False Symmetry, Again

An excited conservative commenter called my attention to a column published in my local paper. The column was written by two long-time Washington insiders, Cokie and Steve Roberts.

Cokie, currently an analyst and commentator for, respectively, NPR and ABC News (and lately appearing now and then on MSNBC), is the daughter of a Democratic congressman (who was once Majority Leader in the House and who died in a 1972 plane crash) and of a Democratic congresswoman (who was elected to replace her husband and who served from 1973 to 1991). Both of Cokie’s parents served the good folks who live in and around New Orleans. Steve Roberts, a magna cum laude Harvard graduate, has worked as a journalist for The New York Times and The Washington Post and for U.S. News and World Report. He also plays the analyst and commentator role on both radio and television.

You get it by now. These two are the very definition of “Beltway insiders.”

The column that so excited my conservative commenter, titled in most papers as ‘The rise of liberal self-delusion,” began this way:

The civil war ripping through the Republican Party is familiar by now. But a similar battle inside the Democratic Party is just starting to emerge. Orthodox liberals are trying to mimic the tea party and impose political correctness on moderate apostates.

Ahh, I thought to myself.  It was only a matter of time. It was only a matter of time before some prominent Democratic commentators joined the anti-liberal Third Way crowd by comparing what recently energized  liberals are doing to what Tea Party nuts like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have been doing for some time now. There apparently is a law of symmetry in the physics of polite political punditry that occasionally requires the obligatory “both sides are guilty” column or TV rant, and the Roberts duo did not disappoint.

They unbelievably and absurdly compared the nomination of Tea Party freaks like Christine “I’m not a witch” O’Donell and Sharron “Second Amendment remedies” Angle and Todd “legitimate rape” Akin to Elizabeth Warren and New York’s Bill de Blasio. They took the hopeful, if unrealistic, words of a very liberal and very excitable guy, Adam Green (who co-founded the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that dares to help liberals run political campaigns as liberals and, much to the chagrin of Wall Streeters, sometimes win as liberals), and turned those words into “nonsense” and “self delusion.” It’s as if the anti-liberals of the Third Way, that group of mostly wealthy quasi-Democrats who work and play in Manhattan’s Financial District, had dictated this column from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

It’s not that there isn’t a point to be made about ideological “purists” who think that their brand of politics is a perfect fit in every nook and cranny of the country.  Of course it is ridiculous, at this point in time, for liberals and progressives to think that a bona fide left-winger could win in a bona fide backwater state like Arkansas (the example the two pundits used was former Democratic senator Blanche Lincoln, who was challenged in the 2010 primary in Arkansas by “a left-wing primary opponent”). I have criticized some liberal Democrats myself (including Adam Green) for not recognizing the sobering reality that in places like where I live, here in Petticoat Joplin, running on in-your-face orthodox liberalism is not a winning strategy for knocking Republican Ozark Billy Long off his taxpayer-subsidized D.C. bar stool. So, it’s not bad advice to warn Democrats that ideological purity can be harmful to the overall cause.

But for two prominent Democratic columnists to say that well-meaning liberal Democrats “want to impose their orthodoxies on everyone else”—just like what they call the ‘Ted Cruz Wing” of the Republican Party wants to do—is beyond absurd. The extremism of Ted Cruz and other teapartiers is real extremism, representing reactionary, roll-back-the-clock danger to the country. Does Cokie and Steve Roberts think that trans-vaginal probes are the moral and political equivalent of, say, tougher banking laws? Huh? Liberals are not authoritarians seeking to force Americans to bow their knees to Iron Age biblical morality or to the politics derived from selective readings, or from convenient interpretations, of the Old and New Testaments. They are mostly people who think that the wealthiest country in the history of the world ought not to have so many working class folks struggling to survive in the midst of all that wealth, and that an appeal to common sense and decency should be sufficient to make the point.

