Hillary Clinton

David Warsh: Clarifying the story about Podesta and the DNC server

 

BOSTON

An interesting experiment, conducted last week in Washington, may signal the end of one dispensation and the beginning of another.  On July 5, reporter Dan Boylan had  brief item in The Washington Times, a Republican newspaper, under the headline, “Hacked computer server that handled DNC emails remains out of reach of Russia investigators.”

Two days later, President Trump tweeted from the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg that “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and CIA. Disgraceful!”

Never mind that Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, had no direct connection with the Democratic National Committee, and little or nothing to do with its decision. The DNC turned over its server instead to a trio of private security firms led by CrowdStrike, of Irvine, Calif., its consultant throughout the campaign.  Shawn Henry, a former FBI executive who formerly led both the FBI’s criminal and cyber divisions, oversaw the investigation as head of CrowdStrike’s prevention and incident response services.

The one-two punch was a transparent attempt to reopen the antagonisms of the 2016 presidential campaign. Custody of the server hadn’t been a big item to this point, Boylan noted, “But behind the scenes, discussions are growing louder, Congressional sources say.” Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), who is heading the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation, said “I want to find out from the company [that] did the forensics what their full findings were.”

Why might the DNC be reluctant to turn over its server to the FBI?  We’re back to the high degree of polarization that existed in the nation’s leading law-enforcement agency in 2016.  Economic Principals has written about this tension before, speculating that incipient mutiny within several FBI field offices may have led Director James Comey to announce, shortly before the November election, that he was reopening the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Vetting the previously unexamined exchanges found on former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s computer took only days and turned up nothing new. But the reminder of the long-running controversy was widely considered to have influenced the election – almost certainly more than any action ascribed to Russian hackers. The question of insubordination amid the internal feud,  well-documented by The Wall Street Journal (subscription required), didn’t come up in Comey’s Senate testimony, and has received little attention from the mainstream press, and for good reason.

The FBI is proud of its tradition of independence and discipline.  Not since the Watergate affair have differences of opinion within the Bureau spilled into the press in the form of leaks that turned out to have momentous consequences.  In in 1972 and 1973, Deputy Director Mark Felt’s ambition to displace L. Patrick Gray played a major, if inadvertent role, in precipitating the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon.

In 2016, Comey headed off a threatened rebellion by agents pursuing a criminal investigation of the Clinton Foundation. No doubt he intended to deal afterwards with those who threatened to go to the press. Such internal matters are very difficult to uncover, at least in the absence of continuing turmoil. That “the vast majority of the FBI community had great trust in your leadership and, obviously, trust in your integrity” was confidently asserted in the Senate hearing, by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), and never mind the views of the dissenting minority.

Former Assistant Atty. Gen. Christopher Wray, nominated by President Trump to succeed Comey as director, is widely expected to seek to maintain the Bureau’s fall-on-your-sword traditions. Hence the good leaving-alone the affair has received from the mainstream press – that, and a dominating preoccupation with those audacious Russians.

Now the point. The DNC’s reluctance to share its server probably stems from an awareness of lingering antagonisms within the FBI – the natural inference is that there’s presumably something on it that they don’t trust some FBI agents to keep to themselves once seen.  Still, the failure to turn over the evidence is just the sort of lever on public opinion the Congressional Republicans have used before with great success, notably with respect to Hillary Clinton’s decision to use a private email server while Secretary of State. I don’t expect Congressman Trey Gowdy (R.-S.C.) to gain much purchase with this one, despite his ascension to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

What might have changed?  The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to lead a broad Russia probe, for one thing.  The prospect of next year’s mid-term Congressional elections, for another.

Mueller has established a cone of waiting. His inquiry far outranks in probity whatever the hearing the Senate might conduct. If he subpoenas the hacked server, he’ll get it.  As Politico’s Jack Shafer wrote last week:

"With Mueller on the case, leaks to the press make less sense than scheduling an appointment with one of the special prosecutor’s tough guys. Mueller has placed a lockdown on his team, so don’t expect leaks from him. It’s gonna be a long, hot, dry summer unless the targets of the investigation start gushing to the press on the direction of their attorneys.''

The midterm elections pose a significant threat to Republican Party ambitions.  It’s too soon to assess the possibilities.  But leaving aside grandiose hopes, such as reclaiming former Congressman Tom Price’s House seat in Georgia, the Democratic Party is in position to make substantial gains next year, if it can identify suitable candidates

It’s hard to judge these things from Boston (though it may be easier than in Washington). My hunch is that the valence on Capitol Hill has changed. The familiar kamikaze tactics of the last 25 years may be coming to an end. That is why the DNC server experiment bears watching.

David Warsh, a veteran business and political columnist and an economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com, where this piece first ran.

 

Find a good governor to run for president

Adapted from an item in Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary,'' in GoLocal24.com

Hillary Clinton should fight her combative instincts and keepa low profile so as not to take the oxygen out of potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, such as  the highly effective and popular Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. Then there are New York Sen. Kristin Gillibrand and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, both smart, articulate and fast on their feet politically.

And wouldn’t it be nice if the very able and popular Republican governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker, ran for his party's presidential nomination? Of course, in the current rendition of his part, he’d probably have little chance.

As a general rule, it’s better to elect someone who has run a state than someone who has just served in Congress. Executive experience in a political and public-policy environment is invaluable for would-be presidents. It’s easy to spout off as a legislator, but a lot tougher to oversee administration.  The record ofpeople running a state government gives voters quite a bit of useful information in how they might run the federal Executive Branch.

The public’s immune system needs a rest from the Clintons. The kids predictably loved her at Wellesley College’s commencement this year but I suspect that a large majority of the American electorate wants her to take a lower profile.

 

David Warsh: Of Russian hacking and 'minimal democracy'

CHICAGO

I pored over the program of the Allied Social Science Associations,  looking for a panel devoted to Russia, the topic uppermost on my mind. (I’m interested in the thinking behind the Russian intervention in the U.S. election.)  
The closest I came was a session on the persistent effects of culture and institutions. It had been organized by James Robinson, director of the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts at the Harris School of Public Policy of the University of Chicago (not dean of the school, as asserted earlier) and author,  with Daron Acemoglu, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, of Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (Crown, 2012).

That produced an especially interesting paper, A Theory of Minimal Democracy, by Francesco Trebbi, of the University of British Columbia, Chris Bidner, of Simon Fraser University, and Patrick Francois, also of UBC. Trebbi distinguished between relatively robust democracies, extending  all or most of the familiar complement of rights  to non-elites — to  vote; to form and join associations; to be protected by the rule of law, and by a free press — and those states long known as minimalist democracies These hold regular elections, which may be hotly contested,  but otherwise offer ordinary citizens relatively little else.  They are widely distributed around the world but little understood: competitive autocracies, non-redistributive democractizations, captives of  the resource curse.

 

Clearly Russia is one. The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Indonesia, Nepal, Moldova, and Mongolia are others.

A major question is how they change.  Does deep culture dominate?  Or might institutions — elections, for example — become self-enforcing?  Questions like this one are at the heart of the contretemps with Russia: Vladimir Putin apparently believes that Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, sought to foment dissent in Russia in 2011, when he ran for a third term as president. Maybe she did.  

 

A new sub-discipline of political economy, revivified by Acemoglu and Robinson,  Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini, and many others,  has much to say about the issue, but has only just begun to train a new generation of area experts.

