Tag Archives: elizabeth warren

Wasn’t me

In the past week, a few allegations of wrongdoing jumped back into the spotlight. From a failure to prevent mass lead poisoning to data journalism steadily descending into propaganda-crafting, almost everyone’s been predictably quick to shift blame elsewhere.

A humbling experience

That’s how still sitting Michigan governor Rick Snyder has described the medical crises in Flint. In his own words, they’ve been a “humbling experience” – for him naturally, the most important person in these cavalcade of missteps. From initially a story of rampant cost-cutting and the widespread destruction of local government in predominantly Black communities across Michigan, Snyder has recast the disaster that has left thousands of children exposed to horrifying levels of lead as a tragedy centered on him.

Like an archetypal king hypnotized by advisors with vile designs, Snyder is the true star of this story for having been misled by staff who supposedly convinced him that he would receive alarmist messages about Flint’s water supply. Snyder’s own intentions couldn’t be more clear, since part and parcel with this retelling of the catastrophe is labeling responsibility for the crisis as having been taken.

Whoopsy

Over the past year, calls for raising the minimum wage in many corners of the US as well as nationally have become an almost omnipresent part of the political discussion. More quietly but just as persistently, the popular demand for living wages reflective of the emerging economy has been met by pessimistic predictions of spiraling inflation and anemic employment. To arbitrate between the two, many have turned to data-driven journalists and academics, hypothetically armed with statistics and motivated by a zeal for unveiling the objective truth.

Except, that hasn’t happened. One of the most widely circulated looks into the economic outcomes of raising the minimum wage, penned by economics professor Mark Perry, has fallen under criticism for having drawn from multiple data sets while comparing Seattle (which raised its minimum wage) compared to the surrounding metropolitan area (which didn’t). This may sound minor, but this reads less like mixing together data to reached a more complete picture and matching figures to create the desired result. The goal was never to describe what was happening as a result of the new law, it was to manufacture a glossy statistical justification for a particular take on raised minimum wage.

Perry’s response since the writing of that and other articles describing this and other problems with his research has been to edit the charts in question, noting that the information comes from disparate data sources that aren’t ideal to cavalierly compare. He’s also added an addendum arguing in essence that there’s nothing to see here.

Not caught… not yet

In a bit of lighter news, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have taken the news that no US nationals appear to be implicated in the leaked Panama Papers to heart. They’re now asking the Justice Department to more carefully investigate the matter to make absolutely sure that that’s the case.

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The long shadow of the Panama Papers

For the last few days, world news has been abuzz about the world’s as of yet largest leak of private information, which are now being called the “Panama Papers.” Publicized by a German newspaper a year after being given them, the information is from a Panama-based investment firm specialized in offshore and otherwise tax evasive practices. Major names around the world have been listed as having engaged in hypocritical and at times criminal financial transactions designed typically to avoid paying the full tax cost owed to various countries and localities.

One of the central figures in the leak was Iceland’s former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, who resigned on Sunday. Elected as a reformer who largely delivered on promises to turn Iceland’s economy back around, the revelation that he had profited from the financial reforms he oversaw through an undeclared and indirect investment essentially invalidated his political legitimacy.

2016-04-05_1414.pngCountries in which heads of state, high ranking public officials, or close associates have been named in the current leak.

Although uniquely duplicitous and corrupt, his place in the broader story of the Panama Papers actually speaks to a broader worry. His gains from Iceland’s economic restructuring weren’t just undisclosed, they were also untaxed. There’s a palpable failure of an Iceland-like series of new restrictions and standards on banks to address the ability of him and other Icelanders to strategically engage in capital flight. With Iceland facing warnings from international financial institutions over the costs of their response to the global crisis, this isn’t a trivial matter. It’s a shortfall in the millions if not billions globally, which in a political climate of widespread austerity has been felt worldwide by the classes who don’t have hidden bank accounts.

