Friday, December 19, 2014

President Obama's core

Jon Favreau, Obama's former speechwriter, tweeted this during the President's news conference today.

I think Jon understands President Obama better than anyone outside his close circle of family and friends. So let's take a look at why he thinks Barack Obama ran for office. Here are the last few paragraphs of the President's remarks today.
The one thing I will say -- and this is going to be the last thing I say -- is that one of the great things about this job is you get to know the American people. I mean, you meet folks from every walk of life and every region of the country, and every race and every faith. And what I don’t think is always captured in our political debates is the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing, and people are basically good and have good intentions. Sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should. Sometimes you've got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn’t maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around. But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems. It’s not -- this isn’t a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying. I think that troubles everybody. So there’s an opportunity of all of us to come together and to take a practical approach to these problems.

And I guess that's my general theme for the end of the year -- which is we’ve gone through difficult times. It is your job, press corps, to report on all the mistakes that are made and all the bad things that happen and the crises that look like they're popping. And I understand that. But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better. The economy has gotten better. Our ability to generate clean energy has gotten better. We know more about how to educate our kids. We solved problems. Ebola is a real crisis; you get a mistake in the first case because it’s not something that's been seen before -- we fix it. You have some unaccompanied children who spike at a border, and it may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed.

And part of what I hope as we reflect on the New Year this should generate is some confidence. America knows how to solve problems. And when we work together, we can't be stopped.
I keep going back to this over and over, but Ta-Nehisi Coates called it a "shocking, almost certifiable faith in humanity." Whether or not you think that faith is warranted, it is what sits at the core of who President Barack Obama is.

Latin America, Torture and the Cold War

I am tempted to use the word "serendipitous" to describe the fact that within a matter of days, the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the investigation of the use of torture by the Bush/Cheney administration, Brazil's National Truth Commission released its report on the activities of its brutal military dictatorship, and President Obama announced the normalization of our relationship with Cuba.

Let me remind you of what Greg Grandin wrote back in 2007 when we were first learning about the extent to which torture had been used in the "global war on terrorism."
In fact, it was in Latin America that the CIA and U.S. military intelligence agents, working closely with local allies, first helped put into place the unholy trinity of government-sponsored terrorism now on display in Iraq and elsewhere: death squads, disappearances and torture.
Countries all over South and Central America (as well as Africa) have held truth and reconciliation commissions to document the atrocities committed in their countries as they attempted to throw off the weight of colonialism and reach for independence. Throughout that process, we've been reminded of the role the United States played as a "silent partner" in those atrocities. Brazil is simply the latest.
The final report confirms that the U.S. played a direct role in encouraging state sponsored torture in Brazil. According to the 2,000 page document — and backed by extensive historiography –, over 300 members of the Brazilian military spent time at the School of the Americas, run out of Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, where they had “theoretical and practical lessons on torture, which would later be replicated in Brazil,” the report notes. 
The school was one of the main tools used by the U.S. government to deter perceived communist threats in Latin America, and gave instruction to dictatorial militaries across the continent. A Pentagon manual released in 1996 details the curriculum, which encourages the use of torture, blackmail, and arresting the families of those being questioned.
This is not some ancient history. Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff was unable to hold back tears at the announcement of this report because she had been one of those people subjected to torture during her three year imprisonment by the military dictatorship (the one the U.S. had helped place in power by supporting a coup in 1964).

Initially these U.S. interventions in Latin America were blatantly justified by the interests of corporate America that were operating in these countries. But when the Cold War began, the threat of communism was used as the excuse for engaging in these atrocities.

So it should come as no surprise to anyone that removing the last vestige of the Cold War in Cuba is welcome news to the leaders of South and Central America (many of whom were their freedom fighters in the 80's and 90's). President Rousseff called the deal with Cuba, "a moment which marks a change in civilization.” Former President of Columbia Andrés Pastrana summed it up this way:
There will be radical and fundamental change. I think that to a large extent the anti-imperialist discourse that we have had in the region has ended. The Cold War is over.
Many Americans credit President Ronald Reagan with ending the Cold War. To others, it ended when the Berlin Wall crumbled during the administration of President George H.W. Bush. For the people of Latin America, it happened on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 with this announcement by President Barack Obama.
Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.