The territory of economics has exploded in the last 55 years, the American Economic Review, which once decorously appeared but five times a year, now arrives with a pound or two of new material every  month.  The Journal of Economic Literature, established to keep non-specialists abreast of the steadily broadening stream of publications,  is approaching fifty;  the Journal of Economic Perspectives, designed to communicate developments to an interested lay audience, is  celebrating thirty years; four new field journals publish new work in microeconomics, macroeconomics, applied economics, and economic policy. And those are just the organs of the American Economic Association. Universities publish distinguished journals, too, as do other associations, societies, and commercial publishers.

A new entrant, The Annual Review of Economics,  has begun to impinge on this established universe slightly since it first appeared, eight years ago.  The first Annual Review — of Biochemistry — appeared in 1932. The enterprise proved so successful that the independent publishers who started it prepare today 41 collections of critical surveys of tightly focussed disciplines — including the Annual Review of Financial Economics and the Annual Review of Resource Economics. Established by Kenneth Arrow and Timothy Bresnahan, both of Stanford University, editing of ARE this year passed to Philippe Aghion, of the College de France, and Helene Rey, of London Business School..  

By providing more and somewhat higher-level surveys of new important findings and new tools, the ARE has forced, or freed,  JEL editor Steven Durlauf, of the University of Wisconsin,  to cast his net more widely. The JPE, where  Enrico Moretti, of the University of California at Berkeley, has replaced David Autor, of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now seems more newsy than ever. As for the AER, I zero-in to see what’s new when the mammoth Papers and Proceedings record of the annual meeting arrives in May. Because it offers rapid publication  of lightly-vetted articles deemed important, it regularly contains the first reports of inquiries that lead in due course to fault lines and fractures in received wisdom — hence to further spreading of the disciplinary tent.  

The meetings themselves still fufill the basic functions. The incoming president and his program committee organize the sessions that are to be published in the Proceedings; he or she invites the Ely lecturer, too.  President this year was Nobel laureate Alvin Roth, of Stanford University, an exponent of market design; he chose Esther Duflo, of MIT, who spoke about “The Economist as Plumber: Large-Scale Experiment to Inform the Details of Policy-Making.”  Next year Olivier Blanchard will preside, having stepped down from eight years as chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.  

A luncheon honored Nobel laureate Angus Deaton, of Princeton University.  The John Bates Clark Medal was presented, to Yuliy Sannikov, of Stanford University.  Four Distinguished Fellows of the Association were recognized: Richard Freeman, of Harvard University; Glenn Loury, of Brown University; Julio Rotemberg, of  Harvard Business School; and Isabel Sawtell, of the Brookings Institution. The exhibit hall bustled a little less than usual, perhaps at the news  that Peter Dougherty, a famous economics editor, would soon retire as director of the Princeton University Press.

Robert Shiller, of Yale University, gave the presidential lecture, “Narrative Economics.”  He told the audience, “Narratives matter for human thinking, and they ought to matter for economics.” I think so too. There are too few of them.  But there’s no time for narrative at the ASSA.

David Warsh,  a longtime financial journalist and economic historian, is proprietor of economicprincipals.com.

 

Chris Powell: Democrats underestimated the rage that has given us a repellent president-elect

Storming the Bastille.

Storming the Bastille.

Donald Trump has been vile, a megalomaniac, and ignorant when he has not been vague or incoherent, and has been distrusted even by many people who voted for him. So now that he has been elected president, what does that say about Hillary Clinton?

Probably it says that the Democratic Party managed to nominate the only candidate who could lose to someone of Trump's character -- managed to nominate a candidate who had spent decades as part of the country's political establishment and who was manifestly corrupt and a robotic campaigner but who was offered to the country anyway just when it seethed with resentment of declining living standards and wanted change.

Indeed, Trump's platform was little more than contempt for the establishment and even for the decencies themselves. But the more contemptible his demeanor became, the more support he gained.

Trump himself was the first to figure this out. Campaigning in Iowa in January he marveled, "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." Nor, as it turned out, did he lose voters -- or at least not too many of them -- even for boasting about his career of grabbing women by the crotch.

Clinton, the Democrats, the elites, and  many national news organizations never appreciated the rage to which Trump appealed, even when, toward the end of the campaign, opinion polls showed him rising. The polls still underestimated his support because people who were surveyed feared being perceived as politically incorrect.

But then Clinton, the Democrats, the elites, and national news organizations never understood, or at least never admitted, that for years now most economic figures issued by the federal government have been lies or deliberately misleading. Most of what national news organizations report about the economy has been mere spin meant to please the government.

The collapse of the labor-participation rate is not just a political scandal but a journalistic one, given the refusal of  most national news organizations to examine and emphasize it. The federal government's constant and surreptitious intervention in the financial markets to keep them from falling and thereby exposing the decline of the real economy is also both a political and journalistic scandal.

In telling people that the economy is improving when they see it deteriorating in their daily lives, the government and national news organizations only deepened people's political rage.

The gamble taken by Gov. Dan Malloy, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, and other leading Connecticut Democrats with their constant attacks on Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, might have paid off well if Clinton had won. Instead these attacks likely will prove costly, depriving Connecticut of any sympathy from the new national administration for the next four years.

Now no federal appointment will rescue Malloy from the perpetual disaster of his budgeting. Connecticut's congressional delegation, all Democrats, will spend another two years in the minority in Washington, though maybe the shock of Trump's election will make the Republican majorities a little less rabid and more inclined to work reasonably with the other side.

In their travels in support of Clinton the governor and the congressmen don't seem to have noticed the political rage of "flyover America." But while Connecticut went comfortably for Clinton, the gains made Tuesday by the Republican minority in the General Assembly hint at the possibility of rage even in this state, whose elites may be the most smug, especially since state government's finances keep deteriorating, compelling more tax increases or spending cuts.

State government's financial problems are not going to be fixed in two years; pension underfunding, among other things, will only make them worse. By then the rage may be explosive here too.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

 

Llewellyn King: Pick ignorant sleazeball or truth-trimming social engineer

On Tuesday, I’ll apprehensively, haplessly, hesitatingly, joylessly, morosely and reluctantly cast my vote for president. 

I don’t subscribe to the journalistic piety that journalists should conceal their preferences and not vote, or that having a point of view makes it impossible to be fair. This is the kind of virtue signaling favored by the former editor of The Washington Post, Leonard “Len” Downie, and by CNN host Anderson Cooper. I don’t think that it’s altogether bad for the public to know where their writers and broadcasters are coming from. 

But the truth is, I can’t decide for sure this election.

After watching all the debates, having read hundreds of thousands of words and wasted hundreds of hours in conjecture with friends and colleagues, I can’t say I’ve decided so completely that I’ll go with certainty into the booth.

Yes, I lean ever so slightly toward Hillary Clinton. I know her, so to speak; and there’s the rub. I know she is ambitious, hardworking, micro-managing, secretive and that she has no commanding vision for America at home or abroad. I also know that she’ll try and turn the country into an experimental social-science laboratory. 

My uncertainty went up a few notches with her declaration that she wants at least half her cabinet to be women. I did my time in the trenches of the women’s movement in the 1960s: I’m for equality everywhere and redress where it is needed. But to be told in advance that half the cabinet would be women is playing gender politics with the national well-being.

So, I veer toward Donald Trump: a man who has led a life as reprehensible as it has been lucky. Here we have a scoundrel, a sleaze, a sexual cad and a braggart of Olympian proportions. Yet the fascination is there; the hope that he is a man on a horse who will shake up the elites in Washington, from the cozy foreign policy establishment to the education lobby, which demands more money for worse outcomes.

