Month: September 2018

Dr. Jane O’Meara Sanders: Future First Lady?

“The moment I saw Ireland from the boat, I finally understood that emotional connection everyone talks about. I used to dismiss it as silly when people called it their ‘motherland,’ and think it was terribly American, but now I get it.” Dr Jane O’Meara Sanders is smiling as she speaks to me about her extensive Irish connections.

The wife and senior advisor to former US Presidential Democratic candidate, Senator Bernie Sanders is softly spoken but undeniably passionate about what’s important to her. “I am 96% Irish –  at least, that’s according to Ancestry.com”, she laughs. “I have the Murphys in Youghal, the Kings in Westmeath, O‘Mearas from South Tipperary and the Reynolds’ in Drogheda. I’ve always had a very strong sense of being Irish. I know it is naïve, but it seems that people genuinely treasure friendship and conversations with a warmth that is refreshing.”

But there is nothing remotely naïve about Jane. Her career history is impressively crammed with hard-fought battles for social justice. Her politics match that of her husband’s –  Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. They were together for seven years before they married in 1988 and have a blended family with four children from previous relationships. Jane, originally from Brooklyn, in New York, has a doctorate (from the Union Institute), has she served as president of Burlington College, and through her work as a community organiser, started a teen centre, a daycare centre and after-school programs for disadvantaged children. Sanders is unequivocal in her support for her husband’s vision – eventually working with him as a spokeswoman, policy adviser and chief of staff. She was once quoted in the American Spectator as saying “If I didn’t work for him, I’d never see him.”

As part of her devotion to social justice, Jane Sanders is returning to Limerick next month for the I.NY festival – an event that celebrates the relationship between Ireland and New York. We have half an hour to chat about everything from her work on the upcoming inaugural Sanders Institute conference (more of which later) to women’s voices in politics, and of course, I want to know what it was really like on the campaign trail with Donald Trump. “That is part of the problem”, she chides, “The fourth estate is not informing the electorate because they are only focused on the ongoing gossip and the latest scandal. When you turn on the TV, it is ATAT – all Trump, all the time. It is worrisome, we really need to be involved in addressing the issues of importance and coming up with real potential solutions and answers.”

“When Bernie ran in the primaries, he talked about the issues relentlessly, and the media ignored him yet again because he refused to tear down his opponents. We don’t believe in tearing down people, we believe in offering a vision for the future.”

And she is right. We have become so obsessed with the scandal, the gossip and the drama of politics that we have started to take our eye off the ball when it comes to the issues that matter. We can blame the news, or Netflix, or our short attention spans, but it is refreshing to see the passion Jane and Bernie seem to bring to the real issues that affect people’s lives. “There is a lot to be concerned about. Around the world, democracy is endangered. The mission statement of The Sanders Institute is to revitalise it by actively engaging organisations and media in pursuit of progressive solutions and social justice issues.

“We believe that a democracy depends on an informed electorate, civil discourse and bold ideas and all of those things are in danger right now.”

But in an era of fake news, political mud-slinging and calculated misinformation, how do we get the world’s attention back in the room? “That’s why we are having the inaugural conference of the Sanders Institute,” Jane explains. “We will have some of the most progressive minds to visualise and actualise, to reach across generations and discuss, debate and articulate issues of concern and bold ideas and actionable solutions to address our country’s issues.”

It is going to have to be a very big and bold idea indeed if it is to make a dent in the current Trump reign. Jane says she worries that the traditional battle of ideas has become a battle of destructions. “Trump understood that there is a vast sloth of America that was not doing well and were increasingly suspect and distrustful of status quo…and rightfully so. I think that a lot of people felt that way – and it is something Bernie had recognised too from the start – people being left out of the recovery, those whose needs are not being addressed, people are not feeling secure and jobs being taken overseas.”

Could Bernie have won against Trump had things been different? Jane answers an emphatic yes. “All the polls showed taken in last several months of primary and then even up to the General Election, when the few that did put him in as if he was the candidate, showed there were many, many people who would have supported Bernie instead of Trump, because again, it would be a step away from the status quo. They thought he would fight for them and for the working people of America. So yes, I think he would have won. But that is not the way our system works.”

Jane says has no ambition to run for office herself, but is supportive of hearing more women’s voices across the political landscape. “I never judge a person by their gender or sexual orientation, by their race, or anything else. I judge them by what they are trying to accomplish politically and are they addressing the issues and not going to be swayed by corporate interests and getting the best person is what matters.”

“It is important to have more women’s voices, but they have to be the right voices.”

“From my perspective, I think they need to be progressive, women’s voices throughout Congress and we need a better percentage of that and it is happening, which is good but I don’t like the attitude which is becoming all too widespread in Trump Time – the attitude that you put people down, or putting down men in general, and I disagree with that as I had a wonderful Irish father, have a fantastic husband and an incredible son and grandsons . So it is not something that I agree with in terms of saying ‘we just need women.’ I think there are a lot of women that are doing the wrong thing as well.”

So what’s it like to slug it out against someone like Donald Trump? Jane says they’ve met, but not to discuss anything specific. “Bernie and I went to the inauguration because that’s the appropriate thing to do as Senator.

