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Not even Republicans want a shutdown

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Jennifer Rubin has a very interesting—brilliant, even—analysis in the Washington Post:

When Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) took to the floor on Thursday, he had an extra spring in his step and a barely suppressed grin. Who could blame him? As he said, “From what we saw in the Oval Office and news reports about his reaction after our meeting, President Trump is willing to throw a temper tantrum and shut down the government unless he gets his way.” But Republicans don’t have the stomach for that, knowing that voters would see a shutdown as proof positive that Trump and his party cannot govern. That gives Schumer all the incentive in the world to hold firm. “I want to be crystal clear: There will not be additional appropriations to pay for the border wall. It’s done,” he said. “The president repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for his unnecessary and ineffective border wall, in his words: ’100 percent.’”

Schumer then called Trump’s bluff. “Well, Mr. President: If you say Mexico is going to pay for the wall through NAFTA, which it certainly won’t, then I guess we don’t have to! Let’s fund the government,” he said. Following Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi’s example, he declared, “The president’s position on the wall is totally contradictory, ill-informed and frankly irresponsible. It’s not a serious proposal; it’s a throwaway idea the president used in the campaign and still uses to fire up his base. A Trump temper tantrum and shutdown threat isn’t going to change any minds here in Congress.”

Much focus has been on the new Democratic House’s oversight and subpoena powers. However, the power to set the agenda and to pass one bill after another (under Pelosi’s iron control) is equally if not more significant. As Schumer said, “When Democrats take control of the House in January, Democrats will pass one of our two options to fund the government, and then Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans will be left holding the bag for a Trump shutdown if they don’t pass our bill now.”

The same will be true on a bill to bolster the Affordable Care Act, a revision of the Voting Rights Act, new ethics rules, and legislation on infrastructure and immigration. (On the latter, Democrats might consider passing the same Gang of Eight bill that passed the Senate overwhelmingly with the votes of many Republican senators who still serve.) Provided Pelosi can control her left flank and not endanger moderate members, an assembly line of completed legislation by the House would do three things.

First, it would put many GOP senators, especially those from swing states (Maine, Iowa, North Carolina, Colorado) on the ballot in 2020, in a tough spot. If they decline to act on House-passed bills, their Democratic challengers will ask, not unreasonably, “Why isn’t the Senate taking up some of these items?” A do-nothing Senate whose only action is circling the wagons around a floundering president puts the GOP’s Senate majority at risk in 2020.

Second, House legislation could provide an agenda for 2020 that incumbent Democrats and a Democratic presidential nominee can run on (or modify as need be). Part of what got Democrats the House majority was the promise they would end dysfunction and bickering and start solving problems. Now is their chance to show what they are for, not simply that they are against the president.

Third, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

15 December 2018 at 12:02 pm

Beto O’Rourke is not the progressive some imagine

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Elizabeth Breunig writes in the Washington Post:

If only the electric chill in the air were an augur of fast-approaching holidays and not the static generated by so many Democratic 2020 presidential hopefuls jockeying for the attention of party leaders and donors.

Alas, with 2019 less than a month away, 2020 has already begun, and with it the fashioning of fresh new faces for the Democratic ticket. Among those early front-runners — at least in terms of intraparty enthusiasm — is Beto O’Rourke, the three-time congressman from El Paso, Texas, who recently lost a valiant Senate run against Ted Cruz.

For some well-positioned Democrats, O’Rourke — usually mononymously styled as Beto — is already heir apparent to Barack Obama’s empty throne. Tall and reedy with an affable air, he does seem fit to take up Obama’s mantle. But I can’t get excited about O’Rourke, though I am from Texas and had hoped as much as anyone for Cruz’s defeat. I’m not sure we need another Obama, or another of any Democrat we’ve had recently: I think the times both call for and allow for a left-populist candidate with uncompromising progressive principles. I don’t see that in O’Rourke.

There’s no denying that what O’Rourke’s campaign accomplished was genuinely impressive. With the help of veteran Bernie Sanders organizers, O’Rourke’s team built a grassroots army that put democracy — talking to constituents, listening to their points of view, inviting them to participate in the process not by mass mail but by name — first. People were genuinely inspired by that, and by the very notion that perhaps they could revive a dream that sometimes seems to have died with Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards: turning the Lone Star State blue. And — maybe, someday.

In the meantime, though, we have the national election to think about, and when it comes to national politics, O’Rourke is plainly uninspiring. As Zaid Jilani pointed out at Current Affairs, O’Rourke’s congressional voting record signals skepticism about progressive priorities. “While the Democratic base is coalescing around single-payer health care and free college, O’Rourke sponsored neither House bill,” Jilani wrote, “During his time in Congress, he never joined the Congressional Progressive Caucus.” Instead, O’Rourke is a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a centrist caucus with Clintonian views on health care, education and trade.

