17 October 2012 — The Real News Network
Is there a significant difference between the candidates on foreign or domestic policy?
Watch full multipart Second Presidential Debate 2012
William K. Black, author of THE BEST WAY TO ROB A BANK IS TO OWN ONE, teaches economics and law at the University of Missouri Kansas City (UMKC). He was the Executive Director of the Institute for Fraud Prevention from 2005-2007. He has taught previously at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and at Santa Clara University, where he was also the distinguished scholar in residence for insurance law and a visiting scholar at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Black was litigation director of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, deputy director of the FSLIC, SVP and general counsel of the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco, and senior deputy chief counsel, Office of Thrift Supervision. He was deputy director of the National Commission on Financial Institution Reform, Recovery and Enforcement. Black developed the concept of “control fraud” frauds in which the CEO or head of state uses the entity as a “weapon.” Control frauds cause greater financial losses than all other forms of property crime combined. He recently helped the World Bank develop anti-corruption initiatives and served as an expert for OFHEO in its enforcement action against Fannie Mae’s former senior management. Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America’s Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
President Obama and governor/candidate Romney held their second presidential debate. And now joining us to give their views on all of this is—first of all, from New York City, is Glen Ford. Glen is the cofounder and executive editor of Black Agenda Report.
And joining us also, from Kansas City, Missouri, is Bill Black. He’s an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri–Kansas City and he’s the author of the book The Best Way to Rob a Bank Is to Own One. Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us.
GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you.
BILL BLACK, ASSOC. PROF. ECONOMICS AND LAW, UMKC: Thank you.
JAY: So, Bill, first of all, your reaction to the debate.
BLACK: Well, first a confession. I was a high school and a college debater and, you know, went to nationals and qualified in all those things, so I’ve seen a lot of the best debaters, at least of my generation, in the nation. And so it’s always painful to watch a debate by folks like this, because they’re really not very good at it. [incompr.] don’t do the political stuff of who won or lost, because that’s not my area of expertise, but I can certainly talk about the missed opportunities by both gentlemen.
JAY: Yeah, go ahead.
JAY: Yeah, go ahead.
BLACK: Okay. So there—people should look at the New York Times article that’s just running about the incredible surge in inequality, the highest since the Great Depression, in which 93 percent of the income gains in the first year of the recovery from the Great Recession went to the top 1 percent, where the 1 percent now have more wealth disparity than any time in 75 years, and where it is estimated that the top 1 percent have greater wealth than the bottom 90 percent of the nation. So when President Obama says to Governor Romney, you only have one plan, really, one stage to it, this is what he should have hit them with, and say, this is precisely what your policies will make worse.
Second, there’s the Washington Post story that goes through this supposed 12 or 13 million jobs that Romney says he’s going to create and claims there are studies. And, of course, even in the world of politics, this is so unbelievably bogus in this case as to be embarrassing. And so, you know, in combination, when Governor Romney was asked by the audience member, exactly what are you going to cut in the way of these tax loopholes for the rich, and refused to answer the question, Obama says nothing about you were asked a question and you refused. So that’s the leading missed opportunities, I thought, from the standpoint of President Obama.
JAY: Alright. Glen, what’s your reaction to the debate?
FORD: Well, my reaction is that I—it never ceases to amaze me how the age of—not of Obama, but of the bankers, turned out to be such a boring, very boring time, in which issues are not addressed because the two candidates are so thoroughly vetted that in fact they do agree about almost everything. I can find very little light between these two people, especially in terms of foreign policy.
We have this effort by Romney to make some kind of disagreement in terms of policy in the Muslim world because of the administration’s failure in the days right after the attack in Benghazi to label it what it was—in fact an attack, political attack on U.S. personnel. Well, you know, I see that what Romney is doing is trying to say that the president either is not in control of his foreign policy or is confused or is somehow not being stalwart and manly enough. And so the difference between the Romney policy and the Obama policy would be that Romney would be more manly. But in fact there’s no difference here.
