Monday, September 26, 2016

I Liveblog the 9-29-16 Presidential Debate

Done on Facebook, archiving here:

I'm going to live-blog the debate- the first one I'm listening to live. My expectation is, Clinton loses. I expect her to go full wonk, details, didactic, dull as toast, while Trump beats her up one side and down the other with blatant lies and personal attacks. Clinton will try direct attacks on Trump's integrity, but direct attacks have never worked with him. Above all else, Clinton needs to dump the laundry list of policies and give America a theme, a reason to pick HER and not her PLATFORM. 

Bear in mind I will vote for Clinton in November, but I despise both these people. The difference is, I could be misjudging Clinton and her record, but there's no way I'm misjudging Trump. His record, his speech, his blatant bigotry and greed should disqualify him from ANYTHING.

She shook hands with Trump. I wouldn't do that in a million years.

And Hillary comes out dull as a hammer. with laundry-lists. "I want, I want, I want." The question was, why are you the best person to create the jobs we need for the future? She never actually answered it directly.
Trump comes out by repeating twenty-year-old far-right economic talking points. They're old, and they're wrong, but they are a THEME, not a laundry list. Strangely, Trump is very calm and quiet so far...
"Mrs. Clinton, would you like to respond?" "Well, I think trade is an important issue." She comes out so weak, and then she delivers "Trumped-up," a totally lame laugh line that sounds insincere. And then she treats Trump as if his views were respectable and rational. She's not beating him down, she's LIFTING HIM UP. She's putting him on an equal plane with herself. BAD MOVE.
Trump delivers a credible-sounding point on VAT taxes in other countries, then patronizes Clinton, then slams her on not re-negotiating NAFTA. "What have you done in thirty years?" But he never answered the question about bringing back jobs, and the moderator called him on it. Trump then basically proposes protective tariffs to prevent outsourcing.
Clinton then comes back by attacking the Bush tax codes and deregulations, not job outsourcing. Trump interrupts to make Clinton's pointing out that he rooted for the 2008 economic crash- "That's called business, by the way."
Ah, I see. She's attacking Trump's proposed tax cuts as a job-killer- but it took her long enough.
Trump interrupts again to deny Clinton's calling him out as a climate change denier.
 Trump continues to claim the economy is disastrous. Clinton needs to defend the Obama economic legacy, and fast.
Trump uses the "thirty years" thing again. "I will bring back jobs. You can't bring back jobs."
Clinton almost had a good comeback- "I think my husband did a pretty good job." Unfortunately she has NO timing, NO rhetorical instincts- she just rushed on without letting it sink in.
"NAFTA is the worst trade deal ever." And then Trump attacks on TPP and Clinton's flip-flop. "That is just not accurate," Clinton says, and then Trump talks over her. "Donald, I know you live in your own reality." YES. But Trump interrupts again, trying to get her to blame Obama.
Trump repeats his talking points about how good his tax cut is, and then attacks Clinton on regulations. "I'm gonna cut regulations bigly." And Clinton talks over the moderator to get a response. And tells the audience to fact-check Trump on her campaign website.
And now it's toe to toe, but Trump is unravelling a bit.
New question: Defend your tax policy. Trump basically preaches trickle-down and "job creators."
Trump claims Republicans and Democrats agree on cutting business taxes so multinationals will bring back overseas money.
Clinton scores one with "blame everything on me" and "keep saying crazy things." Trump reacts poorly.
"Trumped-up trickle-down." It's not clever, it's not amusing, and whoever told Hillary it was needs to be fired.
Trump can't respond to Clinton's points about the failure of top-down economics, so he attacks her as a typical incompetent politician.
Trump repeats his attacks that Fed chair Yellin is holding down interest rates solely to make Obama look good. Sadly, that'll look plausible to his conspiracy-theory followers.
Question: "Why don't you release your tax returns?" Trump repeats his "audit" excuse, then says, "Look at my FEC disclosure."
Moderator follows up, basically says the audit excuse is bogus. Trump basically says the IRS is out to get him with audits every year "but I'm not complaining." Then uses it to pivot to emails. Cheers from the crowd.
Clinton attacks Trump on tax returns, using the standard "not as rich," "not as charitable", and "indebted to Wall Street and Russia." Then adds a new point: "Maybe he didn't pay any income taxes." Trump interrupts: "That's just smart."
If Hillary had any instinct for rhythm and when to cut short the babble, she'd be walking all over Trump. As it is, it looks pretty even, with Trump holding an edge in dominance.
Clinton gives her usual unconvincing "I made a mistake" response to emails, and Trump nails her on it. Six "Disgracefuls."
And Trump just claimed with a straight face that $650,000,000 is "not a lot of money."
Apparently, in Trump's mind, having a worse airport than Dubai's makes you a third world country.
And Clinton counterattacks on business. Trump doesn't pay people who works for him. And Trump is NODDING.
Clinton points out that Trump once said he'd negotiate down the national debt. Trump interrupts: "Wrong." And then when she stops, he says, "It's all words." Basically calls Clinton a liar, without saying the L word.
 I'm having trouble following Trump; he's degenerating into word salad.
 "Let's start by talking about race." Hoo boy.
I wish Clinton had a bit more energy on her answer on race, but she's saying everything absolutely right otherwise... until she waffles by saying "cops are nice too."
