Black Lives Matter Vs. Democrats?

I have avoided the entire controversy surrounding the Omnibus Crime Bill of 1994, Hillary Clinton’s use of the word “superpredator” in a speech at New Hampshire’s Keene State College in 1996, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement’s protests at Democratic events. I just haven’t wanted to get into it.

Since Bernie Sanders was essentially forced to surrender the microphone to a Black Lives Matter activist last summer; since Hillary Clinton was confronted in South Carolina a few months ago by a Black Lives Matter activist demanding the candidate apologize because “I’m not a super-predator Hillary Clinton”; since Bill Clinton was confronted during a speech the other day by someone holding a sign that read, “Black youth are not super predators”; and since Bernie Sanders has now somewhat unfairly exploited what Bill had to say to those protesters, it’s time now to address it, even though some folks won’t like what I have to say.

First, the context of that 1994 bill. Steve Drizin, a law professor who has written a lot about “juvenile justice, wrongful convictions, and false confessions,” wrote:

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, there was a rapid increase in violent crime on the streets of many urban centers in the country. Much of this violence was related to the crack cocaine trade and some of this violence was committed by youthful offenders. Adult gang members recruited teens as their child soldiers, armed them with high-powered weaponry, and dispatched them to do battle over with other gangs over turf in the drug trade.

That is what Bill Clinton was referring to last week when he was defending both Hillary and his record as president and, probably too aggressively, said this to the Black Lives Matter protesters:

I don’t know how you would characterize the gang leaders who got 13-year-old kids hopped up on crack, sent them out onto the street to murder other African-American children. Maybe you thought they were good citizens. She didn’t! You are defending the people who kill the lives you say matter! Tell the truth. You are defending the people who cause young people to go out and take guns.

Bernie Sanders then chimed in and tried to take political advantage, while he was in Harlem, of Clinton’s “unacceptable” remarks. The Washington Post reported it this way:

“We all know what the term meant in the context that it was said years ago,” Sanders said after the applause died down. “We know who they were talking about.”

“Black people,” yelled someone in the audience.

“That’s exactly right,” Sanders said, “and I think the president owes the American people an apology for trying to defend what’s indefensible.”

Let’s stop here for a moment and take a breath. Let’s look at some facts. First, that 1994 Crime Bill enjoyed widespread bipartisan support. And many black leaders and activists, responding to rampant crime in their cities related to drugs, also supported the bill, cbc vote on crime billincluding two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus. Oh, and so did Bernie Sanders. Not only did Sanders vote for the bill, he used that vote in his campaign for Senate in 2006 to make the point that he was “tough on crime.” And while a little less outrage from him about President Clinton’s recent remarks would have been nice, given his position in the past, I don’t really mind Bernie playing politics with this issue, since he is, despite what some of his most ardent followers seem to believe, a politician.

In any case, both Bill and Hillary Clinton have admitted that they regret parts of the 1994 Crime Bill and have argued that reforms are needed to fix some of its negative consequences, like over-incarceration. In fact, Mrs. Clinton’s first big policy speech of this campaign was about criminal justice reform. Hillary has also apologized for using the term “superpredator” in that 1996 speech—the term was coined in this context by a Republican political scientist named John Dilulio, who also now regrets both the term and the policies built around it because “demography is not fate and criminology is not pure science.” Here are the original remarks from Hillary Clinton’s now-infamous New Hampshire speech:

They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘superpredators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.

Mrs. Clinton said the following to The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart, after an activist in South Carolina confronted her about the above remarks:

In that speech, I was talking about the impact violent crime and vicious drug cartels were having on communities across the country and the particular danger they posed to children and families.  Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.

My life’s work has been about lifting up children and young people who’ve been let down by the system or by society.  Kids who never got the chance they deserved.  And unfortunately today, there are way too many of those kids, especially in African-American communities.  We haven’t done right by them.  We need to.  We need to end the school to prison pipeline and replace it with a cradle-to-college pipeline.

As an advocate, as First Lady, as Senator, I was a champion for children.  And my campaign for president is about breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of all kids, so every one of them can live up to their God-given potential.

So, we can see that Mrs. Clinton has learned something in 20 years. Isn’t that a good thing? And, as Capehart points out, Bernie Sanders, while voting for the Crime Bill and using it to make him look tough on crime, did have wise reservations at the time. In a floor speech in 1994, Sanders said:

Mr. Speaker, it is my firm belief that clearly, there are some people in our society who are horribly violent, who are deeply sick and sociopathic, and clearly these people must be put behind bars in order to protect society from them. But it is also my view that through the neglect of our Government and through a grossly irrational set of priorities, we are dooming tens of millions of young people to a future of bitterness, misery, hopelessness, drugs, crime, and violence.

Capehart, who is an African-American columnist, wrote:

No one would question Sanders’s commitment to justice before or after he voted for the crime bill. Nor should anyone do the same to Clinton, who didn’t even have a vote. Sure, her words sting in the light of 2016, but they should not blind anyone to what she did before and after she uttered those 42 words in the span of 12 seconds.

