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

Ugh. Okay, still …

In a letter co-signed by 15 other Senate Democrats — and every Senate Republican — Kaine asked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to exempt community banks and credit unions from many of its regulatory requirements. In justifying these exemptions, the letter suggests that these regulations would make it more difficult for these small banks to continue “spurring economic growth” and that such rules are unnecessary, anyhow, since community banks “were not the primary cause of the financial crisis.”

This latter point is a bit of non sequitur. Just because a reckless activity was not the “primary cause” of the last global economic crisis doesn’t mean that activity isn’t worth preventing. According to the Intercept’s David Dayen, the rule Kaine proposes “could allow community banks and credit unions to sell high-risk mortgages or personal loans without the disclosure and ability to pay rules in place across the industry.” Such bad loans may not take down our financial system, but they could ruin the lives of the families that receive them.

In a second letter to the Federal Reserve, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Kaine and his co-signers argue that large regional banks like PNC, BB&T, and SunTrust should be exempt from two regulations meant to reduce their risk of collapse.

Currently, these banks are required to issue daily reports about their levels of liquidity, so as to assure the government that they hold enough assets to cover a 30-day period of financial stress. Kaine and 69 of his colleagues would like to exempt regional banks from this requirement, regardless of their size.

Kaine would also like these banks to be exempted from the “advanced approaches” capital requirements that dictate the ratio of reserves a bank must hold to cover potential losses. At present, any bank that holds $250 billion in assets is deemed systemically important and thus subjected to these requirements. Kaine argues that this threshold is too low, in light of the fact that the financial sector has grown substantially since the rule was written. Since regional banks “do not share the same risk profile or complexity as their larger, systemically important brethren,” the letter writers argue, they should not be forced to comply with the same regulations. But it’s not clear why the signatories believe that the collapse of a large regional bank wouldn’t create significant ripple effects in our deeply interconnected financial system.

While Kaine stepped up to the plate for banking interests this week, he simultaneously snubbed consumer-advocacy groups. On Wednesday, Kaine was one of 13 Democratic senators to withhold his signature from a letter authored by Sherrod Brown, which called for strengthening new rules against abusive payday lenders. The senator’s office told the Huffington Post that he is “working on his own separate ‘Virginia-focused’” letter on payday lending.

Clinton VP Favorite Just Gave the Left Two More Reasons to Distrust Him, Eric Levitz, New York magazine, yesterday (H/T Naked Capitalism)

An article I read late last night (I can’t remember where) said Clinton had been leaning toward Kaine partly because she thinks he will help her win votes of white men because he is originally from the Midwest and is, well, a white man.

That concerned me, because it suggests that Clinton sees white men as somewhat fungible: What matters is the region of the country he hails from and the fact that he is white and male.  But this election season has shown rather clearly that there are two distinct types of populism, one far more important in the South than elsewhere, the other far more important in the Midwest and the Northeast—respectively, the racial and xenophobic white-grievance mania that Trump has promoted so successfully, the other traditional economic-populism issues of the sort that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have come to represent in the minds of so many voters.

The article I read last night also reported, and the New York magazine article also says, that Bill Clinton had been pushing strongly for Kaine.  This too concerns me.  Bill Clinton remains ossified in the ‘90s; there has been indication upon indication of that in the last year.  He makes Hillary Clinton look observant of the current political climate.  Hillary Clinton spent the last year and a half until roughly three weeks ago seemingly unobservant of the current political climate—the very morning after the California primary, when she effectively secured the nomination, she was on the phone to moderate Republican donors, apparently on the assumption that they couldn’t figure out for themselves that if they couldn’t abide Trump they should support her, since she’s the only actual alternative.  So Bill Clinton’s feat is notable.

And Hillary Clinton’s decision to choose Kaine suggests what I, and I know many other progressives, fear: that she is manipulated by her husband to an unnerving extent.

I’m on a listserve of Sanders supporters whom the Clinton campaign occasionally targets with messages from Clinton promising to be a progressive president, and last night I received a message titled “Welcome Tim Kaine”.  It begins by assuring that she and Kaine both are genuine progressives.  The rest of the message is, I assume, the message she sent to her supporters announcing her choice of Kaine.  What caught my attention was something that also caught my attention when I read his Wikipedia page last night before posting this post (and titling it as I did): Kaine graduated from Harvard Law School and then practiced law in Richmond.

