Blogs

Elizabeth Warren Gets a Promotion -- Or Does She?

| Thu Nov. 13, 2014 4:51 PM EST

Elizabeth Warren is getting a promotion:

Seeking ideological and regional balance, a chastened Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) expanded his leadership team Thursday, including the addition of liberal icon Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), to beat back internal critics.....Expanding the leadership table — Warren's position was created specifically for her — is a way to answer the critics who think that Reid's team became insulated in recent years, according to senior Democratic aides.

I'm curious: Am I the only person who thinks this is probably not a great move for Warren? She's now officially part of the Democratic leadership, which makes her implicitly responsible for party policy and implicitly loyal to the existing leadership. And what is she getting in return? Unless I'm missing something, a made-up leadership position with no actual authority.

Is this a good trade? I'm not so sure.

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Watch Nancy Pelosi Explain Why Questions About Her Stepping Down Are Blatantly Sexist

| Thu Nov. 13, 2014 4:35 PM EST

Yet again, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was forced to defend her decision to remain in leadership following the disappointing midterm elections, a position she says she would not have to uphold if it weren't for being a woman.

Speaking at her weekly press conference on Thursday, Pelosi schooled reporters with the following:

"What I said to the most recent person who asked 'Well you’ve lost now three times. Why don’t you step aside?' And I said, "What was the day that any of you said to Mitch McConnell, when they lost the Senate three times in a row, lost making progress in taking back the Senate three times in a row, ‘Aren’t you getting a little old, Mitch? Shouldn’t you step aside?’ Have you ever asked him that question?"

This is far from the first time Pelosi, who at the age of 74 is just two years older than McConnell, has been the target of sexist inquiries from the media. In 2012, Luke Russert asked Pelosi the very same question about stepping down to make room for younger leadership, to which Pelosi slammed as "offensive."

Pelosi's defense today comes in the the midst of similar jabs aimed at Hillary Clinton, after Rand Paul (R-Ky.) suggested in a Politico interview Clinton may be too old to run for president.

Watch below:

I Cannot Stop Watching This Video of Super Mario Hurting People

| Thu Nov. 13, 2014 2:09 PM EST

Via our friends at Gizmodo, this video is why I have not gotten any work done today.

Justice Scalia Goes to Conservative Legal Event, Gives Boring Speech

| Thu Nov. 13, 2014 2:04 PM EST
Justice Antonin Scalia

The Federalist Society kicked off its national convention Thursday in Washington, DC, with a speech from Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who is one of two justices headlining the event. The other is Justice Samuel Alito, who is on tap for the conservative legal group's big dinner Thursday night.

For years, liberal good-government types have been criticizing Scalia and the other conservative justices for participating in Federalist Society functions. The events also serve as fundraisers for the organization, which promotes conservative positions in the nation's ongoing legal debates. Critics contend that the involvement of Scalia et. al. violates various legal ethics codes. In 2011, for instance, Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas attended the annual dinner associated with the Federalist Society's national convention—hours after the Supreme Court decided whether to take up the main challenges to the Affordable Care Act. And it just so happened that the law firms representing the Obamacare challengers were sponsors of that dinner and that lawyers from those firms were among the guests rubbing shoulders with Scalia and Thomas.

Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, said at the time, "This stunning breach of ethics and indifference to the code belies claims by several justices that the court abides by the same rules that apply to all other federal judges. The justices were wining and dining at a black-tie fundraiser with attorneys who have pending cases before the court. Their appearance and assistance in fundraising for this event undercuts any claims of impartiality, and is unacceptable."

But such complaints have not caused Scalia and his conservative brethren to rethink their cozy relationship with the Federalist Society, and this morning the group could once again boast a big get—the often fiery justice who is a hero within conservative legal circles. But if any of the conventioneers were hoping for fireworks from Scalia, they were sorely disappointed. Rather than opine on Hobby Lobby and religious freedom or the Affordable Care Act and government overreach, Scalia spent 30 minutes at the dais lecturing on the history of Magna Carta—"No definite article!" he insisted—and its influence on American law.

Scalia mostly stuck to legal issues from the 13th century. He might well have been a curator from the Library of Congress, where the Magna Carta is currently on exhibit (sponsored, incidentally, by the Federalist Society). Scalia ended his speech by urging everyone to go see the 800-year-old document.

In years past, the conference has drawn an all-star lineup of firebrand conservative politicians and aspiring presidential candidates: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). But this year, the only politician of note on the schedule is Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R). The rest of the usual suspects are basking in the glow of the GOP's Election Day victories and preparing for their takeover of the Senate. As for Scalia, if attendees want to see him let loose, they might have to wait for his next Supreme Court opinion.