And guns. Oh boy. I think Clinton just let Trump off the hook by bringing guns into this topic.
"Law and order." Trump basically takes the side of the cops without limit. "Inner cities, blacks and hispanics live in Hell." He doesn't say it, but the framing basically blames non-whites for the lack of "law and order." "We have gangs roaming the streets, and in many cases they're illegal immigrants." Talking points, clearly delivered.
Trump dances around the "stop and frisk" issues and, in the process, makes the moderator look like an ignoramus.
Trump repeats himself, but it's effective.
Clinton defends black communities. "There are right ways of doing this, and there are ways that are ineffective." NO, NO, NO. There are right ways and WRONG WAYS. Use the rhetoric, dammit, don't sounds so goddamn soft.
 Clinton brings up systemic racism. "We can't just say law and order, we hav- we have to create a plan..." She says the right things, but she says them SO DAMN POORLY.
I hope Trump's nodding at Clinton's list of gun control proposals gets him into trouble.
"Do you think police are biased?" Clinton basically says we're all biased- which is the PERFECT way to handle that. It's true. Well done. She pledges training and support for police. Trump agrees with no-fly list also meaning no-guns list, but then he attacks Clinton on "superpredator." Subtly calling her racist. Then goes back to praising stop-and-frisk, that it works, that he'd re-institute it.
Trump: "Democratic politicians use and abandon black voters." Which is not untrue, but Clinton's not likely to get an opportunity to respond.
 No, she did- and she didn't respond to his attack. "I prepared for this debate, just like I prepared to be President, and that's a good thing."
Birtherism comes up. Trump blames Clinton's staff for it. "I got him to give the birth certificate." He actually claims he should be thanked for ending a distracting non-issue. Moderator calls him on it. "Nobody was caring much about it."
Trump claims he has good relationships with the black community.
"Just listen to what you heard."
Clinton brings in the 1973 racial discrimination in housing suit.
Trump basically says, "Don't act like you admire Obama. You hate Obama, look at your 2008 debates." He then says, "I was only one of many, and I never admitted guilt."
note: while I'm doing this I can't check any site that's doing live fact-check. So I don't know if Trump is bullshitting about his Palm Beach club that doesn't discriminate on race.
Cyberattacks. Clinton calls out Russia specifically, then notes that Trump praises Putin all the time. Unfortunately she's just so very poor with her delivery.
Trump wins the point on foreign relations: "I'd rather be endorsed by admirals, generals, and border patrol than by crooked politicians."
He then denies that Russia hacked the DNC, then points out the DNC's plans to shut out Bernie Sanders (which is questionable).
If there's a word cloud of Clinton's half of the debate, the biggest word will be "Ah."
"We have to be cognizant of the fact-" NO NO NO. "We have to recognize."
How do you prevent home-grown terrorism? "Obama and Clinton created ISIS." "We should have taken the oil." Clinton: "Fact-checkers." NO, NO, NO. There was a perfect slam on the idiotic "taken the oil" bit, and you didn't even THINK of it.
Clinton, unlike Trump, answers the original question.
Trump directly attacks Clinton's record as SecState, He then goes into word-salad about NATO.
"I did not support the war in Iraq." "The record shows otherwise." "The record shows that I'm right." - Trump is shameless about his lies, then claims that nobody's gone to Howard Stern and Sean Hannity to get them to testify that he was against the war.
"I have a much better temperament than Clinton." - Er.
Clinton defends her record. Trump nods, but he also sneers.
Trump thinks that American sailors shooting Iranian sailors would not start a war.
Clinton actually speaks well when defending her own record. It's almost the first time all debate she's shown any genuine passion.
So, first use of nuclear weapons. Trump babbles about America being behind, then says he wouldn't first-strike.
Clinton very, very softly and circumspectly attacks Trump on betraying American alliances. Utter fail. If you're going to call him out, CALL HIM OUT.
Hillary gets a little bit of energy when talking on foreign relations... but only a little. The rest of the time she's almost monotone.
The moderator calls out Trump on "Clinton doesn't have the presidential look." Trump claims he said "stamina." Clinton slams Trump on stamina. Trump slams her on her "bad experience." Draw.
And Clinton calls Trump out for his misogyny. And Trump has no good answer except, "Clinton says tough things about me."
And Trump continues to whine.
"Are you willing to accept the outcome of this election?" Clinton: yes. "This election is about you." Trump: "I want to make America great again."
Final conclusion: Trump had the energy, the style, the debating skills. Listening to Hillary was a chore, except on foreign relations, when she actually found a little energy. Her attempts to make jokes fell absolutely flat. But... Hillary had the only one-liners worth a damn. I call this a tie, overall.
Key failure: Hillary Clinton didn't provide a unified vision of what she stands for.
Another way to put this: for someone who only reads the transcripts, and for someone who fact-checks, Hillary wins hands down. For someone watching, who doesn't know much about politics or policy and who is only listening to tones of voice and confidence, Trump won the first half, Clinton the second half, roughly a tie overall. The problem is, there are a lot more of the second category than the first.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why Worry About a Clinton Presidency?

