. The resemblance is striking, although not to me.  Especially since Glass-Steagall was in fact the law for forty-six years until its repeal in 1999.  During which time this country had several Communist presidents, including Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

Yes, Elizabeth Warren may send shivers up the spines of most Americans, but a majority of Americans probably would vote for her as a presidential candidate.  Especially since she would be running against a Tea Party Republican or a George W. Bush Republican.  As will the eventual Democratic nominee.  Whether it’s Clinton or Sanders.

And while, in the opinion of many of the targeted wealthy, Parker among them, raising taxes on them to levels above those enacted under George W. Bush, and reinstating meaningful estate taxes to, say, inflation-adjusted 1960s levels, should send shivers up the spines of most Americans, including the ones who aren’t wealthy—at least the ones who don’t like safe and modern infrastructure and access to college by the non-already-upscale—it doesn’t appear, judging from poll answers, that these policy proposals would be deal-killers for a nominee who proposes them.

And while single-payer Medicare-for-all-type healthcare insurance—another of Sanders’ proposals— would solve, once and for all, problems such as these, it’s likely that most Americans shutter at the thought.  Especially those who think Medicare itself is socialized medicine and want it repealed.  And all those Democrats who considered Ted Kennedy and extremist because he fought for decades for single-payer healthcare insurance.

First among those Democrats being Claire McCaskill, who as a Clinton surrogate told an interviewer last week that Sanders couldn’t win the general election—against Scott Walker, Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush—because he’s an extremist.  Luckily for her—and for Clinton—McCaskill wasn’t asked which of Sanders’ proposed policies she, and Clinton, thought a majority of the public would consider extremist.

And which of Walker’s, Rubio’s or Bush’s she thought a majority of voters wouldn’t consider extremist.  Rubio’s proposal to repeal the estate tax completely?  Walker’s to effectively end collective bargaining in the private as well as the public sector, and his attempt to turn Wisconsin’s state university system into a lightly-funded job-training apparatus?  Jeb Bush’s Romney-esque cut-taxes-even-further-on-the-wealthy-and-corporations-and-we’ll-see-an-annual-4%-rise-in-the-GDP promise, because that worked so well for his brother?  (Glenn Hubbard for Treasury Secretary!)  Every single one of the Republican candidates’ Romney-esque cut-taxes-even-further-on-the-wealthy-and-corporations-and-we’ll-see-an-annual-4%-rise-in-the-GDP promise, because that worked so well for Jeb’s brother?

Ah, I know!  It’s their completely-deregulate-the-financial-services-industry plans!  And as a bonus, their Koch brothers’-dictated environmental policy proposals.

The point here being that while the claim of a mirror-image symmetry between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is preposterous, an analogy of that sort between Sanders and Walker, Rubio and Bush would be pretty close to spot-on.  And this is so even though those three rose in the polls weeks and even months before Sanders and Trump did.

Don’t think so, Ms. Parker?  Strangely enough, it is.

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Yup. It didn’t take long for mainstream political journalists to misread the new poll on Rubio/Bush/Walker vs. Clinton.

Clinton is currently running ahead of all her likely Republican opponents, according to RealClearPolitics, but not by much: 4.2 points ahead of Marco Rubio; 5.2 points over Jeb Bush; and 6.8 points over Scott Walker.

These are not impressive numbers for a candidate with universal name recognition against candidates who are much less widely known.

Can Hillary Clinton Be a Woman of the People?, Thomas B. Edsall, New York Times, today

Might the reason that Rubio, Bush and Walker poll as well as they do be precisely that they—and the policies they espouse—are not widely known?

Just askin’.

Edsall’s comment is the second one along those lines that I read this morning.  And counting, I’m sure.

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What Worries Me Most About Clinton: That she may not have the intellectual capacity to discern even critically important distinctions. Including glaring ones.

Update appended, 6/13 at 12:42 p.m.

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“It should not take longer to start a business in America than it does in Canada or France. But that is the fact.”

— Hillary Clinton, during a small business discussion, Cedar Falls, Iowa, May 19, 2015 

Our antenna always goes up when a politician asserts a “fact.” Clinton made this remark in the midst of a discussion about the “perfect storm of crisis” that she said small businesses face in the United States.

She made a similar point in an article she posted on LinkedIn on May 21, but with an additional country added:  “It should not take longer to start a business in the U.S. than it does in Canada, Korea, or France.”

Clinton’s claim that it takes longer to start a business in the U.S. than in Canada or France, Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 22

My own antenna always goes up when I hear a politician assert as fact a generic statement that is intended to imply what I know is a falsity or that patently makes no sense.  In this instance, it was both, and, stunningly, was intended to imply a false fact that supports a key line in the Republican playbook: that federal regulation is keeping middle-class folks from starting or expanding a small business.

