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Politics (2009-2010)

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Everything’s Bigger in Texas.



The westward movement of the U.S. population means six districts in states that went for Obama will shift to states that went for McCain — a small but significant shift that could help a GOP presidential candidate in 2012, provided they can hold those states for the party.

The US Census Bureau announces the newly-reapportioned electoral map for 2010, and it shows electoral gains for (blue areas in) red states and the Northeast and Midwest diminishing (in growth rate, at least. The only state to actually lose people was Michigan.) Since the GOP will by and large control the redistricting process in most states, this is further bad news for Dems in the short term. Nonetheless, the overall demographic trends are still working in our favor.

In related news, Robert Cruickshank makes the modest proposal of removing the 435-member cap on the House, first passed in 1929. “In the 1930 Census, which found a population of just over 122 million, this produced 435 House districts of about 282,000 each. By 2012, however, a US House district in a state with more than 1 seat will represent about 708,000 people. That’s an increase of 2260% from 1790.

Neutral No Longer.

The message: the FCC Chairman caved to the most powerful interests and is adopting a rule that may end the Internet’s historic openness to all software and content as a level playing field. This will undermine the Internet’s role in as an engine of economic innovation and democratic participation. The rule was written by and for the giants like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast, who are cheering the rule. And the FCC Chairman is trying to fool the public into believing they should thank him.

After earlier explaining why the FCC’s compromise(d) stance was “garbage”, Marvin Ammori laments Julius Genachowski’s sad sell-out on net neutrality. While the president is claiming victory here — it does, after all, follow the “solomonic or moronic” splitting-the-baby approach he likes to bring to every issue — everything you need to know about it is summed up in one sentence in Wired: “There was one group, however, which seemed content with the new rules: the nation’s cable and telecommunications companies, including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

Song of the South.

Here was the Delta Republicans’ historic task: negotiating terms of surrender to the Constitution, then reframing that Lost Cause as honorable, the better to preserve their insular plutocracy — perhaps their gravest sin in the first place — in order to integrate themselves more snugly into national and international circuits of corrupt wealth. Haley Barbour, who received his first Republican patronage job in 1970, is a true son of this confederacy.

In the wake of Haley Barbour’s highly dubious misremembering of civil-rights era Mississippi, historian Rick Perlstein skewers the GOP poobah and presidential hopeful to the wall. “At every important turn in the story, Barbour emphasizes how little he remembers of this most intense period imaginable in his beloved home town — it really was no big deal, he insists…He’s a middle-aged Southern conservative. That is what his job is: to opportunistically ‘forget.‘”

Anatomy of a Tantrum.


This is the public option debate all over again. So I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats had been fighting for, for a hundred years – but because there was a provision in there that they didn’t get…somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise.

“Now, if that’s the standard by which we are measuring success or core principles, then let’s face it, we will never get anything done. People will have the satisfaction of having a purist position, and no victories for the American people. And we will be able to feel good about ourselves, and sanctimonious about how pure our intensions are and how tough we are…That can’t be the measure of how we think about our public service. That can’t be the measure of what it means to be a Democrat.

As I’m sure most of y’all know by now, the president decided to indulge in some cathartic lefty-bashing at his tax cut deal press conference earlier in the week. [Transcript.] At this point, the fact that Obama feels this way about progressives is not at all a surprise, and I feel like I’ve already responded to his appalling penchant for this sorta thing at length. So, here’re just a few numbered points about this latest sad window into Obama’s “pragmatic” mindset:

1) Alex Pareene at Salon cut right to the heart of the fallacy on display here: “[Obama] continues to imagine that his liberal critics are upset with the idea that compromises need to be made in order to accomplish progressive policy goals. Some of them are that stupid. But lots of them are actually critics of the White House’s legislative strategy, and their apparent willingness to preemptively compromise before the negotiations have already begun.Yep.

2) See also Paul Krugman: “Leave aside the merits for a moment: what possible purpose does this kind of lashing out serve? Will activists be shamed into recovering their previous enthusiasm? Will Republicans stop their vicious attacks because Obama is lashing out to his left? It was pure self-indulgence; even if he feels aggrieved, he has to judge his words by their usefulness, not by his desire to vent…[W]hat we really don’t need right now is a president who blames everyone but himself, and seems more concerned with self-justification than with sustaining the alliances he needs.

3) As I noted on Twitter, the president’s argument here is inherently contradictory. He began his presser by saying he had to make a bad deal because the Right, however wrongheaded, held stubbornly to their convictions. Then he verbally abuses the Left for…holding stubbornly to their convictions. Uh, it seemed to work pretty well for the GOP.

4) Speaking of Twitter, the Twitterverse response to the presidential presser is well worth perusing for gallows humor and hard truths. Take for example, “Obama: This is like the public option fight all over again where I caved and opposed the thing that reduced the deficit.

5) As many have pointed out now, the president is also wrong on his New Deal history. In the presser, he claimed Social Security was only for widows and orphans. Wrong. He’s thinking of the civil war pension system, circa 1862. I know that law degrees are considered the be-all, end-all of our civilization these days, but an ostensibly progressive president not understanding the origins of Social Security is sort of a big effing deal. (And he didn’t just misspeak — He’s said it before.)

6) As historian Thomas Ferguson noted several weeks ago, this is not the first time the president has badly screwed up the history of the New Deal in a way that was ultimately self-serving. (As an aside: Given they they chose to structure a major policy speech around a fake Lincoln quote, his communications staff isn’t much better.)

7) As Dan Froomkin pointed out, Obama’s argument about the public option is also contradictory. He argues that Social Security and Medicare started out small, than belittles the public option because it “would have affected maybe a couple of million people,” i.e. it would’ve started out small.

8) Obama also no longer seems to understand how the public option was supposed to work. Here’s Froomkin: “What the president conspicuously disregarded was that the central point of the public option was that its existence would exert enormous competitive pressure on the private insurance system. The goal was not to serve a particularly large number of people directly — that would only happen if the private offerings were terribly inadequate. The goal was to keep the private sector honest. So no matter how many people it enrolled, ‘the provision,’ as Obama put it “would have affected” tens of millions.” In other words, the public option was designed to be a yardstick. So, even in terms of recent history, there are some serious revisions going on.