The Roberts’ column, as an apparent tribute to Beltway blindness, puts Elizabeth Warren, as sober and sane a thinker as you will find in politics, in the category of “the loony left.” As if economic populism is on a par with kill-the-New-Deal conservatism. As if fighting for reproductive and gay and voting rights is equally as extreme as shutting down Planned Parenthood and promoting Bible-inspired homophobia and making it harder for minorities to vote. As if believing in science is the same as, well, not believing in science.

“This is a moderate, pragmatic country. Any party that ignores that truth is doomed to defeat,” the D.C. pundit power couple say with Third Party conviction. Yeah, well, moderation and pragmatism are not the same things. Political moderation is a product of compromise between competing visions, even if the competing visions themselves are often fierce and intense and far from moderate. Pragmatism in politics is the idea that compromise is sometimes necessary to solve problems. In other words, pragmatism leads to compromise, which leads to moderation. The salient point is that one can be a left- or right-winger, committed to one’s principles, committed to fighting for them, but still be a pragmatist who settles for some middle-of-the-road compromise to get things done, if that is truly the only way to get things done.

And when you see it that way, when you see it in the sense of getting things done, of making the government work, you can clearly see that there is no comparison between enthusiastic but ultimately pragmatic liberals and authoritarian Tea Party conservatives, folks who won’t compromise with anyone and who would shut the entire government down or ruin our national credit worthiness, hurting millions of people and costing billions of dollars, merely to make an ultimately fleeting political point.

Sadly, Cokie and Steve Roberts, guardians of the mythical “center” in American politics, can’t, or won’t, see the difference.

Claire McCaskill’s “Third Way” Chair And What She Should Do With It

“Well, Senator McCaskill, which side are you on? People who rely on Social Security to get by, or Wall Street movers and shakers?”

—Michael Bersin, Show Me Progress

My only useful United States Senator is, of course, Claire McCaskill. As a liberal, I have defended her many, many times, despite the fact that she does not subscribe to all of my liberal views. And I have defended her despite the fact that she would never, not in a thousand light years, refer to herself as a liberal. But I respect the political reality here in mixed-up Missouri. This isn’t New Jersey. Wait a minute. New Jersey isn’t New Jersey anymore.

In any case, Senator McCaskill, who often—too often for my tastes—brags about being a centrist, is an honorary co-chair of a public policy group called “Third Way,” a group that is causing third way logoquite a negative stir among activist Democrats.

I want to direct you to the group’s own definition of what it is about, which begins this way:

Third Way represents Americans in the “vital center” — those who believe in pragmatic solutions and principled compromise, but who too often are ignored in Washington.

That is, in fact, who Claire McCaskill says she is. She has many times talked about her pragmatism and her middle-of-the-road credentials. She even campaigned on them in 2012. And while I agree that compromise is often part of a healthy political process, some folks who fashion themselves as moderates think the compromise should happen at the beginning of the process, not at the end. This is an incredibly important point. Moderation in politics ought to be defined as what is left over after a vigorous fight between visions, not the vision itself. Here’s more from the group’s website:

Our mission is to advance moderate policy and political ideas.

What? No one can “advance” a moderate policy or political ideas. Why? Because if that is where you start, if you start in the middle, the compromise will always be toward the reactionaries because change has a tendency to scare people. These Third Way guys have to know that. As with similar efforts in the past, “moderate” means allowing conservatives to frame the economic issues in terms of debt and deficits, and not in terms of people and empowerment. Thus, the apparent purpose of Third Way (which has been around since 2005) is to shoot the liberal lions in the Democratic Party, or, to put it more kindly, to capture them and put them in zoos so they can do no harm to the interests of those, mostly moneyed Wall Streeters, who fund so-called centrist groups like Third Way.

As you have no doubt heard by now, last week a couple of Third Wayers, the group-think tank’s president and its senior vice president for policy, published a piece (Economic Populism Is a Dead End for Democrats”) in, yep, The Wall Street Journal. The piece might be considered the loudest shot so far heard in what the self-described centrists apparently want to be an all-out war for the soul of the Democratic Party.