Marco Rubio claimed something similar in April—to which Martin O’Malley famously responded, when asked about it in an interview, “It is not true that regulation holds poor people down or regulation keeps the middle class from advancing. That’s kind of patently bulls—.”  And Jeb Bush hinted at it a couple of months earlier.

When I read about Clinton’s statements before I read Kessler’s post (I didn’t see the post until about a week after it was posted), I was absolutely dumbfounded.  As Kessler notes, Clinton complains about “red tape” in starting small businesses and says that the length of time in starting a business, caused by red tape, keeps people from starting businesses.  The claim startled me; most red tape in starting businesses is state and local red tape, not federal, and the amount and type of red tape depends almost entirely upon the type of business and factors such as whether it requires a trade license of some sort (e.g., beautician), or a liquor license, and whether a permit of some sort must be obtained.

Opening a restaurant, for example, requires local health department permits and adherence to health department rules.  It also requires procuring a physical space in which to have the restaurant, and usually also means obtaining a business loan.  Starting a home-based web-design business requires none of those things.  The incorporation process involves filing a short filled-out form with the state Secretary of State’s office and paying a fee.

Clinton doesn’t know these things?  Really?

So the generic breadth of her statement was stupefying.  She holds a law degree from Yale, was a partner in a corporate law firm, an active First Lady of a state and then of the country.  Did she really not know that most red tape in starting a business does not touch upon anything that the federal government regulates?  Or did she have something accurate and specific in mind, but rather than identifying it, indulged her penchant for talking in incoherencies apparently in order to avoid ever saying anything specific about, well, anything?

Kessler’s post answered that question.  She did indeed have something specific in question: average statistics for businesses that employ between 10 and 50 people within one month, having five owners, using start-up capital equivalent to 10 times income per capita and being engaged in industrial or commercial activities and owning no real estate.  In Los Angeles, where it takes an average of eight days to start such a business.  Whereas in Paris it takes only 4.5 days and in Toronto five days.  In New York City, though, it takes only four days.

Clinton lives near New York City and represented New York state as a senator.  She knows that New York City is in this country.

This information was taken from the World Bank website, which, Kessler says, provides statistics that “lets you compare the individual cities to countries, so New York ends up tied for 6th place — with Belgium, Iceland, South Korea, the Netherlands and Sao Tome.”  Los Angeles, he says,  is in 15th place, tied with Cyprus, Egypt, Madagascar and the Kyrgyz Republic, among others. Oh, dear. But he points to another World Bank report that notes that “the differences are so large because, in the United States, ‘company law is under state jurisdiction and there are measurable differences between the California and New York company law.’”

I knew that!  I should run for president in the Democratic primary. Every small-business owner and aspiring small-business owner knows that, so I’d have a natural constituency.  And I have the advantage of actually recognizing problems that do affect many small businesses and that the federal government can address, by regulation.  Including ones that recent Democratic congresses, together with a Democratic president, actually enacted.

Kessler comments, “So what does data about starting a business in the largest city have to do with small businesses in Iowa? Beats us.”  It surely also beats small-business owners and people who are seriously considering becoming one.  Including those who are fairly recent immigrants to this country and who don’t hold a law degree from Yale.

Kessler notes that even if Clinton were accurate in her claim that it takes longer, on average, throughout this country than in the other countries she mentioned to start small businesses generally, the difference would be a matter of a day or two.  He writes:

The World Bank’s database lists 189 countries in terms of the time required to start a business. For 2014, in first place is New Zealand, with one day. In France and Canada, along with eight other countries, it takes five days. (South Korea, along with six other countries, is listed as four days.) The United States, with 12 other countries, is listed as six days.

First of all, one extra day does not seem like much of a hindrance — so much so that, as Clinton asserted in the LinkedIn article, the fact signified the “red tape that holds back small businesses and entrepreneurs.”

This is crazy.  What, pray tell, is her point?  To show that she’s too dumb to recognize distinctions between state and federal regulation, and between one type of small business and another?  If you’ve seen one small business, you’ve seen ‘em all?  And if you’ve seen state or local regulation, you’ve seen federal regulation?

Elsewhere in her LinkedIn letter she says that it takes longer to complete small-business federal tax forms than it is to complete multi-national corporations’ federal tax forms. Maybe so, but is that because the multi-nationals keep PricewaterhouseCoopers or Deloitte on retainer and the owners of the Thai food restaurant down the road probably don’t?  She doesn’t say. She thinks the ultimate in clever political rhetoric is to make some dramatic comparison; the accuracy and even the coherence of the comparison doesn’t matter to her.

