Archive

February 9th, 2016

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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Rubio finally gets his endorsement bump

    Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pennsylvania, announced his support for presidential candidate Marco Rubio on Wednesday. With endorsements from South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott on Monday and from two House members on Tuesday, Rubio will finally - finally! - overtake former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for the lead in the count of endorsement "points" on the political website FiveThirtyEight.

    Members of Congress aren't the only ones moving to his corner this week. The Florida senator also picked up supporters in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

    We've seen this pattern before. In 2004, Democratic party actors mostly sat on their hands until Iowa. When then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry won there, the party rapidly rallied behind him, and he won the nomination easily. In 2008, Arizona Sen. John McCain had an early lead in Republican endorsements but they flattened out. When he showed new life in Iowa, finishing just a few votes from third place with 13 percent of the vote, the party rallied behind him, and he, too, went on to win.

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Question Judgment, Not Motive

    Having at a younger age been in politics myself, I have always begged that my motive not be questioned. It is judgment that is open to question. However, I am finding it more than a little difficult to live by that principle when it comes to these Republican Presidential candidates.

    Fortunately these candidates are slowly but surely being winnowed out and by the time you read this even more will be gone. It will definitely be a more manageable group but still I don't see much hope for higher ethics. I make this call with the idea that surely, surely these people don't actually believe the words pouring from their mouths.

    I refer to questioning motive but in this case it can also be justified to question their judgment if they do believe this verbiage. These are people offering, really more than offering because they are pleading, that we accept their service for the highest office in the land. What horror should one of them win.

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Paul Ryan to tea party: You are the problem

    This week, Paul Ryan gave a fascinating speech at Heritage Action, a tea party-allied organization that has fashioned itself as the guardian of conservative purity. The speech called for unity. "To quote William Wallace in Braveheart," he said, "we have to unite the clans."

    But his speech was actually a repudiation of everything the tea party has done. Not only that, Ryan also took shots at the congressional Republican leadership, and even the current GOP presidential candidates. He didn't call anyone out by name, but if you understand what's happening now and the conflict that has roiled the Republican Party for the last seven years, the critique was hard to miss.

    Not surprisingly, for much of the speech he blamed conservatives' own sins on progressives, Democrats, and Barack Obama. That has become a familiar refrain - It's their fault that we've become such monsters! - but when you say that, you're still acknowledging that the sins exist. Let's start here:

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