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

An Op Ed on Race Relations in the NY Times

The NY Times has an op ed entitled Can My Children Be Friends with White People?. (Dan here …Link corrected) I think this is the most interesting excerpt:

…I will teach my boys to have profound doubts that friendship with white people is possible. When they ask, I will teach my sons that their beautiful hue is a fault line. Spare me the platitudes of how we are all the same on the inside. I first have to keep my boys safe, and so I will teach them before the world shows them this particular brand of rending, violent, often fatal betrayal.

The author, Ekow N. Yankah, according to the Times is a professor at Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. For an expert on criminal law, and one who cares about his sons’ safety, he seems surprisingly uninformed about what he termed “violent, often fatal betrayal.” I sincerely hope whatever other advice he is giving his sons doesn’t get them hurt. They shouldn’t suffer for his ignorance. And speaking of ignorance, the rest of the op ed is a tour de force for the proposition that if a person cannot or will not understand basic facts about their own field, they aren’t a reliable guide to much else either.

Regardless… this is no different than the views of far right white people who teach their kids they cannot have Black friends. Fortunately, I doubt that the NY Times would publish that sort of garbage unironically. But it isn’t any better that the NY Times published this one.

Note to the NY Times: this is how I believe one should discuss race.

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Why are so many Dem-leaning pundits so profoundly clueless? [Updated.]

Today, Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who has been talking about challenging Clinton from the left, was repeatedly asked by reporters to comment on Clinton’s emails, and he repeatedly refused. Not because he doesn’t think there are legitimate questions here, but because his advisers say raising them might reflect badly on him:

“His advisers say there’s no benefit to him criticizing Clinton at this point. She’s already on the defensive, they reason, and die-hard Democrats are likely to be turned off if O’Malley sounds too much like Clindeiton’s Republican critics.”

Well, I hope that isn’t the real rationale. I suspect most Democratic voters and activists want to hear a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails; in fact, such a debate among Democrats could be more illuminating than whatever results from Republican criticism of her over it, which is likely to be polluted by overreach.

Maybe it’s time for a real Democratic presidential primary, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

Of course!  I’ve been dying to hear a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails! Because there’s obviously a lot of room for disagreement on whether or not it was a good idea for Clinton to set up a separate, private email server and commingle all her personal emails about her daughter’s wedding and her mother’s funeral with her State Department-related emails.  And because this is, unquestionably, the issue I care most about.

So please, Mr. O’Malley, keep me and all of us Dems in suspense no longer: Would you, as president, require your Secretary of State to use the State Department email system for State Department-related emails?  And if not, would you require that your Secretary of State comply with the Federal Records Act and related laws?

Such a debate among Democrats absolutely could be more illuminating than whatever results from Republican criticism of Clinton over it.  Which obviously is saying quite a lot.

Yup.

Last weekend, O’Malley appeared at some Dem functions in New Hampshire and discussed the types of issues that Elizabeth Warren talks about, and even the types of issues that Paul Krugman talks about—and deigned to allude to the latest actions by Scott Walker and economic-policy statements from Jeb Bush.  Reading some of the specifics of his comments, I was delighted.  And I assumed that most Dems would be, too.  Maybe we’ll start gaining some traction on these things, instead of constantly having to settle for more Clinton silliness and more Clinton banalities, clichés and hints about the approximate month of her formal announcement, I thought.  Hurray! Hurray!

Then I read that some New Hampshire state senator and a few other attendees at one or another of the functions was disappointed that O’Malley effectively demurred when asked to comment on the Clinton email mess.  If he’s going to run, he has to comment on what the big issue of the moment is, the state senator said.

Which sure seems right if the big issue of the moment is, say, a substantivepolicy issue.  But best as I can tell, email policy for federal officials isn’t, really.

Then there was Dana Milbank’s comment a few days ago comparing O’Malley with the tooth fairy.  Or, more precisely, comparing people who think O’Malley could beat Clinton for the nomination with people who believe in the tooth fairy.  And this evening he has a more detailed follow-up, the thrust of which is that O’Malley was just a governor and, before that, mayor of Baltimore.  As opposed to, say, Scott Walker, who is a governor and was, before that, a County Executive.  And as opposed to, say, Jeb Bush, who was a governor and, before that, a president’s son.

I certainly get that only the Republican Party is entitled to nominate such folks for president. Which, of course, they did, in 2012.  Minus the big-city-mayor/big-county-executive part.  I’m not sure what percentage of the public outside of Wisconsin knew anything about Walker until two months ago, but many more people sure do now. For better or for worse, but that’s beside the point.  Walker didn’t have to compete for the media’s notice with someone whom the press has been obsessed with for a quarter-century—the members of the press, that is, who were covering politics in the ‘90s.  Or who followed stuff like that when they were in elementary school.

But O’Malley does have to compete for the media’s attention with Hillary Clinton.  A political media, that is, whose members apparently almost universally believe that the minimum voting age is 42.  And so competing, it appears, is impossible.

I keep reading political commentary that “we” all have already made up our minds about Hillary Clinton. Each of us either loves her or hates her, having decided which one all the way back in the ‘90s.  When some of “us” were in the primary grades in school and others of “us” were adolescents or teenagers. And when a small percentage of “us” were still in diapers.