The rot starts in the universities: high tuitions, self-regarding professors and irrelevant courses. Trump says he can fix everything so, for a moment, I think he can fix the universities, too.  

Napoleon fixed almost everything: the educational, economic and legal systems. But Trump is no Napoleon: He is a man of organic ignorance, apparently sustained by his own slogans. 

Even if Trump were eminently desirable, as an outsider, he’d be faced with huge challenges in appointing a government: 4,000 jobs, 100 of which need Senate confirmation.

 

In Trump’s case, knowing no one and nothing of the myriad responsibilities of the government, his vice president, Mike Pence, could become the de facto president.

 

But Pence is a man of rectitude and Trump is the opposite. They’re bound to clash; thereafter, Pence would be exiled to the official vice presidential residence at Number One Observatory Circle.

Hence vacuums everywhere and eager, shady people to fill them. People we’ve never heard of before; the first of whom will be recruited by the Trump transition team, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. One can just imagine the names in his Rolodex. 

The fiefs will spring up, secure in the knowledge that the president isn’t interested or doesn’t know how his administration works.

In a Trump government, things would shake, rattle and wobble.

Like millions of Americans I must decide whether I want Clinton with her record of challenged veracity, stretching back to the Rose Law firm in Little Rock, Ark., or the monstrously awful Trump, whose appeal is that he’s not Clinton. Vote wisely, won’t you?

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle, on PBS. His e-mail is llewellynking1@kingpublishing.com.

Llewellyn King: Taking a wrecking ball to the U.S. and U.K.

On both sides of the Atlantic, political and business retaining walls are being torn down in the belief that they are of no structural importance. Messing with the political and business architecture is likely to have grave, and possibly terrible, effects on democracy and prosperity.

In the United States solid, political orthodoxy, which has served well for so long, is under attack in the Congress and on the hustings.

A more advanced attack is underway in Europe than the United States, but it is a harbinger nonetheless of bad things that can happen here. The commonalities outweigh the differences.

In Europe, Britain has embarked on one of the great, avoidable debacles of history: the decision to leave the European Union. It will destabilize Europe, almost certainly lead to a breakup of the United Kingdom, and leave the British Isles vulnerable and impoverished, clinging to the tatters of its “sovereignty.”

To bring about this state of affairs, the British had to take aim at the very architecture of the English Constitution: the collection of rules and precedents that has flowed since Magna Carta and is enshrined in the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty.

Now the Conservative Party is bowing to the result of a referendum, a decisive result nonetheless, which will involve the withdrawal from Europe without a debate or vote in the House of Commons. A referendum in Britain — there have only ever been three, and all have been on Europe — denies representative government, created over the centuries, as the only system of government: the fundamental political architecture.

In the United States, the political architecture is under threat because we fail to revere it. A book by Richard Arenberg and Robert Dove, titled Defending the Filibuster: The Soul of the Senate, outlines one way that the structure is facing the wrecking ball. For 34 years, Arenberg worked in the Senate for such Democratic political giants as George Mitchell, Carl Levin and Paul Tsongas. Robert Dove served twice as Senate parliamentarian and was on Republican Leader Robert Dole’s staff. They argue that the political architecture in the Senate is under attack from the ceaseless, ugly partisanship and that the filibuster, a minority guarantee to a say, may be swept away.

Arenberg told me that the filibuster, always used sparingly and seldom invoked, has been abused in recent years to such an extent that a change in the Senate rules could sweep away this unique tool of whichever party is in the minority to be heard. If that happens, he said, a situation like the one in the House would prevail, where the majority holds sway without regard to the minority, more like a parliamentary system.

Other threats to the structure of American democracy abound. Many of them have been enunciated by Hedrick Smith, a distinguished documentary filmmaker and former New York Times correspondent, in his book Who Stole the American Dream? He points to gerrymandering and special interests and their money as threatening the retaining walls of the American democracy.

Worse, maybe, on both sides of the Atlantic, is the growing conservative rejection of trade as the basis not only of prosperity, but also of foreign-policy stability.

Brexit is the willing destruction of Britain’s largest trade arrangement and an equivalent reduction in its influence in Europe and, by extrapolation, in the world.

In the United States, Hillary Clinton has pusillanimously turned her back on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact that she helped write. And Donald Trump has declared his intention to trash almost all our trade treaties, which, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, he claims have been written by idiots to favor our competitors.

Most worrying is the way the U.K.’s Conservative Party and Republicans, silenced by Trump’s candidacy, here have accepted this rejection of traditional conservative bedrock: prosperity through trade. Institutionally, they have been quiet, so quiet.

The threat to good governance in Europe and America, combined with the prevailing economic heresy, poses a serious threat to the West and must have its enemies in Moscow and Beijing doing a happy dance. They know that if you knock down enough retaining walls, the structure will be weakened to the point of collapse. The wrecking balls are already at work.

Llewellyn King (llewellynking2@gmail.com) is host and executive producer of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a veteran publisher, columnist and international business consultant.

Don Pesci: The old-time party bosses are looking better and better

VERNON, Conn.

A shrewd political observer once said that Americans rarely solve their most pressing political problems; instead, they amicably bid them goodbye.

Take the primary system by way of example. The primary system itself has been attended, especially during the current presidential election campaign, with glaring problems that pretty nearly everyone has studiously ignored. It is the primary system that has given us two of the most unpalatable presidential candidates in U.S. history. Nearly 50 percent of voters on either side of the political spectrum this year will be voting against the presidential candidates, according to a September Pew Research poll.

Primaries lengthen the political season, an unintended result of a “participatory democracy” that benefits news producers, editors and candidates but few others.

The current primary season began on the Republican side 18 months ago when Texas  Sen. Ted Cruz announced his candidacy for the presidency. In due course, 16 other Republican hats were thrown into the ring. After the Republican Nominating Convention dispersed 16 months and millions of dollars later, Donald Trump, whose conservative bona fides and political affiliation still remain in question, emerged with the Republican nomination clenched in his teeth. Among the vanquished also-rans were three anti-establishment Republicans – Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Ron Paul – all Tea Party favorites and thorns in the side of the ancient Republican Party regime.

On the Democratic side, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was almost defeated by Socialist Democratic senator from the People’s Republic of Vermont, Bernie Sanders. Votes tallied at the Democratic Nominating Convention showed Sanders winning a not inconsiderable 1,865 delegates before he put forward a motion to nominate by voice vote Hillary Clinton, who, hacked e-mails later disclosed, had turned her efforts to subverting Sanders’s presidential bid.

During his primary campaign, Sanders refused to dwell on Clinton’s e-mail scandal, remarking to a smugly smiling Hillary Clinton during one of their debates that America was “sick of hearing about your damn e-mails," in hindsight a fatal strategic mistake. Sanders did mention that his campaign had been subverted by the Democratic National Committee, a charge later confirmed by hacked e-mails that Sanders thought tedious and not worth mentioning.

Almost everyone, except true-believers on both sides of the current political barricades, will agree that both Republican and Democratic Party nominees are scarred with defects that would not have made it past the jeweler’s eyes of the party bosses of yore.

The last real Democratic Party boss in Connecticut, John Bailey, would not have failed to notice both Mrs. Clinton’s glaring defects, not the least of which was her husband,  and Mr. Sanders’s leftist drift from what used to be called among Democrats the “Vital Center” of American politics.