And I call on all my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the inter- American charter. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.

A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible, if we work together, not to maintain power, not to secure vested interests, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens...

Todos somos Americanos.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

In which I agree with an Erick Erickson tweet

I sure do agree with that! Of course, not in the way he meant it.

Its true that using the power of partnership is often associated with females - although not exclusively (see: Nelson Mandela). The idea of dominance as the only form of power strikes many of us as a massive "dick-swinging" contest.

What Erickson is reacting to is the use of the power of partnership by a male president. Being a consummate dick-swinger - Erickson doesn't even begin to grasp what that means. So he simply resorts to calling it "girly."

But YES! Look at us now: finally ending the last artifact of the Cold War and watching Russia tumble into the abyss - all while we are likely to be within reach of an agreement with Iran on nuclear weapons, ISIS' momentum has been stopped (although they are not defeated yet) and the new Iraqi Prime Minister is uniting Sunni and Shia in his country.

Not bad for a girly-man.


President Obama to Congressional Republicans: Govern or Make Yourselves Irrelevant

A lot of pundits are noticing that since the midterm elections, President Obama has been the opposite of a "lame duck." Kevin Drum does a good job of summing up the significant actions this president has taken recently.
  • November 10: Surprised everyone by announcing his support for strong net neutrality. 
  • November 11: Concluded a climate deal with China that was not only important in its own right, but has since been widely credited with jumpstarting progress at the Lima talks last week. 
  • November 20: Issued an executive order protecting millions of undocumented workers from the threat of deportation. 
  • November 26: Signed off on an important new EPA rule significantly limiting ozone emissions.
  • December 15: Took a quiet victory lap as Western financial sanctions considerably sharpened the pain of Vladimir Putin's imploding economy. 
  • December 16: Got nearly everything he wanted during the lame duck congressional session, and more. Democrats confirmed all important pending nominees, and then got Republican consent to several dozen lesser ones as well. 
  • December 17: Announced a historic renormalization of relations with Cuba. 
This is all part of the pen and phone strategy he announced way back in January 2014.
President Barack Obama offered a brief preview Tuesday of his State of the Union address, telling his Cabinet that he won’t wait for Congress to act on key agenda items in 2014.

“I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” he said at his first Cabinet meeting of the year. Outlining the strategy, Obama said he plans to use his pen to sign executive actions and his phone to convene outside groups in support of his agenda if Congress proves unable or unwilling to act on his priorities.
Combined with the signature legislative accomplishments of his first two years - the stimulus, health care reform and Wall Street reform - we are beginning to see the transformative nature of Barack Obama's presidency.

Come January 2015, what will be the response of the Republican majorities in Congress to these achievements? As Kevin Drum notes in that same article:
GOP leaders had plans for January, but now they may or may not be able to do much about them. Instead, they're going to have to deal with enraged tea partiers insisting that they spend time trying to repeal Obama's actions. They can't, of course, but they have to show that they're trying.
Its important to note why they can't repeal Obama's actions. That is first of all because this President has been careful to recognize where he has constitutional authority and where Congress must act. He hasn't crossed that line.

But perhaps even more importantly, the 2015 budget bill strips Republicans of their ability to hold the government hostage as their leverage in trying to force change on any of these matters for at least the next nine months. After that, we'll be in full 2016 campaign mode and its unlikely Republicans will want to initiate a government shutdown leading into the November presidential election.

The only alternative for Republicans at this point is to attach a repeal of any of these policies to something the Democrats want done, for example, comprehensive immigration reform. But the really interesting thing is...if they do that, we're back to the process of actual governing via negotiation. Oh my!!!!

What this all boils down to is that President Obama has given Congressional Republicans two options: Govern or make yourselves irrelevant. That's a major power play by our Community Organizer-in-Chief.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Vermont gives up on single payer

Recently I noted that before the end of the year, Vermont's Governor Shumlin would lay out his proposal on how to pay for single payer health insurance. Today brought an unexpected announcement.
Vermont has long had a two-pronged approach to building a single-payer health care system. First, they would figure out what they would want the system to look like. Then, they would figure out how to pay for it.

