It’s Not Everything But It’s Definitely Something

Today, the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives, the committee that had Robert Mueller testify this week, asked a federal court to turn over all of the grand jury material related to Mueller’s investigation of the president. From the committee’s petition:

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election (the Mueller Report) provided Members of Congress with substantial evidence that the President of the United States repeatedly attempted to undermine and derail a criminal investigation of the utmost importance to the nation. That investigation sought to uncover Russia’s actions to interfere with the integrity of an American presidential election. Russia engaged in these acts in order to benefit then-candidate Donald J. Trump. President Trump repeatedly denied Russia’s actions and fired the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), resulting in the appointment of Mr. Mueller as Special Counsel.

The Mueller Report describes detailed evidence that President Trump then sought to terminate Special Counsel Mueller and to interfere with his investigation. Because Department of Justice policies will not allow prosecution of a sitting President, the United States House of Representatives is the only institution of the Federal Government that can now hold President Trump accountable for these actions. To do so, the House must have access to all the relevant facts and consider whether to exercise its full Article I powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity—approval of articles of impeachment.

Hooray!

Listening to members of the committee at their press conference today, I got the strong impression that the House Democrats are finally, finally, opening an impeachment inquiry. One of them called their actions today an “escalation”. But they denied that their only purpose is to decide whether to impeach the president. They said they might recommend something else (legislation? censure?). For that reason, and because a number of Democrats, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, are nervous about impeachment (for no good reason), the committee isn’t calling their investigation an “impeachment inquiry”. But that’s what it amounts to.

In fact, attorney Joshua Matz argues in The Washington Post that the Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the president has been an impeachment inquiry all along:

It is settled law that House committees can obtain grand jury materials as part of impeachment investigations. So the legal dispute will probably center on whether such an inquiry is underway.

The Constitution itself does not use phrases like “impeachment investigation” or “impeachment proceedings.” This has led some to mistakenly assume that the House is disregarding its impeachment power because it has not yet held a floor vote … expressly instructing the Judiciary Committee to deliberate on such articles.

But to those who specialize in these matters, that all-or-nothing vision of the impeachment power is mistaken. The Constitution’s text and structure — supported by judicial precedent and prior practice — show that impeachment is a process, not a single vote. And that process virtually always begins with an impeachment investigation in the judiciary committee, which is already occurring….

Mr. Matz then describes several cases in which the Judiciary Committee has already cited their authority to impeach the president. For example, on June 6th, when the Attorney General was charged with contempt of Congress, the committee said it wanted an unredacted Mueller report because it was deciding whether “to approve articles of impeachment with respect to the President or any other Administration official”. Twice more in June, the committee repeated that it required information in order to decide “whether to recommend ‘articles of impeachment'” for the president.

While these events unfolded at the committee level, the House approved H. Res. 430 [on June 11th], a resolution stating that the committee “has any and all necessary authority under Article I of the Constitution” to seek key grand jury material and compel … testimony. Given that Article I enumerates the “legislative Powers,” including the “sole Power of impeachment,” the message wasn’t subtle. And it was bolstered by a report accompanying H. Res. 430, which cites the Judiciary Committee’s contempt referral for [the Attorney General] as an example of using “all necessary authority under Article I” — adding that the committee is investigating “whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to the President or any other administration official.”

None of these references to impeachment received much publicity at the time. But Mr. Matz says they show that the Judiciary Committee has been investigating the grounds for impeachment at least since June. He also says there is only one conclusion:

The committee is engaged in impeachment proceedings and is entitled to access the grand jury material that it has requested.

In addition, four members of the committee published a brief article for The Atlantic today that says they will broaden their investigations to include “conflicts of interest and financial misconduct”, of which there is plenty to investigate.