Outside of the Sanders-Clinton fight eating up US leftists’ attention, this is one of the system problems the “Warren Wing” has been hinting with growing volume. In the wake of anemic banking reforms, Elizabeth Warren’s individual focus has shifted somewhat towards addressing capital flight, even if just rhetorically. That’s just about the only ideological contingent in the US that can talk about this easily – for civil libertarians currently defending encryption this is an example of the public costs that high tech and high price secrecy can incur, for the more corporate friendly this only demonstrates the shady ethics of the economic order they defend, and for domestically-focused social democrat factions this represents the international scale of the problem which they often don’t acknowledge.

With a Democratic primary debate barely more than a week away, this is precisely the issue that both of them can and should be pressed on. Let’s see if CNN’s Wolf Blitzer brings it up.

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A tale of two capitalisms

Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have kicked up quite the commotion within the Democratic Party in the past couple of weeks. I’ve mentioned before how Sanders’ presidential campaign has pushed fellow candidate Hillary Clinton into adopting more substantive promises to the liberal base, particularly when it comes to affordable access to education. More than a few observers have noted how this has stoked the less obvious competition within the Democratic Party over what economic policies the leaders of the party will advance.

That’s just what’s happening within the presidential primary, however, as Elizabeth Warren is similarly galvanizing the Democrats’ economic left in the Senate. Even while Sanders’ defense of reinstating Glass-Steagall regulations on banks has captured the media’s attention, it’s easy to see Warren’s less eye-catching work on those and other issues. In a traditional legislative dynamic, her criticisms and suggestions to the financial industry and the broader economic system both suggest she might block financial deregulation in the Senate and help inspire left-leaning Democrats in the House to directly oppose it.

Beyond opposing a conservative vision for the economy, Warren and like-minded congressional representatives have begun presenting the type of reforms that are anathema for Republicans and distasteful to the more corporate-friendly Democratic circles. She began a speech last week by deflating the calls for lowering corporate taxes, and from there moved to a progressive tax proposal arguing that “revenue generated from corporate taxes is far too low.”

As a part of that, she delivered deeply topical response to the economic conversations being had among both conservatives and centrist Democrats about lowering the taxes collected on international companies to encourage them to remain in or return to the US. As Warren explained, “Fortune500 companies proudly proclaim that they are making record-breaking profits, and then they hire armies of lawyers to make sure they don’t pay taxes on those record-breaking profits.” With Carl Icahn having openly done this, she seems to have a point. She wasn’t kidding about the armies, either, as she noted-

“In just the past ten years, the amount of untaxed, off-shore profit has increased nearly five-fold. In other words, one of the hottest investments in America in the past decade hasn’t been biotech or big oil, it’s been tax lawyers. The money sheltered overseas is now about the same as the combined total earnings of all US corporations in 2013.”

Big-short-inside-the-doomsday-machine

“The Big Short” is, according to Warren, actually the big siphon.

She points out that the push for lowering taxes in the US to be competitive is being driven by other country’s somewhat collective efforts to “shut down tax dodges”. The main companies keeping their money perpetually between countries to avoid taxes in either are looking for a deal competitive with their current set-up that can replace the looming risk of tax litigation.

Centrists like Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and business-centered Republicans like Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) have been happy to offer that kind of a deal, including deemed repatriation (one-time giveaways on sheltered companies that keeps them from paying the full cost of back taxes).

As I’ve noted before, one of the most salient differences between the parties in the coming election appears to be their distinct understandings of economics and capitalism. What Sanders and Warren seem to have done is created that, not only by pushing some centrists like Clinton further to the left, but also by making others like Schumer into obvious examples of the centrist wing, rather than just another Democrat.

It’s become common to argue that the two parties are essentially indistinguishable on economics. It’s true that they are both offering, for the most part, fundamentally modern capitalist economics. That said, the specific prescriptions within that type of economic thought have begun to notably diverge. Their common worldview isn’t as shared as one might suspect.

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Anti-refugee Democrats: the other third party

Trigger warning: terrorism, islamophobia, racism

As I noted earlier this week, Republicans and other conservatives have essentially fallen over each other to trot out different versions of the same reaction to the attacks on Paris. They’ve prescribed more war, more hostility towards people of differing backgrounds, and more authoritarian state surveillance and controls. It’s basically a parade of what they have been pushing since the 9/11 attacks if not earlier, with the major shifts overt that time having just being about how overt or subtle they are with the policies they have in mind.