I have no love whatever for either Bill or Hillary Clinton, mostly because I remember how Bill worked harder than anybody in Washington to get the Republican economic plan enacted.

"Wait a minute," you say. "Bill's a Democrat. Are you saying there's no difference between the parties?" No, there is a difference between the parties... but when it comes to strictly economic matters, it's very hard to find it.

Let's begin with this interview with Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter With Kansas? and The Wrecking Crew and, most recently, Listen, Liberal, a scathing critique about how the centrist-led Democratic Party has abandoned everyone except the wealthy upper class for the past quarter century. Frank lines up the major policy victories the Clinton administration claimed.

"Fulfilling so much of the GOP agenda": That is a point worth reiterating. Clinton had five major achievements as president: NAFTA, the Crime Bill of 1994, welfare reform, the deregulation of banks and telecoms, and the balanced budget. All of them -- every single one -- were longstanding Republican objectives. His smaller achievements were more traditionally Democratic (he raised the earned-income tax credit and the minimum wage), but his big accomplishments all enacted conservative wishes, and then all of them ended in disaster.

. . .

The final conservative consequence of the impeachment, although this one was surely not intended: impeaching Clinton made him a martyr and hence a hero to Democrats. It secured his family's and his faction's grip on the Democratic Party apparently forever.

Let's omit the Crime Bill of 1994, which is not exclusively economic in nature. (Also worth noting: it's the only one of those five that either Bill or Hillary has expressed any remorse over.)

The same interview, Mr. Frank on NAFTA:

Clinton never had a really great relationship with workers' organizations, but the worst thing Clinton he did to them was NAFTA. There were many trade agreements, of course, but NAFTA was the one that mattered, both because it was the first one and because labor put everything into stopping it. Indeed labor had stopped it when George H. W. Bush tried to get it through Congress. Clinton got it done, however, with a little muscle and a vast fog of preposterous claims about how NAFTA would increase exports and manufacturing employment.

His admirers saw NAFTA as his "finest hour," because he had stood up to a traditional Democratic constituency. What an achievement. NAFTA handed employers all over America the ultimate weapon against workers: They could now credibly threaten to pick up and leave at the slightest show of worker backbone -- and they make such threats all the time now.

This is why union leaders picked Clinton, but union members picked Sanders in the primaries. The leaders are part of the Democratic power structure, but the actual rank and file remember full well how routinely and thoroughly Bill Clinton shafted them.

For a bit more detail on this and the other points, quoting from These United States by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and Thomas J. Sugrue:

Clinton was the most prominent member of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), a group of insurgent Democrats founded in 1985 who argued that for the Democratic Party to survive, it needed to move rightward on civil rights, foreign policy, and especially economic policy. DLC members argued that liberals had lost touch with the majority of voters, particularly white working- and middle-class men...

The DLC was particularly attractive to younger Democrats from the Sunbelt. Its first six chairs were all from southern or border states... The DLC's pro-business politics attracted substantial corporate support. By 1991-92, of its one hundred "sustaining members", fifty-seven were corporations and another twelve were professional and trade associations...

At its 1990 conference, the DLC laid out its principles in the "New Orleans Declaration," a document that became a blueprint for Clinton's candidacy. The "Democratic Party's fundamental mission," it stated, "is to expand opportunity, not government." This meant embracing pro-business policies, including free trade, a streamlined, business-friendly tax code, and government subsidies for high-tech research and development. It criticized welfare for maintaining the poor "in dependence." Finally, the DLC echoed Republican calls for "individual responsibility"...

... Most Republicans supported NAFTA, but it faced stiff opposition among Democrats, who argued that it would accelerate "runaway jobs" to Mexico, where companies would have easy access to cheap labor without the burdens of environmental and safety regulations. Clinton countered that NAFTA would encourage American "competitiveness" and, over time, expand American firms' job share...

I'll just pause in the quotes to point out two things. First, in an open market, when people compete, prices come down. In this case, the competition is between American workers and peasant or slave labor in places like Mexico, China, Bangladesh, etc. etc. etc. "Competitiveness" means lower American wages in this context. Second, expanding American firms' job share is not the same thing as expanding American incomes. In fact the opposite has happened; while American firms did indeed expand their "job share," American workers have seen their jobs vanish and their pay stagnate or fall. Looking at the evidence, there's no doubt in my mind that this was deliberate on the part of conservatives. The best you can say for the Clintons is that they aided and abetted the mechanism, even if you can't prove lowering American wages was their goal.

Continuing quotes from These United States:

Since his days in the DLC, Clinton had argued for "personal responsibility." He and conservatives alike argued that poverty was the result of dysfunctional families, parents who lacked the motivation to work, and teens who engaged in crime and promiscuous sex. Behind all these changes was an overgenerous welfare system. Poor people needed a dose of "traditional values" like thrift, deferred gratification, and work discipline.

This criticism of welfare focused mostly on urban African Americans, who lived in communities that had been hit the hardest by disinvestment and depopulation...

In 1996 President Clinton and Speaker Gingrich negotiated the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. A triumph of bipartisanship, it abolished AFDC, replacing it with a new program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). ... It was telling that ending poverty was not even listed as one of the law's primary goals. As Representative E. Clay Shaw (R-FL), one of the bill's sponsors, argued, TANF was about discipline. "You're going to have some who are just not going to be able to make it," he stated. Welfare reform "presented a certain amount of pain for not being able to take control of your life." The reform forced individuals to fend for themselves, whatever the consequences might be.

... The new, daunting eligibility rules discouraged many needy parents from applying for TANF, even though they were eligible for support. In the decade following the enactment of TANF, welfare rolls nationwide dropped by nearly 60 percent. By contrast, poverty rates fell modestly in the late 1990s... a 1999 study of poor families in thirteen states reported finding "evidence of lives made harder by the loss of cash assistance." To make ends meet, families often missed rent and utility payments... When poverty began rising again in 2001, their situation would get worse.
Another pause here. Without saying so outright, These United States portrays Bill Clinton as someone who believes the poor, and especially the African-American poor, need to be punished for being poor so they will be forced to work and get out of poverty. The problem with this is twofold. First, work requirements only function if there are sufficient jobs available for all those who seek work. As happened during the 2000-2002 recession and again in the 2008 crash and its aftermath, when jobs dry up during hard times, Clinton's reforms guaranteed there would be no aid for those who needed it most. Second, by requiring work as a condition for public aid, Clinton and Gingrich effectively converted Welfare from an anti-poverty program to a business subsidy for low-wage jobs. The work requirement effectively kills the ability of poor people to reject low-paying, hazardous or degrading work conditions, thereby allowing big business to save money and increase profits at the expense of their workers. Again, the kindest thing you can say about Clinton here is that he was complicit.

