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Showing posts from April, 2016

Playing the Woman Card on Foreign Policy

After the recent primaries, Donald Trump accused Hillary Clinton of playing the woman card. In response, she said "deal me in." The examples Clinton used in connection to that remark were all related to domestic policy. But as I've suggested in the past, we also need to aspire to a more feminist foreign policy.

When I talk with my Democratic friends about the 2016 presidential election, this is the concern about Clinton that always comes up: is she too much of a hawk on foreign policy? That question was confirmed recently by Mark Landler's article in the New York Times Magazine titled: How Hillary Clinton Became a Hawk. It only heightened the concern about Clinton's tendency to favor military intervention - especially as the Middle East continues to be such a global hot-spot.

What is interesting to note about Landler's article is that it is entirely constructed around what President Obama called the "Washington playbook." In other words, it assumes …

How Change Happens

Over the weekend I watched the HBO movie Confirmation about the Clarance Thomas/Anita Hill hearings. It was painful to live through that period - and almost as painful to re-live it via this film. But the one benefit of hindsight is that we know what happened as a result of the ordeal Ms. Hill endured.
Her appearance became a catalyst for change. The following year was designated the "Year of the Woman" after women across the political spectrum ran for public office in record numbers. This was seen as a direct response to the treatment Hill received from the Senate, which was then 98 percent male...

And the spike in sexual harassment claims showed Hill was not alone. Hill's testimony helped other women identify the unwanted sexual advances they'd experienced. In 1992, the EEOC saw a 71 percent increase in sexual harassment claims, continuing throughout the decade and peaking in 2000 with 15,836 claims. I doubt that Senator Patty Murray is the only one who responded t…

Southern States Do Not Distort the Primary

At the end of the last Democratic debate, Dana Bash asked Sanders whether he will take the contest to the convention in Philadelphia if neither candidate clinches the nomination via pledged delegates. Sanders responded by saying that he plans to win the nomination outright. But then he injected something that both he and his campaign staff have said frequently.
Look, let me acknowledge what is absolutely true. Secretary Clinton cleaned our clock in the Deep South. No question about it. We got murdered there. That is the most conservative part of this great country. That's the fact. For the last several weeks, this is a contention the Sanders campaign has made in various forms. Most recently, the candidate told Larry Wilmore that having the Southern states vote early in the primary "distorts reality." If we combine that statement with what he said last night, the argument becomes: having Southern states vote early in the primary distorts reality because it is the most con…

I'm Ready For This Primary to be Over

As I watched the Democratic presidential debate in New York, I wondered if anyone who was doing so was still in the process of making up their mind about who to support. Of course, we don't yet know how many people actually watched. But it's likely that most Americans didn't. Those of us who did are probably die-hard political junkies who made up our minds long ago.

The reason I was thinking about that is because this one was a lot more contentious than previous debates. While issues were discussed, no real new ground was broken about where they stand - but both candidates spent a lot of time pointing the finger at each other to identify flaws in their past and/or present positions. The object seemed to be to score a "hit" on your opponent. In other words, it shed more heat than light.

I suppose that is to be expected at this point in a campaign. But it sure seemed like the kind of debate that each candidate's supporters will score as a "win" for th…

Incentivizing Change in the Largest Financial Institutions

After writing this morning about the "living wills" required from large financial institutions via Dodd-Frank, I've read some additional information about the fact that the Federal Reserve and FDIC rejected five of them yesterday. I hope you'll stick with me and follow this trail of information. The topic is sure to come up in tonight's Democratic presidential debate and it's always good to be informed.

Senator Warren released a statement yesterday about the rejection of the living wills. Here is how she begins:
Today, after an extensive, multi-year review process, federal regulators concluded that five of the country's biggest banks are still - literally - Too Big to Fail. They officially determined that five US banks are large enough that any one of them could crash the economy again if they started to fail and were not bailed out. Based on what I've read so far, that last sentence is a bit of an overstatement of what the federal regulators did yest…

Dodd-Frank Continues to Work as Planned

Key portions of the Dodd-Frank bill were devoted to identifying and regulating "Systemically Important Financial Institutions" (SIFI's), which are sometimes referred to as "too big to fail banks" following the Great Recession. Throughout this post I will refer to them as financial institutions because the list of those identified includes insurance companies (i.e., AIG). The reforms contained in Dodd-Frank imposed three regulations on these companies once they have been identified.

1. Capital requirements - which require these financial institutions to fund themselves with a minimum amount of equity rather than debt. They are designed to ensure that they bail themselves out in the event of problems rather than rely on American taxpayers. Avoiding these requirements is the reason cited for why GE and MetLife recently downsized themselves.