But some of us do remember the ‘90s, if not all the specifics.  I speak as someone who does remember ‘90s politics, but who had forgotten such specifics as that Clinton said during her “pink sweater” press conference in 1994 that she had thought that her husband’s and her own unusual financial pursuits that depended upon friendships and connections during her husband’s terms as governor should have been viewed as within a privacy zone.  She couldn’t distinguish then between land development deals and cattle-futures trading, on the one hand, and buying, say, Vanguard Index Fund shares, on the other.  And so her law firm’s billing records for the Whitewater land deal (or whatever) remained hidden for two years in a White House closet until things got wackily out-of-hand, politically.

What I, unlike Sargent, suspect is that most Democratic voters and activists want to hear a spirited debate about the subjects that we actually care about. Including a spirited response to Scott Walker’s and Jeb Bush’s economic’fiscal/regulatory policy positions and their counterfactual justifications for them, and Paul Ryan’s ahistorical claims about supply side economics, financial industry regulations, and federal budget deficits in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Some discussion of what’s happening with, say, Kansas’s budget and economic growth, and maybe even Wisconsin’s, and Europe’s—and why—would be very, very welcome.

There are only two reasons why most of us want a meaningful primary debate, forced by a meaningful candidacy—and neither of those reasons is to make Hillary Clinton a stronger candidate.  One reason is to have the option to vote for a genuine economic-policy progressive.  The other is to enable our party to actually put forward the arguments for progressive economic policy, and that means ending the constant focus on this silly woman, her huge “circle,” her incessant calculations and decisions-by-committee about absolutely everything, and waiting for the next shoe (and the next, and the next) to drop.

The very, very, very, very last thing most Democrats want is a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails.  We don’t want to debate Clinton’s emails.  We want to debate actual substantive-policy issues, especially but not solely economic/fiscal/regulatory policy issues.  Government email policy isn’t on our list.  If Warren were planning to run, would anyone claim that she needed to take a break from those economic-policy/bank-deregulation/policy-of-by-and-for-the-mega-campaign-donors things and talk about the more important issue of government officials’ email-procedure?  Really?

Look. Hillary Clinton should not run for president.  Her life, her husband’s life, her family’s foundation’s life, all are too complicated for her to be able even to concentrate on serious, specific policy issues other than the women’s-movement issues whose clichés she cites, mantra-like, and has for the past 40-plus years.  These are by no means trivial issues.  They are, though, by no means what most people think should be the end-all-and-be-all of the Democratic nominee’s concerns.

I myself agree with Bill Clinton’s comments a few days ago that, on balance, their family’s foundation has done more good than harm—thanks in large part to Chelsea Clinton’s efforts to make the foundation into what it should be: something far more important than just a Bill and Hillary Clinton ad and a well-paying landing place for their many hangers-on.  Hillary Clinton should put her time and effort into furthering the meaningful goals of that organization, and wind up her career with something truly special. She should not impose so upon those who need to have this election be about what it should be about. Which is to say, about things more important than her.

I can assure Dana Milbank, and Martin O’Malley, that I don’t believe in the tooth fairy.  Even though Clinton will of course run.

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UPDATE:

Probing, persistent questions like these from the political press corps at Tuesday’s news conference are the sort that rival candidates would be expected to ask on the campaign trail or in televised debates, as Barack Obama did against Mrs. Clinton in 2007 and 2008 over the Iraq war and other issues.

Unlike then, however, Mrs. Clinton is not expected to face comparably aggressive opponents for her party’s nomination. Among the possible Democratic field, former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland has shown little taste for cutthroat tactics.

Early in 2016 Race, Clinton’s Toughest Foe Appears to be the News Media, Patrick Healy, New York Times, today

Uh-huh.  Can’t beat Clinton unless you use cutthroat tactics.  Talking just about economic-policy/bank-regulation/big-money-dictating-policy issues hasn’t worked well at all for Elizabeth Warren.  Which is why, much as a huge swath of Democrats cares deeply about those issues, there’s no movement to draft Warren to run for the nomination, and why no one pays attention when she speaks, right? She doesn’t use cutthroat tactics against Clinton, instead using cutthroat tactics only against the Republicans.

Mr. Healy, talking about economic-policy/bank-regulation/big-money-dictating-policy is a cutthroat tactic. It’s just that the political-news media hasn’t noticed.

Updated 3/12 at 12:12 p.m.

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Paul Krugman is wrong; Obama DOES need to discuss Keynesian economics in his State of the Union address. Here’s why.

Paul Krugman is my hero.  I credit him–him alone, really–with ending, finally, the Peterson Foundation’s capture of almost all of the mainstream news media as their PR outfit.  Just as I credit Occupy Wall Street, also alone, with finally ending the decades-long political prohibition of class warfare by any group but the hedge fund/CEO crowd. Krugman, unlike other liberal economists, thanks to his New York Times column and blog, is not relegated by the news and political worlds to tree-falling-in-a-forest status.  His writings penetrate the barriers–consciousness–that no other liberal economist can.  And he has, single-handledly, removed from the big-name propogandists the freedom to sell their snake oil, unrebutted in any broadly-read forum, as news and fact-based commentary. Krugman bats down this stuff, daily.