And, of course, what was actually occuring in Benghazi was that the administration, knowing full well that the jihadis who were not their jihadis had launched an attack on their ambassador, but knowing that that was a politically very sensitive subject, since the American people knew that the United States was funneling weapons to folk that the American people could not see any difference between—al-Qaeda and those folk—that that would be a big political question. But you can’t have that kind of argument about the blowback that comes from U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, the siding with jihadis in Libya. And, of course, that same policy in Syria, when both of these idiots are intent on not addressing the real issue.
FORD: So I find these exercises extremely frustrating and really something that I would only do because I’m supposed to.
JAY: ‘Cause we booked you for the panel. So you had to watch.
JAY: Bill, what do you make of Glen’s argument? I think on foreign policy it’s pretty clear there’s not a heck of a lot of difference between these two guys. On domestic policy, do you think there are significant differences?
BLACK: Well, to start with foreign policy, I was, you know, in [incompr.] Center College for the vice presidential debate, and Glen’s point was made explicitly by Biden. Indeed, both of Glen’s point were made explicitly by Biden. He said, substantively our policies are identical; the only difference is they want to claim that they’re tough, even though they have identical policies that we have. So I’m all with Glen there.
In terms of differences in terms of domestic policies, there are some pretty dramatic differences, and the president didn’t make terribly clear in many opportunities those differences. So, for example, when Romney begins his ode to Pell Grants, which are the grants for university education, the president doesn’t come back and say, wait a minute, your own site, website, says that you want to cut Pell Grants. What are you talking about, expanding Pell Grants? You know. When the Ledbetter legislation comes up, nothing is said by the president about, you know, this is passed over the almost complete opposition of the right, including Romney’s vice president.
There’s no discussion of what it means in terms of judicial appointments, which is one of the biggest things, right, where you have a whole bunch of top people vote at the Supreme Court level and the appellate courts. Right now, we cannot get through virtually any important regulation through the D.C. circuit, ’cause there’s a majority of ultra right wing justices who have brought back, in essence, substantive due process, which means they decide whether they think a law is a good law or a bad law and they strike it down. And the only reason—.
JAY: You’re talking about financial regulation.
BLACK: Not just financial regulation, although—.
JAY: You’re talking about financial regulation, or other regulations as well?
BLACK: Potentially all regulations. Right now they’ve ginned up a doctrine to go after the Securities and Exchange Commission in particular, but there is an effort by conservative Democrats working with Republicans to extend—to pass a new law extending precisely this kind of review to all regulation, including by independent regulatory agencies. And if that happens, then effectively the D.C. circuit, controlled by this ultra-right majority, is going to be the de facto Supreme Court. And there would already be a Democratic majority but for the fact that the Republicans have filibustered and prevented all three of the vacancies in the D.C. circuit from being filled. So that plays out—I mean, that’s simply the most dramatic in that particular area.
JAY: And is there indication—and is there evidence that if there was a Democratic majority, they would act any differently?
BLACK: Yeah, there is. I mean, that is supposed to be one of the big priorities. But, of course, what we’re going to have to see is: are the Senate Democrats actually going to force the Republicans to filibuster for 100 days, right, and say, no, there will be no, you know, judges appointed that are not conservative wackos, even though you have a majority of the Senate Democrat? If they’re going to do that, force them to do that.
JAY: And, Glen, what is your take? I mean, are there some significant differences in terms of domestic policy? And I guess you can break that up into economic and then more social issues, but start with economic.
FORD: Well, it depends on what you call significant. I mean, we’ve always complimented the Obama administration in terms of the Pell Grants and to disallowing the banks to just stand there without risking any money and as middle men and make money on Pell Grants. That was a commonsensical thing.
BLACK: Policy Romney wants to bring back.
FORD: And that would be terrible, terrible in terms of how important Pell Grants are. I don’t think that those are the central, core issues. I think Pell Grants [incompr.] suffer once we head into the austerity frenzy anyway. And the differences become even smaller and smaller.