9) Politico’s catty analysis of the president’s relationship with Chuck Schumer offered more insights on Obama’s thinking today: “Obama himself warned Schumer that the millionaire strategy could sink the stock market. When a vote on the millionaire plan came up short last Saturday, the administration gloated.” The vagaries of the stock market? Is that really what we’re basing our tax policies on these days? (Also, I don’t think Chuck Schumer, of all people, needs to be informed of when and how Wall Street will balk. I think he has his finger pretty solidly on that pulse.)

10) A day after the president’s remarks, Larry Summers solemnly informed us that not passing the millionaire tax cut would lead to a double-dip recession. This is basically the economic equivalent of the terror, terror, terror, 9/11, 9/11, 9/11 argument. And, as David Dayen and Jon Walker both pointed out: If the economy is resting on that sort of knife’s edge, why’s the White House just reduce purchasing power by announcing a federal worker’s pay freeze? Something does not compute.

11) Obama at the presser again: “Look at what I promised during the campaign. There’s not a single thing that I’ve said that I would do that I have not either done or tried to do. And if I haven’t gotten it done yet, I’m still trying to do it.” Um…do we really want to go there? Because I’m sure this would be news to Maher Arar. In any case, as a friend pointed out, this isn’t kindergarten — You don’t get a gold star just for “trying.”

Anyways, so, yeah, Obama doesn’t like “the professional left” very much. And, at this point, it’s safe to say the feeling is mutual. As for myself…well, these days I just feel like a sucker.

The Wheedle and the Damage Done.

The Fed accepted a total of $1.31 trillion in junk-rated collateral between Sept. 15, 2008 and May 12, 2009 through the Primary Dealer Credit Facility. TARP was nothing compared to this.” (Also, $500 billion of that junk was rated CCC or below, which — given the rampant grade inflation going on at all the rating agencies — means it was really garbage.)

So, yeah, Wikileaks isn’t the only document dump in town this week. As mandated by the Dodd-Frank Act (after much pushing from below), the Federal Reserve today released information about some of its dealings from December 2007 to July 2010. And, while folks are just now delving into the intel, it already seems that some of the bodies buried during the financial crisis are now floating to the surface: “A quick analysis…indicates that Citigroup was the greatest beneficiary, drawing on a total of $1.8 trillion in loans, followed by Merrill Lynch, which used $1.5 trillion; Morgan Stanley, which drew $1.4 trillion; and Bear Stearns, which used $960 billion.

In very related news, former Alan Grayson staffer (and a Hill friend of mine) Matthew Stoller lays out a compelling case for a harder stance against the Fed from the Left from now on. Some brief excerpts:

“It is good that this debate is happening. It means that we will be able to examine the real power structure of the American order, rather than the minor food fights allowable in our current political system. This will bring deep disagreements, profound ones, but also remarkable possibility. Modern American industrial policy is to push capital into housing, move manufacturing abroad, build a massive defense establishment, and maintain an oligarchic financial sector. This system isn’t a structural inevitability. People built it, and people are unbuilding it…

Like most American institutions, the Fed has shrouded itself in myth, with self-serving officials discussing the immaculate design of the central bank as untouchable, secretive, an autocratic and technocratic adult in the world of democratic children. But the Fed, and specifically the people who run it, are responsible for declining wages, for de-industrialization, for bubbles, and for the systemic corruption of American capital markets.”


Also on this topic, it comes out today that Bank of America was given a break by the SEC on a securities fraud settlement “‘because of the nation’s perilous economic situation at the time’ and the fact that it had received billions of dollars in taxpayer aid, according to the report by the SEC’s inspector general…Specifically, during settlement negotiations, Bank of America won relief from sanctions that could have hurt its investment banking business.

To tie this back to the top, according to Bloomberg’s Lizzie O’Leary, who’s also been parsing the new Fed data, “52% of the collateral Bank of America pledged to the #Fed’s PDCF was rated Ba/BB or lower, or didn’t have available ratings.” (And, let’s keep in mind, PDCF was only one of several emergency programs.)

So, in other words, the government kept banks like BoA alive by buying up trillions in toxic assets and looking askance at their illegal activity. They repaid us with record bonuses for themselves and an epidemic of foreclosure fraud — the “getaway car for the financial crisis,” as a friend well put it — that’s screwing over millions of American families. And in terms of fixing bad behavior on the Street, nothing changed whatsoever. Boy, that’s some deal.

TDW: Some Witches Found at Last.


These are also times where all of us are called on to make some sacrifices. And I’m asking civil servants to do what they always do and play their part.” Ah, now we shall touch the bottom of this swamp!

So it seems the deficit witchhunt has found some folks who float like a duck in the form of civilian federal (i.e., non-military and non-congressional) workers. (Burn, witches!) And so, in the name of austerity and the New Bipartisanship, the President has announced a federal pay freeze for the next two years, and implored the tattered remnants of OFA to play along. (Sadly, this isn’t even the most ridiculous message OFA has sent out this month.)

Now, according to the normal, Keynesian (i.e., reality-based) understanding of economics, cutting pay for workers — yes, Virginia, even those lazy, self-entitled public-sector workers — is a regressive move during a bad economy: It further hurts purchasing power. This is one of the reasons why Dems opposed the idea a few months ago.

But, of course, sacrifices must be made to appease the Deficit Gods, and this move will save about $60 billion over ten years. So if the economy takes a minor hit, and if it pushes some of the more talented help out of the government and into, say, government-contracting (where Uncle Sam will then pay out considerably more for the same work), well, that’s just the cost of finally getting Serious about the deficit.

Besides, one might argue, this pay freeze is just basic fairness. As the president himself said, “Lower-skilled workers are slightly overpaid relative to the private sector. And that’s not surprising, because it’s a unionized workforce.” Those dastardly unions!

Oh, wait, did I mention — also as part of the New Bipartisanship — the president laid the groundwork for capitulating on the Dubya tax breaks for the wealthiest 2%? This executive folding — and, really, who could’ve seen this coming? — will cost us $700 billion over the next ten years — That’s over 11 times more than the money ostensibly saved.

So, if you’re doing the math at home, folks, that means, taken together: We’ve cut millions of workers’ pay in the midst of a fragile economy. We’ve once again reified dumb GOP talking points about Big Guvmint jobs. And we’ve added $640 billion to the deficit, theoretically the reason for doing all of this in the first place. But, hey, the president looks bipartisan, and at least we drowned us a few witches. So, there’s that.