The authors, sounding like any right-wing talk radio host you know, attacked Bill de Blasio, an unashamed liberal who will soon become the next mayor of New York, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who has become a hero among liberals and progressives and anyone who can see the difference between people and corporations. The reason for the attack on these two liberals was because of what the authors called their “populist political and economic fantasy.” When you get away from the Limbaugh-like description, what the shoot-the-lions, Wall Street-friendly folks at Third Way are attacking is the idea, advanced by Senator Warren and others, that we should increase Social Security benefits, not look for ways to slash them.

She told Mother Jones, in response to the Third Way article attacking her, that,

We should stop having a conversation about cutting Social Security a little bit or a lot.

Yes. Democrats, including President Obama, should stop agreeing with Republicans about cutting the most effective government social program in history. And Senator McCaskill should relinquish her “honorary” chair title at Third Way. Why? Because McCaskill, running against teapartier Todd Akin in 2012, essentially ran as something of an economic populist herself.

Six weeks before the election, the St Louis Beacon reported on McCaskill’s criticism of Mitt Romney’s nutty remarks “disparaging Americans who don’t pay income taxes”:

“Congressman Akin has made similar type statements,” McCaskill said, “talking about the ‘velvet chains’ of government dependency…”

Such comments by Akin and Romney, she continued, “just show they are out of touch with so many Missourians who have worked hard all their lives, who have retired, and who believed that Social Security would be there for them, and believe that Medicare would be there for them.”

McCaskill’s point during the conference call was to paint Akin as an “extremist” on such issues, citing his campaign statements criticizing both programs.

“He wants to privatize, voucherize” Medicare, she said, and also privatize Social Security.

McCaskill said that the financial problem facing Social Security could be fixed simply by increasing the cap. Now, any income over roughly $110,000 is not subject to the Social Security tax.

“Simply changing the cap,” she said, “secures (Social Security) for 75 years.”

As for Medicare, a program that the Third Way moneyed elites ostensibly want to save by making a “grand bargain” with Republicans, McCaskill also played the economic populist card:

Jim Hagan, a retired teacher and coach in his 70s from Springfield, Mo., recounted the numerous health problems that he and his wife recently have encountered. “We’d be totally bankrupt if we had to pay” for all the surgeries and medical bills, he said. Medicare, said Hagan, “saves lives, including mine.”

McCaskill contends that the GOP approach, as proposed by now-Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, is to allocate a certain annual amount to the elderly and then tell them “now it’s your problem” to find insurance coverage.

Hagan said that most elderly, including himself, wouldn’t be able to obtain insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

McCaskill’s campaign has focused heavily on Medicare, Social Security and government-backed student loans.

Now, if that isn’t the same kind of economic populism that Third Way honchos attacked in The Wall Street Journal, please tell me what it is. And tell me why Claire McCaskill would continue to be an “honorary” co-chair—co-chair!—of a group so adamantly opposed to what she ran on just a year ago?

Not only that, as The Nation reported, in order to raise funds, Third Way hired one of the top corporate lobbying firms in Washington—a firm whose “largest client is the US Chamber of Commerce.” The same Chamber of Commerce that hammered Claire McCaskill in 2012! Something is wrong with that picture.

The Nation also noted how “several Third Way trustees gave campaign money to Mitt Romney.” Huh? Remember the gist of that Romney campaign? Most of us are moochers and President Obama was some kind of left-winger who was going to turn the country into a European socialist state quotefull of even more moochers. How can Senator McCaskill co-chair a group that has as trustees people who invested in Mittens?

