Clinton versus Putin.

While a majority of Republicans once believed that fair-play meant that the Republican convention should nominate the candidate who had won the most votes in the primaries, a majority (54 percent) of Republicans now wish that the party had not chosen Donald Trump as the candidate.  About a third (35 percent) believes that Trump was the best choice available.  Obviously, the latter figure doesn’t mean Trump alone.  It may be more of a statement about the Republican candidates who ran against Trump.  The Democrats aren’t in much better shape about Hillary Clinton.  Almost half (47 percent) of those who plan to vote for her will do so chiefly to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.  Scarcely a third (32 percent) are actually pro-Clinton.  More broadly, two thirds (66 percent) of all voters believe that HRC is dishonest, while less than a third (29 percent) believe that she is not dishonest.  Again obviously, the “Hillary is dishonest” camp includes every single Republican and a bunch of Independents.  Amidst the Viking funeral of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, people should attend to the recent poll reporting that 74 percent of Trump’s supporters think that Hillary Clinton should be in prison.[1]  How deeply that view has penetrated the minds of ordinary Democrats is unknown.[2]

This could have consequences for the 2016 presidential election.  A lot of people will vote for Hillary Clinton in order to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.

Unless, perhaps, they think that she is crooked.  “Crooked Hillary” has become a standard phrase in the speeches of Donald Trump.  This charge arises from Trump’s abrasive discourse and datcourse.  However, it gains traction from the perception that Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation engaged in unseemly practices during her time as Secretary of State.  The release of several documents from the investigation of Clinton by the EffaBeeEye has poured gasoline on this particular fire.

Earlier reports indicated that HRC’s e-mail had probably been compromised.  Trump invited the Russians to reveal what they had learned from the 30,000-plus “personal” e-mails that Clinton had ordered deleted from her private server.  Some people misconstrued this as an invitation to “hack” her private server.  The server seems to have been shut-down long ago, so it cannot now be hacked.  Trump’s hope seems to be that the Russians will reveal damaging information about Clinton’s private dealings with donors to the Clinton Foundation while she served as Secretary of State.

It seems reasonable to expect such “revelations.”  There is a lot of bad blood between Clinton and the Russian soon-to-be-tsar Vladimir Putin.  While serving as Secretary of State, Clinton challenged Putin’s authority in a country where being on the wrong side of the government can get you killed.  In early 2011, she, among others, deceived the Russians about American intentions in Libya.[3]  In December 2011, she described Russian elections as plagued by “electoral fraud.”[4]    If the Russkies have incriminating evidence, they may dump it.

Now the New York Times seems to be lighting “back-fires” in preparation for an “October surprise.”[5]

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 12 August 2016, p. 18.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 9 September 2016, p.17.

[3] See: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2014/09/28/obama-versus-putin/

[4] See: http://dailycaller.com/2016/07/25/dec-2011-hillary-clinton-angers-putin-demands-investigation-into-russian-electoral-fraud/

[5] Neil MacFarquhar, “A Powerful Russian Weapon: The Spread of False Stories,” NYT, 28 August 2016; Jo Becker, Steven Erlanger, and Eric Schmitt, “How Russia Often Benefits When Julian Assange Reveals the West’s Secrets,” NYT, 31 August 2016.

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The current explanation.

Back in 2000, the Clinton Administration held a conference to congratulate itself on its skillful economic management.[1]  The participants foresaw the opening of a new era of rapid economic growth.  Low inflation would run in tandem with stable growth in what some saw as a “Great Moderation.”  Markets behaved rationally most of the time.  Technological innovation increased labor productivity.  Increasing international trade through agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement expanded high-end American exports while providing American consumers with low-cost imports and stimulating the shift of factors of production (capital, labor) out of low-end industries.  China, in particular, tantalized businessmen and economists alike.  More education and geographic mobility offered the best means for displaced workers to adapt.  Investors faced a host of “staggering high-quality investment opportunities.”  Central bankers could manage the economy with relatively small changes in interest rates.

Like many another rosy dawn, this one failed to arrive.   The host of “staggering high-quality investment opportunities” turned out to be the “tech bubble” that collapsed almost as soon as Bill Clinton handed the White House keys to George W. Bush.  “The China Market” turned out to be just as much of an illusion now as in the past.[2]  Indeed, China’s enormous labor force multiplied by rising productivity multiplied by low wages created an export giant unlike anything ever seen before.  (A 2016 paper by three economists calculated that between 1999 and 2011, Chinese competition ate up 2.4 million American jobs.)  The financial crisis at the end of the Bush administration showed that at least some markets were far from rational and self-correcting.  More education has not guaranteed a better adaptation to a changing economy, while fewer start-ups are creating new businesses and many displaced workers have been reluctant to relocate toward growth areas.  Technological innovation has destroyed far more jobs than it has created.  Indeed, one economist argues that there is a shortage of investment opportunities to provide either an outlet for savings or new jobs.