Clinton does this conflation/sweeping-two-or-more-things-together-that-need-to-be-recognizated-as-separate-things thing regularly. In her brief comment in Iowa in April in which she said she would support a constitutional amendment, if necessary, to reverse Citizens United and get “unaccountable” money out of politics, she misrepresented that Citizens United bars election laws that would require super PACs to identify their donors, and corporations to report the recipients of their political largesse.  It doesn’t.  No constitutional amendment is needed to permit such statutes and SEC, IRS and FEC regulations.

I had planned to post on all this earlier but didn’t get around to it.  But two articles published in recent days, one in the Washington Post last weekend about the 2008 Clinton campaign’s gift of snow shovels to supporters in Iowa before the caucuses, the other a Washington Post column yesterday by Katrina vanden Heuvel, prompted this post.  The snow shovels article, by David Fahrenthold, begins:

AMES, Iowa — In Phyllis Peters’s garage, there is a snow shovel. A nice one: green, shiny, with an ergonomic steel handle. It came from Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And it plays a part in a modern-day political legend, about some of the strangest money a candidate has ever spent.

Eight years ago, Peters was a volunteer for Clinton’s first presidential run. She had been an admirer of Clinton since her time as first lady. But just before Clinton lost the Iowa caucuses, her staffers did something odd: They bought shovels for Peters and the hundreds of other volunteers.

“If you’re in Iowa, you [already] have a snow shovel,” the article quotes Peters as saying.  But she accepted the gift so as not to be rude.  “For both those who gave out the shovels and those who received them,” the article says, “they came to symbolize a candidate who never quite got their home state.”

Clinton grew up in a suburb of Chicago, then spent four winters in Wellesley, MA.  That was decades ago.  But, geeez.  She didn’t get cold-climate folks?

Vanden Heuvel’s column, titled “A new definition of freedom in America,” argues that the term “freedom” has had different meanings in different political eras, and that it’s imperative now that the Democratic presidential nominee, presumably Clinton, move aggressively away from the Conservative Movement definition of freedom as economic laisse faire, and reinstitute and expand upon FDR’s famous Four Freedoms. She writes:

This is Hillary Clinton’s historic opportunity. The greatest threat to freedom now is posed by the entrenched few that use their resources and influence to rig the rules to protect their privileges. She would do a great service for the country — and for her own political prospects — by offering a far more expansive American view of what freedom requires, and what threatens it.

Clinton should make it clear to Americans that in a modern, globalized world, we are in the midst of a fierce struggle between economic royalists and a democratic citizenry. If we are to protect our freedoms, citizens must mobilize to take back government from the few, to clean out the corruption and to curb the oppressive power of the modern day economic royalists.

But this requires a candidate who is both mentally quick enough and willing to respond, accurately and in specifics, to the Republican anti-regulation, supply-side-economics nonsense.  Clinton doesn’t seem like she has either of these attributes.

Clinton appears to think that all that matters is the generic ideas people have about what she stands for, and a few specific policy proposals all in good time.  She’s wrong.  She needs to respond, in full oral statements, using clear fact-based arguments, to the anti-government policy cant of the Republican sheep herd, from which her opponent eventually will come.  But I don’t think she can.

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ADDENDUM: I posted a comment in response to a comment by Mark Jamison that says in part:

One thing that comes through loud and clear from her attempt to Sister Souljah small-business owners and aspirants, Mark, is that she thinks Democrats NEED a Sister Souljah moment for small-business owners and aspirants. Dick Durbin could educate her on that, simply by referring her to what’s known as the Durbin Amendment.

Another thing that comes across is that, just as she didn’t realize in 2008 that Iowans all have snow shovels, she apparently doesn’t recognize that small-business owners and aspirants want solutions to problems that they actually have, and that that requires knowing the specifics of the problem, including the cause.

I want to make clear that I think the concerns of small-business owners are very much appropriate issues for progressive Democratic politicians to address. And that progressive Democratic elected officials do address them–the Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act being an example.  What Democratic candidates and officeholders should not do is create straw men for them to swat down.

Added. 6/10 at 5:41 p.m.

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UPDATE: Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith yesterday linked to this post (thanks, Yves!), and the link spawned a surprisingly long exchange of comments there, started by reader Carolinian, who noted and linked to a Harpers piece from last year that makes similar or complementary arguments.