Where it comes to Medicare-for-all, O’Rourke has been carefully unclear about his stance: A Politico article from July notes that, at least for a time, he had sworn off using the terms “single payer” or “Medicare-for-all,” instead using the less-specific, policy-neutral phrase “universal, guaranteed, high-quality health care for all.” His campaign website remains unclear, stating that he aims for achieving universal health care coverage “whether it be through a single payer system, a dual system, or otherwise.”

O’Rourke’s other progressive-ish policy positions tend to follow along these lines. While some progressives, rallied by talk of a Green New Deal, have argued for higher taxes on oil and gas company profits, fossil fuel lobbyists to be banned from working in the White House and a whole-economy overhaul slotting Americans into jobs producing carbon-neutral infrastructure, O’Rourke’s statements on energy have been surprisingly thin. He has called the decision between oil and gas and renewable energy sources “a false choice” and proposes on his campaign website mainly to rejoin the Paris climate accord, empower the Environmental Protection Agency and enact energy reform.

None of this is to say O’Rourke’s policies are the worst there are, or that he couldn’t beat President Donald Trump. (I think that practically any Democrat has a good shot at beating Trump, judging by how many Obama-Trump voters in the Midwest seemed perfectly happy to flip back to blue during this year’s midterms.) But the primaries aren’t even here yet, so there’s no need to begin resigning ourselves to policies that are merely better than Republican alternatives. We still have time to pick a politician with a bold, clear, distinctly progressive agenda, and an articulated vision beyond something-better-than-this, the literal translation of hope-change campaigning. Beto is a lot like Obama, true; it’s perhaps time for left-leaning Democrats to realize that may not be a good thing. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 December 2018 at 11:52 am

Stung by Election Losses, Republicans in the States Seek a Way to Neutralize Democrats

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Mitch Smith and Monica Davey write in the NY Times:

When Democrats won the governor’s office in Wisconsin, it was one of the party’s most celebrated midterm successes in regaining power in the states. Now Republicans are striking back, moving to slash the power of the new governor even before he takes the oath of office.

Democrats reacted with fury, crowding the halls of the State Capitol in Madison on Monday and accusing the Republicans of trying to undo an election they had lost. It was only the latest such Republican effort across the country to try to use legislative action to counter blows the party suffered at the polls. For Wisconsin, a state that both parties will urgently vie to win in 2020 elections, it was one more sign of the ferocious partisan split that has rippled through the state in recent years.

“It’s a power grab,” said State Senator Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat, before a hearing on the package of bills that includes restrictions on the incoming governor’s ability to shift how public benefits programs are run, and on his authority to set the rules that determine how state laws are carried out. “They lost and they’re throwing a fit.”

The long list of proposals Republicans want to consider also includes wide efforts to shore up their strength before Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Gov. Scott Walker last month, takes office: new limits on early voting, a shift in the timing of the 2020 presidential primary in Wisconsin, and new authority for lawmakers on state litigation. The Republican plan would also slash the power of the incoming attorney general, who is also a Democrat.

In recent years, single parties have come to dominate state legislatures, allowing lawmakers to make significant policy changes in states even as Washington wrestled with gridlock. But in states like Wisconsin and Michigan, where Democrats regained governor’s offices in capitals that Republicans fully controlled for years, Republicans are making last-minute efforts to weaken their powers.

It is a model pioneered in North Carolina, where Republican lawmakers in 2016 tried to restrict the power of the governor after a Democrat was narrowly elected to the post. That set off a bitter court battle that continues to this day.

In Michigan, Republican lawmakers are considering proposals that would give them more authority to intervene in legal fights involving the state and would shift oversight of campaign finance — efforts that Democrats say are aimed at shrinking the authority of their leaders, including Gretchen Whitmer, who won the governor’s race there, and Dana Nessel, a Democrat who won the race for attorney general.

Some local areas are seeing glimpses of similar battles. In Arizona’s Maricopa County — with 4.3 million residents, the nation’s fourth most populous — the Republican-dominated board of supervisors said last month that it was studying a takeover of some Election Day logistics now handled by the county recorder, a newly elected Democrat. The supervisors have said they have a nonpartisan interest in improving the county’s elections.

In Wisconsin on Monday, Democrats and liberal groups called the Republicans’ proposals for curbing Mr. Evers’s authority in advance of his swearing in next month a blatant power grab and a rejection of the election outcome. Some said they were considering legal action against any legislation the Republicans may try to push through this week.

Republicans, who will retain their legislative majorities under the Democratic governor, have defended the hastily introduced package of bills as a necessary check on executive power.

“Wisconsin law, written by the Legislature and signed into law by a governor, should not be erased by the potential political maneuvering of the executive branch,” said Robin Vos, the speaker of the State Assembly, and Scott Fitzgerald, the Republican leader in the State Senate, in a joint statement last week.