The rewards of economic change have flowed disproportionately to the upper levels of American society.  In 1990, the top 20 percent of families earned 44.3 percent of total income.  In 2014, the top 20 percent of families earned 48.9 percent of income.  In 2000, wages, salaries, and benefits accounted for 66 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while business profits accounted for 8 percent.  By 2010, wages, salaries, and benefits accounted for 61 percent of GDP, while business profits have now risen to 12 percent.  Between 2000 and 2015, median family income fell by 7 percent.  One recent poll reported that 91 percent of Bernie Sanders supporters and 61 percent of Donald Trump supporters think that the economy favors powerful interests.   (More likely it favors certain skills and behaviors, but no one is buying that line.)

Those job losses and income shifts now are having a political effect.  Of the 100 counties with industries worst hit by Chinese competition, 89 voted for Trump in the primaries.  Of the 100 counties with industries least hit by Chinese competition, only 28 went for Trump.   Faced with losing their own jobs, many Republican leaders are re-thinking their positions.  A former Treasury official in the Bush II administration reflected that “Washington and we in the establishment spent too much time celebrating the efficiency gains of trade and not enough time thinking about the people who were impacted.”

[1] John Hilsenrath and Bob Davis, “Unkept Economic Promises Drive Stormy Election,” WSJ, 8 July 2016.

[2] “If every Chinaman would add eight inches to the length of his shirt it would take all of the cotton cloth that we have in America, because they all wear them on the outside.”  Proceedings of the … Annual Convention of the Investment Bankers (1919), p. 71.

Trumputin 2.

Did Donald Trump encourage the Russkies to hack the email of Hillary Clinton?  Well, no.  It doesn’t matter what the New York Times[1] or the Public Broadcasting Service says.  The truth is different.

Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server handled both her correspondence as Secretary of State and her “personal” e-mails.  In theory, these personal e-mails related to things like the place settings at the wedding of her daughter Chelsea Clinton.  However, some people (other than Ann Coulter) believe that some of the e-mails reveal the involvement of the Secretary of State with donations to the Clinton Foundation.

Hillary Clinton shut down her private e-mail server after she ended her term as Secretary of State in 2012.  All of the “personal” e-mails were deleted, although the State Department-related e-mails were subsequently turned over to the State Department.  The server cannot now be hacked because it hasn’t been operating for four years.  Thus, the EffaBeeEye could not recover the deleted e-mails.

Was it hacked in the past?  F.B.I. Director James Comey sharply criticized Hillary Clinton’s “reckless” behavior in handling e-mail while serving as Secretary of State.  Experts consulted by the New York Times concluded that her e-mail had “probably” (i.e. almost certainly) been hacked during visits to China and Russia.[2]  This raises the possibility that the Russkies accessed her e-mail before she ended her tenure as Secretary of State and before she wiped the 30,000 “personal” e-mails from the server.

The New York Times has been quick to engage in damage control.  In its view, the released e-mails from the DNC “portrayed some [DNC] officials as favoring Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy while denigrating her opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders.”  It pointed out that the DNC had been targeted, but “apparently not those of the Republican National Committee.”[3]  This farcical idea is used to introduce a reference to Watergate and, by implication, Richard Nixon.

Assuming that the Russians had hacked Clinton’s e-mail server, Donald Trump urged the Russians to release the now-deleted e-mails. “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI.”

Nevertheless, the incident has become more of a problem for Republicans than for Democrats.[4]  For example, Paul Ryan’s spokesman responded by denouncing Russia and Vladimir Putin as “a global menace led by a devious thug.”  For their part, the Democrats quickly portrayed Trump as having invited the Russians to hack a server that had—in reality–been out of operation for four years.

Did the Russians hack the Clinton e-mail server while it still functioned?  Did they provide any information to the Obama Administration through the FBI legal attache in the Moscow embassy?[5]  How would revealing the contents of her personal e-mails harm Hillary Clinton’s chances to become president?  Should American voters anticipate an “October surprise”[6] based on these hacked e-mails?

[1] Ashley Parker and David E. Sanger, “Trump Eggs On Moscow In Hack of Clinton Email,” NYT, 28 July 2016.

[2] David Sanger, “Hillary Clinton’s Email Was Probably Hacked, Experts Say,” NYT, 6 July 2016.

[3] It would be odd if the Russians did not attack the computer systems o both major parties.  Perhaps we’re waiting on revelations about Republican plans to derail Donald Trump.

[4] Or perhaps I just read the wrong newspapers.

[5] Not likely.

[6] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/October_surprise on the origins of the term.

Trump l’oeil 1.