One more trawl from the book:

 The most sweeping transformations in the 1990s involved the deregulation of the financial sector. Here too Clinton found common cause with conservative Republicans. Beginning in 1995, the president's economic advisers pushed for a "financial services modernization," including repeal of one of the signature New Deal regulations, the Glass-Steagall Act, which forbade banks to speculate in stocks and real estate using individual depositors' money... Clinton's aides knew that "allowing banks to engage in riskier activities like securities or insurance could subject the deposit insurance fund to added risk." It was a risk they were willing to take.

In 1999 Clinton signed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which undid Glass-Steagall... Over the next eight years, banks created all sorts of new high-risk financial products, without close regulatory scrutiny.

The riskiest involved home mortgage lending, one of the Clinton administration's top priorities... By the late 1990s, lenders, including Washington Mutual, New Century, and Countrywide, began targeting working-class and minority communities with high-interest loans, often with substantial up-front closing costs and hidden fees. The loans were immensely profitable but also incredibly risky.

Predatory loans were especially appealing to those working Americans whose wages had stagnated or fallen...

The book doesn't mention that, under the guidance of conservative Democrats Robert Rubin and Lloyd Bentsen, and ex-Nixon staffer Leon Panetta (who went on to become CIA Director under Obama), Bill Clinton had pushed for financial industry deregulation from his first day in office, while he still had Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, and less than four years after the economic shock of the savings and loan collapse. Bill Clinton believed strongly in deregulating Wall Street, and the kindest thing you can say is that he never foresaw the consequences. And even that is hard to say, considering he continues to defend all his deregulatory accomplishments, and considering Hillary Clinton, for her talk of reforming Wall Street, is still opposed to restoring Glass-Steagall barriers to using federally insured deposits for stock market gambling.

And then let's look at the second biggest thing (after health care reform) that Clinton attempted and failed: privatizing Social Security.

Yes, I'll repeat that: Bill Clinton tried to privatize Social Security. The linked article quotes from The Pact by Steven M. Gillon:

There were also hopeful signs that the public was ready for a serious discussion about Social Security reform. An August 1997 survey by Clinton pollster Mark Penn found that 73 percent of Democratic voters favored some form of privatization, and support was especially strong among younger workers. Independent polls also showed that many young people believed that without significant change the programs would not be able to provide for them in their old age...

Given the high risk involved, Clinton realized that he could not undertake this without bipartisan support, and, Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles reflected, "He knew to do this he needed to work with Gingrich.'' He was confident that he could hold moderate and conservative Democrats and bring enough Republicans to the table to make significant reform...

It did not take long, however, for Gingrich to recognize the potential of a possible Social Security reform package. Bowles provided Gingrich with the same assurances that the president offered to Archer. The president would take the political heat for controversial proposals. Politically, the president and the speaker were closer than anyone realized. They recognized that their parties needed to change in response to new circumstances. They both believed that any effort to update Social Security would require government to incorporate some measure of choice, and that meant some form of privately managed account.

...Instinctively, both men still wondered whether the other was setting a trap in preparation for the upcoming elections. Would Clinton leak word that Gingrich was once again trying to tamper with Social Security and Medicare, reinforcing his image as hostile to the old and poor? Would Gingrich tell reporters that the president was ready to accept the centerpiece of Republican proposals for Social Security: privately funded accounts?
All the key players—Clinton, Gingrich, Bowles, White House congressional liaison John Hilley, and Bill Archer—were cautiously optimistic. ''It wasn't crazy for them to think that if they could do the impossible and pass welfare reform and the balanced budget bill, they could do Social Security,'' reflected Bruce Reed, the president's chief domestic policy adviser.

A couple of names you might recognize: Mark Penn was the pollster-turned-campaign-manager whose incompetence and double-dealing was probably the reason we aren't talking about the successor to President Hillary Clinton right now. Erskine Bowles went on from being Clinton's chief of staff to being hand-picked by Barack Obama, along with Alan "Social Security is a sow with a million teats" Simpson, to chair Obama's deficit reduction supercommittee, which had fourteen out of eighteen members picked who supported either privatization or outright abolition of Social Security. (For more on how Obama has continued centrist austerity policy, read this (admittedly biased) blog post.)

Most pundits argue that the Social Security deal was sunk by the Lewinsky scandal and Clinton's impeachment. According to at least one source, however, Clinton himself didn't see it that way:

But Kies remembers differently. As he told me when I was researching my book, The People's Pension: The Struggle to Defend Social Security Since Reagan, the secret talks continued without missing a beat. They even expanded, to include outreach to members of Congress such as Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and even officials in the mutual fund industry. Clinton’s advisors pursued more public discussions with lawmakers about a Social Security deal as well. Keeping all options open, Clinton’s advisors told some reporters the president hadn't rejected partially privatizing the program by carving private investment accounts out of workers' payroll tax contributions.

By early December 1998 -- shortly before Clinton's impeachment -- Sperling and Kies had come very close to a deal. Later dubbed by Kies the Social Security Guarantee Plan, the proposal called for setting up mandatory private savings accounts for every American worker. The federal government would fund these accounts with annual contributions equal to 2 percent of the wage base used to compute old-age and survivors' benefits under Social Security. Workers’ payroll tax contributions would continue to go into Social Security as before; there would be no “carve-outs” to fund the private accounts. When the worker was ready to retire, the Social Security Administration would calculate a monthly stream of payments based on the balance in her account. If the amount was less than her expected benefit under traditional Social Security, the program would make up the difference. If the amount exceeded her entitlement, she could keep the extra for herself.
 . . .
The prospect seemed almost too good to be true.