All of this leads me to the part that will likely get me in trouble with some folks. I’m a white guy from Kansas who now lives in a mostly-white part of southwest Missouri. It happens that, growing up in Kansas, I lived around a lot of African-Americans. I lived in a fairly poor neighborhood. The old dodge, I’m-not-a-racist-because-I-have-black-friends, was actually true of me when I was younger. I did have black friends, good friends. To the extent that a young white kid could understand what it meant to be black in this society—and I admit that ain’t much—I tried my best to understand. I always have.

I have written a lot on this blog about the unfair and demonizing way police, and the larger white society that usually supports them no matter the circumstances, too-often treat African-Americans, especially young males. I have written a lot about the white angst that leads to so much of what we have seen in hate-filled Republican politics, especially as regards the treatment of President Obama. I have written a lot about the attempts of white Republicans to suppress the votes of blacks and Latinos. I have done my best to understand, as an adult, what I tried hard to understand as a teenager, when I was hanging out with my African-American friends: why are so many white people afraid of, or disdainful of, black people?

Thus, I think I understand the point of the Black Lives Matter movement. I believe I get it. In too many cases, black lives haven’t seemed to matter all that much to those entrusted to protect them: the government, in the form of people wearing uniforms and badges. And in too many cases white people in general overlook or excuse the injustices done to Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and Sandra Bland and Walter Scott and countless others, injustices done not just by the police, but by prosecutors and courts.

But here is what I don’t understand about the Black Lives Matter movement. I don’t understand that rudely conducted protest at a Bernie Sanders rally last August. I don’t understand that rudely conducted protest at a Hillary Clinton event in South Carolina in February. I don’t understand that rudely conducted protest recently during a speech given by a former Democratic president trying to help his wife get into a position where she can beat a Republican in November. While I understand holding Democrats accountable, I don’t understand either the rudeness in doing so or what seems to me to be a lack of focus, at this crucial point in a presidential campaign, on who the most egregious offender in all this is: the Republican Party, both nationally and at the state and local level.

Republicans have stood in the way of criminal justice and other reforms. Republicans have almost always defended the most outrageous actions by police. Republicans, almost everywhere they’re in control, are trying to suppress black voters and voices. Republicans have as their front-runner a candidate for whom white supremacists have openly campaigned and supported, a candidate who had trouble disavowing David Duke and who doesn’t think our first African-American president is legitimate. Republicans have another leading candidate who defended his father’s remark that President Obama should be sent “back to Kenya” and whose signature issue in the Senate and in his campaign is repealing ObamaCare, a program that has greatly helped African-Americans and would help them even more if Republican governors and state legislators would expand Medicaid in their states, many of them poor states in the South with large African-American populations.

I know there have been many protests at Drumpf rallies by members of the Black Lives Matter movement. But not enough. And not enough at Cruz rallies. And especially not enough at rallies for Republican candidates for all offices, at all levels of government. The focus and overwhelming political force should be on where the biggest problem is now, not on the sins of the past by the Democratic Party, sins that go all the way back to supporting slavery and Jim Crow and, yes, to overreacting in the 1990s to outrageous violence in our cities.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both supported the Crime Bill in 1994, a bill that was trying to tackle what was then perceived as a real problem and a bill that did some good things but had some bad consequences for African-Americans. However, both Hillary and Bernie have expressed their unequivocal support for reforms that would help fix some of the problems that old legislation didn’t create but contributed to. And it’s not that either should be given a pass now, but it seems to me that there are more important things for the Black Lives Matter movement to do than so aggressively confront two people who are their clear allies.

The most prominent targets these days, of both their wrath and their efforts to hold public officials and offenders accountable, should be those folks with that “R” featured proudly by their names, those who try to suppress and thereby silence black voters, who crave “states’ rights” to protect their pedigree of white privilege, and who—like here in the state of Missouri where all the Republican gubernatorial candidates have said they will support Donald Drumpf—would eventually, if necessary, embrace a man for president who is little more than a race-baiting bigot.

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The Gray Line Of Stagnation And Why Income Inequality Should Matter To Hillary Clinton

Brad Plumer of Wonkblog published a piece today (“The shocking truth behind the saddest chart in Congress”) that readers of this blog will find all too familiar. It was accompanied by this chart:

Keep an eye on that bottom line, that depressing gray line that represents, quite likely, everyone reading this post. Think about all the colorful activity above and all the stagnation that defines the movement of that dreary gray line at the bottom.

Then think about the next presidential election. Many of us believe it is too late for anything meaningful to be done during the Obama administration about trying to make that bottom gray line as dynamically active as those colored lines above it. Improving the economic lot of the bottom 90% of Americans is not even on the radar screen for the Republicans who now effectively have control of the legislative branch of the federal government, as well as control of many governorships and state legislatures around the country.

