All posts by Craig.Crawford

Taibbi: It’s Not All About Warren

Matt Taibbi (Rolling Stone) is making sense:

“Making the budget fight a news story not about bailouts, but about the ambitions of Elizabeth Warren, is part of the game. And the Beltway hacks have succeeded there. Media on all sides have described last week’s episode as Warren’s political coming-out party. …

oligarchy-400x248All the Dodd-Frank rule says is that if you’re a federally-insured depository institution – if you’re an FDIC-guaranteed bank, where real people have real bank accounts that are guaranteed by the federal government – you can’t also be gambling with swaps and other dangerous derivative instruments. …

There’s no logical argument against the provision. The banks only want it because they want to use your bank accounts as a human shield to protect their dangerous gambling activities….

[Democrats] are not a real party. They’re a marketing phenomenon, a big chunk of oligarchical Blob cleverly sold to voters as the more reasonable and less nakedly corrupt wing of a two-headed political establishment.” (Rolling Stone)

Webb: Dems Are “Lost”

The Washington Post: “Former senator and potential presidential candidate Jim Webb told an audience in Richmond on Tuesday that the Democratic Party has lost white working-class voters by becoming ‘a party of interest groups.'”

“The Democratic Party has lost the message that made it such a great party for so many years, and that message was — take care of working people, take care of the people who have no voice in the corridors of power, no matter their race, ethnicity or any other reason,” Webb (D) said. “The Democratic Party has basically turned into a party of interest groups.”

Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Webb said today that he will decide ‘over the next few months’ whether he has the political and financial backing to mount a campaign for the Democratic nomination.”

Washington Post’s Ed Rogers: “The Insiders: Hillary Clinton has to be careful with Jim Webb — When commentators cite the Democratic problems with white voters, many in the Democratic Party want to label them as racists. Democrats won’t even acknowledge their problem.”

Wall Street Journal: “Party Has Failed to Focus on Helping The Poor and Middle Class, Webb Says”

Save The Giraffe

Seriously. Just when you think the world can’t get any nuttier, it turns out we could lose the Giraffe. It says a lot about the imbalance of our times that killer coyotes are roaming the suburbs eating dogs while the gentle, leaf-munching Giraffe — our planet’s tallest animal — fades away.

The Times: “Giraffe numbers have plummeted by 40 per cent in the past 15 years and some species could become extinct in a ‘forgotten’ natural tragedy, the world’s leading experts have warned.”

“People love giraffes but they’re taken for granted.” — Dr Julian Fennessy, director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation

giraffe

Secret Service or Cell Service?

You read it here first. A new Homeland Security report on September’s White House intruder found exactly what a Trail Mix contributor wrote about here just after the incident.

According to The New York Times the federal report “said that Omar Gonzalez, the man charged in the incident, could have been stopped by a Secret Service officer who was stationed on the North Lawn with an attack dog. But the officer did not realize that an intruder had made it over the fence because he was sitting in his van talking on his personal cellphone.”

On the day after the intrusion we published a letter sent months earlier by Trail Mix friend and former DEA agent Michael Grimes to the head of the White House Security Detail:

At any given time, and within my view from any location around the White House, I see at least one, if not more, uniform officers with their heads down playing with an electronic device. I have seen as many as three officers, standing together, and every one of them had their heads down and not paying a bit of attention. I have walked to within just a few feet of these officers and not one will look up. This is not only disgraceful, it is downright dangerous.

Michael E. Grimes is a retired DEA agent, the owner of Criminal Investigation Techniques, which provides training, risk assessment and consulting services to law enforcement agencies.