Why Richmond? I wondered when I read the Wikipedia entry, which doesn’t answer that question.  Kaine had no ties to Virginia.  And, it hit me, after graduating from Harvard Law he didn’t work for the government and didn’t work for a corporate mega-firm.  Yet he did practice law.  That’s really important.  (Trust me.  It is.)

In her email, Clinton details this.  After graduating from Harvard Law School, Kaine moved to Richmond to litigate against that city’s pervasive racial discrimination in housing.  He practiced law there, in Richmond, for 17 years.  Just ordinary law, I guess (although Clinton doesn’t say); not law of the corporate variety, I presume.

This matters.  But not as much as, I fear, Clinton thinks.  Economic populism matters right now in domestic policy, beyond all else.

I can’t emphasize enough that there is, I’m pretty sure, nothing that would cause me to not vote for this ticket.  But I’m a single vote.  And the way to win the votes of enough white men in Midwestern swing states is run on the progressive economic policy platform that so largely reflects Sanders’ and Warren’s policy prescriptions, if not enough.  It is not to rest on the belief that a majority of voters want experience and steadiness.  And that a majority of white men in swing states care mostly about whether or not the candidate has chosen a white man as her running mate.


UPDATE: I want to really emphasize my point above that Bill Clinton apparently is having disconcertedly undue influence over Hillary in critical respects.  I’ve just read more about Kaine’s time as governor, and while these essentially Republican actions and positions he took may well have been necessary in order to enable a potentially successful Senate run, this is not a candidate who should be the Dem VP nominee, least of all in this election cycle.

As I say above, I was just dismayed when the very morning after the California primary, Hillary Clinton was on the phone soliciting contributions from moderate Repub donors.  But in thinking about this today, I realize that this probably was at Bill’s  elated suggestion.  This is NOT good–this retro chokehold on the current nominee.

Added 7/23 at 12:47 p.m.

Paul Ryan and Scott Walker Come Out for Repeal of Federal Child-Labor Laws, Because the Kids Insist. Coming soon: Talking polar bears pleading for more oil drilling.

Oh, my — not only was Paul Ryan’s hunger=dignity speech appalling on the merits, the anecdote he used to make his point was fake — a distortion of a real story with a completely different point.

I’m actually not happy with this discovery; the crucial point here should be that even if the story of the kid who wants brown bag lunches were true, it would be a terrible argument against school lunches and the social safety net in general. In a way it’s a bad thing to have the conversation shifted instead to Ryan’s failure to get simple facts right.

— Into the Mouths of Babes, Paul Krugman, today

Here’s what Ryan said yesterday in his speech to the CPAC convention, as related by New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait:

In his vacuous, sloganeering speech today at CPAC, Paul Ryan argued that “the left” — the term he used to describe not the actual left, but the Obama administration — offers Americans “a full stomach — and an empty soul.” What soul-emptying ways is “the left” filling people’s stomachs? Ryan has a story from his fellow Republican, Eloise Anderson:

“She once met a young boy from a poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. But he told Eloise he didn’t want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch — one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids’. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”

Anderson is a longtime anti-safety-net crusader and currently a member of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.  Ryan was paraphrasing testimony gave to the House Budget Committee, which Ryan chairs, last summer.  Greg Sargent details the controversy here, and links to Glenn Kessler’s and Wonkette’s investigative reports on it from last night.

I initially had the same reaction as Krugman: that this under-oath fabrication of fact by a witness at a congressional hearing who is a key member of Walker’s administration, would become the news story, rather than that Ryan used the anecdote to come out for repeal not just of the school lunch program but also of child-labor laws.

But upon reflection, I think the revelation that this Walker appointee gave fabricated testimony to a congressional committee–stunning, in itself–is a net plus, because it brings far more public attention than otherwise to the premise of this Walker appointee (and therefore of Walker himself) and Ryan: that children from poor families, including, presumably, infants and toddlers–these people want to kill the food stamp program, too–should work for their food.

This odd conflation of parent and child, by both Anderson and Ryan, is so weird and ridiculous–and so stunningly offensive, surely, to most Americans–that its mere verbatim recitation will, I think, be a gift that keeps on giving during this year’s campaigns.  But it also highlights this: that the Republicans appear to be unaware that a large percentage of school-lunch-program or the food-stamp-program (or both) recipients come from households headed by someone who works, often full-time, at a very low-wage job or at a combination of low-wage jobs.

Or else these pols are claiming that no one should work at very-low-wage jobs, and should instead find a way up the socioeconomic ladder.  In which case, they are saying that Walmart and the fast-food and hospitality industries should pay their employees more.  I mean, shouldn’t be able to find employees. (Not ones who’ve fed themselves and their kids, anyway.)