The economic/fiscal right is similar to the conservative-legal-movement right, best as I can tell, in its perversion– its Orwellian redefinition–of common language terms and its out-of-the-blue proclamations of false fact. In law, it is words, phrases and concepts such as freedom, liberty, viewpoint coercion, matters of public concern, First Amendment rights to free speech and free association and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, that are now regularly removed from their ordinary meaning to strip or fabricate constitutional rights, depending upon which outcome advances what is at bottom the Reagan-era-right’s legislative agenda.  There is, it is by now clear, no redefinition or fabrication of fact too shamelessly politically opportunistic, or too whiplash-inducing in light of their own recent aggressive rulings to the contrary, that four or five justices won’t adopt, and certainly no limit to the bald silliness that their legal-movement apparatus won’t offer with a straight face.

Freedom means imprisonment.  Or, more precisely, it means being denied access to the federal habeas corpus process after conviction of felonies and sentenced to a long prison term, however rampant the violations of federal constitutional rights, as long as the conviction was in state court, because states, or more accurately, state judicial branches are sovereigns whose dignity must not be offended by the shackles of having to comply with the Constitution’s dictates and prohibitions.  Yes, and work will make you free, as long as the work occurs inside a concentration camp, within a sovereign state.  Or at least it will if you’re a public-sector employee in a unionized job and you are ideologically opposed to big government but not so strongly against it that you will quit your job and ask that your position not be filled upon your departure.  Or if you’re a physician who accepts Medicare patients.  But not if you’re a prosecutor whose discovered bald misconduct on the part of the part of the police in a prosecution, and your own office looks the other way and you complain, since the phrase “big government” does not include within its meaning police misconduct and therefore is not a matter of public concern.

I wish there were a Krugman-equivalent for legal issues.  Without one, these folks dramatically rewrite the Constitution and federal statutes, with rare exceptions entirely off the public’s radar screen.  But there’s not.

But I digress.  I come not just to praise Paul Krugman but also to refute him.  Well, actually to refute his argument today that it’s okay if Obama doesn’t address Keynesian economics in his State of the Union address next week, as long as he addresses, at length, issues of dramatically unequal income and wealth distribution and access to the means of economic mobility.  Krugman recognizes, of course, the relationship between the two, but concludes, citing FDR’s inability to do so in 1937, that the former is almost impossible to accomplish while the latter is easy to do because the public is now very aware of the basic facts and, by large majorities, concerned about it.

Krugman’s purpose is largely to dispute the claim by some liberals that a focus on inequality distracts from an argument for a jobs-creation agenda–that is, an argument for a new economic-stimulus fiscal policy.  He’s right that that is wrong; issues of inequality of income and wealth are anything but a distraction from the sluggish economy.  And, separately, they’re of essential concern.

But a threshold to progress on either of these fronts is victory in this year’s congressional and state-government elections. And therefore, a refutation of the Republican “Obama economy” mantra.

Two weeks ago, in a post I titled “Yes, Speaker Boehner, But WHOSE Policies of the Present Are to Blame?”, I expressed my deep desire to see Obama use his State of the Union Address to point out the dramatic decline in government employment at every level of government–federal, state, local–throughout his presidency, and to show, using charts, how that differs from every economic downturn since the early 1930s.  This is different than a Keynesian argument for economic stimulus. This is easy to explain–both the facts and the economic effects.  If a teacher, firefighter or police officer is laid off, he or she and his or family is spending far less money in the community and the larger economy.  And the layoff may mean the loss of the family’s home.  Federal funds to states and localities has been dramatically reduced since the Tea Party gained control of Congress–a majority in the House, a veto-by-filibuster in the Senate. Compare that to, say, the recession in the early 2000s.

It’s their fiscal policy–and their economy.  And by no means just because of a failure to enact further stimulus programs.  The public needs to be told–and shown–this.  I think it’s important not to conflate stimulus with dramatic reductions in spending. And, with all the respect that Krugman is due notwithstanding, I think that’s what he’s doing.

As for FDR, it seems to me likely that he reversed fiscal course in 1937 not because of public opinion poll results but instead because he, like the public, bought into deficit fears.  But the experience of the 1930s’ double-dip depression, along with the current experience here and in Europe, is not that hard to explain to the public.  FDR’s problem was that Keynesian economics was pretty new territory then, and he wasn’t clairvoyant.  He made the same mistake that Obama made.  He bought the wrong sales pitch.  Understandable in 1937, but not so much these days.

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How the Democrats Should Deal With the AnthemBlueCrossCare Issue. Really.

Today, the House of Representatives will take up GOP Rep. Fred Upton’s proposal to ”fix” Obamacare by undermining it, and the vote is being widely cast on a referendum on whether Dems will continue distancing themselves from the law. Meanwhile Senate Dems are also still considering fixes of their own that could undermine it, though that’s subsided.

The Morning Plum: For Democrats, it’s gut check time, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, this morning

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus is not among my favorite political pundits, but the apt title of her column today–Obama’s political malpractice–sums up not just the current Obamacare-related debacle but my abiding assessment of Obama dating almost to the outset of his presidency.  Marcus’s column makes the point that Obama’s attempts, such as they have been, to gain control of this spiraling situation just make the situation worse. But that’s par for his course.

