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“A President Can’t Go Ordering Folks Around”: Clinton Is Running For President. Sanders Is Doing Something Else

It is amazing how little the Democratic race has really changed over the last several months. Hillary Clinton is the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) is leading a revolt from the left. Sanders speaks to white ideological liberals and young Democrats. Clinton speaks to practically everyone else in the party — and, as “Saturday Night Live” pointed out, provides a refuge for moderates terrified of the other options this election year. Nothing in Sunday night’s debate changed any of this, which nets out to a loss for Sanders.

Down in the polls in advance of Tuesday’s major contest in Michigan, Sanders needs the race to take a dramatic turn before Clinton wins another populous state. Yet rather than attempting to advance onto new ground in Sunday’s debate, Sanders simply entrenched himself on his same narrow patch of ideological turf. Either he knows he probably will not win the nomination and he figures he should just keep making his point while everyone is still watching, or he believes that his problem is that not enough people have heard him say the same things over and over again.

In fact, much of the debate revolved around the same basic argument between practicality and ideology that emerged the first time the two faced off on the debate stage, when Clinton declared, “I’m a progressive, but I’m a progressive who likes to get things done.”

Early in the debate, Clinton criticized Sanders for voting against the 2009 auto industry bailout. Sanders said that the auto bailout was folded into a larger bill that also bailed out the financial industry. He argued that “the billionaires” should have bailed out themselves, by which he means that Congress should have accepted his politically ludicrous plan to raise taxes in the middle of a recession. Clinton responded that Sanders chose purity over the public good. “You have to make hard choices when you’re in a position of responsibility,” she said. “If everybody had voted the way he did, I believe the auto industry would have collapsed.” Not only the auto industry. If Congress refused to respond practically to a moment of profound national crisis, it would have made the economic panic much, much worse and ruined many more ordinary people.

Later in Sunday’s debate, Clinton proposed doubling the amount of money the country invests in transportation infrastructure — which, despite bipartisan support for fixing up the nation’s roads and rails, would be a big legislative lift. “I’m trying to do this in a way that will gain support and be affordable,” she said. Moderator Don Lemon then asked Sanders to explain why his plan, which is twice as large as Clinton’s, is not “yet another example of a costly plan that will never get through Congress,” given that President Obama struggled to get a much smaller infrastructure proposal through. Sanders merely restated the case for much more spending and said he would target corporate tax dodgers to pay for it, ignoring the question of whether either proposal would be politically plausible.

Finally, the two candidates talked about fracking, an issue on which there is an obvious, sensible middle ground that Sanders predictably scorned. Clinton listed off a series of requirements she would impose on domestic fracking operations, such as limiting methane emissions and insisting on standards that would prevent water contamination. This is not so different from the Obama administration’s wholly reasonable position, which is to allow the industry to employ people and sell product while minimizing the environmental risks. Sanders simply said that he wants to ban fracking, and he dismissed the Democratic governors who want to see well-regulated fracking proceed in their states.

At least the detour onto fracking forced the candidates to speak about an issue that has not gotten much attention this campaign, even if the candidates’ positions simply reconfirmed their general approaches to policy. Mostly, Sanders steered the conversation back to his core concerns — Wall Street, campaign finance, a massive public jobs program and single-payer health care — and made his usual pitch. Clinton, meanwhile, ran for president. “A president can’t go ordering folks around,” she said at one point. “Our system doesn’t permit that.” It’s nice to know at least one candidate on either side is keeping that in mind.


By: Stephen Stromberg, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, March 7, 2016

March 8, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Primary Debates, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Gift For America’s Future”: To Get America Moving, Tax Financial Transactions

The financial transaction tax is not an idea whose time has just now come; it simply has returned. From 1914 to 1966, our country taxed all sales and transfers of stock. The tax was doubled in the last year of Herbert Hoover’s presidency to help us recover from the Great Depression. Today, 40 countries have FTTs, including the seven with the fastest-growing stock exchanges in the world. Eleven members of the European Union (including Germany and France) voted for a financial transaction tax to curtail poverty, restore services and put people back to work.

