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A question looming before the debate last night was: Which of two mutually exclusive positions Clinton has taken recently on Dodd-Frank’s too-big-to-fail provision would she repeat in the debate? The answer: Both. [Updated 4/16]

As for Clinton herself, her bandwagon-jumping nature is a big reason why so many people dislike her.  But in this instance there was the additional element of dishonesty: she knew that Sanders rather than the editorial board members had it right about what Dodd-Frank provides. She had said so publicly, recently, in a statement in which she also said she had said that before., linking to my Apr. 13 post here

Which in turn was excerpted from a post of mine from Apr. 10.

The instance I was referring to was Clinton’s decision a day after the New York Daily News published online its editorial board’s interview of Bernie Sanders—a truly weird interview in which the board members asked questions based upon their inaccurate factual beliefs across a panoply of issues, including that Dodd-Frank does not include a provision that allows the Fed together with the Treasury Dept. to designate a financial institution systemically important and dangerously large and order the institution to pare down.

And including that most experts, including those from the finance industry, believe that the best mechanism by which a financial institution would be pared down would be for the government to give them parameters such as a cap-size and permit the institutions to determine for themselves how to accomplish it.

This, while also demanding that Sanders comment on a lengthy opinion, issued four days earlier and reported about and analyzed in the media three days earlier, in which a single federal trial-level judge ruled unconstitutional the Dodd-Frank provision that allows the Fed together with the Treasury Dept. to designate a financial institution systemically important and dangerously large and order the institution to pare down—the Dodd-Frank provision that the Daily News editorial board said doesn’t exist.  The opinion also was based partly on the judge’s erroneous belief that that provision requires something that it actually does not: a cost-benefit analysis, which, Paul Krugman notes, would be absurd.

And also while repeatedly conflating legislation that Sanders has proposed to augment and clarify that provision of Dodd-Frank with Dodd-Frank itself, making it impossible for Sanders to follow what even was being asked.

Nonetheless, the political—but curiously, not the finance-law pundits and experts nor economists (including the ones who double as pundits, with the exception of Paul Krugman)—put out word that Sanders’s answers indicated that he has no understanding of this seminal issue of his campaign: current law on breaking up the banks as too big too fail, and the mechanism by which this would be decided either under current law (Dodd-Frank) or Sanders’s proposed legislation.  (Krugman subtlely walked back his take three days after he included that take in a column published three days after the interview transcript was released.)

Clinton, in an interview the morning after the transcript was released, characteristically parroted the take of the in mainstream political pundits and journalists that it was Sanders rather than the editorial board members who lacked knowledge and understanding of that relevant part of Dodd-Frank and of what the consensus mechanism to pare down the financial institutions would be—that the institutions themselves, like MetLife in the case in which the new court ruling was issued, would be allowed to determine themselves how to comply with the cap order.  Sanders, Clinton said, hadn’t done his homework.

But if so, then neither had she, since, as a couple of dismayed non-household-name journalists quickly noted, she had said at the February debate, repeating what, as she herself pointed out, she had said earlier in the campaign: that Dodd-Frank indeed authorizes a forced breakup of too-big-to-fail financial institutions and that she as president would have her administration invoke the provision.

So a question looming before the debate last night was, which of these mutually exclusive positions would she take?  The answer: Both.  This is, after all, Hillary Clinton we’re talking about.

A few minutes after she reiterated her position of February, December, November, and October that her administration would invoke the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t-now-you-see-it-again Dodd-Frank provision that authorizes the compelled paring of huge financial institutions, she turned to Sanders and repeated her parrot line that Sanders’s answers to the New York Daily News editorial board indicated that he didn’t even know much about his own signature policy: break up the big banks.  But this time (if I recall correctly), Clinton being Clinton, she phrased as something like, “The New York Daily News editorial board said Sanders ….”  Because a cool way to mislead is to note that you’re repeating (and thus adopting) a claim made by someone else.

I have no idea why neither Sanders nor the debate questioners didn’t ask her why she claims Sanders was wrong and that editorial board right while repeatedly saying, before that Sanders interview and now after it, exactly what Sanders said in that interview.  And why they didn’t ask her why, if Dodd-Frank doesn’t authorize the too-big-to-fail designations and a mandate to pare down, she nonetheless keeps saying, when asked, that her administration would invoke the provision.

And I have no idea why neither Sanders nor the questioners asked her why she thought it was a bad idea to allow the banks themselves to decide how to pare down in compliance with the Dodd-Frank order.  Other than, y’know, that the editorial board thought it indicated incompetence and unpreparedness on Sanders’s part and that lots of pundits agreed.  In fact, some still do; this is a meme that is proving particularly resistent to actual fact, especially among big-name baby-boomer and Gen-X major-media writers who themselves are clueless about, say, Dodd-Frank.

What the questioners did do, though, is ask Sanders questions that gave him the opportunity to in essence respond to the punditry’s sheep stampede, such as why he would prefer to allow the banks to decide for themselves what path to take to comply with a pare-down order.  Which he did, beautifully, although Nicholas Kristof (probably among others) didn’t notice.

I don’t want to continue to beat this horse, which I’d hoped and expected would have been explicitly killed last night but instead was merely wounded: Not just about Clinton’s shamelessly snakelike handling of this particular matter but that it is part and parcel of who she is, at least as a candidate.

My concern–obsession, really–with this isn’t so much because I support Sanders, who mostly is defending himself just fine, but because I expect that Clinton will win the nomination, and then I will switch my allegiance (without enthusiasm) to her.  Clinton clearly does not get how much this type of thing hurts her as a candidate; presumably, she thinks it helps her, which itself indicates a problem with her perception.  So it is part of her regular repertoire.