The state passed legislation outlining how the single-payer system would work in 2011. And ever since, the state has been trying to figure out how to pay for a system that covers everybody. Most estimates suggest that the single payer system would cost $2 billion each year. For a state that only collects $2.7 billion in revenue, that is a large sum of money.

What Shumlin appears to be saying today is that the "time is not right" to move forward on the financing of the single-payer system. And that means putting the whole effort aside, with no clear moment when the debate would be reopened.
This has always been the HUGE hurdle that any single payer system would have to jump. Its true that - in the end - such a system would likely save money. But simply comparing costs in the U.S. to countries with single payer systems is not adequate. First of all, it has been proven that health care procedures are WAY more expensive here than they are in other countries. That's part of where the discrepancy comes from. Single payer wouldn't fix that.

Secondly, switching to single payer means that costs are shifted - not that they simply go away. Vermont found that, when implemented in 2017, those costs would equal an 11.5% income tax on all residents. Trying to design a system of who pays for what inevitably would create big winners and big losers. That means a lot of chaos and an awful lot of noise from the losers.

So...single payer advocates are going to have to address how that transition should happen. Vermont just showed that if you don't do that, it is never going to happen.

It's not just about Cuba. Todos Somos Americanos

From President Obama's remarks today on the normalization of our relationship with Cuba:
Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas. This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas. But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.

And I call on all my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the inter- American charter. Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.

A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible, if we work together, not to maintain power, not to secure vested interests, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens...

Todos somos Americanos.
For many countries in South and Central America, Cuba remained the "flash-point" that recalled the way their efforts toward independence from corporate-fueled colonization were treated simply as proxies in our Cold War against communism. Much of what has been wrong about U.S. foreign policy in the modern era was played out on that stage.

President Obama's announcement today allows that flash-point to be quelled. It is a clearing out of the debris of the past that allows the doors of possibility to swing wide open. I'll be fascinated to see the results at the Summit of the Americas next April.

Why Republicans Admire Putin

Jonathan Chait reminds us of the origins of the neoconservative movement in the Republican Party.
Three decades ago, right-wing French intellectual Jean-Francois Revel published a call to arms entitled “How Democracies Perish,” which quickly became a key text of the neoconservative movement and an ideological blueprint for the Reagan administration. Revel argued that the Soviet Union’s brutality and immunity from internal criticism gave it an inherent advantage over the democratic West — the United States and Europe were too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat the resolute men of the Iron Curtain.

“Unlike the Western leadership, which is tormented by remorse and a sense of guilt,” wrote Revel, “Soviet leaders' consciences are perfectly clear, which allows them to use brute force with utter serenity both to preserve their power at home and to extend it abroad.”
This is what sparked a love-fest for Putin's tactics from Republicans immediately following his invasion of Ukraine.  "That's what you call a leader" said Rudy Giuliani. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-MI), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said that Putin was playing chess while President Obama played marbles.

At the time, the Obama administration consistently suggested that Putin was engaging in 19th-20th century tactics in a 21st century world.
...Obama is one of the first to have a broad range of potentially biting nonmilitary responses to employ—a measure of how much Russia has been integrated into the world's financial system since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

It is why American policymakers are so convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has miscalculated by dispatching troops to Crimea. And why you hear over and over again from the White House and State Department that Putin does not seem to understand the interconnectedness of the 21st-century world.

"What we see here are distinctly 19th- and 20th-century decisions made by President Putin to address problems, deploying military forces rather than negotiating," says a senior administration official, speaking on background. "But what he needs to understand is that in terms of his economy, he lives in the 21st-century world, an interdependent world."
President Obama addressed this directly during his speech in Brussels on March 26th.
Throughout human history, societies have grappled with the question of how to organize themselves – the proper relationship between the individual and the state; and the best means to resolve inevitable conflicts between states. And it was here in Europe, through centuries of struggle—through war and Enlightenment, repression and revolution—that a particular set of ideals began to emerge. The belief that through conscience and free will, each of us has the right to live as we choose. The belief that power is derived from the consent of the governed, and that laws and institutions should be established to protect that understanding...

But those ideals have also been tested – and threatened – by an older, more traditional view of power. This alternative vision argues that ordinary men and women are too small-minded to govern their own affairs, and that order and progress can only come when individuals surrender their rights to an all-powerful sovereign.
That speech - which was one of the most powerful of Obama's presidency - was meant to unite the people of Europe (especially its young people) around this new form of 21st century power - even if it meant sacrifice from them. In this interconnected world, it is about the power of partnership as a tool to defeat the power of dominance.