Webb on a Matter of ‘Distinction’

The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza examines Hillary Clinton’s “inevitability” and profiles possible challengers Martin O’Malley, Bernie Sanders and Jim Webb. Here are a few excerpts on my fav:

webb-jim001Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, who served one term, from 2007 to 2013, and then retired, has the potential to win the beer-track vote. … Webb is a moderate on foreign policy, but he is a Vietnam veteran from a long line of military men. After the war, Webb became a writer. His most famous book, “Fields of Fire,” published in 1978, is a novel based on his own experiences and has been credibly compared to Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage” for its realistic portrayal of war. Webb has always moved restlessly between the military and politics and the life of a writer. In the late seventies and early eighties, he worked as a counsel on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and later as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of the Navy. He has also travelled around the world as a journalist for Parade. …

In his senatorial race, Webb did well not only in northern Virginia, which is filled with Washington commuters and college-educated liberals, but also with rural, working-class white voters in Appalachia. In 2008, those voters were generally more loyal to Clinton than to Obama, but Webb believes that he could attract a national coalition of both groups of voters in the Presidential primaries. He laid out a view of Wall Street that differs sharply from Clinton’s. …Senator-Jim-Webb-001

“Because of the way that the financial sector dominates both parties, the distinctions that can be made on truly troubling issues are very minor,” Webb said.

“If you don’t have stock, and a lot of people in this country don’t have stock, you’re not doing very well,” Webb said. ….

As President, he says, he would be aggressive about taxing income from investments: “Fairness says if you’re a hedge-fund manager or making deals where you’re making hundreds of millions of dollars and you’re paying capital-gains tax on that, rather than ordinary income tax, something’s wrong, and people know something’s wrong.” …

“There is a big tendency among a lot of Democratic leaders to feed some raw meat to the public on smaller issues that excite them, like the minimum wage, but don’t really address the larger problem,” Webb said. “A lot of the Democratic leaders who don’t want to scare away their financial supporters will say we’re going to raise the minimum wage, we’re going do these little things, when in reality we need to say we’re going to fundamentally change the tax code so that you will believe our system is fair.”

Read More Webb on other issues, plus profiles of MD Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

No More Soggy Fries

Time for fresh meat. The old Democratic Party collapsed yesterday. Crony capitalists posing as populists. Paying lip service to the working class and small business. Let the Republicans own that charade. How else do you explain voters in red states like Arkansas raising the minimum wage while electing Republicans who oppose it? Because Democrats are so beholden to big business they won’t even speak to that sentiment. If this repudiation of the Democratic hierarchy is to prevent more of the same bring on some new thinkers and candidates who actually give a damn about average folk.

Obama Wimps Out

I find it stunning that President Obama yielded to advisers who kept him out of this Midterm Election. How could he not fight back as FDR once did, saying of his foes in 1936, “They are unanimous in their hate for me, and I welcome their hatred.”

Instead, we get Vice President Joe Biden talking about compromise with Republicans when, as the prognosticators are saying, the GOP wins control of the entire Congress on Tuesday.

Obama could have turned this around by getting out there to defend himself and play offense. But he chose to wimp out. He is still popular enough among a base of Democratic voters who are probably staying home because he never asked them to do anything. That’s not leadership. That’s just plain cowardly.

I’ve tried over and over again to overcome my initial unease about this man’s fitness for office. But watching his handling of this Midterm I’m giving up the effort. He wasn’t ready for the job in 2008 and, to my surprise, he didn’t learn on the job.

Why can’t Democrats talk like this anymore?


“For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.

I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.” — FDR, 1936

Still Hoping For Change

Retired Des Moines Register Opinion pages editor Richard Doak, is not just making sense, but damn good sense:

I have voted proudly in every state and national election for more than 50 years. Voting fulfilled a civic duty and came with a sense of wonder at democracy in action. Election Day was always a good day to be an American.

Not so much anymore. I can’t remember a year when voting was so unsatisfying. Casting an early ballot in 2014 felt like a chore. There was no pride or enthusiasm. There was something close to indifference.

That might partly be due to a case of viewer PTSD from being carpet-bombed by attack ads, but the malaise goes deeper than that.

It comes from the realization that nothing much will change no matter which candidates win on Tuesday.

Say it again, nothing will change.

Oh, Republicans talk a good game of cutting spending and reducing the size of government, but they won’t. The last time they were in power they did the opposite.

