Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Come on, Bernie. Stick to the issues

By Richard Barry

I like Sen. Bernie Sanders. I like the issues he's raising and how he's doing it.  I'm glad he's in the race and I'm sure I'll be saying some nice things about him in the coming months.

Sure, he says he doesn't begrudge her the money she is making in speeches, but it does suggest to him, he said in an interview, that she therefore couldn't understand what working stiffs have to go through to make ends meet, or those struggling to feed their families.
“When you hustle money like that, you don’t sit in restaurants like this,” he said. “You sit in restaurants where you’re spending—I don’t know what they spend—hundreds of dollars for dinner and so forth. That’s the world that you’re accustomed to, and that’s the world view that you adopt. You’re not worrying about a kid three blocks away from here whose mom can’t afford to feed him.”

But “that type of wealth has the potential to isolate you from the reality of the world,” Sanders added, mentioning a growing disconnect and anger at the establishment that he has noticed at gatherings in Austin, Las Vegas, Chicago and the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

Maybe one could claim this isn't a personal attack, that it's a legitimate concern her policies won't go as far to help people in need because she doesn't understand them. But it's a personal attack. And Bernie, you said you wouldn't go there.

For whatever reason, politics frequently doesn't work that way. Presidents who have come from wealth or become very wealthy, like FDR, JFK, and LBJ, were very concerned about the poor. Ronald Reagan came from humble beginnings and turned into Ronald Reagan.

I have no doubt that Sen. Sanders himself cares deeply about working people and the less fortunate, but he's a United States Senator and I'll bet in a typical day eats quite well. Who cares?

This is nonsense.


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Down ticket, up ticket

By Richard Barry

One of the issues political outsiders don't typically concern themselves with is the thought process that goes into deciding to run for office from election cycle to election cycle, particularly in down ticket races.

In 2016, with Hillary Clinton the likely Democratic presidential nominee, and a strong one at that, the party should be able to attract significant numbers of A-list candidates encouraged to run based on a calculation of the value of Mrs. Clinton's coattails.
Democrats don’t expect to retake the House in 2016, but they understand the need to field competitive candidates to chip away at the Republicans’ historic majority. In part, that’s why the Clinton campaign and its allies have begun talking up her efforts to build an infrastructure in all 50 states, an organizational show of strength that could encourage wary prospects to run for Republican-held House seats — even in states that aren’t competitive in the Electoral College.

It's a somewhat underappreciated part of politics that candidates have to make calculations about their personal finances, career development, family obligations, health considerations, etc., before deciding to run or not. Add to that, of course, a sober consideration of the likelihood of winning.

If you are a Democrat considering a run for Congress, having Hillary Clinton at the top of the ballot has to make that decision a lot easier.

Strength attracts strength, or something like that.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Oh, that wacky Pope

By Richard Barry

And I'm just getting started.

Hey, how often do you get to write a headline like that?

The point, though, is that Pope Francis is making some conservatives very unhappy.
Catholic Republicans are developing a pope problem. Earlier this month, Francis recognized Palestinian statehood. This summer, he’s going to issue an encyclical condemning environmental degradation. And in September, just as the GOP primary race heats up, Francis will travel to Washington to address Congress on climate change.

You gotta laugh. One problem with JFK's candidacy was the fear that, as a Catholic, he would be compelled to take direction from Rome. If only Catholic Republicans would do that now, they would be a much more interesting party.

Also funny, as Politico notes, Republicans who have concerns about the Pope's progressivism are flipping a"familiar script in which Democrats like John Kerry and Joe Biden were labeled 'cafeteria Catholics' when their stances on social issues like abortion and gay marriage differed from those of the church."

Morality is complicated. Who knew?

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George Pataki: Yesterday's man

By Richard Barry

It would appear that former New York Governor George Pataki doesn't get out much, by which I mean he is pro choice, very concerned about environmental protection, has a record of promoting stronger gun laws, and still wants to run for the GOP presidential nomination.

While he has already begun to use the typical hedge that decisions on issues like gay marriage, gun rights, and education should be left to the states, I suspect he won't be able to avoid offering his own views once things get going.

Add to this that few think he can make a credible run and he doesn't register in the polls.

Not that I'm a fan, but it is interesting that, as pollster Larry Sabato says, Gov. Pataki is rated no better than an also ran, despite the fact that he is "a three-term governor of New York who was a prominent part of 9/11."

But if he is able to break through at all, it will be fascinating to see how a candidate with some very unusual views for a Republican impacts the overall dynamic of the conversation.

