Archive

January 24th, 2016

Ted Cruz, Donald Trump lead the GOP panic parade

    What's the most clearly defining moment so far in the 2016 presidential race? My choice would be Republican candidate Ted Cruz's New Hampshire campaign stop last March where he demonstrated his ability to frighten small children.

    "The Obama-Clinton foreign policy of leading from behind," he preached passionately to a packed room assembled by the Strafford County Republican. "The whole world's on fire!"

    "The whole world's on fire?" asked a clearly concerned little girl who sitting in the front row with her mother.

    The crowd chuckled. Cruz, without skipping a beat, solemnly approached the little girl and offered comfort. "The world is on fire. Yes!" he said. "But you know what? Your mommy's here, and everyone's here to make sure that the world you grow up in is even better."

    Sweet. The audience applauded and a tense moment for the child, identified by news reports as 3-year-old Julie Trant with her mother Michelle, was softened. Yay.

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Sanders Proves the Pundits Wrong

    The problem with applying conventional wisdom to political campaigns is that it can suddenly be upended by an unconventional campaign.

    National media pundits have been riveted by Donald Trump’s flagrantly narcissistic run for the Republican presidential nomination. But Exhibit A for the most remarkable political challenge to conventional wisdom is Bernie Sanders and his totally unconventional, unabashedly populist run for the Democratic nomination.

    When the Vermont senator launched his campaign last May, the snarky cognoscenti pronounced his effort dead on arrival. Not a chance, they snorted, that a 74-year-old, Jewish, democratic socialist going against Hillary Clinton’s powerhouse machine — and daring to call for a people’s revolution against Wall Street and reckless corporate elites — could come close to winning.

    But Bernie’s authenticity and straight talk have mocked the cynicism of the “wise ones” and shocked the self-assured Clintonites. Huge crowds have turned out to cheer Bernie as he denounces the chasm of inequality ripping America apart.

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Republicans warm to the idea of Presidsent Trump

    Fifty-six percent of Republican and GOP-leaning voters nationally think Donald Trump would make a great or good president. That's higher than it is for any other GOP candidate. Ted Cruz is the only other one who is seen by a majority of GOP voters (53 percent) as potentially a good or great president.

    Apparently describing yourself regularly as great and promising that your presidency will make everything great is enough to lead a nontrivial number of voters to think you'd be a great president. Who knew it could be that easy?

    The GOP problem, in a nutshell, is this: Among American voters overall, more (52 percent) see Trump as a "terrible" president than say that about any other candidate. (Forty four percent say that about Hillary Clinton.)

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January 23rd

Bill Clinton feels New Hampshire voters' pain

    No one in politics is better than Bill Clinton at diagnosing the mood of the electorate, of putting voters' anxieties and frustration into the larger context of the performance of government and the economy. No one is more capable -- especially when the political fortunes of his wife are at risk -- of an ill-timed eruption.

    The Clinton who turned up at a campaign rally here Wednesday was Dr. Bill, not Pop-off Bill -- notwithstanding a new poll showing Hillary Clinton trailing Bernie Sanders in the state, 33 percent to the Vermont senator's 60 percent. New Hampshire, Clinton noted, "has been so good to me and Hillary," and yet, "I know we're in a hard fight here, and I know we're running against your neighbor."

    The former president's approach was not to berate Sanders' supporters or dispute their existence; it was, in classic Clinton fashion, to feel their pain. "People who feel left out and left behind -- they should be mad, and they should feel left out and left behind," Clinton said. But -- and this is increasingly the central message of the Clinton campaign -- "what they need now is not anger but answers."

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Republican race enters its survivor phase

    Technically, presidential nominations are supposed to be won through the votes of delegates at the national conventions. The possibility of contested conventions aside, however, we know that victory really depends on winning the largest number of delegates in primaries and caucuses. So the rules for how those delegates are apportioned are incredibly important, right?