They talk of replacing Obamacare, but they won’t, because they haven’t the foggiest idea how. Besides, the big health care corporations have a stake in Obamacare, and Republicans aren’t in the habit of crossing the corporations.

Democrats talk the talk of helping the middle class, but when they get a chance they only nibble around the edges.

Take college affordability, for instance. Democrats loudly proclaim they want to reduce the interest rates on student loans. Big deal. What middle-class kids really need is affordable tuition so they don’t have to borrow in the first place.

But making college more affordable would require replacing tuition revenue with tax revenue, mostly from the affluent. Democrats, for all their populist rhetoric, aren’t about to irritate the affluent by taxing them to pay tuition for middle-class kids.

Both parties are in thrall to the affluent and other powers that be, including corporations, CEOs, Wall Street financiers, free-market ideologues, business and trade associations. There is no handy label for this conglomeration of power. Call it the business lobby. Better, call it the plutocracy. Government is tightly in its grip.

Which is why nothing is going to change. At the moment, the rich and powerful seem to like things pretty much the way they are, so the nation will continue to have a do-nothing Congress and a feckless president.

It’s hard to pinpoint when America stopped being a popular democracy and became a plutocracy. It happened gradually, insidiously over several decades. Private power has penetrated every facet of government from a Congress that has been bought outright, to a Supreme Court that believes corporations are people, to a bureaucracy that is increasingly run not by public employees but by private contractors.

We have ended up with a government of, by and for commercial interests. No wonder that inequality of wealth has become the defining feature of life in the United States. That’s what the people with the power arranged to happen.

Under the circumstances, it doesn’t matter much which party is nominally in control of the government. Republicans happily do the bidding of the plutocrats they call job creators. Democrats are paralyzed by the fear of being labeled anti-business and try not to offend the powerful. Either way, the result is about the same.

When the lords of banking came within an eyelash of causing another Great Depression, Republicans rushed to their defense and opposed any efforts to rein in their excesses. Democrats demanded reform but were too timid to pass anything except watered-down regulation that really didn’t change much.

Nothing ever changes.

Then there is President Obama. He promised change, but didn’t deliver. Perhaps that is because in his major decisions Obama has been remarkably solicitous of the rich and powerful.

Obama’s Affordable Care Act, far from being a socialist takeover of health care, operates mostly through private sector health care companies. It strengthens the private sector by subsidizing the purchase of insurance. It locked in this country’s expensive reliance on the private sector to deliver health care and guaranteed health care executives would keep getting rich.

Obama also locked in something else — most of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. Those cuts were set to expire automatically, but Obama rescued most of them and made them permanent. That act left the government chronically short of revenue, and it guaranteed Obama’s presidency would be a lot like that of George W. Bush’s.

Obama has essentially been Bush-lite, which was probably bound to happen no matter who was president. Nothing much ever changes with the plutocracy in charge.

The pattern has been the same in state governments, with states falling all over each other trying to be the most generous in giving benefits to corporations and the wealthy.

There’s no indication that will change no matter who wins election on Tuesday.

A century ago, the United States was in a similar situation. The robber barons of industry and banking ran the government for their own benefit, presiding over an era of vast inequality. America appeared doomed to a future of the fabulously wealthy few ruling over the beaten-down many.

Then the public rose up and reasserted democratic rule. People voted for income and inheritance taxes to lessen the concentration of wealth and power. They enacted reforms such as primary elections and direct election of senators to take control of politics away from the party bosses. They enacted consumer protections and broke up monopolies. They built free public high schools so that working class kids could be educated beyond eighth grade.

The Progressive Era reforms and the later New Deal eventually created an unprecedented era of shared prosperity with a growing and thriving middle class, but today we’re back to robber baron levels of inequality and a stagnating middle class.

What’s depressingly different this time is that the public seems to have no inclination to rise up and reassert control. There is no mass movement to take the country back from the plutocrats and their politicians. There are no leaders capable of rallying the country to action, as Theodore Roosevelt did a century ago.

So the ballot offers no opportunity for real change. Voting becomes a rote act of civic duty exercised with little hope that the future will be any better than the present.

