Tag Archives: Elizabeth Warren

Seven Key Points About the Shutdown

1. This is not a pox-on-both-your-houses situation. The Republicans planned this shutdown and carried it out.

Last Monday, on the eve of the shutdown, Rachel Maddow showed the tapes of one Republican candidate after another making campaign speeches about shutting down the government and being cheered for it. That never happens on the Democratic side. No Democratic candidate for Congress tells his crowds he’s going to shut down the government and expects to get a cheer. Rachel summarized:

What is happening tonight is happening tonight because this is what Republicans want to do. This is what they promised to do. … Elect Republicans and they will burn the place down and they will laugh while they do it and have a great time.

The Daily Beast’s David Freedlander talked to a number of Republican donors from the banking industry, who said Rep. Walden (chair of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, which wants their money) told them “We have to do this because of the Tea Party.” (An NRCC spokesman denies Walden said that.)

Jonathan Chait traces the Republicans’ post-2012-defeat strategy to a meeting in January.

If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.

The first element of the strategy is a kind of legislative strike. Initially, House Republicans decided to boycott all direct negotiations with President Obama, and then subsequently extended that boycott to negotiations with the Democratic Senate. (Senate Democrats have spent months pleading with House Republicans to negotiate with them, to no avail.) This kind of refusal to even enter negotiations is highly unusual. The way to make sense of it is that Republicans have planned since January to force Obama to accede to large chunks of the Republican agenda, without Republicans having to offer any policy concessions of their own.

2. This “budget” showdown has nothing to do with the budget. Both sides agree on the spending number that should be in the continuing resolution.

That’s because Democrats agreed to the Republicans’ number. In other words, the only genuine concession in this process has come from the Democrats. John Boehner could have taken that concession, passed a continuing resolution to avoid the shutdown, and then called a press conference to declare victory. Instead he shut down the government.

3. The threat not to raise the debt ceiling is unprecedented, except for when these same Republicans made the same threat in 2011.

Posturing about the debt ceiling is perennial: “Look how profligate the party in power is. They’ve run up so much debt we have to raise the ceiling.” But making a credible threat not to raise the debt ceiling unless your legislative demands are met? No. That is an absolutely new tactic in American politics.

Slate’s David Weigel goes through all the alleged examples of the Democrats threatening the debt ceiling. In 1981, Tip O’Neil tried to get President Reagan to promise that Republicans wouldn’t use a debt-ceiling vote against incumbent Democrats in the next election cycle (i.e., no policy demands), but passed it in plenty of time. In 1984, a Democratic committee chair blocked a debt ceiling bill for one day, seeking defense spending cuts. He was roundly criticized for “brinksmanship” and backed down.

That’s it. Dozens of other times Democratic majorities in Congress have passed debt-ceiling increases proposed by Republican presidents without making an issue of it.

If Democrats accepted the tactic Republicans are using, the September, 2007 debt-ceiling increase would have been an opportunity for Nancy Pelosi to demand deficit-reducing changes like a repeal of the Bush tax cuts or an end to Iraq War. But that didn’t happen, because Democrats don’t operate by extortion.

4. Republicans have redefined he words negotiate and compromise.

ThinkProgress’ Judd Legum summed up the Republican “negotiation”:

Can I burn down your house?
No
Just the 2nd floor?
No
Garage?
No
Let’s talk about what I can burn down.
No
YOU AREN’T COMPROMISING!

In a real compromise, both sides give something and both sides get something. So far, the Democrats have been offered nothing.

In the 2011 crisis, President Obama repeatedly tried to negotiate a “grand bargain” with Speaker Boehner that would knock trillions off the long-term deficit. That failed, and the “supercommitte” negotiations that were supposed to replace the sequester failed, on the same point: Republicans insisted there could be no tax increases in the deficit reduction plan. Zero. During one Republican presidential debate, the candidates were asked whether they would accept a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. All said no.

Since April, Harry Reid has been trying to form a conference committee so that the House and Senate can work out a budget compromise. The Republicans have refused to appoint their conferees, preferring to wait until they had the “leverage” of a government shutdown and debt default. The point here is exactly what Chait said above: to extort concessions out of the Democrats without offering any concessions of their own. “OK then, half the ransom” is not a concession, no matter what Ted Cruz says.