But if I were Hillary Clinton, who most certainly is going to run in 2016, I would make that 90% my priority. In every speech, in every interview, in every op-ed she will write or every Tweet she will peck out between now and then, my focus would be on that 90%, that gray line of stagnation.

Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews also published an interesting chart a couple of months ago:

Read this amazing paragraph that Matthews included with the graphic:

Until the 1970s, the bottom 90 percent had actually seen its income grow more than any other income group. The income gap was shrinking. But the ultra-rich quickly reversed that trend. In 2007, the top 0.01 percent had an average income almost seven times that of 1917; the average income of the bottom 90 percent had barely tripled. The country has grown more unequal, not less, since then. And, interestingly, the 90-99th percentiles all saw their average income grow faster than all but the tippy-top of the top 1  percent. The divide between the rich and the rest isn’t the only gap growing, in other words. The gap between the ultra-rich and the merely rich is growing, too.

Again, look at that graph. That red line representing you and me and most people in America was, from about 1940 through the early 1970s, on top of the stack. We did all right as a country, didn’t we? We did all right as a country with that red line on top, wouldn’t you say? And that red line of 90 percenters was on top of that deep blue line of the richest-of-the-rich until the 1990s. What happened to thrust that blue line of wealthy folks so high into the sky?

In 1997—with a Clinton in the White House—capital gains taxes were reduced from 28% to 20%, via the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, which was one of the largest tax cuts in history (the child tax credit and some other items meant to lure Democrats was a part of the mix).

The bill was sponsored in the House by Republican John Kasich (now the right-wing extremist governor of Ohio) and was opposed by some among my contingent of bellwether liberal legislators: Bernie Sanders (in the House at the time), Barney Frank, Elijah Cummings, Ed Markey (now running for John Kerry’s senate seat in Massachusetts), and Henry Waxman. Sadly, only eight Democrats in the Senate voted against final passage of the bill (the late and great Paul Wellstone was one of them).

Bill Clinton, Hillary’s husband, signed it into law, saying, among other things, that he had reservations about the capital gains tax cut component of the law:

I continue to have concerns that the across-the-board capital gains relief in H.R. 2014 is too complex and will disproportionately benefit the wealthy over lower- and middle-income wage earners.

Well, those “concerns” turned into reality fairly quickly, as the graph above demonstrates, especially since Republicans, via George W. Bush’s signature in 2003 (part of the infamous “Bush tax cuts”), further lowered the capital gains rate for the wealthiest Americans from 20% to 15%.  Just what effect have these insanely low tax rates had on income inequality? As Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews says, a lot:

If you don’t look at capital gains, the top 0.01 percent only captures 3.15 percent of income in the United States. That’s about a third smaller a share as when capital gains are included. That suggests that capital gains income is exacerbating the income inequality problem.

Here’s my point: Hillary Clinton, running in 2016, can use the issue of income inequality as a nationwide campaign to not only win the White House, but, at least as important as far as I’m concerned, win control of the House and Senate for Democrats, which would be the only way she could effectively govern and do a damn thing about income inequality.

She should begin with Bill Clinton’s rather muted and understated warning in his signing statement in 1997 that the tax-cut law would “disproportionately benefit the wealthy over lower- and middle-income wage earners,” then move on to attack Republicans for the 2003 tax cut (she voted against it), and, finally, base her campaign on moving the trajectory of that sad, gray line that represents nearly the entire American electorate. The ridiculously low tax on capital gains, which overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy, is the perfect vehicle to make the case that America needs a come-to-Jesus moment over the growing disparity between the rich and poor in our country.

In other words, she should run for president not just because she has a very good chance of becoming our first female chief executive, an amazing achievement in itself, but because if she can do something to move that gray line of stagnation she will be the people’s champion in the vein of a Franklin Delano Roosevelt and go down in history as something more than being the first President of the United States without a Y chromosome.

And, even as conservative pundits and politicians are trying to pin blame on her for the the tragedy in Benghazi, she should start talking about these income inequality issues today.

Pardonable and Unpardonable Sin

“And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Republican Party, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.”

—GOP Jesus, in the Erstwhile Conservative’s translation of Matthew 12:32

Imagine that. Republicans in the Old Christian South forgave the lying, philandering, Jesus-loving trespasser, who, as governor of South Carolina, disappeared for four days, misused taxpayer money, and while serving in Congress the first time, voted to toss the lying, philandering, Jesus-loving Bill Clinton out of the White’s House.

Voters preferred Mark Sanford and his Argentine mistress, to, well, a Democratic woman who couldn’t exactly go all-in with the Democratic Party in a blood-red, Jesus-loving Republican district.

Sanford is now back in the Tea Party House of Representatives, where he truly belongs. We know he belongs there because, uh, God said so. The Washington Post reported on the victor’s victory speech this way:

Sanford also sounded a spiritual note in his address, thanking “god’s role in all of this,” and calling himself an “imperfect man” who was “saved by god’s grace.”