Now we have HuffPo reporting that one of the writers of the Third Way piece in last week’s WSJ admits that Elizabeth Warren’s liberalism was beginning to gain traction and the money-men had to move fast. Jim Kessler, Third Way’s senior vice president for policy who co-authored the infamous op-ed, said:

The impetus was really — we saw after the most recently, this push that okay, it’s time to really move the national Democratic Party to a much more liberal agenda, in this case, Senator Warren was the standard bearer — she’s on the cover of a lot of magazines. We were a bit alarmed by that…

That Social Security plan was the final moment for us. That Social Security plan had been out there but really languishing — because Senator Warren has such a powerful compelling voice, she started talking about it, and it suddenly it became much more talked about and viable alternative.

As I said, the “Social Security plan” that scared the Democrat out of those wealthy “Democrats” at Third Way is very closely related, if not identical, to what Senator McCaskill told Missourians she supported, when she was seeking our votes in 2012. And if Senator McCaskill meant what she said about Social Security last year, if she truly meant it, then she should not only give Third Way its honorary chair back, she should give it back by publicly pounding its pooh-bahs over the heads with it.

senator mccaskill and third way

Liberalism And The American Worker

It’s all pretty simple really. American workers are producing more at work and bringing less dough home.

HuffPo reports that Senator and Saint Elizabeth Warren has given some love  to the results of a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, which, she said, shows that,

If we started in 1960 and we said that as productivity goes up, that is as workers are producing more, then the minimum wage is going to go up the same. And if that were the case then the minimum wage today would be about $22 an hour.

Here are a couple of graphs that back up that claim:

minimum wage and productivity

You see the gap between productivity and the real minimum wage in the bottom graph? Who reaps the benefits of that gap? And as for the top graph, Elizabeth Warren wants to know:

…with a minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, what happened to the other $14.75? It sure didn’t go to the worker.

The what? The worker? Someone in Congress is worried about the worker? Yes, it’s true. In fact, there are more than a few of them and guess what? They’re all liberal, I said, liberal, Democrats! Imagine that. Have you ever heard a conservative Republican wonder out loud why workers aren’t getting more of the benefits of the ginormous increase in productivity? Huh? Of course you haven’t.

In any case, Warren made her remarks last week during a Senate subcommittee hearing and they were directed to Dr. Arindrajit Dub, a professor from UMass who happens to know something about the minimum wage because, uh, he studied it. As HuffPo notes:

Dube went on to note that if minimum wage incomes had grown over that period at the same pace as it had for the top 1 percent of income earners, the minimum wage would actually be closer to $33 an hour than the current $7.25.

Of course, even liberal Democrats aren’t quite bold enough to ask for the whole enchilada, only this:

Warren went on to argue that raising the federal minimum wage to over $10 an hour in incremental steps over the next two years — a cause championed by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union address and since taken up in the Senate – would not be as damaging for businesses as some critics have argued.

As the Center for Economic and Policy Research pointed out in another piece (Minimum Wage Raise is the Least We Can Do to Civilize America”), the minimum wage is not just a kid’s wage:

Contrary to prevailing myths about who would benefit from a proposed increase in the minimum wage, 88 percent of the 28 million workers affected are not teenagers.  As the Economic Policy Institute has shown, the majority are full-time workers, and on average they earn about half of their families’ income.  And 28 percent of the nation’s 76 million children would have a parent who would benefit from the raise.

Another minimum wage myth that needs a dose of reality is this one:

And raising the minimum wage doesn’t only cut into profits, it also increases demand in the economy by moving income to workers who spend more than those who receive profit.  The Economic Policy Institute estimated that the proposed increase in the minimum wage would actually increase employment.

And dispelling the largest myth of all:

Although it is theoretically possible to raise minimum wages enough to cause employers to hire fewer workers, there is hardly any indication from economic research that the proposed increase in the minimum wage would have this effect. 

So, under the Warren proposal, almost 25 million folks, many of them with kids, would get a raise which would in turn benefit the entire economy and would not increase unemployment in the slightest.

Who could be against that?

Oh, I forgot.

The mainstream press is too busy worrying about reforming the Republican Party and the Republican Party is too busy worrying about keeping tax rates low on rich people.