5. The principle at stake is majority rule.

I talked about this in detail last week. Speaker Boehner wants to tell the story that the shutdown represents a disagreement between two branches of government that have conflicting popular mandates: The public elected President Obama, but it also elected a Republican House of Representatives.

That’s not what this is about at all. If it were, Boehner could bring the Senate’s clean continuing resolution to the House floor for a vote and defeat it. He can’t do that, because given the chance the people’s representatives would pass it. In blocking that resolution, Boehner does not represent the majority of the House, he only represents “the majority of the majority”, i.e. a minority.

The entire give-us-what-we-want-or-we’ll-burn-the-house-down strategy is against all American ideals of democracy. The constitutional way to pass a law (or repeal a law you don’t like) is to do what the Democrats did to pass ObamaCare in the first place: Win not just a majority in the House, but also a substantial majority in the Senate (to overcome a filibuster, which the Founders never envisioned), and win the White House (to avoid a veto). The Republicans can’t do that, because they are a minority. (Even their House candidates collectively got a million fewer votes than the Democrats in 2012.)

6. Don’t believe the leak that John Boehner won’t allow a debt-ceiling default.

Thursday the NYT quoted multiple anonymous Republican congressmen saying that Boehner had told them he wouldn’t allow a default. But Matt Yglesias points out that Boehner has been saying such things all along, while also saying the opposite.

Boehner’s position, dating back to 2011, has been twofold. On the one hand he says that failing to raise the debt ceiling would be catastrophic and that he favors avoiding catastrophe. On the other hand he says that he requires unrelated public policy concessions in order to agree to a measure that he himself says he supports.

It is, in other words, the classic suicide hostage strategy: Do what I want or I’ll detonate the bomb strapped to my chest. This has always been Boehner’s position.

For example, on Friday Boehner said:

I don’t believe that we should default on our debt. It’s not good for our country. But after 55 years of spending more than what you bring in, something ought to be addressed. I think the American people expect if we’re going to raise the amount of money we can borrow, we ought to do something about our spending problem and the lack of economic growth in our country.

In other words, he wants concessions. And notice: Boehner doesn’t suggest doing something about the deficit, which has a revenue side. He only wants to discuss “our spending problem”. So he’s seeking spending cuts with no tax increases, the same no-compromise position that doomed the budget negotiations in 2011.

And then Sunday he reiterated:

STEPHANOPOULOS: So under no circumstances will you pass a clean debt limit?

BOEHNER: We’re not going down that path.

Stephanopoulos’ question: “So you sit down with the president. What would you offer him in that conversation?” got no answer. And when pushed on the tax issue Boehner said: “Very simple. We’re not raising taxes.”

He described Harry Reid’s proposal to negotiate about the budget after the shutdown and debt ceiling had been dealt with as

My way or the highway. That’s what he’s saying. Complete surrender and then we’ll talk to you.

So he wants concessions and won’t give anything in return. Without his extortion demand, he has nothing to talk about, so giving it up is “complete surrender”.

7. The clearest head in the room belongs to Elizabeth Warren.

The boogeyman government is like the Boogyman under the bed. It’s not real. It doesn’t exist. What is real, what does exist are all those specific important things that we as Americans have chosen to do together through our government. In our democracy, government is not some make-believe thing that has an independent will of its own. In our democracy, government is just how we describe the things that We the People have already decided to do together.

What Senate Candidates Deserve Your Support?

Last week a Sift-reading friend told me she had set aside some money to contribute to Senate candidates, and wondered where I thought it would be best spent.

We agreed that this is a good time to contribute. In general, early money is more valuable than late money, but (if you’re like me) you’d usually rather see your money spent in the general election than during the primary. So one of best times to contribute is right after the primaries bring the race down to a Democrat vs a Republican.

There are 33 Senate races this year, but a few simple criteria will narrow down the candidates worth contributing to or volunteering for.

I’ve never claimed to be non-partisan. (I try hard to keep the Sift honest, but I’m not trying to be neutral. I write what I believe, not just what I want you to believe.) So it shouldn’t surprise anybody that my first criterion is that I’m only considering candidates who will caucus with the Democrats. (That would include independents like Bernie Sanders of Vermont and probably Angus King of Maine.) Anybody committed to vote for Mitch McConnell as majority leader is off my list.

