Archive

February 9th, 2016

Clinton's email scandal: Whodunit?

    The Hillary Clinton email issue is developing into a real whodunit, complete with Clintonesque legal semantics. "I never sent or received any material marked classified," she said with respect to the discovery of classified information on her private, unclassified email server. That surface denial nearly rivals Bill Clinton's classic: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

    But this is no laughing matter.

    There is nothing trivial about a secretary of state having top-secret information on an unsecured computer in her home. That appears to have been the case, based on the State Department's announcement last week that 22 emails, across seven email chains, containing top- secret information wereon Hillary Clinton's private email server.

    At issue is whether the information in the emails was classified when it was sent to her unsecured server. It was, after all, the State Department, upon review of the content by intelligence agencies, that upgraded the emails to top-secret and ordered them withheld from the public.

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Campaign finance makes for a fair race after all

    Here's some evidence that the financial side of the current presidential election is not "rigged," as candidates, and particularly Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, like to say. Sanders out-raised Hillary Clinton in January, and "non- establishment" candidates in general have been doing great so far as far as campaign funding goes.

    The Sanders campaign recently boasted that it had raised $20 million in January from 770,000 contributions (about $26 on average, and 70 percent of the donations smaller than $200). The Clinton campaign raised only $15 million, as its manager Robby Mook says in emails to supporters, complaining that the former secretary of State has been "dramatically out-raised," which makes it hard for her to compete in New Hampshire where's she's "heavily outspent on the airwaves."

    Sanders is not the only candidate undermining the widespread theory that U.S. elections are inherently corrupt, especially since the 2010 Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court, which held that advertising in favor or against candidates by outside groups should be protected as free speech.

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A tale of two parties

    After the Iowa caucuses and on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, an avalanche of presidential candidate appearances on television has provided a sharp contrast between the two political parties, with the Republican brand the clear loser.

    For openers, Donald Trump capped his loss to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in Iowa by becoming a petulant sore loser. He accused Cruz of pulling a dirty trick on fading Dr. Ben Carson and then threatened to file suit to throw out the Iowa result.

    Trump charged Cruz with falsely spreading word via CNN that Carson was dropping out of the race, purportedly to corral his caucus-goers at the 11th hour, when Carson had said he was merely going to Florida for a breather.

    Trump for his part followed his own defeat in Iowa with a detour to another overflow rally in Arkansas, which doesn't hold its primary for nearly a month. The apparent purpose was to get a needed ego boost after the first loss of the man who claimed to be a sure winner everywhere.

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What a politics reporter learned helping a refugee family stranded at the airport

    Occasionally, something happens to put real life into perspective - even when I am living inside the noise that is a presidential campaign.

    I had first noticed the exhausted young family at the O'Hare airport gate in Chicago Wednesday afternoon, as I was waiting to board my connection from Iowa to New Hampshire. They were a couple with two children - a baby and a toddler, who was sprawled out sleeping on the floor of the terminal. It turned out they were in the row behind me on the plane.

    As we got off in Manchester, the gate agent pulled me aside. "Could you keep an eye on them?" she asked. They didn't speak any English, and seemed mystified by the baggage claim. That was when I noticed the International Organization for Migration card the father was wearing on a string around his neck. It identified them as Congolese refugees. Their bag - a bag, not luggage - came off the belt. It was no bigger than my own suitcase, and I assume it contained everything they owned.

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The blurb heard round the world

    Want a strange out-of-body experience? Try this one: sitting on the couch, watching TV, when suddenly -- on NBC's "Meet the Press," "ABC's This Week" and CNN's "Democratic Town Hall from Manchester, N.H." -- you hear the host badger Sen. Bernie Sanders about a blurb he wrote for your new book.

    OMG. Months ago, when Sen. Sanders, Congressman Keith Ellison and former Labor Secretary Robert Reich were kind enough to offer back cover blurbs for my book, who would have thought that one of them would emerge as a leading candidate for president of the United States -- or that his opponent, unfairly, in my opinion, would try to beat him over the head with it.