Which, indeed, it was. Despite the absence of carve-outs, a study released the following year by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, after the plan became public, found that it suffered from many of the same deficiencies as outright privatization. First, there were transition costs -- the massive borrowing needed to fund the private accounts. This would cost the Treasury some $300 billion to $600 billion a year from 2016 to 2042... The accounts might not be the windfall their proponents expected, either. Investment providers would be able to charge their administrative and marketing costs against the assets, pocketing some $34 billion a year by 2030 and more thereafter. Only affluent households would likely enjoy much upside from the accounts, according to the CBPP, since only they would accumulate enough assets to exceed their projected income from Social Security. That in turn would undermine better-off Americans’ support for Social Security, since their entire contribution to the program would, effectively, be used to fund other people’s benefits.

Yet Kies recalls no pushback from White House negotiators in “detailed” talks about the Guarantee Plan in fall 1998. Mostly, they focused on the details. The administration wanted to add a Social Security benefit enhancement for lower-wage workers to the package, while Gingrich and the Republicans wanted retirees to be able to pass on any unused private-account assets to their heirs.
 - See more at:
Up to now I've made a point of saying, "The kindest thing you can say about Clinton is that he aided and abetted." But when you take all these things together, how credible is it that a supposedly super-intelligent man, a Yale Law School graduate, did all of these things in his presidency without realizing their likely outcome? Others may have doubts, but I don't; Bill Clinton spent his entire presidency working to loot the lower and middle classes for the benefit of the wealthy, and he's not one damn bit sorry about the consequences.

"But the American economy was great under Bill!" his supporters will cry. Eh... not all that great. There was a brief burst of explosive growth in his first two years, which became weaker and weaker despite the dot-com boom and bust, ending with a recession that technically began during his last months in office. As Paul Krugman points out, the Clinton economy was more a matter of Bill Clinton being lucky than his policies being wonderful:
Specifically, the 1990s were the decade in which American business finally figured out what to do with computers — the decade in which offices became networked, in which retailers like Wal-Mart learned to use information technology to manage inventories and coordinate with suppliers. This led to a surge in productivity, which had grown only sluggishly for the previous two decades.

The technology takeoff also helped fuel a surge in business investment, which in turn produced job creation at a pace that, by the late 1990s, brought America truly full employment. And full employment was the force behind the rising wages of the 1990s.

Oh, and yes, there was a technology bubble at the end of the decade, but that was a fairly minor part of the overall story — and because there wasn’t a big rise in private debt, the damage done when the tech bubble burst was much less than the wreckage left behind by the Bush-era housing bubble.

But back to the boom: What was Mr. Clinton’s role? Actually, it was fairly limited, since he didn’t cause the technology takeoff. On the other hand, his policies obviously didn’t get in the way of prosperity.

 My personal theory is that the combination of GHWB's tax hikes and Clinton's lesser tax hike in the early 1990s, combined with the new technologies and opportunities Krugman mentions, caused the investor class to relax their grip on their money, pouring cash back into the economy and enabling a bottom-up period of economic growth. Previously, under Reagan and GHWB, the wealthy had been squeezing corporations, workers, the government, anything and everything for every penny they could get, building up enormous piles of wealth, and sitting on them. This behavior resumed immediately after GWB was elected, and it's continued ever since, with the result that any inflation from economic growth is offset by the deflation of money removed from circulation for the purposes of wealth-hoarding.

In short: the Clinton economic boom, which was big only in comparison to the truly anemic Reagan-era economy, was due not to his big-business economic policies but rather in spite of them, as an offshoot of the wealthy seeking to evade higher tax brackets and to gamble on the dot-com bubble. Ten years earlier or ten years later, his policies would have been indistinguishable from Reagan's or George W. Bush's- with identical results.

 And why does any of this matter? Supporters of Hillary Clinton in 2016, when confronted with Bill Clinton's regressive economic policies, insist, "They're two different people. Hillary wasn't really involved in economic policy during Bill's presidency." I say: hogwash. Bill and Hillary were sold to the American people as a two-for-one package deal from the very beginning, indeed from Bill's first run for governor of Arkansas. A large portion of Hillary's "25 years of national experience" is her time in the White House, when she was referred to as the "co-President". The two are, politically speaking, a unit.

The most recent proof? Hillary has declared her intent to put Bill in charge of her economic policies once elected.

"I've told my husband he's got to come out of retirement and be in charge of this because you know he’s got more ideas a minute than anybody I know," she said, while talking about manufacturing and jobs. 
 That's right. More ideas a minute. Ideas like gutting the social safety net, free-trade agreements that offshore jobs while allowing corporations to evade American taxes, deregulating an already shamelessly corrupt financial industry, and cutting or privatizing Social Security.

It's this sort of thing which makes Hillary Clinton's claims that she will protect Social Security ring hollow:

In a September 2007 MSNBC debate, Clinton held up the 1983 bipartisan deal between President Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill as a model for how Social Security’s long-term solvency problems needed to be addressed. That was the deal that gave us the increase in the retirement age from 65 to 66 now and 67 by 2027, as well as an increase in the payroll tax. “I think we do need another bipartisan process,” she said at the time. “You described what happened in ’83. It took presidential leadership, and it took the relationship between the White House and Capitol Hill to reach the kind of resolution that was discussed.”
She also put a heavy emphasis on “fiscal responsibility.” Specifically responding to a question of whether she would support lifting the cap that now exempts earned income above about $118,000 from Social Security payroll taxes, Clinton said, “Well, I take everything off the table until we move toward fiscal responsibility and before we have a bipartisan process. I don’t think I should be negotiating about what I would do as president. You know, I want to see what other people come to the table with.”
Clinton’s desire to leave herself negotiating room “until we had a much better understanding of what I would accept and what I would not accept as president” was not only in sharp contrast to the bright lines drawn by Sanders – “… [O]ur job cannot be to cut Social Security. Our job must be to expand it” – but in ran counter to the demands of the coalition of organizations at the forefront of the fight to defend Social Security that recently launched a petition drive calling for Social Security expansion.
Any of this sound familiar?