Update: See also Krugman: “Yep, that’s exactly what we needed: a transparently cynical policy gesture, trivial in scale but misguided in direction, and in effect conceding that your bitter political opponents have the right idea.

Update 2: And what are the fruits of the New Bipartisanship? Well, really, what did you expect? The fetal position fallacy strikes again.

Enemy of the State.


“‘To the extent there are gaps in our laws,’ Holder continued, ‘we will move to close those gaps, which is not to say…that anybody at this point, because of their citizenship or their residence, is not a target or a subject of an investigation that’s ongoing.

After another embarrassing document dump by Wikileaksthis time diplomatic cables, next time Bank of America? — Attorney General Holder threatens the prosecution of Julian Assange, an Australian citizen — most likely under the Espionage Act, the same catch-all 1917 law used to lock up Eugene Debs back in the day.

First of all, Gawker‘s John Cook has already explained why this attempted line of prosecution doesn’t work. However docile the “nation’s watchdogs” remain on any other given day, the newspapers that published these leaks would have to be considered co-conspirators in any Espionage Act-related indictment. “We think its fairly obvious that the Department of Justice won’t go after the Times or any of the other papers involved in the story. But if it doesn’t, that’s just evidence that its attempt to use the Espionage Act to go after Assange isn’t about enforcing laws: It’s about retribution, harassment, and rattling sabers.

Secondly, if Assange wants to avoid federal prosecution, perhaps he should just…I dunno…torture somebody? Or maybe rip off the American people for trillions of dollars? Or how ’bout just spying on Americans via warrantless wiretap? Apparently, disclosing those kinds of secrets is one of those look-forward-not-backward kinda things.

Let’s get real here. There’s no threat to our troops in these leaks — Even the Pentagon admits that. (A more overlooked problem, as a friend pointed out, is what this leak might mean for human rights workers.) Wikleaks’ methods are of the blunderbuss variety, yes. (That probably speaks in their favor: They don’t seem to tailor their leaks to suit a predetermined spin. They just dump data. And, hey, somebody should be doing the media’s job.) And, sure, Assange comes off as more than a bit pretentious, but what of it? If being a jackass were a crime, our prison system in this country would be completely broken…oh wait, it already is.

In the end, as Glenn Greenwald well put it, “our government and political culture is so far toward the extreme pole of excessive, improper secrecy that that is clearly the far more significant threat.” You’d think an administration that ran on unparalleled transparency in government might feel the same way. But, sadly, like its predecessor, the only crime this administration really seems to hate is whistleblowing.

The World they Made.

When historians look back to the moment when the post-Cold War reign of American power ended, they may well settle on 2010 as a crucial year. Everywhere, it seemed, there were signs that the long-predicted “rise of the rest” had finally occurred, whether in the newfound assertiveness of fast-growing China or the impatient diplomacy of new powers like Brazil and Turkey. Foreign Policy’s second annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers fully reflects that new world.

As above, Foreign Policy has picked its Top 100 Global Thinkers of the year. And, while there are some really atrocious choices on here (for example, the man at #33, who much more deservingly made the list in the next entry too), the article is worth a perusing regardless. (FWIW, #65, #68, and #80 seem really iffy to me as well.)

Pundits, Heal Thyselves.

The War Room Hack Thirty is a list of our least favorite political commentators, newspaper columnists and constant cable news presences, ranked roughly (but only roughly) in order of awfulness and then described rudely. Criteria for inclusion included writing the same column every week for 30 years, war-mongering, joyless repetition of conventional wisdom, and making bad puns.

Another enjoyable and illuminating recent list: Salon‘s Alex Pareene chooses America’s thirty most hackadocious pundits. The sad thing is, not only is every entrant on this list more than deserving of the scorn they receive here, but Pareene could easily have knocked the list up to fifty pundits with absolutely no diminution in lack-of-quality.

For Once, Accountability.

“‘This case is a message from the people of the state of Texas that they want – and expect – honesty and ethics in their public officials,’ said Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg. ‘All people have to abide by the law.‘”

Some heartening news that dropped over Thanksgiving vacation: A jury of his peers found Boss DeLay guilty of money-laundering. “Punishment for the first ranges from five years to life in prison, but the former congressman from the Houston suburb of Sugar Land could receive probation…Reporters in the courtroom described DeLay as stunned by the verdict, which came after 19 hours of deliberation.

At this point, I’m cynical enough to think that DeLay will eventually find a way to get this conviction overturned on appeal — particularly given the fact that his defense began with a huge blunder. Still, at least for one day, it was great to hear that Boss DeLay was finally called out for his crimes.

A Life in Development.

Next week, Foreign Policy magazine and its editor-in-chief Susan Glasser will be releasing its 2nd annual roster of the world’s greatest thinkers and doers in foreign policy. I have seen the list — and it’s impressively creative and eclectic. There is one name that is not on the FP100 who should be — and that is Chalmers Johnson, who from my perspective rivals Henry Kissinger as the most significant intellectual force who has shaped and defined the fundamental boundaries and goal posts of US foreign policy in the modern era.

The Washington Note‘s Steve Clemons remembers one of his friends, colleagues, and mentors: Asia scholar, critic of empire, and coiner of the “developmental state,” Chalmers Johnson, 1931-2010. (See also James Fallows’ remembrances on his passing.) Argued Johnson in 2009: “Make no mistake – whether we’re being bled rapidly or slowly, we are bleeding; and hanging onto our military empire will ultimately spell the end of the United States as we know it.”

Crime of the Century.


A tale of two financial crimes: After the Savings and Loan Crisis of the late 80′s and early 90′s — a clear consequence of Reagan-era deregulation, by the way — had run its course, 1852 S&L officials were prosecuted, and 1072 of them ended up behind bars, as did over 2500 bankers for S&L-related crimes. But, when a similarly-deregulated Wall Street plunged the US economy into a much steeper recession two decades later…nobody (with the notable exception of Bernie Madoff) went to jail — In fact, it was barely even admitted by the powers-that-be that serious crimes had even occurred at all. So what happened?

