Archive

April 4th, 2016

In Trump's shadow is an epic Democratic contest

    If not for a certain Manhattan billionaire, Bernie Sanders' surprising strength and Hillary Clinton's relative weakness would be the big political story of the year.

    Democrats are fortunate that bloody insurrection is roiling the Republican Party. Clinton -- the likely Democratic nominee -- will almost surely face either Donald Trump, who is toxic to most of the electorate, or an alternative chosen at the GOP convention and seen by Trumpistas as a usurper.

    Clinton would be favored to beat either Trump or his closest challenger, Ted Cruz, whose ultraconservative views would be expected to repel independent voters. But Democrats should be thankful that John Kasich, who could have broad appeal, is almost surely too moderate to win the nomination of a Republican Party dragged to the far-right fringe by its angry base.

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Two metrics to watch in the jobs report

    Not so long ago, the number of jobs created in the prior month was considered the single most important piece of information in the rich set of employment data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on the first Friday of every month. More recently, the focus shifted to wage growth as it became apparent that the economy had recovered its employment mojo.

    Now both these metrics should take a backseat to the measure of labor-force participation and the related employment-population ratio.

    After steadily increasing over several decades, these two measures of the size of the U.S. labor market plunged as a result of the recession induced by the 2008 global financial crisis. As late as last year, both metrics remained at or near their multidecade lows.

    The civilian labor force participation rate reached a recent historic low of 62.4 percent in September 2015, a full seven years after the eruption of global financial and economic instability. This compares to 66.2 percent at the beginning of 2008. In the most recent data, contained in the jobs report for February released a month ago, it stood at 62.9 percent.

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Trump's misogyny problem sidetracks campaign

    Every day now, it seems, a new woman problem throws famed counterpuncher Donald Trump into a defensive crouch as he tries to find his way out of the corner he's been backed into.

    Already coping with the arrest of his campaign manager on a female reporter's battery charge, Trump has had to retreat from a shocking contention about the criminalization of abortion.

    In a town hall forum in Wisconsin Wednesday night televised by MSNBC, moderator Chris Matthews asked Trump about the legal implications of the candidate's wish to ban abortion. Specifically, Matthews pressed Trump about what would happen to a woman who gets an abortion illegally. Trump stated: "The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment. There has to be some form."

    Abortion rights advocates, including potential Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, pounced. She called Trump's response "horrific and telling."

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Trump's abortion gaffe highlights GOP's intellectual dishonesty

    As a matter of politics, Donald Trump's comment that women who have abortions should suffer "some form of punishment" was a disaster. As a matter of intellectual and moral consistency, Trump's got a point -- one that exposes a fundamental tension in the Republican Party between its assertion that life begins at conception and the legal and moral implications of that absolutist view.

    The party's platform has been clear for years, even if its own presidential candidates, for obvious reasons of self-protection, have strayed from its strict dictates.

    "We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed," the 2012 platform stated, echoing a plank that has been present since 1984. In other words, no exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.

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This time the Yugoslav tribunal got it wrong

    A United Nations court in The Hague has acquitted Vojislav Seselj, the Serbian nationalist whose volunteers helped to start the war in Croatia in 1991, of all charges. It isn't the "not guilty" verdict that's shocking or necessarily wrong. It is the tribunal's reasoning, which contradicts much of what this court has taught us about the war over the last two decades.

    The verdict comes just days after the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia sentenced former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic to 40 years in jail for war crimes he committed during the attempt to create a Greater Serbia by clearing the territory of non-Serbs. The big difference between the two men is that Karadzic was in charge. He had a clear chain of command through which his orders could be carried out. Seselj's position, as a Belgrade parliamentarian who sent volunteers to fight at the front, was less clear-cut.

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There's a way out of Republicans' dead end

    Big Business is having big doubts about its traditional political allies. Sen. Ted Cruz, who not long ago was considered the most offensive presidential candidate imaginable, is now the best-case scenario. Meanwhile, Donald Trump continues his march toward collecting the most delegates for the Republican presidential nomination in July, by which time it's doubtful there will be an American woman or racial minority whom he hasn't alienated.