So, here’s the lesson in all this, my friends: If you’re a politician who wants to leave his four kids and Christian wife for his “soul mate” in Argentina, and who wants to subsequently keep his job in politics, make sure Jesus is your co-pilot.

Because Jesus, apparently, will forgive anything except being a Democrat.

Here’s What Obama, The Winner, Should Say In Private

Although you wouldn’t know it by listening to them, Republicans did lose the election.

At least I think they did.

Mitch McConnell, the lead saboteur who failed to sabotage Obama’s chances of reelection, fired off a statement to one of the most virulent right-wing websites in the country, Breitbart, and said this:

One issue I’ve never been conflicted about is taxes. I wasn’t sent to Washington to raise anybody’s taxes to pay for more wasteful spending and this election doesn’t change my principles. This election was a disappointment, without doubt, but let’s be clear about something: the House is still run by Republicans, and Republicans still maintain a robust minority in the Senate. I know some people out there think Tuesday’s results mean Republicans in Washington are now going to roll over and agree to Democrat demands that we hike tax rates before the end of the year. I’m here to tell them there is no truth to that notion whatsoever.

Everyone knows that McConnell’s Kentucky senate seat is up next time, and since the only thing that matters to him is political power, the first thing he has to do to keep the little power he has is to make sure teapartiers don’t challenge him in a Republican primary. Thus, he has to grovel before them like the low-life reprobate he is.

In any case, the President is supposed to deliver a “fiscal cliff” speech today to address the confluence of budget dilemmas that face the country at the end of this year.

I obviously don’t know what he will say publicly, but here is what he should say privately to Mitch McConnell:

I won. Despite your best efforts to screw me and the country over, I won. And Democrats won. There are now more of us in the Senate. Sorry about that. I know you were counting on being Majority Leader. Ain’t gonna happen. Live with it. In fact, you may have a tough time getting elected next time against that Democratic fox Ashley Judd.

In any case, here’s the deal: Your party does still control the House. I’ll give you that. But that doesn’t entitle you to get your way. You see, I campaigned on raising taxes on those who are prospering. I told folks that’s what I wanted to do. And I’m gonna do it. And you can threaten me with that fiscal cliff bullshit all you want. I ain’t having it. If you want to go there, if you want to risk all those Pentagon cuts, hell, if you want to shut down the whole damned government, all in service to your rich friends and to those Tea Party creeps, so be it.

But I’ll tell you this: I will visit every bleeping town in Kentucky, from Bowling Green to Butcher Holler, from Louisville to Lick Creek, and tell them what you are doing. I’ll tell them that you are willing to wreck the country just to give Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers tax breaks. I’ll tell them you would rather see taxes go up on middle class folks in Kentucky than give one inch in your quest to let rich Republicans keep a few more dollars.

And I’ll tell them just how slimy you are, just what you have tried to do. 

You won’t get your way this time. I’ve got nothing to lose politically. Can’t you see that? Those tax rates on the rich, the ones that existed when Bill Clinton was president and the country was prosperous, they are going to go back up, Senator. And if you want to stand in the way of that necessary first step in getting our fiscal house in order, then I’m going to run right over you.

See ya when negotiations start.

Bubba’s Revenge

He looked great. He sounded great. And with a smile on his face he stuck a dagger in the heart of that monster we know as Tea Party Republicanism.

Bill Clinton’s speech was extraordinary and had to be seen to be fully appreciated. As Steve Schmidt, who essentially ran John McCain’s 2008 campaign, said:

I wish to God, as a Republican, we had someone on our side who had the ability to do that. We don’t. It would be great if we did. Just an amazing performance.

Anyone who lived through the wounded Clinton presidency—some of those wounds self-inflicted—who watched Republicans try to destroy him through slander and impeachment, had to marvel at this early part of Wednesday night’s speech:

Now, there’s something I’ve noticed lately. You probably have too. And it’s this. Maybe just because I grew up in a different time, but though I often disagree with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats.

If there ever was a Democratic president who was hated with the same ridiculous hatred that characterizes Republican opposition to President Obama, it was Bill Clinton. I mean, Republicans seriously suggested that Clinton had someone murdered for God’s sake, and a fundamentalist creep and popular Republican preacher named Jerry Falwell heavily promoted a film alleging other murderous crimes.

Yet in that one remarkable sentence—”I actually never learned to hate them“— Clinton managed to put himself up above all their hate and by extension lifted Mr. Obama above it too.

Early in the speech, Clinton cited his history of cooperating with Republicans, like Reagan and both Bushes, to get things done, and then he pulled out his Clintonian dagger and began stabbing at the cause of our political ills:

Why does cooperation work better than constant conflict?

Because nobody’s right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day.

And every one of us — every one of us and every one of them—we’re compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes, knowing we’re never going to be right all the time and hoping we’re right more than twice a day.

Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn’t see it that way. They think government is always the enemy, they’re always right, and compromise is weakness. Just in the last couple of elections, they defeated two distinguished Republican senators because they dared to cooperate with Democrats on issues important to the future of the country, even national security.