This is no soak-the-rich-idea. Rather than asking the Wall Street crowd to join us in paying a 6 to 12 percent sales tax, the major FTT proposal gaining support in the U.S. calls for a 0.5 percent assessment on stock transactions. That’s 50 cents on a $100 stock buy versus the $8.25 I would pay for a $100 bicycle.

Even at this minuscule rate, the huge volume of high-speed trades (nearly 400 billion a year) means an FTT would net about $300 billion to $350 billion a year for our public treasury. Plus, it’s a very progressive tax. Half of our country’s stock is owned by the 1 percenters, and only a small number of them are in the high-frequency trade game. Ordinary folks who have small stakes in the markets, including those in mutual and pension funds, are called “buy and hold” investors: They only do trades every few months or years, not daily or hourly or even by the second, and they’ll not be harmed. Rather it’s the computerized churners of frothy speculation who will pony up the bulk of revenue from such a transaction tax.

An FTT is a straightforward, uncomplicated way for us to get a substantial chunk of our money back from high-finance thieves, and we should make a concerted effort to put the idea on the front burner in 2016 and turn up the heat. Not only do its benefits merit the fight; the fight itself would be politically popular. One clue to its political potential is that the mere mention of FTT to a Wall Street banker will evoke a shriek so shrill that the Mars rover hears it. That’s because they know that this proposal would make them defend the indefensible: themselves.

First, the sheer scope of Wall Street’s self-serving casino business model would be exposed for all to see. Second, they would have to admit that they’re increasingly dependent on (and, therefore, making our economy dependent on) the stark-raving insanity of robotic, high-frequency speculation. Third, it’ll be completely ridiculous for them to argue that protecting the multi-trillion-dollar bets of rich market gamblers from this tax is more important than meeting our people’s growing backlog of real needs.

Unsurprisingly, then, Koch-funded operatives and other defenders of privilege are rushing out articles that amount to Wall Street gibberish: “FTT would hurt poor pensioners, farmers, long-term investors, job creation, liquidity … and blah, blah, blah.” There’s nary a mention of who will really be pinged: Wall Street’s gamblers and thieves. After all, to concede that they’ll be hurt, even a little, would elicit a coast-to-coast shout of, “Yes!”

A major push is being made under the banner of the “Robin Hood Tax.” This campaign offers a remarkable democratic opening. It widens America’s public policy debate from the plutocrats’ tired, narrow-minded mantra of defeat: “We’re broke. Big undertakings are beyond us. Shrink all expectations for yourselves, your children and your country’s future.” Instead, a new conversation can begin: “Look under that rock. There’s the money we need to invest in people. Let’s get America moving again!”

A sales tax on speculators can deliver tangibles that people need but Wall Street says we can’t afford — infrastructure, Social Security, education, good jobs, health care for all, etc. Just as important, it can deliver intangibles that our nation needs but Wall Street tries to ignore — fairness, social cohesion, equal opportunity, etc. It’s a gift for America’s future that literally would keep on giving. For more information and to join the fight, go to


By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, March 2, 2016

March 4, 2016 Posted by | Financial Transaction Tax, Plutocrats, Wall Street | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Trump Beats Cruz”: Define Cruz As Just Another Politician Controlled By Special Interests

Sen Ted Cruz is poised for launch. He has the money, the ground game, and Iowa in his pocket. Conservatives love him, and trust him; the party establishment will fall in line if the choice is between him and Donald Trump. Both Cruz and Trump are each (a bit self-servingly, of course) predicting that’s the choice Republican voters will have to make down the stretch. If it plays out that way, the pressure will be on Trump to halt Cruz’s momentum out of Iowa before the contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina, and the rest of the Southern swing in early March.

Is there any message Trump could use to stop Cruz? There’s a pretty strong one, in fact. It’s one that undercuts Cruz’s central appeal as an “outsider” while reinforcing Trump’s central appeal as a right-wing populist. It portrays Cruz as another double-dealing politician and Trump as the guy who “tells it like it is,” so to speak, and it pits Cruz as a representative of the elite, coastal Republican class against which Trump’s campaign has sparked a working-class rebellion.

Trump can define Cruz as a Wall Street lackey, bought and paid-for by special interests, who will turn his back on the priorities of their overlapping base as soon as he’s in the Oval Office.