As I’ve said before, it probably won’t matter in the outcome of the election.  She will be opposing (almost certainly) a pathological liar who (absolutely certainly) will be pushing most of the same fiscal-policy snake oil, dictated by the donors and their puppets and fellow travelers who comprise the Republican establishment, as the folks who unabashedly are part of that establishment have been pushing for decades now.

But Clinton has a dangerously weird thought process in some key respects, and her failure to recognize that her incessant sleight-of-hand misrepresentations, or outright misrepresentations, confirm what so many people already think about her: that she’s dishonest, that she’s untrustworthy, that you can’t simply accept at face value what she says.

Another example of this, albeit of a slightly different nature, is the ridiculous claim, repeated again last night, that she‘s not part of the establishment.  The very last thing the Democrats need in this particular election is a nominee at the very top of their ticket who is the very definition of “establishment” but doesn’t know it because she doesn’t know what voters mean by “establishment” and therefore why the word matters.  I have no idea whether Clinton is feigning that she doesn’t know what is meant by “establishment” or whether instead she actually misunderstands the term.  I suspect the former**, but will take her at her word.  And I don’t know which is worse.  It’s a fielder’s choice, I think.

Sanders is by no means a perfect candidate, and I have to say that Krugman finally made a criticism of Sanders that I agree with, in his column today.*  But Democrats fail at their own peril to reckon with Clinton’s inability to understand that some of her tactics and gimmicks are counterproductive.


*Krugman does think that only Sanders among the Democratic primary candidates misrepresents things.  Guess he doesn’t follow the Clinton campaign as closely as he follows the Sanders campaign.  Or at all.  He just shills for it.

Added 4/15 at 5:42 p.m.

**Originally and erroneously said “latter”.  Corrected 4/17 at 10:08 a.m.


UPDATE: In response to criticisms of this post in the Comments thread, which insist that Sanders really, really doesn’t understand the relevant Dodd-Frank provisions and that Clinton was right to say last week that he didn’t do his homework and that he doesn’t understand this key issue of his and hint that this means he’s unqualified to be president—and that it’s fine for Clinton to talk out of both sides of her mouth, one the side that says Sanders is clueless about a key issue, the other the side that agrees completely with Sanders on the issue and expands upon it, going further than Sanders does—I wrote:

NYT The Upshot blogger Peter Eavis, who actually specializes in coverage of Dodd-Frank and related finance-industry matters, begs to differ with you.

His post, which is lengthy and detailed, is titled, “At Debate, Hillary Clinton Leaves Questions About Approach to Banks.” It’s theme, which it establishes damn clearly: That Sanders knows more that Clinton does about the relevant provisions of Dodd-Frank, and wayyyy more than the Daily News editorial board members or any of the mainstream political pundits who bought the editorial board’s line, know.

The subtext is that Clinton is either truly confused or being deliberately misleading. And that either way she well knows that it was the Daily News editorial board members and the political pundits who jumped on their bandwagon, rather than Sanders, who actually is clueless about what is a really complex and not precisely clear statutory provision, but a provision that the editorial board members had no understanding of at all.

Clinton’s invoking of that editorial board’s belief that Sanders is confused and clueless—he didn’t do his homework!—is necessarily also a statement that Clinton too is confused and clueless. Either those editorial board members and all the pundits who adopted their line are wrong or both Sanders and Clinton are wrong; she knows this. And Eavis makes clear that what Clinton said about her intentions under Dodd-Frank are seriously weird, implying that she didn’t do her homework or that her homework reading assignment included a suggestion that she repeat the editorial board’s bogus claim that Sanders doesn’t understand this key premise of his campaign.

All the way back on April 5 the day that that interview transcript was released, Eavis in blog post at The Upshot deconstructed the claim that it was Sanders rather than his interviewers that was clueless about Dodd-Frank.  Most pundits, including those at the Times, who commented on the interview presumably didn’t read (and at least one, Nicholas Kristof, still hasn’t read) Eavis’s April 5 post.

Ditto for some straight-news reporters covering the campaigns.  Politico’s Annie Karni, who covers the Clinton campaign but who I mistakenly said in a recent post, covers the Sanders campaign, is a case in point.

Which is understandable, I suppose, since The Upshot is just a blog, and The Times hides Eavis’s work there.

But the real purpose of my post was to highlight a major problem with Clinton’s candidacy that Democrats need to recognize: That the fairly widely held view of her as less-than-honest, less-than-trustworthy, and not particularly admirable in character, is not solely the result of relentless, decades-long Republican efforts to portray her that way, nor mainly because of her asinine email mess.  It also is because she consistently goes for the misleading cheap shot in an effort to con voters about, in this campaign, Sanders’ policy proposals or Sanders himself. And that she has no idea that this tactic is counterproductive rather than productive.

I was delighted that one of the questioners at the debate Thursday night—Dana Bash, if I remember right—pointed out her attempt to mislead last week that Vermont is the state from which the most guns come from that are used in crimes in New York state.  That claim is emblematic of the dual problem here that Clinton does this kind of thing regularly and that she thinks it helps her.

The Times today has an editorial online that will be published in tomorrow’s paper that I think pretty clearly is a quickly revised, post-debate draft of what originally was written as an endorsement of Clinton and instead endorses neither Clinton nor Sanders.  Here are the last two paragraphs of it:

Too often, Mrs. Clinton appears defensive in answering legitimate inquiries, for which she should have sound answers. This tendency has led to some errors and has prevented her from correcting others. Her decision to use a private server for her government emails was a lapse in judgment that she has yet to explain convincingly. Criticism of her lucrative speeches to Wall Street is also legitimate. She could easily deprive Mr. Sanders of one of his strongest points if she simply released the transcripts, instead of concocting absurd reasons not to. [Link in original.]

