Saturday, January 09, 2016

We Don't Write Enough About Bernie Here, Do We?


Trumpf really has been a godsend for the Clinton Machine. He's turned her most fearsome rival-- the son and brother of two presidents into a national laughing stock, destroyed the Bush family brand and wasted at least $200 million that would have been deployed more destructively against Democrats. He's brought the GOP into a state of anarchy and discord so intense that it really is conceivable that when the establishment tries to broker the inevitable deadlocked convention for their boy Ryan, gun fights will break out and a substantial part of the Republican establishment will be reunited with Ronald Reagan forever. He's clarified for some people who are repulsed by the pay-for-play political system that sometimes the lesser of two evils is lesser enough.

But there's something else Trumpf's done that has worked to Hillary's advantage. He managed to suck up so much energy and attention that Bernie's critique of the toxic establishment of which she is a leading member is being lost on many casual news consumers. Even Bernie partisans like myself are spending too much time on Trumpf and his antics and glorying in the discomfiture the Republicans are going through because of them. When I could be doing more research on how Clinton's career-long flip-flopping on gun laws, and how she tried to use that as a club with which to attack Obama in 2008 the same way she's doing now with Bernie, I was instead reading the equivalent of pulp thrillers by third-rate pundits about the GOP civil war. "It reflects badly on the party," wrote Peggy Noonan, "that Donald Trump-- whom one journalist this week characterized as a guy running around with his hair on fire-- had to become the party’s 2016 thought leader. Bernie Sanders has, in a way, had the wit to see this, which is why he said he is reaching out to Trump supporters. Reaching out. What a concept." Yeah, what a concept; wasn't that what Jesus told mankind to do?

Hillary's cynical smear mailing against Obama on the gun issue in 2008

Bernie is also reaching out to Hillary voters and trying--without calling her a liar (which she is)-- to help voters see the difference between thistle fist he's offering Wall Street and the bouquet of flowers she's waving at the banksters. Look at this little graphic The Intercept put together showing how much money the banksters funneled into her pockets between 2013 and 2015-- just under $3 million for 12 speeches.

They're counting on getting their money's worth if she makes it into the White House. As Huff Po's senior political economy reporter, Zach Carter, pointed out Friday, the Clinton Machine spent the week lying about Bernie's Wall Street proposals. Kind of heartbreaking to see how Barney Frank has sold out to all the worst elements of the Democratic Establishment in his retirement. But then again, the warning signals were always there; the head of the House Financial Services Committee did take in $4,451,123 from the Financial Sector while he was serving in Congress. He's still good on LGBT issues though.
Clinton's attack on Sanders is as simple as it is untrue: Unlike Sanders, Clinton has argued, she is willing to take on "shadow banking"-- a broad term for various financial activities that aren't regulated as strictly as conventional lending.

Sanders has in fact proposed attacking shadow banking in two principal ways: by breaking up big financial firms that engage in shadow banking, and by severing federal financial support for shadow banking activities by reinstating Glass-Steagall.

These would be substantive changes. A lot of shadow banking takes place at firms with traditional banking charters, like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. Some of it takes place at specialized hedge funds, or at major investment banks like Goldman Sachs. Breaking them up would not eliminate the risk shadow banking poses to the economy, but it would limit it. Risky shadow banking activities cannot bring down institutions that are too-big-to-fail if there are no too-big-to-fail institutions.

Yet the Clinton campaign has repeatedly said Sanders is wholly ignoring shadow banking, accusing Sanders of taking a "hands-off" approach to it that would not apply to firms like Lehman Brothers and AIG. This barrage has come from Clinton's press aides, campaign CFO Gary Gensler, and Clinton surrogate Barney Frank.

In a bizarre appearance on Chris Hayes' MSNBC show, Frank claimed that splitting up Morgan Stanley or Bank of America "is not going to do anything, literally not anything to restrain shadow banking." He even said that since Lehman Brothers was "very small" when it failed, Sanders' break-up-the-banks plan would be unworkably broad and apply to too many firms.

