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“A Study In Contrasts”: Take A Moment To Think About How It Is We Chose People To Be Our Political Heroes

I’m about to write something that will likely get me in hot water with a lot of my progressive friends. But in the end, if I make you pause to think, it will be worth it.

What I want to do is contrast the records of two fairly new Democratic Senators: Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker. Senator Warren has 10 months of seniority on Senator Booker – but they both began their terms in 2013. Other than that, their names are rarely mentioned together.

As we’ve seen, Senator Warren has become the hero of progressives, while Senator Booker became persona non grata when he criticized Democrats and the Obama campaign for going after Romney over his connections to Bain Capital just prior to the 2012 election.

It’s interesting to note what these two have achieved in their short history in the Senate. On Warren’s web site, you can see what bills she has sponsored. There is one of note having to do with student loan refinancing. The other three appear to be symbolic in nature. Looking a bit deeper, we can see who Warren has recruited to be cosponsors on the bill related to student loans. The list is long…all Democrats. On the other issue Senator Warren is known for – going after Wall Street – she sponsored the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act of 2013,” which was never voted out of committee and has not been re-inroduced.

Booker has made criminal justice reform his signature issue. On that front, he has cosponsored legislation called the REDEEM Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act. The former takes six steps to help those coming out of the criminal justice system be more successful in their attempts to re-intigrate back into society. The latter gives judges more leeway to deviate from mandatory minimum sentences.

Other than tackling different issues (all of which are important to progressives) the other big difference is that Booker is cosponsoring the REDEEM act with Republican Senator Rand Paul. The list of cosponsors on the Smarter Sentencing Act is nothing short of mind-blowing: Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Dick Durban (D-IL), Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

I know that many names in that group are odious to progressives. But the question is this: Who do you think is more likely to get their sponsored legislation passed in this Congress, Senator Warren or Senator Booker?

I point all this out because I’d like progressives to take a moment to think about how it is that we chose people to be our political heroes. Are they more likely to be those who master the bully pulpit to speak out strongly against our opponents? Or are they those who do the dirty job of building coalitions with people on the other side in the hopes of making life better for Americans? Does it need to be either/or?

When it comes to the political icon whose seat Elizabeth Warren now inhabits in the Senate, I think I know what he would say.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, April 26, 2015

April 28, 2015 Posted by | Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Progressives | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Can America Stand Rand?”: Cranking Up His ‘Libertarian’ Campaign

Platitudes typically litter the announcement speech of every aspiring president, and Rand Paul’s address in Louisville today was no exception. “We have come to take our country back,” he thundered—or tried to thunder—“from the special interests that use Washington at their personal piggy bank.”

Exactly what those special interests might be, he neglected to say — although they probably don’t include the oil or coal lobbies he tends to favor. He went on to rant against “both parties” and “the political system,” not to mention “big government,” deficit spending, and the federal debt. Naturally he prefers “small government” because “the love of liberty pulses in my veins.”

Yet Paul delivered these encrusted clichés with impressive energy, to an enthusiastic crowd featuring enough youthful and minority faces sprinkled among the Tea Party types to lend a touch of credibility to claims that he is a “different kind of Republican.” Speaking about urban poverty and education, the Kentucky Republican even name-checked Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a gesture that too many elected officials in his party, especially from the South, still find difficult. (His father Ron Paul, watching from the audience, may have stifled a chuckle, recalling how his racist newsletters regularly excoriated the late civil rights leader as a “pro-communist philanderer” and worse, while blasting Ronald Reagan for signing the bill that made King’s birthday a national holiday.)

Appealing to younger and minority voters, Paul wisely emphasized his ideas about cutting back the machinery of surveillance and incarceration. Likewise, he kept the required paeans to economic “freedom” sufficiently vague to avoid alienating potential supporters, like students who might not appreciate his hostility to federal loans and grants, and families whose survival depends on food stamps and unemployment benefits that he would slash.The upside of a Paul campaign may be that his dissenting perspective on issues such as Iran, Cuba, and the surveillance state brings a small degree of sanity to the Republican primary debate. Although he parroted much nonsense about the Obama administration’s foreign policy, he dared to say that the goal of diplomacy “should be and always is peace, not war.”