“We have not established a relationship with Donald Trump because a number of people who have tried to establish one on specific issues come out of meetings thinking one thing then the reality is that it didn’t happen. That happened over and over again. People tried to work on issues thinking they could find common ground but how can you find common ground when it is always shifting?”

Of course, all eyes are on who can take on Trump, and win, in 2020. Jane’s answer is predictable tight-lipped. “Right now we are considering everything. We’ll see how it all goes. Right now Bernie is in his election for Senator for Vermont which is up again in November so we are focused on that,” Jane says the other big focus for everyone is the upcoming mid-term elections. Democrats are poised to win up and down the ballot, despite the strong economy and Republicans’ advantages on the electoral map. The only question is how big the gains will be.

“It is rather disturbing that the entire Republican elected leaders and Congress has just completed unconditionally supported Trump because of their own political calculations of how they will do if he fights them. Every time he’s taken someone on they’ve lost in the Republican primaries. My concern is that the Republican party has been taken over completely by Trump.

“I fear that his ethics, or lack thereof –  and values, or lack thereof – are what is leading that party now and that is worrisome. Right now, I think everyone is focusing on the November elections because it is the only way to deal with the uncertainty and bigotry and all the concerns we have –  not only these issues but on how we are perceived as a country and how we are acting as a country.”

Together Is Stronger

That importance of perception is also what Jane believes the Limerick-based, I.NY festival is generating. In Ireland’s case – a positive global perception. “I think what Ireland is doing in terms of bringing people from the US back to Ireland and allowing them to learn more about the politics is a very smart move. I have started following Irish news and I know myself that I am talking a lot more about Ireland and Irish politics in my life. Inviting those back who feel a real kinship with this country is good for the economy. The more people love Ireland and Irish products, the more they think about it as a more powerful country even than they are. I think there are a lot of relationships that can be built.”

Building relationships is what Jane always says sustained her and her husband throughout their own political rollercoaster. “Seeing the hope and purpose on the faces of the people we met along the way – we couldn’t have done it without that. It finally seems that people in America now understand they have the power and they don’t need to think small anymore. Several years ago, it seemed that everyone thought that’s a nice idea but that can’t happen. But I think the presidential race and the actions of the community show that all these things can happen, all these things can be accomplished. If we stand together, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.”

Just When Should We Start Worrying About Deficits?

The U.S. deficit is rising again, a lot. The Congressional Budget Office just said it expects the deficit to top $1 trillion in 2019, a record. Some economists say that at some point, debt becomes a drag on growth. Is the U.S. approaching that threshold? Should we be worried? Bloomberg Opinion columnists Stephanie Kelton and Noah Smith met recently online to debate.

Stephanie Kelton: I don’t find the projections particularly interesting, nor do I find them disturbing — at least not in the “OMG trillion-dollar deficits are coming! Run for the caves!” sort of way. What I find interesting is not the budget forecast itself but the fact that Republicans added roughly $2 trillion in stimulus at a time when nearly everyone said it shouldn’t be done, citing proximity to full employment. “You don’t do stimulus at full employment,” was basically the argument. Well, here we are well into the experiment and … what’s the problem? Inflation remains in check, unemployment has ticked down a bit further, small business confidence is at a 45-year high and growth has accelerated. So that’s interesting.

Noah Smith: Here’s the problem. If you have a basic aggregate demand, Phillips-curve sort of view of the economy, then if stimulus is giving the economy a boost, it should also be raising inflation. Core inflation hasn’t accelerated and is right around the 2 percent target, even as unemployment has dropped, which raises the question of whether the tax cuts are really delivering much stimulus to the economy. We have reason to think that tax-cut multipliers are lower than spending multipliers, and that multipliers during booms are lower than multipliers during recessions, which tends to back up the notion that the tax cut probably isn’t doing much in the way of stimulus — the economy is recovering for other reasons. So really we’re just racking up debt in order to make the tax system more regressive. Is that wise?

SK: I agree that there were better ways to use the $2 trillion or so in fiscal space that we clearly had available at the start of the year. And, yes, the Republicans mostly used deficits to deliver a windfall to big corporations and the richest people in America, dishing out crumbs across the rest of the income distribution.

Here’s who benefited from the last round of tax cuts:

No one knows exactly how much of the pickup in economic activity is due to the tax cuts, but it ain’t zero. So they helped. And, as you note, they helped without raising inflation, which tells me they didn’t overstimulate, which further tells me there may be room to do even more. Tax Cuts 2.0, anyone?

Here’s who would benefit from the next round:

But here’s the thing Republicans seem to understand really well: The federal government’s deficit shows up as a surplus in some other part of the economy. And so while critics use terms like, “blowing up the deficit” or “drowning in red ink” to describe what’s happening to the government’s finances, Republicans seem more interested in the fact that their deficits will improve the private sector’s finances, especially the biggest corporations and wealthiest people in America. In other words, the GOP seems to understand that the government’s red ink is our black ink! It’s a point Goldman Sachs’ chief economist, Jan Hatzius, has made emphatically. And, of course, modern monetary theory folks routinely make the same point.