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Sanders has a point: What good are private insurers?

    When I was a university student in Canada, I heard an economics professor explain the difference between U.S. and Canadian health care in a way that went something like this: Most U.S. hospitals have rooms full of staff whose only job is to trade paperwork with private insurance companies. The cost of that staff gets added to everyone's bill.

    A Canadian hospital, by contrast, might have a handful of people with that job -- but mostly for when an American tourist breaks a leg skiing or gets too close to a moose. The government pays for Canadian patients' care; there are no claim forms necessary, no contracts to negotiate. Leave aside lower spending and greater access, the whole thing is just easier.

    The popularity of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders's government-run, "Medicare for All" plan highlights how different health care is in the U.S. compared with the rest of the developed world, and not always in a flattering way. That difference often gets reduced to tax levels and size of government. But it's also worth considering a fundamental question: What good are private health insurers anyway?

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Clinton is the health-care candidate

    In all of our years promoting progressive legislative policies in Congress, no vote was more challenging or consequential than the one to pass the Affordable Care Act.

    As the former chairs of the two House committees that had primary jurisdiction over health-care reform when the ACA was passed in 2010, we're proud to have helped realize a long-standing goal of the Democratic Party, moving our nation significantly closer to attaining universal health care.

    Thanks to the ACA, nearly18 millionpreviously uninsured Americans have health coverage. Insurance companies can no longer deny people coverage for preexisting conditions or charge them more just for being women. There are no longer annual or lifetime limits on care, and young people can remain on their parents' plans through age 26. In short, the ACA stands as a historic triumph for our party and the nation.

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Is Rubio too good to be true?

    There was a time when Republican governors were not all that different from Democratic governors.

     The politicians from both parties who ran the states tended to be a pragmatic lot. They were pro-business because they wanted their people to have jobs but they championed government spending in the areas that contribute to economic development, starting with education and transportation.

    Democratic governors still largely behave that way, but many of their Republican peers have followed their national party to the right and now run far more ideological administrations. North Carolina, Kansas and Wisconsin are prime examples of this break from a longer GOP tradition.

     But in a pivotal debate here on Saturday night, the old solidarity among Republicans in charge of statehouses made a comeback of convenience. Govs. Chris Christie and John Kasich and former Gov. Jeb Bush are competitors but they had no qualms about creating an ad hoc alliance that might be called Governors Against Callow and Outrageous Candidates.

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February 7th

Genetically modifying Zika virus out of existence

    In a handful of labs around the world, scientists have quietly invented a new and powerful biotech weapon against disease-carrying mosquitoes. Called gene drive, it goes far beyond ordinary genetic modification, bending the rules of inheritance to spread modified genes through vast populations of organisms. If it works as expected, it could be used to extinguish the population of mosquitoes rapidly spreading the Zika virus through South America.

    An even more consequential deployment would spread an altered gene through the world's population of malaria-carrying mosquitoes, endowing them with resistance against the parasite that now kills more than 400,000 people every year.

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The best of Clinton, the worst of Clinton

    Wednesday night's televised town hall with Hillary Clinton featured the candidate at her best -- and her worst. Clinton and her campaign ought to study the lessons of both.

    The candidate at her worst was obvious, and all the more painful for its predictability. When Clinton is pressed on big-dollar donations and hefty speaking fees from Wall Street, she reverts to a reflexive defensiveness that hurts her cause. This was on display at the Democratic debate in Des Moines in November, when she invoked the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to explain her flood of Wall Street money.

     "I represented New York," Clinton said. "And I represented New York on 9/11 when we were attacked. Where were we attacked? We were attacked in downtown Manhattan where Wall Street is. I did spend a whole lot of time and effort helping them rebuild. That was good for New York. It was good for the economy. And it was a way to rebuke the terrorists who had attacked our country."

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