The breadth of experience that Mrs. Clinton — former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state — would bring to the presidency is impressive and rare. But as tough as this long fight with Mr. Sanders has been, a tougher challenge could lie ahead: appealing to younger Democrats and resolving doubts about her forthrightness and her policies. She will need to do both if she is to stake a clear claim to the White House.

Watching that debate Thursday night, a majority of the Times editorial board members finally got the essence of the problem with Clinton’s campaign: It’s Clinton herself.  My hope, since she almost certainly will be the nominee, is that someone high up in her campaign also gets it and gets that maybe if it is explained to her and illustrated to her that her misrepresentations and incessant sleight-of-hand gimmicks in addressing Sanders and things related to him are reinforcing the belief among so many voters that she’s slimy and that she will say almost anything to win an election, she will finally get this herself.

Democrats are fooling themselves if they think this is trivial.

Added 4/16 at 1:35 p.m.  Addition re Karni inserted 4/16 at 2:15 p.m.

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Why did Paul Krugman and the Washington Post editorial board—both of whom know better—misrepresent that it was Sanders rather than the New York Daily News editorial board that was wrong about what Dodd-Frank provides, and about whether it would be Treasury or instead the financial institutions themselves that would determine the method of paring down?

As Dean Baker and several (mostly) alternative-media and hobbyist bloggers—including actual experts on Dodd-Frank and on financial-institution governance—have noted since the New York Daily News editorial board released a transcript last Tuesday of its interview with Bernie Sanders, it was not Sanders but instead members of that editorial board who were deeply confused about what Dodd-Frank actually provides.  Specifically, about whether that law grant’s the federal government authority to determine that a financial institution is so large that its sheer size poses a systemic risk to this country’s economy.

And also specifically, about whether experts within the finance industry and the Treasury Dept., and economists, think the method of any such government-mandated paring down of a financial institution—absent enactment of the Glass-Steagall-like law—should be devised by Treasury of the Fed of instead by the financial institutions themselves.

And also about whether none other than Hillary Clinton, their candidate of choice, had said during this campaign something along the lines of:

We now have power under the Dodd-Frank legislation to break up banks. And I’ve said I will use that power if they pose a systemic risk.

Which, it has been pointed out since now since Wednesday when Clinton joined the chorus of those saying that Sanders in that interview had demonstrated a lack of basic knowledge, thoughtfulness and competence about this signature issue of his, Clinton herself at last February’s debate in fact said exactly:

We now have power under the Dodd-Frank legislation to break up banks. And I’ve said I will use that power if they pose a systemic risk.

Leading me to post this here at AB on Thursday.  It’s titled:

Clinton admits she failed to do her homework, and therefore misunderstood, when she stated at the February debate that Dodd-Frank already authorizes the Treasury Dept. to force too-big-to-fail banks to pare down and that therefore no further legislation authorizing it is necessary.  That’s quite an admission by her, and the New York Daily News editorial board (and the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza) should take note.

Which drew some blowback in the Comments thread from a couple of fellow progressives, including their insistence that Clinton did not admit that she failed to do her homework before February’s debate and therefore misunderstood, like she now says Sanders does, what Dodd-Frank actually provides.

Which in turn drew blowback from me.  Specifically:

Clinton’s statement that Sanders is incorrect that under Dodd-Frank the Treasury Dept. does have the authority to declare particular financial institutions so large that a failure of that institution would create significant danger to the economy or to the broader financial industry and therefore to the economy, and therefore would effectively require a federal bailout, is EXACTLY a reversal of what she said at that February debate when fending off Sanders’s suggestion that additional legislation is needed.

So she either was right at the February debate or she was right this week in her comments about Sanders’s interview with that editorial board, but the statements, two months apart, are mutually exclusive. Since the February one matched Sanders’s statements to the editorial board, her comment that Sanders was wrong and would know this had he done his homework sometime during the 11 months since he began his campaign, she did indeed say by necessary implication that she was mistaken in that statement at the February debate, and that had she done her homework she would have known that.

Clinton is not making the issue of NOT proposing further legislation on too-big-to-fail, but in resisting proposals for further legislation, she sure has made her claim that there is no need for it because Dodd-Frank already takes care of the problem a part of her defense against Sanders’s candidacy.

Further, since apparently there is nothing in Dodd-Frank that authorizes, much less requires, the Treasury Dept. to actually take over the financial institution and break it up, or to dictate how exactly it would be broken up, but does apparently give Treasury the authority to determine that a bank must pare down to a specified size—Clinton was right in February, and Sanders was right in his interview with that editorial board, according to Stephen F. Diamond, an actual expert on Dodd-Frank who both teaches the subject at Santa Clara Law School and advises on it in private practice—the claim by most of the news media and also by Clinton that Sanders’s statement that this is so is exactly what those folks are claiming Sanders’s statement was: wrong as a matter of fact, and indicative of a failure to do homework on the subject. Or, in Paul Krugman’s case in his op-ed piece yesterday, a deliberate misstatement. (I assume that Krugman is sufficiently familiar with Dodd-Frank to know that, although—who knows? – maybe not.)

Diamond had a lengthy post on his own blog on Thursday titled “Don’t blame Bernie – of course the banks can be broken up”, (Dan here…link corrected) which I learned of because Naked Capital posted its title and link immediately about its post of the title of and link for this post of mine.  I clicked the pingback link, saw my post listed, and saw Diamond’s immediately above mine.

The first four paragraphs read:

“In a recent interview, a very confused New York Daily News reporter continually mixed up the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve in the face of a very straightforward statement of presidential candidate Bernie Sanders that Congress can give the President power to impose changes on the structure of the financial system “under Dodd Frank.”

