Our Next President

12,000 people showed up on a Monday night in Minneapolis to see Sen. Elizabeth Warren, seven months before the Minnesota primary election. After she spoke, she spent three hours taking selfies with anyone who wanted one. I think it’s time to put the “Nevertheless She Persisted” bumper stickers on the cars.

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Correction:  It was at Macalester College in St. Paul, the other Twin City. Still very impressive, of course.

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).

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.

“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.

Elizabeth Warren’s Plan for Economic Patriotism

Robert Kuttner discusses “Warren’s Astonishing Plan for Economic Patriotism” at The American Prospect:

I have been a fan of Elizabeth Warren for a long time. Her combination of deep knowledge of how American capitalism works, her capacity to narrate the lived experience of American working families and tie it to radical reforms, and her sheer integrity are unsurpassed.

Her rollout of one brilliant policy proposal after another and her ability to connect those to a political understanding of the American situation has been just stunning. But Warren’s latest plan is in a class by itself, even for Warren. She calls it an Agenda for Economic Patriotism.

Warren’s proposal does nothing less than turn inside out the globalist assumptions pursued by the past several administrations, Democrat and Republican alike. Where they have pursued more globalization of commerce as an end in itself (and as a profit center for U.S.-based multinational corporations and banks), Warren’s goal is to bring production and good jobs home.

Even better, she knits it all together with a coherent plan, beginning with a new Department of Economic Development “with the sole responsibility to create and defend quality, sustainable American jobs.”

The new Department will replace the Commerce Department, subsume other agencies like the Small Business Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office, and include research and development programs, worker training programs, and export and trade authorities like the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. The new Department will have a single goal: creating and defending good American jobs.

Globalization didn’t just happen, Warren points out.

America chose to pursue a trade policy that prioritized the interests of capital over the interests of American workers. Germany, for example, chose a different path and participated in international trade while at the same time robustly—and successfully—supporting its domestic industries and its workers.

Warren proposes that every tool of American national policy be directed towards the goals of reclaiming domestic industry and producing good jobs for American workers.

This, in her phrase, is the essence of economic patriotism and is the opposite of what most American-based banks and corporations do.

These “American” companies show only one real loyalty: to the short-term interests of their shareholders, a third of whom are foreign investors. If they can close up an American factory and ship jobs overseas to save a nickel, that’s exactly what they will do—abandoning loyal American workers and hollowing out American cities along the way.

Specifically, she calls for leveraging government-subsidized R & D to promote domestic good jobs. If the research and development that goes into new products is funded by American taxpayers, those products will be built by American workers. Warren also wants management of the value of the dollar to take into account the impact on domestic production.

In her Green Manufacturing Plan, which Warren is also releasing today, she further proposes the federal government allot $150 billion every year for the next decade to purchase renewable, green, American-made energy products, which in itself would amount to a 30 percent increase in the government’s annual procurement.

In addition, she values these new tools of domestic economic development for regional development potential as well, so that good jobs can be spread to the nation’s regions that have been left behind by the bi-coastal shift of capital. And she wants government procurement to be used explicitly for domestic production and job creation. Warren also proposes a dramatic expansion of worker training to rendezvous with the anticipated new jobs.

If China can commit its national resources to promotion of domestic industry, through plans such as Made-in-China 2025, and even democratic Germany can commit a great deal more economic planning than we do, says Warren, it’s time for America to start planning a future of cutting edge industries and good jobs. Every four years, the Department of Economic Development would produce a National Jobs Strategy, and all trade-related policies would fall under the new department.

Consider what Warren has done with this proposal. For starters, she has blown away the assumptions of several decades of U.S. trade policy, in which the invisible hand is supposed to allocate production based on principles of laissez-faire. But as painful experience has demonstrated, free-market economics doesn’t work any better globally that it does nationally.

While other progressive critics have offered telling indictments of America’s trade policy, Warren is the first to nest that critique in an affirmative strategy for reclaiming good jobs and fostering cutting edge industries. By doing so, she underscores her distance from corporate Democrats and allies herself with working people.

… While [the president’s] version of economic nationalism is all swagger, symbol, and shotgun retaliation. Warren’s would actually deliver tangible benefits for the voters who turned [to him] in desperation….

Warren has also reclaimed the virtue of patriotism for the progressive left, and connected it to something urgent and with real meaning, as opposed to the right’s use of patriotism for symbols, military adventures, and worse. The Prospect recently addressed this need in E.J. Dionne’s essay on the important work of John Judis.

As this remarkable plan is debated, the usual suspects in the political center not to mention the orthodox economists are going to go nuts. Just wait for the editorials and columns. Warren will be damned as a protectionist and worse…. But the supposed gains of “free trade” are among the most overrated free-market myths.

America’s finest industrial hours came during World War II, when national planning was a necessity and trade was shut down. The postwar boom was an era when trade came to just about five percent of GDP, and prosperity was broadly spread. Trade is fine as the tail on the economic dog, but it becomes perverse when trade is the tail that wags the dog (even more so when the master is corporate).

With this plan, Warren has begun an overdue debate that she deserves to win, both intellectually and politically.  And she has demonstrated once again her potential as a powerful force against [the president].

And against others in the Democratic field. Joe Biden may be the candidate working class voters would rather have a beer with, but what will he have to say about this proposal? Let his constituents eat free trade? Having supported NAFTA, extending permanent “normal” trade relations to China, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Biden’s pro-worker bona fides leave a good deal to be desired.

For several months, I’ve been arguing with the naysayers who tell the usual story of Warren being too much the “shrill schoolmarm” who will never reach working class voters, or being politically vulnerable as “Pocahontas.” I’ve watched Warren’s stunning success talking candidly about race, and observed skeptics crediting her political, rhetorical, and policy acumen, as she keeps slowly moving up in the polls, benefiting from those lowered expectations.

This latest proposal demonstrates once again what makes Warren a once-in-a-lifetime progressive leader.