They beat a Republican congressman with almost a hundred percent voting record on every conservative score, because he said he realized he did not have to hate the president to disagree with him. Boy, that was a nonstarter, and they threw him out.

And after that dagger hit its Tea Party target, he wiggled it around with this appeal to independent voters:

One of the main reasons we ought to re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to constructive cooperation.

Still committed.” After all the hate thrown his way, Mr. Obama is still willing to work with Republicans who are willing to work with him. Clinton said that President Obama “tried to work with congressional Republicans on health care, debt reduction, and new jobs,” but “that didn’t work out so well.” Why? The other side’s “number one priority was not to put America back to work; it was to put the president out of work.”

David Corn remarked that no one can “merge passion and policy” like the “master” Bill Clinton. In a mere 48 minutes he managed to tell Americans, in plain language and with great detail, why Barack Obama’s first term was remarkably productive, why folks should give him another one, and, knife in hand, why Republicans are offering nothing new:

In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s re-election was actually pretty simple — pretty snappy. It went something like this: We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough. So fire him and put us back in.

He continued:

…they want to the same old policies that got us in trouble in the first place. They want to cut taxes for high- income Americans, even more than President Bush did. They want to get rid of those pesky financial regulations designed to prevent another crash and prohibit future bailouts. They want to actually increase defense spending over a decade $2 trillion more than the Pentagon has requested without saying what they’ll spend it on. And they want to make enormous cuts in the rest of the budget, especially programs that help the middle class and poor children.

And later he twisted the knife even more:

We simply cannot afford to give the reins of government to someone who will double down on trickle down.

He attacked Republicans for their poor “arithmetic“; their past and future deficits; their additional “$5 trillion in tax cuts heavily weighted to upper-income people“; their lack of budget specificity; their lies about Medicare cuts and welfare to work waivers; their desire to repeal “ObamaCare”; their voter suppression efforts; and, most important because it is most neglected, he attacked them for their proposed Medicaid cuts:

Now, folks, this is serious, because it gets worse. (Laughter.) And you won’t be laughing when I finish telling you this. They also want to block-grant Medicaid, and cut it by a third over the coming 10 years.

Of course, that’s going to really hurt a lot of poor kids. But that’s not all. Lot of folks don’t know it, but nearly two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for Medicare seniors — (applause) — who are eligible for Medicaid.

(Cheers, applause.) It’s going to end Medicare as we know it. And a lot of that money is also spent to help people with disabilities, including — (cheers, applause) — a lot of middle-class families whose kids have Down’s syndrome or autism or other severe conditions. (Applause.) And honestly, let’s think about it, if that happens, I don’t know what those families are going to do.

How often have you heard the Romney-Ryan Medicaid cuts even discussed, let alone discussed in such personal terms?

Clinton raved about Obama’s “recovery program,” which “saved or created millions of jobs” and “cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people.” He noted the 29 months of job creation and the 4 1/2 million private sector jobs produced and couldn’t help twisting the dagger again:

We could have done better, but last year the Republicans blocked the president’s job plan, costing the economy more than a million new jobs.

He touted the “500,000 manufacturing jobs” created since the recovery began and praised the “auto industry restructuring” which “saved more than a million jobs.” And he added:

There are now 250,000 more people working in the auto industry than on the day the companies were restructured.

And another knife twist:

…we all know that Governor Romney opposed the plan to save GM and Chrysler. (Boos.) So here’s another job score. Are you listening in Michigan and Ohio and across the country? (Cheers.) Here, here’s another job score: Obama, 250,000; Romney, zero.

Clinton also praised Obama for something I haven’t often heard Obama take credit for himself:

Now, the agreement the administration made with the management, labor and environmental groups to double car mileage, that was a good deal too. It will cut your gas prices in half, your gas bill. No matter what the price is, if you double the mileage of your car, your bill will be half what it would have been. It will make us more energy independent. It will cut greenhouse gas emissions. And according to several analyses, over the next 20 years, it’ll bring us another half a million good new jobs into the American economy.

He extolled the President’s energy policies. He lauded his education policies—particularly the student loan overhaul, which “means no one will ever have to drop out of college again for fear they can’t repay their debt,” and,

it means that if someone wants to take a job with a modest income, a teacher, a police officer, if they want to be a small-town doctor in a little rural area, they won’t have to turn those jobs down because they don’t pay enough to repay they debt. Their debt obligation will be determined by their salary. This will change the future for young America.

Wow. Why haven’t we heard much about that before now?

Clinton took on Republicans on health care reform, defending ObamaCare robustly. He talked about the billion-dollar-plus in refunds to individuals and businesses because insurance companies didn’t spend enough on health care after taking our premiums. He talked about how the law is pressuring insurance companies to “lower their rates” to comply with the law’s health care spending requirement.

He talked about the “3 million young people between 19 and 25” getting insurance on their parents’ policies and the “millions of seniors” receiving preventive care and “millions of new customers” for insurance companies, many of those customers “middle-class people with pre-existing conditions who never could get insurance before.”