Paul Ryan and Scott Walker turn out to be pro-labor, after all!  Who knew?  We Dems need to start appreciating the annual CPAC conference for it’s, um, newsworthiness.

These people’s weird obsession with killing the social safety net is shared by–what?–15%-20% of the public? They themselves seem to recognize that outrageous that the people who want this is small, and the people who obsess over it and privilege it over all other policy matters, is really, really small.  Which presumably is why they keep fabricating stories.

This is part and parcel of the genre that until yesterday most recently featured as its top stars Julie Boonstra and Emilie Lamb.  What’s next? Talking polar bears pleading for more oil drilling?


As an aside, I think that if Walker is serious about running for president, he needs to fire Anderson.  She fabricated a story, under oath, at a congressional hearing.  That’s not a trivial matter.

Ron Fournier Says Abraham Lincoln Wasn’t a Great President

Great presidents rise above circumstance. Not Obama, at least not yet. At a news conference Tuesday marking the 100th day of his second and final term, the president seemed unwilling or unable to overcome stubborn GOP opposition.

— Ron Fournier, National Journal, yesterday (h/t Jonathan Chait, New York magazine, today)

Fournier’s right, of course. About Abraham Lincoln, that is.  Lincoln was unwilling or unable to overcome stubborn Southern opposition to his agenda of ending slavery and keeping the Union whole.

Personally, I think it was the former.  Unless you count that declaration-of-war thing.  Although if you do, then you also have to count that victory at Appomattox.  Which would mean Lincoln was able to overcome stubborn Southern opposition to his agenda of ending slavery and keeping the Union whole, after all.  And that would mean that he must have been willing to do so, unless that victory was an accident.

Although, under the new definition of the word leadership, that kind of thing doesn’t count, because persuasion just didn’t work in that case.

Take me to your leader, Mr. Fournier.  Once you find one who isn’t a hypnotist or the head of a parliamentarian government. Unless, of course, by rising above circumstance, you mean military coup de tat.

Oh, No. David Brooks Thinks Social Security and Medicare Are State- and Local-Government Programs. Or Thinks We Do. Seriously. — APPENDED (twice)

The final problem is that, in an effort to reduce the economic concentration of power, the administration is concentrating political power in Washington. If the problem is that talent is fleeing blighted localities, it’s hard to see how you make that better if decision-making and resources are concentrated faraway in the nation’s capital.
This is not to make a partisan point. The Republicans do not have a better approach. It’s simply to say that the liberal agenda is not very good at addressing the inequality problem it seeks to solve. The meritocracy is overwhelming the liberal project.

The Great Migration, David Brooks, New York Times, Jan. 25

Brooks is right; that is not to make a partisan point.  It is to make a nonsensensical point. A point that Brooks makes again in his column in today’s Times, if in different words. 

It is, in any event, an inaccurate point.  

Okay, I admit it: I’ve become obsessed with David Brooks.  Or, more specifically, with the fact that a New York Times columnist who is regularly referenced by other big-name political columnists and bloggers, operates under a formula in which everything even remotely connected to politics/ideology–and I do mean everything, best as I can tell–falls within one or another breathtakingly broad factual category.  The placement into one or another of these categories depends not on whether the category placement is even remotely accurate as a matter of logic or even (sometimes) actual fact, but instead on which category whatever he’s talking about must fit in order to advance his preference for the decentralization of … well … everything, I guess, other than corporate power.  But especially of government functions.

This is so even when he’s arguing in favor of stronger centralization of government functions and of more government functions, but doesn’t realize it.  As, for example, his invocation of the public’s overwhelming support for Social Security and Medicare as … yup! … evidence that “Americans are still skeptical of Washington,” and so “[i]f you shove a big government program down their throats they will recoil.”  An accurate statement if the Americans you’re talking about are the ones who want the government to stay out of their Medicare!  Otherwise, though, there isn’t much evidence that there’s been an 80-year-long recoiling from Social Security and a 45-year recoiling from Medicare, and a populist push to privatize those programs or, to borrow a phrase from Mitt Romney (specifically when talking about emergency disaster aid and Medicaid, but, clearly, he had other programs in mind, too–like almost all federal programs that don’t directly aide, say, the oil and gas production companies–send them back to the states.  From which they didn’t come, in the first place.