Actual smart and competent congressional Democrats and party leaders–four senators who come quickly to mind are Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Jeff Merkley, and Dick Durbin–need to grab the reins and use Democratic Party funds to establish a massive phone bank, and rent small neighborhood offices, where people who have received cancellation notices of their teensy-coverage plans can get quick easy assistance in learning of their actual options.  These Dems need to get the word out, loud and clear, that insurance agents are engaging, en masse, in misleading these people by, most conspicuously but not exclusively, telling them that the particular “replacement” policy they are offering or suggesting is the individual’s cheapest option.

I call it AnthemBlueCrossCare, because nearly every one of these misleading cancellation letters that I’ve read about is from one or another state’s Anthem Blue Cross or Blue Cross company; I keep wondering whether that is the only company that has been offering these teensy-coverage policies, or whether instead this company has just perfected the strategy to a science.

Occasionally, some diligent journalist will actually investigate the situation and will find that the individual or family actually has options that provide better coverage at about the same or less cost.  The 46-year-old woman, for example, who chafes at being forced to buy a plan that includes maternity care can get a plan for that costs the same or less than the one being cancelled that does not.  But by now, largely thanks to mainstream news media organizations such as the New York Times that have credulously published the Anthem-Blue-Cross-is-canceling-my-policy-and-only-offering-one-at-a-500%-increase-in-premiums-and-I’m-forced-under-pain-of-prison-to-not-look-elsewhere-for-health-insurance anecdote–and thanks (surprise, surprise!) to Obama’s failure to inquire into the actual options of these anecdotal victims–journalists’ refutations of these stories is, as my mother would say, like pushing back the sands.

But surely actual smart congressional Democrats and party leaders recognize that what matters to these people is not being able to keep their current plan but in not having to pay more, or a least not a lot more, to get acceptable coverage.  The 46-year-old woman who doesn’t want to pay for maternity coverage or, as she complains, coverage for stage-four-cancer treatment, or for sex-change surgery (surely something that represents most of the additional 500% increase in premiums from Blue Cross that this woman inferred was her only option since Blue Cross didn’t mention any other, because of the commonness of this surgery), might be happy to pay, say, an extra $100 a month for doctor and hospitalization coverage–which apparently her soon-to-be-cancelled policy does not include, since if it does it would have been the best-kept-secret-about-the-best-insurance-for-the-price-in-this-entire-country; hospitalization coverage for $100 a month!–in case, y’know, she needs an appendectomy or surgery for a broken ankle.

Okay, well, Obama apparently recognizes this too.  He just can’t trouble himself to assign a few people within the administration to, maybe, look into these anecdotes and report on their accuracy.  But the Democratic Party can pick up the slack, and the actual smart and competent congressional Democrats need to start aggressively picking up the slack and making that happen and getting out the word.

I’m sure they recognize by now that the next three years must be devoted to aggressively picking up the slack on a veritable slew of important policy matters and presenting facts and policy proposals clearly, loudly, and often, to the public.  Sure it would be nice to have the president do this, but the president won’t do this, probably because he can’t do this. I mean that literally; he lacks not only the desire but also the ability to do it.  But it’s critical that it be done.

And that it start en force immediately.

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Fuel Spill: The Republicans Are About to Admit That Obamacare Helps Consumers. (Bet On It.)

In another setback for President Obama’s health care initiative, the administration has delayed until 2015 a significant consumer protection in the law that limits how much people may have to spend on their own health care.

The limit on out-of-pocket costs, including deductibles and co-payments, was not supposed to exceed $6,350 for an individual and $12,700 for a family. But under a little-noticed ruling, federal officials have granted a one-year grace period to some insurers, allowing them to set higher limits, or no limit at all on some costs, in 2014. …

The [change] is likely to fuel continuing Republican efforts this fall to discredit the president’s health care law.

Under the policy, many group health plans will be able to maintain separate out-of-pocket limits for benefits in 2014. As a result, a consumer may be required to pay $6,350 for doctors’ services and hospital care, and an additional $6,350 for prescription drugs under a plan administered by a pharmacy benefit manager.

Some consumers may have to pay even more, as some group health plans will not be required to impose any limit on a patient’s out-of-pocket costs for drugs next year. If a drug plan does not currently have a limit on out-of-pocket costs, it will not have to impose one for 2014, federal officials said Monday.

A Limit on Consumer Costs Is Delayed in Health Care Law, Robert Pear, New York Times, today

Damn that Obama administration for forcing people whose insurance policies now have no limit on patients’ out-of-pocket costs to force them to wait another year for that consumer protection to kick in!  This is proof positive that we should repeal the statute so that that consumer protection will never kick in!

Freedom! Liberty!

Yep.  Definitely fuel for continuing Republican efforts this fall to discredit the president’s health care law. Can’t wait for the fuel spill.

The legal profession has a term for this in its Rules of Evidence: It’s called a statement against interest. The law of physics has a term for it, too: boomerang.

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UPDATE: Ezra Klein posted a good Wonkblog post yesterday explaining what happened, and why. 8/14

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About That “Poking Into Every Nook and Cranny of Daily Life” Thing, Chief Justice Roberts …

If there is no mystery about the nature of the chief justice’s views, I remain baffled by their origin. Clearly, he doesn’t trust Congress; in describing conservative judges, that’s like observing that the sun rises in the east. But oddly for someone who earned his early stripes in the Justice Department and White House Counsel’s Office, he doesn’t like the executive branch any better.