Equally beneficial would be a frank discussion of the libertarian delusions that underlie his economic platform – and the real effects that such policies would have on American communities, families, and workers.Paul still hates the auto bailout, although killing it would have cost another million jobs. While he rails against deficit spending and Obama’s economic stimulus, the clear consensus is that unemployment would have soared without those measures. No doubt he agreed with his father’s repeated warnings that government spending would lead to “hyperinflation” and depression, but we have seen precisely the opposite: a revived economy, recovering employment, and inflation that remains too low to worry any sane person.

Among Paul’s easiest targets today was the IRS, which he promises to diminish or even abolish with his favorite “new idea,” a flat tax. That was a fresh proposal, perhaps, back when right-wing academics Robert Hall and Alvin Rabushka unveiled it in a 1983 book titled Low Tax, Simple Tax, Flat Tax. There is no reason to believe that Rand Paul’s flat tax would differ significantly from theirs in design or impact; namely, to worsen inequality, raising the burden on the poor and middle class while benefiting the very rich.

Mocking the federal proclivity to spend more than the IRS collects, Paul chortled today, “Isn’t $3 trillion enough?” But while he promises to “balance” the budget, his 17 percent flat tax wouldn’t collect even that amount — which means enormous cuts in every budget sector, from education and infrastructure to defense.

Authors Hall and Rabushka described their flat tax as “a tremendous boon to the economic elite” and noted, candidly, “it is an obvious mathematical law that lower taxes on the successful will have to be made up by higher taxes on average people.” We shall see whether Paul is as honest as the authors of his tax plan.

 

By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, The National Memo, April 7, 2015

April 10, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Libertarians, Rand Paul | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Complicated Lies?”: The Amazingly Two-Faced Mitch McConnell

Alison Lundergan Grimes has been getting a lot of grief lately, not least from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which pulled the plug on her campaign yesterday. Her team quickly sent out a press release noting that she has $4.4 million in cash on hand, which the release said was “more than any Democrat in a competitive U.S. Senate race.” So she probably has enough to see her through to the end, but obviously, the DSCC move isn’t exactly a vote of confidence.

Even so, I’d like to pay her a compliment: I can’t conceive of how she managed to sit there next to Mitch McConnell at that debate Monday night and hear him say some of the things he said without her head exploding. That took admirable self-control.

I’m not sure which suffix to add to “shame” to better describe McConnell’s performance: Was it –less, or was it –ful? Remember Mitt Romney during the first debate of 2012, how he routinely said “my position is X” (invariably a more centrist posture) when for the preceding umpteen months his position had been the much more right-wing Not X? Well, McConnell made Romney look like an ironman of forthright constancy. So this is how, with a 30-year Senate record that you’d think you might be able to boast about, you win reelection: By completely misrepresenting who you’ve been for the last six years, and by saying “Obama” every 45 seconds.

Misrepresentations were numerous, but let’s just zero in on student loans. Grimes raised the issue and noted the rising costs of the loans, which Congress hasn’t addressed. McConnell responded that the Senate had taken care of the issue in a bipartisan fashion. But it didn’t. The Elizabeth Warren-sponsored bill failed in the Senate by four votes, getting only 56 yeas but needing 60 to end debate and make it to the floor. Two Republicans voted with the Democrats, but McConnell wasn’t one of them. And McConnell said publicly at the time that he was against Warren’s plan because it was “designed to fail” since it would raise taxes on rich people.

McConnell similarly talked out of both sides of his mouth on the minimum wage, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and other issues. And he, too, dodged a question, and it was one that’s rather more important than the one Grimes dodged about whether she had voted for President Obama. McConnell wouldn’t say whether climate change is real and whether humans contribute to it, so if he wins, Kentuckians will have the pleasure of knowing who their senator voted for in 2012 while he spends the next six years positioning himself to the right of Exxon-Mobil (which at least supports a carbon tax) and blocking any attempt to do anything about global warming.

