Archive

February 9th, 2016

Hillary Clinton is the establishment

    After Thursday night's debate, I've got a piece of unsolicited advice for Hillary Clinton. Don't use this line again: "Senator Sanders is the only person who I think would characterize me, a woman running to be the first woman president, as exemplifying the establishment."

    The problem with the remark is obvious. Clinton does not merely exemplify the establishment. She and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, are the Democratic Party establishment. We're in the realm of description, not characterization. That candidate Clinton could deliver her line with a straight face goes to the heart of her trustworthiness problem.

    She really believes she can put a line like that over on us?

    Just the night before, in the Derry, New Hampshire, town hall, Clinton had explained her motivation for running for president as "the concerns I had about the Republicans taking back the White House, because I think they wrecked what we achieved in the 1990s with 23 million new jobs and incomes going up for everybody. I did not want to see that happen again."

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GOP candidates slash and bash

    Heading into New Hampshire, the race for the nomination of the once-genteel Republican Party seems to have entered a kind of Mad Max phase.

    It is no surprise that Donald Trump is doing his best to create political mayhem. Trump was uncharacteristically subdued Monday night when he underperformed in Iowa, getting beaten by Ted Cruz and barely holding on to second place. But within 24 hours he was back in form, slashing and burning with abandon.

    Trump seized on Ben Carson's complaint that Cruz's representatives at the Iowa caucuses had cheated, falsely leading Carson supporters to believe that their candidate was pulling out of the race; the message was that if they wanted their votes to count, they should cast them for Cruz. Trump thundered on Twitter that the "state of Iowa" should nullify the results and order a do-over -- never mind that it is the Iowa Republican Party, not the state government, that runs the caucuses.

    "Oh that voter fraud, you know, these politicians are brutal," Trump said at a rally. "They are a bunch of dishonest cookies, I want to tell you."

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Good luck reaching conclusions about monetary policy

    With the U.S. economy mostly recovered from the Great Recession, arguments about monetary policy have died down a bit. But the lessons of the slow recovery are still percolating through the economics profession. The years 2008 through 2014 saw some monetary experiments that were unprecedented in the U.S. -- a long period of zero interest rates, several versions of quantitative easing, new types of forward guidance and the payment of interest on excess reserves. Although these experiments give us a lot of new information, the lessons are not clear, and continue to provoke spirited debate.

    One of the most interesting debaters is Narayana Kocherlakota, former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. Kocherlakota became famous for switching his outlook on macroeconomic policy -- once among the most hawkish of the inflation hawks, he now wants to use easy monetary policy to boost employment. Kocherlakota has recently begun to make his thoughts known on Twitter, and has started blogging as well.

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Five myths about the New Hampshire primary

    This year marks the 100th anniversary of the New Hampshire primary, and some potent myths and misunderstandings have grown up about the Granite State's political process over the past century. To begin with, New Hampshire, which prides itself on having the nation's first primary every four years, got into the game late, after Wisconsin and Florida. When New Hampshire held its first one, it was tied for second on the calendar with Minnesota, a week behind Indiana. Since 1920, its primary has been first in the nation, and the state has fought to keep that position. State law requires that the New Hampshire primary be held at least one week before any similar contest, and the Democratic and Republican parties help enforce its spot. But it might not last: Other states are envious of New Hampshire's role, and the parties are nervous about how much influence it has in choosing the nominees. For now, though, these myths are as persistent as the primary.

 

    1. New Hampshire is dominated by independent voters.

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Clinton's email scandal: Whodunit?

    The Hillary Clinton email issue is developing into a real whodunit, complete with Clintonesque legal semantics. "I never sent or received any material marked classified," she said with respect to the discovery of classified information on her private, unclassified email server. That surface denial nearly rivals Bill Clinton's classic: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

    But this is no laughing matter.

    There is nothing trivial about a secretary of state having top-secret information on an unsecured computer in her home. That appears to have been the case, based on the State Department's announcement last week that 22 emails, across seven email chains, containing top- secret information wereon Hillary Clinton's private email server.