He also mentioned something I didn’t know:

Now, finally, listen to this. For the last two years — after going up at three times the rate of inflation for a decade, for the last two years health care costs have been under 4 percent in both years for the first time in 50 years.

Why haven’t I heard that?

With the audience fully and energetically his, Clinton ended with a plea to vote and re-elect President Obama, which began this way:

Look, I love our country so much. And I know we’re coming back. For more than 200 years, through every crisis, we’ve always come back. (Cheers.) People have predicted our demise ever since George Washington was criticized for being a mediocre surveyor with a bad set of wooden false teeth. (Laughter.) And so far, every single person that’s bet against America has lost money because we always come back. (Cheers, applause.) We come through every fire a little stronger and a little better.

And we do it because in the end we decide to champion the cause for which our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, their sacred honor — the cause of forming a more perfect union.

Ah. That is the Democratic Party’s raison d’etre, its reason for being. I have never heard a contemporary Republican emphasize “the cause of forming a more perfect union.” Rather than working on a better national union these days, they are trying like hell to disturb what unity we have.

Finally, I want to end with something Bill Clinton said early on in his speech that illustrates, I think, the morality and practicality of continuing to find ways to perfect our union:

It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics, because discrimination, poverty, and ignorance restrict growth, while investments in education, infrastructure and scientific and technological research increase it, creating more good jobs and new wealth for all of us.

It will be the realization of this Democratic vision, a vision of equality and empowerment, of combating discrimination, poverty, and ignorance, that will not only bring new wealth to all, but it will bring us closer together as a people, that elusive cause the Founders championed.

(Getty Images)

A Black Chunk Of Republican Economics

On Wednesday the Pew Research Center released a report titled, “The Lost Decade of the Middle Class: Fewer, Poorer, Gloomier.” I want to highlight just one part of the report:

For the half century following World War II, American families enjoyed rising prosperity in every decade—a streak that ended in the decade from 2000 to 2010, when inflation-adjusted family income fell for the middle income as well as for all other income groups, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. 

You don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to connect what happened in the last decade to the policies of the political party in charge when things went south. Here’s a better graph that shows the damage:

That last little black chunk of negative growth is the George W. Bush-Republican Party legacy, the result of a brand of economics that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are at this moment weirdly championing as the solution to our slow recovery from the ravages of that black chunk of negative growth. Go figure that one out.

Here, in case your eyesight isn’t what it used to be:

Say what you want about Bill Clinton (and I have said plenty of negative stuff myself), if you look back at the decade he dominated, a decade in which taxes were raised to pay for the government people wanted, a decade that saw the budget come into balance, and a decade that saw millions upon millions of new jobs created, you have to admit that the following commercial with its simple message is something folks ought to pay attention to:

America, The Owned

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

—Jesus 

t’s time to face some uncomfortable facts about America, as yet more banking malfeasance makes the news:

WASHINGTON — Shareholders of JPMorgan Chase filed two lawsuits Wednesday against the biggest U.S. bank, accusing it and its leaders of taking excessive risk and causing the recently disclosed $2 billion trading loss.

The provision in the Banking Act of 1933 (Glass-Steagall) that prohibited commercial banks from gambling investing gambling using depositors’ money (and vice versa) had been gradually weakened over time, apparently starting in the 1970s, through permissive interpretations of the law by federal banking regulators and the courts.

As the Congressional Research Service put it:

Facing lower profits and stiffer competition from securities firms, banks began seeking approval from regulators to engage in a greater universe of securities activities.

Facing lower profits,” you see, can justify nearly anything in an increasingly corporatized America. And if there is enough campaign money spread around (this, before Citizens United), well, things can get fixed and profits can rise again like Jesus on Easter!

Seeking to stick a fork into and finish off Glass-Steagall, in 1999 a Republican-controlled Congress (you know, the same one that impeached and tried Bill Clinton), with a shameful assist from, uh, Bill Clinton (and too many Democrats to contemplate), passed the Financial Services Modernization Act, which finally allowed commercial and investment banks and securities and insurance companies to stop slyly shacking up with each other and unite in unholy but legal matrimony.

Now, to be fair to Clinton and his conservative-minded pals, they argue that their legislative efforts to finally kill Glass-Steagall actually “softened” the Great Recession. Gulp.

Clinton actually stated:

I have really thought about this a lot. I don’t see that signing that bill had anything to do with the current crisis…On the Glass-Steagall thing, like I said, if you could demonstrate to me that it was a mistake, I’d be glad to look at the evidence. But I can’t blame [the Republicans]. This wasn’t something they forced me into. I really believed that given the level of oversight of banks and their ability to have more patient capital, if you made it possible for [commercial banks] to go into the investment banking business as Continental European investment banks could always do, that it might give us a more stable source of long-term investment.

It’s nice to know that Mr. Clinton hasn’t lost his unparalleled ability to rationalize.