That is the stark question driving Charles Ferguson’s well-laid-out prosecutorial brief Inside Job, which works to explain exactly how we ended up in the most calamitous economic straits since the 1930s. If you’ve been keeping up on current events at all, even if by comic books, stick figures, or Oliver Stone flicks, then you won’t be surprised by the frustrating tale Inside Job has to tell. But unlke the more inchoate and disorganized Casino Jack and the United States of Money earlier this year, which ultimately let its subject wriggle off the hook, Inside Job tells its sad, sordid story clearly, concisely, and well.

The central through-line of the financial crisis by now is well-known. Basically, Wall Steet banksters — relying heavily on “market innovations” (i.e. unregulated toys) like securitization, collaterized debt obligations (CDOs) and credit default swaps — spent the first decade of the 21st century engaged in a trillion-dollar orgy of avarice, criminality, and fraud. And, a few prominent casualties like Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns aside, the perpetrators of these financial misdeeds mostly walked away unscathed from the economic devastation they wrought. In fact, they’re doing better than ever.

Said banksters got away with this from start to finish mainly becauset they could, thanks to thirty years of deregulation and an absolute bipartisan chokehold on the political process. So, when the bill came due in 2008, these masters of the free market just got the Fed to socialize their losses, thus handing the damage over to the American taxpayer by way of Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson (former Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs) and his successor, Tim Geithner (no stranger to Wall Street himself.)

As I said recently, my thoughts on the relative necessity of TARP have shifted a good deal since 2008, but, surprisingly, Ferguson doesn’t really get into that debate here. Inside Job is more broad in its focus: It aims instead to show how Wall Street has systematically corrupted both our political process and our economics departments over the course of decades, and nobody is safe from its wrath. Sure, it was probably a tremendously bad idea to let an Ayn Rand acolyte like Alan Greenspan call the shots for the American economy for so long, but he’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are other fish to fry.

After all, it is President Clinton and his financial lieutenants, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, who preside over the death of Glass-Steagall, the original sin that precipitates all the later shenanigans. It is also they who work to keep prescient regulators like Brooksley Born from sounding the alarm. And, after the house of cards has collapsed in 2008, and President Obama steps up to the plate promising “change we can believe in,” who does he pull out of the bullpen to lead us but…the irrepressibly porcine Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, the Chair of the New York Fed? Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. (But remember, folks, Obama is really an anti-business socialist.)

What goes for the US government goes for the academy as well. As Ferguson shows, Milton Friedman aficionadoes and Reagan/Bush policy guys like Marty Feldstein of Harvard and Glenn Hubbard of Columbia, who now find themselves atop prestigious Ivy League economics departments, are all too happy to give an academic imprimatur to bad bankster behavior, as long as they see a piece of the cut. (Nobody gets it worse than Columbia prof and former Fed governor Frederic Mishkin, who appears here to have walked into a battle of wits completely unarmed.)

In the meantime, Ferguson fleshes out the documentary with related vignettes on the financial crisis and those who brought us low — some work, some don’t. The movie begins with the cautionary tale of Iceland, about as pure a real-time case study into the abysmal failures of deregulation as you can ask for. (If that doesn’t do ya, try Ireland.) But the film ends as badly as it starts well, with an overheated monologue about the way forward, cut to swelling music and images of the Statue of Liberty — a cliche that serves to dissipate much of the pent-up anger of the last 90 minutes. (Perhaps Inside Job should’ve used the lightning strike.)

What’s more, at times Ferguson seems to try too hard to frame guilty men, and never more so than when he has a former psychiatrist-to-the-bankster-stars opine about cocaine abuse and prostitution all over the Street. Sure, it’s unsavory, and I see the ultimate point here — that these petty crimes could’ve been used to flip the lower-level traders if anyone had had tried to bring a RICO case against these jokers. But this sort of bad behavior, however frat-tastically douchey, is extraneous to the real crime at hand, and it seems really out of place when you’re using fallen crusader Elliot Spitzer as a witness for the prosecution.)

Still, overall, Inside Job is a very solid documentary that manages to capture its elusive quarry, and in a better world it would result in more serious consequences for the banksters who put us in this mess. Make no mistake — this is a crime story. As Massachusetts rep Michael Capuano observes in the trailer, and as Woody Guthrie put it many moons ago, “some rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.” Thing is, when Pretty Boy Floyd or John Dillinger robbed banks back in the day, they got shot. When the banks rob you…well, that’s apparently another thing entirely.

Tiiiiime is On Our Side.


[T]aken together, it seems clear that while older whites may have broken for Republicans, the rest of the population – i.e. the majority – either broke for the Democrats or only barely moved to the right. And since it’s the shrinking parts of the population – whites and old folks – who broke most for Republicans, it’d be right to conclude that 2010 was a temporary setback for Democrats that can be reversed once the Obama Administration gets its head out of its ass and starts helping people get jobs instead of helping Wall Street get richer.

Oh yes, it is: Delving into the exit poll numbers for California, Robert Cruickshank points out how the GOP have staked their territory on ground that is fast eroding. “[T]here’s really no evidence that the 2010 election portends long-term doom for Democrats. Instead it is Republicans who are in trouble. They won by appealing to a shrinking group of people who are determined to hog democracy and prosperity for themselves at the exclusion of the young and the nonwhite.” In other words, demography is destiny, and, when it comes to the GOP, to paraphrase the Peppers, even a tidal wave can’t save them all from Californication.

Speaking of Golden State politics: Unfortunately, Prop 19, which decriminalized marijuana usage, also went down to defeat. (A victim of the older midterm electorate, it still pulled more votes than any Republican in the state.) That being said, the die has been cast now — it’s only a matter of time. “‘There’s a fair amount of latent support for legalization in California,’ said Anna Greenberg…’It is our view, looking at this research, that if indeed legalization goes on ballot in 2012 in California, that it is poised to win.

Rumors of her Demise…


Our work is far from finished. As a result of Tuesday’s election, the role of Democrats in the 112th Congress will change, but our commitment to serving the American people will not. We have no intention of allowing our great achievements to be rolled back. It is my hope that we can work in a bipartisan way to create jobs and strengthen the middle class.

In a rebuke to the few Blue Dog remnants that have been calling for her ousting, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announces her intention to run for Minority Leader in the 112th Congress. “[D]riven by the urgency of protecting health care reform, Wall Street reform, and Social Security and Medicare, I have decided to run.