Cruz’s money doesn’t come from nowhere. According to a Yahoo Finance analysis in mid-November, 18.6 percent of the money backing Cruz—as in, campaign and super PAC contributions—comes from the financial industry. That was the fourth highest percentage of all presidential candidates, behind Gov. Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Sen. Lindsey Graham; in terms of hard dollars ($12.1 million), it was second only to Bush ($35.3 million.) Bush makes no bones about representing the will of the GOP donor class. Cruz does.

Cruz has raised some $38.6 million dollars in outside money, mostly through a set of four super PACs to which New York hedge fund manager Robert Mercer serves as ringleader. Major law firms, investments banks, and energy groups dominate his industry breakdown of his largesse. It is also worth acknowledging that Cruz’s wife, Heidi, is on leave from her job as a Goldman Sachs executive during her husband’s presidential campaign.

How has Cruz hoovered up all of this money, despite frequently bashing “billionaire Republican donors” who “look down on [Republican] voters as a bunch of ignorant hicks and rubes”? It may just be that Cruz has a different tone when addressing donors than he does with the God-fearing Heartland patriots of rhetorical lore. That would make him like most other representatives of the “political class,” but being separate and apart from those vipers is critical to Cruz’s image.

Consider the issue of gay marriage. Big Republican donors in New York love gay marriage. Cruz himself has pointed this out, most vividly in a Senate floor speech he delivered in September:

I can tell you when you sit down and talk with a New York billionaire Republican donor—and I have talked with quite a few New York billionaire Republican donors, California Republican donors, their questions start out as follows. First of all, you’ve got to come out for gay marriage, you need to be pro-choice, and you need to support amnesty. That’s where the Republican donors are. You wonder why Republicans won’t fight on any of these issues? Because the people writing the checks agree with the Democrats.

Thanks to some audio that Politico scooped up, we now have direct evidence of what Cruz says to “New York billionaire Republican donors”—or at least donors well-heeled enough pay four or five figures to attend a luncheon—regarding same-sex marriage. One question posed to Cruz at a December fundraiser, hosted by the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, went as follows: “So would you say it’s like a top-three priority for you—fighting gay marriage?”

“No,” Cruz said. “I would say defending the Constitution is a top priority. And that cuts across the whole spectrum—whether it’s defending [the] First Amendment, defending religious liberty.

“I also think the 10th Amendment of the Constitution cuts across a whole lot of issues and can bring people together,” he continued. “People of New York may well resolve the marriage question differently than the people of Florida or Texas or Ohio. … That’s why we have 50 states—to allow a diversity of views.” The donor who asked the question, apparently content to learn that stripping same-sex couples of their newfound constitutional right might be a top-five or top-10 concern but certainly not a top-three concern, told Cruz, “Thanks. Good luck.”

This is not a flip-flop. Cruz’s position on same-sex marriage throughout the campaign has been a constitutional amendment “to prevent the federal government or the courts from attacking or striking down state marriage laws,” an amendment he introduced in Congress last year. In other words: He would leave it to state legislatures, as he explained in his answer at the fundraiser.

But good God, the shift in tone! Cruz made a show of offering the most vociferous response to the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing same-sex marriage this summer. In a piece for National Review, Cruz wrote that the decision “undermines not just the definition of marriage, but the very foundations of our representative form of government.” On Sean Hannity’s radio show, Cruz declared that the same-sex marriage decision, along with the previous day’s Affordable Care Act decision, marked “some of the darkest 24 hours in our nation’s history.” He reiterated his call for a constitutional amendment, and went further by calling for judicial retention elections as a check on the “lawlessness of the court.”

That was cleverly designed to appeal to evangelical voters of Iowa who both disapprove of same-sex marriage and, a few years ago, led a successful campaign to vote out the state Supreme Court justices who had legalized same-sex marriage there. Cruz now has Iowa evangelicals wrapped around his finger. Even though he didn’t confess to a changed position in the fundraiser tape, do you think those voters will appreciate hearing about how Cruz told wealthy New York socially liberal donors that reversing the right to same-sex marriage isn’t one of his top priorities? Cruz has worked doggedly to win the trust of evangelicals, so this alone won’t do him in. But Mike Huckabee, at least, considers these fighting words, and don’t be surprised to hear Rick Santorum or another lagging Iowa candidate jump into the fray next.