Democrats Take Careful Aim at Feet, Prepare Both Barrels For Firing

| Thu Nov. 13, 2014 1:29 PM EST

Sen. Mary Landrieu has a tough runoff election next month, and energy policy is a big deal in Louisiana. So Senate Democrats are planning to help her out a bit by holding a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline. Paul Waldman calls this one right:

The current Democratic effort to help Mary Landrieu win her runoff election by scheduling a quick vote on the Keystone XL pipeline has to be one of the most politically idiotic moves in recent history. As I argued yesterday, not only is it guaranteed to fail in its goal of helping Landrieu, it gives Republicans a huge policy victory while getting nothing in return. Runoff elections have extremely low turnout, and the only way Landrieu stands a chance is if she can convince lots of Louisiana Democrats to go to the polls to save her. This kind of me-too policymaking—I'm just as pro-oil as Republicans are!—is about the last thing that'll pump up Democratic enthusiasm.

Keystone XL isn't really one of my hot buttons. I figure that all that oil is getting to market one way or another, and blocking the pipeline won't really make much difference. I know that's probably a little too fatalistic, but we all have issues that strike us that way. Keystone XL is one of mine.

That said, Waldman is right. There's simply zero chance that this is going to help Landrieu. There's not a person in Louisiana who doesn't know that she supports the oil industry and hates hates hates President Obama's energy policy. She's made that crystal clear, and everyone who's persuadable has already been persuaded. A Keystone XL vote just won't move the needle.

So Democrats would be giving something away and getting literally nothing in return. In fact, since this would outrage all the people who do care about Keystone XL, Democrats would probably be giving something away and losing support from key supporters at the same time. It's crazy.

These are the same guys who whine endlessly about President Obama's lousy negotiating skills. Someone just shoot me.

Can We Talk? Here's Why the White Working Class Hates Democrats

| Thu Nov. 13, 2014 12:27 PM EST

Noam Scheiber takes on one of the lessons du jour that always crop up after a party gets shellacked at the polls: how do we appeal to demographic group X that voted so heavily against us? In this case, the party is the Democrats, and the demographic group is the infamous white working class, which voted Republican by a 30-point margin last week:

At first blush, the white working class would appear to pose a real dilemma. The set of issues on which the Democratic Party is most coherent these days is social progressivism....But while these issues unite college-educated voters and working-class minority voters, they’ve historically alienated the white working class.

....How to square this circle? Well, it turns out we don’t really have to, since the analysis is outdated. The white working class is increasingly open to social liberalism, or at least not put off by it. As Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin observed this summer, 54 percent of the white working class born after 1980 think gays and lesbians should have the right to marry, according to data assembled from the 2012 election.

....Long story short, there’s a coalition available to Democrats that knits together working class minorities and college-educated voters and slices heavily into the GOP’s margins among the white working class....The basis of the coalition isn’t a retreat from social progressivism, but making economic populism the party’s centerpiece....The politics of this approach work not just because populism is a “message” that a majority of voters want to hear. But because, unlike the status quo, it can actually improve their economic prospects, as Harold Meyerson recently pointed out.

I'd like to offer a different interpretation. I don't have a bunch of poll data readily at hand to back this up, so it's possible I'm way off base. But I don't think so, and at the very least I welcome pushback since it might clarify some things that need clarifying.

Here it is: I agree that social liberalism isn't quite the deal killer it used to be. Scheiber and Teixeira are right about that. It's still an issue—especially gun control, which remains more potent than a lot of liberals like to acknowledge—but it's fading somewhat in areas like abortion and gay marriage. There are still plenty of Fox-watching members of the WWC who are as socially conservative as ever, but I think it's safe to say that at the margins social issues are becoming a little less divisive among the WWC than they have been over the past few decades.

But if that's the case, why does the WWC continue to loathe Democrats so badly? I think the answer is as old as the discussion itself: They hate welfare. There was a hope among some Democrats that Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare reform would remove this millstone from around Democrats' necks, and for a few years during the dotcom boom it probably did. The combination of tougher work rules and a booming economy made it a less contentious topic.

But when the economy stagnates and life gets harder, people get meaner. That's just human nature. And the economy has been stagnating for the working class for well over a decade—and then practically collapsing ever since 2008.

So who does the WWC take out its anger on? Largely, the answer is the poor. In particular, the undeserving poor. Liberals may hate this distinction, but it doesn't matter if we hate it. Lots of ordinary people make this distinction as a matter of simple common sense, and the WWC makes it more than any. That's because they're closer to it. For them, the poor aren't merely a set of statistics or a cause to be championed. They're the folks next door who don't do a lick of work but somehow keep getting government checks paid for by their tax dollars. For a lot of members of the WWC, this is personal in a way it just isn't for the kind of people who read this blog.

And who is it that's responsible for this infuriating flow of government money to the shiftless? Democrats. We fight to save food stamps. We fight for WIC. We fight for Medicaid expansion. We fight for Obamacare. We fight to move poor families into nearby housing.

This is a big problem because these are all things that benefit the poor but barely touch the working class. Does it matter that the working class barely pays for most of these programs in the first place, since their federal income taxes tend to be pretty low? Nope. They're still paying taxes, and it seems like they never get anything for it. It's always someone else.

It's pointless to argue that this perception is wrong. Maybe it is, maybe it's not. But it's there. And although it's bound up with plenty of other grievances—many of them frankly racial, but also cultural, religious, and geographic1—at its core you have a group of people who are struggling and need help, but instead feel like they simply get taxed and taxed for the benefit of someone else. Always someone else. If this were you, you wouldn't vote for Democrats either.