Mr. Bailey would have allowed liberalism, but not libertinism, and he would have put the kibosh on Democratic candidates who favored an administrative repeal of any of the first 10 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  Pragmatic to the bone, Mr. Bailey almost certainly would not have sanctioned a measure to force The Little Sisters of the Poor, first brought to the East Coast of the United States by Abraham Lincoln, to dispense condoms to fellow workers who were not nuns or priests. He also would have counseled against any polity that refused adamantly to make reasonable accommodations with Evangelicals and members of the Catholic Church.

America began to experiment with presidential primaries as early as 1901. From 1936 to 1968 only 20 states deployed primaries, which were useful, progressives realized, in wresting political power and influence from party bosses like Mr. Bailey – and vesting political power… in what?

We now know the answer to this question.  Political power and money is now controlled by political party outliers. We have got rid of John Bailey, and replaced him with political PACs that furnish negative ads and dark money in the service of political actors who, petite parties themselves, are independent of either of the major two parties.

Because incumbent politicians are able to tap into money and power resources unavailable to their competitors, the political campaign table has been tilted in favor of incumbents favored by the county’s left of center media – which means that the correlation of forces pushes moderate Democratic candidates off center and, in some cases – c.f. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – very far left. These correlations of force have produced an ever widening, unbridgeable gap between the two major parties.

What Mark Twain said of the weather in New England – everybody talks about it, but no one wants to do anything about it – is also true of the modern primary system, which had been put in place long ago by progressives to mitigate what they felt were the defects of a strong two-party political system.

A party system that once depended upon sometimes corrupt party bosses for financing and direction now depends upon PACs that operate outside campaign-financing laws, provided they do not engage in promoting specific candidates. These party outliers are the wellspring of vicious ads that have only a nodding connection with the truth. The parties themselves are poor.

Primaries have reduced national conventions to rote political thought and action, breaking the indispensable live connection between state and national politics, which is now run by the whimsical nominal heads of parties. In November, the nation will reap what it has sown.  This time around, the primary system has allowed access to the presidency of two of the most unloved candidates for the presidency in modern times. And dark politics has produced nation-wide cynicism, dark thoughts and dark deeds.

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist, mostly on political topics.

Automation's assaults: Listen to Woody Allen

Excerpted from the Oct. 15 "Digital Diary'' on GoLocal 24

Many politicians, most notably Donald Trump, have talked about international trade’s destruction of American jobs. But there’s been far too little discussion of how to respond to automation’s assault on well-paying jobs. The losses have been concentrated in such places as factories and many other places employing blue-collar workers, as well as in office support staffs and middle management.  But now computerization and such sidekicks as artificial intelligence and algorithms are destroying work further up the chain, including in such places as the law, retailing, travel and the news media.  (Of course, even in heavily automated factories, you need a few highly skilled people to run “smart machines.’’ For now.)

The automation greatly benefits the holders of capital, which include the people in company C-suites who are richly rewarded for laying off as many people as possible.

What to do about the many millions of workers who either lose their jobs or, to stay employed, must take frequent pay cuts?

Do we tax the holders of capital more in order to do such things as giving everyone a base income whether or not they work and/or to help pay for training for new jobs? Of course at the rate that automation is going, those jobs might soon be destroyed by automation, too.  (Uber has been one way for otherwise unemployed people to make money in the past couple of years. Will self-driving cars soon eliminate that option?)

The idea, promoted by Hillary Clinton and many other politicians, that we can cure  many of these problems by creating expensive newfederal programs to send lots more people to college in delusional.  Bigger and more vocational apprenticeship programs, not only for young people starting out but also for workers every few years in their careers to keep them competitive in the world economy, might help but as automation rolls on, perhaps not all that much.

Complaining about trade deals is good politics, touching as it does on elements of patriotism and  even xenophobia. But as much as globalization, in which American workers are pitted against much lower-paid workers abroad, especially in China, gets attention, automation poses the bigger problem. It’s past time for politicians and other policymakers to come up with some fresh ideas to address its effects.

So what sectors are safe? Among them will  probably be nursing (to which will flow a lot of work now done by physicians),  food service, house repair, personal service, such as maids andbabysitters for the affluent, some graphics work and such trades as plumbing and electrical work. Plumbers and electricians should continue to do very well. And as Woody Allen said: “Not only is God dead, but try getting a plumber on Sunday.’’

-- Robert Whitcomb

Don Pesci: Courant for Clinton: Do media endorsements matter?

The media have lost their moral pull. The approval rating of the lowest bottom-feeding politician is several fathoms higher than that of “the media,” according to a September 2016 Gallup Poll   (http://www.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx)

 

The media, even less than the current Democratic and Republican presidential nominees, simply do not give a hoot about approval polls directed at them, which are worth pausing over none-the-less.

 

Since 1972, Gallup has been putting the following question on a yearly basis to the great unwashed, and the graph below traces the decline in media approval from 1997 to 2015:

 

 

Any politician – perhaps with the exception of Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, whose current approval rating, according to the most recent Quinnipiac June 2016 poll, is 24 percent, near bottom in the nation – might be alarmed by the negative drift in approval since 1997 from 53 to 32 percent.

 

Consider The Hartford Courant’s recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton. Frequent readers of Courant endorsements will understand that the paper’s rather warm embrace of Mrs. Clinton was a forgone conclusion, even in April 2015, when she first announced her bid for the presidency.



The paper’s current endorsement was, so to speak, written in the stars, and her Republican opponent simply did not figure into the paper’s endorsement calculations.  Possibly if Jeb Bush had emerged from the Republican Party primary rough and tumble as the nominee of his party, The Courant might have had a pang of conscience in delivering its endorsement to the badly tarnished Mrs. Clinton. The emergence of Donald Trump as an unexpected victor in the primary made the Clinton endorsement a slam-dunk. But the warmth radiating from the paper’s endorsement is inexplicable.

 

The Courant easily disposes of Mr. Trump in its editorial lead: “The problem with this election isn't that Donald Trump is racist. The problem is that we are.”

 

To be sure, the Courant here is not using the royal “we.” It would be a viperish untruth to conclude that the paper’s editorial board is a nest of racists. No, The Courant is subtly suggesting that what Mrs. Clinton has dubbed “the deplorables,” those who have in their heart of hearts endorsed Mr. Trump, are racists. This volatile charge lies like a scorpion’s sting in the paper’s larger proposition: We are all racists now; but most especially are those racists who, for whatever reason, will vote for the racist Republican nominee for president.

 

Well now, Courant simpaticos doubtless will argue, Mr. Trump, who has recklessly deployed hyperbole in his campaign, certainly has it coming to him.

 

But really, are all Americans racists – even those who deplore Mr. Trump’s reckless hyperbole?

 

Apparently so; it is difficult to put any other construction on the paper’s lead : “The problem with this election isn't that Donald Trump is racist. The problem is that we are.”

 

The Courant has turned a phrase made popular in 1888 by British politician William Vernon Harcourt (“We are all socialists now”) andlater deployed by Nobel economist Milton Friedman against the Keynesians (“We are all Keynesians now”) in a widely misunderstood 1966 Time Magazine article. Mr. Friedman was being sardonic, he later explained: “In one sense, we are all Keynesians now; in another, nobody is any longer a Keynesian.”

 

But The Courant is quite serious. The paper really does believe that “in one sense” we are all racists. And if this is true, how do we extricate ourselves from the coils of the racist serpent?

 

Easy: We do it by resting comfortably in the propositions put forth by Mrs. Clinton -- an unrepentant Keynesian, if not a socialist like Bernie Sanders -- whom the paper has fulsomely endorsed. An assent to Mrs. Clinton’s politics, however ruinous, marks our distance from the racist serpent. The Courant in its editorial does this with moral energy and dispatch and professes some misgivings that, considering Mrs. Clinton’s opposition, matter not at all.