Within the US, the Democrats on the other hand, as a kind of quasi-left-ish coalition, have been inharmonious with one another. In New Hampshire, Governor Maggie Hassan was the only Democratic governor to join the rush to declare refugees would not be welcome in their state. A series of Senators – Chuck Schumer, Dianne Feinstein, Joe Manchin, and Harry Reid – publicly called for greater oversight and potentially even a moratorium on accepting asylum-seekers from Syria and other affected countries. As with more issues than many want to admit, there is a wing within the Democratic Party that differs from the Republicans not much on policy and more on volume and style.

2015-11-17_1342

(Modified from here, more information on the Mayors here.)

Of course, the loose coalition that makes up the Democratic Party in the US has plenty of other circles, some of which have made it quite clear that they are not going to sit quietly on this issue. Among other moved by that was President Obama himself, but he was joined recently by Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Tammy Duckworth.

This brings to light a more mild version of the divisions within the Democratic Party which former presidential candidate Jim Webb made obvious earlier this year. There is a quite clear split here within the Party, and it’s not just the comparatively rural and White voters of Appalachia who have maintained a different Democratic Party with different responses to racially-charged issues. For every Webb, Manchin, and Reid, there is a Feinstein, a Schumer, or another Democrat from a comparatively urban and diverse state.

Elizabeth Warren’s 2012 win is enlightening on this. Beyond her indigenous ancestry, it explains why she falls into a group more commonly filled with people like Obama and Duckworth who have more constant and direct experiences with being racialized and profiled. It also explains how her opponent, Scott Brown, was even able to win in Massachusetts in the first place – because he appealed to the same type of constituencies that continue to empower Feinstein, Schumer, and others in “blue states”.

Courtesy of the Election StatSheet, here’s how her win in 2012 was distributed across the state of Massachusetts:

Massachusetts 2012 county results

The bulk of her support came from the core of the Boston area (9.0 percent and 23.8 percent margins), with a smaller bump from the Springfield area in the western part of the state (6.3). Since this is New England, she also picked up slim margins in some of the comparatively rural parts of the state. Massachusetts residents have already picked up at this point on who that means drove her win to success: in the urban centers, people of color and the poor; in the rural west, the younger and more academic-minded.

What’s more remarkable is that Brown received a large amount of support in spite of the blue tilt felt across the state. It was concentrated, as the map shows, in the immediate environs of Boston.

The nearby suburbs of the state’s largest city are known for their wealthy and White demographics, but are by and large understood as still quintessentially “Massachusetts”. Whatever local preference towards Democrats, they pulled the lever for Brown to the tune of a more than ten point advantage. That part of the electorate, no matter their liberal bona fides, votes in the name of their personal bottom line. That can prop up a unique Brown-type Republican that goes a bit less directly on social issues and emphasizes economics, as well as the Schumer or Feinstein style of Democrat, who prioritizes security and spending over reforms or even moments of basic charity towards refugees.

Brown’s initially successful election (in 2010) primarily with the support of this group is not as much as a fluke as one might think. With the Republican base increasingly hostile towards a moderate wing seen as Republicans “in name only,” many Republicans have sought to triangulate between appealing adequately to the radicals and this constituency. This has been woven into the rhetoric and policies of Scott Walker and John Kasich among others – with the intent to create a smooth passage through both the base-driven primary and the general election (which tends to call for a broader coalition).

In some ways that echoes the efforts of many Democrats during the Clinton years, when the progressive base was labeled as electorally inadequate to win, but also indispensable. A certain portion of the Democratic Party never stopped doing that, even as the “Warren wing” emerged as a viable alternative to that somewhat convoluted centrism.