But as hundreds of angry residents gathered at the Capitol, the Republican leaders spoke bluntly of the ideological clash between their caucus and the incoming governor.

“I think that Governor-elect Evers is going to bring a liberal agenda to Wisconsin,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “There’s going to be a divide between the legislative branch and the executive branch.”

“We want to ensure that the new administration doesn’t try to work around the Legislature,” Mr. Vos said, explaining the package of bills that Republicans say they hope will be taken up by the full Legislature on Tuesday. “We want both branches to have an equal seat at the table.”

The 2010 election flipped Democratic control of the governor’s office and both legislative chambers, and Governor Walker built a national reputation by swiftly moving to limit public sector unions’ power, a push that sent thousands of union supporters and Democrats to Madison to protest for weeks and set off a series of recall elections against Republicans and Democrats.

The state has long been purple; . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2018 at 9:56 am

When C.E.O.s Cared About America

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I remember that time. David Leonhardt writes in the NY Times:

The October 1944 edition of Fortune magazine carried an article by a corporate executive that makes for amazing reading today. It was written by William B. Benton — a co-founder of the Benton & Bowles ad agency — and an editor’s note explained that Benton was speaking not just for himself but on behalf of a major corporate lobbying group. The article then laid out a vision for American prosperity after World War II.

At the time, almost nobody took postwar prosperity for granted. The world had just endured 15 years of depression and war. Many Americans were worried that the end of wartime production, combined with the return of job-seeking soldiers, would plunge the economy into a new slump.

“Today victory is our purpose,” Benton wrote. “Tomorrow our goal will be jobs, peacetime production, high living standards and opportunity.” That goal, he wrote, depended on American businesses accepting “necessary and appropriate government regulation,” as well as labor unions. It depended on companies not earning their profits “at the expense of the welfare of the community.” It depended on rising wages.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning, with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

These leftist-sounding ideas weren’t based on altruism. The Great Depression and the rise of European fascism had scared American executives. Many had come to believe that unrestrained capitalism was dangerous — to everyone. The headline on Benton’s article was, “The Economics of a Free Society.”

In the years that followed, corporate America largely followed this prescription. Not every executive did, of course, and management and labor still had bitter disputes. But most executives behaved as if they cared about their workers and communities. C.E.O.s accepted pay packages that today look like a pittance. Middle-class incomes rose faster in the 1950s and 1960s than incomes at the top. Imagine that: declining income inequality.

And the economy — and American business — boomed during this period, just as Benton and his fellow chieftains had predicted.

Things began to change in the 1970s. Facing more global competition and higher energy prices, and with Great Depression memories fading, executives became more aggressive. They decided that their sole mission was maximizing shareholder value. They fought for deregulation, reduced taxes, union-free workplaces, lower wages and much, much higher pay for themselves. They justified it all with promises of a wonderful new economic boom. That boom never arrived.

Even when economic growth has been decent, as it is now, most of the bounty has flowed to the top. Median weekly earnings have grown a miserly 0.1 percent a year since 1979. The typical American family today has a lower net worth than the typical family did 20 years ago. Life expectancy, shockingly, has fallen this decade.

The great stagnation of living standards is a defining problem of our time. Most families do not enjoy the “rapidly rising level of living” that Benton called for. Understandably, many Americans are anxious and angry.

The solution will need to involve a return to higher taxes on the rich. But it’s also worth thinking about pre-tax incomes — and specifically what goes on inside corporations. It’s worth asking the question that Benton asked: What kind of corporate America does the rest of America need?

Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator, is now rolling out a platform for her almost-certain presidential campaign, and it includes an answer to this question. It is a fascinating one, because it differs from the usual Democratic agenda of progressive taxes and bigger social programs (which Warren also supports). Her idea is the most intriguing policy idea to come out of the early 2020 campaign.

Warren wants an economy in which companies again invest in their workers and communities. Yet she doesn’t believe it can happen organically, as it did in the 1940s, because financial markets will punish well-meaning executives who stop trying to maximize short-term profits. “They can’t go back,” she told me recently. “You have to do it with a rule.”

She has proposed a bill in the Senate — and Ben Ray Luján, a top House Democrat, will soon offer it there — that would require corporate boards to take into account the interests of customers, employees and communities. To make sure that happens, 40 percent of a company’s board seats would be elected by employees. Germany uses a version of this “shared-governance” model, mostly successfully. Even in today’s hypercompetitive economy, German corporations earn nice profits with a philosophy that looks more like William Benton’s than Gordon Gekko’s.

Is Warren’s plan the best way to rein in corporate greed? I’m not yet sure. I want to see politicians and experts hash out her idea and others — much as they hashed out health care policy in the 2008 campaign.