Second, the race should be close. I love Bernie Sanders, but I expect him to win with or without me. Real Clear Politics currently rates 8 races as toss-ups: Florida, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Whether that’s your serious-support list or not depends on how optimistic/pessimistic you are about what will happen between now and November. If you expect a big Democratic surge that isn’t showing up in the polls yet, then you might want to reach for one of RCP’s “leans Republican” seats, like Arizona, where Richard Carmona currently trails by about 11%. If you expect the opposite, you might want to defend one of the “leans Democratic” candidates, like Sherrod Brown in Ohio, ahead by 8%.

I don’t really have a hunch about the trend, so I’ll stick with the toss-ups. Next, I want strong progressive voices in the Senate. I want somebody who’s going to make me proud, not just be slightly better than a Republican. That takes Bill Nelson of Florida (not to be confused with Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who is worse) off my list. He has a history of joining Republicans on issues like eliminating the estate tax, and he’s generally one of the last Democrats to get on board for things like raising the debt ceiling. So, Bill, I’ll be rooting for you on election night, but I can think of people more deserving of my time and money.

Elizabeth Warren

Two candidates that jump right out at me are Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. Both of them will face an avalanche of out-of-state money, Warren from the financial industry and Baldwin from the religious right.

Elizabeth Warren. Warren you’ve probably heard of, even if you’re not from Massachusetts. I first noticed her when she was chair of the Senate’s TARP Oversight Committee. She did several very plain-spoken, hard-hitting interviews on Rachel Maddow’s show where she laid out exactly how opaque the program was and how few of the underlying problems were being fixed.

The best argument for putting Warren in the Senate was the Jamie Dimon testimony to the Senate Banking Committee. (More about that in the Nuggets.) Warren is exactly the person who should have been in that room.

She’s a Harvard law professor, so her opponent Sen. Scott Brown is trying to tar her with the Harvard elitist label. But she wasn’t born into the Harvard strata of society, she started in the working class and climbed the ladder. She understands ordinary people and wants to be in a position to watch their backs.

Current polls are about as close as polls can be: Brown 43.8%, Warren 43.5%. I expect Warren to win a close race for three reasons: Undecideds have a tendency to break against the incumbent, Massachusetts is a blue state, and Warren’s supporters are genuinely enthusiastic about her. But Wall Street really hates Warren, so Brown will have a lot of money to spend.

Tammy Baldwin. Unless you live in Wisconsin, you may not know much about Tammy Baldwin. She’s been in Congress for 14 years, and is the only openly lesbian congresswoman. (She was already out of the closet when she ran in 1998. Up until that time, the only gay representatives had come out while in office.) In 2010, National Journal’s ratings had her tied for being the most liberal member of the House.

Now, my first thought on hearing those facts would be: She’s going to get crushed. But so far that’s not happening. The Republican primary isn’t until August, and the RCP average has her trailing former Governor Tommy Thompson by 8.7%. But that average is skewed by a Rasmussen poll with a huge Republican bias (Thompson ahead 52%-36%).  The other two polls have her behind Thompson by manageable numbers: 4% and 6%, which could just be name recognition. Marquette University’s poll has her ahead of the other two likely Republican candidates.

There’s also no guarantee Thompson wins the primary, or gets through unscathed with the Club for Growth gunning for him. Chuck Todd sums up the race and interviews Baldwin:

Other toss-up Democrats. Claire McCaskill isn’t exactly an inspiring progressive voice. (National Journal rates her exactly in the middle as the 50th most liberal senator.) But this is Missouri we’re talking about; what did you expect? I think she’s doing as much as the voters will allow, and that holding this seat is key to holding the Senate. Polls: Rasmussen has her behind by double digits, but PPP says the race is tied.

Jon Tester in Montana is another incumbent Democrat in a Republican state. Don’t expect his support on, say, gun control. But his heart is in the right place when it comes to keeping Wall Street in check. PPP and Rasmussen disagree about who is ahead.