2. Stress tests - every year these financial firms are tested for how they would perform in the event of a global recession. …

Obama Administration Forgives Student Debt for the Disabled

We've been hearing a lot about the rising problem of student debt. For Americans who couple that challenge with a disability, the Obama administration brought some good news yesterday.
Hundreds of thousands of student loan borrowers will now have an easier path to getting their loans discharged, the Obama administration announced Tuesday. The Department of Education will send letters to 387,000 people they’ve identified as being eligible for a total and permanent disability discharge, a designation that allows federal student loan borrowers who can’t work because of a disability to have their loans forgiven. The borrowers identified by the Department won’t have to go through the typical application process for receiving a disability discharge, which requires sending in documented proof of their disability. Instead, the borrower will simply have to sign and return the completed application enclosed in the letter. If every borrower identified by the Department decides to have his or…

Sanders and Clinton on Climate Change

Recently two liberal activists have publicly stated their positions in the Democratic presidential primary: Bill McKibben endorsed Sanders and Tom Hayden endorsed Clinton. With the campaigns moving into territory like New York, Pennsylvania and eventually California, it is interesting to compare what these two men said about the candidate's positions on climate change (especially fracking).

McKibben mostly critiques Clinton for her "evolution" on issues.
Ties to the past define Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She’s run on her experience, and she’s relied on senior voters for her margins of victory. Her call is for slow and evolutionary change, for a “realism” that rejects the supposedly romantic and idealistic hopes of her competitor. At least on climate change, slow and evolutionary change is another way of giving up. Because the world is changing so damned fast. Here's why he supports Sanders.
...mostly it’s because there’s never been any need for his positions on thes…

Young Arabs Are Rejecting ISIS

Joby Warrick brings some interesting news today in the Washington Post.
Two years after proclaiming a new “caliphate” for Muslims in the Middle East, the Islamic State is seeing a steep slide in support among the young Arab men and women it most wants to attract, a new poll shows. Overwhelming majorities of Arab teens and young adults now strongly oppose the terrorist group, the survey suggests, with nearly 80 percent ruling out any possibility of supporting the Islamic State, even if it were to renounce its brutal tactics. A year ago, about 60 percent expressed that view, according to the 16-country survey released Tuesday. “Tacit support for the militant group is declining,” concludes a summary report by the poll’s sponsor, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm that has tracked young Arabs’ views in annual surveys for the past eight years. Other recent surveys have found similarly high disapproval rates for the Islamic State among general populations in Muslim-majority c…

Cost Control Measures in Obamacare

Prior to Obamacare, there were two big problems in our health care delivery system: access and affordability. Most of what people know about what has changed since the reforms were passed in 2010 have to do with access. Other than expansion of Medicaid and subsidies, there hasn't been much discussion about what Obamacare put in place to tackle the affordability problem.

For example, I find that very few people are aware of the provision related to medical loss ratios (what Rick Ungar once called "the bomb buried in Obamacare"). They limit the amount of premium dollars that insurance companies can collect to pay for administration and profit to 15% (20% for those who market to individuals and small groups*). If insurance companies collect more than that limit in any given year - they are required to provide refunds to their customers.

Of course, that is a reform to the way health insurance is provided. I remember that when Obamacare originally passed, Ezra Klein pointed o…

Is Uncertainty a Liberal Value?

When the Obamas moved in to the White House, they made some changes to the artwork that decorated their new home. The painting above by Ed Ruscha titled "I Think I'll..." was one they chose. At the time, a friend of mine told me that he thought it said something important about our new president. James Kloppenberg, who wrote the book Reading Obama, would probably agree.
It has become a cliche to characterize Obama as a pragmatist, by which most commentators mean only that he has a talent for compromise - or an unprincipled politician’s weakness for the path of least resistance. But there is a decisive difference between such vulgar pragmatism, which is merely an instinctive hankering for what is possible in the short term, and philosophical pragmatism, which challenges the claims of absolutists…and instead embraces uncertainty, provisionality, and the continuous testing of hypotheses through experimentation. Elsewhere he wrote:
After almost two years as president, Obama…