But I do know this: American capitalism isn’t working right now. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2018 at 3:06 pm

Countering Trump at the Border

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Amy Davidson Sorkin writes in the New Yorker:

President Trump has always had an odd idea of what constitutes strength. This was evident again last week, when, a day after U.S. Border Patrol agents fired tear gas at a crowd of Central American migrants, as some tried to rush across the border from Tijuana, he boasted about the incident at a rally. “Frankly, if we didn’t show them strength and a strong border,” he said, “you would have hundreds of thousands of people pouring into our country.” Strength is a display, in other words, meant to demoralize the vulnerable. “We are doing a job,” Trump added. “We’re doing what’s right.”

He was wrong on both counts. It is not a President’s job to try to renounce a law that promises even undocumented people already in this country an opportunity to apply for asylum, as Trump did, until a federal district court temporarily stopped him. And it is not right to approach the issue of immigration, as Trump has done, with an indifference to human tragedy, cavalier threats to use lethal force and to close the border, and a zeal to divide. There are now more than six thousand migrants in encampments in Tijuana—many of them part of a caravan that has travelled from Honduras, and more than a thousand of whom are children—and conditions there are worsening by nearly every measure: sanitation, illness, grief, frustration, and anger. At the San Ysidro crossing, where many of the migrants are hoping to claim asylum, officials are processing fewer than a hundred cases a day.

In the run-up to the midterm elections, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate, said in a statement that the President’s railing about the caravan was just a sign that he was “desperate to change the subject from health care.” Trump is, demonstrably, a showman whose act relies on bigotry. The migrants are not an invasion, as he would have it. But neither should they be treated simply as a distraction, or an abstraction. The midterms are over, and the issues raised by the presence of the migrants deserve to be addressed seriously and directly.

A fair approach would begin with recognizing that a person seeking asylum has a right to be heard, as an individual, by immigration authorities. Trump seems to think that if he orders authorities to stop listening to the migrants’ stories they’ll just go away. Or perhaps he thinks that if they try to enter the country anyway he can use the pictures as fodder for his drive to build a wall. Last week, he told Politico that border security was, politically, “a total winner,” adding that he will veto funding bills, shutting down much of the government, unless he gets the money for his wall. He wants five billion dollars; Schumer has counter-offered an earlier figure of $1.6 billion for non-wall security, and some fencing. A key deadline falls on December 7th.

Traditionally, the basis for a successful asylum claim has been a well-grounded fear of persecution, based on one’s race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a social group. That last term has had a shifting meaning in immigration law. Under the Obama Administration, it came to include many survivors of domestic violence. Trump’s former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, reversed course, instructing immigration judges to turn down claims citing domestic or gang violence, which is rife in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Conditions in those countries, combined with a growing awareness of the legal possibilities, have contributed to an increase in the number of migrants, particularly families, who seek asylum. There is now a backlog of about a million immigration cases.

It would make sense, and would build faith in the system, to hear migrants’ claims far more expeditiously, as long as each gets careful consideration, and the courts aren’t turned into the deportation conveyor belts that Trump wants them to be. Many people in the caravan have what may be, on their face, valid claims under current law. More immigration judges are needed to hear them; at the moment there are only a few hundred. (The Justice Department has begun speeding up the hiring process.) Coöperation with Mexico is essential, too. More broadly, the conundrum is how to balance the integrity of the law with the human impulse to regard “asylum” as another name for the haven that many Americans’ parents and grandparents found in the last century.

Trump has repeatedly said that the Democrats believe in “open borders and socialism,” and that they are recruiting criminals to come to America, with the help of shadowy financiers, in furtherance of their party’s dark aims, like winning elections. There is no conspiracy, and Democrats in Congress have in fact worked for significant measures on border security, such as adding and equipping more agents, built into plans that include a pathway to legal status for the Dreamers—a crucial element in any comprehensive reform. (By contrast, some Republican proposals, such as sharply limiting family reunification, seem concerned less with border security than with a perceived demographic threat.) At the same time, an increasing number of Democrats have been less open to compromise, pulling the Party in different directions. The newly elected representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, both of New York, have called for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, wants to build Trump’s wall.

Gillibrand is among  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2018 at 5:02 pm

The Making of Elizabeth Warren

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Michael Kruse has an excellent profile of Sen. Elizabeth Warren in Politico:

The Harvard Law professor had just turned in what she thought was a mostly finished manuscript of her first mass-market book. But her editor had one major criticism. Elizabeth Warren, Jo Ann Miller worried, had spent more than 160 pages of text and a further 50-plus pages of endnotes delineating a litany of data-backed reasons that bankruptcies and debt were going up and the middle class was going down. She had described what was happening, and had diagnosed why, and had presented possible solutions for legislators, regulators and wonks. Nowhere, though, had Warren offered the actual people who were bearing the brunt of these crushing economic forces anything approaching practical advice. This, her editor thought, was a missing piece.

