Archive

February 13th, 2016

What money won’t buy, and what it will

    Jeb Bush didn’t exactly get skunked in Iowa. But, well, his 2.9 percent showing meant – let’s put the calculator to it, as political savant Nate Silver did: The $14.9 million he spent on advertising alone there meant he harvested one vote for every $2,844.

    It would have been better for Jeb to have spent it all on corn.

    We’ve been led to assume the contrary, but in presidential politics, as the Beatles once sang, money can’t buy you love.

    The two super PACs Karl Rove assembled to influence the 2012 elections raised a stunning $175 million and accomplished almost nothing.

    Indeed, that year PACs on both sides spent $14 billion. In the presidential race, all that gold didn’t move the needle. Barack Obama entered the 2012 campaign with a 3-point lead in the polls. He won with a margin of, yes, 3 percent.

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The Many Mideast Solutions

    In December at the Brookings Saban Forum on the Middle East, Atlantic magazine reporter Jeff Goldberg asked right-wing former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman this provocative question: “Things are shifting radically not only in non-Jewish America but in Jewish America as it concerns Israel and its reputation. My question is: (A) Do you care? (B) What are you going to do about it? And (C) how important is it to you?”

    “To speak frankly, I don’t care,” Lieberman responded, adding that Israel lived in a dangerous neighborhood. Give Lieberman credit for honesty.

    That conversation came back to me as I listened to the Democratic and Republican debates when they briefly veered into foreign policy, with candidates spouting the usual platitudes about standing with our Israeli and Sunni Arab allies. Here’s a news flash: You can retire those platitudes. Whoever becomes the next president will have to deal with a totally different Middle East.

    It will be a Middle East shaped by struggle over a one-state solution, a no-state solution, a non-state solution and a rogue-state solution.

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Stop whining about Iowa, N.H. going first in primaries

    Every four years we hear it: the many, many complaints that Iowa and New Hampshire are unrepresentative of the nation yet they get to go first in presidential voting. Black, Hispanic and Asian voters are scarce. There are no major cities.

    But if you accept that the parties choose nominees, it doesn't matter which states vote first. And Iowa and New Hampshire are really national, not local, battles.

    It isn't as if a representative sample of all Democratic or Republican voters chooses the parties' nominees anywhere. Those with clout are the most active members, at the state and national levels -- the politicians, campaign and governing professionals, donors and activists, formal party officials and staff, party-aligned interest groups and the partisan press.

    Volunteers who travel to Iowa or New Hampshire to participate have the time to do so and, unless campaigns subsidize it, the money to afford it. Campaign staff and political consultants have complex incentives they do not share with ordinary voters, and the donors have their own motives.

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Public campaign funding is so broken that candidates turned down $292 million in free money

    Sometimes, prosperity can be a sign of failure. Take the $292 million pot of taxpayer dollars that politicians are refusing to touch.

    For years after the public fund for presidential candidates was established in 1974, the biggest worry for its minders at the Federal Election Commission was whether there'd be enough money for all the candidates. Now, despite a sharp decline in the number of people participating in the $3 tax return check-off that funds the program (down from a high of 28 percent in 1977 to less than 6 percent last year), the fund has been growing steadily - because candidates don't want the money anymore.

    Former president George W. Bush began the exodus from the public finance system in 2000, when he refused to take matching funds for the primaries and caucuses. In 2008, Barack Obama became the first candidate to decline public financing in the general election. This year, only one presidential contender sought and qualified for public financing: Martin O'Malley, who has already dropped his bid for the Democratic nomination.

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Oregon is the picture of rosy economic health

    The biggest recent news from Oregon has nothing to do with the armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge near the high-desert town of Burns. It's about the state's economic health, the most improved in the United States last year.

    The 27th-largest state, with almost 4 million people, had the best-performing economy in the nation measured by employment, home prices, personal income, tax revenues, mortgage delinquency and the publicly traded equity of its companies, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

    By punching well above its weight in half a dozen comparisons that make up Bloomberg's Economic Evaluation of States, Oregon's economic health index rose the most through the first three quarters of 2015, according to the most recent Bloomberg data. The closest two rivals for No. 1, North Carolina and Michigan, were at least a full percentage point behind Oregon, failing to achieve the same consistency of improvement across the six business, financial and industrial values in the index.