 

Read the following with a jeweler’s eye. First come the obligatory disclaimers:

 

“Her track record as secretary of state is mixed. The aggressive policies that tried to force regime change in troubled parts of the world have had questionable results, arguably generating a backlash that helped fan the growth of the Islamic State. Even though she was not found personally culpable, the attacks at Benghazi happened on her watch. It is debatable whether the Middle East is any safer than it was before her tenure at the State Department.

 

“Mrs. Clinton has other flaws. She was wrong to use a private e-mail server in her home while working at State, and she took far too long to apologize for it. The Clinton Foundation has always been seen as a way to buy her influence, no matter how many firewalls are put up. She's taken large speaking fees that could make her feel beholden. She is too close to Wall Street. She can appear arrogant and distant — traits that do not serve a national leader well.”

 

This is followed by a crash of cymbals endorsement:

 

“But even with those flaws, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not even in the same ballpark. Critics though she may have, Mrs. Clinton is a smart, compassionate leader. Mr. Trump is a showman whose act is regrettably playing well on Main Street.”

 

The attentive reader will notice the micron-thin dusting of disapproval.

 

The “aggressive policies” that “tried to force regime change” in various unmentioned parts of the world arguably have had “questionable results.”

 

Arguable indeed! Some would argue that the “aggressive” Middle East policies of the Obama-Clinton administration were not aggressive enough.  Mr. Obama’s “lead from behind” posture in foreign policy was and is, in most important respects, an abdication of political responsibility.  Some Middle East nations, formerly friendly to the United States, now making cooing sounds in the direction of Russian President Vladimir Putin, have reluctantly concluded that the Obama-Clinton “strategy” in the Middle East lacked spine and intellectual rigor. The word “tried” as used in The Courant endorsement points to a massive failure. And the “results” of the Obama-Clinton Middle East strategy, or lack of it, are not at all “questionable.” 

 

 Indeed, the murderous results of Mr. Obama’s withdrawal from Iraq, largely the result of a diplomatic failure, are painfully obvious. The inevitable consequences of Mrs. Clinton's Libyan policy -- let’s come, conquer and kill Muammar Gaddafi – are evident in the smoldering ruins of the American Embassy Compound in Benghazi, Libya. It is the Obama-Clinton Middle East policy, the absence of a long-range strategy in the Middle East, that failed. The obvious results of this failure were predictable.

It is quite true that Mrs. Clinton’s “flaws” are not in the same ballpark as those of Mr. Trump – because Mrs. Clinton’s disastrous term as Secretary of State reveals real-time ruinous consequences flowing like a rush of blood from her character flaws, the most prominent of which is a disposition to bend reality to campaign rhetoric and to substitute campaign promises for a cogent and responsible Middle East foreign policy.

 

“It is debatable,” The  Courant avers in its Clinton encomium, “whether the Middle East is any safer than it was before her tenure at the State Department.”

 

Debatable? No, it is not at all debatable. The Middle East is soaked in the blood of martyrs, both Christian and peaceful Islamic martyrs, slaughtered by Islamic terrorists.

 

Homosexuality used to be “the love that dare not speak its name.” In the modern world, the name is now shouted approvingly as a boast and a challenge. We ought to be glad of it; it was entirely unnecessary to throw Oscar Wilde on the pyre prepared for him by the Marquis of Queensbury. But among those who tolerate the failed policies of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton – on pain of being called racist -- Islamic terrorism, even when it strikes its deathblows at the marrow of the core beliefs of American culture, may be the last remaining sin that dare not speak its name -- among politicians on the left. The terrorists themselves, of course, never tire of shouting their terrorism from the rooftops.

 

We ought to thank Mr. Trump, among others, for blowing up this dangerous pretension. Islamic terrorists and ISIS especially, much more potent now than it was when Mr. Obama dubbed the terrorist group a “JV team,” continues to destroy Christian Churches, execute both priests and so called “pagans” – death to the kafir! -- uproots the structure of the modern feminist movement, defended aggressively by Mrs. Clinton, and throws gays to their deaths from rooftops, in accordance with Sharia law. Iran adopted the extreme punishment of execution for sodomy in its 1991 Constitution: “Sodomy is a crime, for which both partners are punished. The punishment is death if the participants are adults, of sound mind and consenting; the method of execution is for the Sharia judge to decide.”

 

It was the Obama-Clinton administration that fashioned a nuclear deal with Iran that a) will not prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons, and b) would not have been possible had not the Obama-Clinton administration paid billions of dollars in cash to a regime that hopes to become a hegemonic power in the Middle East, so that it may destroy Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, beseeched the Obama administration not to go forward with the deal. Mr. Netanyahu also warned the Congress – Sen. Dick Blumenthal in attendance – that its implementation would be a disaster for the West.

 

For all his pains, Mr. Netanyahu might have been Cassandra warning the Trojans concerning Greeks hidden in a wooden horse.  Iran could easily buy with the cash transported to Iran in the dead of night in a modern Trojan horse any weaponry it wishes to purchase from America’s traditional enemies, Russia and China, to wreak havoc in Israel, making full use of its proxy Hamas terrorist forces in Lebanon – poor Lebanon, a country overmastered by the friends of Iran.

 

A few months back, this writer took a course in fresco at St. Michael's Institute for Religious Art at Enders Island, a stone’s throw from Mystic, Conn. The teacher, a master artist in fresco and Icon writing, was Lebanese. When I said to him, “Poor Lebanon,” he said, “Yes. The Muslim terrorists in Hamas march into villages and ask you your name. If it is a Christianized name – John, Mathew, Mark – they cut your head off in the public square. It sends a message.”

 

Sen. Dick Blumenthal and other members of Connecticut’s U.S. congressional delegation – all Democrats who endorsed the Obama-Clinton Iran deal, which ended a successful embargo and opened Iran to the usual corporations that do not scruple to march through blood to make a profit – should have a talk with him, or any of the other Christians who have suffered a Neronian persecution at the hands of terrorist Islam. But they won’t. Every one of them knows that the number of  Syrian Christians among refugees fleeing Mohammed’s sword, blessings be upon him, and admitted into the United States is only three percent or less. Perhaps the Congressmen do not want their mercies to be read by Islamic terrorists as a crusader response.  

 

Mrs. Clinton’s most glaring flaws may be seen most clearly in the smoking ruins of the American embassy in Benghazi, the terrorist attacks in Paris, the rapes of German, Belgian and Swedish women, the terrorist attacks in the United States by radicalized Muslims, Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and his ardent defense of Bashir al Assad in Syria, where once Mr. Obama drew a “red line” that quickly disappeared when Mr. Assad, every bit as ruthless as his father, used chemical weapons on his opponents. And Mrs. Clinton’s narcissistic flaws peek out at us like grinning devils from her e-mails, purloined by hackers and containing, despite Mrs. Clinton’s false denials, top-secret treasures that would not have been shared with the world had Mrs. Clinton, fully schooled in security matters when she was a U.S. Senator, not put the safety of her country in jeopardy by using a private server.

 

“But even with those flaws,” The Courant's endorsement of Mrs. Clinton concludes, “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not even in the same ballpark. Critics though she may have, Mrs. Clinton is a smart, compassionate leader. Mr. Trump is a showman whose act is regrettably playing well on Main Street.”

 

 

Bill Buckley thought that Mr. Trump was a deeply flawed vulgarian, and a video taped 11 years ago showing a younger Trump trash talking about his sexual prowess has proven Mr. Buckley right.