    At issue is whether the information in the emails was classified when it was sent to her unsecured server. It was, after all, the State Department, upon review of the content by intelligence agencies, that upgraded the emails to top-secret and ordered them withheld from the public.

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Campaign finance makes for a fair race after all

    Here's some evidence that the financial side of the current presidential election is not "rigged," as candidates, and particularly Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, like to say. Sanders out-raised Hillary Clinton in January, and "non- establishment" candidates in general have been doing great so far as far as campaign funding goes.

    The Sanders campaign recently boasted that it had raised $20 million in January from 770,000 contributions (about $26 on average, and 70 percent of the donations smaller than $200). The Clinton campaign raised only $15 million, as its manager Robby Mook says in emails to supporters, complaining that the former secretary of State has been "dramatically out-raised," which makes it hard for her to compete in New Hampshire where's she's "heavily outspent on the airwaves."

    Sanders is not the only candidate undermining the widespread theory that U.S. elections are inherently corrupt, especially since the 2010 Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court, which held that advertising in favor or against candidates by outside groups should be protected as free speech.

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A tale of two parties

    After the Iowa caucuses and on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, an avalanche of presidential candidate appearances on television has provided a sharp contrast between the two political parties, with the Republican brand the clear loser.

    For openers, Donald Trump capped his loss to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa by becoming a petulant sore loser. He accused Cruz of pulling a dirty trick on fading Dr. Ben Carson and then threatened to file suit to throw out the Iowa result.

    Trump charged Cruz with falsely spreading word via CNN that Carson was dropping out of the race, purportedly to corral his caucus-goers at the 11th hour, when Carson had said he was merely going to Florida for a breather.

    Trump for his part followed his own defeat in Iowa with a detour to another overflow rally in Arkansas, which doesn't hold its primary for nearly a month. The apparent purpose was to get a needed ego boost after the first loss of the man who claimed to be a sure winner everywhere.

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What a politics reporter learned helping a refugee family stranded at the airport

    Occasionally, something happens to put real life into perspective - even when I am living inside the noise that is a presidential campaign.

    I had first noticed the exhausted young family at the O'Hare airport gate in Chicago Wednesday afternoon, as I was waiting to board my connection from Iowa to New Hampshire. They were a couple with two children - a baby and a toddler, who was sprawled out sleeping on the floor of the terminal. It turned out they were in the row behind me on the plane.

    As we got off in Manchester, the gate agent pulled me aside. "Could you keep an eye on them?" she asked. They didn't speak any English, and seemed mystified by the baggage claim. That was when I noticed the International Organization for Migration card the father was wearing on a string around his neck. It identified them as Congolese refugees. Their bag - a bag, not luggage - came off the belt. It was no bigger than my own suitcase, and I assume it contained everything they owned.

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The blurb heard round the world

    Want a strange out-of-body experience? Try this one: sitting on the couch, watching TV, when suddenly -- on NBC's "Meet the Press," "ABC's This Week" and CNN's "Democratic Town Hall from Manchester, N.H." -- you hear the host badger Sen. Bernie Sanders about a blurb he wrote for your new book.

    OMG. Months ago, when Sen. Sanders, Congressman Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich were kind enough to offer back cover blurbs for my book, who would have thought that one of them would emerge as a leading candidate for president of the United States -- or that his opponent, unfairly, in my opinion, would try to beat him over the head with it.

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Sanders has a point: What good are private insurers?

    When I was a university student in Canada, I heard an economics professor explain the difference between U.S. and Canadian health care in a way that went something like this: Most U.S. hospitals have rooms full of staff whose only job is to trade paperwork with private insurance companies. The cost of that staff gets added to everyone's bill.

    A Canadian hospital, by contrast, might have a handful of people with that job -- but mostly for when an American tourist breaks a leg skiing or gets too close to a moose. The government pays for Canadian patients' care; there are no claim forms necessary, no contracts to negotiate. Leave aside lower spending and greater access, the whole thing is just easier.

    The popularity of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders's government-run, "Medicare for All" plan highlights how different health care is in the U.S. compared with the rest of the developed world, and not always in a flattering way. That difference often gets reduced to tax levels and size of government. But it's also worth considering a fundamental question: What good are private health insurers anyway?

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