This is excellent news. As I’ve said here before, Speaker Pelosi has gotten things done on the Hill, and the blame for what happened Tuesday does not fall on her shoulders. To the contrary, she was often the only Democratic leader putting up a fight. Also, there is historical precedent: Twice during his long Speakership, Sam Rayburn cooled his heels as Minority Leader, waiting out the GOP blips. As the linked article points out, if Pelosi emulating Rayburn somehow encourages Obama to consider becoming more Trumanesque, well, all the better.

Feingold Falls.


“‘He was one of the last true progressives,’ said Michael Zimmer, a Feingold supporter who teaches media and communication at the University of Wisconsin. “Who is left now?‘” One important addendum to the 2010 midterm overview that deserves its own post.

A handful of notable losses notwithstanding — Tom Perriello, Alan Grayson, Phil Hare — a goodly number of the House Democrats who lost seats on Tuesday were of the Blue Dog or New Democrat variety, and the whirlwind they reaped was partly of their own making. Looks to me like Third Way-style corporate shilling just isn’t the answer.

Rather, the most painful loss of the night for progressives happened on the Senate side, when Russ Feingold fell to an idiotic Ayn Rand disciple, businessman Ron Johnson. (Wisconsin, the state of both Bob LaFollette and Joe McCarthy, is a strange place.) From fighting against the Patriot Act to calling for accountability on the illegal NSA wiretaps to, of course, battling for campaign finance reform, Feingold was often a lonely voice of conscience in the Senate, and his progressive leadership will be sorely missed there.

Of course, the fight goes on, so let’s hope Feingold will be back in public life someday soon. Big Russ has ruled out a 2012 primary shot, but if Wisconsin’s other Senator, Milwaukee Bucks owner Herb Kohl, should decide to retire in 2012 at the age of 77, Feingold would be a great candidate to go toe-to-toe against yet another “Galtian nincompoop” of the first order, current GOP golden boy Paul Ryan.

Minority Report.


Imagine for a moment you are president of the United States.

You were just elected in the midst of a worsening economic crisis, one that demands bold action and decisive leadership to confront. Fortunately, you enter office with an historic wind at your back: You enjoy unprecedented enthusiasm and goodwill from millions of new voters, a clear mandate for change, and, most importantly, sizable majorities in both the House and Senate.

You also know that the political opposition — who hold a long and storied record of being ruthless, craven and despicable to get what they want — will try to prevent your agenda by any means necessary.

And, being a student of history, you know that, particularly in the face of a poor economy, this political opposition is very likely to pick up congressional seats in the next election (with a few notable exceptions, one of which I’ll get to in a moment.) In other words, a pendulum swing against you is highly probable, and so the majorities you have are probably as big as they are ever going to get.

Basically, you have two years, and likely two years only, to do pretty much anything you want in order to grapple with this economic crisis. Do you [a] take a page from FDR’s 100 Days, go big, and push hard for the progressive agenda you laid down in your election campaign, which has the added benefit of enthusing the “rising American electorate” that got you elected? Or do you [b] try to ingratiate yourself with people who will always hate you, water down your signature legislative initiatives from the outset, and seemingly go out of your way to depress the lefty base that got you elected?

I think you see where I’m going with this.

First things first, let’s be clear about why the Republicans took back the House so decisively two days ago.

1) It’s the Economy, Stupid. Though it may be mostly Dubya’s fault, the economy is obviously still in terrible shape. The official unemployment rate hovers just under the double-digits, and real unemployment and underemployment levels are much higher. Household incomes are down, consumer debt is up, millions of homeowners are stuck with underwater mortgages, and millions more feel in danger of slipping under. As everyone knows, when economic times are bad, the party in power suffers.

Compounding the situation, families are feeling under the gun at exactly the same time that those same wealthy few who precipitated the Great Recession are now rolling in dough. Having evaded pretty much any and all serious consequences for the meltdown they created, the Big Brains on Wall Street are instead giving themselves record bonuses, and trying to profit from even more rampant corruption on the foreclosure front. To no one does this ugly sight look like change we can believe in.

2) Republicans voted, Democrats didn’t. Again, not rocket science: Democrats lost because Republicans came out and Democrats stayed home. Look at the breakdown of exit polls: As per the norm in midterms, the 2010 electorate was older than the population at large. (23% of the vote versus 13% of the population.) And 57% of those seniors, worried that the threat of Creeping Socialism might somehow interfere with their federal retirement security and universal health care, pulled the lever for Republicans.

Conversely, 29 million Obama voters did not show up to vote. “Hispanics, African Americans, union members and young people were among the many core Democratic groups that turned out in large numbers in the 2008 elections…In 2010, turnout among these groups dropped off substantially, even below their previous midterm levels.” Take voters under 30, for example, who vote Democratic at about the same rate seniors vote Republican. They went from 18% of the electorate in 2008 to 11% this year. Obviously, that’s a problem.

So, working back from these factors — economic performance and voter turnout — it follows that the two best things the administration could have done to improve Democrats’ standing this year would have been to get the economy moving again and to get the Democratic base fired up and ready to go. So what happened? Let’s look at the tape.

The Economy: As Paul Krugman has already pointed out, much of the story of this election was written way back in February 2009, when the Obama administration chose to settle on a stimulus package that was watered-down to appease Republicans who would never, ever vote for it. In fact, thanks to Larry Summers, the stimulus was low-balled from the start — Summers made sure Christina Romer’s higher-end projections for the amount needed never even made it to the president’s desk.

So the crystal was in the steel at the point of fracture, and mainly because Obama, doing the President Goldilocks routine that would become a trademark, watered down the Recovery Act early-on to appease an opposition that was unappeasable.

By late 2009, the warning signs that ARRA was probably too small were all over the place — not the least in the growing state budget crises seen all across the country. But even as Republicans throttled congressional attempts to remedy the situation, the Obama administration remained mostly passive…or, in the case of food stamps, worse. Many in the White House took up the standard of the deficit witchhunt. (Yes, there was some rhetorical urging of the tsk-tsk variety eventually, but that, as on so many other fights, was after the chips were already down.)