And so, while Republicans continue to believe that the democratic West is "too liberal, too open, too humane, too soft to defeat the resolute men," President Obama is demonstrating that partnership can be a powerful tool in this 21st century.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lights out

I can't fathom the idea of people who are willing to target the killing of innocent children to make a political point. I don't want to fathom it.

I can't talk about it. I don't want to talk about it.

I can't process it. I don't want to process it.

I can't understand it. I don't want to understand it.

There are times when the only thing one can do is grieve over the extent to which humanity can become depraved. This is one of those days.

So I'm going to turn the lights out here for awhile and do that.

The line dividing good and evil

From the Washington Post/ABC News poll:
By an almost 2-1 margin, or 59-to-31 percent, those interviewed support the CIA’s brutal methods, with the vast majority of supporters saying they produced valuable intelligence.
I am reminded of this quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn:
If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
That's also why Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin case the first stone." Rooting out evil is first and foremost a process of self-reflection.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What does "breaking up the banks" mean?

After the recent drama about the 2015 spending bill in Congress, a lot of people are talking about the "disarray" amongst Democrats. I was particularly intrigued by what Greg Sargent wrote about that today.
There is broad Democratic agreement that the party must come up with a more comprehensive response to stagnating wages and the failure of the recovery to achieve widespread, more equitable distribution. Dems mostly agree on a range of policy responses, such as a minimum wage hike, pay equity, expanded pre-K education, and big job-creating investments in infrastructure.

But there are clear divisions, too. Democrats like Warren, Sherrod Brown, and Bernie Sanders favor some form of breaking up big banks and back expanding Social Security; Sanders wants major reform to trade policies; and some Democrats oppose the big trade deals now being negotiated.
I'm going to leave Social Security and trade deals alone for today. That's because, based on what I wrote earlier about the difference between commercial banks and global financial institutions, I got curious about what people like Warren, Brown and Sanders mean when they talk about "breaking up the banks."

Just two days ago Sen. Sanders announced that he will introduce legislation in the next Congress to break up the banks. He doesn't give any specifics there or in the agenda he announced recently for a potential presidential run. So I guess we'll have to wait and see.

The legislation Sen. Warren introduced in July 2013 was basically a revival of what used to be known as Glass-Steagall - which would separate traditional commercial banking from financial investment firms. While this might be a reasonable step, it would neither break up nor further regulate the "too big to fail" investment firms (i.e. Lehman and AIG) that were at the heart of the Great Recession. In that sense, I think the public is a bit misled when its referred to as "breaking up the banks."

Sen. Sherrod Brown wins the door prize for proposing legislation that would actually "break up the banks."
The legislation would place sensible limits on the amount of debt that a single financial institution could take on relative to the entire productive economy. No bank could have non-deposit liabilities valued greater than two percent of U.S. GDP, and no investment bank could have non-deposit liabilities exceeding three percent of GDP. This would only affect the six largest megabanks, which would be given three years to comply by drawing up their own proposals to meet this goal.
After reading about Sen. Brown's legislation, this tweet from WaPo's Congressional reporter a few days ago makes perfect sense.

My question for Senator Brown would be to ask how his proposed legislation would affect wage stagnation and job creation. Anything that destabilizes financial institutions could seriously disrupt the positive trends we're beginning to see there. Overall, when it comes to income inequality, I tend to support efforts to build up from the bottom rather than tear down at the top. But I'm open to being persuaded that both might be necessary.

In the end though, it doesn't surprise me that the deep work on an issue like this is coming from someone who tends to be out of the limelight of our hysteria-based media. Keep your eye on Sen. Sherrod Brown!

Wall Street Reform for non-experts

Bear with me for a moment because I'm going to delve into a topic that is not my area of expertise and that usually makes people like me exit from a conversation when our eyes glaze over. But as the conversation over the evils of Wall Street heightens once again, I think there are a few distinctions that are not being made that can help us all understand where our priorities should be.