    Well, sort of. If there is a closely contested fight all the way to June, then yes, it matters a lot how states allocate delegates. The Democrats use a proportional system everywhere: Candidates amass delegates based on their share of the vote. Republicans use the proportional method in some states, including Iowa and New Hampshire, where the first votes of 2016 will be cast. Other states follow a pure winner-take-all approach, while most (such as South Carolina, the third state on the calendar) have some combination or hybrid of the two.

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Palin, Trump, Cruz and Corn

    Sarah Palin is really falling apart.

    “Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic, the ramifications of that betrayal of a transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, OK?” Palin told the crowd at her big announcement endorsing Donald Trump.

    The man himself was standing next to her, with a half-smile. Hard to tell if it was self-satisfaction or the look someone might get when trapped at a dinner party next to a stranger who’s describing how she met President William Henry Harrison in a past life.

    Even though Palin seemed to have a script, it didn’t help. “He is from the private sector, not a politician. Can I get a hallelujah? Where in the private sector you actually have to balance budgets in order to prioritize, to keep the main thing, the main thing, and he knows the main thing,” she continued.

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Obama Takes a Walk on the Greener Side

    Until now, President Barack Obama has embraced gas and oil fracking, encouraged the construction of new nuclear reactors, and hailed government investment in wind and solar power. In keeping with this “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, he’d call for climate action one minute and sign off on measures destined to boost carbon pollution the next.

    Suddenly, it looks like Obama may have ditched his inherently contradictory approach.

    “We’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy,” he asserted during his final State of the Union address. “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”

    Just three days later, the Obama administration moved in that direction by declaring a three-year moratorium on new leases to mine coal from federal land.

    Obama’s speech also cast switching to renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels in a business-friendly light.

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Let’s Put Prison Sentences on Probation

    You may have heard there’s a growing political movement against mass incarceration. Someone should clue in the judges.

    In the past 30 years, federal judges have turned to imprisonment — as opposed to probation — as the punishment of choice for even minor crimes, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. During that same period, federal cases have tripled in number.

    The Pew study reports that “nine in 10 federal offenders received prison sentences in 2014, up from less than half in 1980, as the use of probation steadily declined.” Despite the ballooning number of cases in that time, 2014 saw 2,300 fewer probation sentences than 1980.

    Part of the fault lies with the draconian mandatory minimum sentences that Congress passed in the 1980s and 1990s as it ratcheted up the so-called war on drugs. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told a group at Harvard Law School in mid-January that these laws have had a “devastating effect on poor communities, and were a drastic and ineffective response to the drug scourge of the 1980s.”

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Justices only tinker with death-penalty rules

    Any remaining suspicion that the Supreme Court is soft on the death penalty should be dispelled by Wednesday's judgment in two cases challenging capital sentences in Kansas. In an 8-1 decision, the justices reinstated two death sentences that had been overturned by the Kansas Supreme Court.

    The state court had said that jurors must be told expressly that mitigating circumstances introduced by the defense didn't need to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, as findings for the prosecution must be proved. But the U.S. Supreme Court said no such instruction was necessary. Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor dissented, which means that the other three liberals joined the opinion, including Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, who've said they think the death penalty in general is unconstitutional.

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Judging a bribe is hard if it's unsuccessful

    Who put the quid in the quid pro quo? Was it the same person who put the ram in the rama lama ding dong? The Supreme Court said Friday that it would consider a version of this eternal question in the appeal of Bob McDonnell, the convicted former governor of Virginia.

    To be specific, the court will decide whether the federal crime of bribing an official requires that the official actually do something specific in return for the bribe, or whether it's enough for the official to do his usual job while generally hoping to influence policy in favor of the person who gave the bribe. The issue has major significance for all public officials -- and for the private actors who hope to influence them, whether legally or illegally.

    The basic facts of McDonnell's case: Jonnie Williams Sr., the chief executive of Star Scientific, a dietary supplement company, hoped to get public universities in Virginia to test a tobacco-based anti-inflammatory product called Anatabloc. Granted immunity by the court, Williams testified that, in pursuit of that goal, he gave McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, more than $175,000 worth of gifts, including a Rolex watch.

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