Going along with this frustrating passivity was the increasing sense over time that this administration, elected to be change we could believe in, was more than a little cozy with the Wall Street yokels who caused the economic disaster in the first place. Yes, TARP was originally Dubya’s baby — not that very many voters seemed to remember that fact. (And it’s hard to blame them when folks like Geithner keep touting its merits.) Still, acceding to the $700 billion bailout for Wall Street — with little to no strings attached — was an extraordinarily inopportune way to kick off an administration theoretically premised on fundamental change.

I have to confess that, at the time, I thought TARP was unfortunate but probably necessary. Two years later, I’m thinking I probably just just got railroaded, and didn’t know what I was talking about. (Hey, it wasn’t the only thing I was wrong about in 2008.) But, even back then, I argued that TARP had to come with game-changing restrictions on Wall Street’s behavior. Those, clearly, were not forthcoming.

Yes, Congress did pass financial reform — But let’s remember, Team Obama worked openly to weaken the bill, and even now certain admin folks are clearly trying to derail Elizabeth Warren, the best chance the financial reforms, however tepid, have at working as intended for consumers. (Or, to quickly take another example, there’s the matter of the HAMP foreclosure program, which, as David Dayen has documented, seems more concerned with recouping money for lenders than helping families in trouble.)

As on the finreg bill, so too on other fronts — and this is where we get to the suppressing turnout issue.

On health reform, which thank god eventually passed, we now know that the administration cut deals early on to kill drug reimportation on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry (even after Sen. Dorgan reintroduced the idea) and, more egregiously, to kill the public option on behalf of AHIP and the hospitals. Looking back, the president signaled the public option’s expendability in his September 2009 health care address, another classic example of the wait-too-long-then-try-to-swoop-in-and-save-the-day legislative strategy usually preferred by the White House. And by the eve of the midterms, he was openly mocking public option supporters at fundraisers.

But, even those fundamental breaks with real reform aside, the entire health care process got badly screwed up when the administration, in a misguided attempt to curry bipartisan favor for reform, let Max Baucus dink around for weeks on the Senate Finance Committee. While Republican Senators Snowe and Grassley played Lucy to Baucus’ Charlie Brown and kept moving the football, the Tea Party August of 2009 took shape, and almost a year in legislative time was lost. And, by the time Baucus finally released the durned thing, the bill had once again been watered down to gain imaginary Republican votes that were never, ever going to be forthcoming.

The litany of Obama’s other sins by now are well known. As noted before, this administration has been absolutely egregious on civil liberties, all the while telling us to “look forward, not backward” on Dubya’s torture regime. (But different rules for everyone else, it seems.) Meanwhile, Gitmo is still open, and DADT is still enforced. Immigration reform did not happen. Nor did energy reform, despite House Democrats going out on a limb to pass a bill way back in June of 2009. (Yesterday, Obama the “shellacked” buried this bill for good.) And so on.

If all these compromises and capitulation — which were never political necessities so much as unforced errors — weren’t enough to depress the base, the administration’s press arm continued a steady diet of hippie-punching. “Left of the left“, pajama-wearing bloggers, the “professional left” — time and again, “senior advisors” and press flaks went out of their way to scorn the people who sweat blood and tears to get them elected. I already mentioned Obama ridiculing public option supporters — Well, where did folks ever get the notion that a wonky, badly-named fix like the public option was the ground to fight on anyway? Because the president told us it was important.

To be clear: I am not arguing that Obama hasn’t accomplished anything (although, in almost all cases — including health care reform, much more credit should really go to the very unfairly maligned Speaker Pelosi — she’s the one who made it all happen.) But, at every point down the line, for every piece of legislation that did pass, you have to factor in the opportunity costs that were lost. And consistently, this administration has pursued the politics of the lowest common denominator. To quote the prescient Drew Westen once again:

I don’t honestly know what this president believes. But I believe if he doesn’t figure it out soon, start enunciating it, and start fighting for it, he’s not only going to give American families hungry for security a series of half-loaves where they could have had full ones, but he’s going to set back the Democratic Party and the progressive movement by decades, because the average American is coming to believe that what they’re seeing right now is ‘liberalism,’ and they don’t like what they see. I don’t, either. What’s they’re seeing is weakness, waffling, and wandering through the wilderness without an ideological compass. That’s a recipe for going nowhere fast — but getting there by November.

And, hey, look what happened.

Remember how I mentioned a midterm outlier way up at the beginning of this post? That was 1934 — when, in an economy even worse than the one America faces now, Roosevelt managed to pick up seats in both the House and Senate. FDR gave us the 100 Days, a flurry of political activity we haven’t seen before or since. Now, granted, the Roosevelt team did not have to contend with either unfettered money corrupting the system or a pathetic Fourth Estate in a death spiral — both severe problems with our current political culture that must be addressed. Still, when elected in the midst of a similar economic crisis, with similar expectations, this administration did not bring about a 100 Days. It gave us Three Months of Max Baucus dicking around to appease intractable Republicans.

So why did the 2010 shellacking happen? Because of the economy, yes. And because of low turnout, yes. And also because of troubling trends like corrupting money everywhere and a national press in severe decline — The fact that the media followed Christine O’Donnell more than any other 2010 candidate tells you all you need to know about that broken-down disaster we call the Village these days.

But, nonetheless, all of these determining factors were exacerbated in the wrong direction by the administration’s fatal addiction to the Fetal Position fallacy. As I said of this year’s State of the Union address, “people were not looking to President Obama for this sort of deficit tsk-tsking and small-bore, fiddling around the margins. You’d think we Dems would have learned this by now. But curling up into a fetal position and mouthing moderate GOP-lite bromides will not stop the Republicans from kicking us, ever.

Some argue politics is the art of the possible. That’s true, but I believe much, much more was possible if this administration had actually deigned to fight for it.

Some say the president can only do as much as Congress lets him — he needs 60 votes, yadda yadda yadda. I’d say that he had 60 votes, and even then did not push to make things happen as much as he could. I would also argue that the presidency of the United States is actually a remarkably powerful position these days, that Obama has showed no inclination to act progressive on crucial matters like civil liberties that are totally in his bailiwick, and that, even now with a Republican House, the administration could move forward with a progressive agenda, if it so desired.

Some — such as pathetic, DLC-brand fortunate sons like Evan Bayh and Harold Ford — say progressivism was tried and found wanting. I would argue progressivism was not even tried.