Again, if he does get noticed, and that's a big if, he may stand as a reminder to voters just how radical the  more "credible" GOP candidates either are or will have to present themselves to win the nomination.

George Pataki: What Republicans used to look like.


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Monday, May 25, 2015

Never too early to think about GOP VP possibilities

By Richard Barry

There were several reports over the weekend that Ohio Governor John Kasich is getting closer to announcing his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination. 

An interesting adjunct to these stories was speculation that he might be positioning himself for the vice-presidency, although Kasich denied this saying, "I don't play for second." Yes, well, no one in his position ever says anything different. Wouldn't it  be refreshing if a candidate announcing a presidential bid actually said, "I know I can't win but I'd have no problem being second on the ticket."

My guess is that most of those running would at least think about second spot if it were offered. No doubt some of the lesser lights would be absolutely beside themselves with joy if approached.

Among those already running or likely to run, maybe a Bush-Walker ticket would work. Or a Walker-Rubio, even the other way around.

A Bush-Rubio ticket would be interesting in terms of generational balance and appeal to Hispanic voters, though there could be regional concerns with both being from Florida.

I can't imagine Cruz or Paul would be anyone's idea of a VP. And, despite what Kasich says now, given the importance of Ohio on the electoral map, he would certainly be an attractive option.

What about Fiorina to counter Clinton's appeal to women? 

All kinds of balance factors to consider, and the VP nominee obviously doesn't have to be a presidential hopeful. 

Who know? Just thinking it through.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Radio Shack shows no company values privacy

By Frank Moraes

Have you read the privacy policy at my blog Frankly Curious? I’m assuming not, because there isn’t one. But if there were one, I can promise you this: I would have really meant it when I wrote it. I’m like Google: I do my best not to be evil — as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me much. But if I had a bunch of your private information, and I could sell it and retire in Paris (or even Canada), I would have a policy change. You would probably think that I was a jerk, but I would be justified in thinking that you were an idiot for believing me. For one thing: you didn’t even know that I didn’t have a privacy policy! If I did, I would doubtless have put something in it to allow me to weasel out of it.

Okay, maybe not. I pride myself on standing for something. Just the same, I have my price. I wouldn’t murder someone just to spend my evenings in cafes drinking Burgundy, but giving your contact information so that some company could sell you things is not the same. If someone offered me a more reasonable (but still unrealistically large) amount of money, like $1,000, I wouldn’t do it. I already have a hard enough time living with myself; I don’t need that on my conscience. So you are safe. More or less.

But given that privacy policies are apparently not legally binding, one might wonder why companies have them. The reason, I think, is because they are evil. They don’t know what they are going to do with all the personal information they have, but they know that it might be helpful to have it. At some point, it might be worth a lot of money. And then it is Burgundy Time, my friends! (How ever they may define that.) And then they just change that policy and sell out. Go team!

The reason I bring this up is because Radio Shack just announced that because of its bankruptcy, it is selling all of our personal information for $26 million. If you are as old as I am, you may remember that you simply could not go into a Radio Shack and purchase a half foot of wire without providing them with your full name and address. Really, the next time an employer wants to know where I’ve lived the last ten years (and increasingly, they all do), I should just refer them to Radio Shack. Or rather, Standard General, the company that is buying Radio Shack’s rotten corpse.

As Michael Hiltzik noted, Radio Shack made a very big deal out of their commitment to the personal data that the company collected on upwards of 120 million of us:

“We will not sell or rent your personally identifiable information to anyone at any time,” the chain stated on its website. At the checkout registers in its stores, a placard read: “At RadioShack, we respect your privacy… We pride ourselves on not selling our private mailing list.”

They did pride themselves on that! And now that they did exist, they don’t need no stinking pride. They need money to pay their creditors. And these creditors aren’t little people like are in their data files; they are rich people; you know, people who matter. Hiltzik joked that Radio Shack is like Captain Corcoran inHMS Pinafore, for whom “never” means “hardly ever.” But I’m afraid that is too generous a description of the company. Radio Shack valued customer privacy exactly up to the point where it didn’t.

The government doesn’t care. “Privacy Ombudsman” Elise Frejka decided that it was okay for Radio Shack to sell the data because it “is not of a sensitive nature.” One has to wonder, however, if that’s the case, why did Radio Shack make such a big deal out of collecting it? Also, it seems to me that it provides enormous amounts of personal data about shopping patterns. Regardless, if it is such banal data, why is it worth $26 million?