Just over a third (38 percent) of Republicans are satisfied with Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee.[1]  How will they respond in November?  Will they turn out in full force to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House?  Will some sit out the election?  The Republican Party needs a big turn-out.  Even if they don’t want Trump as president, they do want lots of Republicans to vote for all the other candidates down ballot.  The Republicans seem likely to retain control of the House, but control of the Senate doesn’t seem to be a lock.  Then there are all the state and local races.  How to get Republicans to turn out in large numbers?

There are two answers.  First, Clinton is deeply unpopular with all Republicans (and many Independents).  Keeping Clinton out of the White House probably will overshadow putting Trump into the White House as a Republican campaign theme.[2]  This is going to get very ugly, even by current standards.  The foolish Benghazi investigation has been done to death.  However, F.B.I. Director James Comey’s brutally honest assessment of her e-mail issue hurt her on the competence argument that she wants to make against Trump.  Polls run after Comey’s press conference reported a 5 point fall in her favorability rating and a 7 point fall in her honesty and trustworthiness ratings.[3]  This is worth pondering.  The honesty and trustworthy score fell more than the favorability score.  Some 2 percent of the respondents think worse of her as a person, but still prefer her as the candidate.  That’s because Trump is the rival candidate.  However, it also shows that personal attacks can drive down her favorability rate.

Clinton has provided a lot to work with here.  Both the Clinton Foundation and her post-Secretary of State speeches are still ripe for the plucking.  It should come as no surprise if the Republican rage-generators use these topics as a device to portray Clinton as an influence-peddler, or bribe-taker, or even extortionist.  This could end in a scorched-earth campaign founded on fanning the flames of personal animus.[4]  The day after the election, Americans are going to wake up to a legacy of ill-feeling and failure to address real issues.

Second, Republicans have already begun to sell themselves on the idea that a President Trump could be “managed” by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.  Solid Republican majorities in the House and Senate would give them control over the Trump administration’s legislative agenda.  In this view, Trump really is just an empty suit who wants to fly around on Air Force One and tell the U.N. to its face where it can get off.  There is a large measure of self-delusion in this view.  Trump is a guy from New York City.  Regardless of anything he has said so far, he probably doesn’t believe in a “right to life”; probably isn’t any more homophobic than most Americans (Republican or Democrat); and isn’t a racist just because he takes a really hard line on both illegal immigration and immigration from Muslim countries “compromised” by Islamist terrorism.  “Because the New York Times says so” isn’t much of an argument.[5]  A guy who has used corporate bankruptcy to force his creditors to write down a lot of debt isn’t going to feel that McConnell and Ryan have got him over a barrel once he becomes President.  What is a Republican Senate going to do if Trump nominates Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court?

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 29 July 2016, p. 17.

[2] Probably there will be a lot of work for Trump-wranglers to keep him from saying or doing something that makes her seem the less-repellant candidate.

[3] “Clinton: a wounded candidate,” The Week, 29 July 2016.

[4] There is a certain passing similarity to Democrats’ personality-based attacks on Richard Nixon throughout his career.  None of that did America any good.

[5] See the column by NYT Public Editor Liz Spayd, “Why Readers See The Times as Liberal,” NYT, 24 July 2016.

An ugly election is shaping up.

First, Wall Street is all that stands between America and a Trump presidency!  As Donald Trump slew a succession of mainstream or even not-so-mainstream Republican dragons, the financial industry turned with a will to supporting Hillary Clinton.  Wall Street’s role rose from 32 percent of her campaign contributions in 2015 to 53 percent in March 2016.[1]  Clinton has shrugged off the criticism in this regard directed at her by Democratic rival Bernie Sanders.[2]

At the same time, just over half (51 percent) of 18-29 year-olds do not support capitalism.  A third (33 percent) do support socialism.[3]  That said, it isn’t clear what those polled mean by “capitalism” or “socialism.”  Still, Bernie Sanders is running at a time when many young people are more estranged from the accepted economic system than are their elders.  In the nature of things, the elders are going to die before the younger.  Sanders and his message may help shape the long-term attitudes of an entire generation.  Clinton’s support from Wall Street might confirm their beliefs.  Moreover, that support might make it difficult for Clinton to rally the support of many Sandersites, regardless of what course he follows.

Second, almost two-thirds of Americans in general (62 percent) think that their “beliefs and values are under attack.”[4]  Virtually all (85 percent) Republicans believe that their “beliefs and values are under attack.”  This includes 91 percent of the supporters of Donald Trump.  Thus, Trump isn’t far off what a lot of Republicans say, even if they don’t like the way Trump says it.  So, are Trump’s voters really angry over economic issues or are cultural issues at the heart of this movement?  Poll trolls report that 80 percent of Trumpsters believe that “the government has gone too far in assisting minority groups,” and that 85 percent believe that the US has “lost its identity.”  In the wake of Ferguson and BLM, and President Obama’s executive orders on illegal immigrants, this election could be about race.

