Archive

June 10th, 2016

An Obama Nominee’s Crushed Hopes

    In early 2014, after decades of government and nonprofit work that reflected a passion for public service, Cassandra Butts got a reward — or so she thought. She was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the next United States ambassador to the Bahamas.

    It wasn’t an especially high-profile gig at the crossroads of the day’s most urgent issues, but it was a longstanding diplomatic post that needed to be filled, and she had concrete ideas about how best to do the job.

    “She was very excited,” her sister, Deidra Abbott, told me.

    The Senate held a hearing about her nomination in May 2014, and then … nothing. Summer came and went. So did fall. A new year arrived. Then another new year after that.

    When I met her last month, she’d been waiting more than 820 days to be confirmed. She died suddenly two weeks later, still waiting. She was 50 years old.

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A Q&A on Clinton, politics and 'predistribution'

    Hillary Clinton's website lists 31 alphabetized policies on everything from Alzheimer's disease to workforce skills, each with its own 10-point plan. It's wonky, to be sure. But does it add up to a governing philosophy?

    Republicans say no, that Clinton is only offering a bunch of free stuff to Hispanics, blacks, women, gays and other special interests to buy votes. Bernie Sanders says she doesn't do nearly enough to redistribute income.

    Political scientist Jacob Hacker sees the question differently. Known for having coined the "public option" idea as part of the Obamacare debate, the Yale professor more recently came up with the concept of "pre-distribution," which aims to design government programs to spread economic power and rewards more widely. To Hacker, when Clinton talks about paying for family leave, improving skills, lifting wages, helping parents with college tuition and regulating shadow banks, she's being more holistic than she gets credit for.

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The Madness of America

    The candidacy of Donald Trump, the fervor of those who support it, and the fierce opposition of those who don’t is making America mad — both angry and insane, as the dual definitions of the word implies.

    One of the most disturbing displays of this madness is the violence Trump has incited in his supporters, and the violent ways in which opposition forces have responded, like the exchange we saw last week in San Jose, California.

    Both forms of violence are unequivocally wrong, but speak to a base level of hostility that hovers around the man like the stench from rotting flesh.

    What is particularly disturbing is to see anti-Trump forces lashing out at Trump’s supporters, seemingly provoked simply by a difference in political position.

    This cannot be. It’s self-defeating and narrows the space between the thing you despise and the thing you become.

    Listen, I understand how unsettling this man is for many.

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Media's impossible duty: Keeping Trump honest

    How should the media cover the presidential candidates over the next five months?

    Reporters and editors should "bend over backward" to be fair to Donald Trump, Alan Murray of Fortune said last week, echoing an admonition that the Wall Street Journal's top editor, Gerard Baker, reportedly issued to his editorial staff.

    Of course, a considerable amount of bending over already has taken place.

    Media outlets have given the likely Republican presidential nominee something like $2 billion worth of free exposure and, in many cases, let him get away with blatant falsehoods - even about something as basic as whether he did or didn't support the U.S. invasion of Iraq. (Trump says he clearly opposed it, but as Ben Smith of BuzzFeed noted, there's evidence of just the opposite.) Or that President Barack Obama wants to admit 250,000 Syrian refugees, when the real number is 10,000.

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A Pause That Distresses

    Friday’s employment report was a major disappointment: only 38,000 jobs added, a big step down from the more than 200,000 a month average since January 2013. Special factors, notably the Verizon strike, explain part of the bad news, and in any case job growth is a noisy series, so you shouldn’t make too much of one month’s data. Still, all the evidence points to slowing growth. It’s not a recession, at least not yet, but it is definitely a pause in the economy’s progress.

    Should this pause worry you? Yes. Because if it does turn into a recession, or even if it goes on for a long time, it’s very hard to envision an effective policy response.

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Trump's blunder eclipses Hillary's big night

    Hillary Clinton has become the first woman presidential nominee, but the historic feat is being overshadowed by a colossal Donald Trump blunder, requiring him to address the resultant breach in his badly shaken Republican ranks.

    His petty attack on a federal judge of "Mexican heritage" presiding over a civil suit involving defunct Trump University has not only elevated that case, which alleges fraud against its students, as a campaign issue. It also calls into question his claim to be a master deal-maker whose skill qualifies him to run the country.

    Furthermore, the whole saga provides voters with a sharp contrast between Clinton's central theme of bringing the country together and Trump's politics of ethnic, religious and racial division. Under the phony rubric of "making America great again," he seems determined to tear it further apart.

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June 9th

Why Clinton's victory in California matters

    Hillary Clinton has been the almost-certain Democratic presidential nominee for weeks. But she needed her victory in California anyway to give her a big political boost in forging party unity.

    That, and an easy win in New Jersey, added to the majority of delegates she wrapped up by Monday. Of greater significance, it intensifies pressure on Senator Bernie Sanders to bow to reality and coax his passionate supporters to rally around the campaign to defeat Donald Trump.

    The Democrats' big guns, starting with President Barack Obama and Senator Elizabeth Warren, will start right away trying to persuade Sanders to end the nomination fight. Sanders won Montana and the North Dakota caucus but his hopes of winning the majority of Tuesday's contests failed as Clinton prevailed in New Mexico and South Dakota.

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Top supporters of Bernie Sanders gently tell him: It's time

    Hillary Clinton decisively defeated Bernie Sanders in the big delegate-rich states of California and New Jersey, and in a rousing, emotional speech Tuesday night, she laid claim to a piece of American history as the first woman ever to be the presumptive nominee of a major party. But Sanders is still digging in, and in his own speech Tuesday night, he vowed to fight on to the convention, adding: "the struggle continues."

    In interviews with me, however, two of Sanders' most important supporters in Congress -- Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus -- said Sanders would have to accept the inevitably of Clinton's nomination, and begin the process of getting behind her.

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Sanders Helping Trump?

    Bernie Sanders has had a stunning impact this year, helping set the political agenda and winning the passionate embrace of a demographic a quarter his age. A socialist, Jewish, non-pandering candidate who didn’t kiss babies but lectured their parents on social justice won 22 states. But now he has lost. It’s time for him and his followers to stop sniping and start uniting.

    Sanders has said he will ultimately support the Democratic ticket, and I’m sure he intends to. But for now he’s still dividing more than coalescing.

    In a New York Times/CBS News poll last month, nearly one-fourth of Sanders supporters said that in a Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump matchup, they would either vote for Trump (which suggests bipolar disorder!) or stay home. That figure is inflated by bitterness and resentment, but if some Sandernistas sit on their hands this fall they could help elect a man antithetical to everything they stand for.

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June 8th

Chewbacca and the World of Semi-Reality News Media

    A Facebook video of a woman wearing a Chewbacca mask and laughing almost hysterically in her car has drawn more than 140 million hits from numerous sources in the past two weeks.

    Candace Payne, a 37-year-old mother of two from Grand Prairie, Texas, has had to hire a publicist to help field the numerous calls from the media—and, perhaps, wookies who want to have an affair.

    Why so many people have been intrigued by the three-minute video may be because people just need to laugh in a year in which political hate and the media have come together to annoy anyone with a temperature. It may also be because the people realize that the media have been abysmal purveyors of information, and the political conventions and what passes as TV news have become circuses of mediocrity.

    The presidential primaries are filled with candidates attacking each other, with lies and half-truths fogging the political debate, all of which are faithfully recorded, published and aired but seldom evaluated and challenged by the media.

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