I hate to end this with the usual cliche that I don't know what to do about it, but I don't. Helping the poor is one of the great causes of liberalism, and we forfeit our souls if we give up on it. And yet, as a whole bunch of people have acknowledged lately, the Democratic Party simply doesn't do much for either the working or middle classes these days. Republicans, by contrast, offer both the concrete—tax cuts—and the emotional—an inchoate but still intense rage against a government that seems not to care about them.

So sure: full-throated economic populism? That might work, though everyone seems to have a different idea of what it means. But here's one thing it better mean: policies that are aimed at the working and middle classes and that actually appeal to them. That is, policies that are simple, concrete, and offer benefits which are clear and compelling.

This is going to require policy wonks to swallow hard. Remember Cash 4 Clunkers? Economically, that was probably a dumb program that accomplished little. But it didn't do any harm, and people sure loved it. Multiply that by a hundred and you're on the right track.

1The Democrats' problem with the white working class is far worse in the South than anywhere else. Nonetheless, I think we're kidding ourselves if we crunch a bunch of numbers and somehow conclude that it's not a problem elsewhere. It's not as big a problem, but in an electorate that continues to be balanced on a tightrope, five or ten percentage points among a sizeable group of people is still a pretty big problem.

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Ebola Panic Mysteriously Disappeared Last Tuesday

| Thu Nov. 13, 2014 10:49 AM EST

This is from the LA Times yesterday, but I forgot to mention it. It's worth a quick read:

A few short weeks ago, Ebola was public enemy No. 1.

About 1,000 people were being monitored by health officials. Several schools in Texas and Ohio shut down because of a single patient who boarded a plane. A cruise ship was refused permission to dock in Cozumel, off Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. President Obama appointed an Ebola "czar." Polls showed a majority of Americans were concerned that Ebola would spread out of control in the U.S.

On Tuesday, a fully recovered Dr. Craig Spencer was released from Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan. The U.S. was now Ebola-free for the first time since Sept. 5 — a milestone that barely seemed to register with a once-frenzied public.

How did we get here from there?

How indeed?

"October was a rough month for stigma and fear," said Doug Henry, a medical anthropologist at the University of North Texas in Denton. "The cruise ship that was denied entry into a port, kids who weren't welcome at school, parents who kept their own kids home — things got really bad here in Dallas." To further complicate matters, the crisis occurred in the home stretch of the midterm election campaign. Some Democrats accused Republicans of stoking Ebola fears for political advantage.

Yep, it's quite the mystery.

Watch This Reporter Issue a Brutal Takedown of the International Banking System

| Thu Nov. 13, 2014 9:38 AM EST

Six years after the financial crisis, Paul Mason of Channel 4 News in England is officially fed up with watching big banks screw their clients, while financial regulators continue to dole out little to no punishment for each new banking scandal.

"I have sat in the rooms where they're pleading in the most genteel tones, 'Don't over regulate us. Don't make it possible for us to go to jail otherwise no one talented will come and run these banks," an exasperated Mason said on camera.

"If we're going to have a complex finance system, we're have to do something a bit more radical than all this cuff-link tweaking."

Mason's refreshingly honest take comes as six banks, including the Royal Bank of Scotland where Mason is seen standing outside in the recording, were recently fined $2.6 billion pounds after a 13-month investigation by regulators in both the United Kingdom and United States found the banks to be rigging the foreign exchange market. But criminal charges for the employees involved? Nope.

Mason says if "the banks had the same scrutiny over the traders and their own managers as they have over the camera crews standing outside," perhaps there would be no need for such an investigation and yet another round of fines.

"All we ask, all we can ask, is that the regulators do their job proactively," Mason says, steps away from RBS's headquarters. "That they actually get on the case, just like the security guards outside here, and the CCTV cameras there, and the City of London police, they get on the case and stop wrong doing – what’s so hard about it?"

 

Pew: Republicans Don't Really Care About "Getting Things Done" in Washington

| Wed Nov. 12, 2014 10:19 PM EST

Here's the latest from Pew. It's offered as a wee course correction for every pundit who somehow thinks the GOP leadership will be more motivated to work with President Obama this year than they were after the 2010 election. Survey says: screw that stuff. Let the eye poking begin.

Fast Tracks: "Spanish Mary" From Lost on the River

| Wed Nov. 12, 2014 8:48 PM EST

TRACK 4

"Spanish Mary"

From Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes

electromagnetic recordings/harvest

Liner notes: "Is it a mystery to live/Or is it a mystery to die?" Rhiannon Giddens asks with cool grace, as banjo and mellotron add arresting texture to this spooky toe-tapper.

Behind the music: Entrusted with previously unseen Bob Dylan lyrics from 1967, T Bone Burnett recruited Elvis Costello, Giddens (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), and Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons) to collaborate on these "new" songs.

Check it out if you like: Dylan's Basement Tapes.