Archive for the ‘Democrats’ Category
Michael Tomasky reviews a timely book in the NY Review of Books:
Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich
by Peter Schweizer
Harper, 243 pp., $27.99
As Hillary Rodham Clinton pursues the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, we face a situation that is wholly without precedent in modern American electoral history. There have been presumptive nominees before, usually sitting vice-presidents—Al Gore in 2000, George H.W. Bush in 1988, and Hubert Humphrey in 1968, to name three. But even they faced competition from candidates who were certainly from the “first tier”—Bill Bradley, Bob Dole, Jack Kemp, Bobby Kennedy, and Gene McCarthy.
Clinton faces no such opposition within her party. It’s good that Senator Bernie Sanders has decided to enter the race. Clinton will have to debate him, and his mere presence will force her to take positions she could otherwise get away with not taking. But it’s rather unlikely that a socialist from Vermont can capture a major-party nomination. Similarly, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley probably doesn’t arouse much concern at Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters. He has a solid record of achievement in Annapolis and intriguing credentials as a Catholic committed to social justice. But he comes with baggage, too—the extremely incompetent implementation of Obamacare in his state and, now, the mere fact that he was once the mayor of the sad, segregated city of Baltimore, perpetually suspended in a kind of bitter aspic of deindustrialization, disinvestment, and broken promises. Sometimes governors exude clear presidential potential, as did Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. O’Malley, so far anyway, does not.
And that’s about it. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is out; she plainly does not want to be president. Although she’s been active in opposing Obama’s proposed Pacific trade agreement, she’s never shown a deep interest in foreign policy, which is a rather important part of any president’s job, particularly so at this point in history. Short of incapacitating illness or a scandal of enormous proportions, Clinton will almost certainly be the Democratic nominee.
This puts her in a strong position, but it also places a special burden on her. It means that the nation’s liberals and Democrats, millions of people who usually have a choice to make, in essence don’t have one here. There is much at stake in next year’s election. For a start, a new president who serves two terms may well nominate three or even four justices to the Supreme Court, meaning either that the Court’s conservative majority will be solidified and enlarged, with more allies of Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito, or that it will be reversed, giving the country a liberal Supreme Court majority for the first time since the 1980s. Such a Court could spend a generation or two reversing the precedents set by the Courts of William Rehnquist and John Roberts.
So Clinton, who leads in national polls and will benefit from an Electoral College map that favors any Democratic candidate, has a special obligation as a candidate. She has to run a better race than she ran in 2008. She needs to show—as she already has on issues like immigration, criminal justice, and the tax rates of hedge fund managers—that she is attuned to where the electorate is today. And she needs to take all reasonable steps to avoid taints of scandal. If a late-breaking controversy over Clinton’s record and character propels someone like Scott Walker to the White House, the sense of betrayal and despair will be ferocious.
The Clinton Foundation—until recently the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation—has done a lot of good in the world since its founding in 2001. By far its largest program—$128 million spent in 2013—is the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which facilitates the provision of, and negotiates price reductions for, AIDS and malarial drugs to millions of people in Africa and elsewhere. It does other work to expand access to health care in developing countries.
The second-largest of the foundation’s seven major programs ($23.6 million in 2013) is the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), which “convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges,” according to the foundation’s website. In early May, the CGI hosted a meeting in Marrakesh where regional leaders were introduced to experts on youth unemployment, innovation, entrepreneurship, and kindred topics. The foundation also funds work related to domestic poverty and the effects of climate change both in the United States and around the world.