 

But given Mrs. Clinton’s record in defense of her vulgarian husband and her foreign policy as Secretary of State, neither of which can bear close scrutiny, one may agree with the paper that both are operating in different ballparks. There are no smoking embassy ruins atop Trump Towers, and Mr. Trump, despite his deeply offensive locker-room talk, never had sex in the White House with Monica Lewinskywho even today is recovering from Mrs. Clinton’s psychological bite marks. (A search on The Courant's site for a report on Ms. Lewinski's recent visit to Connecticut, where she held a talk on bullying, produces no coverage of the event.)  In this regard, Mr. Trump is a JV player; the Clintons are Big League. And if the editorial board of The Hartford Courant had its moral Geiger counter recalibrated, it might have noted in its editorial endorsement of Mrs. Clinton the differences in their ballparks.  

 

Don Pesci is a Vernon, Conn.-based essayist on political and other matte

Llewellyn King: Clinton, Trump bring back scary memories

The ghosts of presidents past are haunting me.

I look at Hillary Clinton and she morphs into Jimmy Carter: all facts and figures and no direction.

I look at Donald Trump and he morphs into George W. Bush: all intention without knowing how things work.

Carter was earnest to a fault. He loved to bore into the details even when he should have been thinking about big, directional issues. Former Energy Secretary James Schlesinger told me how Carter had gotten lost in the intricate scientific issues of catalytic converters at a White House meeting. Knowing how many great issues were awaiting Carter’s attention, Schlesinger was appalled.

Bush’s weakness was what could easily become Trump’s weakness: Bush simply didn’t know enough about, well, anything. He is not a stupid man; actually, he is very quick. But he did not come to the office with a well-stocked mind. That left him vulnerable to all kinds of agenda-driven experts, especially his vice president, Dick Cheney.

Bush simply had never been curious. Cheney, with a lot of knowledge and a hard edge, took foreign policy upon himself. Bush did not wrest it from him until it was too late.

Carter’s passion for detail worked well in forming the Camp David Accords, but was disastrous in leading the country forward.

 As the result of a dinner party conversation with the journalist Rod MacLeish, Carter became fascinated with France’s constitution, known as the Constitution of the Fifth Republic. It combines presidential and parliamentary concepts.

MacLeish told me that the interest persisted until the very day of the announcement of the Camp David Accords, when Carter called him with more questions, ahead of CIA briefing on France’s constitution. MacLeish blurted out his surprise that the president would find time for this exercise on a day so critical to his presidency. Carter allowed that as he had scheduled a briefing on the constitution from the CIA later that day, he intended to be prepared for it. “That’s how I work, Rod,” he told MacLeish, as reported to me. Wow!

I doubt that Clinton would be that detail-compulsive, but she is a policy wonk and policy wonks get lost in policy, usually forgetting the ultimate purpose. Like Carter, Clinton seems to have no idea about how all the policy bits will fit into a grand scheme for the country in the years ahead.

Two other concerns about Clinton are her penchant for secrecy and her tendency to pettiness, demonstrated in her e-mails with Sidney Blumenthal. But overshadowing those are her inability to synthesize information into a course of action: Carter redux.

A Trump presidency would appear to be hugely vulnerable to having large parts of it taken over by surrogates simply because they knew more. The secretaries of state, defense and treasury could easily become fiefs, where the president was left out of major decisions.

More worrying ought to be whom Trump would put into these positions. He has made much of his potential Supreme Court nominees, but has given nary a hint about who would staff his administration.

The job hopefuls are all over Washington, burnishing their resumes and hoping that they will get on the short lists. The fear is that the very obvious players who surround Trump will make the decisions, led by ideologue Steve Bannon, assisted by those whose stars have dimmed: Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie.

Trump, like Bush, appears to lack curiosity and without curiosity, there cannot be a well-stocked mind. Nothing, but nothing, we have heard from Trump suggests wide knowledge or a thirst for it.

By contrast, Clinton clearly has a mind jammed with facts. But do they line up as a way forward or are they like Carter’s catalytic converter, a distraction? Is it to be a blind date with Trump or a reprise of a kind of factual gridlock, which we saw in Clinton’s failed healthcare plan?

The ghosts rattle me.

Llewellyn King is the host and executive producer of White House Chronicle,  on PBS and a longtime publisher, editor, columnist and international business consultant. This first ran in InsideSources.

Chris Powell: Trump didn't even try to act presidential

Who won the first debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump on Monday night?    For simple demeanor, Clinton did. Both candidates scored some blows against the other personally.

When national policy issues managed to break through the muck,  Clinton was more familiar with them, if not exactly persuasive.    Trump was himself -- incorrigible, blustering, always interrupting, rude,  bullying, disjointed, unresponsive, changing the subject, falling back on generalities, falsely denying past statements he has made, and completely without respect for others.   

Clinton was sometimes smug and even robotic as she struck certain poses obligatory for Democrats but at least she followed the rules and didn't interrupt or bully.   

As for the issues, such as they were: Trump blamed the decline in well-paying jobs on China's devaluing its currency and Mexico's imposing a tax on imports. He didn't recognize the role played by the U.S. dollar's imperial status as the world reserve currency, which allowsAmericans to run huge trade deficits with borrowed money and to purchase from abroad what they really didn't earn, thereby exporting those jobs.   

Clinton said the country needs a tax system that "rewards work and not just financial transactions," forgetting her subservience to Wall Street and that of her husband, the former president. Then she faulted Trump for having got started in business with money from his father, as if she and her husband won't be providing a big inheritance to their daughter.   

Clinton got the better of their exchange over Trump's refusal to disclose his tax returns as all recent presidential nominees have done. Trump made the strange pledge to disclose his returns when Clinton disclosed the semi-official e-mails lost or deleted from her improper email system when she was secretary of state. The pledge was effectively a confession to Clinton's charge that Trump was hiding "something terrible" -- probably that he pays no federal taxes.

Atleast Clinton admitted that she had been wrong to maintain a private e-mail system.   

Trump scored by contrasting the federal government's huge debt against the country's "Third World" infrastructure.  

 Clinton scored by raising Trump's business bankruptcies and his cheating his contractors.

Trump had no good defense against this, arguing only that he had availed himself of the law.   

Clinton acknowledged the racial tensions in criminal justice without offering any specifics for solutions. Trump only struck a pose for "law and order," as if "law and order" excuses police shootings of unarmed black men.   

Clinton knocked Trump's reckless comments about Muslims for insulting importantU.S. allies. Trump responded that as secretary of state Clinton had helped worsen the morass of the Middle East, particularly with Iraq, Iran, and Libya --  incisive criticism that he failed to develop.   

Trump dissembled pathetically about his longstanding and recent pursuit of President Obama's birth certificate to establish that Obama was constitutionally disqualified for the presidency.

Clinton plainly was more familiar with the specifics of national issues by virtue of her decades of experience in politics and government.

Trump disparaged Clinton's experience as signifying her responsibility for the country's decline.  Indeed, the country senses its decline and is angry about it and wants change even if it doesn't know exactly what sort of change it wants.  

 Trump has not yet gone beyond reflecting the anger. His opportunity Monday night was to calm down, move beyond the bluster, sharpen his focus, master some issues, and show himself capable of the sobriety, dignity and expertise needed to be a successful president -- to earn trust. Astoundingly and lazily, he didn't even try.

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester,  Conn., and a longtime essayist.