“There was no how-to in the book,” Miller told me recently. “I encouraged her to add a chapter of what to do about it.”

This suggestion led to Chapter 7 of The Two-Income Trap, which was published in 2003, and it was those 18, tacked-on pages, “The Financial Fire Drill,” that caught the eye of one Phil McGraw, better known to his millions of viewers as Dr. Phil—the daytime-television shrink who has made a big-bucks career of healing America’s middle class in front of a live studio audience. He even cribbed the language. And on March 10, 2004, on an episode titled “Going for Broke,” McGraw introduced Warren and her daughter and co-author, Amelia Warren Tyagi, and asked them to give advice to debt-troubled couples. At this point, Warren was a pre-eminent bankruptcy scholar, widely respected by her peers but possessing the sort of public profile one might expect of someone in such a field—low. That was about to change.

She told Jessica and Nate they shouldn’t have taken out a second mortgage on their house. It was like “playing roulette,” she said. “It’s the worst single move that homeowners can make.” McGraw said that’s not what lenders say. “Dr. Phil,” Warren responded, “that’s how they make money. They make money by getting families like this to get into debt. They don’t make money unless you borrow more money.” She told Amy and Jeff to stop worrying about the credit card companies. “They’re still making big, big profits.”

With a smile and a neat brown bob, merging the stature of her perch at the nation’s most elite institution of higher education with some of its most pedestrian popular culture, and marrying traditionally conservative tenets of personal fiscal responsibility with a more liberal view of rapacious corporations run amok, Warren’s appearance was sufficiently well-received that it led to two others (“A Family in Crisis,” “Money Makeover”) over the course of 2004 and 2005. All of it led to a second book, All Your Worth, also co-written with her daughter, that was even more popular and accessible than the first because it spoke directly and in full to an audience McGraw’s show had helped train her to connect with—by taking the complicated topics she had studied her entire adult life and distilling them into TV-ready bits. In All Your Worth, the first person thanked in the acknowledgments is Dr. Phil. “Without Dr. Phil,” wrote Warren and her daughter, “there would be no All Your Worth.”

One afternoon earlier this week, in her spacious office on the third floor of the Hart Senate Office Building, Warren sat across from a stately couch that used to belong to Senator Ted Kennedy. She angled her chair to stare straight at me to start our 20 minutes of scheduled talk time. I reminded her of the mention of Dr. Phil in those acknowledgements—and posited that she now perhaps could take it a step further. “Without Dr. Phil,” I proposed, “there would be no Senator Warren.”

She sat back and laughed.

“Look,” Warren said. “All of my work has been about solving the problem of what’s happening to America’s middle class.” And then she talked about that, as she has, essentially without pause, for more than a generation, really, but in a squarely political context since at least 2011, when she started running for the Senate.

Ten minutes later, though, I asked her again.

“Without Dr. Phil, would there be a you right now?”

This time there were 11 seconds of silence.

“Yes,” she finally said. “There would be.”

“But would you be sitting here?”

“I think I still have to say yes,” she said. “Dr. Phil gave me one more way to fight for America’s families. I was looking for every tool I could lay my hands on.” Doing research. Writing books. Pestering lawmakers. Going on radio and TV. “Everything,” she said, “that I could do to try to help as many families as possible. And Dr. Phil opened up another door.”

Fair enough. Who would be so dense as to insist a woman with Warren’s manifest intellect and (ahem) persistence wouldn’t have found an alternate route to this position of prominence on Capitol Hill without the help of an avuncular talk show host?

But still, it is this odd, unexpected window, highlighted by these books and that show, in which she leveraged her decades-earned expertise in an otherwise eye-glazing subject to earn not only increased public renown but more and more attention from some of the most powerful people in Washington, turbocharging her transformation into what she is today—a viral-ready progressive crusader, a likely presidential candidate, and the person some see as potentially the most formidable challenge to Donald Trump’s stubborn populist sway. Warren is Warren because she’s an unusual amalgam of a “ragged edge” Oklahoma upbringing and a rich, East Coast Ivy League tenure. If, though, her mantra of a message carries her to the Democratic nomination in 2020, its roots will reach back, too, to the spotlit Hollywood studio of “Dr. Phil.”


Warren’s ticket to the show landed in September of 2003 with a catchy title and a counterintuitive hook. The Two-Income Trap reads now like her proto political platform.

Second paychecks from working women made effectively no difference to families’ financial bottom lines, she explained, using reams of federal statistics and more than two decades of her empirical research that included thousands of interviews with bankrupt people. Furthermore, she said, a one-income family had a built-in safety net—the mother could go to work, if need be, to make ends meet. (Hers did.) No more. The numbers in the book were shocking: The foreclosure rate was up 255 percent. Bankruptcy filings were up 430 percent. Credit card debt was up 570 percent. The middle class was shriveling, and it had been for a good while, and it wasn’t mainly because of reckless spending but rather drastic increases in prices of housing and health care and preschool and college. At base the book was a shift in blame. These economic straits, Warren argued, were not the fault of the people who were suffering, nor was it the moral failure of a growing share of spendthrifts. No—a deregulated credit industry preyed the most on the stressed and the strained. The game was rigged.