So the I-word is finally out in the open. Does this mean the Judiciary Committee will move ahead forcefully and efficiently and that their investigation into Trump’s malfeasance will receive the appropriate level of media attention? That isn’t clear yet, but the fact that they’re no longer avoiding the term “impeachment” almost makes one giddy. From a year ago: 

The Creep Wins If You Only Focus On Mueller’s Performance

Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post says what needs to be said about the Mueller hearings. Quote:

“After totally unplugging and being out of the country for 23 days, watching President Trump’s gloat-o-rama in the wake of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s halting testimony on Wednesday was like turning on a soap opera after 20 years. Same plot. Same script. Same actors. But being away from Twitter, the perpetual American news cycle and the insane pendulum ride that is the Trump presidency gave me some much-needed perspective.

The reaction to Mueller’s testimony brings a key lesson to light. If y’all are focused on the 74-year-old lifelong Republican’s performance rather than the substance of what he actually said, you’re playing Trump’s game on Trump’s turf. Here are three of the bombshells from Mueller:

  1. The Russians are still interfering in U.S. politics. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” Mueller told congressional lawmakers.
  2. The FBI is still engaged in a counterintelligence investigation. When pressed by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) about how his report did not address false statements made by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Mueller said, “I cannot get into that mainly because there are many elements of the FBI looking at that issue.” Notice the present tense? Krishnamoorthi did and asked, “Currently?” To which Mueller replied, “Currently.”
  3. The Mueller report does not exonerate the president on charges of obstruction of justice. “The finding indicates that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” Mueller told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), using a $50 word (exculpated) to say the president was not declared not guilty of obstruction of justice.

The first two points are clarion calls for us to pay attention to things that are happening in the here and now that we’re not paying attention to because of Trump’s distraction industrial complex over at the White House. The third point is bound to have folks dismiss it because it’s something we already knew. And while that might be true, it’s always good to have the words said out loud again, since most folks haven’t read the 448-page Mueller report.

Since the start of Trump’s candidacy four years ago, we know that optics mean everything to Trump. How someone looks, how he or she sounds is paramount to the man who views every day as an episode of the “Apprentice” scripted television franchise that made everyone think he was a successful businessman instead of the grifter he really is. What should be important to all of us is that the world heard (again) that the Russians continue to undermine our democracy, that the Trump campaign was not averse to accepting Russian help in the 2016 presidential election and actively sought to cover up its actions, and that there was convincing evidence the president of the United States obstructed justice. And those are just some of the things that were discussed at the hearings.

On a related note

The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, blocked two election security measures yesterday, arguing that Democrats are trying to give themselves a “political benefit” (i.e. the opportunity to have a fair election without foreign interference in 2020).

The Mueller Hearings Condensed To Hardly Any Time At All

The president is a criminal, millions who maybe weren’t sure have been exposed to the truth, but as theater, the hearings weren’t compelling on the whole, so lots of savvy journalists weren’t impressed. What garbage.

Adam Schiff lays it out in less than five minutes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlkNArJ-mew

Jerry Nadler does the same in less than two:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAmw24yEJ10

It’s an excellent day to make a call or visit your representative’s website, even if you’ve already done it.

Your country needs your help.

Something Positive for a Change: They Read

Quoting a background article about our next president from Huffington Post:

When [Elizabeth Warren] was elected to the United States Senate, she wanted to solve a growing problem: student debt.

… So, as her Senate office began to staff up, [she] wanted to roll out a policy proposal to bring down the cost of student loans. Her staff did what they always did when working for Warren: They looked for the best existing plans and the best data to show her the root causes of the problem. What they found was lacking. The number of ideas floating around to fix the problem was minuscule.

Policy development in Washington normally runs through think tanks. Think tanks need to raise money for policy programs. But since there was no money devoted to developing a policy to relieve student loan debt, there were relatively few experts in Washington on the issue at the time. So Warren hired a top academic expert to develop student loan debt relief policy on her staff.

In the seven years since, Warren has become the most active politician in America when it comes to investigating, transforming and eliminating student debt. As the problem has grown, her proposed solutions grew. She started by fighting to lower interest rates and pushing the Obama administration to investigate for-profit colleges with high default rates, and she slowly reached the point where it was time to push for the near-total elimination of student debt.