Only liberal Democrats have time to celebrate and promote the interests of the American worker.

Time To Get Pissed About The Big Banks

A jaw-dropping admission about mega-banks, uttered last week by our Attorney General, has been somewhat under-reported, considering the role big banks played in the bone-crushing financial crisis of 2008, a crisis for which millions of Americans are still paying a price:

But I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute — if we do bring a criminal charge  it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy. I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.

…I think it has an inhibiting influence, impact on our ability to bring resolutions that I think would be more appropriate.

Fortunately, liberal Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren (damn, that still feels good to write), is watching:

It has been almost five years since the financial crisis, but the big banks are still too big to fail. That means they are subsidized by about $83 billion a year by American taxpayers and are still not being held fully accountable for breaking the law. Attorney General Holder’s testimony that the biggest banks are too-big-to-jail shows once again that it is past time to end too-big-to-fail.

Warren, champion of the 99 percent, also had something to say about the government’s December, 2012, settlement with HSBC—the gimongous British bank that was laundering money for drug-dealing thugs in Mexico and Columbia and elsewhere—in which the banksters are required to pay nearly $2 billion (which is only a little over a month’s worth of profits) in order to avoid criminal charges:

If you’re caught with an ounce of cocaine, the chances are good you’ll go to jail. If you’re caught repeatedly, you can go to jail for life. Evidently, if you launder nearly $1 billion for drug cartels and violate our government’s sanctions, your company pays a fine and you go home and sleep in your own bed at night. I think that’s fundamentally wrong.

Another liberal legislator, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, is trying to lead a bipartisan effort—right-wing Senator David Vitter is on board—“to break up the taxpayer-funded party on Wall Street” by breaking up the big banks.

Who knows, maybe there is enough outrage out there to get something done, but don’t hold your breath. Senator Brown tried but failed to get a break-up-the-big-banks amendment added to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law, passed way back in, uh, 2010.

For more on what Senator Brown thinks about the big banks and how to do away with the absurdity of too-big-to-fail, go here. To at least do something to show support for breaking up these banks, here is a petition you can sign. Here is another one.

Below are two video segments featuring the very liberal Sen. Brown and the very conservative Sen. Vitter, explaining the problem and their plans to address it. If you are one of those hankering for bipartisanship in Congress, if you are one of those who long to see an intersection of ideological interests between liberals and conservatives, this is your issue. No, this is our issue.

Sadly, only a few hundred folks have watched these video segments posted on YouTube, which is, of course, how the banksters are able to get away with this stuff.

Get educated, then get outraged, then get active:

 

The Business Predators’ Party

Few people know that Republicans in the Senate have been trying to kill an important new consumer protection agency created more than a year and a half ago that is still without a director.

The reason few people know about this undemocratic Republican effort—they are thwarting the will of the majority in the Senate by holding up confirmation of Richard Cordray, Obama’s nominee to run the agency—is because the press has essentially ignored it.  I mean, there is Herman Cain and Donald Trump to cover, for God’s sake.

In any case, finally, according to HuffPo:

The White House is launching an aggressive, eleventh-hour media blitz this week aimed at pressuring Senate Republicans to confirm a stalled nominee to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The CFPB, you may remember, was part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law and was designed as a way to protect consumers of financial products from, in the words of the Administration:

falling prey to many of the harmful practices that contributed to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The agency is supposed to regulate “non-bank financial institutions such as payday lenders and debt collectors,” which “have generally not been subject to federal supervision.”  A lack of supervision “has made it easier for some of them to engage in predatory business practices, often by providing poor information or misleading terms.”

Now, why would Republicans want to protect those institutions that “engage in predatory business practices“?  Because institutions that engage in predatory business practices need love too, and the Republican Party is where they go to get it.

A Piece Of Art

Most of you reading this know what a big fan I am of Elizabeth Warren, who is running in Massachusetts against Sen. Scott Brown, a Republican who gets credit in the Beltway press for being a “moderate,” but in reality is no such thing. 

