Wednesday, May 27, 2015


A number of right-wing bloggers are treating this National Review story as a scoop:
Before the crash that she blamed on speculators, Senator Elizabeth Warren made a bundle by flipping houses.
"Before"? You mean immediately before?

Well, no -- all the houses mentioned in the NR story were purchased in the early 1990s. This had nothing to do with the housing crash that happened fifteen or so years later.

And what's peculiar about this story is that it was already reported back in the summer of 2012 by the right-wing Boston Herald, during Warren's Senate campaign against Scott Brown. The story made the conservative rounds then -- Breitbart, Glenn Beck's Blaze, Fox Nation, PJ Media -- and because the story broke at around the time Warren was also fielding questions about her claim of Cherokee ancestry, some conservative commentators weaved the two alleged scandals together in the charming manner we associate with the right. (Headline at Wizbang: "Elizabeth Warren helped family flip wigwams for heap big wampum.")

As a 2012 story at MassLive noted, Warren said this was all intended to help her family:
Reporters Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Elizabeth Warren and her husband lent money to family members to purchase the houses mentioned in the article. Warren didn't purchase the homes directly, according to her campaign.

Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Elizabeth Warren dismissed Republican criticisms about past real estate transactions on Tuesday, following a conference call hosted by the Massachusetts GOP targeting the Harvard Law School professor on the topic.

The Republicans referenced a recent Boston Herald report which listed several instances where Warren and her husband Bruce Mann lent money to family members who purchased houses, rehabilitated them and sold them for profits. Most of the transactions took place in the 1990s and one took place in 2000, according to the Herald, but all were well ahead of the U.S. housing market collapse....

Warren's campaign said the claims were baseless and that she and her husband helped family members purchase the houses, since they were in a financially secure position to do so.

"Elizabeth and Bruce are fortunate to be able to help their family," said Alethea Harney, Warren's press secretary, in a statement. "They have been able to help relatives buy their homes and after Elizabeth's brother lost his job as a construction worker, Elizabeth and Bruce were able to provide him support to buy and fix up properties."
This was all hashed out in 2012, and it obviously didn't bother Massachusetts voters very much, because Warren won the election. I don't know why National Review is revisiting the story, except that maybe somebody thought she'd be announcing a presidential campaign right around now. Even so, the questions raised by the story were asked and answered years ago.

NR's reporters don't add much. They try to find human suffering caused by Warren -- and fail miserably:
Nearly two years after Veo Vessels died, her daughter, 70-year-old Mary Frances Hickman, decided to sell the home her mother had left to her. A sprawling brick house in Oklahoma City’s historic Highland Park neighborhood, it was built in 1924, just a year after Mary’s birth.

Decades later, one of Vessels’ great-grandchildren fondly recalls the wood and tile floors, the fish pond, the butler’s quarters, and the multi-car garage where children played house.

“It was really, really nice,” says Hickman’s granddaughter, Andrea Martin. That’s part of the reason she’s so surprised her grandmother sold the home in 1993 for a mere $30,000. Despite a debilitating stroke, Martin says Hickman remained sharp, and she had always been business-savvy. As an Avon saleswoman, she had at times ranked among the top ten in the country. “So I don’t know why,” Martin says. “Maybe she just wanted out from underneath it, but to sell it for such a low number -- I don’t know. Maybe she got bad advice, maybe she was just tired.”

The home’s new owner: Elizabeth Warren....
So ... the family is bitterly angry at Warren? Well, no:
Hickman’s granddaughter Martin says of the home flip: “I don’t think it’s right, but I don’t really know much about it.... You flip houses to make a profit, so I can’t really fault [Warren] much. I think my grandmother made a mistake by selling it for so cheap.... She had worked hard all her life and was a self-made woman.”

Don Vessels -- a grandson of Veo Vessels, and the nephew of Mary Frances Hickman -- said he had not known that Warren had purchased the family home, but “my reaction is that it’s kind of par for the course.” He added: “What’s said and what’s done in politics are two different things. Mary Hickman, being the executor of the estate, should have sold it for the highest price on the market, which I’m not sure she did. But the house was not in fantastic shape, I can tell you that. It was a very nice house when it was purchased, but my grandmother kind of let it fall into disrepair.”
That's the best NR can do to try to turn Warren into a greedy, heartless hypocrite.