Instead of saying, “The 2018 budget deficit is expected to be $804 billion, rising to $1 trillion in 2019,” we could say, “The surplus in the non-government sector is expected to be $804 billion, rising to $1 trillion in 2019.” Is that disturbing?

NS: Why should we care about the private sector’s net surplus? According to the theory of balance sheet recessions, and to the theory of debt deflation, and also to the theory of the leverage cycle, it’s the private sector’s gross debt that poses a danger to the economy. In other words, what matters is how much companies and private individuals owe to each other, not how much the government owes them. So the point about the private sector’s net surplus is a bit lost on me. Who cares?

SK: Debt is only part of it. The other issue is the servicing of debts; if you moved everyone from 15-year mortgages to 30-year mortgages, you’d likely end up with higher debt-to-income and higher assets, since more people can handle the payments, and those that could already handle the payments can now afford the payment on more house. But the ability to service the debt is likely greater, all else equal. Even standard neoclassical macroeconomics on sustainable finance emphasizes the debt-service ratio over the debt ratio, even as the debt ratio obviously plays a role.

Setting aside the debate about the relative importance of debt-to-income or assets, or debt service, a government deficit adds to private-sector incomes (relative to debt or debt service) whereas a government surplus has the opposite effect. The most intuitive way to show this is through the sector financial balances. This becomes clear if you listen to Hatzius explain why he thinks sector-balance analysis can send a signal when the private sector’s financial positions are becoming overly fragile. And because it’s nothing more than accounting, it also tells us that the crowding-out story is 100 percent wrong — a government deficit raises private sector incomes; it doesn’t crowd out private finance.

NS: Putting aside the argument over financial crowding out, I still don’t see the relevance of all this. Let’s think in terms of real resources — not dollars, surpluses and deficits, but cars, pizzas, hours of labor. It seems clear to me that unless we have unused resources in the economy — idle workers and idle factories — that a government deficit can’t increase real output. At the end of the day, real output is what we care about — you can’t eat dollars, but you can eat pizzas. And if the U.S. economy is indeed nearing full employment, it means that there aren’t many unused resources lying around — and hence, the real benefit from deficits seems low. This is just standard Keynesian economics.

As for the financing side of things, the reason government debt matters is because of how government finances its borrowing. If it uses tax financing — including future tax financing — that can hamper the economy. If it uses monetary financing — getting the central bank to print money to finance the Treasury’s deficits — that could at some point explode into uncontrollable inflation. What do you have to say to those worries?

SK: This actually isn’t right. If the government were to finance itself by so-called money printing, that would mean either (a) the government runs an overdraft at the Federal Reserve, or (b) the Fed buys the government’s bonds, which leaves reserve balances in the Fed accounts of private banks instead. But, for the Fed to achieve a positive interest-rate target, it would have to pay interest on reserve balances at its target rate. In other words, printing money simply means that overnight central bank liabilities earning the central bank’s target rate replace, say, three-month government liabilities earning roughly the central bank’s target rate. And if the Fed doesn’t pay interest on these reserve balances, then that simply means it wants its target rate at zero. Overall, there’s little difference in terms of macroeconomic impact whether the government sells its securities or prints money because the latter isn’t actually a thing in the real world. And while this is something MMT has been saying for 20 years, it’s basically what Narayana Kocherlakota, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said a few years ago, too.

So the point is that deficits, per se, are not disturbing. Is there a limit to how big the deficit can safely climb? Absolutely! Deficits matter. They can be too big — risking accelerating inflation. But they can also be too small, robbing the economy of a critical source of income, sales and profits. At some point, something will happen to undermine the strength of demand in the U.S. economy, and the expansion will end. Given the current inflation outlook, I see no reason to believe that trillion-dollar deficits pose a risk to the expansion. If anything, it will be the Fed’s reaction to those projected deficits that brings the expansion to an end.

NS: It seems like you’re agreeing with me that accelerating inflation is a risk of deficits. The question is whether that would come slowly or quickly. If deficit-induced inflation comes slowly, we don’t have much to worry about, because we can see it coming and adjust policy accordingly. But if it comes quickly — if the economy switches suddenly between a low-inflation equilibrium and a high-inflation equilibrium — then the dangers of deficits wouldn’t become apparent until it was too late. Of course, we can never know where that breaking point is, so it’s hard to decide just how much precaution to take. But with the labor market looking very strong, it seems like the potential benefit of large deficits at this point in time is small. So it seems like an unknown risk in exchange for only a small potential gain — not the most enticing of gambles.

Why I’m Betting On Millennials This November 6th

Millennials (and their younger siblings, generation Z’s) are the largest, most diverse and progressive group of potential voters in American history, comprising fully 30 percent of the voting age population.

On November 6th, they’ll have the power to alter the course of American politics – flipping Congress, changing the leadership of states and cities, making lawmakers act and look more like the people who are literally the nation’s future.

But will they vote?

In the last midterm election, in 2014, only 16 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 29 bothered.

