Archive

June 10th, 2016

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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Trump's outlaw view of the judiciary

"The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution." -- Alexander Hamilton, Federalist 78.

   

    Somewhere, Hamilton -- West Indian, not Mexican -- is weeping over Donald Trump and his alarming, ignorant conception of the role of the judiciary.

     The latest, scariest manifestation of Trump's attitude involves his now doubled-down attack on the federal judge -- Indiana-born, but Mexican for Trump's repellent purposes -- hearing the Trump University case.

     U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel "is a hater of Donald Trump, a hater," in Trump's view, "a total disgrace," because he has allowed the class-action fraud lawsuit to proceed and, most recently, had the gall to unseal documents detailing Trump University's operations.

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The early winner of the 2016 campaign: Obama

    If you look at the polls, it is clear who's winning in the 2016 presidential contest: Barack Obama.

    There remains the technical impediment that the president is constitutionally barred from a third term. But the longer the campaign goes on, the higher Obama's approval rating rises. This should be bad for Donald Trump and good for the eventual Democratic nominee, almost certainly Hillary Clinton. But it is even better for Obama's legacy.

    According to Gallup, which has been charting the nation's assessment of its presidents longer than anyone else, Obama's approval stands at 52 percent, compared with 44 percent disapproval. That may not look impressive but it is actually quite good for a president nearing the end of his second term; Ronald Reagan, by comparison, had 49 percent approval at this point in his tenure.

    For most of last year, Obama's numbers were upside-down -- more Americans disapproved than approved. So there are two obvious questions: What airport is going to be renamed Obama International? And why the turnaround?

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Clinton scores, Ryan punts

    Hillary Clinton gave the speech about Donald Trump that, with a few changes, House Speaker Paul Ryan could have given. And he should have.

    With her address, she assumed the role of the Democratic presidential nominee, even if the delegate numbers hadn't quite ratified that yet.

       Instead of sticking to his vaunted principles, Ryan forged a link between the Republican Party and Donald Trump that may endure in public consciousness long after this campaign is over.

    There will be some brave dissenters, especially among Republicans and conservatives who do not hold elected office (and former presidents named Bush).

     But party leaders have decided that Trump's nativism and racism, his utter disrespect for the judicial system, his soft spot for foreign dictators and his latent authoritarianism matter far less to them than holding on to the House and the Senate. It will be up to the voters to decide how big a price Ryan, Mitch McConnell & Co. should pay for this.

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June 7th

Bernie Sanders tells supporters to knock off the violence

    Bernie Sanders made a direct appeal to supporters in an interview that aired Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," imploring them not to engage in violence after a week in which protesters - some apparently loyal to the Democratic underdog - attacked Donald Trump backers in California.

    "Any person who is a Bernie Sanders supporter, please, do not in any way, shape or form engage in violence," the senator from Vermont said.

    Sanders emphasized that the bad actors represent a tiny fraction of the "millions and millions of people who are supporting us." But the candidate's plea appeared to be an assertion of influence over his supporters' behavior - a contrast to his response last month to an outburst at the Nevada Democratic convention.

    Unhappy with the disqualification of pro-Sanders delegates who had failed to meet a registration deadline, some Sanders supporters defaced the party's state headquarters and sent threatening messages to chairwoman Roberta Lange.

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