Coming out of the Great Depression, a series of reforms were initiated to regulate know, the kinds of institutions we're all familiar with where we deposit our money for savings/checking accounts. This included things like the ability of the federal government to take banks into "receivership" if they appeared to be failing and insure the money that we placed in them against losses.

Over the years, financial institutions developed that went way beyond those activities and were therefore not subject to those regulations. During the financial crisis of 2008 - we heard about some of them. They were companies like Lehman Brothers and AIG. As we watched Lehman collapse and AIG near-collapse, we started to learn the meaning of "too big to fail." Because these corporations were so large and international in scope, the entire globe was threatened with financial collapse.

A lot of liberals wanted the Obama administration to take these companies into receivership in order to stabilize them and punish the managers whose practices led us to the brink. But as Paul Krugman noted, the administration's position was that the Great Depression Era regulation of banks did not provide the federal government with that authority. The significant portions of Dodd/Frank were designed to remedy that.

When it comes to the current controversy over the provision cromnibus eliminated from Dodd/Frank, Paul Krugman basically agrees with both me and Matt Taibbi - it did not touch this critical portion of Wall Street reform.
Now, this isn’t the death of financial reform. In fact, I’d argue that regulating insured banks is something of a sideshow, since the 2008 crisis was brought on mainly by uninsured institutions like Lehman Brothers and A.I.G. The really important parts of reform involve consumer protection and the enhanced ability of regulators both to police the actions of “systemically important” financial institutions (which needn’t be conventional banks) and to take such institutions into receivership at times of crisis.
Making this distinction is critical because we need to effectively pick our battles as they emerge. As I've pointed out previously, the passage of cromnibus takes away the Republican leverage of holding us hostage to potential government shut-downs for at least the next nine months. That weakens Wall Street's ability to further erode these critical elements of reform. So let's keep our eye on that prize.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Discarding the Master's Tools

I find it fascinating that the liberal's "go-to guy" on railing against Wall Street - Matt Taibbi - basically agrees with me that Blanche Lincoln's contribution to Dodd/Frank was not a significant part of Wall Street reform.
Is killing the Citigroup provision really worth the trouble? Is it a "Hill to die on"? Maybe not in itself.
Instead, he has to rely on a "slippery slope" argument to defend his rant against what he calls The Blob ("a single furiously-money-collecting/favor-churning oligarchical Beltway party).
But the key here is that a victory on the swaps issue will provide the Beltway hacks with a playbook for killing the rest of the few meaningful things in Dodd-Frank, probably beginning with the similar Volcker Rule, designed to prevent other types of gambling by federally-insured banks. Once they cave on the swaps issue, it won't be long before the whole bill vanishes, and we can go all the way back to our pre-2008 regulatory Nirvana.
In other words, it's not that this provision was so important. It's that allowing this one to be repealed will lead to the eventual elimination of Dodd/Frank. I would argue that might have been the case if Boehner had gotten his 3-month continuing resolution. That would have set up a series of "must pass" spending bills loaded with these kinds of provisions. But with the passage of cromnibus, we will now have at least nine months of a Republican-controlled Congress with no government shutdown threats.

But of course Taibbi - like a few other liberals - isn't really worried about government shutdowns. He thinks liberals should embrace the tactics of the lunatic caucus.
If the Democrats actually stood for anything other than sounding as progressive as possible without offending their financial backers, then they would do what Republicans always do in these situations: force a shutdown to save their legislation.
The argument behind something like this is that the threat of a government shutdown gives you leverage in negotiating. But the threat doesn't work if you're bluffing. You have to be ready to actually shut down the government for it to be effective.

The values embraced by Democrats mean we have to look elsewhere for leverage. If you doubt that, just look at a summary of the results of our last federal government shut down. For those who actually care about the unemployed and underemployed, all you need to know is that the CBO suggested that even one of such short duration cost us 120,000 jobs.