“Well, the Treasury is an agency of the executive branch while the Federal Reserve is an independent hybrid public-private entity. The former is an extension of the power of the President while the latter has autonomy that limits, understandably, Presidential influence. Apparently in the minds of financial journalists the two entities can be conflated without consequence.

“Sure enough Secretary Clinton jumped on the bandwagon and slyly and indirectly suggested on Morning Joe that Bernie Sanders does not “seem” to know enough about how the economy works to be qualified as president.

“Now that we have cleared up the fact that it was the Daily News reporter who was confused not Sanders, let’s focus on the agency that a President does control, the Treasury. When Sanders said he wanted to use Dodd-Frank to break up the big banks one could consider that from two angles. First, does the current language of that law enable the federal government to break up the banks; and second, could Dodd-Frank be amended to give the federal government the power it needs to break up the banks. Since Sanders talked about going to Congress to empower the government to break up the banks it seems reasonable to conclude he means the latter, second method. But he is taking the view that any such amendment would be consistent with Dodd-Frank, a necessary extension consistent with the spirit of what Congress intended to do.”

Clinton did her usual thing: Someone fed her a line and she parroted it. I hope that at the debate on Thursday Sanders hangs this one around her neck. and tightens the noose until she gets that she needs to stop that tactic–even if she needs methadone to help her break the habit.

And, in response to a response:

Clinton said at the Feb. debate: ““We now have power under the Dodd-Frank legislation to break up banks. And I’ve said I will use that power if they pose a systemic risk.”  What can that possibly mean other than that she thought then—or was saying that she thought then, even if she did not think then—that the federal government now has power under the Dodd-Frank legislation to break up banks.   And since she said “And I’ve said I will use that power if they pose a systemic risk,” this presumably was not the first time she said that.

So she said, then and presumably earlier, that she will use that power if they pose a systemic risk.  How so? What exactly did she have in mind then?  And how exactly did she plan to exercise that power?   Did she plan then to have the Treasury Dept. dictate how each bank must pare down?  Or did she plan, as Sanders told that editorial board he would, to allow each bank to determine it, maybe with the assistance and recommendations of the experts at Treasury?

This was not merely a flip-flop by her last week; this was a statement by her that Sanders did not know what he was talking about on an issue critical to his campaign.  She’s now retracted her own earlier statements—the one during the Feb. debate and the earlier ones she was referring to in that comment at the Feb. debate—and doing so by parroting journalists who clearly have no idea what Dodd-Frank actually contains and what the actual experts suggest would be the best way to have these banks pare down (a method the banks choose or instead a method that Treasury chooses).  Did she herself not know what she was talking about when she made those earlier statements?  And what exactly are her plans?  And if she now believes that Dodd-Frank does not confer that power, does she think further legislation should do so—as Sanders has proposed?

Some of the journalists and political commentators who jumped on this bandwagon—Paul Krugman and the Washington Post editorial board, for example—do know that it was not Sanders but the New York Daily News editorial board who was clueless. Yet they chose to misrepresent—outright misrepresent—that Sanders was wrong about Dodd-Frank, the role of the Treasury Dept., and the role of the Fed, as well as the actual mechanism that would be used in paring down these financial institutions: it would be the institutions, not the Treasury or the Fed., that would structure it.

Some excellent political journalists, such as Annie Karni, who covers the Sanders campaign for Politico even late last week in reporting on Sanders referenced the NYDN editorial board interview with a comment that Sanders seemed to lack specifics about this signature issue of his (or some such).  But she and the others were just picking up what the political-opinion journalists were saying.  The editorial and op-ed folks who know the specifics of this issue quite well abuse their positions when they misstate the facts of actual legislation (e.g., Dodd-Frank) or expert policy consensus (e.g., who should determine how to restructure).  And before they again accuse Sanders of dishonesty (as Krugman does in that op-ed), they should look in the mirror.  And at their chosen candidate.

As for Clinton herself, her bandwagon-jumping nature is a big reason why so many people dislike her.  But in this instance there was the additional element of dishonesty: she knew that Sanders rather than the editorial board members had it right about what Dodd-Frank provides. She had said so publicly, recently, in a statement in which she also said she had said that before.

I added an addendum to my Thursday post, on a different matter—but it’s really part and parcel of the same one: The New York Times fact check blog had fact checked a recent statement of Clinton’s in which she said she “couldn’t believe” it when she learned that Sanders was opposing the recent Paris climate-change agreement.  Her intended implication of course was that Sanders thinks the agreement goes too far.   Both the statement itself and the intended implication were false.  Sanders supports the agreement as a first step and says much more is needed.

What’s the real story?  What’s she leaving out?  What intended inference is not true?  What connection is she implying that is false?  What word is she parsing or cutely redefining?  Both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are habitual, maybe pathological, liars, so hopefully it won’t matter that, in Clinton, the Democrats will be nominating someone who campaigns like a used-car-salesman cliché.

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Apparently there’s a special place in hell for Democratic politicians who criticize Barack Obama as insufficiently progressive. And a special place in heaven for politicians who have accepted $133,246 from the private-prisons industry but tell Black and Hispanic voters at a debate shortly before the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina primary that they want to end the private-prison system.

Nicholas Kristof 


Clinton is accusing Sanders of being anti-Obama. Feels fake and contrived to me, and rather nasty.

10:47 PM – 11 Feb 2016 Twitter


What worries me more than anything else about a Clinton general election campaign is her propensity to say obviously silly things. Elsewhere in that speech, in Clinton, IA on Friday, she again repeated her (and her daughter’s) complaint—without any hint of recognition of irony—that Sanders’ single-payer healthcare insurance plan would kill Obamacare.  As if it weren’t the very purpose of a single-payer healthcare insurance system to eliminate private healthcare insurance for the benefits that the single-payer plan provides.  As if the purpose of Obamacare was to create some living monument to Obama, rather than to provide healthcare insurance to people who had no access to it, and provide decent insurance to people who had policies that provided almost no coverage. [Italics added.]