Some critics have raised questions about several of the foundation’s programs. For example, does anything constructive actually happen in poor countries once those regional leaders go back home after getting to hobnob with Bill Clinton for a few days? The foundation often operates at the intersection of the nonprofit, public-sector, and management-consulting worlds, and it is hard to discern clear results of some of its activities. Yet at the same time, there can be little doubt that Bill Clinton’s work has saved and improved lives. Back when the foundation still used to get good press, anAtlantic article described in detail how Clinton and his old friend Ira Magaziner, then working with the foundation, succeeded in negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for lower anti-AIDS drug prices:
So the foundation went to governments in Africa and the Caribbean and organized demand for AIDS drugs, obtaining intentions to place large orders if prices could be cut. It simultaneously went to drug companies, offering them a much larger and less-volatile market for AIDS drugs in return for lower prices based on the projected higher volume. Although the foundation asked for aggressive “forward pricing” to kick-start demand, it pointedly did not ask for donations or charity. “To be sustainable,” says Magaziner, “this can’t be a charitable act.” Rather, the foundation was offering a business proposition: If we get you the demand, can you get us the supply?
It’s hard to argue with that, and no one outside of the right-wing fever swamps really does.
What people argue with are two things: the donations the foundation accepts from foreign governments and individuals, and the speaker fees paid to Bill and Hillary Clinton. For the most part those payments are not specifically related to the foundation; but they are given much emphasis by the Clintons’ numerous opponents. There is palpable fear among them that she will win the presidency, serve eight years, reshape the Supreme Court, and pursue the other lamentable goals one might expect from the Clintons. . .
Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:
The chickens are coming home to roost in the campaign of the quintessential Wall Street Democrat, Hillary Clinton. The mountains of cash sluiced into the Clinton pockets and their Foundation together with Hillary’s destruction of emails from her stint as Secretary of State caught up with her last week in two devastating polls showing that a majority of Americans don’t think she is trustworthy.
As cynical as we’ve become as a nation, surely a requirement to occupy the highest office in the land should include the belief by your fellow Americans that one is trustworthy.
On June 2, a CNN/ORC poll was released showing that 57 percent of those polled, up from 49 percent in March, say Hillary is not honest and trustworthy. The same day, the Washington Post published the findings from a poll conducted by itself and ABC, summarizing the findings as follows: “Clinton’s favorability ratings are the lowest in a Post-ABC poll since April 2008, when she was running for president the first time. Today, 41 percent of Americans say she is honest and trustworthy, compared with 52 percent who say she is not — a 22-point swing in the past year.”
A reader comment below the Washington Post article, posted by “Tobit” may be an epiphany. The reader noted that: “…Clinton’s favorability is at its lowest point since she ran for president two elections ago. This seems to indicate that the more people get to know Hillary, the less they like her. Of course her election ‘hide in plain sight’ strategy won’t work.”
Kyle Wingfield, writing in his blog at the Atlanta Journal Constitution on June 3, explained that the loss of confidence is dramatic among voters who identify as independents. Wingfield writes:
“In the course of just six weeks, Clinton’s standing with independents on the ‘cares about people like you’ question went from plus 51 to minus 17. Equally stunning is her drop on the ‘is honest and trustworthy’ question: from plus 37 to minus 24.
“Those do not look like the periodic gyrations that political candidates face over the course of a long campaign. They look like a hard flip from an overwhelmingly positive view of her to a sharply negative view of her.”
On June 4, Dana Milbank explained at the Washington Post how the $2 billion that the Clinton Foundation has sucked in from corporations, Wall Street firms, and foreign governments around the world can now tie it to “virtually any skullduggery.” Milbank writes:
“…Clinton and her husband have only themselves to blame for making themselves vulnerable to guilt-by-association attacks. They have managed to make Hillary Clinton conspicuously out of tune with the mood of the 2016 electorate: At a time of rising populist backlash against Wall Street, inequality and wealth-purchased privilege, there is no Democrat more closely tied to the rich and the powerful than Clinton. At a time when Democrats need to draw contrasts with Republicans by sticking up for the little guy, Clinton’s solicitation of — and favors for — the powerful make her an inauthentic messenger.”