Mike Lofgren - former Republican Congressional aide - explained a few years ago why the GOP is comfortable using this kind of leverage.
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters' confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good," further leading them to think, "a plague on both your houses" and "the parties are like two kids in a school yard." This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s - a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn ("Government is the problem," declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
Whenever someone suggests that Democrats should mimic the tactics used by Republicans, I think of this:

That makes our job harder. It requires more creativity and maturity. As then-Senator Barack Obama said back in 2005:
The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives' job...A polarized electorate that is turned off of politics, and easily dismisses both parties because of the nasty, dishonest tone of the debate, works perfectly well for those who seek to chip away at the very idea of government because, in the end, a cynical electorate is a selfish electorate.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hidden Trauma

A lot of black academics criticized President Obama for engaging in "respectability politics" when he did things like launch the My Brother's Keeper initiative. But when the President met with the young people involved in the Becoming a Man program in Chicago and during his visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Nation, he likely heard stories like the ones in this article by Sam P.K. Collins titled: The Hidden Trauma Plaguing American Kids.
While conversations about PTSD often focus on soldiers returning from combat zones, research in recent years has shown the development of symptoms in children who live in violent environments...

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies symptoms of PTSD as flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety and loss of trust in people. For children of color still reeling from the effects of crime, poverty, limited health care, and poor schools in their low-income neighborhoods, the mental disorder can take a toll on the mind...

One in three young urban dwellers who experience mild to severe forms of PTSD say that people may doubt the severity of what they see, especially if they live in high-crime, high-poverty areas. But D.C.-based psychotherapist Lanada Williams argues that constant exposure to even the smallest incidences of violence — whether it’s physical, sexual, or verbal — can spur the development of mental ailments in children, especially in cases where school officials misinterpret cries for help as acts of delinquency.
Via the research Collins referred to, we are beginning to develop an understanding of the effects chronic (or complex) trauma has on child development and the behaviors that result. As he notes, failure to acknowledge it is part of the vicious cycle that feeds suspensions/expulsions from school and ultimately the school-to-prison pipeline.
“When children of color act up, we don’t try to get to the meat of what’s affecting that child. Instead, we adjudicate them and move them through the system,” Williams, also CEO of Alliance Family Solutions, a private counseling practice, told ThinkProgress.
Children of color (especially black boys) who suffer from chronic trauma are the ones who are also being robbed of their childhood innocence when they "act up."
Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research.
President Obama touched on this in his interview with Jeff Johnson on BET.

At about 17:00:
Part of what I think is so heartbreaking and frustrating for a lot of folks when they watch this is a recognition that - simply by virtue of color - you've got less margin for error - that's particularly true for black boys...And so its not simply that we want to make sure that the perfect young man is treated OK. We also want a boy - who's a boy, or a young man who's maybe a little confused, maybe makes a mistake - we want them to be given the same benefit of the doubt as any other boy would be given.
This has nothing to do with respectability politics. It has to do with getting real about the challenges that too many children face as a result of the cycles created by racism. It also has a lot to do with not allowing the suffering of "hidden" trauma by these children to go unnoticed any longer.

Picking Your Battles

Yesterday I wrote about the reality that former-Senator Blanche Lincoln's contribution to Dodd/Frank was not a critical component of Wall Street reform. As part of that, I focused on the importance of passing this cromnibus spending bill as opposed to the ongoing government shutdown battles that would be triggered by a 3 month continuing resolution.

But I think its also important to note the positive elements that are included in the spending bill. Kevin Drum (who has been doing some excellent writing about this) does a great job on that.

The first thing we should recognize is that the rider eliminating Lincoln's "push-out" on a few derivative swaps was traded for additional funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission - in other words, more ability to enforce the really significant portions of Wall Street reform.

But then here's a quote Drum uses from retiring Rep. Jim Moran.
In 20 years of being on the appropriations bill, I haven’t seen a better compromise in terms of Democratic priorities. Implementing the Affordable Care Act, there’s a lot more money for early-childhood development — the only priority that got cut was the EPA but we gave them more money than the administration asked for....There were 26 riders that were extreme and would have devastated the Environmental Protection Agency in terms of the Clean Water and Clean Air Act administration; all of those were dropped. There were only two that were kept and they wouldn’t have been implemented this fiscal year. So, we got virtually everything that the Democrats tried to get.
President Obama echoed the importance of those provisions.

Let me start by saying a few words about the bill that was passed last night to keep the government open and make sure that our agencies are funded until the fall of next year.