Is it just me, or is the Clinton campaign’s take on how to appeal to African-American voters really demeaning, Me, Feb. 3, quoting myself in a Jan. 24 post.

Okay, good.  It’s not just me.  It’s also New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.  And David Strauss of Politico, who at 9:57 last night posted a short article titled “Clinton namechecks Obama over and over again.”  There was still an hour left in the debate then, so make that “Clinton namechecks Obama over and over and over and over and over again.”

But, hey.  All three of us are white.  And Black folk might not get what she’s doing.  And any who think they do would be wrong.  Like all of us women who mistakenly thought Clinton had, throughout her campaign, bludgeon-like, been asking women to vote for her because she’s a woman.

All those incessant Pavlovian references to women?  And last week, her declaration that Sanders must be the only person who thought she was a member of the political and economic establishment, because she’s running to be the first woman president and by dint of that fact clearly has no connection whatsoever to the politically and economically very, very powerful?  Or even to the slightly powerful?  She disabused us last night of the misconception that she was asking women to vote for her because she’s a woman.  Instead she was asking us to vote for her because she has no connection to the politically and economically powerful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ended the financial industry bailout begun under his brother?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Marco Rubio Reminds Me of Sarah Palin*

*This is a slightly edited version of a post I posted here yesterday afternoon and have removed.  There’s also an addendum about an op-ed piece by Martin O’Malley in today’s Washington Post.


Okay, so all you politics obsessives probably heard about a comment Martin O’Malley made to NPR’s Morning Edition host Steve Innskeep during an interview earlier this week, in response to a question about Marco Rubio’s claims about “active government.” Here’s the exchange:

Inskeep: “[Rubio] argues that an active government actually keeps people frozen at their economic status because if you are well off, if you can afford a lawyer, if you can deal with regulations, you can maneuver through government and stay prosperous. And if you are not so well off, it’s harder to work the system. Is there some truth to that? You were a big city mayor; you know how government works.”

O’Malley: “No, I don’t think there’s any truth to that.  It is not true that regulation holds poor people down or regulation keeps the middle class from advancing. That’s kind of patently bulls—.”

Well, at least we know that O’Malley knows how to get news media attention, so big points for that.  And we also know that he’s ready, willing and able to respond appropriately and effectively to the incessant, generic big-gummint-is-the-problem trance-inducing mantra.  Even bigger points for that.

But while Innskeep wasn’t actually quoting Rubio and was instead paraphrasing, the exchange highlighted a notable, but not widely noticed, hallmark of Rubio as politician: He routinely says things that are incoherent or that are flatly false as a matter of underlying fact.

Such as that Iran, a Shiite society, and ISIS, a Sunni terrorist group, are in cahoots and Obama doesn’t want to stop Iran from developing a nuclear military capability because Obama doesn’t really want ISIS defeated.  (Something like that; I can’t remember the specifics from earlier this year, but that was the gist of it.)

And such as his federal-budget proposal that will cut, but (unlike the other presidential-nomination contestants’ proposals) won’t completely gut, programs that assist low-income families and individuals; that will significantly increase defense spending; that will eliminate the estate tax; that will lower capital gains and corporate taxes; that will impose no new or higher tax rates at all; and that will balance the budget in 10 years.  (President Houdini!)

And such as that an active government keeps people frozen at their economic status because if you are well off, if you can afford a lawyer, if you can deal with regulations, you can maneuver through government and stay prosperous. And if you are not so well off, it’s harder to work the system.

Yep.  It’s the EPA, the SEC, and the National Labor Relations Act that are keeping all those minimum-wage workers and their families from moving up the socioeconomic ladder!  Rubio, a son of blue-collar employees, succeeded despite having been forced by the federal government to go to public rather than private universities and to pay his tuition using the student loans he applied for at gunpoint. So it can be done, even in the face of active government.  It’s just much harder.  And more dangerous.

One thing I remember fondly about the nervous reactions of some conservative pundits during the fall 2008 campaign season when it became clear that Sarah Palin was not a wise choice as McCain’s running mate was a comment by a dismayed Peggy Noonan, a longtime Republican pundit who was George H.W. Bush’s chief speechwriter.  Noonan wrote about Palin (I believe these were her exact words): “She just … says things.”  (Ellipses Noonan’s.)

Rubio, too, just … says things.  He sort of … babbles.  He seems to have no filter—for coherence, for accuracy, for plausibility—through which he passes his thoughts before expressing them.

Yup.  Be sure to click that “for coherence” link.  The auto-industry bailout kept those auto-industry workers and their families from advancing because they couldn’t hire lawyers to help them navigate their continued employment in their auto-industry jobs.  Got it.

When I read about O’Malley’s response to Innskeep a couple days ago, and therefore also read Innskeep’s question to O’Malley, I wondered whatspecifically (assuming that Innskeep’s paraphrase or summary of Rubio’s statements were accurate reflections of those statements), Rubio was referring to.  What in heaven’s name is he talking about?  What federal statutes and regulations are keeping people who can’t afford fancy lawyers—or any lawyer at all—frozen at their economic status because they can’t maneuver through federal government regulations?

Well, I now have my answer, albeit not from Rubio.  By chance, I happened upon a three-day-old commentary this morning in the Los Angeles by winger columnist Jonah Goldberg, written in reaction to O’Malley’s comments to Innskeep, in which Goldberg purports to speak for Rubio. The column is titled “Martin O’Malley’s modern-day know-nothingness,” and its first several paragraphs recite the history of President Millard Fillmore’s party, the Know-Nothings.”  (Goldberg doesn’t mention Fillmore, but I happen to know that his party was the Know-Nothing Party.)  He throws in some stuff about the history of the original federal minimum-wage law, which he thinks kept people frozen at their economic status because they couldn’t afford lawyers to help them navigate the intricacies of that statute.  (Something like that.)

