Archive

November 5th, 2015

Super-PACs spoil Justice Kennedy's fantasy

    Is Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy having second thoughts about the campaign finance system he helped to create? The author of Citizens United v. FEC defended his handiwork before an audience of Harvard Law School students last week. But his confidence seemed shaken.

    "In my own view, what happens with money in politics is not good," he said.

    It's hard to imagine what part of the system Kennedy believes is working. It takes a lot of money to organize political campaigns and communicate with tens of millions of voters. And the supply side of campaign finance has simply overwhelmed the enforcement side.

    According to the Center for Responsive Politics, 1,221 super-PACS, which can raise unlimited sums, have organized for the 2016 election cycle. With the Iowa caucuses still three months away, total receipts so far have surpassed $300 million. Spending by so-called dark money groups, politically active nonprofits that aren't required to disclose their donors, exceeded $300 million in 2012, up from about $5 million in 2006. The trend line for 2016 isn't much in doubt.

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Rubio is most likely Republican nominee

    Marco Rubio is the most likely candidate to win the Republican 2016 presidential nomination.

    I said early on that Rubio was in a first tier of contenders with Jeb Bush and, before he dropped out, Scott Walker. There was a solid case for and against each of them. Well, the case against Walker turned out to be correct, while the one for Rubio has looked stronger and stronger.

    Ross Douthat of the New York Times recently described Rubio's oddly intangible front-runner status. After good reviews for his debate performance (and terrible ones for Bush), that has changed. Rubio has picked up his first two endorsements from his fellow U.S. senators -- Colorado's Cory Gardner on Monday and Montana's Steve Daines on Tuesday. After getting off to a slow start in high-visibility endorsements, Rubio has been on a roll for a while now. He has nailed down seven members of the House since Sept. 21. Over the same period, the other 14 GOP candidates had 10 new House endorsements combined.

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Please Don’t Shoot the Moderators

    We were treated to a classic man-bites-dog moment at the latest Republican presidential debate.

    There the moderators were, CNBC’s finest, lying in ambush with their carefully crafted “when did you stop beating your wife” questions at the ready. But as soon as they tried asking them, the contestants — forgive me, candidates — counter-attacked.

    “How dare you ask me to explain my positions, you biased liberal media hack” was the general theme. And it worked. The crowd, a conservative group, roared its approval again and again.

    The media is liberal, they say. It’s biased against conservatives and it makes things up. A God-fearing, free-enterprise-worshipping American can’t expect a fair shake from them.

    Those are the inaccurate messages that went out, and I’m afraid that a frightening number of people bought it.

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OK, candidates: Ask the questions yourselves

    It seems that some Republican presidential candidates don't think much of the people who've moderated their debates. OK then, here's a solution: let the candidates question one another.

    Both the answers -- and the questions -- might be revealing. There couldn't be allegations of liberal bias. It would be fair to everyone.

    Last week's CNBC debate was flawed by moderators who were careless and at times snide. (Ignore Republican charges of ideological bias and the assertion that the single Democratic debate was a "softball" session. That's standard-issue media- bashing that's become a favorite talking point and fund-raising vehicle.)

    Still, there's precedent for a moderator-free event. Candidates questioned one another at a Bloomberg/Washington Post Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College four years ago. It worked out pretty well.

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Ohio rejects pot as its constitution gets weird

    Pot is news, and Ohio voters' rejection of an amendment to legalize marijuana Tuesday deserves the headlines it's gotten. But a more important story is easy to miss: Those same voters amended the Ohio Constitution to make it very difficult for future initiative promoters to give themselves a monopoly through the state referendum process.

    The new amendment was targeted at the marijuana growers, who wanted a monopoly in exchange for having advocated legalization. Yet the new amendment is an important example of a very unusual constitutional phenomenon: an entrenching amendment that makes future amendments much harder.

    The proposed pot amendment, called Issue 3 on the Ohio ballot, was going to legalize marijuana use and simultaneously create 10 facilities with the exclusive right to grow and distribute the drug. To gain control of one of those facilities, investors had to donate $2 million each to the ballot initiative campaign.