And as for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, which Clinton was "for it before she was against it" (paraphrasing John Kerry's 2004 campaign-dooming gaffe), there's plenty of reason to doubt her current opposition:

As President Obama seeks fast-track authority for a 12-country Pacific trade deal and Congress inches toward giving it to him, Clinton is hedging on a deal she once strongly backed.

"She will be watching closely to see what is being done to crack down on currency manipulation, improve labor rights, protect the environment and health, promote transparency and open new opportunities for our small businesses to export overseas," an aide said in a statement Friday. Additionally, any trade deal would need to pass two tests for Clinton to support it, the campaign said: (1) Protect U.S. workers and raise wages, and (2) strengthen national security.

Yet, previously as secretary of state, Clinton called the Trans-Pacific Partnership the "gold standard in trade agreements." In her second memoir, Hard Choices, released in 2014, Clinton lauded the deal, saying it "would link markets throughout Asia and the Americas, lowering trade barriers while raising standards on labor, the environment, and intellectual property." She even said it was "important for American workers, who would benefit from competing on a more level playing field." She also called it "a strategic initiative that would strengthen the position of the United States in Asia."

"But that was her job as Secretary of State," Clinton supporters will argue, "to support the President's policy." Two points: first, all that does is make Barack Obama equally complicit in working to lower wages and boost corporate profits at the expense of ordinary Americans. Second, her memoir was released after she resigned as Secretary of State. She was under no obligation whatever to continue delivering Obama's message; we must assume, therefore, that what she wrote in Hard Choices is her own belief at the time.

Considering that Hillary Clinton only becomes an opponent of unlimited free trade when she's running for office, and then becomes an enthusiastic supporter once actually in office, it's only sensible to assume that her current lukewarm opposition to TPP will turn to enthusiastic support for ratification if and when she becomes president- with all TPP's many horrible anti-democratic features intact.

And certainly Wall Street doesn't think much of Clinton's promises to reform and regulate them. Going back to where we began, quoting from Listen, Liberal:

"None of them think she really means her populism," wrote a prominent business journalist in 2014 about the bankers and Hillary. The Clinton Foundation has actually held meetings at the headquarters of Goldman Sachs, he points out. He quotes another Morgan Stanley officer, who believes that "like her husband, [Hillary] will govern from the center, and work to get things done, and be capable of garnering support across different groups, including working with Republicans."

How are the bankers so sure? Possibly because they have read the memoirs of Robert Rubin, the former chairman of Citibank, the former secretary of the Treasury, the former co-head of Goldman Sachs. One of the themes in this book is Rubin's constant war with the populists in the Party and in the Clinton administration -- a struggle in which Hillary was an important ally. Rubin tells how Hillary once helped him to get what he calls "class-laden language" deleted from a presidential speech and also how she helped prevent the Democrats from appealing to "class conflict" in a general election -- on the grounds that it "is not an effective approach" to the "swing voters in the middle of the electorate."

When all else fails, Clinton supporters will pull out the old centrist Democrat standby: "It's us or the Republicans! Are you really willing to throw the election to Trump just to show what a good purist you are, you horrible socialist splitter?" It's a cudgel the Clintons have used many times before, and are still using today, to blame voters for their lack of enthusiasm for anti-worker, neo-liberal policies.

Answer: no, probably not. Clinton probably won't throw liberals into concentration camps, and Trump probably will, if his rhetoric is to be believed.

But given all the above, you might understand why a lot of economic liberals will be throwing the lever for Clinton with a feeling of disgust, disappointment, and sadness that the abuse of the American worker and the glorification of the American plutocrat will continue for at least another eight years.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Conservatism and cowardice go hand in hand.

Wow, it's been a very long time since I used this blog, hasn't it?

So, today I saw a friend of mine repost on Facebook a status which began by saying it was time for liberals to begin some "real talk" about Islam, lest we "give up the issue to conservatives."

I did not respond well to this, as you might guess. "Real talk about X" is a long-time dog-whistle for, "I want to say something bigoted about X group, but I don't want to look like a bigot, so I'm going to present my prejudices as common sense." And I responded to the status, saying, more or less, "What you're saying is, liberals need to agree with conservatives in hating and fearing Muslims." This triggered an exchange with the original status poster until my friend yanked his repost and stopped the exchange.

That said, there were several points that merit response.

First, on the original poster's claim that his "real talk" was not about hating and fearing Muslims; bullshit. The whole point of his original post is that liberals are silent about Islam and terrorism and that "real talk" is necessary, but has been censored by the left. Well, since the general liberal position on Islamic terrorism is that we need to dismantle the terrorist organizations that carry out attacks without blaming an entire religion for the crimes of fewer than one percent of its adherents, the "real talk" that is being censored is almost certainly the conservative view: "Islam is evil, Muslims are evil, and we need to punish Muslims regardless of their individual roles in anything at all."

Second: do you know how this person said this alternative view was being censored? "People are afraid to speak the truth because they'll be called racists."

Uh huh. So you believe something strongly, but won't say anything because you're afraid someone will call you a name? You think that, when someone holds an opinion and says it openly, that act by itself is censorship against anyone who differs?


I can't count how many names I've been called in online discussions about this and that: communist, socialist, statist, traitor, idiot, asshole, sheep, shithead, and worse and worse. I won't pretend I don't care about some of those labels, but I've certainly never let them even slow me down from expressing my opinion and arguing my position on anything and everything. I've certainly never felt censored because of namecalling. No epithet posted on the Internet has yet resulted in my loss of access to the Internet, my arrest or imprisonment, or my being sued or fined for my beliefs.