Fortunately, around at the time of the repeal of Glass-Steagall was Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan. Unfortunately, not many listened to him.

Dorgan was one of only seven—seven!—Democrats in the Senate who voted against finishing off Glass-Steagall (Missouri’s two senators at the time, Messrs. Ashcroft and Bond were Ya-Ya sisters). He warned us in 1999:

I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930’s is true in 2010…We have now decided in the name of modernization to forget the lessons of the past, of safety and of soundness.

Fortunately, once again Dorgan the Prophet is here to present a way to fix things. Unfortunately, once again not enough people are listening to him. But you can for half a minute:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Get that? Restore Glass-Steagall, prohibit naked credit default swaps, and break up too-big-to-fail companies. By the way, here is the way the Financial Times described naked default swaps:

A naked CDS purchase means that you take out insurance on bonds without actually owning them. It is a purely speculative gamble. There is not one social or economic benefit. Even hardened speculators agree on this point. Especially because naked CDSs constitute a large part of all CDS transactions, the case for banning them is about as a strong as that for banning bank robberies.

Pretty simple, no? So why won’t any of it happen? Oh, that’s pretty simple, too. Senator Bernie Sanders blurted it out Wednesday night in a beatified bit of truth-telling:

Let me tell you what many others might not tell you. Some people think, well, gee, the Congress regulates Wall Street. I think the truth is that Wall Street regulates the Congress.

Yikes. He restated the truth a little bit later:

Let me just say again what many people will not be happy to hear. Wall Street is extraordinarily powerful. Congress doesn’t regulate them, the big banks regulate what Congress does.

Another Senator, Dick Durbin, said three years ago:

…hard to believe in a time when we’re facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created — are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place.

Well, at least we still get free checking! What? Oh my God.

________________________

Here is the entire 7-minute segment from The Ed Show, featuring Sanders:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Don’t Let ’em Forget

As I have argued since the beginning of this blog, the cut-taxes-and-grow nonsense told by conservatives armed with laissez-faire logic has no support in the laboratory that has been our national experience since the end of WWII.

The most recent evidence, of course, happened during the Bush II years, when marginal tax rates were irresponsibly cut and job growth turned out to be nonexistent, a sad fact we should all be acquainted with now, since unemployment remains stubbornly high. 

Beginning early in 2008 and up until Bush left office in January of 2009, the economy lost 4.5 million jobs.  In the months following the inauguration of Mr. Obama, jobs continued to hemorrhage—credit them also to the Great Bush Recession—and the total job loss climbed to around 9 million.  Here’s the famous graph again that chronicles the damage: 

Bush and Republicans cut the rates that had been raised as a result of the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act under Bill Clinton and the Democrats, possibly the last piece of responsible tax legislation that will ever pass in my lifetime.  Those “high” and “punishing” rates on “job creators“—which Republicans at the time predicted would stifle economic growth—managed to coexist with an economy that created somewhere around 22 million jobs.

That is just recent history.  The Center for American Progress (Rich People’s Taxes Have Little to Do with Job Creation“) put together a more comprehensive look at the relationship between the highest marginal tax rate and unemployment:

 

There are lots of factors that contribute to a thriving economy and certainly one of them is the tax system.  But given the history of the issue, conservatives should be called out every time they use their “we can’t raise taxes on the job creators” mantra. 

Enough is enough.

The Safety Net: A Sign Of Strength, Not Weakness

“Randy,” a frequent commenter on this blog, wrote the following in response to my post, “President Obama, Are you Listening?,” in which I claimed that the Democratic Party “is historically associated with protecting the blind, the elderly, and the poor“:

Well Duane, it all depends on how you define “protecting.” If you consider creating dependency “protecting” or “helping” – then yes, one party certainly has an historic record of enlarging the dependency roles. However if your idea of protecting or helping someone is to give them the tools they need (education) and an opportunity, and freedom… and provide them with a path to self sustainment and self pride – then that would lead you to a different party. I realize I am simplifying this that that both sides of this debate have pro’s and con’s. But once again, your analysis is one sided and disingenuous. Once again, you are part of the problem, and not part of the solution. Don’t be what you don’t like about the some of the Republican politicians (and if you were honest some of the Democrats too). Be the light. Be different. Be honest. You have a platform, you have a voice, use it wisely.

Since Randy has been a thoughtful commenter, and a good debater, I have chosen to use his comment—which contains a fairly common complaint—to make a larger point:

Randy,

My analysis is “one sided and disingenuous“?

There is no good argument—no good argument—against the claim that the modern Democratic Party has historically been vitally linked with the disabled, the poor and the elderly, in terms of providing them a safety net.  No good argument, Randy.  In that sense, I suppose my analysis is “one-sided.”  

And as for disingenuous, I’ll leave that for the readers to decide at the end.

You brought up “dependency.”  We can argue all day whether that social safety net has made folks dependent, which is the line I used to use when I was a conservative Republican.  But how do we measure such dependence?  Is it the amount of help received? The duration? A combination? Are the 30% of welfare recipients who work also dependent?  Are the people who have been forced on welfare due to the Great Recession dependents?