He made this clear in an opinion dissenting from a 6-to-3 decision this term in an administrative law case, City of Arlington v. Federal Communications Commission. The question was whether, when the underlying statute is ambiguous, courts should defer to an administrative agency’s interpretation of its own jurisdiction. The answer was clearly yes, according to Justice Scalia’s majority opinion that built on decades of precedent on judicial deference to agencies. The chief justice’s dissenting opinion was a discordant screed that bemoaned the modern administrative state with its “hundreds of federal agencies poking into every nook and cranny of daily life.”

Congress can’t be trusted. The executive branch is out of control. What’s left?

The Supreme Court. There’s a comforting thought as we await Year 9 of the Roberts court.

— Linda Greenhouse, The Real John Roberts Emerges, New York Times, today

Yes, the chief justice’s dissenting opinion was a discordant screed that bemoaned the modern administrative state with its “hundreds of federal agencies poking into every nook and cranny of daily life.”  That is, I guess, as opposed to, say, state laws (and in the case of DOMA, a federal statute) that poke into what should be very private nooks and crannies of daily life, in which case their poking into nooks and crannies of daily life are fine with Roberts.

But more important, but, as I said earlier today and also last week, almost completely ignored by the mainstream media in its coverage of the Supreme Court—and therefore completely unknown to almost everyone—is the current Supreme Court’s bizarre claim that state courts are entitled to unbridled sovereign dignity to poke into every nook and cranny of daily lives.  Or to delegate breathtaking effectively-judicial powers to private persons to control every nook and cranny of the daily lives of, say, those unlucky enough to suddenly be subject to, say, family-law court, or probate court, or criminal courts.  State courts that routinely ignore even their own state’s legislative dictates intended to ensure compliance with procedural and substantive federal constitutional mandates whose unequivocal purpose is to place individual dignity above what these fair-weather “federalism” jurists claim is the constitutional right to sovereign dignity that state courts have and that grants them the constitutional right to violate individual dignity in even the most profound and basic respects.

As I said in a post here last week, maybe one day Justice Kennedy—who, unlike Roberts, does recognize federal constitutional limits to state legislative– and executive-branch powers even concerning matters that aren’t Republican rallying cries—will deign to explain why he and his cohorts believe that the Constitution, which since the late 1860s has included the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments and which still includes both the habeas corpus clause and Supremacy clause, renders state courts sovereigns and therefore untouchable by “collateral” declaratory federal-court order.

And maybe that distinguishes Kennedy from Roberts.  Maybe Kennedy one day will give some thought to it.  Roberts by contrast will merrily continue his personal legislative agenda, for which no thought is necessary or evident.

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My answer to the question, “So is Brian Williams really an idiot, or does he just play one on TV?”

In the Comments thread to my post yesterday about a comment that Brian Williams made the day before indicating that he apparently does not know what “the debt ceiling” actually means, reader SW asked: “So, is he really an idiot or does he just play one on the tv?”

I answered:

I hadn’t thought of Williams as a lightweight before, which is one reason I was so shocked that he apparently doesn’t know what “the debt ceiling” actually means.  I rarely watch the network evening news shows anymore, but when I do, It’s his show that I watch.  The CBS and ABC ones seem to have made a concerted effort to play to conservatives, I guess because the audience for these shows these days is so largely white elderly folks.  

There was a good Opinionator piece in the NYT yesterday by a Philosophy prof. named Jason Stanley, called “Philosopher Kings and Fiscal Cliffs,” about how the misleading language used to discuss these things–which actually are specific facts–leads to dangerously false analogies and misunderstandings by the public, fed by deliberate misrepresentations by pols. (The article engages in a misrepresentation of sorts, itself, by equating Repub misrepresentations with Dem ones, but, oh, well.)  But Williams isn’t any old member of the general public. How can the main news anchor for NBC Nightly News not know what the debt ceiling is, and think it’s something that it’s not?

Williams’ Wikipedia bio is surprisingly sparse about his professional background, but my guess is that he’s never been a hard-news reporter on anything really complicated.  He apparently came to prominence by covering Hurricane Katrina for NBC News–hardly a complicated news event requiring knowledge beyond what the general public has.  But it just really surprises me that he apparently doesn’t even read the NYT or the Washington Post on major, complex stories such as the debt ceiling thing.  

Oh, well. This isn’t the era of Walter Cronkite.  So, what else is new?

I watched [Williams’] show again last night, and near the end he did a wonderful story on something dear to my heart: The Puppy Bowl.  The dogs all are rescues, up for adoption. Again, nothing complicated.  But, at least in my opinion, important.

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Lanny Breuer and Mary Jo White. Or Is It, Lanny Breuer versus Mary Jo White? Or is it neither?*

BREUER: “If you look at what we and the U.S. attorney community did, I think you have to take a step back. Over the last couple of years, we have convicted Raj Rajaratnam, one of the largest hedge fund leaders. Now, you’ll say that’s an insider trading case, but it’s clearly going after Wall Street.”*

Oh, we get it.  It’s a semantics game.  Anyone connected with the finance industry will do as a prosecution target, as long as he wasn’t a top executive at a mega bank, a mega investment bank, or a mega mortgage company.  He works on Wall Street!  We went after Wall Street!