That’s the melancholy way it is for this voter in 2014.

Richard Doak is the retired editor of The Des Moines Register’s opinion pages.

HRC a Populist? Don’t Ask Warren

The question about what Hillary would run on seems to be getting at least one answer: More and more she’s talking like an anti-Wall Street populist. (Polls of Democratic voters, especially in all-important Iowa, show real concern about her credentials for this claim.)

So far it seems that someone who could be helpful to that effort isn’t buying it — Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Clinton did her best last week to heap praise on the Massachusetts Democrat, and echo the fiery professor’s popular appeals for economic fairness – which has made Warren a rock star on the midterm campaign trail.

“I love watching Elizabeth,” Clinton said on the stump in Massachusetts. “You know, give it to those who deserve to get it. Standing up not only for you, but people with the same needs and same wants across our country.”

Clinton called Warren a “passionate champion for working people and middle class families” during a stop for the Democratic candidate for Massachusetts governor, Martha Coakley.

Clinton in Boston (10/24)
Clinton in Boston (10/24)

Warren was at the same stop, but took off before Clinton could get the photo opportunity that she surely wanted. And in her own stem-winder bashing big banks Warren was not nearly as gushing in return: “I’m happy to welcome Secretary Clinton back to the commonwealth. We love it.”

Also last week, on CNN, Warren seemed to reject any notion that Clinton can be counted among the party’s anti-Wall Street wing. Asked if the ex-New York senator is too close to the financial sector, she said:

“I have said I worry about everyone who is too close to Wall Street. When I describe what this is about, it’s about who does government work for. I worry everywhere.”

When People magazine recently tried to get Warren to talk about her relationship with Clinton she was about as reticent as it gets: “We have talked. It’s not much more than that. Not much more.”

Warren in Boston (10/24)
Warren in Boston (10/24)

A Telling Reversal

For some history on the ideological gulf between the two, consider a 2004 video interview recently released by The Bill Moyers Show. Warren describes how Hillary reversed herself on a pro-business bankruptcy bill that Warren considered unfair to consumers. As First Lady in the 1990’s Clinton heeded  Warren’s pleas to persuade Bill  to veto the bill — a move Clinton boasted about in her autobiography.

But once joining the Senate, Clinton gave in to intense pressure from credit card companies, and voted for a revived version of the bankruptcy bill she had once so proudly opposed.

“As Senator Clinton, the pressures are very different,” Warren told Moyers. “She has taken money from the groups, and more to the point, she worries about them as a constituency.”

By the way, when running for president in 2007 Clinton left out that Senate vote for the bankruptcy bill when citing her earlier work against it as First Lady, calling it evidence that she “fought the banks.” Warren must really be seething about that.

Clearly, Clinton’s effort to shed her Wall Street ties for Warren-style populism lacks the convert she might need most: Warren herself.

Durst: One Man, One Vote

Will Durst
Will Durst
Will Durst on the Texas voter ID law (upheld on Saturday by the Supreme Court):

“Whiners. Bounders. Ingrates. Talking about the incessant griping and sniping currently buzzing over long overdue Republican reforms requiring citizens to produce a government issued ID before casting a vote. From the outcry you’d think the GOP was organizing competitive kitten clubbings. Again.

Face it, the problem isn’t not enough people voting: it’s too many people voting. Time to go back to literacy tests and poll taxes. Restricting the vote to white male Protestant landowners. They’re the ones who run the country. The ones with the most to lose. Oh sure, the constitution states that voting is a right, but it’s also a privilege. Barnacles don’t determine where the whale swims, do they?

Freedom isn’t free. And the rich have the resources to pay for elections. We could set it up so the more they spend, the more votes they get. Until eventually the guy with the most money ends up running things. That’s they way they did it in Europe and they turned out okay. What the hell, we’re at least halfway there.”

Will Durst is an award-winning, nationally acclaimed political comic based in San Francisco. He is the author of Elect to Laugh! A Hilarious, Common Sense Guide to American Politics