Chris Powell: Clinton, Trump stand on privilege; Democrats' college-promise boondoggle

Hillary Clinton has been at the top of national politics since becoming something of a co-president with her husband, Bill, in 1993. Leaving the White House in 2001, she became U.S. senator from New York. Narrowly losing the Democratic presidential nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, she became his secretary of state in 2009, resigning in 2013 to run for president again.

For 23 years no one has been more of an insider. Even sympathetic observers acknowledge that Clinton is seeking what they call Obama's third term, just as Vice President George H.W. Bush sought and won Ronald Reagan's third term in 1988.

But the country is unhappy and clamoring for change. So addressing the Democratic National Convention last Tuesday night, Bill Clinton described his wife as "the best darn change maker I have ever met." To drive home the pose for the national television audience, delegates waved machine-printed signs reading "Change maker," signifying that the former president's seemingly folksy, personaland spontaneous reminiscences about his wife, now the party's presidential nominee, were actually precisely calculated.

So the Democrats will aim to try to offer the country continuity and change at the same time.

But then the insurgency offered by the Republican nominee, real estate developer Donald Trump, isn't much more persuasive. In his speech to the Republican National Convention, Trump denounced the political system as rigged, just as some Democratic leaders have done, and then claimed to be the only person who could fix it because he knows it so well -- presumably because he has made a career from it.

That is, both Clinton and Trump come to the election as products of the greatest privilege. The British writer and historian Hilaire Belloc made it rhyme:

The accursed power which stands on Privilege

(And goes with Women and Champagne and Bridge)
Broke -- and Democracy resumed her reign:
(Which goes with Bridge, and Women, and Champagne).Chr

* * *

Supporting free tuition at public colleges, the Democratic national platform inadvertently has admitted that for most students a college education is worthless, more of a handicap than a help.

For if a college education was as valuable as supposed, graduates would not be bemoaning their college loan debt. That debt would be comfortably repayable from the higher earnings grads would enjoy.

Instead, of course, many grads are finding that higher-paying jobs are not available to them, partly because the national economy isn't producing enough jobs that require higher education and partly because grads don't qualify, their college education not having conferred useful knowledge and skills.

Indeed, at many colleges political indoctrination has supplanted useful learning. These days a quarter of retail clerks and 15 percent of taxi drivers hold college degrees, and while everyone can benefit from more knowledge, it doesn't always pay for itself.

The country's real education problem is lower education. Half to two-thirds of high school seniors, even in Connecticut, are not mastering high school English or mathematics or both but, in a system of social promotion, they are given diplomas anyway and sent on to college needing remedial work.

But rather than level with the country about social promotion and the collapse of educational standards and thereby prick the college bubble, the Democrats would transfer its huge costs to taxpayers, bailing out not just the disappointed college grads but, more so, another Democratic constituency -- educators, many of whose jobs are no more necessary than those of elevator operators.
 

Chris Powell is an essayist on political and cultural matters and managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Llewellyn King: The deluded Trump backers in my old N.E. mill town


In the neighborhood where I live in Rhode Island, Donald Trump is a hero. It is a solid, mostly white, community of working-class people.

They are fiercely patriotic, as the many veterans memorials that dot the landscape testify, as well as the solemnity with which they celebrate Memorial Day.

They are religious. Being mostly of Italian and Portuguese descent, they are practicing Catholics. Plaster Madonnas sit on many lawns.

These people -- these good, hard-working God-fearing Americans --  usually vote Democratic in a state that is more unionized than most. There are deep labor movement roots, and a history of struggle between the mill owners and the workers in the days when New England was home to the textile trade.

But sharing the small, neat lawns with Madonnas are blue Trump campaign signs.

These people are a near mirror-image of the working people in the north of England who voted for Britain to the leave the European Union. They are also working class or, as we have abandoned that term, middle-class people who saw their textile industry implode.

In Rhode Island, these exemplary people clearly are falling for the false music of Pied Piper Donald Trump. His wild, anti-trade siren song appeals here, invoking the time when New England was a manufacturing hub and China was place that you read about in National Geographic.

Their twins in the blighted North of England followed another piper with another myth: the former mayor of London and showman, Boris Johnson. He preached freedom from Europe: a halcyon dream of Britain free of entangling regulation from the European administrative capital, Brussels.

Now Johnson’s bluff has been called, and it is dawning on the good people of the North of England (think of it as England’s Rust Belt) that their well-being -- such as it has been -- has been largely as a result of the European Union. The North, much less prosperous than the South, where London holds hegemony, depends on European Union investments and grants. Now free of Europe, they are free to be poor.

In Rhode Island, after years in the post-industrial doldrums, a zephyr of new hope is just rising, and it has attracted part of General Electric Co.’s digital division. It will sit alongside another global mainstay of the U.S. economy, Textron, based in Rhode Island.

So even as Rhode Island is beginning a new chapter, its citizens are flirting with drinking the Kool-Aid being peddled by Trump.

Johnson and others, mostly Conservatives, peddled the myth that Britain was being hogtied by Europe and was yearning to be free and trade with the world – a sharp contrast to the Fortress America  that Trump is peddling, but appealing to workers who, on both sides of the Atlantic, want a fairer shake.

Johnson says: Europe has hindered us and is undermining our national sovereignty. Trump says: The world is stealing from us. Both are political myths: dangerous, toxic myths. Both share a common lack of coherence, as is now so evident in Britain.

The sin of Johnson against the British people is that the campaign was based on lies, and there was no plan for how to proceed after victory: a well-known political trap (see G. W. Bush and Iraq).

No one I know believes that after Trump presumably gets the Republican nomination in Cleveland he will go on to win. But neither did I know anyone in Britain who thought that the country would fall for the wiles of devious leaders who play on patriotism and frustration for their own ends: glorification and power.

The blue Trump signs outside the modest houses  proudly owned on my street may not get Trump elected, but -- and here is the danger -- they may draw his putative opponent, Hillary Clinton, toward the same trade poison that he is advocating. She already has backpedaled shamelessly on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which she helped negotiate, and who knows what anti-trade deals she will strike with the unions?

When politics is informed by myth not policy, democracies are in danger of hurting themselves. We do not need a special relationship with Britain founded on mutual folly. 

Llewellyn King  (llewellynking2@gmail.com) is executive producer and host of White House Chronicle on PBS. He is also a longtime publisher, editor and international business consultant.

 

Robert Whitcomb: Ports, panhandlers, dictators in the Internet, Italo-American adventures

 

This first ran in my “Digital Diary’’ column in GoLocal, which appears every Thursday. I will usually make minor revisions/updates before the column runs here.

You may have read about the Panama Canal expansion, which will boost business for U.S. East Coast ports, including Quonset/Davisville and Providence. More volume in our local -- and for decades underused -- ports will mean more jobs, more business formation and lower consumer costs (for some products) hereabouts.

So a $20 million bond issue, to be on the state ballot in November,  to expand the Port of Providence looks quite charming, as does a $50 million bond issue for expanding Quonset/Davisville.

But there’s a slight problem: GoLocal found out that ProvPort, the nonprofit operator of the Port of Providence, paid management fees to its sister for-profit company of more than $11 million over the three most recently reported years – half of ProvPort’s total revenue-- and it’s not clear for what.

Bill Brody and Ray Meador (who lives in California), two players in creating the Wyatt Detention Center, in Central Falls, and linked to its fiscal disaster, would benefit again from public financing if voters approve  the bonds. Mr. Brody is a lawyer who is ProvPort's sole employee, at $225,000 year, and Mr. Meador is a co-owner and the manager of non-profit ProvPort's sister for-profit company, Waterson Terminal.