The two indented paragraphs above come at the end of a column summarizing a new book called The New Geography of Jobs, by Enrico Moretti, with whom Brooks expressly agrees, point after point, paragraph after paragraph.  Until he adds a point of his own, the one he identifies as the final problem.  The one that Brooks thinks cannot be solved by federal money and decisionmaking, because that money would be concentrated in–by which he means, originates from–Washington, and because decisionmaking about how to turn this dynamic around, so that localities other than the big tech and finance centers prosper too, would, if the liberals have their way, be concentrated in Washington.  

Brooks sums up the problem. Sort of:

The highly educated cluster around a few small nodes. Decade after decade, smart and educated people flock away from Merced, Calif., Yuma, Ariz., Flint, Mich., and Vineland, N.J. In those places, less than 15 percent of the residents have college degrees. They flock to Washington, Boston, San Jose, Raleigh-Durham and San Francisco. In those places, nearly 50 percent of the residents have college degrees.
As Enrico Moretti writes in “The New Geography of Jobs,” the magnet places have positive ecologies that multiply innovation, creativity and wealth. The abandoned places have negative ecologies and fall further behind.

This sorting is self-reinforcing, and it seems to grow more unforgiving every year. One small study caught my eye. Robert Oprisko of Butler University found that half of the jobs in university political science programs went to graduates of the top 11 schools. That is to say, if you have a Ph.D. from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and so on, your odds of getting a job are very good. If you earned your degree from one of the other 100 degree-granting universities, your odds are not. These other 100 schools don’t even want to hire the sort of graduates they themselves produce. They want the elite credential.

Brooks is good at using other people’s fact-based arguments.  He just isn’t good at figuring out what they mean.  Or at least what they don’t mean.  Butler University is in Indianapolis, Ind. Presumably, Oprisko and all his colleagues live nearby.  The University of Michigan has a large branch in Flint.  The members of its political science faculty probably live within a relatively small radius of Flint.  So this wasn’t a good example of Moretti’s point, an all-too-valid one that highlights a huge national truth.  A truth that surely cannot be solved by removing whatever funds and help the federal government might offer.  

The federal government is not keeping Flint and the other, similar localities around the country, from doing things that might change the economics dynamic so that their young people will be better educated and will want to return there after receiving their degrees.  The federal government is being concertedly demonized as a beast, and starved–the result of the Republican dominance of Washington policymaking for so long.  And, for the same reason, the federal government’s entire fiscal policymaking apparatus has been prevented from attempting to deal with the problems Moretti discusses (and Brooks purports to discuss) by the capture of the public policymaking dialogue by people who want to end or prevent the federal-government’s role in, among many other things, the very sort of problem-solving that Brooks says is needed, except by … who?  Or by what?  Corporations? Local governments? Rush Limbaugh?

Brooks, as is typical of him, doesn’t say.  He just says, as always, that “centralized”–by which he means, federal government–power is bad. He doesn’t like it.  Too much like Europe, you know.  Very bad.

Brooks didn’t write a Sunday column this week.  I figured he just didn’t want me to mock another of his mindless rants about liberal/Obama government/centralized-headquarters-controlled operations that would undermine creativity and initiative–such as student-loan programs and public universities–so he took the day off.  But instead it turns out that he didn’t write a Sunday column because he was too busy attending various luncheons, dinners, and other meetings at this decade’s National Review review this past weekend about what the hell went WRONG last November, and what the hell can BE DONE to avoid such unfortunate turns of fortune from recurring repeatedly in the coming, say, century.

Brooks recounts pieces of arguments of speakers at the conference, and he concludes, surely accurately, that the Republican Party can’t win unless it develops what he calls a “Second GOP,” lead by new politicians who are not anti-government. These folks would develop federal programs that would address the country’s and individuals’ actual problems.  The quest for actual solutions, in other words, would trump anti-government ideology.  It’s just that, as standard bearers for the GOP, albeit the Second one, they would have to pretend that federal programs, like Social Security and Medicare, aren’t big government programs.  Or even small government programs.  They would pretend, I guess, that federal government programs aren’t federal government programs. State programs, maybe? Local-government programs? Chamber of Commerce programs?

This would work, remember, because most Americans “recoil” from big (i.e.., federal) government programs. Which is why they “cherish” Social Security and Medicare.  Just so you don’t think I’ve removed a sentence or clause from its context, here’s the full paragraph:

Americans are still skeptical of Washington. If you shove a big government program down their throats they will recoil. But many of their immediate problems flow from globalization, the turmoil of technological change and social decay, and they’re looking for a bit of help. Moreover, given all the antigovernment rhetoric, they will never trust these Republicans to reform cherished programs like Social Security and Medicare. You can’t be for entitlement reform and today’s G.O.P., because politically the two will never go together.