President Obama Lets His Nerd Flag Fly

One of the lesser-discussed controversies about President Obama is whether or not he qualifies as a jock or a nerd. We all know that he loves sports (both as a spectator and participant) and is quite competitive. But I remember that early on in his presidency, the nerds of the world were pretty excited about finally having one of their own in the White House. That was true for a resident blogger at Political Animal.
For the record, President Obama has collected Spider-Man comics; he knows the name of Superman’s father; he’s a fan of Star Trek; and can, rather effortlessly, offer a Vulcan salute. Ezra Klein (noted nerd) was impressed as well.
Obama is by far the most culturally awesome president this country has witnessed. That doesn't mean his presidency won't be a catastrophic failure. But, if anything, the press has been much too restrained in their commentary on Obama's virtues. Forget beers: This is a president I could play Halo 3 with. But perhaps the greatest disqui…

Grover Norquist's Plan to Stop Hillary...Seriously

Over the last few years there has been a lot of discussion about the Rising American Electorate (unmarried women, millennials and people of color) that Barack Obama tapped into in order to win two presidential elections. Back in November, Stan Greenberg cautioned that these voters weren't being engaged in the 2016 election. But in a more recent poll, he found that things had changed.
The disengagement pall has been lifted. Our focus groups with white unmarried women, millennials and African Americans showed a new consciousness about the stakes in November. In this poll, the percentage of Democrats giving the highest level of engagement has increased 10 points. The result is that the country might be heading for an earthquake election in November.

Rather than embrace the recommendations of the RNC autopsy report following the 2012 presidential election, the response of Republicans has typically been to drill down on the idea that there are millions of white voters they can tap into…

Preserving National Monuments is Good for the Economy

As I have noted previously, President Obama has used the Antiquities Act of 1906 to preserve over 260 million acres of land and water as national monuments - more than any previous president. The stunning vista in the photograph above comes from the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument, which was designated in March 2013. I have had the good fortune to visit this area on several occasions, and it is truly a remarkable place.
The monument includes an assortment of geographical attractions. The most prominent is the Rio Grande Gorge. The gorge is the result of a continental rift where two plates are separating at an extremely slow pace. This part of the Rio Grande has numerous hot springs and some class 5 rapids at the “Taos Box”. The gorge is home to bighorn sheep, river otters, beaver, ringtail, porcupine, bear, cougar, and many other species. The petroglyphs created by early Native Americans can be found on the rocks adjacent to the river. In addition to the Rio Grande Gorge, the …

Obama Administration is Taking Steps to Shrink the Financial Sector

Due to the capital requirements in the Dodd-Frank bill, we've seen some of the bigger financial institutions start to downsize - specifically GE and MetLife. There is some expectation that others will follow. Here is how Fed Chair Janet Yellen described that:
“We’re beginning to see discussions that these capital charges are sufficiently large it’s causing those firms to think seriously about whether or not they should spin off some of their enterprises to reduce their systemic footprint,” Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen told the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. “And frankly, that’s exactly what we want to see happen.” But as Matt Yglesias points out - the Obama administration seems to be working another angle on this. It doesn't have as much to do with shrinking individual financial institutions so much as it does with reducing the overall size of the entire sector. To get a look at the big picture, he points to two new rules recently released by the adm…

Launching a Radical Transformation of the Country

Here is an interesting take on what it would mean to start a political revolution in this country:
If a president wanted to launch a radical transformation of the country, he would start it in the Civil Rights Division. For some background, the Civil Rights Division is part of the Department of Justice that was formed by the Civil Rights Act of 1957 to enforce federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion, and national origin. You might remember that it was when President Bill Clinton nominated Lani Guinier to head this division that the Republicans threw a bit of a hissy fit over her prior writings about voting rights. That eventually led to the nomination and confirmation of Deval Patrick - who went on to be the Governor of Massachusetts.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, this is how Joseph Rich, former chief of the voting rights section, described what happened.
Over the last six years, this Justice Department has ignored the adv…

What Clinton/Sanders Did/Didn't Say About Their Opponent's Qualifications

The big discussion in the Democratic presidential primary today is about Bernie Sanders' remarks last night that Hillary Clinton is not qualified to be president. As this thing gets spun by the candidates, pundits, campaign staffers and surrogates, it has the potential to lose touch with what has/hasn't actually been said. So let's ground ourselves in the facts.

It all started with Clinton's appearance on Morning Joe yesterday. Here is the entire segment. Her response to the Sanders interview with NYDN goes from about 1:20 to 3:40.


Notice that at least three times, Scarborough directly asked Clinton whether or not Sanders is "qualified" to be president. But she consistently refused to answer the question on those grounds. That interview led to articles like this one in the Washington Post: Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Wednesday questioned whether her rival in the Democratic presid…

Cruz Gets Schooled on New York Values

You might remember that back in January during the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina, Ted Cruz attacked Donald Trump for his "New York values." Now, after his big victory in Wisconsin, Cruz has to compete with The Donald in that state where polls show him losing by over 30 percentage points.