McConnell’s real howler, of course, had to do with Obamacare. As you may know by now, he said yes, sure, keep Kynect, the state’s roaringly successful health-insurance exchange set up under the health-care law. After all, it’s “just a website.”

This was the moment when I was wondering how Grimes’s head could possibly stay in one piece. As McConnell well knows, Kynect is not just a website. It’s a state health-care program that citizens happen to be able to access through a website. Kentuckians go on to the Kynect website to see what types of insurance coverage are available to them under the Kynect program, which exists solely because of Obamacare. So if you repeal Obamacare “root and branch,” which is still McConnell’s position, you can leave the Kynect website up, but those coverage options people find via the site will no longer exist. Saying keep the website but kill the program is like saying that someone can keep that nice-looking home page that says “Google,” but it just won’t perform searches anymore.

It’s amazing, the audacity of it. If what Grimes did on the Obama-vote question is “disqualifying,” as Chuck Todd put it, then what is an incumbent senator telling a whopper like this? Given that half a million Kentuckians have signed up for insurance through Kynect, isn’t this just a little more important? What’s worse is that he knows he can get away with saying something like that because he is well aware that the explanation of why he’s lying is a little complicated for the average voter to take in. The media just aren’t set up to correct the record very well on things like this. I read a handful of write-ups of the debate from within Kentucky yesterday, and none among the few I read actually burrowed into an explanation of McConnell’s lie. It just gets summarized as a “testy exchange” or some such.

There was one event during this campaign season when McConnell did tell his audience the truth. But that didn’t happen in Kentucky in front of voters. It happened over the summer in California, at the St. Regis Monarch Bay Resort, where rooms run upwards of $500 a night, at a gathering put together by the Koch brothers. McConnell has been saying on the trail that if he wins and the GOP takes the Senate, he’ll open up the amendment process, implying that he’d permit votes on issues Democrats wanted to push—notably, of course, raising the minimum wage.

But behind closed doors at the Koch event, McConnell said the opposite, promising the 1 percenters that, should they win, his Republicans  are “not going to be debating all these gosh darn proposals. That’s all we do in the Senate is vote on things like raising the minimum wage [inaudible]—cost the country 500,000 new jobs; extending unemployment—that’s a great message for retirees; uh, the student-loan package the other day, that’s just going to make things worse, uh.”

That was—speaking of comparisons to Mitt Romney—McConnell’s 47 percent moment. The sentiment is not as clearly put, so it wasn’t as usable for the opposition. But that was the probable (let’s face it) future majority leader saying to his real base: Don’t worry, boys, I got you covered.

That is how he will operate if he becomes majority leader. An inspiring campaign, all right.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 15, 2014

October 19, 2014 Posted by | Mitch Mc Connell, Senate | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Subtle Forms Of Discrimination”: Without Economic And Educational Justice, There Is No Racial Justice

Student civil rights activists join hands and sing as they prepare to leave Ohio to register black voters in Mississippi. The 1964 voter registration campaign was known as Freedom Summer.

On a hot, dusty June day fifty years ago, during what became known as Freedom Summer, college students began to arrive in Mississippi—then the most closed society in America—to help register black residents to vote. Three civil rights workers were brutally murdered, a trauma that pierced the heart of our nation and thrust into the open the racist oppression of black political rights by Mississippi’s leaders.

Since that momentous summer, our country has made great strides to extend civil and political rights to all Americans regardless of race. Still, African Americans today face obstacles just as real as poll taxes and segregated restrooms; the difference is that these obstacles are now embedded in our institutions and social structures instead of being posted on public walls.