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'Lame-stream media' charge is getting really lame

    Republican presidential candidates may have some legitimate complaints to make about media bias, but sometimes I think they protest too much.

    For example, after the heavily Republican audience at the Grand Old Party's CNBC debate booed some of the moderators' questions, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina complained indignantly that she'd "never seen that before."

    No? She must have missed the debates four years ago. Who could forget the Republican crowd's explosion of boos and jeers in South Carolina, two days before that state's pivotal primary?

    The boos came after CNN's moderator John King opened the debate by asking former House Speaker Newt Gingrich about open marriage. King was following up on an interview in which Gingrich's ex-wife said he had sought one.

    Gingrich called the question and the timing "as close to despicable as anything I can imagine."

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Is It Time to Put Down the Bacon?

    By now you’ve probably heard the sobering news: Red meat may cause cancer. And bacon and other popular processed meats definitely do, the World Health Organization says.

    Does that mean we all need to quit eating processed meats — no pun intended — cold turkey?

    For nutrition-obsessed dorks like me, this pronouncement wasn’t news: Bacon’s been suspect for decades. Yet I still occasionally eat the stuff, and I have a weakness for a particular variety of overpriced salami sold at Whole Foods. (It’s great for camping trips, because it stays good outside the fridge.)

    Despite my mostly vegetarian diet, when I have bad days I head to a favorite local restaurant and order up a hot ham sandwich with melted cheese, homemade pickles, and whole grain mustard. It’s my comfort food. It always hits the spot.

    From the data, my occasional indulgences aren’t as bad as smoking the occasional cigarette. As far as cancer is concerned, it’s much less risky.

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Iran, Saudi Arabia clash inside Syria talks

    Iran and Saudi Arabia clashed repeatedly last week inside the diplomatic talks on Syria, with Iran accusing Saudis of terrorism. Their tension threatened to end the new negotiations just as they began in Vienna on Friday.

    Inside the nine-hour meeting, according to two Western officials briefed on it, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir got into a heated argument, during which Zarif blamed Saudi Arabian nationals for the 9/11 attacks. The comments startled the participants, who included Secretary of State John Kerry, and the room went quiet after Zarif's remark.

    Zarif confirmed to me that he made the remark and pointed out that he was not blaming the Saudi government for the 9/11 attacks, just Saudi nationals. Fifteen of the 19 attackers were Saudi citizens.

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Fox News's Megyn Kelly mocks Republicans' debate demands

    The front offices of major TV news outfits have been quiet in the face of a draft document from Republican campaigns outlining a number of requests - demands, even - targeted at networks that host Republican presidential debates, following a widely criticized CNBC debate last week. Among the requests: below 67 degrees on the debate stage; opening and closing statements; no "yes/no" questions without time to elaborate; preapproval of graphics and bio information to be used on the broadcast, among others.

    That last one sounds like a non-starter, considering that TV networks have, you know, editorial prerogatives and the like. Monday night on her Fox News program, host Megyn Kelly riffed through the requests-cum-demands and couldn't resist poking fun at them. "Approval of any on-screen graphics aired during the debate - yeah, that's gonna happen," said Kelly, mockingly. She returned to the outrage later: "Can you imagine having to submit our graphics for approval to the candidates? Good luck with that," she said to Fox News's Chris Stirewalt. "I can't, and we won't," responded Stirewalt.

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Facing the Robot Tsunami

    Robots make the perfect employee. They don't complain, they don't get sick, and, as of this writing, they don't have babies. When robots can do the job in today's economy, they get the job.

    When they can't, a human must suffice. You still need a human to make the perfect latte, ask security questions at the airport and, for the time being, drive a taxi.

    That hasn't stopped many employers from trying to robotize the people they can't do without. Many have built business models in which they can, in effect, dust off a human when its labor is required and ignore all its other needs.

    This is the famous gig economy. It's app-based cab services insisting that their drivers are private contractors not entitled the traditional benefits of employment. It's national chain stores calling employees to duty at a moment's notice, the heck with any schedule.

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