The book was not the work of some ivory-tower theorist. She wrote it because she wanted people to read it—“and deliberately went to a publisher that was not an academic house,” she told me, “that would give it a broader audience, I hoped.” Warren, a dozen former students and colleagues told me, always had been a comparatively approachable, even breezy writer in her academic work, as well as a demanding but simultaneously unstuffy presence in the classroom—a function, they thought, of her financially volatile childhood, her degrees from the University of Houston and Rutgers Law rather than pricier private schools, and her climb to Harvard through less hallowed halls. But The Two-Income Trap was easily more pop than anything she had attempted to that point.

Nor was it the work of a political naif. Warren was an independent and then a registered Republican until 1996. But the more Republicans sided with Wall Street, the less Republican she felt. She registered as a Democrat. And by the time she wrote The Two-Income Trap, she knew the policies, and she knew the players. And while whacking myths—“The Over-Consumption Myth,” “The Myth of the Immoral Debtor”—she also minced no words. She delivered sharp critiques irrespective of party. She called out Senator Orrin Hatch. She called out Senator Joe Biden. And she told for the first time a story she’s told more since—the one about her first meeting with Hillary Clinton. The book’s release party, said Miller, her editor, was hosted by Elena Kagan, at the time the dean of Harvard Law. Ted Kennedy was there.

The Two-Income Trap earned Warren a new level of attention—and a new kind of platform. The Los Angeles Times called it “important,” the Washington Post called it “eye-opening,” and the Dallas Morning Newscalled it “the best explanation to date” for why Americans felt like they were working more and making less. Newsweek proclaimed it “provocative.” In short order, Warren went on NBC, CBS, CNN and NPR. And it turned out she didn’t just know the material. She was also a really good quote.

“The family is like a race car that has just hit a huge rock in the road, and it can’t get itself stabilized,” she said on NPR. “It’s headed for a crash.”

“The time to think about finances and financial trouble is not when the house is already filled with smoke,” she said on CBS.

“Any family in trouble,” she said on CNN, “needs to think like a family at war.”

But she also made it clear that there were bigger, more systemic influences at work than simply spiking numbers of citizens with raging cases of “affluenza.” “Americans are not going broke over lattes!” she exclaimed in an interview with Salon. She said “deregulation” in the 1980s had created “a monster” that was ravaging the middle class. She all but called the country’s biggest financial institutions mobsters and loan sharks. “They’re making profits that would make Jimmy the Leg Breaker drool.”

It wasn’t long before she got a call from a scheduler at “Dr. Phil.”

For Warren, that first go-around with Dr. Phil was an epiphany. She was not being asked to talk to a reader on the other side of a printed page but to counsel actual people sitting right there in the same studio. “I had done interviews about the book,” she told me, “but never had someone turn directly to me and say, ‘Here’s a family, here’s their problem. Give them some advice, Elizabeth.’ And that’s what I did.” Perhaps more important, she realized viscerally the disproportionate but equally undeniable reach of TV—that “by spending a few minutes talking to the family on Dr. Phil’s show,” she would write in her 2014 memoir, she “might have done more good than in an entire year” on campus.

Off air, though, Dr. Phil had some advice for Warren. He told her The Two-Income Trap was good but “too technically intense.” He told her she needed to write even more “for people who can use it.”

She needed, he said, to write another book.


She would. But the first book (and the resultant buzz) was more than enough to pave the path for Warren from her life as an academic to an increasingly political existence.

“That is definitely,” Warren biographer Antonia Felix told me, “a big turning point.”

At the end of April 2004,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2018 at 2:24 pm

GM layoffs show why there’s a crisis of confidence in American capitalism

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American capitalism is clearly out of whack. James Hohmann discusses that in this morning’s Daily 202 in the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: The president of General Motors faced a contentious confirmation hearing to become secretary of defense when Dwight Eisenhower nominated him in 1953. A member of Ike’s own party, Sen. Robert Hendrickson (R-N.J.), grilled Charles Wilson about whether his decisions would be shaded by holding millions in stock of an automaker that had extensive government contracts. “If a situation did arise where you had to make a decision which was extremely adverse to the interests of General Motors [but] in the interests of the United States government,” the senator wondered, “could you make that decision?”

“I cannot conceive of one,” Wilson told the Armed Services Committee, “because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big. It goes with the welfare of the country.”