This is how Warren has pushed the boundaries of progressive policy since coming to Washington. Instead of relying on the traditional D.C. think tank world, she made her office into her very own think tank. This vast, over-qualified policy team then consulted with a kitchen cabinet of legal academics, economists and other scholars outside the Beltway. Her goal all along has been to craft and sell policies to help solve one overarching problem: inequality in American society.

“It looks like we’re trying to solve a lot of different problems, but we’re only trying to solve one problem,” said Jon Donenberg, who is now the policy director for Warren’s presidential campaign. “It’s the rigged system; it’s the corrupt government and economy that only benefits those at the top. Every solution flows from that.” 

Now Warren’s policy-first politics is the unlikely fuel for her bid for the White House. Her steady release of detailed yet easy-to-digest policy papers became a meme [“Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that”]…. She now sits among the top tier of contenders in the polls and fundraising — all while eschewing big-money fundraisers. 

It’s no surprise that her focus on policy has catapulted Warren back into serious contention. Digging into policy solutions for overlooked problems and explaining it in digestible soundbites is what she has done since the publication of her first book, “As We Forgive Our Debtors,” an empirical study of bankruptcy that completely changed how academics viewed the issue. 

“This is what she’s been doing her whole life,” said Georgetown Law School professor Adam Levitin, a former Warren student at Harvard Law School.

Other presidential candidates have highlighted their policy advisers…. But Warren’s approach is unique. If elected president, she won’t be testing out a new policy process in office. She’ll bring one that’s been tried and tested in her offices for nearly a decade.

She’s been doing it since even before her Senate run. A decade ago, she ran the Congressional Oversight Panel overseeing the 2008 bank bailout. It was a temporary post on a hot-button issue likely to anger powerful figures in both political parties. That made it hard to attract staff from the typical pool of Washington applicants. But Warren attracted policy experts to work with her. She connected them to her world of policy-oriented legal academics.

“That’s kind of where you can start to see her build a policy shop,” said Levitin, who also worked for Warren on the oversight panel. “And then she was able to build on that model when she went into the Senate.”

Warren’s Senate office was built entirely around policy, with the largest such team in Congress. She hired an investigations team to research issues she was considering pushing or to continue to build the case for legislation she had introduced. The team, whose members had sterling academic credentials — one of the office’s first health care staffers had a doctorate in pharmacology — consulted with academics that Warren read and talked to to help guide her policy thinking.

“They were a conduit for people who had 50-year careers working in whatever the field was and had literally written the textbook on it,” said Graham Steele, a former staffer to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)…. 

Other Senate offices would consult with her staff on policy development because they knew it was the best team around, according to Steele. Or sometimes her office would hear from Warren’s kitchen cabinet of academics about a particular bill. “There’d be a D.C. consensus, and then her office would come to you and say, ‘Hey, we’ve heard some concerns about this particular bill, and I’d love to put you on the phone with this person who’s like the foremost expert on whatever this issue is,’” Steele said.

Warren doesn’t totally eschew the D.C. think tanks … But it’s relatively rare for her staff to think the ideas emerging from think-tank land are the best ones out there.

The goal of think tanks is to prove their worth to donors by having politicians adopt their ideas. That means they mostly assemble and pitch ideas politicians are likely to adopt, and it can be hard for them to push the type of ideas that have been banished from polite conversation in Washington, even if that’s where the data leads them….

What really sold Baradaran on Warren and her policy team was something very simple.

“They read,” she said. “That’s something that can’t be overemphasized enough because it really contrasts starkly to me with the rest of the members of Congress all over the spectrum. People just don’t engage with or read, not only just not academic work, but other work in general.”