But then he gets down to brass tacks.  The tacks being that O’Malley is too ignorant to know that some professional and trade licensure education requirements unjustly and unjustifiably  keep lower-income people from entering those professions and trades and that even the application forms are obnoxiously long, complex and burdensome.  And that O’Malley is blind to the fact that small banks, which are the traditional lenders to small local businesses, are disappearing en masse, and that this is because of … huge Dodd-Frank compliance costs.

Well, at least the second of the two—the banking one—involves federal laws.  Of course, the real reason that small banks no longer are competitive with, say, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Wells Fargo is the deregulation of the finance industry, mainly the repeal in the 1990s of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1934 that prohibited commercial, federally insured banks from engaging in investment banking and other securities trading—including in derivatives.  Goldberg and Rubio may not have noticed, but the en masse demise of so much of the community banking industry began back then and continued as a result of the financial collapse of 2008-10.*  Y’know, the financial collapse precipitated by financial-industry deregulation and, regarding derivatives, no-regulation.  The financial collapse that caused the economy and, consequently, many, many, many small businesses to collapse.

Yeah, that one.  Some people who lost their jobs and therefore no longer could pay their nonsubprime mortgages (including to community banks), and many small-business owners whose businesses failed because of the crash of the economy no longer could repay their business loans. To community banks.

As for the first of Goldberg’s two big-gummint complaints—that some professional and trade licensure education requirements unjustly and unjustifiably  keep lower-income people from entering those professions and trades and that even the application forms are obnoxiously long, complex and burdensome—he’s spot-on that it’s an outrage.  He just needs to explain why, since these are state and local licensure requirements and applications, and are unrelated in any respect to federal regulation—and Rubio’s running for president, not state or local office—he thinks it’s O’Malley rather than, say, he who is a Know-Nothing.  Here’s betting that O’Malley, unlike Goldberg, does know that professional and trade licensure education requirements and applications are determined and administered not by the federal government but by state and local ones.

And here’s also betting that O’Malley knows that since the very purpose of these inappropriate bars to jump over and hoops to jump through is to keep competition in these professions to a minimum.  And that he knows that the obvious agitators for these mandated regulatory hoops are the beneficiaries of minimal competition—i.e., those already in these professions or trades or in ones that compete with the unduly restricted ones—and that Democratic officeholders are no more likely that Republican ones to push for these laws and regulations.  He  might have suggested to Goldberg that, before Goldberg demonstrated his ignorance, he check out who’s giving campaign contributions to whom.

But it’s Rubio, not Goldberg, who’s running for president.  So the next time that Rubio argues that an active government actually keeps people frozen at their economic status because if you are well off, if you can afford a lawyer, if you can deal with regulations, you can maneuver through government and stay prosperous–and if you are not so well off, it’s harder to work the system—he’s asked for, say, specifics.  As in: What in heaven’s name is he talking about? Maybe he’ll just refer the questioner to Sarah Palin for details. Or to Mitt Romney.


NOTE: O’Malley has a terrific op-ed piece in today’s Washington Post about the student-loan issue, in which he discusses the broader effects of the current situation on the economy and on American society and advocates for the solutions that Elizabeth Warren has been proposing. He also details his own actions as Maryland government regarding that state’s public university and community college costs.

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Alison Lundergan Grimes vs. The Kentucky Newspaper Editorial Boards That Endorsed Her Today

Two major Kentucky newspapers have endorsed Alison Lundergan Grimes for Senate over incumbent Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R).

The Courier-Journal and the Lexington Herald-Leader both ran editorials Sunday in support of the Democrat, who currently serves as Kentucky’s Secretary of State.

In its endorsement, the Courier-Journal’s editorial board praised Grimes’ stance on issues like the minimum wage and early childhood education, while accusing McConnell of “lacking a vision for Kentucky.”

“[McConnell] lost his way to the point where he now is identified largely as the master of obstruction and gridlock in Washington,” reads the endorsement. “Kentucky needs a U.S. senator who sees a higher calling than personal ambition and a greater goal than self-aggrandizement.” …

The Lexington Herald-Leader‘s endorsement strongly rebukes McConnell, who the editorial board says has “repeatedly hurt the country to advance his political strategy.”

“The Senate may never recover from the bitter paralysis McConnell has inflicted through record filibusters that allow his minority to rule by obstruction,” reads the editorial. “He poses as a champion of the right to criticize the government, but it’s really his rich buddies’ right to buy the government that he champions.”

Kentucky Newspapers Endorse Alison Lundergan Grimes, Mollie Reilly, Huffington Post, this morning

Two weeks ago, the big political story out of Kentucky was that Grimes refused to answer when a televised-debate monitor asked her whether she had voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012.  So important was this, politically, that Chuck Todd reacted to it by saying (in)famously that Grimes had disqualified herself, and McConnell immediately began featuring Todd’s comment in an ad, and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee ended its ad buys in the state.

At the same debate, though, McConnell said that Kynect, Kentucky’s ACA-funded healthcare insurance exchange—through which Kentuckians can purchase independent-market policies that comply with the statute and apply the statute’s tax credits toward premium payments—actually is just a website that lists healthcare policies and allows sign-ups but has no financial benefit to purchasers of the insurance plans.  This, too, was reported nationally and highlighted, apparently, in local news recaps of the debate, but it was presumed, I guess, that it wouldn’t matter.  Although McConnell had made a vaguer but substantively similar statement earlier in the campaign, and although it was reported by national and Kentucky newspapers, its significance apparently hadn’t penetrated to much of the electorate, mainly because Grimes was perfectly happy to have Kentuckians think that the popular Kynect had nothing to do with the hated Obamacare—much less with Obama himself.