Monday underscored that, perhaps now more than ever, what’s good for GM is not necessarily what’s good for America. The company announced that it will save $6 billion by eliminating 14,000 jobs, or 15 percent of its workforce, and halting production next year at four U.S. plants, from Macomb County in Michigan to Trumbull County in Ohio, that make the Chevy Impala, Cruze and Volt, the Cadillac CT6 and the Buick LaCrosse. But as 14,000 people and their families fretted looming unemployment, with Christmas just weeks away, investors celebrated. GM stock closed up 5 percent.

This points to the growing disconnect between what’s good for Wall Street and what’s good for Main Street. That has fueled the inequality and polarization that are dividing the country – and helped facilitate for the ascendancy of President Trump.

— “GM layoffs are another victory for capital over labor,” Chris Ingraham notes on Wonkblog: “As this chart from the St. Louis Federal Reserve shows, corporate profits and labor income — the total wages and salaries paid to American workers — tracked pretty closely for most of the latter half of the 20th century: In percentage terms, the two rose roughly in tandem from 1947 until about 2003 … But starting in 2003, profits take off, leaving wages in the dust. The Great Recession took a bite out of corporate profits, but since about 2009, profits have been on an unstoppable tear while labor income has plodded along much more slowly. … The American economy has been rewarding owners and shareholders much more richly than workers.”

“Never have corporate profits outgrown employee compensation so clearly and for so long,” the St. Louis Fed said in a report this summer.

“There are a lot of factors driving the divergence,” Chris explains. “Workers have become much more productive, contributing more and more to companies’ bottom lines, but companies haven’t been sharing those profits with the employees who make them possible. Union membership continues to decline, making it harder for workers to negotiate favorable terms of employment. In an era of rising health-care costs, companies are shifting more and more of that expense to workers.”

— This growing disconnect between capital and labor is causing many Americans to lose faith in the economic system that made ours the most powerful country in the world. That, in turn, concerns many thoughtful people on the right and the left who love capitalism and want it to be sustainable over the long-term.

One person who has grown alarmed that capitalism itself cannot survive without changes is Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.). The 38-year-old is political royalty. He’s the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy, the assassinated former attorney general. JK3, as he’s known around the Capitol, earned his undergraduate degree from Stanford and then went to Harvard Law School, where Elizabeth Warren was a favorite professor, after two years in the Dominican Republic for the Peace Corps, which his great-uncle JFK created by executive order. He worked briefly as a county prosecutor before winning an open House seat in 2012.

After six years of keeping a relatively low profile in the minority, with the notable exception of delivering this year’s Democratic response to the State of the Union, the young Kennedy feels ready to take on a bigger leadership role in the next Congress. He has ruled out a run for president in 2020, but he’s closely allied himself with Nancy Pelosi and will benefit if she, as expected, regains the speaker’s gavel. He’s also better positioned than anyone else in Massachusetts to replace Warren in the Senate if she gives up her seat to become president.

Kennedy campaigned extensively for Democratic candidates across the country this fall, from Arizona and Texas to Pennsylvania and West Virginia, plus Minnesota and many more. On the stump, he said he saw the “anger” that powered Trump and picked up on “a deep sense of unease that Americans are working harder and harder for less and less.” The congressman tried to crystalize some of his observations in a speech Monday morning during a New England Council breakfast.

“American capitalism has done great good for a great number of people,” he said. “It has given our average citizen a better standard of living than anywhere else in the world, lifted millions out of poverty and powered the globe. But its current iteration is badly broken. The sooner we admit that, the sooner we can strip it to the studs and build something better.”

Kennedy advocated for a “moral capitalism” that would be “judged not just by how much it produces, but how widely it shares; how good it does for how many; and how well it takes care of all of us.” He believes it’s imperative that House Democrats use their newfound majority to craft an agenda that “lets our businesses thrive but our people breathe.”

“Our people need an alternative to the trickle-down, feed-the-top, if-you’re-struggling-try-harder narrative that conservatives have masterfully entrenched in American consciousness, but for years, the left has failed to offer a competing – compelling – economic vision,” said Kennedy. “We’ll have to do more than tax the rich to meet our needs in infrastructure, childcare, health care, college and climate change.”

— Kennedy said the left’s failure to offer a competing vision to Reaganomics created the vacuum that has made socialism so alluring to many Democrats. For instance, the most famous incoming freshman, Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), identifies as a democratic socialist. So does Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the runner-up for the party’s nomination in 2016. “Our country bears the scars of economic injustice on the left and the right, on the fringe and in the center,” said Kennedy. “We hear it in the demands of a new generation that feels socialism better speaks its language.”

Gallup poll this summer found that more Democrats now have a positive view of socialism than capitalism by a margin of 57 percent to 47 percent. It didn’t used to be that way. The number of Democrats viewing “capitalism” as a good thing has dipped nine points in just the past two years. Among all Americans, 56 percent saw capitalism positively in the Gallup survey versus 37 percent who said the same of socialism.