One question this leaves is whether these moderates are viable in the long term. That’s often presented as a party-unique question, but with increasingly viable constituencies outside of this group, few prominent politicians necessarily need their vote. Typically well-off but not necessarily wealthy on the scale of those who bankroll modern campaigns (and tend to have more eccentric political ideas), they’re also not financially necessary to the electoral process. What’s more, if a centrist Democratic wing and a centrist Republican wing will compete over their votes, it’s unclear that any useful collection of votes could coalesce around their specific interests.

That circumstance might lead many to expect a breakout third party, motivated by a kind of economics-light libertarianism. So far, that political bloc has been able to maintain a shocking amount of power without forming a third party. Instead they play kingmaker with their ability to deliver the votes necessary to enact their policies with shifting group of situationally-aligned co-supporters. They can rely on more radical Republicans to support them on most tax policies. They can rely on more radical Democrats to begrudgingly bail out banks or other industries to keep the country’s metaphorical lights on.

In terms of a vision of what different parts of politics or the economy could look like, they can’t lead, but they can still get most of what they want and leave everything else to die out in a committee as a “partisan” or “extremist” idea with inadequate support. For that matter, since they’re representing people who are, more or less, comfortable with things as they are, they don’t really need an idea of how to change the country. Intermingled with that comfort is a certain concern though: someone could muck everything up. So, this a political group that while somewhat ambivalent on social policies is more than happy to hear out extremely conservative views on race, religion, and civil liberties the moment security becomes the focal issue for any number of voters.

So, the Democrats who already have fallen in line with the majority of Republican governors or are speaking the same way as many conservative commentators have revealed a lot about themselves. Their willingness to act so cavalierly on security issues speaks to the interests they seek to protect and the ways in which those targeted by security systems don’t look like their constituents. They’re a unique class of Democrats, motivated by underlying economic and racial factors, that may make their politics incompatible with the broader Democratic Party’s in this era of the ascendant Senator Warren and President Obama.

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Warren and Piketty discussion on Monday

This Monday beginning at 8:30 pm Eastern (5:30 pm Pacific), Senator Elizabeth Warren (who is widely considered the populist voice in the current Senate) and French economist Thomas Piketty (who has galvanized the modern movement to contain capital flight) will have a conversation about economic and political issues that will be broadcast by the Huffington Post on a link accessible to you if you RSVP here. You also have the option of submitting questions ahead of time in the middle of registering as a listener.

As always, I will be liveblogging about this discussion on twitter, which you can follow along with here if you don’t already follow me on that platform. Recent statements by both Senator Warren and Piketty have actually led to many questioning how effective they are as advocates for policies that would reduce economic inequality, so this should be interesting to see whether either of them challenges the other based on those recent controversies. Senator Warren has famously stated that political insiders never attack other political insiders (at least, for being that), so this may in a weird way function as a litmus test to see how capable of self criticism both of these influential progressive thinkers are.

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Wild speculation is wild

Tonight’s post is late and short for a variety of reasons, but at the top of that list is the fact that I honestly have no idea what to make of this. In the short space of three months, almost every Republican who’s been closely connected to or directly experienced an electoral loss in Massachusetts has been floated as a potential runner for the opening Senate seat in that state. Why? We just don’t know.

This all began with speculation that Scott Brown, still smarting from Elizabeth Warren’s win in November, might return to the Senate in the other Massachusetts’ seat, which seemed increasingly likely to become available after John Kerry would be tapped to serve as Secretary of State. With his candidacy having been fairly effectively ruled out, however, idle thoughts have now turned towards both Ann Romney and Taggart Romney, the wife and son of Mitt Romney, who was decisively walloped in the presidential election in Massachusetts, in spite of it being one of his “home” states. I’m not exactly clear on what makes them desirable candidates other than being Republicans. They don’t really have political track records, which Brown at least did when he was elected to the Senate.


(Remember when we thought his loss in the election would mean he’d no longer be the center of attention? Ah how foolish we were. From here.)

