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“Utterly Uncouth And Unqualified”: Donald Trump Is A Middle Finger To The Entire Political System

Is the key to Donald Trump’s success just old-fashioned racism? He surely stokes race hatred among his followers and even more-or-less openly panders to anti-Semitism. Yet he also seems to feed on economic desperation. He has won running against trade, his support tracks inversely with educational attainment, and he’s posted his biggest margins in some of the most desperate counties in America; surely economic anxiety has something to do with his rise.

This has led to various attempts to untangle race from economic factors in predicting Trump’s support. An effort from The Washington Post found some of both, with racial resentment something like twice as important in predicting Trump support. Yet one should not end the analysis there: Trump also represents bitter hatred of the political system, driven by the shredding of the American social contract over the last 40 years.

The thing about Trump is that not only is he the most openly bigoted presidential candidate since 1968 (or perhaps even 1948), he’s also utterly uncouth and unqualified. Unlike William F. Buckley, his racism is not genteel or hidden behind polite words, and unlike George Wallace or Strom Thurmond, he has precisely zero political experience. Even against his Republican primary opponents, he was a boorish jerk, insulting their wives and boasting about the size of his penis.

In other words, Trump doesn’t just express bigoted views, he also has utter contempt for the traditional norms of political decorum, and in previous times would have been considered a completely laughable choice for president. But his followers revel in it.

The rise of Trump is worth examining in the context of this brilliant article by Matthew Stoller, detailing the change in the American social contract from the postwar generation to today. In brief, for 30 years after World War II, there was a strong political-economic consensus around a high rate of unionization, shared productivity growth, strict financial regulation, and low unemployment — all centered around homeownership as the bedrock of middle-class status and wealth.

Starting in the mid-’70s, this social contract was slowly ripped apart. First unions were deliberately crushed in the Volcker recession, and low unemployment was gradually discarded as a political goal. This severed the link between productivity growth and wage growth. Meanwhile, Wall Street was slowly unchained, resulting in repeated financial bubbles, each one larger than the last (and each with concomitant sprees of fraud).

Yet growing consumer spending was still needed for economic growth. Thus American women went to work, and American families levered up. They took out credit cards, and drew down their savings. “Finally, they liquidated their financial assets, including their home equity,” Stoller writes. A new, much less egalitarian social contract emerged, where wages were replaced with credit.

But this contained the seeds of its own destruction. Eventually Americans had reached the absolute limit of how much debt they could take on, while simultaneously Wall Street blew up the biggest bubble yet, and this time around the key asset for ordinary families. When home prices collapsed, middle-class America got it right on the chin, and tens of millions were ruined outright.

As David Dayen’s new book details, the Obama administration rescued Wall Street from its self-induced problems but basically ignored foreclosures, figuring that eventually the system would unclog and normal operation of the mortgage and homebuilding sectors would return. They didn’t, because the administration fundamentally misunderstood what was happening. Home equity collapsed for years, and while it has since recovered to some extent, drastically fewer are represented: The homeownership rate has steadily fallen to levels not seen since the mid-’60s.

The Reagan-era social contract has collapsed, and nothing is on the horizon to replace it — indeed, it’s hard to imagine a “social contract” whereby a largely parasitic financial and executive class makes off with virtually all income gains, a rapidly vanishing middle class is increasingly locked out of wealth creation, and the political class is all but owned outright by Wall Street. Such a society would be more about coercing consent from the restless masses through surveillance, mass incarceration, and highly militarized police than it would be about obtaining it by social spending and quality services.

A white backlash to the first black president is a very important part of Trump’s rise. But the fact that he represents a raised middle finger to the entire American political system is, I submit, about equal in importance.

Now, it’s worth noting that the old postwar days were by no means perfect. Homeownership is a highly problematic bedrock for middle-class wealth, particularly in the dispersed, suburban style typical of America. Worse, a great many demographics were left out of the good times — minorities and women especially.

Yet it is unquestionably true that those days had much more enthusiastic buy-in from the broad mass of the population than today. Trust in the federal government has fallen from 77 percent in 1964 to about 20 percent today. The approval ratings of the Supreme Court and especially Congress have also plummeted.