There’s also the case of Cruz’s shifting positions on legal immigration. For a while, Cruz was an ardent supporter of markedly increasing the number of H-1B visas for skilled workers, a policy which wealthy donors applaud. That, however, was before Trump dragged the debate into overtly nativist territory. Cruz’s immigration plan now calls for a six-month suspension of the H-1B program and to “halt any increases in legal immigration so long as American unemployment remains unacceptably high.”

Is this what his team is saying behind closed doors, though? In a meeting with Hispanic Republican leaders last week, Cruz campaign chairman Chad Sweet “repeatedly told the group Cruz wants to be the champion of legal immigration,” according to Republican immigration advocate Alfonso Aguilar, who was in the room. According to Aguilar, Sweet “said there’s no better friend than Ted Cruz to legal immigration.” This is the line that Cruz frequently used to describe his legal immigration platform, before he changed his position. Is he still using it in private, when the audience is right?

One of Trump’s most appealing traits to voters is that he cannot be bought, doesn’t need to raise money, and doesn’t need to curry favor in private with select interest groups. If he needed to court big-dollar donors, you wouldn’t hear him railing on so unreservedly against immigration or free trade or cuts to federal entitlement programs. As David Frum writes in a lengthy Atlantic piece this month, Trump has blown wide open the long-simmering feud between GOP elites, who typically control the party’s presidential nominating process, and GOP working-class voters, who have always fallen in line.

In Cruz, Trump has a foil who fits neatly into his narrative of the enemy career politician subservient to powerful interests. Cruz has done a good job keeping a lid on the lucrative big-dollar fundraising connections that might complicate his narrative as the consummate “outsider.” Expect Trump, a human bullhorn, to change that.


By: Jim Newell, Slate, December 23, 2015

December 28, 2015 Posted by | Donald Trump, Evangelicals, Special Interest Groups | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Meandering Word Salad”: Ben Carson’s Unawareness Keeps Catching Up With Him

About half-way through last night’s debate for the Republican presidential candidates, Ben Carson was asked about President Obama’s decision to deploy a limited number of U.S. troops to Syria, while keeping 10,000 Americans in Afghanistan. For a split second, I thought to myself, “Wait, that’s not a fair question. Carson couldn’t possibly be expected to have a coherent opinion on the subject.”

But the second quickly faded and I remembered that Carson is a presidential candidate. He’s supposed to be able to speak intelligently about this and a wide range of other issues.

And in this case, Carson seemed lost, leading to a lengthy, meandering response that can charitably be described as word salad.

“Well, putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there, because they – that’s why they’re called special ops, they’re actually able to guide some of the other things that we’re doing there.

 “And what we have to recognize is that Putin is trying to really spread his influence throughout the Middle East. This is going to be his base. And we have to oppose him there in an effective way.

 “We also must recognize that it’s a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there.

 “What we’ve been doing so far is very ineffective, but we can’t give up ground right there. But we have to look at this on a much more global scale. We’re talking about global jihadists. And their desire is to destroy us and to destroy our way of life. So we have to be saying, how do we make them look like losers? Because that’s the way that they’re able to gather a lot of influence.”

Carson went on (and on) from there, blissfully unaware of the fact that the Chinese have not, in fact, deployed troops to Syria, and making terrorists “look like losers” isn’t quite as straightforward as he’d like to believe.

At the end of his bizarre answer, the audience clapped, though it wasn’t clear to me if attendees were just being polite to a confused candidate who seemed wholly out of his depth.

What’s more, it wasn’t just foreign policy.

Asked about the need for possibly breaking up of the big banks, Carson offered a 346-word answer that emphasized his belief that regulations have added 10 cents to the cost of a bar of soap, which “hurts the poor,” and which is something “Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton won’t tell you.”

Um, OK?

As alarming as it was to see a leading presidential candidate seem genuinely lost on practically every subject, I keep returning to the thesis we kicked around last month: the question of whether or not Carson is debate-proof.