Your opinion, whatever it is, cannot force my silence; and my opinion cannot force your silence.

Third, and finally: if you're afraid that speaking your opinion on X might make you seem like a bigot, it might just be because you ARE being a bigot. If you're self-censoring yourself on that grounds, then you need to stop and carefully re-examine your beliefs and why you hold them. Hint: if you are classifying a group of 1.5 billion people as if they are all identical and interchangable, that's bigotry. If you believe that membership in any arbitrary group is sufficient cause to consider a person evil or criminal, with no further evidence, that's bigotry. And if your opinions sound anything like, "All X are dangerous," or, "We can't allow X into our country because they'll destroy us all," then guess what? That opinion is based on hate, fear, and prejudice- in other words, bigotry.

And guess what? That puts you side by side with the likes of ISIL, whose entire belief system is built on bigotry and anti-liberalism. It is the nature of liberals to disagree, but to accept the presence and equal rights of those who disagree with them. It is the nature of conservatives, and especially religious fundamentalist conservatives, to attack all who disagree with them and seek to drive them out or destroy them outright.

Because liberals are brave enough to accept that not everyone is alike, and that it is possible to be different or strange and not be hostile. Conservatives, on the other hand, are scared livid of anything different or strange, and hate, fear and hold in contempt all that is different from themselves.

And yet, while liberals defend their positions even when attacked and beaten, conservatives are such shrinking violets that they apparently silence themselves for fear that they might be called by the nasty, horrible name of "racist."

I suspect that's why Trump is doing so well among conservatives: with every bigoted and ignorant thing he spews from his mouth on the campaign trail, he's saying the things conservatives are too cowardly to admit they still believe. And he gets away with it.

Trump is "real talk."

And, ironically, Trump has pledged that the first thing he'll do when he becomes president is to make it illegal for anybody to criticize him. He's already put it into the contracts he makes his volunteers sign; anyone who works for him is never again allowed to say anything bad at all about Donald Trump, ever, for the rest of his or her life, on pain of lawsuit.

Because even Donald Trump is too cowardly to live in a society where other people don't agree with him on absolutely everything. Instead, while Bernie Sanders and even Hillary Clinton listen to their protesters and sit down with them and discuss their views, Trump silences them, then encourages his followers to beat them into submission and promises to pay the legal costs. 

Just as ISIL is too cowardly to live in a world where any religion other than their unique and ultra-fundamentalist sect of Islam exists. Instead they kill everyone who doesn't follow their faith in their exact way.

What happened in Brussels today is the act of an organization of cowards. And it is their devout hope that their acts of murder will empower our cowards here to respond in kind, to trigger the war of religious extermination they desperately desire.

I refuse to be a coward, and I refuse to be silent while cowards call for "real talk" as a way to veil their prejudices and fears in a haze of respectability.

The religion of Islam has many different sects and subdivisions, just as Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism do. The crimes of one particular group of Muslims lie on the head of members of that group and no one else. Any policy which treats all members of a group as culpable for the crimes of a small group of individuals, without regard to any facts on an individual basis, is injustice to those affected. And no matter how much you hate or fear a group, for whatever reasons, such policy remains now and forever unjust.

That's not "real talk." That's just truth.

And if you disagree, have the courage of your convictions and say so- and don't fear whatever names I or anyone else might call you.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

I Hear Somebody Whistling Dixie... Seriously

I told someone- maybe it was you who read- that I fear an attempt at armed revolt sometime in my lifetime, and that not far off. When it comes I believe the government will win, but in the process most of our remaining liberties will be destroyed forever, or at least for the remainder of my lifetime. Those liberties will include privacy, free speech, free assembly, protection against unwarranted search and seizure, and the right to refuse to testify against oneself.

I do NOT believe the armed revolt will be justified. It will be led by demagogues who seek to retain certain privileges, such as the supremacy of their religion, their race, and their social and economic class. It will be fought by people who hate the very idea of government and who think they will prosper once namby-pamby regulations and laws are abolished once and for all. And it will kill hundreds of thousands of people who wanted nothing more than to be let alone by both sides to improve their own lot as much as they can.

Those of you who scoff and say, "Oh, that Overstreet, he's just a radical- pay him no mind," please read the following stories and tell me how delusional you really think I am...

29% of Americans Think Armed Rebellion Might Soon Be Necessary

Thousands of Paranoid Libertarian Gun Nuts Planning to March on D.C. With Loaded Weapons

Texas House Approves 12 Firearms Bills To Put More Guns In Classrooms And Defy Federal Law

South Carolina House passes nullification bill to make Obamacare a crime

Tea Party-Type Militia Leader’s Domestic Terror Plot Thwarted by Authorities

Civil war is coming, folks. And conservatives will be the ones pushing the bayonet into YOUR back, forcing you up against the guns of YOUR government.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

On the Practical Meaning of Independence

There is a truly odious person in Texas politics named Michael Quinn Sullivan. He's a former aide to Ron Paul whose apparent end goal is a world where we are all "liberated" from the horrible evil which is government, at which point the free market will take care of us all, in a totally non-coercive way. In order to achieve this goal, he mass-emails people, usually with deceptive and misleading claims about state-level government waste. You can think of him as Texas's state-level version of Grover Norquist.

And, for whatever reason, I'm on his mailing list.

Today I got fed up after reading through his rant about how conservatives need to weed out the RINOs who might be weak-willed enough to support Medicaid expansion (which what we really need, Sullivan says, is to abolish it and all other programs like it completely). I replied to an email of his for the first time, saying simply:

"You use a lot of words just to say, 'fuck the poor.'"