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, minority activism to get a piece of what the white middle and working class had was a sensible goal. Now it seems inadequate, as more and more white folks are careening down to meet their black brethren at the bottom of the social ladder.

What is needed is a new social contract that restores some fairness and decency to American society. Without it, the politics of rage and contempt will only grow.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, May 24, 2016

May 26, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Middle Class, Racism | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“This Is No Small Development”: Supreme Court Split Saves Public-Sector Unions

Republicans have made no secret of the fact that they fear the Supreme Court moving to the left, even a little, in the wake of Antonin Scalia’s death. But we were reminded this morning that in the late justice’s absence, the high court’s capacity for conservative change has already been curtailed.

CNBC reported on the release of a decision that wasn’t expected until June.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday split 4-4 on a conservative legal challenge to a vital source of funds for organized labor, affirming a lower-court ruling that allowed California to force non-union workers to pay fees to public-employee unions.

The court, shorthanded after the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia and evenly divided with four liberal and four conservative members, left intact a 1977 legal precedent that allowed such fees, which add up to millions of dollars a year for unions.

The case is called Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, and the Supreme Court’s “decision,” such as it is, has been posted online here. It’s extraordinarily brief, however: it reads in its entirety, “Per Curium. The judgment is affirmed by an equally divided Court.”

This is no small development. At issue in this case was a seemingly obscure issue – public-sector unions’ “agency fees” – but while this may seem like a tangential dispute, the outcome had the potential to disrupt many labor unions nationwide.

Revisiting our previous coverageThe New Republic’s Elizabeth Bruenig summarized the issue this way:

Agency fees work like this: Public sector unions are required to cover all employees in a given bargaining unit, whether the employees opt into union membership or not. Public sector employees (which include EMTs, firefighters, public school teachers, social workers, and more) thus pay agency fees to their respective unions even if they are not union members, because public sector unions work on behalf of everyone in their bargaining unit, not just union members.

Agency fees do not fund unions’ political activities, but rather strictly the costs of union grievance-handling, organizing, and collective bargaining. In the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Supreme Court upheld the right of public sector unions to extract agency fees from public sector workers, and found that agency fees do not violate employees’ freedom of speech, so long as they do not fund unions’ political activities.

The trouble, according to many on the right, is that literally everything unions do – even collective bargaining itself – is inherently political, even if it’s unrelated to campaign activities. As a result, the Friedrichs case offered the justices an opportunity to overturn the Abood precedent.

And if Scalia had lived, that’s almost certainly what the justices would have done in a 5-4 decision. Instead, the court was evenly split.

Make no mistake: this case represented a major threat to the existence of unions that rely on agency fees. Had the court sided with the right, public-sector unions would still bargain on behalf of public-sector workers – union members and non-members alike – but workers’ dues would have been voluntary.

This case will go back to the Supreme Court again in the not-too-distant future, but for now, a 4-4 split saved public-sector unions, leaving them to fight another day.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 29, 2016

March 30, 2016 Posted by | Public Sector Unions, Republicans, SCOTUS | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trade, Labor, And Politics”: Whatever They May Say, Politicians Who Espouse Rigid Free-Market Ideology Are Not On Your Side

There are a lot of things about the 2016 election that nobody saw coming, and one of them is that international trade policy is likely to be a major issue in the presidential campaign. What’s more, the positions of the parties will be the reverse of what you might have expected: Republicans, who claim to stand for free markets, are likely to nominate a crude protectionist, leaving Democrats, with their skepticism about untrammeled markets, as the de facto defenders of relatively open trade.

But this isn’t as peculiar a development as it seems. Rhetorical claims aside, Republicans have long tended in practice to be more protectionist than Democrats. And there’s a reason for that difference. It’s true that globalization puts downward pressure on the wages of many workers — but progressives can offer a variety of responses to that pressure, whereas on the right, protectionism is all they’ve got.

When I say that Republicans have been more protectionist than Democrats, I’m not talking about the distant past, about the high-tariff policies of the Gilded Age; I’m talking about modern Republican presidents, like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. Reagan, after all, imposed an import quota on automobiles that ended up costing consumers billions of dollars. And Mr. Bush imposed tariffs on steel that were in clear violation of international agreements, only to back down after the European Union threatened to impose retaliatory sanctions.