My only advice is to not trust anyone. And that is impossible in this modern world. We are supposed to have a government to protect us from such things. But in America, the government just facilitates whatever the rich want. The only solution if for us to take control of the government. I’m not hopeful about that.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Will social media ever be the primary driver in electing a president?

By Richard Barry

A piece by Ryan Cooper in The Week raises an interesting, if overstated, point that 2016 could be the first election in which the political press is sidelined. He argues that politicians are becoming so adept at using social media that they can effectively get their messages out unaided by the reporters who typically follow them around, literally and metaphorically.

He adds that "no journalist has the kind of media celebrity and cultural credibility (as Tim Russert used to have) that once made interviews mandatory for aspiring presidents." 

On this view, political stars can be neither made nor broken by a handful of powerful people. 

One sign, he writes, that politicians are starting to understand this is that Hillary Clinton is in no hurry to engage reporters as a way to sell herself to the voting public, hence the complaint that she hasn't taken many direct questions. 

Mr. Cooper's argument leads him to the conclusion that campaign reporters do little good because candidates are disinclined to answer tough questions, and reporters are, in any case, more interested in "inane questions about process, the horse race, or gaffes." 

In what he calls the "gaffe-centric media coverage . . . the slightest misstep or embarrassing picture can lead to a days-long Internet firestorm."

Following the logic of the argument, in the days when engaging political reporters was an absolutely necessary way for a candidate to push his or her message and raise their profile, there was always a risk that something untoward would be said or done by the candidate and that the reporter or reporters in the scrum or at the event or somewhere on the campaign trail would get their gotcha moment.

But if candidates can communicate directly with voters through Twitter, Facebook, websites, web ads, etc., why would they risk putting themselves in the position of being unable to control how they are perceived?

They wouldn't, which makes Mr. Cooper think reporters should mostly leave candidates alone and go off and write "more interesting and substantive articles using public communications, polling, policy documents, and so forth." 

I'm all for more substantive articles. 

The general point that social media may allow candidates to pay less attention to mainstream media has, no doubt, some validity. And there may well come a time when social media is powerful enough to elect a president, but we are not there yet. 

I think what this means is that we are in a transition period in which candidates are trying to gauge how well they can control their own message through social media, understanding, despite Mr. Cooper's argument, that mainstream political reporting is not dead yet, and it still has to be engaged in a significant sense. 

This is what I find most interesting. It's not an either/or proposition, it's a matter of proportion between the influence of the relatively anarchic realm of social media and the centralized power of major media conglomerates, and the reporters who work for them. 

It's also worth noting that social media and corporate media are not entirely separate entities. I'm reminded of the fact that the first time I saw Hillary Clinton's campaign announcement web video was on CNN. And my guess is that those reporters Mr. Cooper thinks will play a diminishing role campaigns can actually do a lot to promote or bury a given candidate's social media profile. Again, not either/or. 

I recall something I once heard on an episode of the West Wing, which is that one ought "never argue with a man who buys [printer's] ink by the barrel." The political press still buys the stuff by the barrel and I don't think we will see them sidelined by 2016, and I wouldn't suggest pissing them off for all the Tweets in the world. 

But I look forward to a time when the balance shifts, when candidates won't have to be vetted and approved by a centralized corporate media, when there will be a way around them, although I suspect in the end corporate media will simply find more effective ways of controlling social media. 

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Progressives shouldn't think of voting for Hillary Clinton as "settling"

By Richard Barry

My instinct is to push hard against wealth and privilege in American politics, which is what makes it hard for me to fully embrace Hillary Clinton's candidacy. I continue to hope that some of Bernie Sanders "social democratic" ideas get a fair hearing. I'm not optimist, but I'm hoping.

I don't intend to be an uncritical Hillary booster. In any case, she really doesn't need my help. 

Having said that, Hillary Clinton is not just "some women" who happens to be running for president. She is one of the smartest, most qualified candidates to seek the job in a long time. In addition, and this is key, she is not just progressive compared to the right-wing extremists seeking the GOP nomination. She is very progressive in the context of what the U.S. political market will bear. 

It's not the whole enchilada, but it's pretty good.

Don't take my word for it. You can have a look at an article that appeared in the  Huffington Post in mid-May by Ben Stein and Amanda Terkel. They compare, as they write, how "Hillary Clinton measures up on Bill De Blasio's 13-point progressive litmus test."

On immigration, criminal justice reform, labour reform, family sick leave, the carried interest loophole, expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, the refinancing of student loan debt, the Buffet Rule, and CEO pay she does well by any progressive measure.

Am I worried that her relationship to Wall Street and a penchant for pragmatism (in a bad sense) might impact what she would actually do if elected? Yes I am. But that's true of anyone.