Carolinian notes in one of her comments in that thread that Clinton’s campaign is hellbent on getting across the claim that Clinton is a wonk–something that I’d planned to post on here at AB.  A day or two after I read the articles about Clinton’s federal-red-tape-is-discouraging-people-from-starting-small-businesses tack, I read two articles, one by Peter Beinart on The Atlantic website (I can’t remember where I read the other, or who wrote it), assuring readers that Clinton is a wonk. I remember thinking, “OK, got it. Clinton is a wonk.  It’s just that she’s a wonk who thinks most small businesses need permits or licenses from the federal government in order to open.  And just this morning I read two more along that line, one of them (in Politico, I think), which says that her staff is pushing the “wonk” moniker because it’s accurate: that’s what she is.

The gist of these articles is that she really cares about policy–the nitty-gritty of policy, especially how best to achieve a policy goal.  One problem with that, though, is that she keeps making sing-songy soundbite statements that are either inaccurate or misleading or irrelevant or downright incoherent.

Clinton and her staff seem to be misconstruing the meaning of “wonk,” which does including within it the ability to understand the meaning and implications of the statistics and other facts–and recognize the actual sources of those facts, as distinguished from the cliches that the Republicans are selling.  The problems that people have in trying to start a business almost never involve federal red tape.  By saying otherwise, Clinton’s now made clear that she’s no wonk.

Updated 6/13 at 12:42 p.m.

 

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The Problem With O’Malley’s New-Generation Pitch: Elizabeth Warren is 65 and Bernie Sanders is 73

Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley formally declared over the weekend that he will run for the Democratic presidential nomination. In his speech and a subsequent interview with ABC News, he floated several themes: He has executive experience; the presidency is not a “crown” to be passed back and forth among royal families (i.e., the Clintons and the Bushes); and unlike either Jeb or Hillary, he won’t be beholden to Wall Street.

And O’Malley, 52, is also offering a fourth argument, which seems implicitly designed to draw a contrast with the 67-year-old Clinton: It’s time for a new generation of leaders.

— Martin O’Malley tests a generational argument against Hillary Clinton, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

Marco Rubio is making the generational argument, too.  For Rubio, it’s patently ridiculous; his fiscal and regulatory policy proposals and soundbites are circa Reagan era.  O’Malley’s are decidedly 2015, which is great and is why he may (in my opinion) have an actual chance.  But Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’ are even more so.  And they’re 65 and 73, respectively.

It’s clearly not accurate that Warren is unpopular among young people and that Sanders likely will be.  I don’t think anyone—young, middle-aged, old—cares about Warren’s age or which generation she’s part of.  And though Sanders’ age is noted in virtually every news report or commentary about him, and he looks his age, is it really likely that young voters would support O’Mallley over Sanders because of their age difference?  I doubt it.

O’Malley obviously is trying to target Clinton, not Sanders and certainly not Warren (whose policy positions he has adopted), with the “new generation” tack.  But if it refers to age and demographic generation, it makes as much sense as Clinton’s I’m-a-woman-and-a-grandmother pitch.  Which is to say, none.  Clinton obviously is a woman, and everyone knows that she’s now a grandmother.  Just as everyone can see that O’Malley is relatively youthful.  He doesn’t need to tell anyone that. And youth is as much a policy statement as is being a woman and a grandmother.  Which is to say, it’s not.

If O’Malley has a chance, it’s as a stand-in for Warren.  And not because he’s younger than Warren, but because he’s running and she’s not. And Warren, 65, indeed is part of a new generation of leadership, because her ideas, her arguments, her responses to Republican rote, are part of a new generation of ideas.

My advice to O’Malley would be to kill the younger-generation-of-leaders thing and replace it with a new-generation-of-policy argument.  He made a good start on that several weeks ago.  Bernie Sanders is doing exactly that, but age does matter here in that he will be 75 at the time of the next election. If progressive Democrats think O’Malley would be a true stand-in for Warren and Sanders, despite his own earlier-generation New Democrat pedigree, he could pull out a victory through some combination of his own and ultimately Sanders’ delegates.

But a prerequisite, I think, is an understanding that Sanders is blazing the trail.  And that Sanders, and Warren, aren’t spring chickens.

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Edited slightly for clarity and typo-correction. 6/1 at 10:16 p.m.

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The Missing Follow Up Question: Why Iraq is Still a Landmine for Jeb and Marco

Over the last week the various talking heads have come to a consensus on two points about Iraq. One, given what we know now OF COURSE it was a mistake to go to war on Iraq. And two, why on Earth weren’t Jeb and Marco prepared to answer this obvious question in that obvious way? Well I think there are any numbers of reasons why they fell into this trap, but perhaps the simplest is this:

“Governor Bush/Senator Rubio, having conceded that with the 20/20 advantage of hindsight that YOU wouldn’t have made the decision to go to war, and moreover insist that President G.W. Bush wouldn’t have either, why have you each hired as top foreign policy advisers people who were not only centrally involved in making that decision, but deny to this date that it even WAS a mistake?”