Actually, the latter episode should be an object lesson for anyone talking tough about trade. The Bush administration suffered from a bad case of superpower delusion, a belief that America could dictate events throughout the world. The falseness of that belief was most spectacularly demonstrated by the debacle in Iraq. But the reckoning came even sooner on trade, an area where other players, Europe in particular, have just as much power as we do.

Nor is the threat of retaliation the only factor that should deter any hard protectionist turn. There’s also the collateral damage such a turn would inflict on poor countries. It’s probably bad politics to talk right now about what a trade war would do to, say, Bangladesh. But any responsible future president would have to think hard about such matters.

Then again, we might be talking about President Trump.

But back to the broader issue of how to help workers pressured by the global economy.

Serious economic analysis has never supported the Panglossian view of trade as win-win for everyone that is popular in elite circles: growing trade can indeed hurt many people, and for the past few decades globalization has probably been, on net, a depressing force for the majority of U.S. workers.

But protectionism isn’t the only way to fight that downward pressure. In fact, many of the bad things we associate with globalization in America were political choices, not necessary consequences — and they didn’t happen in other advanced countries, even though those countries faced the same global forces we did.

Consider, for example, the case of Denmark, which Bernie Sanders famously held up as a role model. As a member of the European Union, Denmark is subject to the same global trade agreements as we are — and while it doesn’t have a free-trade agreement with Mexico, there are plenty of low-wage workers in eastern and southern Europe. Yet Denmark has much lower inequality than we do. Why?

Part of the answer is that workers in Denmark, two-thirds of whom are unionized, still have a lot of bargaining power. If U.S. corporations were able to use the threat of imports to smash unions, it was only because our political environment supported union-busting. Even Canada, right next door, has seen nothing like the union collapse that took place here.

And the rest of the answer is that Denmark (and, to a lesser extent, Canada) has a much stronger social safety net than we do. In America, we’re constantly told that global competition means that we can’t even afford even the safety net we have; strange to say, other rich countries don’t seem to have that problem.

What all this means, as I said, is that the Democratic nominee won’t have to engage in saber-rattling over trade. She (yes, it’s still overwhelmingly likely to be Hillary Clinton) will, rightly, express skepticism about future trade deals, but she will be able to address the problems of working families without engaging in irresponsible trash talk about the world trade system. The Republican nominee won’t.

And there’s a lesson here that goes beyond this election. If you’re generally a supporter of open world markets — which you should be, mainly because market access is so important to poor countries — you need to know that whatever they may say, politicians who espouse rigid free-market ideology are not on your side.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist,  The New York Times, March 28, 2016

March 28, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, International Trade Agreements, Protectionism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Electability Conundrum”: Scalia’s Death Only Reinforces The Need For Democrats To Choose Their Nominee Wisely

The death of Antonin Scalia has brought home two truths about the presidential race to voters in both parties. First, there may be no more important issue in the campaign than the Supreme Court (which some of us have been saying for some time). And second, if that’s true, then there may be no more important criterion in picking your party’s nominee than who has the best chance of winning in November.

Unfortunately, electability is a difficult thing to predict, no matter how much you know about politics. During the 2008 primaries, for instance, many intelligent Democrats believed there was no way that the voting public would ever elect an African American with a name like “Barack Hussein Obama.” Four years before, many Democrats thought that John Kerry was the most electable Democrat because Republicans couldn’t possibly attack the patriotism of a war hero, especially with a couple of draft-dodgers like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney at the top of their ticket. Neither of those assessments turned out to be correct.