What’s next? A claim that they prosecuted the head of the asphalt company that repaved Wall Street, for tax evasion or something?

BREUER: “First of all, I think that the financial crisis is multifaceted. But even within that, all we can do is look hard at this multifaceted, multipronged problem. And what we’ve had is a multipronged, multifaceted response.”*

Actually, there seems to be a major facet missing in their approach.  Which was the point of the expose.

All that said, I just think there’s something more that was going on there than just Lanny Breuer’s and Eric Holder’s desire to return to Covington & Burling after their Justice Dept. stints.  For one thing, most top white collar crime defense attorneys began their careers as federal prosecutors and made their names in high-profile cases.  They know how to defend in white collar criminal cases, precisely because they successfully prosecuted some complicated ones.  So prosecuting big-name Wall Street execs would not have hampered their option to return to big-law criminal defense work.  

For this reason, I think the criticism of Obama’s selection of Mary Jo White as SEC head is off-base; she was known as an extremely aggressive head of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, and do think Obama’s decision to nominate her is intended to indicate a toughness toward the finance industry.  Yes, she’s been representing finance industry companies and execs in criminal-law matters, but because of that, she now knows all the more how the inside game is played.  And the better she is at the SEC job, the more desirable, not the less desirable, she’ll be to the big Wall Street law firms.  It’s counterintuitive, and of course exactly the opposite of people who work in regulatory agencies such as the EPA leaving to become lobbyists.  But what matters in this situation, less, ideology than actual knowledge

This is not to minimize the potential and maybe real conflicts of interest that result from the passage back through the revolving door to high-level law enforcement and regulatory positions after time spent on the other side of that door.  But I think that’s because of friendships–personal relations–rather than a surely-unrealistic fear of having trouble returning to Big Law, for really big bucks, when the time comes to pass back through the revolving door once again. 
Ultimately, I just don’t think Holder and Breuer were the ones deciding to not even investigate the big boys.  I think that was more likely a policy decision made elsewhere in the administration.  I don’t think Geithner picked up the phone and called Holder or Breuer. Nor, if he did play a role in these decisions, do I think he even thought he was doing anything other than protecting the economy. Same for Obama, if my hunch is right that Geithner had some influence on these decisions, via Obama.
But I guess there’s no way for us to know the inside story. At this point, anyway. And I do agree with the New York Times today in an article by Ben Protess and Benjamin Weiser that Obama seems to be trying to signal a new day.

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* From The New York Times would rather cover a Breuer chair than cover Lanny Breuer, by lambert, at Corrente. H/T, reader rjs.

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*POSTSCRIPT:  The New York Times article notes specifically that White “defended some of Wall Street’s biggest names, including Kenneth D. Lewis, a former chief of Bank of America,” and that “[a]s the head of litigation at Debevoise & Plimpton, she also represented JPMorgan Chase and the board of Morgan Stanley.”  So she’ll have to recuse herself from matters that touch upon issues related to the cases she worked on for those execs and banks or that rely in any respect on information she gained through those representations.

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Rep. Greg Walden (R. OR) Explains the Debt Ceiling. Good For Him!

Either that or he means that the public understands what the debt-ceiling statute actually is, and will never support Congress’s authorization of payment of already-incurred expenses earlier authorized by none other than Congress itself.

Obama and the congressional Dems should take the ball Walden has handed them and run with it.Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, signed on to the trillion-dollar coin plan, telling Capital New York: “It sounds silly but it’s absolutely legal. And it would normally not be proper to consider such a thing, except when you’re faced with blackmail to destroy the country’s economy, you have to consider things.”

But he might find resistance from Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, who said he would introduce legislation to close the loophole and end the debate once and for all.

“My wife and I have owned and operated a small business since 1986. When it came time to pay the bills, we couldn’t just mint a coin to create more money out of thin air,” Mr. Walden said.

A Trillion-Dollar Coin Brings a Jackpot of Jests, Annie Lowrey, New York Times, Jan. 9 H/T Dan Crawford, below

Presumably, Walden and his wife therefore paid the bills their small business had incurred via contracts he and his wife entered into on behalf of the business, such as utility bills for past months, bank loans, labor costs, rent, and inventory or raw-material purchases.  Unless, that is, they decided not to authorize payment of those bills and lost their business, necessitating Walden’s career change.

Walden ought to explain those basics to his party’s House leader, John Boehner, who as recently as two days ago reportedly said the public will never accept a debt ceiling increase without an accompanying spending cut.  

By which, I assume, he means that as long as the Republicans keep playing on the public’s lack of knowledge about what the quirky debt-ceiling statute actually concerns, and keep telling the public falsely that an increase in the debt ceiling is an increase in future spending appropriations rather than an authorization to allow the Treasury to pay already-incurred expenses, the public will never support Congress’s authorization to pay the federal government’s already-incurred expenses and prevent what would be the small-business-analogy causing the collapse of the business for failure to pay its already-accrued operating expenses.

I’m pretty sure he’s wrong even about that, since polls indicate that a majority of the public does not want the types of spending reductions that the Republicans want. Which, of course, is why the Repubs are refusing to actually specify to the public what, exactly, the do want cut, and by how much. But this much is certain: the public will support congressional authorization to pay already-incurred financial obligations. Just as Walden and his wife thought it best for them to pay their small business’s bills rather than default on them and lose the business.  Even if that meant taking out a small-business bank loan in order to do that.  