Take special counsel Robert Mueller’s “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election,” which lawmakers have said they didn’t read because “It’s tedious,” “It is what it is,” and “What’s the point?” Warren read it. She came to the conclusion that President Donald Trump obstructed justice and followed the clear message of the report: that only Congress can do something about a president breaking the law. She called for the House to launch an impeachment inquiry [she was the first presidential candidate to do so].

She also read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2014 article for The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” and reached out to the author to discuss it. “She had read it, she was deeply serious, and she had questions, and it wasn’t like, ‘Would you do XYZ for me?’” Coates told The New Yorker in June. Warren is the only 2020 candidate to talk to him about the issue, he added — and he thinks she’s the only candidate who is really serious about it. 

Warren’s plan to levy a 2% tax on fortunes above $50 million stems from reading the work of University of California economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Their research found that the current wealth inequality in the U.S. is the result of the growth of wealth among the top 0.1% of households caused by policy choices in Washington. Warren’s team reached out to Saez and Zucman in January to help craft her wealth tax. The two economists also worked on her corporate tax proposal and her plan to reduce overseas tax avoidance by the wealthy.

“She is really ― and I want to contrast this with every other member of Congress I’ve worked with — she gets it, she gets down and dirty in the weeds like nobody else,” Levitin said.

Sometimes Warren gets her policy from her own reading, but other times it bubbles up from her staff’s research. She makes sure to direct them toward answering the questions she always asked herself in her academic career.

“The two questions Elizabeth asks the most often is: ‘What’s driving the problem?’ and ‘What does the data say?’” Donenberg said. “If you don’t have answers to those two questions, it’s time for you to go.”

When all the research is complete and the policies appear done, Warren has one final task. It must be possible to explain every policy that comes out of her office in practical language to anyone.

She asks staffers to consider, “How can I tell the story about this that people will understand?” according to Levitin.

When she ran the Congressional Oversight Panel, every 100-page report her office put out first went to her desk, where she would write a one-page plain-language explanation for the press and the public.

“Her unusual strength is being able to translate really complex problems into a way that an ordinary person can understand them,” Levitin said.

She rocketed to political stardom by deftly explaining why the 2008 financial crisis happened in appearances on “The Daily Show.” And she’s using her policy plans not only to show what she’ll do as president to shrink the yawning inequality gap in the country but also to reveal her character and seriousness to voters.

Note: As more voters are paying attention, the two best-known Democratic candidates, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, have both gone down in the polls. Elizabeth Warren has gone up, to the point where some polls show her in second place.

Warren is the opposite of our current president in several ways. She has an excellent chance to become the Democratic nominee. If she is, I think the Democrats will do very well in the next election. I want to say more on that soon.

It Isn’t Unbelievable. It’s Happening.

I mean, it’s unbelievable. I think members of the Republican Party are in a coma right now, is what I think. And at some point they’ll wake up and say, What’s happened? [Laughs] And then we’re going to tell them, and they’re going to go, Really?

The interviewer: Is it a coma because of their allegiance to President Trump? 

There’s a tribal instinct, and a willingness to only absorb that that supports what you currently think. Anything that is dissonant information should be rejected. And I think it’s true for both political parties, to be honest with you.

That’s John Kasich, former congressman and governor of Ohio, being interviewed in The Washington Post. He’s one of the few well-known Republican politicians willing to criticize the Abominable President.

To be honest, Kasich isn’t being honest at all.

We know that today’s Republicans are wide awake. They know they’re supporting a would-be dictator, because the evidence is so obvious. From Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian:

Put simply, the leader of the world’s most powerful nation is behaving like an authoritarian dictator, one who threatens democracy in his own country and far beyond.

Mr. Freedland admits that the president’s buffoonish behavior is a major distraction, but goes on to cite his demonization of a vulnerable minority, which has led to “breaking up families [and] caging children in hot, fetid, disease-ridden camps”; his blatant profiteering from the presidency; his desire to create “a hereditary dynasty” (as if his daughter truly belongs among the world’s leaders); his fawning over murderous, overseas “strongmen”; his obstruction of justice; his stunning dishonesty…. The list goes on and on and on. Yet professional journalists continue to treat him with respect.