So, I suppose this could be said to be an example of falling upwards, but it’s oddly fixated on this one Senate seat and on particularly electorally disastrous candidates. The desperate need for Scott Brown to be elected Senator was originally the byproduct of a variety of issues – namely that he was the only feasible candidate for that seat, that the Republicans desperately needed a filibuster-proof 40 Senators to ostensibly prevent the passage of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), and that as it was a special election in the middle of a Senatorial term that was their only chance for a long time.  Now, neither he nor many of these other candidates are actually feasible, the ACA is a judicially-reviewed part of the political landscape, and Republicans have more than 40 seats in the Senate.

Have Republicans lost track of why they even cared about that seat so much and are just desperately fighting to get it back?

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What else to watch for on Tuesday

TW: sexism, heterosexism, class warfare, sexual assault

It might not seem to be the case, given my past coverage of the election next week, but with five days to go it has to be said: this election is much bigger than a presidential race. And I don’t just mean that the ramifications of the presidential race will extend to every corner of society and well into the future (which is always true), but that there are a variety of local races that will conclude on Tuesday that have national importance. Here’s a quick run-down of the key issues as far as I can see, most of which are getting little air time compared to the presidential races.

1. The Future is Joaquín Castro

In Texas’ 20th congressional district, Joaquín Castro, currently a state representative of an overlapping area, reminds many people of a pre-presidential Barack Obama. In his first run for a federal office, we’ll have a bit of a test to see if he can pull off a similarly impressive landslide even for a relatively Democratic urban district. The bar has been set very high, so it’ll be interesting to see how well this rising star of the Democratic Party does. To beat Obama’s record, he’ll have to garner more than 73 percent of his districts votes. He actually beat that percentage while running for his current office in 2010, so it’s not out of the question though.

2. The California Three

If you’re at all familiar with California, you realize that the idea of it as uniformly liberal and Democratic is actually unfounded. As Five Thirty Eight pointed out last month, the state is starkly divided between progressive coastal cities and very conservative inland populations. In the wake of overhauling the districts’ boundaries, both parties are now scrambling for a small number of contested seat falling between the generally Democratic coast and largely Republican interior. Three races – in the seventh, tenth, and forty-first congressional districts – show a concerted effort by Democrats to offer progressive policies to historically marginalized inland populations and push inward. The respective Democratic candidates are Ami Bera, José Hérnandez, and Mark Takano – all the sons of immigrants with a specific favorite issue to push.

Five Thirty Eight counties of California
(Five Thirty Eight’s electoral graph of California’s counties)

Bera is second only to Barack Obama in demanding for his daughters and wife to have equal ability to participate in US politics, and he has unleashed a fierce ad campaign over the Republican incumbent’s support for stricter regulations on access to abortion even in cases of sexual assault. Hérnandez, the son of farm workers who became an astronaut, has emphasized the need for equal access to education as the route he used and others need to escape systemic poverty. Mark Takano has stressed the need for substantive LGBT* rights and environmental regulations. Each of these candidates touch on other major issues as well, including the ones favored by other members of the “California Three”. Individually and as a unit they present a strong case for social reform to traditionally more centrist or conservative parts of California. It’ll be interesting to see what sort of in roads they hopefully make.

3. A Nation-Wide Rebuke of the Tea Party?

Throughout the country, there’s a bit of a backlash brewing against the more conservative members of the Republican Party, promising to make several local races rather interesting. In Senate races, Elizabeth Warren’s challenge to Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, who has managed to annoy seemingly every large but marginalized social group, seems to embody this on the national stage. Likewise, in Pennsylvania and Tennessee House races, Kathy Boockvar and Eric Stewart are challenging Representatives Mike Fitzpatrick and Scott DesJarlais, respectively, in part over their misogynistic conduct. Fitzpatrick has managed to incite a backlash against him because of his terrible policies, while DesJarlais is under fire for arranging for his mistress to have an abortion after she became pregnant (in spite of being vehemently opposed to elective abortions as policy).