Some say it is time to go for the Dems to embrace a more “centrist”, GOP-lite Third Way from now on. I think we’ve been experimenting with that sad sack of failure for decades now — it’s our First Way — and it’s been proven over and over again not to work. (Just ask the Blue Dogs, who got eviscerated on Tuesday. Why vote for Republican-lite when you can have the real thing?)

Basically, it comes to this. Without vision, the people perish…and vote GOP. And because this administration did not go big, because it did not produce the change people so desperately desired, and because it forsook the possibility of real progressivism early and often to indulge their fantastical belief in the magical unicorns of High Broderism, the Democrats have now lost the House — ironically the one branch of government that, under Speaker Pelosi, actually tried to get done what had been promised.

Now, matters are worse.

Come, Ye Huddled Masses, to Prison.


According to Corrections Corporation of America reports reviewed by NPR, executives believe immigrant detention is their next big market…In the conference room, the group decided they would turn the immigration idea into a model bill. They discussed and debated language. Then, they voted on it…Four months later, that model legislation became, almost word for word, Arizona’s immigration law.

This will probably be the most disgusting story you read all day. On what happens to be the 124th birthday of the Statue of Liberty, NPR’s Laura Sullivan delves into how the private prison industry got Arizona’s racial profiling law passed.

Even accustomed as I am now to stories of how money in politics has completely broken our republic — and why in holy hell do we countenance a private prison system in America anyway? — this is truly vile. “The law could send hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to prison in a way never done before. And it could mean hundreds of millions of dollars in profits to private prison companies responsible for housing them.

A Seed of Sanity in California.

Our nearly century-long experiment in banning marijuana has failed as abysmally as Prohibition did, and California may now be pioneering a saner approach.” In very related news, the NYT’s Nick Kristof makes a case for Prop 19. “One advantage of our federal system is that when we have a failed policy, we can grope for improvements by experimenting at the state level. I hope California will lead the way on Tuesday by legalizing marijuana.” (Note also the example of Portugal, as studied by Glenn Greenwald.)

Twisted (Sadly True) Tales.


A shame the Lemur Brothers had to be sacrificed.” “Yes, the Invisible Hand works in mysterious ways.” By way of Mother Jones, Erich Origen and Gan Golan explain the financial crisis in comic book form. (The full Adventures of Unemployed Man are available here.)

The Marching Morons.

Truth be told, I never even heard the name ‘Washington, D.C.’ until I decided to run for the Senate. When I am elected, I will have no idea how to get there or where I’m supposed to go. Will there be buildings there? Is it temperate, rainy, hot, or arid? Do people speak English in this place, this Washington, D.C.?

Senator Russ Feingold’s Rand-loving opponent and possible successor, Ron Johnson, sums up his idiot philosophy in The Onion. “For the past 17 years Russ Feingold has done nothing but let down the people of this great state, or territory, or place, or whatever this is. He’s a D.C. insider who has well-thought-out positions on issues. I don’t know what issues are.

I’ll reserve comment on the midterms as a whole until after we’re through the gauntlet or the ship is wrecked, one way or another. Still, as per the norm, The Onion has been deadly on-point throughout this cycle.

The Plot Against America.


These records show that while the chamber boasts of representing more than three million “businesses, and having approximately 300,000 members, nearly half of its $140 million in contributions in 2008 came from just 45 donors. Many of those large donations coincided with lobbying or political campaigns that potentially affected the donors.

The republic stands upon the edge of a knife, people. Stray but a little, and it will fall. While the NYT belatedly figures out the Chamber is up to no good in its overwhelming campaign spending — thank you, Citizens United — the Center for American Progress discovers that the vast right-wing conspiracy actually holds meetings(!):

While the Koch brothers — each worth over $21.5 billion — have certainly underwritten much of the right, their hidden coordination with other big business money has gone largely unnoticed…The memo, along with an attendee list of about 210 people, shows the titans of industry — from health insurance companies, oil executives, Wall Street investors, and real estate tycoons — working together with conservative journalists and Republican operatives to plan the 2010 election, as well as ongoing conservative efforts through 2012.

Thousands are Sailing.

“‘The potential for exit in terms of emigration is huge and it’s a major part of the Irish story’…’Ireland is on the verge of losing a whole generation. People are simply not able to get a job in Ireland, not happy with the quality of life here and they are upping and leaving.

Faced, like so many other nations, with a bank-fueled financial meltdown and a grueling austerity program to make up the slack (sound familiar?), the Irish are — well, according to Reuters at least — either leaving or taking it in stride…for now. “‘It’s a cultural characteristic of the Irish people,’ said portrait photographer Kevin Abosch as he strode down O’Connell Street. ‘Generations of pacifism have been bred into them.’

Particularly as I was just writing up The Town, it reminds me of that line from The Departed: “If we’re not gonna make it, it’s gotta be you that gets out, cause I’m not capable. I’m f**king Irish, I’ll deal with something being wrong for the rest of my life.

A Chicago Bull.

I’m excited to be heading home to Chicago, which as you know very well, Mr. President, is the greatest city in the greatest country in the world. I’m energized by the prospect of new challenges and eager to see what I can do to make our home town even greater.

To no one’s surprise, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel leaves the White House for Chicago, several weeks before the coming midterms, to likely run for Mayor. As of this morning, he has been replaced by ex-Daschle aide Pete Rouse, a guy considered almost 180 degrees in temperament from Emanuel, and more in the “No Drama Obama” mold people might’ve expected after the 2008 campaign. (By all (perhaps beat-sweetened) reports, Rouse, a consummate political insider, is quiet, unassuming, not a screamer or a showboater, and, according to the word on the street, highly competent.)

As for Emanuel, well I’m already on record of how I feel about the guy — this clip sorta sums it up — so I can’t say I find this parting terrible news. But, since this is farewell for now, I’ll only say best of luck in Chicago…and let folks like Greg Craig, Dick Durbin, and David Axelrod handle the shovels instead.

Illusion of Fulfillment.

The president told Democrats that making change happen is hard and ‘if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.’” As part of a continuing pattern of late, President Obama tells Rolling Stone that progressives need to stop whining about the way things are going and get happy, because, in what’s become a new talking point, “If you look at the checklist, we’ve already covered about 70 percent [of the 2008 campaign promises.]” (70%?! Uh, can I see this checklist?)