Immigration is likely to be a huge issue in the Nevada race. Shelley Berkley is challenging the incumbent Dean Heller, who was appointed when John Ensign resigned in disgrace. Nevada is a swing state that’s been trending blue as the Hispanic vote increases, but Republicans keep offering far-right candidates. Heller is a typical senate Republican, rated the 73rd most liberal senator. Berkley supports the DREAM Act; Heller wants to build a bigger border fence. The non-Rasmussen polls have this as a neck-and-neck race.

In Virginia, Tim Kaine vs. George Allen is a marquee match-up. Kaine has been governor and Allen senator. (Allen famously lost to Jim Webb in 2006 after the Macaca gaffe.) So far, I haven’t found anything thrilling on Kaine’s web site, and he seems to be running a vague I-was-a-good-governor campaign. But he’s narrowly ahead in the swingiest of swing states.

I confess I had never heard of North Dakota candidate Heidi Heitkamp until this morning. She’s running in a red state as a former state attorney general who fights for the people. Her web site is focused on local North Dakota issues, and I really have no idea how progressive she’d be. (She favors the Keystone Pipeline that environmentalists oppose.) Polls have her neck-and-neck with Rep. Rick Berg.

The Return of Death Panels and other short notes

Recently this topic showed up on my church’s email discussion list, so I know it’s making the rounds: An anonymous “brain surgeon” called into Mark Levin’s radio show in November, claiming to have seen a unpublished document from HHS describing “what the Obama health care plan would be for advanced neurosurgery for patients over 70.” He said:

Basically what the document stated was that if you were over 70 and you’d come into an emergency room and you’re on government supported health care, that you’d get “comfort care”.

When Levin responds “So Sarah Palin was right. We’re going to have these death panels, aren’t we?” the caller says “Oh, absolutely.”

Tuesday morning, Mariefla on Daily Kos went looking for details after she heard an outraged doctor raise the issue in a hospital staff meeting. She found this letter on the web site of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The AANS notes “factual inaccuracies” and says the caller was not a neurosurgeon, they are not aware of any such document, and the AANS conference in which the caller supposedly saw this document never happened. They’ve asked Levin to remove the podcast from his web site, which he hasn’t.

HHS unequivocally told rumor-investigating Snopes.com: “No such document exists and no such presentation took place.”

It’s unsettling to realize how easy this kind of fraud is. Anybody can call into a radio show claiming to be anything and to have seen anything. (“I’m a retired Air Force captain and I used to work at Area 51 with the wrecked alien spaceships.”) If their story supports somebody’s propaganda, a well-oiled machine sends it rocketing around the country.


Alejandrina Cabrera was running for City Council in the Arizona border town of San Luis when her ability to speak English became an issue — not a political issue, a legal issue. The mayor filed a lawsuit remove her from the ballot.

The Enabling Act that set up Arizona’s government in 1910 says:

ability to read, write, speak, and understand the English language sufficiently well to conduct the duties of the office without the aid of an interpreter shall be a necessary qualification for all state officers and members of the state legislature.

And Arizona voters declared English the official language in in 2006. However, 90% of San Luis residents speak mainly Spanish. Cabrera is running to represent them, even though she speaks only “survival level English” according to a linguistics professor appointed by a Yuma county judge to test her. Wednesday, the judge ordered her name removed from the ballot.

Reader comments on the various news stories fall into two camps: Those supporting the lawsuit go on to indict local high schools for allowing her to graduate with such poor command of English, while those opposing it want the voters, not the courts, to judge candidates’ qualifications for office.


Fox News psychologist/consultant Keith Ablow explains to us why Newt Gingrich’s infidelities will make him “a strong president“. Steven Colbert observes: “Somebody without Dr. Ablow’s psychiatric insight might misdiagnose Newt as a sociopathic pussyhound.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.


I can’t predict how practical the Hiriko electric car will be, but it’s got an off-the-scale cute factor. If I were 3 feet tall, I’d really want this half-size prototype.


Until this week, I’ve been having trouble explaining exactly what bugs me about Mitt Romney’s corporate-raider career at Bain Capital. Sure, it looks bad to walk away with a pile of money from deals that leave so many other people unemployed or otherwise holding the bag, but wasn’t he serving the overall cause of efficiency? Doesn’t the profit come from re-purposing assets to more productive uses?