The retired right-wing neurosurgeon didn’t make much sense last night, but his first three debate performances were about as compelling, which is to say, he was frighteningly confused, but no more so than usual.

And yet, in the wake of those previous events, Carson’s popularity among Republican voters and standing in GOP polls steadily improved.

Isn’t it at least possible that no matter how awful Carson’s debates answers are, they have no real bearing on his candidacy? And if so, what does that tell us about the state of the Republican electorate?


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 11, 2015

November 12, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, GOP Primary Debates, GOP Voters | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Right Question To Ask About Government”: What Steps Does Government Take To Empower Citizens And Expand Their Rights?

Many conservatives and most libertarians argue that every new law or regulation means that government is adding to the sum total of oppression and reducing the freedom of individuals.

This way of looking at things greatly simplifies the political debate. Domestic issues are boiled down to the question of whether someone is “pro-government” or “anti-government.”

Alas for the over-simplifiers, it’s an approach that misreads the nature of the choices that regulators, politicians and citizens regularly face. It ignores that the market system itself could not exist without the rules that government establishes, beginning with statutes protecting private property and also the various measures against the use of force and fraud in business and individual transactions.

More important, it overlooks the ways in which the steps government takes often empower citizens and expand their rights. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of work.

The run-up to Labor Day this year brought a spate of news articles and commentaries on the actions of the National Labor Relations Board and other government agencies to strengthen the rights of workers and enhance their bargaining power relative to employers.

Last week, Noam Scheiber offered an important account in the New York Times of how the Obama administration has been “pursuing an aggressive campaign to restore protections for workers that have been eroded by business activism, conservative governance and the evolution of the economy in recent decades.”

Among the milestones Scheiber cited was a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision upholding an Obama-era rule providing minimum-wage and overtime protections to nearly 2 million home health-care workers. They certainly felt empowered by government, not oppressed. So did the employees of contractors and franchises who were granted collective bargaining rights by the National Labor Relations Board.

Fast-food chains provide the obvious example of how loopholes related to new work arrangements and franchise agreements can let employers out of their traditional obligations. In the case of purveyors of hamburgers and chicken tenders, the parent companies set all sorts of detailed requirements for how these businesses should operate — and then turn around and claim that when it comes to workers’ rights, their franchises are utterly independent.

One of the most fascinating struggles, still ongoing, is over new regulations that the Labor Department is trying to establish to ensure that those who give investment advice to people with 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts base their judgments on the best interests of their clients. Along with defined-contribution retirement plans, they involve some $13 trillion in investments.

The Labor Department proposal would require investment advisers to abide by a “fiduciary” standard — meaning that the best-interest-of-the-client yardstick should be their sole criterion in offering counsel to clients. If this seems obvious, that’s not what the current law requires. As Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in an interview, the standard now is only that an investment be suitable. “What the hell is ‘suitable’?” Perez asked, noting that he would hope for more than just “suitable” advice from his doctor.

The issue is whether some investment advisers might offer conflicted guidance influenced by “backdoor payments and hidden fees often buried in fine print,” as the Labor Department put it in a document explaining why change is needed.

“I don’t believe that folks who provide advice wake up with malice in their hearts,” Perez said. But he added that it is only natural that advisers might lean toward investments from which they can also benefit. “Surprise, surprise, if you have four or five products that are suitable and one gives you a commission, guess where you will go?” The new rules, which are being heavily contested by parts of the financial industry, are an attempt to realign the incentives, Perez argued.

The investment-rule battle is a near-perfect example of how the government is plainly promoting free markets — what’s more market-oriented than building an investment portfolio? — but is also trying to make sure that the rules regulating the investments tilt toward the interests of the individual putting money at risk.

As long as there are markets, government will have to establish rules determining how they operate. These necessarily affect the interests of market participants. Many of the choices are not between more or less government. They are about whether what government does provides greater benefit to workers or employers, management or unions, individual investors or investment firms.

“Which side are you on?” This question from the old union song is the right question to ask about government.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 6, 2015

September 7, 2015 Posted by | Government, Labor Day, Workers Rights | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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