I have no doubt that most Republicans would fall in line behind a competent would-be dictator, as long as they believed he would guarantee their hold on power and they wouldn’t face retribution if democracy were restored. They are quite comfortable with authoritarianism.

Secondly, it simply isn’t true that “both sides” are the same. Kasich’s knee-jerk “both sides do it” recklessly minimizes how extreme the Republican Party has become. It’s been shown that people on the left get their news from a wider variety of sources, including what is now called the “mainstream” or “reality-based” media. We are also less likely to follow a leader. In fact, one recent study places the Republican Party (the red circle) at the extreme right among the world’s political parties. The Democrats (the blue circle) are much closer to the middle.

Untitled

John Kasich is sometimes asked about running for president in order to give Republicans an alternative to the incumbent. It’s unlikely he’ll do so because he doesn’t think he would win. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi thinks the president should be in jail, but won’t start an impeachment inquiry because she doesn’t think the Republican Senate would convict him. Digby Parton of the Hullabaloo blog sums it up:

Our history is replete with ugliness. Progress has been made in fits and starts. But we are going backwards at warp speed at the moment. People with the worst impulses of the American psyche are in power and they are out of control.

We are quickly becoming a global pariah. And for good reason.

She then tells about a lawyer born in Iran who has lived in Germany for 40 years and is a German citizen, who was denied a visa to attend the funeral of his son, a student who died in a car crash in America, where his mother lives. The German lawyer was approved for a 10-year long visa when Obama was president. This month he was denied entry by U.S. officials, who decided, based on no evidence, that he was using his son’s death to immigrate to America. She continues:

Meanwhile, we are putting little children in cages and leaving them in dirty diapers without enough to eat. 

The president says they should decide not to come to America and then this wouldn’t happen to them. Basically, he’s punishing babies and children for the actions of their parents. 

And his followers — tens of millions of our fellow Americans — are applauding that sadistic policy. 

Yet the leaders of the opposition appear to be completely impotent…. They’re coasting — while the country hurtles backwards. 

Congress’s main phone number is (202) 224-3121.

Our Concentration Camps

I’ve found it very difficult to read about the way our government is treating refugees and children at the border. Without going into details, The Salt Lake Tribune, a newspaper in Utah, one of America’s most conservative states, describes the situation in an editorial entitled “Yes, We Do Have Concentration Camps”: 

Yes, we do have concentration camps.

They are not work camps. They are not death camps. At least, not on purpose. Our government is not building massive gas chambers and industrial crematoria. It is not conducting sick medical experiments on members of an unfavored class.

But that does not mean that the places into which we are herding tens of thousands of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers are not properly called concentration camps. Because that is precisely what they are.

When some in the public eye dare to tell that truth, as the media-savvy Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez did the other day, enablers of the administration’s cruel policies cry foul. They say that using correct terms such as “concentration camps” — or, worse, invoking the term “Never again” — unfairly equates what is going on now at our southern border with the Nazis’ “Final Solution” — the deliberate murder of millions of people.

It is true that we are not doing that. We are doing this. The two are not morally equivalent. And we probably don’t have reason to fear that this is necessarily going to become that.

But, then, we never do.

Because that starts as this. Some of the people who study, and some of the people who survived or are descended from survivors of the Holocaust, are pointing out that that crime against humanity did not arrive overnight.

It worked its way up, from nasty political speeches (check) to politicians seeking and gaining power with promises to protect the purity of the nation from foreign invasion (check) to denying basic human rights and decency to people of an unfavored class (check).

The same warning is being raised by past residents of the internment camps — concentration camps — in which we confined Americans of Japanese origin or descent during the dark days of World War II.

The places where these tempest-tossed humans are being held are kept deliberately uncomfortable and largely out of view of the public, the press, members of Congress and even the courts. The whole point is to keep them beyond the reach of the rights and protections that, by our Constitution and international treaties, are afforded to all persons, not just citizens.