The reality is that, a half-century after Freedom Summer, African Americans continue to face severe barriers not just to voting but also to economic security. In fact, on the economic front, some indicators have even gotten worse and problems more entrenched in recent decades. The gap between black and white household incomes, for example, is actually wider today than it was in the mid-1960s. So if the primary Civil Rights struggle 50 years ago was for basic political rights, today it is for equal access to the ladder of economic mobility.

A key factor behind persistent racial inequality involves the failures of our education system. While African Americans may no longer be barred from attending school with white children, they still face disproportionate challenges in accessing the quality education that is a stepping stone to a decent life in America. One example is that black students today must survive a climate of punitive and discriminatory discipline that unfairly pushes them out of school and into the criminal justice system. Only last year, a sweeping federal settlement of charges of discriminatory discipline was finalized in the town of Meridian—the same town from which the three murdered civil rights workers left in 1964 on their final day of advocacy. Continued support is needed for such efforts to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline.

The job market is another area still rife with racial inequities. While high school graduation rates for African Americans have improved dramatically since 1964, nearly 35 percent of recent black male high school graduates nationwide have no job—a far higher jobless rate than any other group. However, this summer, 100 of these students in the Mississippi Delta and Biloxi are now working full time in a project to support the restoration of federal summer jobs programs. Although it was launched on short notice, this initiative was flooded with three times more applications than available positions. Providing summer jobs opportunities is a vital first step towards ensuring economic stability.

In higher education, the white-black gap in college graduation has worsened, setting the stage for similar racial disparities in the job market. One problem is that African Americans seeking to advance beyond a minimum wage job often are recruited through targeted advertising into fast-track for-profit career schools as an alternative to traditional college education. Many of these companies charge hefty tuition fees, even as they fail to deliver degrees that qualify people for their intended career. Over the past several months, the U. S. Department of Education has proposed regulations to curb the misconduct of these predatory schools and ensure that career degrees lead to employment. Reining in these predatory schools will require support for strong final regulations, which are to be issued this fall.

It’s not just education and jobs: Deregulation in the lending industry in the 1980s further narrowed opportunities for many working African American families. Even as families supported by a minimum wage earner sank below the poverty line, state legislatures enabled the emergence of the predatory payday lending industry by carving out exceptions to their usury laws to allow small dollar, high-interest loans. So, just as the paychecks of poor families no longer met basic survival needs, and as traditional banks withdrew service from low-income neighborhoods, the payday industry ramped up pressure to ensnare borrowers into a cycle of high-interest loans that become a revolving door of debt.

In Mississippi, after fast-cash lobbyists blocked reforms in the state legislature, the Mississippi Center for Justice launched a new model for providing loans to low-income borrowers: the New Roots Credit Partnership, an alliance between employers and banks to provide emergency loans on fair, non-predatory terms. A growing number of Mississippi employers are signing up for this program, which is a promising model for helping low-income families achieve economic security. We need to expand such efforts and ensure all Americans have access to fair banking services.

Fifty years after Freedom Summer, we recognize that America cannot know true racial justice until there is economic justice. We should attack those more subtle forms of discrimination with just as much energy and determination as did those who started a powerful movement in the long, hot summer of 1964.

 

By: Reilly Morse, The American Prospect, July 3, 2014

July 5, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Discrimination, Economic Inequality, Racism | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Lifetime Framework”: The Devastating, Lifelong Consequences Of Student Debt

America has gone through a rapid social experiment over the last 20 years. We have created a system, in large part through public disinvestment, where our young people take on large amounts of student debt in order to achieve a college degree. The sea change has been so quick it’s been difficult to gather even basic, solid numbers on it, making the consequences of such massive student debt subject to intense debate.

A new report from Beth Akers and Matthew M. Chingos of the Brookings Institution has further fueled that debate, arguing that the conventional story of escalating debt burdens due to student loans are overstated. Even though the number of young households with debt has increased from 14 percent to 36 percent between 1989 and 2010, the percentage of monthly income those people put toward their student debt payments is largely the same. Even though student loan debts are going up, they’ve been accompanied by rising incomes, largely balancing out the burden. The focus shouldn’t be on student loans broadly, and instead on more targeted solutions like focusing on those who drop out of college but still have debt.