Nevertheless, it’s an impossible question for partisans to ignore, given the stakes of the election. And just how high are they? Someone (usually someone running for president) will always say “This is the most important election of my lifetime,” and it’s easy to dismiss. After all, no matter what happens, the republic will survive. If you’re a Democrat, you can console yourself with the fact that it survived Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, as much damage as they might have done; if you’re a Republican you can say the same about Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Nevertheless, there are some reasons why this election could be particularly consequential, particularly for Democrats. The first is the Supreme Court, and Scalia’s passing is only part of that story. When the next president is sworn in, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be 83, Anthony Kennedy will be 80, and Stephen Breyer will be 80. What if Republicans succeed in keeping President Obama from seating a replacement, then a Republican is elected, and some or all of those three fall ill or retire? You could have a Court made up of seven relatively young conservative justices and only two liberals, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The days of liberals losing cases by a 5-4 margin would be but a happy memory, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the end of affirmative action, and the crushing of labor union rights would be only the beginning of a judicial scorched-earth campaign that would not only lay waste to rights liberals hold dear, but would keep doing so for decades to come.

And then there’s the matter of what a Republican president would be able to accomplish through legislation. If the GOP nominee wins in November, it will almost certainly also mean that Republicans have held on to the House and the Senate. That president might or not not be a radical conservative, though Donald Trump looks like the only contender with a chance who couldn’t be described that way. But Congress certainly will be radical. The Republican Party has been moving sharply to the right in recent years, and with unified control for the first time in a decade, it’s safe to say they will pretty much go nuts. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, slashing upper-income taxes, gutting the safety net, rolling back environmental regulations, passing federal restrictions on abortion—if it’s in any Republican’s fantasies, it’ll be able to pass through both houses and get signed by the president. And don’t think Democrats having the filibuster will stop that train; given the respect Republicans have shown for norms and traditions, do you think they’ll let that stand in their way?

So if you think electability ought to be part of your calculation, what do you need to consider? The Democratic primary makes it a little easier because there are only two candidates, but it’s still complicated. Here are the variables to consider:

  1. The reward to be gained from a Bernie Sanders presidency
  2. The reward to be gained from a Hillary Clinton presidency
  3. The chances of Sanders winning in November if he’s the nominee
  4. The chances of Clinton winning if she’s the nominee
  5. The consequences of a Republican victory in November

That’s not to mention how each Democrat would match up against any given Republican, which introduces another dimension of complexity. But here’s the basic calculation you have to make: Figure out whether, for your preferences, (1) is larger than (2) or vice-versa, and by how much; then figure out whether (3) or (4) is larger, and by how much; then weigh both of those figures against (5).

For instance, you might decide that Bernie Sanders’s presidency would be superior to Hillary Clinton’s, but Clinton has a higher chance of winning in November, and since a Republican presidency would be so dreadful, you’ll support Clinton even though you like Sanders better. Or you might decide that a Sanders presidency would be so good that even if Clinton might have a slightly better chance in November, it’s worth some measure of risk in nominating Sanders because the reward of him winning is so high.

The truth, of course, is that because we aren’t rational people we constantly construct post-hoc justifications for the choices we make. In this case, that means we’ll convince ourselves that whichever candidate we prefer is also the more electable one. While it might seem logical that Clinton has a higher chance of winning a general election than Sanders, I’ve yet to encounter a Sanders supporter who actually thinks so. They say that Clinton has her own electability problems (undoubtedly true), and that Sanders will bring in so many new voters that it will overcome the effect of the attacks Republicans will launch on him for his leftist views. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, find this argument laughable; they’ll tell you that Republicans will positively disembowel Sanders, and by the time they’re done with him he’ll seem like he’s too much of an extremist to get elected to the Burlington City Council.

I’ve also found that Sanders supporters are more likely to minimize the negative consequences of a Republican presidency. That might be because they don’t see as much of a difference between Clinton and the Republicans, but it’s also because they’re focused on the first variable, the potential rewards of a Sanders presidency. Clinton supporters, on the other hand, have no sweeping expectations from their candidate; for them, staving off disaster is more than enough reason to support her.

Even if your heart goes aflutter at Sanders’s mention of things like single-payer health care and free public college tuition, you’d have to grant that achieving those goals is anything but guaranteed even if he wins the White House. And most of what he would do doesn’t differ from what Clinton would do. That’s particularly true of the Supreme Court: Any Democratic president who had a chance to name a new justice would be choosing from the same pool of liberal jurists now serving in federal appeals courts or perhaps a few state supreme courts.