The people being held there are cold, hungry, dirty and often sick. Children are separated from parents. Children are caring for children. Medical care is not to be found. A few — not millions, but a few — have died.

The administration [in the person of a Department of Justice lawyer] actually told the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals the other day that it is under no obligation to provide refugee children with soap, toothbrushes or anywhere to sleep but cold cement floors in overcrowded cages. They’ve already cut off funding for education, counseling and recreation.

The argument that our government’s failings don’t matter because the migrants have broken the law is legally and morally bankrupt.

People have a moral right to seek a better life, and a legal right to seek asylum. If our border and immigration system isn’t up to the task, that’s not their fault, it is ours.

Federal officials, from the White House on down, work for us, spend our money, act in our name. We hold them to account, not the huddled masses. Complaining that we shouldn’t have to deal with this crisis is like carping that forests shouldn’t burn and rivers shouldn’t rise.

And what are the elected officials from Utah — home of a global church, the welcoming Utah Compact and a population generally decent when it comes to refugees — doing?

Well, Sen. Mitt Romney has a bill to boost the use of the E-Verify system that is supposed to tell employers if job applicants are legally allowed to work in the U.S. Not a bad idea, probably, but kind of like bringing a roll of paper towels to a hurricane.

Good, caring, moral Utahans, and their elected representatives, should be shouting bloody murder over this extended and deliberate abuse of human rights…

Our nation is operating concentration camps for refugee children. We need to stop denying that and decide if we are comfortable with that fact. And how we will explain it to our children.

The president and his administration have committed so many outrages that it is difficult to keep up. The barrage of corruption and cruelty can make decent people numb. When challenged on this atrocity, the president denies there’s a problem or blames the Democrats. When questioned, members of his cult blame the children’s parents. Democrats in the House of Representatives have passed legislation to fix the problem. Republicans in the Senate have refused to consider it. Last week, lawyers and a physician visited two of the camps in Texas and made news when the doctor compared them to “torture facilities”. Rep. Ocasio-Cortez made news when she called them “concentration camps”.

Maybe more Americans are now paying attention. Maybe that attention will be translated into meaningful action (including impeachment — how many grounds do we need?).

Charles Blow of The New York Times wrote his own piece this weekend under the title  “Trump’s Concentration Camps”:

Folks, we can use any form of fuzzy language we want, but the United States under Donald Trump is currently engaged in an unconscionable act. He promised to crack down on immigrants and yet under him immigrants seeking asylum have surged. And he is meeting the surge with indescribable cruelty. Donald Trump is running concentration camps at the border. The question remains: what are we going to do about it?

Of course, they’re not just Trump’s concentration camps. As the Salt Lake City editorial says, they’re ours now too. Is there any doubt that we need to act in order to shut them down?

“The Central Question in America Today”: In Her Own Words

One of Senator Elizabeth Warren’s many gifts is that she can discuss important issues in plain language. Bill Clinton had the same ability. But her views are more progressive than Clinton’s. She will make a great president.

Below is an interview with Warren conducted by David Dayen of “The American Prospect”. It was published yesterday under the title “Monopolist’s Worst Nightmare: The Elizabeth Warren Interview”:

David Dayen: We’re doing this issue about economic concentration. And one thing I’ve noticed is that, probably since 1912 there hasn’t been this much talk about monopoly in a presidential context, in a presidential race. To what do you attribute that? I mean, why do you think this issue has inspired this interest at this time?