No gaurantees, but read the piece and relax a little bit about the presumptive nominee. This could be a lot worse.


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Should politicians be allowed to relax?

By Richard Barry

I've been to a number of those off-the-record media roasts in which skits and songs are performed and politicians mix it up with members of the press, frequently making fun of themselves in a way that resonates with the tenor of media coverage of them.

Though I doubt any of these events are ever really off the record these days, which is too bad because a lot fun can be had if those involved feel safe for an evening.

On Wednesday, at an annual New Jersey media roast, Gov. Christie took the stage and gave what Bloomberg Politics called "an expletive-laced speech . . aimed at reporters who mocked him for the George Washington Bridge scandal, his travel, and state finances."
“We don’t give a s--- about this or any of you,” Christie, a 52-year-old Republican who is considering a run for president, said to laughter and applause from about 350 people at a Hamilton banquet hall. He told one journalist to “open your eyes” and “clean the s--- out of your ears.”

“This is a guy who says he doesn’t know what I’m doing every day,” Christie said of the New Jersey Legislative Correspondents Club president. “Then just get the f--- away from me then if you don’t know what I’m doing.”

As well, a parody of the song, “If I Were a Rich Man” from Broadway’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” was reworked: “I’m not Sheldon Adelson’s boy/I’ll tell him I’m another hopeless goy.”

In 2012, Christie and Cory Booker, the former Newark mayor who now is a Democratic U.S. senator, collaborated on a video for the show that parodied the governor’s potential as a vice president and the mayor’s heroism after saving a neighbor from a fire. Posted on Christie’s YouTube page, it’s been viewed more than 400,000 times.

I don't know what Kevin Roberts a Christie spokesman, was referring to when he said in an e-mail, “That anyone would misrepresent the traditional lighthearted nature of the event is a disservice everyone involved." I'm sure some people would love to take Christie's remarks out of context.

I'm no fan of Chris Christie, though he does seem to have a good sense of humour, and a lot of very funny people are from New Jersery. But the point is that it would be a shame if these time-honoured events didn't happen anymore because the 24-hour news cycle is so desperate for content that it will take what are obvious jokes and try to turn them into something else.

In other words, the lack of authenticity in politicians is not entirely their fault. 

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Jeb Bush's bad conscience on climate change

By Richard Barry

Just as we saw Mitt Romney do a 180 on policies he had previously championed in order to appeal to the "activist base" of the Republican Party, I have to wonder if Jeb Bush is similarly conflicted, at least in terms of what he thinks and what he has to say. I mean, aren't we always being told how smart Jeb is?

I'm probably giving him too much credit, but it seems that the way he is talking about climate change is a hedge against a bad conscience. So, for example, Jeb says "it's not clear what percentage of climate change is man-made," but he thinks the "government should provide incentives for methods like hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling."

Then again, there's this gem:
"For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant, to be honest with you," he continued. "It's this intellectual arrogance that now you can't have a conversation about it, even. The climate is changing. We need to adapt to that reality." 

Yes, it's really arrogant for 97% of scientists to use science to empirically prove what the oil and gas industry doesn't want to acknowledge because it would damage their bottom line.
Jeb Bush hit back against President Obama's claim that climate change runs an immediate risk, saying Wednesday that while it shouldn't be ignored, it's still not "the highest priority."

As he has before, Bush acknowledged "the climate is changing" but stressed that it's unknown why. "I don't think the science is clear of what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It's convoluted," he said at a house party in Bedford, New Hampshire.

But here's the hedge:
"The President's approach is, effectively, reduce economic activity to lower our carbon footprint," he said. "That's not what he says, of course, but that's the result of his policies."

Rather than focusing on carbon emissions, Bush said, the federal government should provide more incentives for lower carbon-producing forms of energy, like hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling.

"I don't think it's the highest priority. I don't think we should ignore it, either," Bush said of climate change. "Just generally I think as conservatives we should embrace innovation, embrace technology, embrace science. ... Sometimes I sense that we pull back from the embrace of these things. We shouldn't.

For a Republican, that's a pretty nuanced view on climate change, one that I am sure will be robustly attacked by Jeb Bush's opponents in the GOP presidential nomination race. 

The question is, which Fox News personality will be the first to ask Republican candidates, yes or no, if climate change is man made?

Try to nuance that, Jeb.


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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mandatory same-sex marriage? Really?

By Richard Barry

Who wants sex? Raise your hand.