Anyway, this latest weird effusion against the base has already been well-critiqued and well-answered many times. See, for example, Glenn Greenwald and David Dayen: “I’ve never seen a politician run an election with the message ‘Don’t be stupid, quit your bitching and vote for me.’” I would only add two things:

1) As it turns out, the unhappy Dems among us are more likely to vote, so perhaps berating them for not clapping enough is not altogether productive. (Unless, of course, the WH is doing it as a Sistah Souljah bank shot to get independents, on the classic establishment premise that indies love hippie-punching.)

2) I’d love to live in a world where progressive bloggers have the power to move ginormous voting blocs, I really would. But it takes a certain type of top-down, Beltway-obsessive mentality to think that’s what’s going on here. The biggest reason voters are depressed is because the economy is, quite obviously, not doing so well at the moment, and people are feeling the pinch. And, that aside, most Obama voters don’t need blogs to tell them that this administration, on all too many fronts, hasn’t lived up to its promises.

If this White House wants to engage the base (and I really, really hope they do, for reasons personal, professional, and patriotic), then, for Pete’s sake, don’t browbeat and lecture the Left for being disappointed — Try to make them less disappointed! Give them some red meat, respond to their concerns, and, you know, do the things you were elected to do. Why this even has to be said is beyond me.

Not Gonna Take It Anymore.

When you can read an entire column by the Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz and never once feel the urge to cut out your own heart with a dull knife, you know that you no longer have the sense of outrage that is essential to reporting from our nation’s capital.” In related news, and via Glenn Greenwald, Harper’s editor Ken Silverstein bids a pithy farewell to his DC beat.

The Bill Paid at Last.


The policy of reducing Germany to servitude for a generation, of degrading the lives of millions of human beings, and of depriving a whole nation of happiness should be abhorrent and detestable — abhorrent and detestable, even if it were possible, even if it enriched ourselves, even if it did not sow the decay of the whole civilised life of Europe…[N]ations are not authorised, by religion or by natural morals, to visit on the children of their enemies the misdoings of parents or of rulers.” — John Maynard Keynes

Ninety-one years after the terms were first agreed to, Germany makes its last WWI reparations payment this weekend. “Hatred of the settlement agreed at Versailles, France, which crippled Germany as it tried to shape itself into a democracy following defeat in the war, was of significant importance in propelling the Nazis to power.

The Last Boy Scout.


I’m a free-market guy. Normally, I would leave this to the invisible hand of the market, but the invisible hand of the market has already moved over 84,000 acres of production and over 22,000 farm jobs to Mexico, and shut down over a million acres of U.S. farm land due to lack of available labor. Because apparently, even the invisible hand doesn’t want to pick beans.

As you no doubt know by now, and like his White House correspondent’s dinner speech in 2006, the inimitable Stephen Colbert came to the Hill on Friday to deliver his expert testimony on the plight of migrant workers, a topic the media would otherwise have completely ignored in favor of whatever crazy thing Sarah Palin tweeted today.

For those making the ridiculous argument that Congress was horribly besmirched by Colbert’s satirical testimony, I have two words: Twain and Elmo. For everyone else, it was very funny and, as per Colbert’s usual m.o., spoke truthiness to power. “[I]t just stands to reason, to me, that if your coworker can’t be exploited, then you’re less likely to be exploited yourself. And that, itself, might improve pay and working conditions on these farms, and eventually, Americans may consider taking these jobs again.

A Mole in the Movement.


Responding to the newspaper’s requests, the government instead released 369 pages related to a 1970s public corruption probe that targeted Withers — by then a state employee who was taking payoffs — carefully redacting references to informants — with one notable exception. Censors overlooked a single reference to Withers’ informant number.

Thanks to one small clerical error, the Memphis Commerical Appeal uncovers the hidden life of famed civil rights photographer Ernest Withers, who apparently doubled as an FBI informant. [Reaction.] “‘He was the perfect source for them. He could go everywhere with a perfect, obvious professional purpose,’ said Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Garrow, who, along with retired Marquette University professor Athan Theoharis, reviewed the newspaper’s findings.” Shady.

The GOP Whigs Out.


As this prescient August J. Pollak cartoon predicted way back in 2007, it seems that months if not years of stirring the crazy pot has finally caught up to the GOP. The most recent case in point: Tea partier Christine O’Donnell’s upset win over Mike Castle in Delaware last night, which capped a series of Tea Party upsets in the GOP primaries. Sorry, y’all — You play with matches, you get burned.

Still, the Republicans’ recent intemperate rhetoric aside, one could argue we’re seeing the slow-motion devolution of a movement that began over a half-century ago, with Goldwater in 1964. Since then, Nixon notwithstanding, the Republicans have moved continually to the right, engaging in putsch after putsch to retain the purity of their conservatism (to say nothing of the precious bodily fluids.) Even the much-beloved Ronald Reagan, pretty far right for his day, would be considered a pinko by the standards of the contemporary Tea Partier, as would, in many corners, the Muslim-coddling Dubya.

And so, here we are at the end of the rainbow. The snake is eating itself. Not for nothing is Newt Gingrich, once the Robespierre of this particular Revolution, now frantically swimming right to save his own head — He doesn’t want to end up like Rove. (Speaking of which, Presidents Collins and Snowe, take note: There is no room for you at this table anymore.)

As for the evening’s big winner, well, obviously I think O’Donnell is frighteningly wrong on just about everything, from creationism to onanism, and she’d be an absolute disaster in the Senate. (Good thing she seems unelectable.) Still, however much we disagree, I have to confess a soft spot for anyone who takes their Tolkien seriously.

And the Rich Get Richer.


During the late 1980s and the late 1990s, the United States experienced two unprecedentedly long periods of sustained economic growth–the “seven fat years” and the “long boom.” Yet from 1980 to 2005, more than 80 percent of total increase in Americans’ income went to the top 1 percent. Economic growth was more sluggish in the aughts, but the decade saw productivity increase by about 20 percent. Yet virtually none of the increase translated into wage growth at middle and lower incomes.

In a must-read series at Slate, Timothy Noah delves into income inequality in America, a.k.a. “The Great Divergence.” “Even Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve Board chairman and onetime Ayn Rand acolyte, has registered concern. ‘This is not the type of thing which a democratic society — a capitalist democratic society — can really accept without addressing,’ Greenspan said in 2005.

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