Jeb, who was a PNAC Vulcan, and Marco, who is positioning himself as the heir to Neo-Con-ism, are STILL relying on PNAC Signatories of either the 1997 Statement of Principles or the 1998 Letter to President Clinton on Iraq. It is one thing to agree “Mistakes were made” and another to say “Hey what the hell, why not give the mistake makers another bite at the apple?” Maybe because they don’t even AGREE that they made any mistakes to start with?

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Why does Clinton’s senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan think liberals support bottlenecks for small business loans? And does Clinton REALLY think that if Corrections Corporation of America and its chief competitor (Marco Rubio’s tacit business partner, GEO) reduce their prices, mass incarceration should continue?

“People often talk about the electorate moving left,” said Clinton senior policy adviser Jake Sullivan. “I think it’s more that the electorate is just getting more practical. For Hillary Clinton, that matches her evidence-based approach. The arguments that persuade her are evidence-based and progressive.”

He cited the growing consensus that mass incarceration is expensive and unworkable, and that the country is never going to deport all of the more than 11 million people who are here illegally.…

Sullivan also noted that some of Clinton’s early proposals “cut against the grain” of political liberalism, such as her emphasis on improving the playing field for American small businesses.

Clinton will debut policy proposals to ease lending bottlenecks for small businesses on campaign trips to Iowa and New Hampshire this week. The impetus came largely from conversations Clinton had in the run-up to the campaign and a six-month policy review led by Sullivan that looked at how Clinton might address a variety of national concerns.

“The thing she is most interested in is not what position is most popular, it’s what do people worry about,” Sullivan said.

— Clinton is banking on the Obama coalition to win, Anne Gearan, The Washington Post, today

Hmmm.  Okay, Dems.  We need to realize that we’re in trouble.  No, we’re not gonna lose the general elgection.  But our likely standard bearer thinks she’s boldly challenging her party’s base, Sister-Soulja-style, by emphasizing improving the playing field for American small businesses.  As against, say, Walmart. And JPMorgan Chase’s investment banking clients.

I mean … like … Wow.

So Clinton, or at least her senior policy adviser, has never heard of the Durbin Amendment.  Or else thinks that Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is a Republican.  Or maybe a centrist Democrat rather than a very liberal one.  And that Clinton, who her campaign chairman, John Podesta, elsewhere in the article assures that “[s]he’s a proud wonk, and she looks at policy from that perspective,” thinks liberals were up in arms back in early 2010 at the idea that the federal government would interject itself into the by-then-long-running controversy between the credit card/ATM card companies and small retailers (including franchisees such as gas station owners) about the usurious charges that Visa and Mastercard were charging businesses for processing even very small purchases by their customers.

Apparently neither one of them had causal conversations with the three or four small business owners in the Ann Arbor, Mich. area that I happened to chat about it with back in, oh, 2009, 2009, 2010.  Including one I remember, the owner of an independent dollar store, who said that while Walmart could afford the charge for processing small credit/ATM card purchases, those charges cut significant into his profit.  And I guess neither one of them—Clinton nor her senior policy adviser—ever drove, back then, say, north on Pontiac Rd. from Ann Arbor and noticed the family-owned gas stations with signs highlighting the $.10-per-gallon, and then occasionally the $.20-per-gallon, discount for paying in cash.  That’s too bad.  But then, although it’s now lost in memory, Michigan had no Democratic primary in 2008 that year, because of a controversy concerning the state Dem Party’s decision to try to move its primary ahead of New Hampshire’s.  (Something like that; I can’t remember the details.)  So Clinton didn’t campaign in the state, and her current senior policy adviser, who had a high position in her 2008 campaign, would not have visited the state either.

Nor, obviously, are Clinton and her senior policy adviser aware of Paul Krugman’s columns and blog posts explaining the tremendous edge that the mega-banks, which no longer deign to actually make business loans to small businesses because, well, they’re doing just fine with their hedge fund and investment banking operations (I mean, well, usually they are), have over regional or local banks that do so deign.  And since they’re getting their take on liberals from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, they also apparently don’t know that Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Jeff Merkley have used their positions on the Senate Banking Committee to try to enact legislation to break up the mega-banks by prohibiting banks that have standard so-called retail banking operations from engaging also in hedge fund and investment banking functions.  Which Clinton, wonk that she is, would understand would itself make it easier for the banks that would be operating as, y’know, banks to make loans, on decent terms, to small businesses.