Revelations of the Clintons’ money machine have been devastating. In June of last year, the Washington Post reported that Bill Clinton was paid “$104.9 million for 542 speeches around the world between January 2001, when he left the White House, and January 2013, when Hillary stepped down as secretary of state, according to a Washington Post review of the family’s federal financial disclosures.” This is their personal financial take, not monies flowing to the Clinton Foundation which has raked in over $2 billion.
Of that $104.9 million in personal income, $19.6 million came from speaking engagements at Wall Street firms and other financial institutions like hedge funds.
Just three weeks ago, . . .
John Cassidy in the New Yorker has an interesting look at the Sanders candidacy:
Six days after formally entering the 2016 Presidential race, Senator Bernie Sanders is having some time of it. After attracting overflow crowds at a number of stops in Iowa late last week, Sanders moved on to Minnesota on Sunday, where he appeared at the Minneapolis American Indian Center and declared, “Our country belongs to all of our people and not just a handful of billionaires.” According to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, about three thousand people turned out. A local television station estimated the number of attendees at four thousand.
Whatever the exact number was, the seventy-three-year-old from Vermont appears to be attracting bigger crowds than any other candidate, Democrat or Republican. With one recent national survey finding that fifteen per cent of likely Democratic voters support him, and a new Des Moines Register pollshowing him picking up sixteen per cent of the Democratic vote in Iowa, the media is starting to accord him some serious attention. The Times, having initially failed to report Sanders’s formal announcement of his candidacy in its print edition, ran a front-page story on Friday about his appeal to senior citizens, and another piece over the weekend about the enthusiastic reception he was receiving in Iowa. Before speaking in Minneapolis on Sunday, Sanders appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” where he highlighted the “grotesque level of income and wealth inequality” in the U.S. and said, “I think we need a political revolution in this country.”
To be sure, not all of the Sanders coverage has been helpful to his campaign. Last week, Mother Jones, as an accompaniment to an interesting piece about his early years in left-wing politics, reprinted an article he wrote in 1972 for an alternative newspaper called the Vermont Freeman, the subject of which was male and female power relations, and sexual fantasies. One line in particular got quite a bit of media attention, including an explainer by NPR’s Danielle Kurtzleben. “A woman enjoys intercourse with her man—as she fantasizes being raped by 3 men simultaneously,” Sanders wrote. On “Meet the Press,” the host, Chuck Todd, asked the senator about the piece. Sanders described it as fiction, adding, “It was dealing with gender stereotypes, why some men like to oppress women, why other women like to be submissive. You know, something like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ Very poorly written, forty-three years ago.”
While it is embarrassing to Sanders, the flap about his literary effort, which he wrote while trying to get by as a carpenter and freelance journalist, seems unlikely to have much lasting effect on his campaign. That’s partly because Sanders’s run for the White House isn’t based on his personal character, or even his record as a mayor, congressman, and U.S. senator. Sanders is running for a cause—a resurgent progressivism that was conceived during decades of wage stagnation and rising inequality, born during the great financial crisis of 2008, and announced on the political stage by the street protests of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the widespread public support they engendered.
Of course, many candidates claim that their campaigns aren’t about them but about something larger. But when Sanders uses this line, which he does all the time, he is merely stating a fact. Before he entered the 2016 race, the new progressivism was a cause in search of a candidate. After Senator Elizabeth Warren refused to step up and run, Sanders seized his chance, and he is now getting his reward. In a contest dominated by a consummate insider with strong ties to the moneyed élite, many disaffected Democrats are embracing him as an underdog and an outsider. During a general election, almost all of Sanders’s supporters would vote for Clinton over Jeb Bush or any other Republican, but, right now, his presence in the primary gives them the opportunity to raise a rumpus, and to try to pull the party in a liberal direction.
As the campaign progresses, it will be fascinating to see how far this effort succeeds. Already, Clinton has shifted her stance on immigration reform and the criminal-justice system. In two recent speeches, she pledged to extend President Obama’s initiatives aimed at undocumented workers and their families, and called for an end to mass incarceration.