And, although by then consistently down by several points in the polls, and appearing to lose ground as the election neared, she didn’t blink in this.  Asked about McConnell’s brazenly false claim about the nature and effect of Kynect, a spokeswoman for Grimes’ campaign responded with something like, “Alison Grimes will always choose Kentucky over Washington.”  That’s right; Alison Grimes will vote to remove federal financial support for the website and, especially, end the federal tax subsidies for purchase of the policies.

It was a day or two later that the DSCC announces its removal of financial support for Grimes’ campaign.  But then something apparently completely unexpected happened: A Bluegrass Poll showed Grimes suddenly trailing McConnell by a single point.  And then last week Grimes, who dismayingly had failed to highlight in ads or appearances a video that surfaced a couple of weeks earlier showing McConnell outlining to a Koch brothers’ group his exciting plans as Senate Majority Leader, suddenly began running an ad showing a clip of the video.  A day or two later, the DSCC restored its financial ad-buy support for Grimes’ campaign.  Asked why, a spokesperson for the DSCC said that polls were showing that undecideds were moving toward Grimes.

And so they must be, because a day or two ago it as reported that McConnell had just committed $1.8 million of his own money for the campaign.

The problem with Grimes’ campaign—and with candidates like Grimes herself—can be seen in a  nutshell in an article by Richard Eskow published on Huffington Post on Friday, discussing the specifics of McConnell’s comments to that Koch brothers crowd in August, captured on that video.  McConnell promises not only to defund Obamacare but also the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and to force a repeal not only of the CFPB but of the entire Dodd-Frank law that created that agency and that includes the financial-industry regulations enacted in the wake of 2008 economic collapse. But, of course, no one knows of the existence of the CFPC and no one knows that the Senate Republicans and candidates are pledging to repeal the post-2008 financial-industry regulations.  Just as no one knows, or at least no one remembers—because the Democratic candidates apparently won’t be caught dead mentioning it—that among the new regulations enacted by the Democratic-controlled Congress during the first two years of the Obama presidency (and pushed entirely by Democrats such as Dick Durbin)—are ones ending the banking-industry practice of exorbitant overdraft fees for small, sometimes-momentary checking-account overdrafts, and the so-called “Durbin Amendment” that prohibits disproportionately high payments by retailers (including small ones) to Visa and Mastercard for customer purchases using those cards.

Look.  If you want to run a Washington-vs.-our-state campaign as a Democrat, you need to make that campaign about the issue of who it is that determines specific Washington policy—in other words, about whether it’s the Kochs who effectively write legislation and dictate what legislation is filibustered or never brought to a vote, or instead small-business owners or ordinary individuals who play some meaningful role in this process.  A campaign for Congress by a Democrat that amounts to a generic ideological “Washington vs. our state” is a campaign that is incoherent. Grimes’ campaign is Exhibit A, but it’s certainly not the only current Exhibit.

The Louisville Courier-Journal, in its endorsement editorial, points out that Grimes supports such policies as a raise in the federal minimum wage and federally sponsored universal access to preschool.  But these are federal programs; she’s running for the United States Senate, not the Kentucky Senate. “Washington vs. our state” as a generic ideological precept precludes these. If Grimes’ ideology is really the same as Joni Ernst’s, then she should switch parties.  If it’s not, then she should make that clear, and make clear why it’s not.

And if Grimes wins, it will be precisely because of why it’s not—and because McConnell, not Grimes, finally made that clear to Kentucky’s voters.

And next time someone like Ashley Judd wants to run for Senate in a state like Kentucky, the Democratic Establishment should not insist that she not run because, after all, a “centrist” would have a better chance.  Judd would win this election comfortably, I’d bet.

Finally, though, the spot-on eloquence of the Courier-Journal’s and (especially) the Herald-Leader’s editorials should be noted for their courage, their emphatic directness and their specificity.

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Not to beat a dead horse, but …

In further follow-up to my post of yesterday (I already appended the original post yesterday) called, “Stories That Will Continue to Get Far Too Little Attention As Long As Obama Allows Them To.”: Reader coberly and I exchanged the following further comments in the Comments thread:


just to ease your heart, i agree that the overdraft fees are gouging.
and i even understand that some people can’t do arithmetic.

so i am all for the reforms.

nevertheless, it is better to know what you have in the bank before you write that check or whatever it is you do with ATM’s. And certainly better not to run too close to the edge.


Yes, Dale. It’s definitely better to do things that way. But, trying to get serious here, because it’s actually a serious matter, the ubiquitous use of debit/credit cards because they’ve effectively replaced cash and checks, and the fact that many millions of people do live on tight budgets, allowed the banks to be grossly abusive in their handling of small, very-short-term overdrafts.

My point is that the new law has been a big deal to a lot of people, some of whom tell pollsters, when asked, that they want “small government” and who vote Republican because of “freedom!” “liberty!” So maybe someone should tell them what the Republicans actually stand for. Freedom! Liberty! And what the Dems’ idea of “big government” actually is.

The intended point of my original post was that if Obama and the congressional Dems and want to leave a meaningful legacy on economics and finance-related matters–if they want to finally end the Repubs’ success at defeating or undermining that legacy–and if they want to regain control of the House in 2014 and tru ly put an end to the profoundly destructive three-decade “conservative-movement” juggernaut that in its current iteration continues to control the mainstream-media conversation and so much of actual policy despite their congressional legislative defeats in 2009 and 2010, and despite their significant popular-vote losses in the presidential, Senate, and House elections last November, the Dems have to engage in a concerted national effort to inform the public about what, in past news-media and political eras, the public would know from observation. 