Elizabeth Warren: I believe the central question in America today is who government works for. Yeah, it’s got a lot of different directions, but that’s the fundamental one. Is it just going to work for the rich and the powerful, or is it going to work for everyone else? Antitrust cuts right to the heart of that. We’ve had a government that has kissed up to every giant corporation for decades. It has weakened antitrust enforcement, looked the other way on mergers, passed on deals that everyone knew were anti-competitive and would be bad for the economy and bad for competition but good for the bottom line of the companies that wanted it. And no one so much as fluttered an eyelash over it. And that’s started to change. And I think—So here’s my thinking: it’s because we’re focusing more on what’s wrong in this country. It’s not like somebody woke up and just said “antitrust”—we’re not that nerdy—but it’s about what’s wrong in this country. And as people increasingly see that the problem is not an overreaching government, the problem is a government that won’t get in the fight on the side of the people. Antitrust becomes one of the clearest places to see that.

DD: Now you did a speech at the end of 2017, you talked about this issue, and at the beginning of the speech you said something like, you know, people don’t have to know the Herfindahl-Hirschman Index to know that there’s something wrong.

EW: Exactly.

DD: But how do you talk about it on the trail? How do you talk about it to really drive that home so that it doesn’t get bogged down in numbers and economic theory and stuff like that?

EW: It’s important to give examples of how it touches people’s lives. So when I talk about Amazon, for example, I talk about the platform where everybody goes to buy coffee makers and pet cookies, and that the platform works great. But that Amazon does something extra. It’s not just an ordinary marketplace. It’s a marketplace where Amazon, the owner of the platform, sucks up information from every transaction and every near-transaction, the fact that a shopper looked at the item, right, searched for the item, spent a little time hovering, it’s been in your cart.

And I talk about that. And then they use that information to go into competition with the businesses that are trying to sell you coffee makers or pet cookies. And the consequence of that is that the guy who busted his tail, figured out the pet cookie business, got out there and marketed it—Amazon looks over the edge and says, hmm, profit to be made there, let’s do pet cookies, don’t even identify it as an Amazon business, and move the guy who built this business back to page seven in the search. Routine, and now Amazon has sucked up one more business.

DD: The other issue with Amazon is, that pet cookie business, they take a cut out of every transaction he makes anyway.

EW: Exactly, exactly.

DD: And they can raise that price, they can change and say, “Oh, we’re charging more for shipping now, we’re charging more for storage now.”

EW: Every part of it. So, in other words, the way I describe that particular point is, it’s like baseball. You can run the platform—that is, you can be an umpire—or, you can have a team in the game—that is, you can run competition against others who are trying to sell the items. But you don’t get to do both at the same time. And people in the room all say, “Right.” That makes sense to me.

DD: You just break it down and it makes sense.

EW: That’s right.

DD: So we’ve seen, very recently, these hearings in the House on the digital platforms.

EW: Yay.

DD: And, you know, I’m wondering about your thoughts on the role of Congress in this policy. These are policies that Congress wrote, that they have oversight function on. You know, in the ’40s we saw something called the Temporary National Economic Committee, which was a series of investigations into all sorts of sectors over the economy. Do you think, is that something we need now? How can Congress get involved in this?

EW: Okay, I’m glad to see Congress doing this. I think it’s great. I want them to call witnesses, to let people tell their stories, I want them to expose the data. I want to see the books and records of some of these companies. Remember, Congress has got a lot of muscle if it decides to use it. But I want to make two other points. The first is current law gives the Justice Department and the FTC and the banking regulators a lot of power to move now. Even without Congress, a president who put a strong team in place could change antitrust enforcement in this country, without a single change in the laws from Congress.

DD: And it’s interesting you say the banking regulators, because people don’t realize how much power is in, you know, other agencies, not just the FTC and the Justice Department.

EW: Exactly right. I picked banking, but you’re exactly right. But it’s the reminder—There’s a lot we could do right now. But also, and this is what I argue should come out of all this, there are places where Congress should draw a bright line in this. So I have a plan to break up the big platforms. If a platform is doing more than a billion dollars in business, the platform has to be broken off from all of the ancillary businesses. And there’s just—We shouldn’t have to litigate it. Just make it happen. It’s too much concentration of power. And so I’m both ways on this: there’s a lot we can do without—I’m delighted Congress is doing this. There’s a lot we can do, even if Congress doesn’t change any law. But, there is at least one good place Congress could change the law and make this whole system work better.