Although each of these policy proposals is important in its own right, neither would cost the Democratic Party’s donor class any money. The political test for Clinton will come in the area of economic policy, where Sanders has put out a comprehensive and, by American standards, quite radical manifesto. It includes reforming the tax code to make the rich pay more, raising the federal minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour, reforming trade policies, breaking up the big banks, and turning Medicare into a public health-care system for Americans of all ages. . . .
The Clintons’ unbridled avarice is unattractive if not actively repulsive. Deborah Sontag, doubtless now on a Clinton “enemies” list—and that seems in keeping with their style—reports in the NY Times:
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Petra Nemcova, a Czech model who survived the disaster by clinging to a palm tree, decided to pull out all the stops for the annual fund-raiser of her school-building charity, the Happy Hearts Fund.
She booked Cipriani 42nd Street, which greeted guests with Bellini cocktails on silver trays. She flew in Sheryl Crow with her band and crew for a 20-minute set. She special-ordered heart-shaped floral centerpieces, heart-shaped chocolate parfaits, heart-shaped tiramisù and, because orange is the charity’s color, an orange carpet rather than a red one. She imported a Swiss auctioneer and handed out orange rulers to serve as auction paddles, playfully threatening to use hers to spank the highest bidder for an Ibiza vacation.
The gala cost $363,413. But the real splurge? Bill Clinton.
The former president of the United States agreed to accept a lifetime achievement award at the June 2014 event after Ms. Nemcova offered a $500,000 contribution to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. The donation, made late last year after the foundation sent the charity an invoice, amounted to almost a quarter of the evening’s net proceeds — enough to build 10 preschools in Indonesia.
Happy Hearts’ former executive director believes the transaction was a “quid pro quo,” which rerouted donations intended for a small charity with the concrete mission of rebuilding schools after natural disasters to a large foundation with a broader agenda and a budget 100 times bigger.
“The Clinton Foundation had rejected the Happy Hearts Fund invitation more than once, until there was a thinly veiled solicitation and then the offer of an honorarium,” said the former executive director, Sue Veres Royal, who held that position at the time of the gala and was dismissed a few weeks later amid conflicts over the gala and other issues. . .
Dan Froomkin reports in The Intercept:
Sen. Maria Cantwell [D-WA] engaged in a very public maneuver on the Senate floor Thursday, withholding her vote in favor of the big trade bill until she got assurances that there would be a vote on renewing the Export-Import Bank.
Afterward, explaining the fervency of her support for the Ex-Im Bank, she told such a howler that even the Capitol press corps, not empowered to actually call a senator a liar, made sure to offer readers the opportunity to reach that conclusion on their own.
The Democrat from Washington state, where Boeing is the single largest employer, said her support for the Ex-Im – often called the “Bank of Boeing” because fully $8 billion of the bank’s $12 billion in annual loan guarantees support the international sales of its jetliners – wasn’t inspired by the aerospace giant, but by small businesses in her state, like one in Yakima that exports music stands.
Erica Warner’s story for the Associated Press was headlined “Sen. Cantwell turns Senate divisions on trade to advantage,” and began as follows:
President Barack Obama’s trade bill faced a crucial test vote in the Senate, and Washington state Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell saw an opportunity.
In a tense drama that unfolded in real time on the Senate floor Thursday, Cantwell withheld her vote to move forward on the trade legislation until she received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that the Senate would vote on renewing the Export-Import Bank.
Ex-Im is a little-known government agency that guarantees loans to help U.S. exporters. One of its major beneficiaries: Boeing Co., which employs 80,000 people in Washington state.
Warner then drily noted Cantwell’s explanation:
But Cantwell said she thought not of Boeing but of a little company in Yakima., Wash., that exports music stands to China as she made her stand in the Senate well.
And she added this kick at the end of the story:
Her moves did not go unnoticed by Boeing, whose executive, James McNerney, was on the Hill Thursday morning to meet with Senate Democratic leaders. Company spokesman Tim Neale said, “She’s been very supportive of us on this issue which we really appreciate.”