It's hard to see these comments as anything but dishonest. Lehman Brothers was not "very small" when it failed. At $639 billion in assets, it was the single-biggest bankruptcy filing in American history. Only six U.S. banks are now larger than Lehman was, and the next-largest institutions are almost half Lehman's size. AIG-- then the world's largest insurer-- was even bigger.

Breaking up major institutions and forcing banks that accept insured deposits out of the shadow banking system are not the only conceivable tactics for mitigating risks posed by shadow banking. Clinton's plan includes some vague but sensible proposals to take a harder look at the sector, require more transparency, and impose new leverage limits on some players. Her approach eschews a focus on the threat posed by large institutions in favor of monitoring risks across the financial system (she has repeatedly rejected calls to break up the biggest banks). The Clinton team could easily make a case for her approach without saying strange and false things about Sanders' plan.

And indeed, the Clinton camp's relentless references to Lehman and AIG undercut her own regulatory approach. If bank size were truly irrelevant to the shadow banking problem, then there would be no need to consistently highlight two too-big-to-fail institutions, one of which wreaked havoc on the economy by failing, and another of which was bailed out to avoid further havoc.

Jaret Seiberg, a regulatory specialist at Guggenheim Partners-- and one of the most astute finance-friendly observers of American politics-- issued a note to clients this week saying that key elements of Sanders' platform have bipartisan appeal and political viability that will put pressure on other candidates to present more aggressive anti-Wall Street messaging.

"This is not just about breaking up the biggest banks," Seiberg wrote. "Sanders is calling for a system in which financial firms are smaller, the government controls the interest rates that banks charge, certain fees are capped, the Postal Service becomes a viable competitor to banks and payday lenders [and] CEOs would be criminally liable if employees defraud customers.

"Sanders appears to argue that he could implement much of this agenda on his own even without the need for legislation," Seiberg continued. "We caution against dismissing this view. There is much that the White House, Treasury, or the financial regulators could do by executive order... Bashing Wall Street is a populist message that appeals to conservatives and liberals. Sanders has now laid out the most radical option on the table that other candidates will be judged against."
Carter closes by warning the Hillarians that "[m]aking things up in order to criticize Sanders proposals that Democrats actually like only damages Clinton's credibility with Democratic voters" and if the progressive wing of the party doesn't back her if she wins the nomination, she won't win in November. Writing for Businessweek, Joel Stein made the point that Bernie doesn't expect or even want the votes of banksters and would-be banksters and especially not hedge fund managers, who are all support Jeb and Rubio and Hillary and Cruz and even Christie. He's about the working and middle class and has been for his whole career and that's who his campaign is aimed at. As we've pointed out before, Bernie has the highest constituent approval rating and lowest disapproval rating among U.S. senators. Stein sums up the thrust of that campaign in 5 words: the rich are screwing you.

It's why Bernie "has gotten more donations-- 2.5 million-plus-- at this point in the election cycle than any candidate in history, including sitting presidents, and twice as many individual donors as Hillary Clinton. His appearances draw more people than anyone else, including Herr Trumpf's and unlike Hillary, and the rest of the establishment careerist politicians, "he doesn’t adjust his act for different situations or audiences. Sanders is exactly the same, utterly comfortable and curious, whether speaking at the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University or listening politely to Black Lives Matter protesters who have bum-rushed his stage and appropriated his microphone. As the nation debated Obamacare in the summer of 2009, and Democratic lawmakers holed up in Washington to avoid angry constituents, Sanders held town halls in the most conservative parts of Vermont, staying to answer questions after most people left. His favorite tactic with a hostile audience is to declare that they won’t agree on some crucial issue such as abortion or gay rights but can come together on a far more important problem: The rich are screwing us."
Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, National Journal’s 2009 Top Conservative in the Senate-- the man who, in February, tossed a snowball on the floor of the chamber to assert that global warming is a hoax-- calls Sanders one of his best friends in the Senate. “Bernie Sanders is unique,” Inhofe says, “in that most of the Democrats I know in the Senate vote liberal and press-release conservative. Not Bernie. He’s a proud, in-the-heart, sincere liberal. I’ve never heard him once say something that didn’t come from his heart. That’s not true with all the people running for president, Democrats and Republican. I hold him in high regard.” Sanders and Inhofe met in the early ’90s, when they were both representatives, and Sanders was proposing an amendment hiking taxes on the oil and gas industry. Inhofe rushed to the floor, debated him, and won the vote. Afterward, Sanders thanked him for offering a thoughtful, fact-based exchange.