Third, it’s going to be a case of voters holding their noses and picking the least bad option.  As of mid-May 2016, only 33 percent of people had a favorable view of the Republican Party, while 62 percent had an unfavorable view.  That’s a minus 29.  That hasn’t sent people streaming to the Democrats.  Only 45 percent had a favorable view of the Democratic Party and 50 percent had an unfavorable view.  That’s a minus 5.  However, 25 percent take an unfavorable view of both parties.[5]

The unfavorable gap is wide for both likely presidential nominees.  Hilary Clinton is at minus 24 (56 percent unfavorable versus 32 percent favorable); Donald Trump is at minus 41 (65 percent unfavorable versus 24 percent favorable).[6]  The majority of people polled have an unfavorable view of both candidates.  Almost half (46 percent) of Clinton’s supporters attribute their main motive to voting for her to the need to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.  Slightly more (47 percent) of Trump voters say that their main motive is to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House.[7]

Regardless of who wins, this election is liable to leave a bad taste in the mouths of most Americans.  Worse, neither candidate looks like a healer.

[1] “Noted,” The Week, 20 May 2016, p. 18.

[2] Given Wall Street’s history, the question is whether a Clinton “bubble” is growing.  If such a “bubble” bursts, will it happen before the election or afterward?

[3] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 6 May 2016, p. 17.

[4] Lost the reference to this article.

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 13 May 2016, p. 17.

[6] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 29 April 2016, p. 17.

[7] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 20 May 2016, p. 19.

It ain’t necessarily so 1.

In 2002, a campaign finance law outlawed political spending by either unions or corporations during the last sixty days before an election.[1]  In 2010, the Supreme Court overturned this law in its “Citizens United” decision.  This led to widespread outrage among Democrats, who portrayed the decision as allowing millionaires and billionaires to buy all the political power they wanted.  Certainly, it looked like the Koch Brothers wanted to buy the 2016 election if it was for sale: they announced plans to spend almost $900 million in support of favored candidates.   That is as much as either of the two major parties.

Recent presidential elections haven’t done much to support this theory.  In the 2012 election Mitt Romney got beat by Barack Obama.  So far in the 2016 presidential primaries, Jeb Bush piled up a war-chest of $100 million, then got run off the road.  Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Rodham Clinton have raised $362 million; the last six Republican candidates raised $286 million.  Sanders, with $182 million, and Clinton, with $180 million, far out stripped Ted Cruz, with $78.2 million.  As for Donald Trump, he has raised about $50 million.[2]  Current guestimations are that Clinton will win the Democratic nomination and the White House.

Democrats fume that the rich still control everything because of their influence behind the scenes and because their ads resonate with idiots.  Even if the Democrats do win the White House on occasion, they can’t get anything done because of the obstruction by the Congressional toadies of the rich.   Journalist Jane Mayer has done much to highlight the influence—real or imagined–of the Koch brothers.[3]  It’s difficult to know exactly how much influence the Kochs have had.  Much of their money has gone to shaping the intellectual debate on the role of government.  Thus, they have donated to libertarian-leaning think-tanks and universities.[4]  A lot of it has gone to support right-wing challengers to mainstream Republicans in primaries.  This, it is said, compels mainstream Republicans to veer right to fend off challengers.

This argument works on the unspoken assumption that Republican voters themselves have moved farther right even as mainstream Republican politicians remained more centrist until challenged in a primary election.  Why might Republican voters have come to believe in a smaller government?  At the risk of forcing square pegs into round holes, consider a couple of statistics.  First, 22.4 percent of workers now need a government license to get and keep their jobs.  Nearly 20 percent of those in non-medical fields needed such a license.[5]  Second, on average, people spend 35 hours a year filling out government forms of one kind or another.[6]  However, adults fill out forms for their children and often for their own elderly parents.  For these people—who are of voting age—the real amount of time spent filling out forms might be double or triple the average.  So, a work-week or two out of their lives each year.  Perhaps this is part of what has shifted some voters to the right?

[1] “Citizens United: Has big money lost its power?” The Week, 29 January 2016, p. 17.

[2] http://elections.uscommonsense.org/

[3] Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (New York: Doubleday, 2016).

[4] Recently, the editorial pages of the New York Times have witnessed much hand-wringing over the absence of conservative voices in academia.  This is attributed to an apparent liberal bias in hiring.  The effect, however, is to provide the Democratic Party with an army of spokesmen for the pro-government argument.  On the other hand, much of the funding for these spokesmen is traceable.  Much of it comes from taxes and tuition paid by people who are not on the left.

[5] “The bottom line,” The Week, 6 May 2016, p. 36.

[6] “Noted,” The Week, 6 May 2016, p. 16.