But this study, like many arguments along these lines, suffers from a major problem: It focuses on a month-to-month comparison. When we look at the effects of a major economic changewhether it’s government debt, taxes, or replacing a system of publicly funded free colleges with a system of debt for a diplomawe can’t just look at what immediately happens. We need to also consider how people behave in the long run. And when we look at student loans from the point of view of a lifetime, the results are more worrisome.

How could this matter? An infamous study on student debt by Jesse Rothstein of the University of California, Berkeley, and Cecilia Elena Rouse of Princeton looked at the results of a highly selective university replacing loans with grants. It concluded “that debt causes graduates to choose substantially higher-salary jobs and reduces the probability that students choose low-paid ‘public interest’ jobs.”

Let’s imagine two scenarios. In the first you have high student loans, so you work for a corporation in the private sector for high wages. And in the second you have virtually no student loans, and you work for less wages in a job focused on the public interest, say as an educator or at a nonprofit. In both cases your student loan payment would be the same as a percentage of your income. The Brookings result would hold. However your lifetime choices will have radically changed as a result.

We see this with other lifetime measures, such as how entrepreneurial people are. A recent study by Brent W. Ambrose of Pennsylvania State University, and Larry Cordell and Shuwei Ma of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, found “a significant and economically meaningful negative correlation between changes in student loan debt and net business formation for the smallest group of small businesses.” This makes sense. You can keep your high student loan burdens low if you stay with an established employer. But if you strike out on your own, you’ll have less and more volatile income when you start. This is harder to manage with student loans, which also impacts your credit rating. Again, we can see the short-term student loan burdens staying the same, even though lifetime choices are much more limited as a result.

The lifetime framework also puts front and center something the Brookings study largely hand-waves: the rapid increase in how long people are paying off their student debt. Though the percentage of income that student-loan debtors pay stays the same, the length they are paying those loans is up 80 percent. What was once an average length of 7.4 years in repayment in 1992 is now 13.4 years. All things equal, a large increase in the length you will be paying student loans means you will dedicate a larger portion of your lifetime income to student loans. This burden goes missing by narrowly looking at a month-to-month basis.

This has major consequences for people’s ability to build wealth. Indeed, much of the current energy in analyzing student loan burdens are looking at this longer dynamic, and how it interplays with the ability for people to amass savings. As Richard Fry of Pew found, using the same data set as Brookings, “households headed by a young, college-educated adult without any student debt obligations have about seven times the typical net worth ($64,700) of households headed by a young, college-educated adult with student debt ($8,700).” Fry also finds that those who took out loans are less satisfied with their financial situation compared to people without loans. Similar results have been investigated and found by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

This, in turn, has major consequences for how young people will ultimately transition into adulthood. According to Dora Gicheva of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, student debt decreases the long-term probability of marriage by a significant amount. In a result that should make social conservatives gasp, Gicheva found that an additional $10,000 in loans decreases the probability of marriage by at least 7 percentage points. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that young student debtors are retreating from those traditional markers of adulthood, homeownership and owning a car. These effects reflect the long-term consequences of student debt on a young person’s economic security just as much, if not more, than their monthly bill.

This system of student debt has happened so fast that proper analysis is hard to do. But what’s most interesting is research showing how student debt threatens fundamentally American ways of life. Student debt chips away at the ability to be a risk-taking entrepreneur, a homesteader who has amassed enough wealth to be self-sufficient, or someone who has dedicated their craft to working in our rich civil society. These are three very real versions of the American Dream, and contrary to what studies like Brookings’s might show over the short term, they are all being weakened by the way we saddle young people with student debt burdens.

 

By: Mike Konczal, a Fellow with The Roosevelt Institute; The New Republic, June 24, 2014

June 30, 2014 Posted by | Higher Education, Student Debt | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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