In midterms over the last two decades, turnout by young people has averaged about 38 points below the turnout rate of people 60 and older. Which has given older voters a huge say over where the nation is likely to be by the time those younger people reach middle age and the older voters have passed on.

I’m not criticizing younger non-voters. They have a lot on their minds – starting jobs, careers, families. Voting isn’t likely to be high on their list of priorities.

Also, unlike their grand parents – boomers who were involved in civil rights, voting rights, women’s rights, the anti-Vietnam War movement – most young people today don’t remember a time when political action changed America for the better.

They’re more likely to remember political failures and scandals – George W. Bush lying about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction; Bill Clinton lying about Monica; both parties bailing out Wall Street without so much as a single executive going to jail.

Most don’t even recall when American democracy worked well. They don’t recall the Cold War, when democracy as an ideal worth fighting for. The Berlin Wall came down before they were born.

Instead, during their lives they’ve watched big money take over Washington and state capitals. Which may explain why only about 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s think it “essential” to live in a democracy.

Many young people have wondered if their votes count anyway, because so many of them live in congressional districts and states that are predictably red or blue.

Given all this, is there any reason to hope that this huge, diverse, progressive cohort of Americans will vote in the upcoming midterms?

My answer is, yes.

First, the issues up for grabs aren’t ideological abstractions for them. They’re causes in which Millennials have direct personal stakes.

Take, for example, gun violence – which some of these young people have experienced first-hand and have taken active roles trying to stop.

Or immigrant’s rights. Over 20 percent of Millennials are Latino, and a growing percent are from families that emigrated from Asia. Many have directly experienced the consequences of Trump’s policies.

A woman’s right to choose whether to have a baby, and gay’s or lesbian’s rights to choose marriage – issues Millennials are also deeply committed to – will be front and center if the Supreme Court puts them back into the hands of Congress and state legislatures.

Millennials are also concerned about student debt, access to college, and opportunities to get ahead unimpeded by racial bigotry or sexual harassment.

And they’re worried about the environment. They know climate change will hit them hardest since they’ll be on the planet longer than older voters.

They’ve also learned that their votes count. They saw Hillary lose by a relative handful of votes in places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

They’ve been witnessing razor-thin special elections, such as Conor Lamb’s win by a few hundred votes in the heart of Pennsylvania Trump country, and Hiral Tipirneni’s single-digit loss in an Arizona district Trump won by 21 points in 2016.

They know the importance of taking back governorships in what are expected to be nail-bitingly close races – in states like Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Kansas. They’re aware of the slim but increasingly real possibility of taking back the Senate. (Who knew Ted Cruz would be so vulnerable? Who even knew the name Beto O’Rourke?)

As doubtful as they these young people are about politics, or the differences between the two parties, they also know that Trump and his Republican enablers want to take the nation backwards to an old, white, privileged, isolated America. Most of them don’t.

In my thirty-five years of teaching college students, I’ve not encountered a generation as dedicated to making the nation better as this one.

So my betting is on them, this November 6th.

The Best Evidence That The NFL Effectively Banned Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick should have an NFL job right now. He’s arguably better and more accomplished than half of the starting quarterbacks currently in the league. He’s better and more accomplished than every backup. Let’s not even talk about third-stringers. The notion that Kaepernick is not one of the top 100 quarterbacks in the league is preposterous.

Just for argument’s sake, though, let’s work from the premise that Kaepernick is not in the NFL right now for purely football reasons. Let’s start at the position that every quarterback in the entire league is better, more skilled, more capable, more accomplished than he is. All of them. And that he’s been out of the NFL for over 500 days simply because it has been determined on football grounds that he would not make a single team better. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single current or former NFL player to agree with such a position, but let’s just put all that aside for a moment.

Now explain why Pro Bowl safety and defensive back Eric Reid doesn’t have a job.

Reid is 26 years old and injury-free. He can play multiple positions and is an ethical, generous leader on and off the field. His rookie contract just expired, and he is widely known as a coachable, team-first athlete. Try to make the argument that he doesn’t belong on an NFL roster for football reasons.

It’s impossible. A deep analysis of his stats and value has already been done. Everybody who plays at Reid’s level has a job and a well-paying contract except for Reid. The NFL is riddled with athletes who’ve been suspended and arrested and convicted — and they’ve routinely been given second and third and fourth chances. But not Eric Reid.

That’s because Reid is clearly being punished — not just for taking a knee on the field, which he did, but for doing so alongside Kaepernick.

Reid was the first NFL player to join Kaepernick in his protest against systematic racism and police brutality in this country. As the protest gained steam, a small handful of black players joined in — some continue to this day, either by taking a knee or remaining in the locker room during the national anthem. But only Reid did so side by side with Kaepernick for an entire season.

We can’t know for sure, but it’s difficult to imagine any other reason why Reid does’t have a job in the NFL this season. It may sound far-fetched, but you have to remember that many NFL team owners and executives have said that they “hate” Kaepernick and have even gone so far as to compare him to a convicted murderer.