After sending the message, though, I thought a bit about the passage that annoyed me the most in his exhortations to advance the destruction of small-d democratic government:

"Proving that Orwellian doublespeak isn’t confined to literature, the anti-responsibility/anti-liberty crowd is equating expansive government programs to independence. Precisely how 'independence' is increased by shackling more and more people to bureaucratic-run health care is anyone’s guess."

Fine. To those conservatives who shout about "independence" and "shackles," here's my answer.

How independent is a worker who dares not quit their job because they are paid too little for their work?

How independent is a worker who tolerates abuse, broken promises and contracts, sexual harrassment, injury and worse because they are only one paycheck away from being homeless?

How independent is a worker for whom any illness may mean bankruptcy, loss of home, loss of family, and permanent poverty, simply because they cannot afford health care?

How independent is a worker, when their employer can fire them for having a different religion, for voting the wrong way, or for asking for a raise?

In practical terms, the poor worker isn't independent at all. The poor worker lives in quiet terror and misery, because the kind of employer who pays poverty wages to the poor wants to keep them that way.

The abusive employer wants to keep the poor person from having any alternative to health care besides whatever minimal emergency-only policy they might offer after two years of steady employment.

The abusive employer wants to keep the poor person from building any financial reserve which would allow them to quit if the employer's shifting work schedules, unpaid overtime, hazardous work environment, and other abuses of power become too great to bear.

The abusive employer wants to control every aspect of the employee's life- family, religion, politics- so that the employer can wring the maximum amount of profit and power from the employee's labor.

The abusive employer wants to prevent unions and any other form of collective bargaining from gaining any power, so that he can continue these practices forever.

In short, the abusive employer wants to be able to treat his employees like slaves- and to keep them powerless to do anything about it.

And, since the abusive employer has money and the employees don't, the employer can pay for people like Michael Quinn Sullivan to ensure that the employees have no protection from the employer, no alternative to the employer, no freedom from the employer.

And the vast majority of corporations and businesses are abusive employers.

True independence begins when you can tell your boss to go fuck himself. If you're not able to do that because the only alternative is homelessness, starvation and death, then you are not independent- no matter what slimeballs like Sullivan claim.

Only government can protect the powerless from the powerful- if it's allowed to. When government protects the powerless, we have democracy. When it doesn't, we have a feudal state where the rich lords control the poor serfs with an iron hand.

And Michael Quinn Sullivan is on the side of feudalism.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

A letter to my new Congressman...

I have absolutely zero faith that this will do any good whatsoever.

But I have a new congressman now- Steve Stockman. Yes, that Steve Stockman. I've tried putting this in as conservative and freedom-loving a way as I can, so we'll see if this gets any response.

Feel free to write your own Congressperson, who may be more inclined to the anti-corporate point of view.

The Honorable Representative Mr. Steve Stockman

326 Cannon Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Sir;

I write to you today urging your support for House Joint Resolutions 20 and 21, two proposed amendments to the Constitution of the United States to provide for proper regulation of campaign finance and corporate speech.

By the laws and traditions which we live under, I have one vote, just like any other citizen of the United States of the age of eighteen or older. Likewise George Soros, Bill Gates, Sheldon Adelson, Art Pope, and other billionaires each have one vote, the same as you or I. Likewise, under the First Amendment, we are each guaranteed full freedom of conscience- to believe, to say, to print and to make public what we believe without fear of persecution under the law.

Yet thanks to Supreme Court rulings made over the past forty years, and especially in the past five years, any one of the billionaires I just mentioned has a vastly greater control over government than people like myself. In any given year I can afford to donate to political causes no more than perhaps $100. The billionaires, on the other hand, can donate a million dollars, or ten million dollars, or (in Adelson’s case) over one hundred million dollars. This money is spent to influence not just the voters, but also the candidates who are being voted for, making it appear that those candidates, to be blunt, are bought and paid for by the billionaires.

The use of corporations and anonymous donations to political action committees is even more egregious. When I say something, or when I donate to a candidate, it is perforce a public act, and my name and identity are associated with my speech. Corporations and political action committees allow the speakers to remain anonymous. This enables them to advance false and misleading arguments which, if the names of the actual people involved were revealed, would disgrace and shame those people. This anonymity violates the basic principle that rights have responsibilities; just as, as a gun owner, I have the responsibility to use my gun responsibly and with due caution for the safety of others, just so does must a speaker take responsibility for his or her speech.

Corporate abuse of anonymous speech is even more outrageous when one considers the origin of corporations. Corporations were originally instituted by government for the purpose of accomplishing great tasks for the universal good of the people. They were given limited liability under the law in exchange for the social benefits they provided. That purpose has been lost. Today corporations exist for the sole purpose of bringing profit to their shareholders and executives, with no concern for the good of the people; and yet they retain all of the rights and powers of people, with none of the responsibility.

For these reasons I ask you to support the proposed constitutional amendments proposed by the Hon. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. HJ Res 20 would, if ratified, grant Congress the power to regulate campaign spending, thus ensuring a greater equality of political influence among all Americans. HJ Res 21 would draw clear and distinct differences between the rights of individual human beings (which remain sacrosanct) and corporations (which are creations of the government and not actual people), and grant Congress the power to regulate the rights of corporations to restrict the chronic abuse of their power.

By supporting HJ Res 20 and HJ Res 21 you would take a stand for the freedom and equality of all Americans, rich and poor alike. You would severely reduce the corruption currently endemic in our political system. You would preserve the rights of the individual from abuse by the wealthy few who, under the present system, can buy immunity from their responsibility as American citizens. For these reasons I ask you to lend these amendments your support.

                                                                        Sincerely yours,
                                                                        Kristan Overstreet