But even if you find the substantive differences between Clinton and Sanders to be enormous, it’s hard to see them as actually being bigger than the difference between them on one hand and the tsunami of change that will occur if a Republican is elected on the other. Which leaves Democratic voters with no choice but think hard about which candidate is more electable—even if there are no perfect answers to the question.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, February 15, 2016

February 16, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Democratic Presidential Primaries, Electability, Hillary Clinton, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Standard Of Absolute Purity”: His Respected Friend; But What Does Bernie Really Think Of Hillary?

What does Bernie Sanders really think of Hillary Clinton?

When they meet in debate, the Senator from Vermont usually refers to the former Secretary of State as his “friend” – not in the polite Congressional-speech sense of someone that he actually despises, but in what is presumably his authentic, Brooklyn-born candor. He speaks frequently of his “great respect” for Clinton. And he has said more than once that “on her worst day” she would be a far better president than any of the potential Republican candidates “on their best day.”

Even more often, however, Sanders suggests that Clinton has sold out to the financial industry for campaign contributions, or for donations to her SuperPAC, or perhaps for those big speaking fees she has pocketed since leaving the State Department. Certainly he has fostered that impression among his supporters, who excoriate Clinton in the most uninhibited and sometimes obscene terms on social media.

But if Sanders believes that Hillary Clinton is “bought by Wall Street” — as his legions so shrilly insist — then how can he say, “in all sincerity,” that she is his respected friend?

To date, his criticism of Clinton on this point is inferential, not specific. He hasn’t identified any particular vote or action that proves her alleged subservience to the financial titans she once represented as the junior senator from New York. As Sanders knows, Clinton’s actual record on such issues as the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ran opposite to the banksters.

Back in 2007, eight years before she could ever imagine facing the socialist senator in debate, she spoke up against the special “carried interest” tax breaks enjoyed by hedge-fund managers. Her proposals to regulate banks more strictly have won praise not only from New York Times columnist and Nobel economist Paul Krugman, but from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), the populist Pasionaria, as well.

Still, to Sanders the mere act of accepting money from the financial industry, or any corporate interest, is a marker of compromise or worse. Why do the banks spend millions on lobbying, he thunders, unless they get something in return? The answer is that they want access – and often donate even to politicians who don’t fulfill all their wishes. They invariably donate to anyone they believe will win.

Meanwhile, Sanders doesn’t apply his stringent integrity test to contributions from unions, a category of donation he accepts despite labor’s pursuit of special-interest legislation– and despite the troubling fact that the leadership of the labor movement filed an amicus brief on behalf of Citizens United, which expanded their freedom to offer big donations to politicians. (That case was rooted, not incidentally, in yet another effort by right-wing billionaires to destroy Hillary Clinton.)

By his own standard, Sanders shouldn’t take union money because the AFL-CIO opposed campaign finance reform, which he vociferously supports. Or maybe we shouldn’t believe that he truly supports campaign finance reform, because he has accepted so much money from unions.

Such assumptions would be wholly ridiculous, of course – just as ridiculous as assuming that Clinton’s acceptance of money from banking or labor interests, both of which have made substantial donations to her campaign, proves her advocacy of reform is insincere.

Political history is more complex than campaign melodrama. If critics arraign Clinton for the decision by her husband’s administration to kill regulation of derivatives trading, it is worth recalling that she was responsible for the appointment of the only official who opposed that fateful mistake. She had nothing to do with deregulation — but as First Lady, she strongly advocated on behalf of Brooksley Born, a close friend of hers named by her husband to chair the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. One of the few heroes of the financial crisis, Born presciently warned about the dangers of unregulated derivatives.

So it is fine to criticize Clinton’s big speaking fees from banks and other special interests, which create a troubling appearance that she should have anticipated. It is fine to complain that politicians are too dependent on big-money donors. And it is fine to push her hard on the issues that define the Sanders campaign, which has done a great service by highlighting the political and economic domination of the billionaire elite.

But it is wrong to accuse Clinton of “pay for play” when the available evidence doesn’t support that accusation. And if Sanders wants to hold her to a standard of absolute purity, he should apply that same measure to himself.


By: Joe Conason, Editor in Chief, Editor’s Blog, The National Memo, February 13, 2016

February 15, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Financial Industry, Hillary Clinton, Wall Street | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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