I suspect team owners and executives hate Kaepernick so much that their animosity toward him spread to Reid. I can’t make sense of it any other way. I’ve looked at Reid’s forced exodus from the league from every imaginable angle. It’s hard to believe that a mainstream American company — and that’s what the NFL is, a corporation — is willing to so obtusely tip their hand like this. But I think that’s exactly what they’ve done here. It’s preposterous!

I’m a sports junkie — have been my entire life. On sports talk radio, I regularly hear both the hosts and callers say that they think Kaepernick has been banished from the NFL — not just because of his on-the-field protest, but because he wore socks portraying cops as pigs or a shirt featuring Malcolm X talking to Fidel Castro. Let’s just pretend, just for the moment, that those articles of clothing — not the protests themselves — were the things that pushed NFL owners to effectively ban Kaepernick. Let’s say that that’s the case.

Then how do you explain Eric Reid?

No one has snapped pictures of Reid wearing politically radical clothing. He never rocked a full afro. He didn’t put up a Black Power fist during warmups or after a game.

What he did, though, was kneel by his teammate Colin Kaepernick’s side. It sure looks like it’s cost him everything.

The Afternoon Session At She The People Summit 2018

In this compelling video from She The People Summit 2018, Senator Turner talks about the power of love bringing together “women of a rainbow mosaic” to challenge the systemic injustices of our nation.

 

The Three Big Lessons We Didn’t Learn From The Economic Crisis

Ten years ago, after making piles of money gambling with other people’s money, Wall Street nearly imploded, and the outgoing George W. Bush and incoming Obama administrations bailed out the bankers.

America should have learned three big lessons from the crisis. We didn’t, to our continuing peril.

First unlearned lesson: Banking is a risky business with huge upsides for the few who gamble in it, but bigger downsides for the public when those bets go bad.

Which means that safeguards are necessary. The safeguards created after Wall Street’s 1929 crash worked for over four decades. They made banking boring.

But starting in the 1980s, they were watered down or repealed because of Wall Street’s increasing thirst for profits and its growing political clout. As politicians from both parties grew dependent on the Street for campaign funding, the rush to deregulate turned into a stampede.

It began in 1982 when Congress and the Reagan administration deregulated savings and loan banks – allowing them to engage in risky commercial lending, while continuing to guarantee them against major losses.

Not surprisingly, the banks got into big trouble, necessitating a taxpayer-funded bailout.

The next milestone came in 1999, when Congress and the Clinton Administration, under then Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, repealed the Glass-Steagall Act – a 1930s safeguard that had prohibited banks from gambling with commercial deposits. (For the record, I was no longer in the Cabinet.)

Then in 2000, Congress and Clinton barred the Commodity Futures Trading Commission from regulating most over-the-counter derivative contracts, including credit default swaps.

The coup de grace came in 2004, when George W. Bush’s Securities and Exchange Commission allowed investment banks to hold less capital in reserve.

All of this ushered in the 2008 near meltdown – which was followed by another attempt to impose safeguards, the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.

And now? The Street’s political clout is as great as ever, which explains why the Dodd-Frank safeguards are now being watered down – clearing the way for another crisis.

The second lesson we should have learned but didn’t is how widening inequality makes our economy susceptible to financial disaster.

In the decades leading up to 2008, stagnant wages caused many Americans to go deep into debt – using the rising values of their homes as collateral. Much the same thing had happened in the years leading up to 1929.

Wall Street banks were delighted to accommodate – lending willy-nilly and often in predatory ways – until the housing and debt bubbles burst.

And now? The underlying problem of stagnant wages, with most economic gains going to the top, is still with us. Once again, consumers are deep in debt – inviting another crisis.

The third big lesson we didn’t learn concerned the rigging of American politics. After the crisis, many Americans realized that Wall Street, big corporations, and the wealthy had essentially bought up our democracy.

Americans saw the Street get bailed out while homeowners, suddenly owing more on their homes than the homes were worth, got little or nothing.

Millions lost their jobs, savings, pensions, and homes, but the bankers and big investors came out richer than before.

Bankers who committed serious fraud escaped accountability. No executive went to jail. Big banks like Wells Fargo continued to break laws with impunity.

Many officials involved in deregulating the Street became top executives in the Wall Street banks that benefited from deregulation. Some involved in writing the Dodd-Frank Act are now employed by the same financial institutions that are watering it down.

Meanwhile, big corporations and wealthy individuals continue to flood Washington with money, making it the capital of “crony capitalism.”

Widespread outrage at all this fueled the Tea Party on the Right and the brief “Occupy” movement on the Left. Both eventually morphed into the two anti-establishment candidacies of 2016 – authoritarian populist Donald Trump and democratic populist Bernie Sanders.

And now? Anti-establishment fury remains the strongest force in American politics.

Trump has been using it to conjure up racist and xenophobic conspiracies and to create the most authoritarian regime in modern American history. He promised to “drain the swamp” but has made it bigger and filthier.

Democrats don’t know whether to simply oppose Trump and his authoritarianism, or get behind a reform agenda to wrest control of politics and the economy from the moneyed interests.

But to do the latter they’d have to take on those that have funded them for decades. I wish I had more confidence they will.