Then a Chris Hayes tweet pointed me to this 1988 paper co-authored by former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. Starting with the idea that a corporation is a “nexus of contracts, some implicit, between shareholders and stakeholders”, the paper argues that hostile corporate takeovers are profitable because the new owners can renege on the corporation’s implicit commitments to workers, suppliers, retirees, and the surrounding community. The process is “wealth redistributing, not wealth creating”.

It goes on to argue that corporations’ ability to make trustworthy implicit commitments has real economic value. But corporate raids destroyed that trust for all corporations, because now all parties know that managers who try to keep such commitments when they become unprofitable are likely to be raided and replaced.

So Romney’s profit at Bain comes not just from efficiency, but also from selling the social capital of the entire corporate system.


Romney bristles whenever anyone mentions the 99% and the 1%. That’s “dividing America,” he says.

Privileged classes always blame social divisions on the people who call attention to them, rather than the people who cause them and benefit from them. The Gandhis and Martin Luther Kings are honored after they are safely dead, but while they are alive they are denounced as troublemakers. King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” is his response to those who accused him of creating “tension” between the races.


So, did dead people really vote in South Carolina? No.


And finally, because I never get tired of listening to Elizabeth Warren:
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Blood and Teeth on the Floor and other short notes

Whenever I listen to Elizabeth Warren and then try to repeat what she said to somebody else, it always comes out sounding like this parody:

The current Vanity Fair article about Warren is well worth reading, and it recalls a statement she made to Huffington Post a year and a half ago:

My first choice is a strong consumer agency. My second choice is no agency at all and plenty of blood and teeth left on the floor.

I think that’s the only attitude that’s going to get anywhere as the middle class battles to preserve itself against the plutocracy. Trying to play nice hasn’t worked so well.


Hunter on Daily Kos explains why Herman Cain’s healthcare experience as a multi-millionaire CEO has nothing to do with your healthcare — and why his most famous line about it is false:

Cain has said on numerous occasions that he would not have survived cancer had the Obama health care plan been in effect. He got excellent care, you see, and supposedly the new health care plan would have fouled that up in some unspecified way, probably involving “death panels” or the like. … There’s nothing in the health care plan that would affect Herman Cain’s ability to buy exceptional insurance, or to pay untold gobs of money towards his own care. Not a damn thing.  As a wealthy American, he will continue to receive substantially better care than other people simply because he can afford it


Cenk Uygur takes apart a right-wing group’s charge that Occupy Wall Street is anti-Semitic.


Another smear that I’m sure we’ll hear more and more often: the charge that George Soros is “behind” Occupy Wall Street. With standards of proof this loose, there is hardly anything that can’t be tied to Soros.


I tried to watch Wednesday’s Republican debate, but I didn’t have the stomach for it. As soon as Michele Bachmann started blaming the economic crash on affordable housing, and Newt Gingrich joined in with the claim that if anyone should go to jail for the crash, it’s Barney Frank, I couldn’t take it any more.

I leave you with fact checks from The Washington Post (which covers many falsehoods, including Bachmann’s, which it says has been “roundly discredited”) and PolitiFact.

I don’t mind watching people who disagree with me. I watched Ronald Reagan’s State of the Unions and read the transcripts of George W. Bush’s. But the 2012 Republican campaign has gone way beyond spin into a complete fantasy world.

As an aside, this is why I don’t expect the Herman Cain boom to last. The most advantageous position to be in right now is to have no one take you seriously enough to check your nonsense. That way you can say whatever sounds good to the base without worrying about whether it is true or matches what you said last month.

Once you reach the top of the polls, people look at you harder, and that has skewered one Republican after another. Here, Lawrence O’Donnell takes apart Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, which is so simple that Cain can’t understand it himself.


While we’re fact checking, Media Matters lists Fox News’ ten biggest lies about the EPA.


Robert Reich exposes seven popular economic lies.


James Fallows describes exactly what happens when your cloud-based email account gets hacked.


Topeka really did it: They repealed their domestic battery law. But wife-beating is still a state offense, so they claim the cases will still get prosecuted. Unless they don’t. Whatever. It’s somebody else’s problem now.


If you think in terms of charts, this collection explains our economic inequality really well.


More charts: Mother Jones explains who the 1% are and what they own.