The Massachusetts GOP without, so far, a word of criticism from Mr. Brown, presented this commercial as one of its first shots in what will be a nasty campaign:

You may have noticed during that uplifting presentation a couple of quotes from a “Democratic pollster” named Douglas Schoen:

These lies were prompted by a man who, besides being a pollster, is a Fox “News” contributor, and if he is a Democrat then Anson Burlingame is John Steinbeck and his Globe blog is The Grapes of Wrath.

Jonathan Chait says that Doug Schoen and his Fox pal Pat Cadell “have made a mini-career in the Obama administration as Dick Morris-esque apostates“:

They repeat republican talking points, but the hook that gets them attention is that they make sure to mention that they’re Democrats, they write this out of sadness rather than anger, their party has left them, etc.

My usual visceral reaction to Schoen when he appears on Fox to do his whoring for Roger Ailes is to upchuck a stomach full of curdled cheese puffs and pronounce the resulting puddle a portrait of the phony Democrat.

Such works of art are worthy of what Schoen does in service to Fox and in disservice to his former party, all the while dishonestly keeping the name “Democrat” cuddled up next to his as he is misidentified on millions of television screens, which also bear that false Fox mantra, fair and balanced.

“Cash Warfare”

The “leaderless resistance movement” known as Occupy Wall Street, in case you haven’t noticed, has been scaring conservatives for almost two weeks now.

Related to that, there was a brilliant, must-see opening segment on Thursday night’s Rachel Maddow Show:

A Champion Of The Middle Class

You know, I confess that there are times—say, when I listened last night to a fool like Donald Trump or a lying scoundrel like Jim DeMint on Fox “News”—that following politics these days, at least for a committed liberal, is very difficult, mostly frustrating, and sometimes throw-in-the-towel ugly.

But then I listen to someone like Elizabeth Warren, who has decided to run against “Wall Street’s Favorite Congressman” Scott Brown in Massachusetts for Ted Kennedy’s old senate seat, and I get new life.

Ms. Warren—who has earned the title of Saint Elizabeth—fought for the creation of the all-important Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Fortunately, she won that all-important fight for that all-important federal agency, and the reason I know it was all-important was because Republicans fought so hard—and they’re still fighting—to kill it.

In any case, St. Elizabeth appeared on St. Rachel’s show last night and I present part of that segment to you to demonstrate what a genuine public-spirited person sounds like, a public-spirited person who is willing to fight for the public. And as you listen I ask you to imagine what would happen to the quality of our governance if people like Elizabeth Warren comprised a majority in Congress:

Banksters, Bastards, And Greed

If you didn’t see the 60 Minutes segment last night on how bankers have screwed up mortgage paperwork and how the bastards tried to remedy their screw-ups, then you should.  

Because the greedy bastards (yes, I know, I repeat myself) were in such a hurry to sell their manifestly bad loans for profit (by the way, where are those who blamed the financial crisis on the poor and those who were trying to help them?), in many cases banks that now want to foreclose—mostly on victims of Republican economic and regulatory policies—can’t prove who owns the houses.  So, some of the bastards resorted to forging documents.

As Les Leopold at AlterNet put it:

The big banks, now accused of fraudulent foreclosure procedures, are the same ones who puffed up the housing bubble, polluted the financial system with toxic assets, and nearly sent us back to the Great Depression. These banks helped put in motion the entire cavalcade of disastrous processes that crashed the value of homes all over the country. At this point it should be clear that too-big-to-fail banks are at the core of the problem and they owe us big-time.

Leopold also reports that Elizabeth Warren, doing God’s work, briefed the states’ Attorneys General by saying , according to Leopold,

that the five big banks (JP Morgan Chase, CitiGroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Ally Financial) saved about $20 billion over the last three years by not hiring enough staff to properly process the tens of thousands of loan modifications and foreclosures

Greed upon greed.