Sad to say, ten years after the near meltdown of Wall Street we seem to have learned very little. Only worse: We now have Trump.

Why We Should Be Protesting The National Anthem

From day one, the United States has always struggled to walk its talk. In 1776, as the U.S. declared itself independent from Great Britain, the framers of said declaration noted that “all men are created equal.” But Thomas Jefferson, the lead author of the Declaration of Independence, owned men. In his “Notes on the State of Virginia,” he compared Africans to apes. He had sex with an enslaved woman and kept her children in bondage.

This is not just me looking back 242 years and imposing my present-day worldview onto a different era — the hypocrisy was seen and known in real-time.

“How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?’’ English writer Samuel Johnson wrote in 1775. A year later, English abolitionist Thomas Day wrote, “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature it is an American patriot signing resolutions of independency with the one hand and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves.”

In other words, we are expected to judge this nation’s early leaders on their words and not their deeds. When it comes to the past, we’re supposed to basically do the opposite of what Martin Luther King Jr. said we should do in his “I Have a Dream” speech: actually overlook the content of someone’s character.

Here’s the thing, though: It appears that that’s easier for some people to do than others. I’m stuck. I am simply incapable of respecting someone who bought, sold, traded, bred, and forced human beings into a brutal life of slavery. It’s a disqualifier for me. And my guess is that, the less your ancestors were affected by such a practice, the less of a disqualifier it is for you. But some of us value black lives so much that we find it pretty hard to be wooed by someone’s otherwise brilliant words when they owned black people. Kind of like how it’s hard to marvel over the poetry of Nazis or the photographic skills of 9/11 hijackers. At some point your character, or lack thereof, gets in the way of your contributions.

Francis Scott Key, the author of what is now known as our national anthem, absolutely needs to be on the list of folks drummed out of polite company for their transgressions. He was a genuinely horrible human being. He was an open, flagrant bigot. He was not a silent bigot; he put his bigotry into words and actions.

Key said that African-Americans were “a distinct and inferior race of people.” Of course he thought that: He came from a long line of slaveowners. His family got wealthy off buying, selling, trading, breeding, and working human beings to death. He continued the practice himself and owned human beings for most of his life. Not only that, but as the district attorney of Washington, D.C., Key fought against the rights and human dignity of black people every chance he got. In case after case, he fought against the rights of abolitionists and sought any means available to silence them.

All the way back in 1833, Key was defending heinous incidents of police brutality against African-Americans. The man fought to protect slavery until the day he died. He was no timid beneficiary — Key fought tooth and nail to protect it.

All of that results in me having a problem with Francis Scott Key. I don’t care how great his poetry may or may not have been — I see him as evil. I see slavery as an evil institution. Participating in it, for Key, was not a one-time choice, but a gross daily decision to benefit from and defend at all costs.

When he wrote a poem based on his eyewitness account of the War of 1812, it makes perfect sense that his absolute loathing of free black people found itself into “The Star-Spangled Banner.” There, Key gleefully wrote about the murder of enslaved Africans that had been enlisted in the fighting. Their deaths were a highlight for him. The poem says:

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

This poem bothers me. Again, this is not me viewing the 19th century through a 21st century lens. It bothered abolitionists of the day. They, too, were irked by how easily the deaths of enslaved Africans could be celebrated in the same stanza in which this land was hailed as “the land of the free.” Abolitionists even created other songs to the tune of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that spoke of the true pain and costs of slavery and how desperately freedom was desired.

There’s a reason why this history is so important. Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started his demonstration during the national anthem to protest the repetitive cycle of systemic injustice and police brutality in this nation. It did not feel right to him to stand up to a song full of empty promises.

Kaepernick is not alone in the annals of sports. Jackie Robinson, in the final years of his life, in 1972, reflected back on injustice in this nation and said, “I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag.” And he was a veteran who gave years of his life in the military. It all ringed so hollow to him.

And it does to me as well. I am a man. I have a brain. I have a heart and soul. My fight in this country is against injustice. The same is true of Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid and so many other NFL players who’ve taken a knee. But something weird has happened where it’s now seemingly politically incorrect to say that anybody is protesting the anthem.

So let me say it: I am protesting the anthem.

I am protesting its deeply bigoted author — who owned human beings for convenience and profit.

And I am protesting injustice in this nation on behalf of so many families that continue to experience systematic racism, police brutality, and inequality — all while others expect us to get up and sing with a heart full of happiness.

I’ll take a pass.

Stephanie Kelton Wants You To Rethink The Deficit

Stephanie Kelton, an economics professor at Stony Brook University on Long Island in New York, has a radical new way for thinking about the economy: Governments that print and borrow their own currency can’t go bankrupt, she says, and the current U.S. budget deficit is, if anything, too small.

That kind of thinking is part of a school of economic thought known as modern monetary theory, or MMT, which Kelton has helped develop. But she also wants to tell me a story from 2012, years before she became better known as an advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

At that time, Kelton was invited to an all-male breakfast club of the Kansas City rich and powerful. Despite her left-leaning views—and being the only woman—she won the room over.