Maybe Clinton and her senior policy adviser think Krugman and those three senators and, say, Durbin and Bernie Sanders, are Tea Party members.  Or centrists.  Or maybe they know of other liberals who are demanding justice for JPMorgan Chase and Citibank.

Or maybe they should get out more among, say, real live liberals.

For that matter, they also should get out more among moderates.  Most of whom, probably, think this country’s three-decades-long mass-incarceration policies raise profound concerns beyond the exorbitant direct expenditures, many of whom, probably, would question Clinton’s basic judgment if they knew that she thinks state governments should just drive a harder bargain with Marco Rubio’s tacit business partner, GEO, and its main competitor, Corrections Corporation of America—both of which, it turns out, have contracts with state and county governments in which the governments promise to keep the prisons or jails at or near capacity, or pay the corporations for the empty beds.  I mean, cots.

Both Clinton and her senior policy adviser hold law degrees from Yale.  So, who knows? It might even occur to one or the other to suggest that such contracts constitute wholesale violations of Fourteenth Amendment due process guarantees. And state constitutions’ separation-of-powers structure.  Perhaps Samuel Alito, who is deeply concerned about the constitutionality of public-employee unions’ very existence because of unions’ power to determine such things as the size of state government, can assist with legal theory.  Maybe they could ask him for suggestions.

I mean, they’re wonks, right?  How else would they know that mass incarceration is expensive?

And if Clinton doesn’t inform the public of that fact, they won’t know that fact.  luckily, she plans to tell the public, and support this assertion with detailed information about the math formula she used to discern that fact. And really, it is a fact.  Mass incarceration is very expensive. And that money could be used for … other things.  Good thing she’s a practical wonk.

But back to the nitty-gritty of using us liberals as foils to assure moderates that she’s not really so liberal even now, what with her cutting against the liberal grain of proposing to end bottlenecks to small-business loans, and all.  I will oblige her, and have my brick ready to throw through the window of a neighborhood Thai restaurant nearby that plans to expand after it gets a new loan.

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Political Journalists Should Follow the Lead of Insurance Industry CEOs and Read Angry Bear Regularly. Seriously.

Meanwhile, health insurers warned that Rubio’s legislation [to kill the insurance risk-corridors provision in the ACA] would lead to the government-run health-care system that most alarms conservatives. And there was the awkward fact that the risk corridors were the same mechanism Republicans used in the 2006 prescription-drug legislation.

From Obamacare to the IRS scandal, Republicans are ignoring the facts, Dana Milbank, Washington Post, today

Hmmm.  It’s interesting that the insurance companies finally are catching on.  Their CEOs must read AB.  But, given the importance of this insurance-industry awakening, I wonder why this has not (at least to my knowledge) been reported elsewhere in the mainstream media.

My suggestion to mainstream political journalists: Follow the lead of insurance industry CEOs and read Angry Bear regularly!

 

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Marco Rubio Says Farm Subsidies and Hurricane-Disaster Funds Should Not Be Federal Programs. Really. [Updated and typo-corrected.]

For a senator who likes to hold himself out as the future of the Republican brand, Marco Rubio has come up with a remarkably retrograde contribution to the party’s chorus of phony empathy for the poor: Let the states do it.

All anti-poverty funds should be combined into one “flex fund,” he said in a speech on Wednesday, and then given to the states to spend as they see fit. He actually believes that states will “design and fund creative initiatives” to address inequality.

Rubio Demands States’ Right to Ignore the Poor, David Firestone, New York Times, Jan. 9

The last seven days were Marco Rubio’s lucky week.  And not just because the media-declared frontrunner for his party’s 2016 presidential nomination collapsed as a viable candidate even for local dog catcher, should he need a job by the next presidential election. And not because he was smart enough, unlike some other prominent Repubs and pundits, to recognize how breathtakingly offensive the Bridgegate events are across the political spectrum, and to simply demur from comment.

But also because he gave his big speech on poverty on the very day that the bridge scandal broke nationally, and diverted media and the public’s attention from the speech.  A speech that was, in substance, ridiculous.

Firestone notes some highlights from the speech:

“Washington continues to rule over the world of anti-poverty policy-making, with beltway bureaucrats picking and choosing rigid nationwide programs and forcing America’s elected state legislatures to watch from the sidelines,” he said. “As someone who served nine years in the state house, two of them as Speaker, I know how frustrating this is.”