    The New York Times reports that companies including Coca-Cola, Google and Xerox are under organized pressure to keep their distance from a GOP convention that could be very ugly -- and very bad for business.

    "'These are Maalox months for everyone,' said Bruce Haynes, a public relations consultant at Purple Strategies, a Virginia-based bipartisan communications firm. "If this is going to look like 1968, there will be people that say, 'That's not where I want my product placement,' " he added, referring to clashes between police officers and protesters at the Democratic convention in Chicago."

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The Sanders hustle

    Sen. Bernie Sanders's ongoing hustle of the Democratic Party was revealed at the very end of his interview with Rachel Maddow on Wednesday.

    Lauding the Independent from Vermont's fundraising prowess, the MSNBC anchor asked Sanders when he might start applying his considerable abilities to benefit the Democratic Party. In his response, Sanders pointed out that the average $27 contribution to his presidential campaign is "a very different way of raising money than Secretary Clinton has pursued." So, Maddow pressed him.

    MADDOW: Well, obviously your priority is the nomination, but I mean you raised Secretary Clinton there. She has been fundraising both for the nomination and for the Democratic Party. At some point, do you think -- do you foresee a time during this campaign when you'll start doing that?

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The great Trump distortion

    The evidence is in and it shows that the dominant media narratives about 2016 are wrong. Our country is not roiled with across-the-board discontent, and Donald Trump is not the most important voice in our politics. Turmoil in one of our political parties is being misread as reflecting a deep crisis well beyond its boundaries.

    The most revealing and underplayed development of the week is Gallup's finding that President Obama's approval rating hit 53 percent (not once, but three times). This was its highest level since April 2013. If the people of the United States had lost all confidence in their institutions, the president wouldn't be enjoying such a surge in popularity.

    Compare the current incumbent, first, to George W. Bush. His approval rating at this point in his presidency was 32 percent, on its way down to 28 percent a few weeks later. And in a comparable period in 1988, Ronald Reagan's approval stood at 50 percent. Note that the incumbent party was routed in 2008 but comfortably held on to the White House 20 years earlier.

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The Democratic presidential race isn't close

    One of CNN's on-screen headlines on Wednesday was "Democratic Race Tight Without Superdelegates." That is not true.

    How bad is it for Bernie Sanders? A new survey in Wisconsin released today by the highly respected Marquette Law poll gave the Vermont senator a solid lead, 49 percent, to 44 percent for Hillary Clinton -- which is terrible news for Sanders if he hopes to capture the nomination. That's because he would need to win by a much larger margin in Wisconsin -- Nate Silver estimates a 16-percentage-point landslide -- to get on pace to finish with more pledged delegates than Clinton.

    And that's not the worst of it. In New York, where Sanders would need to win by 4 percentage points, the polls have him 20 points behind Clinton. The situation is even worse in Pennsylvania.

    Of course, the polls can change, but there's no particular reason to believe they will. And polls can be wrong, as they were in Michigan (where Sanders won despite a large polling lead for Clinton). Still, the polls have been accurate in most states this year.

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The cellphone gun: A bad idea

    A Minnesota entrepreneur named Kirk Kjellberg has generated a lot of Internet traffic with his proposed Ideal Conceal Pistol, which resembles a mobile phone until the user clicks a safety, causing a handle to swing down and revealing a trigger. In gun mode, the device has two barrels that each fire a .380-caliber bullet. It's supposed to be a derringer for the digital age.

    In an interview, the voluble Kjellberg explains that his aha moment came on the way to the men's room in a restaurant. A little boy noticed the handgun, legally if imperfectly concealed beneath Kjellberg's jacket. "Mommy, that guy's got a gun!" the boy shouted. "Everyone turned to look, and it caused a lot of fuss," Kjellberg says. "I thought to myself there has to be a better way."

    This isn't it.

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