...In Plymouth, Sanders is asked about his interests other than wealth inequality. “History,” he says. “How communities thrive. How they flourish. How people don’t get left behind. How social change takes place.” In other words: the history of wealth inequality. When the New York Times once had him pick a question from a reader out of a hat, and Sanders had to describe the U.S. to a Martian, it took him only four sentences to get to the phrase “income and wealth inequality.”

...Sanders is waging class warfare, but it’s a fight he feels was started by the rich, who “rigged” the economy-- one of the words he returns to most often. He uses class warfare terms from another century, calling investors “speculators” and his childhood apartment a “tenement”; he refers to “establishment” economics, corporations, media, and politics-- his version of the Right’s “mainstream.” He’s not a conspiracy theorist, but he does believe a very small group of very rich people are controlling our election results, our information, and the distribution of our resources. When asked what his wealthy friends think of his ranting against the immorality of the moneyed class, he says, “I don’t know that I have too many wealthy friends.”

Sanders prefers hating the rich. When Hillary Clinton was asked in a debate if corporate America should love her, she responded, “Everyone should. I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving, and the successful.” Sanders does not. When asked before a speech in Keene, N.H., what he would say to reassure the Bloomberg Businessweek readers who work on Wall Street, or have millions of dollars, or run a hedge fund, and might be afraid he wants to tax them back to the Carter Age, Sanders puts down the manila folder containing his talk, which he delivers without a TelePrompTer. “I’m not going to reassure them,” he says. “Their greed, their recklessness, their illegal behavior has destroyed the lives of millions of Americans. Frankly, if I were a hedge fund manager, I would not vote for Bernie Sanders. And I would contribute money to my opponents to try to defeat him.” Then the only socialist ever elected to the U.S. Senate goes back to working on his prepared remarks.

Each night before a speech, he futzes with it, agonizing over the lines even though it’s essentially the same speech he’s given for four decades, the word “Rockefellers” replaced by “Kochs.” It’s a message that isn’t all that different from that of Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected during a time of great inequality. In 1936, running for reelection, Roosevelt spoke at Madison Square Garden: “We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

On Jan. 5, at Manhattan’s Town Hall theater, Sanders declared his own war on organized money, decrying Clinton for taking Wall Street dollars in both speaking fees and campaign donations, and vowing to break up the six largest banks, bring back the Glass-Steagall Act, arrest some bankers, ban bankers from sitting on the Federal Reserve Board, make the credit rating agencies nonprofits, allow post offices to offer banking services, cap credit card interest rates at 15 percent, and limit ATM fees to $2. “The reality is fraud is the business model of Wall Street,” he said. “It is not the exception to the rule. It is the rule.”

...Wade Black, who runs Scarsdale Equities, a boutique investment firm in New York, and donates to Sanders: “I think he understands monetary policy. That great harangue he gave Alan Greenspan [in 2003] shows that. He probably has a better understanding of the financial industry than Ben Carson does. He may have a better understanding of how capitalism works than Donald Trump does,” he says. President Sanders, Black believes, will make Wall Street more competitive, so the vitriol against his occupation doesn’t bother him. “It’s a metaphor. There’s not going to be a Kristallnacht in Lower Manhattan. He’s talking about regulation, not shutting down the stock exchange. People turn their logic circuits off as soon as they hear the word ‘socialism.’”