Other races, however, are less of a reaction to existing policy or hypocrisy, and seemingly more about anticipation of future political decisions by further “right” politicians. In Nebraska, the competition between Republican Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey has tightened considerably, seemingly as Fischer has drawn criticism even without having held the office yet. Similarly, Texan Representative Lamar Smith faced primary challenges and now a potential third party spoiler over his sponsorship of SOPA and support for PIPA which could allow Democrat Candace Duval to pull ahead. Neither bill became law of course, but the backlash he’s received for his key involvement with drafting both threatens his chance of reelection. Likewise, we can hope that Republican candidate Richard Mourdock’s insensitive comments on sexual assault will cost him the position of Indiana Senator, although with it so close to the election, it might not have time to move public perception and support towards Democratic candidate Joe Donnelly.

All of these races have the potential for frankly dangerous incumbents who support restricting many or all Americans’ freedoms to be replaced by much more progressive Senators and Representatives.

4. Democratic Incumbents in “Middle America”

Of course, this election isn’t just about struggling to overcome sexist, heterosexist, cissexist, racist, and classist political ideologies, but also retain positions held by reformers against reactionary challengers. In Ohio, Senator Sherrod Brown is fighting to hold onto his seat against challenger Josh Mandel, whose stance on economic issues is at this point well known to the working Ohioan families he would represent. In Missouri, Senator Claire McCaskill is facing off against challenger Todd Akin, who is now nationally known as the “legitimate rape” guy. The controversy even has its own Wikipedia page. Whether these two candidates can retain their positions will directly impact the Senate’s capacity to create policies that challenge class inequality and sexism.

5. The Future of Marriage

In addition to competition between candidates in various states, four different state propositions that will be tested on Tuesday will check current political attitudes towards same-sex marriage. In Maryland, Maine, and Washington, voters will have the option to legally sanction same-sex marriages at the local level, while Minnesota voters will have to decide whether to amend their state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. This is an interesting test to see what difference is made by the four years separating next Tuesday from California’s proposition 8, the now public support of same-sex marriage by the sitting president, and numerous public heel-face-turns on the issue. In light of those changes, it’s also an interesting test of Nate Silver’s past predictions of public sentiment on the issue.

6. Two Visions of California

I’ve written before about one Californian proposition on the ballot next week that would be historic, but there’s another one as well. Proposition 37 would be the first major effort to install mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods and food additives, which would place a new check on the biotechnology industry’s power. In contrast, Proposition 32 would  harshly restrict labor unions’ main political strategies, while leaving corporate political powers largely unrestricted. California has a choice between leading the rest of the United States towards a better model of corporate regulation or following the failed model of Wisconsin that’s been promoted by Arizonan donors.

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Live-blogging for this week

Just like last week I’ll be live blogging some of the major political debates this week – namely Scott Brown’s and Elizabeth Warren’s third debate on Wednesday, October 10, at 4 pm Pacific; and the Vice Presidential Debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan on Thursday, October 11, at 6 pm Pacific. As always, the live blogging will be on my twitter account.

I unfortunately missed the rather interesting debate last week between Mark Takano and John Tavaglione, both candidates for California’s newly created 41st district, in and around Riverside, California. If you’re catching up like me, you can find videos of the entire debate here. I’m also on the look out for any information on debates between the candidates for either the 20th or 21st congressional districts of Texas – the former because it involves Representative Joaquín Castro, the latter because it might prove to be a tight three-way race between incumbent Republican Lamar Smith, Democratic challenger Candace Duval, and Libertarian and potential spoiler Patrick Henry Liberty (yes, seriously). If you know of any upcoming debates involving any of those three races, please let me know! The most I’ve been able to find on the Texas 21st, for instance, is that those three candidates will read prepared statements at another political debate a week from Monday.

Likewise, if there’s any other political debates this week you’d like to see covered, leave a comment below!

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Debate season begins!

With the various election campaigns this year really starting to kick into gear, we’re about to see a plethora of incredibly important political debates over this coming week. On Monday, Elizabeth Warren and Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown will hold their second debate, at 7 Eastern Time. On Wednesday, President Obama and Mitt Romney will hold their first debate, at 9 Eastern Time.

If you’re interested in my thoughts on either debate, keep an eye on my twitter, as I’ll be live blogging both of those events. And yes, read the tag line, my family has one of those traditions about confusing naming strategies.

I hope you’ll be interested!

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