Whew.  That was a long sentence.  I’m out of breath.

But I’m actually not beating a dead horse.  The horse isn’t dead.

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Stories That Will Continue to Get Far Too Little Attention As Long As Obama Allows Them To. [Appended]

* Don’t forget about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Paul Krugman has the goods on a story that’s getting far too little attention: In filibustering Richard Cordray, Obama’s choice to head the consumer protection bureau, and demanding major changes to the agency, Republicans are trying to transform it into something that’s essentially unable to carry out its mission.
How can the G.O.P. be so determined to make America safe for financial fraud, with the 2008 crisis still so fresh in our memory? In part it’s because Republicans are deep in denial about what actually happened to our financial system and economy. […] Just four years after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees, Senate Republicans are using every means at their disposal, violating all the usual norms of politics in the process, in an attempt to give the bankers a chance to do it all over again.

Krugman notes that Cordray has drawn praise even from the bankers, which I’ve seen elsewhere, too. So: Do the financial institutions even favor what the GOP is up to here?

Worth some more reporting, I’d say.

— Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

One of the most dismaying and frustrating of Obama’s first-term communication failures was, for me, his utter absence of any real attempt to apprise the public of the existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, what its mandate is, and that (and how) the congressional Republicans have concertedly tried to undermine it, via Senate filibuster of any nominee–not just, first Elizabeth Warren, and then Richard Cordray, but, by their own admission, any nominee–to head this bureau, and by attempts to fail to appropriate operating funds for it.

Eight days from now, in his State of the Union address, Obama will have a terrific opportunity to educate the public about all this.  All this.  By which I mean: Not just a clause or a sentence near the end of the speech, alluding to it in listing this, that, and the other thing, but instead an actual explanation of it and of the undermining of it by the Repubs. Near the opening of the speech, before viewers click to whatever because they, like me, want to avoid gagging at the extremely tired James Baker’s great-idea-for-staging-at-Reagan’s-State-of-the-Union-addresses-and-used-by-every-president-sinnce-then real-Americans-as-props thing. (Talking about a program to help oil-company workers? Cue two oil-company workers flanking the First Lady, sitting in the first row. You know what I’m talking about.  Ad nauseum.)  

But since the invites of real Americans surely have already been sent out, and there’s no stopping that juggernaut anyway, however more eyes it causes to roll each year, I suggest the addition of some real Americans who already have benefited from the Bureau’s actions.  

I also, by the way, suggest the addition of a real American or two who, because of the provision in Dodd-Frank–or maybe it was a separate statute, all its own, effective in August 2011 but enacted in 2010 by a Dem-controlled Senate and Dem-controlled House; I’m not sure–that ended what millions of Americans fondly came to call the $400 Starbucks/McDonalds/Dunkin’Donuts coffee/sandwich/dessert, the result of inadvertent, momentary checking-account overdrafts when the mortgage payment, the doctor’s co-pay, and payment for the brake job the SUV all just by chance happened to post to your checking account moments before you swiped that ATM/credit/debit card at the Starbuck, McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts.  I’ll nominate myself for an invite on that one, even though I’ve never actually owned an SUV and don’t like them much.  

No, that doesn’t involve something that changed the state of the union this past year.  But it’s long past time for our Dem politicians to start pointing out things of exactly this sort, and to ask what exactly the congressional Republicans have done along those lines since Jan. 2011. And to start educating the public about what the specifics of what they’ve done to undermine protections against financial-industry abuse, whether legal or illegal.

Stories that will continue to get far too little attention as long as Obama allows them to. Or until maybe Prof. Krugman becomes President Krugman–which sounds like a plan, to me!

UPDATE: Oh, dear.  Turns out that Mitt Romney isn’t the only one who wasn’t familiar with the pre-Aug. 2011 $400 McDonald’s sandwich paid for (many times over) with ATM card payment charges (a.k.a., multiple overdraft fees within a period of 30 seconds.)  Regular reader coberly wasn’t either.  So he and I just exchanged the following comments in the Comments thread:



You did not exactly take advantage of your own opportunity to explain the Starbucks $400 dessert, but I can guess.

Back when it might have been a problem for me, I kept track of the checks I wrote and did not write them for any more than I had in the bank. I think this prevented even “inadvertent” overdrafts.


Ah. Actually, I just threw that in there to be funny.  Or to try to be. (It’s not really a funny subject, so maybe I shouldn’t have tried.)  But unless you keep a lot of cash in your checking account or tie it automatically to a savings account, or were extremely careful to keep track of your checking account–and a lot of people have more than one checking account–you would, before that law came into effect in 2011, have to keep enough money in your account to include an  overdraft fee of $36 (or whatever) each for a single inadvertent overdraft, or you would find yourself charged repeated overdraft fees in a single day for every charge that came in until you realized you were overdrawn.  

The new law applies only to debit/credit card/ATM transactions, not to actual checks, so you still have to be careful about checks, especially since you can’t be sure when they’ll be cashed.

It also helps if you can add and subtract, I’ve learned the hard way.  One of my tax-law profs. used to say that his wife was always the one to actually do their income tax returns. The guy was friggin’ brilliant in discussing legal theory and tax strategy–best as I could tell, anyway–but swore that he couldn’t do actual math, or even competently use a calculator, worth a damn.  Makes me feel better when I recall that. (Calculators sorta throw me off, too, since I can’t figure out what all those funny-looking math symbols are.  Like the + and – signs.)

Back in the pre-Dodd-Frank days, there were looooads of stories on the web and elsewhere about this kind of thing.  So I assumed everyone was familiar with the issue.  Not so, though. So I thought I’d add this explanation.

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