The Ex-Im bank has become a target of Tea-party conservatives and other free-market purists who see it, with some justification, as the height of crony capitalism. It will have to shut down on July 1 if Congress doesn’t reauthorize it. . .
I am very glad that Elizabeth Warren is in the Senate. I think she can get more done there than as president, to be honest. In Wall Street on Parade Pam Martens and Russ Martens look at her latest initiative:
Increasingly it feels to Americans that the bulk of the news about scams to separate them from their life savings is coming from one Senator from Massachusetts — Elizabeth Warren.
Ripoffs in financial services, insurance, and real estate – known as F.I.R.E. on Wall Street – are being exposed by Warren, typically in bold pronouncements in Senate Banking hearings where Warren has a chair and a respected voice, and are rapidly amplified in the media.
In 2013, it was only because of Senator Warren that we learned that the so-called Independent Foreclosure Reviews to settle the claims of 4 million homeowners who had been illegally foreclosed on by the bailed out Wall Street banks were a sham. The “independent” consultants were hired by the banks, paid by the banks, and the banks themselves were allowed to determine the number of victims.
It was Senator Warren who put the high frequency trading scam described in the Michael Lewis book, “Flash Boys,” into layman’s language the American people could understand. Speaking at a Senate hearing on June 18 of last year, Warren said:
“High frequency trading reminds me a little of the scam in Office Space. You know, you take just a little bit of money from every trade in the hope that no one will complain. But taking a little bit of money from zillions of trades adds up to billions of dollars in profits for these high frequency traders and billions of dollars in losses for our retirement funds and our mutual funds and everybody else in the market place. It also means a tilt in the playing field for those who don’t have the information or have the access to the speed or big enough to play in this game.”
In 2013, Warren, together with Senators John McCain, Maria Cantwell and Angus King, introduced the “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act.” Warren explained why the legislation is critically needed:
“By separating traditional depository banks from riskier financial institutions,” said Warren, “the 1933 version of Glass-Steagall laid the groundwork for half a century of financial stability. During that time, we built a robust and thriving middle class. But throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Congress and regulators chipped away at Glass-Steagall’s protections, encouraging growth of the megabanks and a sharp increase in systemic risk. They finally finished the task in 1999 with the passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which eliminated Glass-Steagall’s protections altogether.”
Nine years later, the financial system crashed, leaving the economy in the worst condition since the Great Depression.
Last December, Warren made headlines again, stepping onto the Senate floor to reveal to the American people how Citigroup, the bank that received the largest taxpayer bailout in the history of the country after it imploded from its own derivatives bets in 2008 – had just slipped language into the spending bill to overturn part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill meant to rein in that behavior going forward. Despite her pleas, the bill passed both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Obama.
Today, Warren is under fire by the “I” in F.I.R.E. – the insurance industry. On April 28, she sent letters to 15 insurance companies, including AIG, the international insurance company that blew itself up in 2008 by taking on the risks of Wall Street’s credit default swap bets and was bailed out with $182 billion from taxpayers.
The letters asked the insurance companies to provide Warren with the specifics on the incentives they offer to push the sale of annuities, the number and value of the incentives awarded, and the companies’ policies for disclosing these potential conflicts of interest. The letters were sent to the 15 companies with the highest 2014 annuity sales to individuals: Jackson National Life, AIG Companies, Lincoln Financial Group, Allianz Life, TIAA-CREF, New York Life, Prudential Annuities, Transamerica, AXA USA, MetLife, Nationwide, Pacific Life, Forethought Annuity, RiverSource Life Insurance, and Security Benefit Life.
Warren has documented a range of perks that are being given to insurance agents: cruises, Ritz Carlton vacations, diamond-encrusted NFL-style Super Bowl rings, large sums of cash and stock options.
One example cited by Warren was . . .