Speaking of capitalism, Kennedy said: “I believe in that system. Let me be clear.” But he warned that the safety net is buckling under the pressure. “And the average American family is left on its own, facing an economy they can’t access, a government they can’t depend on and a system they can’t possibly afford,” he continued. “This is the injustice we have to solve not just because of some political map but because our system will not survive if we don’t.”

Sounding very much like his famous grandfather did in Appalachia during the 1968 primaries, he noted that a full-time minimum wage worker can no longer afford a two-bedroom apartment in a single state. One in four American families skip doctor visits for fear of the bills that will follow. Low-income families spend half their monthly income on child care.  And a quarter of workers make less than $10 an hour, putting them below the federal poverty line.

“Meanwhile the top 1 percent owns 40 percent of our country’s wealth,” he said. “The average CEO makes 361 times what their average worker makes. Payouts to shareholders after the GOP tax bill will hit $1.3 trillion this year while wages still hover at the lowest they’ve been in over half a century. Even in Massachusetts – where we hold ourselves up as a beacon for progress and inclusion and equity – the top 1 percent of earners in Suffolk County make over 50 times more than the bottom 99 percent.”

Then, in a historical rarity, a Kennedy quoted Richard Nixon to make his point. When he was Ike’s vice president in 1959, Nixon wound up shoulder to shoulder with Nikita Khrushchev at the American National Exhibition in Moscow. And they had an impromptu debate about which system – communism or capitalism – provided the greatest prosperity for its people. It played out while the men stood in the kitchen of a model American home, filled with everyday gadgets, that Nixon boasted any American family could afford. “That was the point of pride,” Kennedy explained. “That was the barometer of economic success our country proudly offered the world. It was not based on summer homes or private jets or pricey schools but on a basic prosperity everyone could access.”

Kennedy said corporations began to break the social contract that was forged during and after World War II as “they lurched towards self-preservation – cutting costs, wages, benefits and jobs.” He complained that government assisted them by cutting corporate taxes, creating incentives to move production abroad, failing to block mergers that created monopolies, removing employer obligations to pension funds and weakening worker safety rules. “Through deliberate choice and conscious action, we recalibrated the American economy — away from workers, families and communities and toward capital, profit and shareholders,” he said.

He sees the GM news as more than just the consequence of one company’s choices. “It’s the result of a system that has loosened the terms of its social contract 1,000 times, 1,000 ways over the past 50 years,” he said last night.

— Trump identified many of the same problems as Kennedy when he sought the presidency, and he said addressing them would be a priority. But he’s overpromised and underdelivered. On the eve of the election in 2016, Trump visited Warren, Mich., where a GM transmission plant will close next year. “If I’m elected, you won’t lose one plant,” he told the crowd. “I promise you that!”

Visiting Youngstown last summer, a few miles from a Chevy plant that’s going to close, Trump said: “Let me tell you folks in Ohio and in this area, don’t sell your house! Do not sell it. We’re going to get those values up. We’re going to get those jobs coming back, and we’re going to fill up those factories or rip them down and build new ones.”

— Compare his rhetoric to the reality: “Trade wars are good, and easy to win,” Trump tweeted in March.

Raw-material costs have soared as a result of Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, with Ford saying it absorbed a $1 billion hit because of the president’s policies,” David Lynch and Taylor Telford report on the front page of today’s newspaper. “The new North American trade deal with Mexico and Canada includes sourcing requirements that will complicate industry supply chains, and the president also is considering imposing 25 percent tariffs on imported vehicles, a policy that would increase the cost of imported cars by an estimated $6,000 and eliminate 600,000 industry jobs, according to the American Automotive Policy Council. Philip Levy, a White House economist in the George W. Bush administration, said the auto industry layoffs could prompt Trump to go ahead with additional trade barriers. ‘While he should take the GM move as a prompt to reconsider his approach, he seems much more inclined to double down reflexively,’ Levy wrote in an email.”

— At the White House on Monday, Trump told reporters that he complained directly to GM chief executive Mary Barra about the layoffs and closures. “I was very tough,” the president said. “I said, ‘You know, this country has done a lot for General Motors. You better get back in there soon.’”

He specifically singled out the plant in Ohio. Trump said he’s pushing the company to repurpose the Lordstown plant, which makes the Chevy Cruze, so it can produce new vehicles. Back in May, I wrote a Big Ideaabout how that facility was losing its second shift partly as a result of Trump’s decision to roll back EPA fuel standards. It was one illustration of the unintended consequences of the president’s policies backfiring on people who supported him. Now the plant will close altogether.

But Trump pledged on Monday that everything will work out. “I have no doubt that, in a not-too-distant future, they’ll put something else,” he said. “They better put something else in!” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2018 at 7:55 am

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