And:

“It’s wrong for Washington to tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida,” Mr. Rubio said. “But it’s particularly wrong for it to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country.”

After thinking about this for a few minutes–I read the Firestone piece this morning–I’ve concluded that Rubio is onto something.  I, too, think it’s wrong for Washington to tell Tallahassee what programs are right for the people of Florida. The programs I have in mind aren’t the one’s he’s talking about, but they are nonetheless federal programs that assist certain Floridians.  Such as Floridians who have large financial interests in the sugarcane industry.  And Floridians who live in areas hit every few years with devastation from hurricanes.

A key difference, of course, between programs such as farm subsidies and natural-disaster assistance, on the one hand, and the Medicaid and food stamps, on the other, is that the latter are “federalism” federal-state-partnership programs in which states opt into program and the federal government and the states share the costs, with the federal government paying the far greater share.  Non-federalism federal programs that provide financial assistance to certain constituencies–including wealthy farmers, the sugarcane industry, owners of beachfront properties, and small businesses in hurricane country–are funded entirely by the federal government.

But Rubio’s complaint isn’t the manner in which these programs are funded. Instead, it is that people in Florida and Kansas, unlike those in Michigan, California and New York, who can’t afford enough food and who are ill but have no access to medical care don’t really need enough food or access to medical care. He does, of course, want the federal government to continue to pay the states large amounts of  money.  He just thinks there should be no strings attached.

It’s particularly wrong for the federal government to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country. But it’s right for the federal government to continue to give money to the states without determining how the money should be spent.  And particularly right for the federal government to say that what’s right for Tallahassee is the same thing that’s right for Topeka and Sacramento and Detroit and Manhattan and every other town, city and state in the country when doling out farm subsidies, as long as the federal government continues to recognize that what’s right for Florida is huge subsidies to the sugarcane industry.

So, folks, what other federally funded programs do you agree with Rubio and me should be funded by the federal government but should actually not be federal programs?* The Comments section awaits.

And how many of you share Firestone’s and my dismay (so to speak) that the self-styled standard-bearer for future of the Republican Party hasn’t noticed that, whatever else the effects of Obamacare, the law as it has played out spells the end of new federalism-funded social-safety-net programs?  It does, of course, leave intact the non-federalism federal social-safety-net programs, such as farm, logging, and oil-and-gas-industry subsidies.  The Koch brothers need not worry.

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UPDATE: In a blog post this morning discussing the Republican Party’s decades-long campaign to institutionalize in American society the demeaning of ordinary workers as unworthy of respect, Paul Krugman highlights Rubio’s take on whether a raise in the minimum wage is important: “Raising the minimum wage may poll well, but having a job that pays $10 an hour is not the American dream.”

Krugman writes:

In a sense, he’s right: if the American dream means getting rich, then $10 an hour isn’t living that dream. But most people aren’t and won’t get rich. Raising the minimum wage would mean higher incomes for around 27 million people; in many cases the gains would amount to thousands of dollars a year, which is really a lot in low-income families. So what are all these people, chopped liver? Well, yes, at least in the eyes of the GOP — or maybe make that chopped losers.

Actually, making a living wage is exactly a central part of the American dream, and while a wage of $10 an hour isn’t really a living wage, it comes substantially closer to one than does $7.25 an hour.  Which may be why it polls well.

*Sentence typo-corrected to insert the key word “not,” inadvertently omitted from original post. 3:08 p.m.

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Is all of this LEGAL? — Specifics added, 2/16

By “this,” I mean this.  I don’t know, but it sounds to me like some of it is not.  

Wish I could ask Chris Christie, a former (very high-profile) U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey (2001-2008).  He would know.  

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UPDATE:  In light of the comments to this post, saying that Florida law allows the type of influence-peddling that Rubio has engaged in (presumably, unless there’s some overt quid pro quo)–something that the article I linked to does make clear–I want to clarify what I think may be illegal (i.e., violate federal law, thus my reference to Chris Christie). From the article:

For Rubio, a rising star in the Republican Party, more government did indeed create more opportunities. As the Tampa Bay Times reported during his U.S. Senate run in 2010, it’s hard to determine with Rubio where politics stops and the private begins:

As Rubio climbed the ranks, he began to use little-noticed political committees to fund his travel and other expenses and later had a Republican Party of Florida credit card.

What emerged, records show, is a pattern of blending personal and political spending. Over and over again Rubio proved sloppy, at best, in complying with disclosure requirements.

Virtually broke, the 31-year-old lawmaker began campaigning to be House speaker in 2003 and created a political committee — Floridians for Conservative Leadership — to help elect other Republican candidates and curry their support.