How she did it is a testimony to her rhetorical and intellectual skills and to just how much her thinking confounds a political graph that is defined solely by tax and spending axes.

Kelton, 48, explained to the room in Kansas City that the government budget is not like a household budget because the government prints its own money. But the problem is that Washington always wants to know how to pay for new programs.

That’s a problem for you, she says she told her listeners, because the conventional wisdom in the capital is that money “grows on rich people” and you pay for nice things by taking it from them.

“Don’t look at me,” she instructed her audience to tell lawmakers. “That’s where the money comes from. And you point at the Treasury. You point at Congress.” And she won the room over.

Insisting that government spending comes from taxes, she says, puts the rich at the center of American policy-making in an unhealthy way. And the very rich, Kelton’s experience shows, are pleased to hear that you don’t have to tax to spend.

Here’s what else she had to say.


Let’s start from the top. The way the federal government works is it takes in money from taxes, and then it spends it. Right?
Well, that’s the usual belief. How it really works is that there’s a constant overlap of things happening. That when Congress sits down, in an ideal scenario, the House and the Senate would come up with budgets. And in all likelihood, they won’t match exactly. And so there will be reconciliation. The budget will either pass or not. It gets signed by the president or not. Congress is writing down numbers and saying, “This is our intention, to spend in these amounts.” And the budget authorization is given that allows the heads of these agencies to go out and start hiring, engaging in contracts. It’s the authorization from Congress that provides the funding. That triggers the spending.

The conventional wisdom about deficits is that we should always be worried about them. When do you worry about deficits?
I worry not just about the magnitude, but about the purpose. We could add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, as we just did with tax cuts that go disproportionately to people in the top-income distribution, and we could have done, for instance, student debt cancellation at virtually the same price tag. We could have done massive infrastructure investment, or R&D investment.

You can have the same budgetary outcome, but very different economic outcomes, in terms of the potential to boost long-term growth and productivity, impacts on the distribution of income, and so forth. Every economy has its own internal speed limit. You can only absorb so much additional spending at any point in time, given the slack that the economy has at that moment. So can the deficit be too big? Of course! But can it be too small? Yes. And that’s something you rarely hear people say. Or complain about it.

It seems like people forget that balance sheets have two sides.
Government debt is just the money the government spent into the economy and didn’t tax back. That’s all the national debt is. It’s a historical record of all of the times that they made a net deposit, spent more than they taxed out, and the bonds are the difference between those. One of the greatest cons ever perpetrated on the American people is this notion that the national debt belongs to us, that we are responsible in our individual capacity for a share of it.

The national debt clock that counts up exactly how much is owed by every man, woman and child in America!
When I worked on the Hill, one of my favorite exercises was to find elected officials, staffers, and ask them if you had a magic wand, and you could wave it, and eliminate the national debt tomorrow, would you do it? Of course. Who wouldn’t do that? Yes, I mean, the quickest “yes” you ever got in your life.

OK, what if I gave you a different wand, and I told you, you can wave the magic wand, and you can eradicate the world of U.S. Treasuries. There won’t be Treasury notes anymore. They’ll just all be gone. How many members of Congress, would do that?

Zero.
They looked at me with a total blank stare.

Why do you think that people generally, and politicians in particular, are stuck on this notion of the government spending being like a household or an individual?
In some ways, it’s rhetorically convenient. No politician wants to stand, I think, in a town hall meeting and try to explain the intricacies of government finance to constituents. So it’s a convenient narrative to just reinforce the conventional wisdom, the norms of understanding. And I think it also provides political cover.

You advised Sen. Bernie Sanders, and you’re a major proponent of a jobs guarantee, support Medicare for all, free college tuition, and on—all things the left wants. Do you think that modern monetary theory has an inherent set of politics?
No. When we started undertaking the research for this body of scholarship that’s now dubbed MMT, it was an exercise in trying to understand the monetary system, the way things work. We just wanted to get a better understanding of how the economy works, how fiscal and monetary operations work. At least 90% of MMT is descriptive in nature. But if you believe that the economy chronically operates under its full potential, then it makes sense to look for policy recommendations to make things more efficient, to maximize potential output. And MMT’s not the only school of thought that does that. You see that with classical supply-siders as well. They think the way to squeeze out the last bit of potential is largely through tax cuts and deregulation.

What about Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Argentina, and their debt crises? They exist. Why don’t those things worry you?
Well, the debt crises in those countries are worrying to me. But it’s not a lesson for America. You know, back in 2010, at the height of the European debt crisis, I can remember standing in my kitchen with the TV on, and turning on the news, cooking dinner, and seeing the opening to the nightly news. And it goes, dah, dah, dah, the debt crisis in America. And I go, what debt crisis in America? But that is really what the narrative started to become: This is a warning for America. We need to get our fiscal house in order.

What’s different? Look, Italy in 1995 had a debt-to-GDP ratio of around 120%. Spain in 1995 had a debt ratio of 62%. Greek debt-to-GDP over 100% before joining the euro. These countries were borrowing and spending in a currency that they created. Who remembers the debt crisis in Europe in ’95? There was no debt crisis in ’95, because Italy could always meet every obligation that came due, on time, in full, because it was paying in lira. Where and how else is the lira going to come from but the Italian government?