But when you have these two guys who essentially agree about 90 percent of the stuff and also are trying to impress the same audience, and it’s not you and it’s not me, then you get this curious situation in which perfectly reasonable questions never get asked. For example, as they argue about how much Mitt Romney might cut from various taxes and how much, supposedly, Obama will sink the country into debt, nobody talks about what stake the people on the other end of these—of austerity have in whether rich people get a small increase in taxes, a modest one, as Obama says, or not. What do we care if our programs are cut, are eliminated or drastically reduced, whether on the other side of the ledger, as if there are other sides of ledgers in those situations, some rich guy has to pay a token amount of money more? How does the person who loses their service benefit by some very rich person paying a little bit more in taxes? Why is it acceptable to that poor person, that person in need, to lose something that they desperately need just because a rich person might pay some more taxes? And if you look at it that way, then what really is the difference between Obama‘s take on austerity—I will cut if you will also charge modestly more to certain very high income earners—when the consequence to the people who are cut are not mitigated by the fact that someone else pays more?
JAY: Bill, what do you think of Glen’s point?
BLACK: Well, I’ve written things that I think Glen would agree with strongly, that austerity is a tremendous danger.
By the way, Romney has admitted—in fact, his phrase is: austerity by definition would throw us into recession or depression, so of course I’m not going to do that. Right? So you can then choose to believe or not believe.
But what I’ve written is, if Obama wins reelection, progressives’ great battle is going to be the twofold battle of preventing Obama from reaching some grand deal with the Republicans to adopt austerity, and secondly, to begin the destruction of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. I think, politically, just as only a conservative Republican like Nixon could go to what was then called red China, only a Democrat can begin the process of killing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And given many statements that Obama has made, his close connections with the Clinton administration and all these rumors that he is going to put in an even more conservative Treasury secretary dedicated—you know, whose life has largely been dedicated to austerity and fighting social security (this is Bowles), I really fear what will happen on that series of issues.
JAY: Okay. Go ahead.
FORD: That’s absolutely clear. He’s had Social Security in his sights from the very beginning. He announced it two weeks before his own inauguration, that Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid were all going to be on the table for chopping. And that was at the moment of his peak political popularity, before he had an enemy in the world, since he wasn’t even president yet. So, yes, he’s always done that. And last year he had almost—it appeared that he had his grand bargain with the Republicans. The figure, in terms of the number, seemed to be one that they shared—$4 trillion. And the only dispute was, it appeared, whether there would be some kind of very modest tax increase for the rich, which the Republicans balked at, even though it appeared that the consequences to the poor would be just as horrific, whether the rich were penalized somewhat or not.
JAY: Okay. Just a final question to Glen, and then I’ll give the same question to Bill. So if you’re in a swing state and your vote could matter between a Romney, Obama—and of course there will be other candidates from other parties, like the Green Party—but if you’re in a swing state, what do you do, Glen?
FORD: [incompr.] already voted. And I don’t know if New Jersey is a swing state. I don’t believe it is. But I certainly didn’t vote for Obama and I didn’t vote for Romney. I voted for the Green Party, because at least they have a skeleton of an infrastructure and one might hope that it becomes a real party someday.
JAY: And you would have voted that way—if you’d been in a swing state, you would have voted that way?
FORD: I’m—we’re not going to vote for the more effective evil anywhere—
JAY: Okay. Bill, same question.
FORD: —under any circumstances.
JAY: Bill, same question to you.
BLACK: Well, I am in a swing state. Yeah, I’m in a swing state, certainly on the Senate side, and I certainly believe, because of the social issues and, actually, at least Obama‘s tired of getting us in new wars, I end up being a clear supporter of that. I would issue the caution, in Ireland, the Green Party became one of the grave problems in adopting austerity. [crosstalk] Green is no [incompr.]
JAY: But quite a different Green Party than this one, no?
BLACK: Not necessarily. At root they had many of the same beliefs, and they’re vulnerable to these arguments that anybody reasonable must admit that the deficit is immoral, as the president—I mean, he used the word if before it, but I don’t think many people heard the if.
JAY: Okay. Glen, maybe you want to respond to that.
BLACK: So he seemed to embrace Romney’s view.
FORD: Well, in terms of the Greens, I don’t think the Greens even within the party are united enough to be for anybody to be afraid that they would present any problem with austerity or not.
FORD: It’s an evolving kind of situation.
JAY: Alright, gentlemen. Thank you both very much. And thank you—.
FORD: Thank you.
BLACK: Thank you.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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