Through the miracle of the Internet, I found myself reading an article about Sen. Ted Cruz in a publication called the Texas Tribune. They first reported on his stump speech and the usual platitudes involving loving the Constitution, hating Obama's foreign policy agenda, and then there was something about economic growth.

Later in a private meeting with Beaumont county officials he mixed it up with reporters saying things like that the left and the media are obsessed with sex presumably based on the importance they place on reporting or defending civil rights like same-sex marriage.

That's Ted Cruz. I don't really care. 

But one statement of his that went by quickly and about which others have commented involved what he called the expansion of "mandatory same-sex marriage." That's what he called it.

The odd thing is that for some time those supporting same-sex marriage have made a bit of a joke out of the fact that extending the right to marry to same-sex couples doesn't mean straight couples will be forced to take up the practice. Ha, ha.

It was a joke with a meaning, which was that same-sex couples getting married really won't effect those not directly involved.

When confronted with this line, conservatives typically make the argument that allowing gays to marry would destroy out culture or our American way of life, or whatever. The problem is that this argument is weak tea and Ted Cruz knows it.

So, he's begun to go around slipping in the nonsensical term "mandatory same-sex marriage," which, if he was pressed, would probably cause him to invoke the right of Christians to violate his beloved Constitution by denying the rights of those they disapprove of. 

But really, what he's doing at, I would say, an unconscious level (sorry Sigmund) is implying that people will be forced to, well, you know. And, gosh golly, if the government went around forcing straight men to marry other men, and straight women to marry other women, well, that wouldn't be right.

I wouldn't suggest you take this too literally, but neither do I think Ted Cruz is unaware of the power of the words "mandatory same-sex marriage."

Vote Ted Cruz so that won't happen.


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Gov. Christie has left his senses, now if he would only leave New Jersey

So what you're saying is that it isn't because you
want me to stay?

A lot of people think politics is boring and not at all fun. But how can they think that? Perhaps it's because they've never been to New Jersey.

As the political equivalent of a hanging curve ball, Gov. Christie told Megyn Kelly of Fox News that the reason 65 percent of New Jersey voters don't think he'd make a good president is that they love him so much in the Garden State that they want him to stay. What he actually said was,  "A lot of those people in that 65 percent want me to stay. And I've heard that from lots of people at town hall meetings."

Well, the state's largest newspaper, the Newark Star-Ledger, would like to take issue with that assessment, and not in a very nice way.

They say that if Gov. Christie believes this, which is possible, he has lost touch with reality.

They think the reason people in New Jersey don't believe Christie would make a very good president is because he has been a disaster as governor. 

And why is that?
It could be the rotten job market. Or the high property taxes. Or the crumbling transit system. Or the broken promise on pensions. Or the private jets. Or the Bridgegate indictments. And so on.

They offer the advice to Gov. Christie that he ought to reacquaint himself with reality, "pour himself a drink and ask himself the tough question: Why don't people love me?

Because, sorry, Governor, they don't love you.

Hey, the next time your boss gives you a really bad job evaluation, ask him if it's because he thinks you'd be great for that promotion you've been coveting.

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When criticizing Hillary Clinton becomes a sport

By Richard Barry

Yeah, I came for the 50 bucks and a place to nap.

Focus groups are very important. They can give us a deeper dive on voters' thought processes, maybe help us better understand which impressions are sticking and which are more ephemeral, perhaps even give us some insight into the emotions behind people's preference. But a focus group is not a poll, and to headline a story, as Bloomberg Politics does, by saying Iowa Democrats believe a "flawed Hillary Clinton" is their "only hope" is just a little misleading considering only 10 people were spoken to and, in any case, that's not at all what they said.

In fact, as I read the responses from the focus group participants, which you can do for yourself, I find that the most consistent impression is that Hillary Clinton is a very accomplished and capable individual who has been around a long time and, as a result, has some baggage.

For elected officials, incumbency is usually seen as a great strength on the path to reelection. But having been around a while also means you have had more chances to screw up or annoy people. In any case, a high profile is a double edged sword, and we are seeing that in aces with Mrs. Clinton.

Is she perfect? No. Is she going to be attacked relentlessly by her political enemies. Yes. Will she always handle those attacks well? No. Are there some real problems with her past? Yes. But to read this headline you would think that this group of 10 Iowans are mortified that Hillary is the only credible candidate running for the Democratic nomination, which couldn't be less true. 

Overall, they seem pleased.

And, oh yeah. At the very end of the story is this gem: "Qualitative research results cannot be statistically analyzed or projected onto the broader population at large." 

Thanks for the warning. Now if you could have a chat with your headline writer...


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