This, by definition, was a compromise bill. This is what’s produced when we have the divided government that the American people voted for. There are a bunch of provisions in this bill that I really do not like. On the other hand, there are provisions in this bill and the basic funding within this bill that allows us to make sure that we continue on the progress in providing health insurance to all Americans; make sure that we continue with our efforts to combat climate change; that we’re able to expand early childhood education that is making a meaningful difference in communities all across the country; that allows us to expand our manufacturing hubs that are contributing to the growth of jobs and the progress that we’ve seen in our economy over the last couple of years.

And so, over all, this legislation allows us to build on the economic progress and the national security progress that is important. Had I been able to draft my own legislation and get it passed without any Republican votes I suspect it would be slightly different. That is not the circumstance we find ourselves in. And I think what the American people very much are looking for is some practical governance and the willingness to compromise, and that’s what this really reflects. So I’m glad it passed the House and am hopeful that it will pass the Senate.
Now...if all you care about is sticking it to Wall Street, the current battle among Democrats over this bill might be worth having. But - if you also care about enforcing the critical aspects of Wall Street reform, Obamacare, the President's actions on immigration, early childhood education, climate change, job growth, and national security - all this hysteria is simply a distraction.

I'm honestly trying to figure out why people like Senator Elizabeth Warren decided to pick this battle. Until proven otherwise, I continue to believe that she is a person of integrity. So I'm prepared to give it some time to sort that out. I'll simply note that she has a few issues that she cares a lot about and often resorts to the use of hyperbole to make her case.

I am personally more interested in politicians who have the ability to see the big picture and know how to pick their battles.  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Did cromnibus kill Wall Street reform? (updated)

Back when Congress passed Wall Street reform (the Dodd/Frank bill), many liberals dismissed it as meaningless weak tea. But then, a few of them came around and recognized that - what do you know - Wall Street reform is working!

A couple of months ago, when Paul Krugman took to Rolling Stone in defense of President Obama, he outlined the three most important components of Dodd/Frank:
First, the law gives a special council the ability to designate ''systemically important financial institutions'' (SIFIs) – that is, institutions that could create a crisis if they were to fail – and place such institutions under extra scrutiny and regulation of things like the amount of capital they are required to maintain to cover possible losses...

Another key provision in Dodd-Frank is ''orderly liquidation authority,'' which gives the government the legal right to seize complex financial institutions in a crisis...

A third piece of Dodd-Frank is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That's Elizabeth Warren's brainchild, an agency dedicated to protecting Americans against the predatory lending that has pushed so many into financial distress, and played an important role in the crisis.
So, what was the provision that cromnibus gutted? Here's how Michael Greenberger explained it at Mother Jones:
This provision guts the so-called push-out rule created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act. This rule forbids banks from trading certain derivatives—complicated financial instruments with values derived from underlying variables, such as crop prices or interest rates. Instead, banks would have to shift these high-risk trades into separate nonbank affiliates that aren't insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and are less likely to receive taxpayer bailouts. If the Citi-written measure becomes law, the largest FDIC-insured banks in the country will be able to make a wider range of these risky trades.
Now, don't get me wrong. Republicans threw this into the spending bill as a very ugly poison pill that was sure to rankle a lot of Democrats. Rightly so. But my point is that it DOES NOT gut the most important provisions of Dodd/Frank.

My suspicion is that Republican leadership threw it in knowing that progressive Democrats would react by joining with tea partiers to try to kill the bill. What John Boehner wanted all along was to watch this bill go down in flames and pass his alternative - a three month continuing resolution that would provide us with a series of government shutdown standoffs next year when all of Congress is controlled by Republicans. They had much more than the gutting of this one part of Wall Street reform in mind. That's why the White House lobbied for passage of a 12-month spending bill - even though they publicly denounced this part of it.

UPDATE: I just learned that the "push-out" rule that is eliminated in the cromnibus was the brainchild of former Senator Blanche Lincoln. So excuse me if I'm a little skeptical about how important it is. Apparently it doesn't affect  all derivative swaps - not even most of them.
In brief, the Pushout required federally insured banks to move-“push out”-some swaps dealing activities to separate subsidiaries that do not have access to federal deposit insurance. This does not apply to all swaps, mind you. Not even to the bulk of them (interest rate swaps, many CDS). But just to commodity derivatives (other than gold), equity derivatives, and un-cleared CDS.