Cruz is already back-tracking. Yesterday he told a crowd in the Bronx that when he disparaged New York values, he was talking about the ones held by "liberal Democrats" - not "American values" - because obviously, those are two very different things. According to Cruz, he is the arbiter of what qualifies as "American," and that certainly doesn't include liberals.

But leave it to a group of high-schoolers to give Ted Cruz a lesson in what New York values are all about.
Ted Cruz came to New York Wednesday talking about education, but he’s the one who got schooled... Cruz was scheduled to speak at Bronx Lighthouse College Preparatory Academy …

What Hillary Learned

I'm going to start off by suggesting that - if you haven't already - go read Martin's article where he puts Bill Clinton's election and presidency into perspective. That is important because it lays the groundwork for where Hillary Clinton was coming from when she lost the 2008 Democratic primary to Barack Obama. A lot of the mistakes she made in that campaign were actually replicas of things that had worked (and sometimes hadn't worked) for Bill Clinton. And they are the reason that some people went into this primary concerned about her prospects. But over the course of the last year or so, Hillary has demonstrated that she learned some things.

For 2016, what a lot of people wanted to see was a Clinton campaign staff that wasn't led by the likes of Mark Penn. This time around, it is not simply that she is being better served by people like John Podesta, Robby Mook, Maya Harris and Joel Benenson, she has put together a staff that is both diverse and creative.

Trade and Global Poverty

Recently I suggested that Democrats need to have a more thoughtful discussion about trade agreements. Teeing off of another excerpt from the Sanders' interview with the Daily News, Zack Beauchamp has written a must-read article about their impact on the very poorest people on earth.

He begins by pointing to the bar Sanders set for what would constitute fair trade:
I do believe in trade. But it has to be based on principles that are fair. So if you are in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is 65¢ an hour, or you're in Malaysia, where many of the workers are indentured servants because their passports are taken away when they come into this country and are working in slave-like conditions, no, I'm not going to have American workers "competing" against you under those conditions. So you have to have standards. And what fair trade means to say that it is fair. It is roughly equivalent to the wages and environmental standards in the United States. Beauchamp goes on to d…

The Washington Playbook: If You're Not Responding Militarily, You're Not Responding

Richard Cohen has finally gotten around to writing about President Obama's interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that was the impetus for so much discussion almost a month ago. In doing so, he demonstrates exactly what the President referred to as the "Washington playbook." As a reminder, here is what Obama said to Goldberg about that.
“Where am I controversial? When it comes to the use of military power,” he said. “That is the source of the controversy. There’s a playbook in Washington that presidents are supposed to follow. It’s a playbook that comes out of the foreign-policy establishment. And the playbook prescribes responses to different events, and these responses tend to be militarized responses. Where America is directly threatened, the playbook works. But the playbook can also be a trap that can lead to bad decisions. In the midst of an international challenge like Syria, you get judged harshly if you don’t follow the playbook, even if there are good reasons why it do…

Sanders Talks to the Daily News About Wall Street

Bernie Sanders has done an excellent job in this presidential primary of summarizing what he thinks is wrong with our economy and politics and offering a few big proposals to correct those problems. A big part of his focus has been on the power of Wall Street and their practices that led to the Great Recession nine years ago.

There has been a lot of discussion about his proposal to reinstate the depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, which put a firewall between commercial and investment banking. But his plans to break up the big banks and criminally prosecute them for the activities that led to the Great Recession haven't received as much scrutiny.

In a recent interview with the Daily News, the editorial board asked for more detail on those proposals. Here is the discussion about breaking up the big banks:

Daily News: Now, switching to the financial sector, to Wall Street. Speaking broadly, you said that within the first 100 days of your administration you'd be drawing up...your T…

Liberals Critiqued FDR's Reforms Too

For Bernie Sanders and many of his supporters, the reforms implemented by President Obama and Democrats over the last 7 1/2 years are weak tea. The whole Sanders candidacy is based on the need for structural reforms to address the economic issues we face rather than the pragmatic and incremental changes that have been adopted recently. Sanders goes on to say that the reason we haven't seen these structural reforms is because politicians - both Democrats and Republicans - are beholden to Wall Street and the 1%ers.

This weekend Marcus Johnson tweeted a link to an article that was written back in 2010 by a Daily Kos user named puakev that provided some fascinating historical context for that argument. Many liberals harken back to the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the most progressive era we have experienced in this country. The point of the article by puakev is to show that a lot of liberals during that time expressed the same sentiment we're hearing today from the S…