Unlike Trump rallies, which have violence in the air, Sanders’s events present a more mellow radicalism. The first thing you learn at a Sanders rally is how many songs there are about revolutions. Before he arrives, the speakers blast Steve Earle’s The Revolution Starts Now and Bob Marley’s Revolution. But the one that best fits the scene at a soccer field in suburban Las Vegas on a foot-numbingly cold night is Tracy Chapman’s Talkin’ Bout a Revolution. She sounds so calm and thoughtful, like nothing is about to happen more violent than a spilled latte, as she strums her guitar and slowly sings:
Poor people gonna rise up

And take what’s theirs

Don’t you know you better run, run, run, run, run, run, run
The people gathered here-- old hippies, college kids, immigrants, union workers breaking with their leadership’s choice of candidate-- look similarly relaxed, like they’re less interested in actual revolution than in attending a graduate seminar about revolution. It’s a very serious crowd for Las Vegas-- not one person is vaping. Still, Sanders’s call to elect him-- and then stay involved, changing the system with constant million-person marches on the capital-- seems impossible with this laid-back crew. Then again, the Bolsheviks were humanities students in coffee shops, and the Tahrir Square protesters were college kids with Twitter accounts. The one obvious revolution song that isn’t played is the Beatles’, with its “Don’t you know it’s going to be all right/Shoo bee doo wop.” Sanders emphatically does not believe it’s going to be all right.

The reason a wonky septuagenarian can even convincingly talk about revolution is that Sanders is so genuinely angry. Often, he doesn’t play nicely. As mayor of Burlington, he was once invited to speak at a United Way fundraiser. His speech, perhaps for the only time, lasted just a few minutes and consisted of telling people that the United Way shouldn’t exist—that asking for dollars from workers’ paychecks to do the government’s job was shameful. As mayor, he strong-armed a real estate group that was going to convert low-income housing to luxury condos by passing laws specifically to thwart their efforts. The righteous can be ruthless.
You can contribute directly to Bernie-- and, if you'd like, to the candidates who have endorsed Bernie, here at our Blue America ActBlue page. There's a new Bernie endorser on the list now, by the way, Tim Canova, who is primarying Debbie Wasserman Schultz in her south Florida district.

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At 9:47 AM, Blogger Natalie Daniels said...

I love Bernie. I really do but honestly how will he get a divided, gerrymandered, cuckoo crazy GOP and New Dem dominated Congress to pass any of his agenda? If Obamacare has Republicans willing to commit Seppuku on C-Span then how will they react to Universal Healthcare? How can Bernie unite a divided legislative branch? Honestly I am less concerned about retaining the presidency and more focused on winning back the House and Senate.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger CWolf said...

I'm down with much that you write, but...
Do we really need to be exposed almost daily to the same old shopworn goofy gifs?

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

honestly how will he get a divided, gerrymandered, cuckoo crazy GOP and New Dem dominated Congress to pass any of his agenda?

Respectfully, I don't think you've thought this idea through to its logical conclusion.

Even if Sanders agenda can be stymied by a GOP controlled congress* he'd still be a better president than HIllary, because of what he wouldn't do in such a situation. You can count on Sanders not to try and gut Social Security in some execrable "grand bargain", and he wouldn't cut Medicare benefits in order to pay for some awful "trade" agreement (and he won't try to push awful "trade" agreements in the first place).

If Clinton becomes president with a GOP controlled congress, you know what we are going to get? GOP policies! Sure they might have some of the rough edges smoothed off a bit, but they'll be GOP policies, nonetheless. Because she wants to be seen as "someone who gets things done" even if those things are on the republican agenda.


*Sanders is the candidate who will bring the longest coat tails down ticket, and also the candidate who can best energize the base. Not so much with Hillary. If you want to take back Congress, Sanders is your best bet.

At 1:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sanders will make a good VP for HRM Hillary.


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