With his wife serving as treasurer, Rubio did not wait for the state to authorize the committee before accepting campaign donations.

The committee listed its address as Rubio’s home, a modest place he and his wife bought in West Miami in 2002, but reported spending nearly $85,000 in office and operating costs and $65,000 for administrative costs.

Over 18 months, nearly $90,000 went for political consultants, $51,000 went for credit card payments and $4,000 went to other candidates. That’s less than the $5,700 that went to his wife, Jeanette, much of it for “gas and meals.” (Mrs. Rubio does not work and the couple file joint tax returns.)

Virtually broke, the 31-year-old lawmaker began campaigning to be House speaker in 2003 and created a political committee — Floridians for Conservative Leadership — to help elect other Republican candidates and curry their support.

With his wife serving as treasurer, Rubio did not wait for the state to authorize the committee before accepting campaign donations.

The committee listed its address as Rubio’s home, a modest place he and his wife bought in West Miami in 2002, but reported spending nearly $85,000 in office and operating costs and $65,000 for administrative costs.

Over 18 months, nearly $90,000 went for political consultants, $51,000 went for credit card payments and $4,000 went to other candidates. That’s less than the $5,700 that went to his wife, Jeanette, much of it for “gas and meals.” (Mrs. Rubio does not work and the couple file joint tax returns.)

Some of this sounds to me like taxable (but probably undeclared) income for him and his wife, beyond just his wife’s salary and actual expenses related to the PAC.  The PAC also sounds like it was largely a fraud; its stated purpose was to help elect other Republicans to the state legislature, and I guess some of the consulting was used by or for other candidates, although the article doesn’t make that clear, but just a tiny percentage of the donations were given to other candidates.

But also, two other things the article mentions sound like they violate federal law:

  • Rubio earmarked money to Florida International University and later got an unadvertised job as a part-time professor at the school. The former school president, Mitch Maidique, said Rubio was “worth every penny.”

  • After appropriating millions of dollars to Miami Children’s and Jackson Memorial Hospitals, Rubio formed a lobby shop and got contracts with the hospitals.

Some of these things sound like things that Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife were formally charged with yesterday, albeit on a much quieter scale, and some of the other things sound similar in nature, if not scale, to what former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was convicted of.  

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John Boehner Should Travel More. To Australia.

Yesterday, both sides drew their battle lines in the coming war over the minimum wage. After Obama called for a minimum wage hike in his State of the Union speech, House Republicans dug in against it, casting their opposition as grounded in concern for the plight of low wage workers. John Boehner asked: “Why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people?”

Dems to use minimum wage against GOP in 2014, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, this morning

To me, one of the great frustrations in Obama’s failure during most of his first term to communicate, effectively or at all, the basic premises of Keynesian and other liberal economics-related arguments (including on healthcare) was his apparent resistance to mentioning–early, often, or ever–specific other countries’ successes or failures that illustrate the point.

But there’s no time like the present for him and the congressional Dems to start to do do this, by maybe mentioning these facts: that Australia’s minimum wage is $15 U.S. and that its unemployment rate is 5.4%, and that the United States has (surprise!) the largest gap between the minimum wage and the median wage of any advanced economy in the world.

I learned those facts yesterday when I read Washington Post columnist Matthew Miller’s Feb. 6 column.  He mentioned it and linked to it in his column yesterday about Obama’s State of the Union address.  In yesterday’s column, he suggested seemingly, facetiously, that it was his February 6 column that had persuaded Obama to include a minimum-wage-hike proposal in his address.  But after reading the earlier column, I suspect that it was not only what convinced Obama to make the call but also was what caused Obama to even think of it.  

Both of Miller’s columns say that the $9/hr. figure that Obama proposed in his speech would still leave the minimum wage at $1.68 below what the value of the minimum wage was in 1968.  The first column, Miller also mentions that several CEOs of large corporations support a rise in the minimum wage and that a prominent conservative, the editor of American Conservative magazine, suggests raising the minimum wage to $12/hr.  Of course, the Republicans will showcase their own CEOs, and some small-business owners, to support their own position.

Which is where Australia comes in.  Or at least where invoking it should come in. The special beauty of using Australia as an example–whether in support of an increase in the minimum wage or in refuting the Obamacare-is-socialism/makers-vs.-takers mantra–is that few Americans associate Australia with, um, socialism.  They associate it instead with free-enterprise economics and a high standard of living.  And soon, hopefully, also with a higher minimum wage that corresponds to a low unemployment rate.  

Maybe Marco Rubio and John Boehner could get a travel discount if they booked their reservations together.

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