DD: You mention your plan on the platforms, but you’ve also made the point that if we broke up Google and Amazon and Facebook tomorrow, we’d have a terrible concentration problem in America.

EW: Oh, it’s much broader than just that. Platform is such an obvious one and we’ve—

DD: And everyone interacts with it.

EW: That’s exactly right … the analogy from history where someone—one business—could not only control the marketplace, but also be a dominant player in the marketplace simultaneously. It’s not that you can’t find them in history. It’s that when we found similar economic concentrations in history, we broke them up.

DD: Sure, sure.

EW: Especially when they started buying everything else. And then, of course, doing—as I recall in the railroads—doing a discriminatory pricing map. Charge themselves a different price from [someone else’s] grain outfit.

DD: Absolutely. So, I mean, the sort of elephant in the room on this is the judiciary, which has a very particular theory and view of antitrust and even if you put in enforcers that want to take that in a different direction, you still have to argue that in court. So what do you think can be done there? I mean, obviously a new president would have judicial nominations, but you know, that’s going to take some time, so how—Is there a way to sort of get the judiciary to realize that they need to do their part here?

EW: Use every tool in the toolbox. So part of it is get an aggressive antitrust team. Part of it is presidential leadership. Get out and talk about this issue. And explain to the American people why the laws are working for the big guys and not for them. Encourage the academics to get out and make their case. Remember—

DD: The ones not on the payroll—

EW: … That’s exactly right. Remember, it was the academics that got this started in the wrong direction, arguably.

DD: I would argue that as well.

EW: Yes, exactly, so I think it’s all of the above. And, at the same time, move on the congressional front. I just don’t want this to feel like, gee, if we can’t move Congress, we can’t do anything. No. Bang away without Congress, but also, bang away on Congress to make change. Just move on all the fronts.

DD: Excellent, excellent. And finally, there’s a famous—It was Richard Hofstadter wrote this thing in the ’60s. And he said—And the title of it was “What happened to the antitrust movement?”

EW: Yes.

DD: That there was a movement that created all these laws and then the movement sort of went away and said, “Regulators will take care of it.” It seems like a movement is what is necessary at some level, and how do you inspire that?

EW: Okay, now let’s move back up to the 10,000 feet where we started this, because I think that’s what this is all about. When we started this conversation, I said that I think the question is who government works for. I think much of the antitrust relaxation over time in the ’60s was confidence the government would handle this. Confidence that we had regulators who knew their stuff and who were technically adept and who had shown that they would be on the side of the American public. And when the big corporations started pushing back, started advancing the academic work that said, “No, let the giant corporations do whatever they want. What could possibly go wrong?”—That it’s taken a long time for people to see the implications of that. Look, for 40 years now, the mantra in Washington and in most of the Republican Party and a big chunk of the Democratic Party has all centered around Ronald Reagan’s “What are the nine worst words in the English language? I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” Ha ha ha. The idea that it’s government that poses the threat to all of the rest of America and must be held at arm’s length, and missing the fact that it’s government that balances out the power of these giant corporations. And without an effective government to enforce antitrust laws—and other laws—we’re all in trouble.

DD: Well, it’s the idea that if there’s—If government takes away the regulation, the regulation doesn’t go away, it’s just in the hands of the giant corporations.

EW: It’s just in the hands of the giant corporations.

DD: So they get to do regulation from the boardroom.

EW: And that’s how we keep hearing lately about self-regulation. Aircraft manufacturers that self-regulated; how did that work out? You know, it’s—But it’s over and over. It’s wait, what? They’re doing what? The oil companies that were doing the drilling offshore were self-regulating? You know, they filed some reports that nobody read. That’s not a government that’s working for the public. So when you say about, is it going to take a movement? The answer’s yes. That is the movement we’re starting to build.