Do you think openness to MMT and view of deficits and government debt is generational? Do old people just not get it?
I think so. For a certain demographic, the ’70s are still kind of a fresh memory, and you know, waiting in long lines to put gas in the car, high inflation. And so that’s a live memory for some demographic. But young people—I mean, Obama’s slogan was “Yes we can.” And then all hell breaks loose, and he’s on TV right after the inauguration saying, we ran out of money, so no, we can’t. And then you get Hillary Clinton’s message, which was pretty much, “Yes, we can a little bit.” And millennials see their future, they see climate change, and they take it seriously. They see the cost of college education. They see problems with health care. They can’t get out of the home and start a life. They’re open to a big, ambitious agenda. The threats are real for them.

The Dangerous Myth Of Deregulation

Trump and his appointees are on a binge of deregulation that masks another kind of trickle-down economics, where the gains go to the top and the rest of us bear the risks and losses.

They say getting rid of regulations frees up businesses to be more profitable. Maybe. But regulations also protect you and me — from being harmed, fleeced, shafted, injured, or sickened by corporate products and services.

So when the Trump administration gets rid of regulations, top executives and big investors may make more money, but the rest of us bear more risks and harm.

After heavy lobbying by the chemical industry, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency has scaled  back the way the government decides whether some of the most dangerous chemicals on the market pose health and safety risks. Which may increase the profits of the chemical industry but will leave the rest of us less protected from toxins that can make their way into dry-cleaning solvents, paint strippers, shampoos and cosmetics.

Scott Pruitt may be gone from the EPA, but Trump put a former coal executive in his place. Which means the EPA will continue to try to repeal the Clean Power Plan, a regulation that set the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from U.S. power plants. If it’s repealed, wealthy shareholders may do better, but most of us will bear the costs of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and faster climate change.

Trump’s Education Department under Betsy DeVos has stopped investigating for-profit colleges. Which may result in more profits for the for-profits, but leaves many young people and their parents more vulnerable to fraud.

Trump’s Labor Department is reducing the number of workers who are eligible for overtime pay. And it’s proposing to allow teenagers to work long hours in dangerous jobs that child labor laws used to protect them from. Again, more profits for business, more cost and risk for the rest of us.

Trump is weakening banking regulations put in place after the financial crisis of 2008, even rolling back the so-called Volcker Rule that prevented banks from gambling with commercial deposits. The result: More profits for the banks, and more risk on you and me.

Trump’s gang of industry lobbyists and executives who are busy deregulating the same industries they once represented will no doubt do very well when they head back into the private sector.

But the rest of us won’t do well. We may not know for years the extent we’re unprotected – until the next financial collapse, next public health crisis, next upsurge in fraud, or next floods or droughts because the EPA failed to do what it could to slow and reverse climate change.

Don’t fall for it. Trump’s binge of deregulation is just another form of trickle-down economics – where the gains go the top, and nothing trickles down except risks and losses.

End The Unconstitutional War In Yemen Now

Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Ro Khanna (CA-17), Adam Smith (WA-09), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Michael Capuano (MA-07), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Barbara Lee (CA-13), and Adriano Espaillat (NY-13) today announced the introduction of a House privileged resolution to remove U.S. military forces supporting Saudi Arabia’s devastating war in Yemen.

U.S. support of this conflict continues to fuel the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, killing over 5,000 civilians, and at least 50,000 dead as a result of mass starvation, famine and cholera outbreaks.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said:

“For too long, the United States has turned a blind eye to the atrocities being committed against civilians in Yemen by the Saudi-U.S. coalition. Just last month, the Saudi-led coalition dropped a U.S.-made bomb in adevastating attack on a school bus that killed 40 children; just the latest in a long string of horrors in this genocidal war that has killed tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians, with bombs and mass starvation, creating the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

“Yet today in Yemen, our military continues to wage this interventionist war alongside Saudi Arabia, unauthorized by Congress. The time for crocodile tears and baseless platitudes is over. Enough is enough. The U.S. must end its support for Saudi Arabia, and stop waging interventionist wars that increase destruction, death, and suffering around the world, drain our resources here at home, and threaten our own national security.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is a leading voice for peace in Congress, advocating against counterproductive, regime-change wars. She has condemned U.S. support of Saudi Arabia in the Yemen civil war, pushed for additional oversight on acquisition and cross-service agreements (Section 1271 of the FY19 NDAA), and supported H. Con. Res. 81, a bipartisan resolution that sought to stop U.S. military participation in Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthis in Yemen, and more.

Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Walter Jones also introduced H.Res 922, which would reclaim Congress’s constitutional right to declare war by:

  • Defining presidential wars not declared by Congress under Article I, section 8, clause 11 (Declare War Clause) as impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors”
  • Prohibiting the President from perpetuating ongoing wars or supplying war materials, military troops, trainers, or advisers, military intelligence, financial support or their equivalent in association, cooperation, assistance, or common cause without first receiving congressional authorization