The Second GOP, Brooks says, “would be filled with people who recoiled at President Obama’s second Inaugural Address because of its excessive faith in centralized power, but who don’t share the absolute antigovernment story of the current G.O.P.”  People who, for example, live in Merced, Calif., Yuma, Ariz., Flint, Mich., and Vineland, N.J., and would be outraged if the Obama administration offered programs and federal financing to try to assist their cities in upgrading their education and infrastructure systems enough that they again become attractive to companies and startups and young professionals. Some of whom, recall, cherish Social Security and Medicare because of their lack of centralized power.

What exactly does Brooks think is an example of Obama’s excessive faith in centralized power?  The operative word here is, example. Even just one or two specific ones, please.  He doesn’t say; after all, generalization and sweeping categorization is his stock in trade. But if he can, and does, eventually provide an example, he might, while he’s on a role, consider identifying a couple of decentralized-power success stories, and explaining why Merced, Calif., Yuma, Ariz., Flint, Mich., and Vineland, N.J., don’t seem to have had similar options.  

Or maybe he can persuade the Second GOP to explain it. Without making too many of us recoil.  

UPDATE: Reader Jack and I exchanged the following comments in the Comments thread below:

Believe me when I say that I share your feelings about Brooks. He is one of the worst of the sycophants of the upper crust, and he is little more than the crumbs that make up that crust. However, the nearly total lack of response to your long post in the past several hours is the best response of all. He is not worthy of criticism. Posting anything he writes is like disposing of feces with your bare hands. Don’t dirty yourself by acknowledging that you’ve actually read some of his deceitful meanderings. When you see his column in print take that page and clean some crap off the sidewalk so that at least that page will serve a useful purpose.

If you must write about him then do so in a brief letter to the managing Editor of the Times and note that the Times should find a more fact based apologist for the takers in our society. Don’t multiply his words through the process of criticism. It serves no useful purpose because criticism is meant to correct or improve a point of view. He has no capacity for either.

My instinct is to just say, “But, Jack, you don’t understand.  This is an obsession!”  But I think it’s not a trivial matter that a very high-profile, self-styled “center-right” (as opposed to just plain rightwing), political columnist–someone whom politicians and other political journalists read and take seriously–keeps pushing a flatly nonsensical supposedly-factual, but generic “narrative”–over and over and over again–while never actually identifying specifics to support his claim of fact: that Obama and the congressional Dems are pushing for federal programs that would undermine creativity and initiative because they would be federal programs rather than state or local programs–or something–and that ongoing government programs such as student loan programs and state university systems do the same because they are government rather than private programs–or something.  

These are representations of fact, not statements of opinion.  They either are unpinned by empirical evidence or they are not.  And of course they are not.  So why does the New York Times allow him to keep asserting these things, in column after column, without finally asking him to identify specifics that support his generic claims of fact?  Yes, he’s an opinion columnist.  But these things aren’t opinion; they’re either fact-based or they aren’t, and if they aren’t, why is he allowed to use the Times as his forum to keep saying that they are, without ever actually identifying any empirical evidence to support them, or even specifying rather than merely implying) what programs he’s talking about.  

Two weeks ago, New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait wrote a delicious article there titled “David Brooks Now Totally Pathological,” hilariously deconstructing Brooks’s then-most-recent column in which he angrily blamed Obama for the Republicans’ fiscal-cliff and debt-ceiling embarrassments because Obama didn’t cave to them.  But that column of Brooks’s was, clearly, just opinion.  Hilariously and flagrantly ridiculous opinion.  It wasn’t a misrepresentation of fact. Quite the opposite; it acknowledged that the Republicans lost the substantive and political endgame on both.  It just said it was Obama’s fault.  Which is true.

Chait’s article is … a don’t-miss.
FOLLOW-UP: In response to Jack’s reply to me in the Comments thread in which he criticized the New York Times as basically a shill for the wealthy, I wrote:

I like the New York Times, generally. That’s where Paul Krugman’s column and blog are published, after all. And I’m not suggesting that the editors should censor their columnists’ opinions. But when a political columnist repeatedly makes sweeping conclusory statements of fact without ever actually specifying the supposed factual basis for the claims, and when it’s patently clear that no factual basis for the claims exists, it does seem to me that that crosses a line. …

I want to be sure that my criticism of the Times on this is not misunderstood.