From the AlterNet article, Warren and the AG’s are, presumably in lieu of jail time, demanding from the banksters:

• $30 billion in reparations.

• The creation of thousands of jobs to properly process foreclosures and loan modifications.

• Reform of the foreclosure process so that it rewards bank personnel for processing loan modifications as opposed to foreclosures; make sure home titles don’t “vanish into the black hole of securitization,” and ensure that distressed homeowners aren’t saddled with unjustified penalties.

• Making additional loan modifications “that might cost these five banks up to $135 billion.”

As Leopold points out, the AGs “have enough evidence of criminal activity to force a settlement and the banks will pay.”  “The only questions,” he writes, “are how much and how tough the reforms will be.”

Sadly, the Obama Treasury Department—the running of which conclusively proves Obama is no wild-eyed liberal—is trying to limit the damage by arguing for a smaller penalty and “less interference” in the banking business. 

And, of course, Congressional Republicans will attack Elizabeth Warren fiercely as she attempts to advocate on behalf of consumers.

Again, I recommend a view of the first segment of the 60 Minutes broadcast and you will understand why I used the word “bastard” four times now.

The Naked Middle Class

Between the dueling “job summits,” Ben Bernanke’s fight to keep his job at the Fed, the CBO’s estimate of up to 1.6 million jobs so far either saved or created by the stimulus package, the economy justifiably is back as the topic of the week.

But a really disturbing message is coming from Elizabeth Warren, Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and currently serving as the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel, which was established under the TARP legislation last year as a legislative branch watchdog over the markets, the regulatory system, and Treasury’s management of TARP money. 

On today’s HuffPo, Warren posted an article titled, “America Without a Middle Class,” in which she begins by asking if America would still be America without a strong middle class, then assaults us with this paragraph:

Today, one in five Americans is unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work. One in nine families can’t make the minimum payment on their credit cards. One in eight mortgages is in default or foreclosure. One in eight Americans is on food stamps. More than 120,000 families are filing for bankruptcy every month. The economic crisis has wiped more than $5 trillion from pensions and savings, has left family balance sheets upside down, and threatens to put ten million homeowners out on the street.

She points out that the so-called “boom” of the 2000s only produced an increase in median family income of 1.6%, compared with 11% in the 1990s, 10% in the 1980s and a whopping 33% in the 1960s.

Essentially, Warren claims, the Bush years only exacerbated a trend that began in the 1970s: America’s middle class is dissipating because wages have not kept up with the cost of living:

To cope, millions of families put a second parent into the workforce. But higher housing and medical costs combined with new expenses for child care, the costs of a second car to get to work and higher taxes combined to squeeze families even harder . Even with two incomes, they tightened their belts. Families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases — but it hasn’t been enough to save them. Today’s families have spent all their income, have spent all their savings, and have gone into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems, and just to stay afloat a little while longer.

Ms. Warren contrasts this situation with the enormously successful financial industry, which prospered largely on the backs of the middle class:

Consumer banking — selling debt to middle class families — has been a gold mine. Boring banking has given way to creative banking, and the industry has generated tens of billions of dollars annually in fees made possible by deceptive and dangerous terms buried in the fine print of opaque, incomprehensible, and largely unregulated contracts.

Obviously, the “creative” banking thing went awry and the government had to bail out the Wall Street gamblers to save the entire system. But what would normally be a humbling situation for normal folks, only strengthened the resolve of the big-time players to keep the status quo in place, and they now are fighting hard to “preserve the rules” that will allow Wall Street high-rollers to continue fleecing the very people whose tax money saved them from bankruptcy.

Warren has been a strong advocate of consumer rights, and she hopes that the Obama administration’s proposal to reign in some of the more egregious banking practices, through a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, will succeed, although, she says, the big banks “are pulling out all the stops to kill the agency before its born.”

Let’s hope that both parties can at least come together on this one, and protect the interests of what’s left of a beleaguered American middle class.

[Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America]
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