But, um, isn't it wrong on (liberal) principle to buy foreclosed homes and profit from them?

In a normally functioning mortgage market, there'll always be some people who simply can't make the payments and can't work out some other way to hold on to a home (or who'll choose to sell at an inappropriately low price). Responsible lenders try to lend to people who can pay their mortgages, but a certain percentage can't, and thus go into foreclosure.

That's very, very different from what caused the housing crash. The housing crash happened because amoral lenders were making loans to people they knew couldn't pay; the lenders then bundled these bad loans, sold them as blue-chip investments, pocketed the profits, then got away with slaps on the wrist when the whole thing fell apart and the rest of us were left to suffer the consequences. The outrage was that financial institutions were writing loans that were designed to go bad. The bad loans themselves were the problem.

So this is old news about alleged hypocrisy that's nothing of the sort. But it got some wingnut hearts pounding for a while today.


Dark Avenger said...

What you expect from the party of family values---Mafia Family values.

Daro said...

Is the Reich Wing falling into the politics of envy? Will they start egging RMoney's chateau? (The one with the car elevator).

Victor said...

Never mind '6 degrees of separation.'

For the conservatives, 10 degrees of separation is enough.

mccamj said...

Same old crap. Look! A liberal did something in the free market! Yikes.

This has to be pushed back against. I don't think real progressives think that any market transactions are wrong (what the RWNJ think we think). We're just looking for the gov't to be a fair regulator.

petrilli said...

I don't see a pressing need for the right to target Warren right now on their own. Plenty of fresh reasons for Obama to do it. The White House could easily catapult a Warren hit piece over the transom at National Review. But this shopworn turd will go nowhere. Warren's supporters will see right through it, and wingnuts are happy enough with their Indian tomahawk chop chant.

petrilli said...

Here's a recent Warren smear, who's genesis I responsibly speculate has Obama's fingerprints all over it. Look for a reprise of her consulting work for Dow, and the Travelors Mesothelioma lawsuit. All addressed in her senate campaign when she kicked Scott Browns ass.

paulocanning said...

Here was some of what I wrote about Warren's ancestry issue and the problem that Native Americans had with her back in 2012

As an outsider I was amazed how liberal, Democratic America without a thought threw Natives under the bus. Would simply not have happened in Canada or Australia.

Could have been a 'teachable moment' but is now totally forgotten.

Steve M. said...

There was some skepticism about that group from others who claim Cherokee ancestry. Me, I just assumed it was furtively funded by Karl Rove or the Kochs.

It may be insulting to Native people, but a lot of ordinary white (and black) Americans claim Native ancestry, often with little proof. Yes, it's a discussion worth having. I'll confess, though, that if having it at that time would have meant reelecting that self-satisfied corporate lackey Scott Brown, I'm glad we put it off.

paulocanning said...

Thanks for response Steve.

I should explain that having lived in Australia and worked with Aboriginal people I came to this with baggage. This includes knowing from hard won experience that all indigenous people don't think the same!

What especially struck me was the absence of Native people in the media response. It did not occur to almost the entire liberal media to even seek their opinion. Maddow would speak to Harris-Perry as if she were an expert and they had no clue how insulting they were being. Kos would call Cherokees Swift Boaters. Then there was the way liberals behaved to Natives actually on their side who asked questions (the behaviour at the DNC for example).

So you couldn't have had the discussion because certain voices weren't allowed. It was just a bunch of white people fighting with each other.

It spoke to me about how Native Americans really are invisible. This came through loud and clear from reading what Native Americans of all opinions were saying at the time and from those I spoke with. Therefore I think it is worth rexamining. I'm surprised it has not been better documented but then why would it be? Who would do that? And it feels downright weird for me, a Brit, a redcoat, to keep bringing it up.

But thanks for engaging and not assuming I'm a Koch operative (I got that back then, numerous times)!