And why is dependence a dirty word?  Sometimes you and I both are dependent on others for help for lots of things. So what?  Is it a moral failing to need help?  To ask for it? To take it?

The welfare overhaul in the 1990s put an end to the dependence “hammock” (to use Rush Limbaugh’s phrase) that Republicans claimed the welfare system had become.  With time limits on benefits and “welfare to work” requirements, the cases of dependency in the long-term sense you apparently mean it have all but disappeared.  So, there is little in the way of evidence to support your suggestion that dependency is a problem.

And even if it were a problem, do you really think the relatively stingy benefits that some people on welfare get are the cause of such dependence? From The Wall Street Journal we learn that “a family of three earning more than $636 a month is ineligible” for welfare, in New Jersey of all places.  Imagine: If a family of three in New Jersey earns—earns!—about 160 bucks a week, they are ineligible for benefits.  How long could you or I live on that?

 And from that same article we find:

The average monthly welfare benefit in 2006, which reflects the most current data collected by the government, was $372.

Is that what is wrong with such people? They are selling their souls for $372 a month?

And even if—if!—that were the problem, what’s the alternative for such unmotivated folks?  Is it, as you say, education, opportunity, and freedom?  Huh?  Do you really think people who would rather get $372 a month for free than work for a lot more would avail themselves of the proper education that would “provide them with a path to self sustainment and self pride“?

It would be more likely that such people—to the extent they exist—would, if they had zero benefits, undertake  a life of crime, wouldn’t it?  Therefore, wouldn’t it be cheaper to give such undeserving folks a few food stamps each month than put them in prison for stealing bread—or cars?  Randy, it comes down to this: What kind of society do you want to live in?  One with a large prison in every community or one with a welfare office that might occasionally give help to folks who don’t need it or don’t deserve it?

And by dependency do you mean to include, say, some 70-year-old folks who no longer can do productive work and can’t get health insurance?  Are they part of the “dependency” problem?  Many are essentially dependent on Social Security and Medicare—two Democratic Party-inspired programs—to stay alive and well.  Is that what you mean by dependency?  If it is, I say thank God—and the Democratic Party—that there is something to be dependent on, something one can count on to avoid an ignominious and painful death.

You see, Randy, it really isn’t as simple as you suggest.  There are lots of dependent folks, dependent on each other, the government, their churches, and so on.  It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of cultural strength that there are places to go for help, whether short-term or long-term. 

And the only question is whether the American people, at least in the case of government, are willing to pay for such strength.

Republican Math, You Know

I know much has been made about Bill Clinton’s “I hope Democrats don’t use it as an excuse to do nothing” backstage comment to Paul Ryan, about the dazzling win by a pro-Medicare Democrat in blood-red NY-26.

But let’s look at Ryan’s comment to Clinton:

My guess is it’s gonna sink into paralysis, is what’s gonna happen. And you know the math. I mean, It’s just — we knew we were putting ourselves out there. But you gotta start this. You gotta get out there. You gotta get this thing moving.

Despite Ryan’s sounding like a wounded pup looking for some comfort from his master, I will give him and the Republicans credit for putting themselves “out there.” They are out there, that’s for sure. But I’m more interested in this part of Ryan’s comment:

You know the math.

Ah. The math. As columnist Gene Lyons has said, Republicans have been waging a war on arithmetic for years. Now, it turns out that Ryan knows “the math.” And he knows others “know the math.” Which doesn’t explain why, if the math is so crystal clear, why his budget plan—now the plan of the entire Republican Party—fails so miserably in its arithmetic.

Let’s forget for the moment the eventual and drastic reductions in Medicaid; let’s forget for a moment the destruction of the Medicare system, replacing it with something worth much less; let’s forget about the cuts in domestic programs like food stamps—which money goes directly in the coffers of local retailers like Wal-Mart and Target and other grocers—and instead, let’s just focus for a minute on the Republican vision for taxes—which any realistic budget mathematician has to consider—and see what we find.

We find tax cuts.

That’s right. The man and the party so concerned about “the math” propose to cut taxes even more, cutting the top individual rate from the current 35% down to 25%, which represents the lowest rate since 1931. You remember 1931, right? That was before Social Security. Before Medicare. Before Medicaid. Before Democrats stepped in to rescue America from that era’s Republican Tea Party dominance.

With a federal budget already starving from insufficient revenues, a budget that is as much a victim of Republican arithmetic as an aging population, we have Republicans in Congress—both chambers, now—proposing to cut taxes even more, suggesting, as they always do, that doing so will result in—voilà!—a thriving, prosperous, job-creating economy. You know, like the one George W. Bush left us!

Paul Ryan said to Bill Clinton, “You know the math.” Yes, we know the math, the Republican math.

And a lot of us know it doesn’t add up, not now, not ten years ago, or twenty years into the future.

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