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New Hampshire won't determine anything

    Here is my prediction for New Hampshire: It settles nothing. Despite the most intense eight days of the campaign so far, New Hampshire will end the way it started. Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., will win comfortably. New Hampshire will fail to play the role it has so often, that of winnowing the field, and its reputation as a place for dramatic comebacks will be tarnished: A Trump win won't count for much of a turnaround after his second-place win in Iowa.

    Trump has been more lucky than good in New Hampshire. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did the wet work on Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and left him as flummoxed as Arnold Schwarzenegger in this scene from "Total Recall." Rubio, like Schwarzenegger, thought he could sneak through by repeating the same talking points, but he got caught, and what followed wasn't pretty. Advantage: Trump, because any coalescing around Rubio as the Trump alternative is stalled.

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New Hampshire tests candidates on addiction

    Melissa Crews has always voted Democratic, though her husband is a staunch Republican. This year, the family split is coming to an end: Melissa is switching sides, and heroin is the principal reason.

    Crews is board chair at Hope for New Hampshire Recovery, a nonprofit she helped set up last year to battle the state's heroin epidemic. New Hampshire was third in the nation in death rates from overdoses in 2014 (the latest year for which data are available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and in the top 10 for the use of illicit drugs other than marijuana. People who work for local nonprofits fighting the rising drug use say at least 100,000 of the state's 1.3 million people need help with addictions.

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Kasich is the Republicans' establishment outsider

    John Kasich doesn't need an exclamation point in his logo. Riding around New Hampshire on his campaign bus -- a blend of camper, office and food court -- the Ohio governor was so charged up last week that even when he sat down to talk, he remained coiled, as if ready to jump into action if we got a flat tire.

    This is glory time for Kasich. Often in danger of being relegated to the kiddie-table debate of Republican candidates, he is now polling at No. 2 with an asterisk in New Hampshire (it's the new No. 1, with the Trump discount). During his last presidential foray, in 2000, he was so unknown outside Washington that voters thought that he'd come to an event "to shovel the snow." Running as a compassionate conservative, he ran smack into another better-financed one named George W. Bush and quickly dropped his bid.

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Iraqi militia war crimes are becoming U.S.'s problem

    Since Iraq began sending tens of thousands of volunteer fighters in 2014 to battle the Islamic State, evidence has mounted that some of these militias have committed atrocities against civilians. But so far, the Iraqi legal system has turned a blind eye.

    Basam Ridha, the Washington representative of what are officially called the Popular Mobilization Forces, told me last week that no Iraqi suspected of murder, torture or arson against the civilian population has been prosecuted by courts or sent to prison. Instead, suspects have usually been detained at military bases for a few weeks and then set free.

    Ridha does not dispute the accusations of abuses by the largely Shiite volunteer forces. "I am not saying it's not happening; it does happen," he told me. "We do have revenges; some of these people volunteer because they lost their loved ones. That's going to happen; we can't stop this."

    He also acknowledged that investigations into these cases have not produced results: "No one has gone to jail. They go inside prison, inside the military camp and usually they get let go."

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February 12th

Palestinian attacks wound Israel's reputation

    Palestinians' recent attacks on Israelis are, at first blush, not an existential threat to Israel. Horrific as the losses are, the future of the state is not in question.

    Or so it seems. But in a closer look, it appears that this round of violence is costing Israel more than the human toll. As the Palestinians clearly intend, the renewed conflict is doing serious damage to Israel's international standing.

    One of the first indications of this swing in public opinion was a comment by Sweden's foreign minister, Margot Wallstrom, who laid part of the blame for November's terrorist attacks in Paris on Israel. "To counteract the radicalization we must go back to the situation such as the one in the Middle East of which not the least the Palestinians see that there is no future: We must either accept a desperate situation or resort to violence," she said not particularly coherently on Swedish television.

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