And here’s betting that, at times, it did.

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The Republican Congressional Delegation’s Oddly Faulty Memory of 2004 — UPDATED

House Republicans argue that voters handed their members a mandate as well, granting the party control of the House for another two years and with it the right to stick to their own views, even when they clash strongly with the president’s.
And many Republicans remember well when the tables were turned. After Mr. Bush’s re-election in 2004, Democrats eagerly thwarted his push for privatization of Social Security, hobbling Mr. Bush’s domestic agenda in the first year of his second term.

Events Recall a More Bipartisan Era, and Highlight Gridlock of Today, Michael D. Shear, New York Times, today.

Whoa.  Funny, but I too remember the weeks following the 2004 presidential election. Which immediately followed the 2004 presidential campaign.  Which I also remember; it wasn’t all that long ago.  

And I remember that during that campaign, Bush never mentioned his plan to privatize Social Security.  

Yes, that’s right.  Bush waited until immediately after the election to announce his intention to privatize Social Security–outraging not just Democrats but millions of Independents, some of whom had voted for him, and even some Republicans.  

The main focus of the 2004 presidential campaign was national security.  Privatization of Social Security was not an issue at all in 2004.  Not until after the campaign, that is, when Bush not only announced his plan but also then campaigned intensely for public support for it, to no avail.  The proposal quickly proved deeply unpopular.  And congressional Republicans began to run from it.  The Republicans, who controlled both houses of Congress, did not even put it up for a vote, in either house, if I recall correctly.

So if Republicans think they remember that the tables were turned–a metaphor that refers to actual similarity, or at least some semblance of it–they might consider seeing a neurologist.  Or maybe just reading news accounts from the period between Bush’s announcement of his proposal and the death of that proposal early in 2005.  They also can search for reports of any mention–any suggestion at all–by Bush during the campaign that he was planning to propose the privatization of Social Security.  I wish them luck.

As for their claim to a mandate because they retained control of the House, the speciousness of this assertion has already been documented and discussed in the mainstream media, largely because a Washington Post reporter (I wish I could recall his name, but I can’t) meticulously researched the campaign results, congressional district by congressional district, and then did something that modern Republicans don’t: math.  Republicans lost, albeit narrowly, the aggregate popular vote in House elections nationwide.  They retained control of the House only because of extreme gerrymandering last year in some states, most notably in Pennsylvania and Texas, but in other states as well.  

The word “mandate” in this context leaves room for debate about what percentage of victory in the popular vote constitutes one.  But a victory in the popular is a prerequisite to that debate.  The Republicans don’t have the prerequisite, nor do they claim to have it; they simply misuse the word “mandate”.  Like so many other words.  

But at least it’s not false for them to note that they did retain control of the House.  What is baldly false, though, is their characterization of late 2004 and early 2005 as tables turned.  Unless, of course, there’s such a thing as a retroactive mandate for a policy that wasn’t disclosed during a campaign and is announced as a surprise only afterward.  Immediately afterward.

Which, now that I think about it, probably is what happened in 2004.  no, the public isn’t clairvoyant.  But we did know during the campaign that a Republican president and a Republican-controlled Congress in the current era will always want to privatize Social Security, and will waste no time (literally, in that case) in trying to do that when they hold the White House and majorities in both congressional houses.  We just forgot that, to our near-detriment–a mistake that, I trust, we the public won’t make again, however much Republican candidates insist otherwise during the campaign.  Because the Dem candidates will remind the public, during the campaign, of what happened after the election of 2004.  And of the current congressional Republicans’ claim in that New York Times article that a clear election victory is not a mandate on issues that were at the express and constant heart of a national campaign, because, after all, the opposition party doesn’t recognize as a mandate a vital policy proposal made only after the election that retroactively turned out to be all about that vital policy issue after all.  I mean, who knew?  Well, the Republicans did.

And now we do too, and it will be a prominent factor in campaigns to come.  The sheer trickery;  the attempt, in 2004 and now, to utterly undermine the very concept of democracy.  The current congressional Republicans’ express equating, as Shear reports, of a policy issue clearly at the heart of a campaign with a policy not even mentioned during the campaign.  It’s of a piece with the Romney campaign’s modus operandi of incessant, outright misrepresentations of fact.  And also of a piece with state and federal Republican legislative and executive-branch officeholders’ policy of delegating to lobbying groups the actual writing of legislation, including during lame-duck periods, enacting policies never proposed and, in some instances, expressly rejected by the officeholders, pre-election.  (Think: Michigan, Dec. 2012.)

But there’s also a separate issue of the messenger’s’–Shear’s–curious acceptance of the false equivalence of Bush’s and Congress’s handling of the Social Security privatization issue in late 2004 and early 2005 and resolution of the tax and spending issues of the fiscal cliff.  Shear mentions that Obama’s current approval rating in this week’s polls is his highest since shortly after bin Laden was killed.  He doesn’t mention that Obama’s approval rating has been above 50% throughout the post-election period, including the period before the Newtown shooting rampage, when the cliff talks were the news story, daily.  And that Bush’s approval rating plummeted once he announced his Social Security privatization plan.  And that the juxtaposition of the drop in Bush’s approval rating and that announce was not coincidence; the polling on that issue was awful for him.

We all are, by now, used to the news media’s acquiescence in the Republicans’ false-equivalency game. This Times article, by a reporter whose reporting is normally of high quality, makes me wonder whether there’s just is no limit to even the reporter-as-mindless-stenographer-for-fear-of-appearing-to-be-anti-Republican mindset at even the very highest level of the mainstream media.*

*This sentence had a large cut-and-paste error in it, and has now been corrected.

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UPDATE:  Well … in the comments to this post, reader CasualObserver wrote:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxQAoKL7EBY

Watch at the 5 min mark you will find that the faulty memory is all yours.

To which AB regular contributor Bruce Webb responded:

Well I don’t relish being the skeleton at the feast here, but Bush made his intentions on SS crystal clear when he set up his CSSS (Commission to Strengthen Social Security) in 2001 with six specific guidelines. one of whic categorically ruled out Payroll tax solutions of the sort Dale and us put forth as the ‘NW Plan’ and another nandated that private accounts had to be part of the package.

CSSS rolled out its recommendations right on time, unfortunately for Bush that time was right after 9/11. Absent that, which the Bush Administration was not expecting at all, we could have expected some analogue of the 2005 Social Security Tour being rolled out in 2002. The Bush Administration apparently took the intention for the deed and after fighting out the mid-terms and the 2004 presidential elections almost solely on national security somehow got the idea that yhe time was ripe to push the ‘Bi-Partisan’ Model 2 CSSS Plan, though at first with the flimsy vover of the near identical Posen Plan. because Posen, like a full half of the CSSS was a Democrat.

Anyway by Nov 26th 2004 Bush could plausibly claim that his plans for Social Security were fully spelled out after a ‘bi-partisan’ process for the last three years and so were at least implicitly on the table during the 2004 campaign. perhaps counting on the fact that no one was paying attention. and he almost won that bet, the fond belief by Dem leaders that they shot down Model 2 is not supported by the chronology instead the SS Tour was stopped in its tracks by the blogger led ‘There is No Crisis’ movement (in which I had an informal role but which was led by Dave Johnson and some others).

So no there was little to no talk of Social Security privatization on the hustings, and unless you were predisposed to be a SS geek that “I have got capital” move would indeed come out of thin air. Me I set up a new Social Security blog within 48 hours (bruceweb.blogspot.com) and started lobbing SS Report tables at figures with abandon. Because for my sins I was already seven years into this SS thing. And as such knew what Bush was about.

For which I am deeply grateful, Bruce, since after I read CasualObserver’s comment and did watch the video clip–which shows presidential-debate moderator Bob Schieffer asking Bush about his proposal to allow people to use part of their Social Security taxes to invest in the stock market rather than have the money go to the U.S. Treasury–I was dismayed.  How could I, who was downright obsessed with the 2004 presidential campaign and its outcome, not recall that Bush had campaigned in 2004 on his plan, announced years earlier, to partially privatize Social Security?

The answer, it turns out, is that Bush didn’t campaign on that plan during the 2004 campaign.  Schieffer was asking him about what had transpired before 9/11, and his commission’s recommendations, released in 2002.  To his credit, Bush, unlike a certain Republican presidential candidate in 2012, didn’t deny that he had done and said what Schieffer said he had.  Nor did he flip-flop.  He answered, straightforwardly, that this was his intention, and made a brief argument for the policy.

But Bush himself did not raise the issue during the campaign, and certainly did not campaign on the issue; that answer to Schieffer’s question probably is the only time he mentioned it during that campaign, unless maybe some other reporter asked him about it at some other point.  And Republicans had held control of both houses of Congress throughout Bush’s term, yet neither Bush nor the congressional Republicans had attempted to enact this into law.  That, of course, is because it was a very unpopular proposal.  

So CasualObserver is right, and I was wrong, that Bush made clear at some point during the campaign that he wanted to propose a plan to partially privatize Social Security.  But CasualObserver is wrong in suggesting that Bush campaigned on this.  He did not; he said, once or perhaps twice, in answer to a question, that he planned to do this.  But there was little expectation that such a proposal, if actually presented as a bill in Congress, would go very far.  And it did not go very far, not, as the current Republican congressional delegation claims, because the Senate Dems threatened a filibuster, or whatever, but because the polls were consistently showing–to Republican members of Congress as well as to Dem ones–that there was strong, broad-based opposition to it among the public.  So strong, in fact, that Bush’s 2005 attempt to have this policy enacted played a role in the unexpected change of both houses of Congress to Dem control in the 2006 election.  This, even though there weren’t enough Republican members in either house in 2005 to push this through.

The 2004 election was almost entirely about national security–at a time when, polls showed, about half the public still believed that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11, and many still thought he had had weapons of mass destruction.  Virtually no one, Republican or Democrat, viewed the central issue in the campaign as anything else.

Suffice it to say that it is delusional–or maybe just a desperate political gimmick–for the current Repub crowd to claim an equivalence, in any substantive respect at all, between the 2005 Social Security privatization issue and the fiscal-policy controversies at issue in the current situation.

Including, not incidentally, that the Social Security privatization issue didn’t threaten to bring down the economy in 2005.

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