Presumably we’ll hear more about what those management fees cover and who and how certain individuals would benefit from the port’s expansion, in addition, of course, to the public.

The trouble with opaque operations like ProvPort is that the reality or perception of insider deals can kill such fine ideas as port expansion by pumping up the paralyzing cynicism that makes it so difficult to get big public projectsdone in the United States.

I’d feel better if the state took over the Port of Providence and coordinated it with the very well run Quonset/Davisville.  

I should add, as my friend Chris Hunter reminds me,   that there are several private terminals in the Port of Providence (Sprague Energy, Sims Metal Management, Motiva, Capitol Terminal and Exxon Mobile) that are very successful and don't need a port authority telling them what to do with their business.  

XXX

Quite a panhandler proliferation in Providence! A favored site is in front of the Marriott Hotel on Orms Street at the intersection with Charles, where traffic lights trap drivers. At least one beggar, sometimes lying on his/her back to enjoy the sunshine,  often occupies the thin median strip from morning to dusk.

The beggars seem to be well organized (sometimes with what seems to be an iPhone-armed manager) and able to extract money from  many drivers. (I suspect that their take is not reported to the tax authorities but is adequate to pay for cigarettes.) Are many drivers sympathetic because they know that the panhandlers will never find jobs as lucrative as begging in these days of downward mobility, or just embarrassed? The beggars often greet me with a hearty “hihowareya!?”

XXX

Congress should block an Obama administration plan that would make it harder to try to protect freedom of expression on the Internet. The White House wants to let the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) free itself from the U.S. oversight of the Internet it has had since the 1990s.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, the new arrangement would give dictatorships much more influence over the ICANN board by letting them them vote on bylaw changes and the  ICANN budget and remove free-speech advocates from the board.

Commerce Department official Larry Stricklin, struggling to defend the plan, told The Washington Post, “At the end of the day, this whole system is built on trust.” Who will trust Vladimir Putin’s Russia and/or Xi Jinping’s China not to use their new powers to further quash online dissent?

XXX

Edward A. Carosi, founder of the Uncle Tony’s Pizza chain, has self-published a wild novel with the stately name of The Arrival/The Struggle/The Ascendency about three generations of Italo-Americans. Mr. Carosi starts the story in a poor hill town in Italy and goes through Rhode Island, Vietnam and Calcutta (Mother Teresa presiding!), weaving among romances and wars and corpses and entrepreneurs, including the mobster variety.

Some of the characters  enter clichedom – the women tend to be gorgeous and curvaceous (the mammary lingers on), the men handsome except for some Raymond Patriarca types. Some characters start out bad and get  predictably worse, but end up redeeming themselves. Others remain stock villains throughout while some stay implausibly good.

Mr. Carosi is not a professional writer, but he has narrative drive: You keep turning the pages. And he has a strong sense of place and 20th Century history that New Englanders in particular will savor. Somebody could turn this into saleable 120-page screenplay.   

XXX

Donald Trump doesn’t seem to know that being president of the United States means being head of state and not just another politician. That suggests that at least some dignity and restraint is called for. Mr. Trump’s narcissism seems to preclude those qualities. Still, he could defeat the very able but, as is her  husband, very greedy Hillary Clinton.  The Brexit vote in Britain may suggest how close the presidential vote could be.

XXX

An evening last week was so cool that it reminded us of how soon September will come.

Robert Whitcomb is the overseer of New England Diary.

Llewellyn King: The pernicious effects of polling on the body politic

Warning: the political news you are consuming may be synthetic, manufactured in a corporation and served up breathlessly by the media. Like many synthetic substances, it could be bad for your health.

I refer, of course, to the epidemic of polling. Polls have become a political narcotic. There is an appetite for them that knows no bounds. If you do not like or trust one poll, take another.

This, in turn, reflects a time when the science of polling faces challenges. Polling had become fearsomely accurate, but recently it has encountered two bugaboos: Changing demographics and changing telephone usage. These things have cleft polling in two: polls that are conducted through telephone interviews and those that are conducted electronically.

The evidence is that the old way remains more accurate, but it is bedeviled with fewer land lines and more people who do not want to be interviewed, or may not be comfortable speaking English.

It is, I am told, cheaper to poll electronically, but the bugs are not all out of the system and wide discrepancies in results are showing up. Hence, a poll that shows Hillary Clinton beating Donald Trump in the general election is followed by another equally reputable poll that shows Trump defeating Hillary.

The pollsters I have known are a canny lot, and I have no doubt they will get on top of these problems. The most egg that has landed on the face of the polling industry was in getting the last British election so wrong. That fiasco is informing the doubt surrounding polls on whether or not Britain should leave the European Union. They are struggling with a close call and public distrust of polling.

In the United States, polling has gotten the presidential primaries more or less right. But the putative contest between Clinton and Trump has wide swings in polling results; so wide that the pollsters themselves are having difficulty asking the right questions and managing the results.

Not since 1945, when it started seriously, has polling seemed so challenged as in this presidential contest.

But unreliable or not, the debate is fashioned by the polls. Talk radio, talk television and the newspapers are nourished by the latest polls, which pass as news.

For me the argument is not whether the polls are accurate, but rather the damage they do to the system. They are — and I am assuming that the pollsters will regain their former omnipotence — an impediment to the political process.

A poll is a snapshot that morphs into a narrative. A second in time becomes a reality, and candidacies are extinguished before they can catch fire.

Commentators extrapolate a grain of truth into a mountain of fact.

Polling has reached a point where not only is it part of the democratic process, but it also distorts that process, picking winners and losers before the electorate has assimilated the facts.

The news media has fallen onto the habit of taking this synthetic news — a suspect commodity for which the great news organizations pay — as the real thing. A poll gets the same weight as the ballot, thus affecting the ballot.

I believe that polls do reveal a truth, but a truth of one brief moment in time. The trouble is that revelation becomes the revealed truth, and the future gets tethered to that moment. Normal evolution in political thinking is hampered by this synthetic truth.

In hiring pollsters, news organizations are unwittingly setting up what is the equivalent of a posed photograph: a photograph that will be reprinted hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of times until it has become a kind of truth and its dubious genesis is forgotten.

Politicians are swayed by polls, fitting their policies to synthetic truths that have been certified as the will of the people: erroneous certifications, as it happens.

Llewellyn King is the host and executive producer of White House Chronicle, on PBS, and a longtime publisher, columnist and international business consultant. This piece first ran on Inside Sources.

 

 

Llewellyn King: Invasive, relentless coverage has driven good people from politics

Llewellyn King: Invasive, relentless coverage has driven good people from politics
Being in public life is now like being on trial day in and day out without knowing what evidence the prosecution has or when it will bring it forward. In fact, being in public life has become God awful and no talented person ought to want to do it.

Chris Powell: A desperate America needs you to sign a petition for a big new political party.

MANCHESTER, Conn.

How has this happened? How have the two major political parties contrived to give their presidential nominations to candidates who, according to opinion polls, are both heartily disapproved by a majority of voters generally even as they command majority support in their own parties?

Must the next president be a megalomaniac and serially bankrupt buffoon leading a pack of hateful brownshirts, or a clumsily pandering, posturing grifter leading a pack of parasites?

No presidential election in modern times has offered as much opportunity for a third-party challenge. John Anderson took almost 7 percent of the vote in 1980 and Ross Perot almost 20 percent of the vote in 1992 against candidates whom the public did not find half as repulsive as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Is there no one in public life in this country whose approval rating exceeds his or her disapproval rating — no one who, while perhaps little known at the moment, might earn the country’s respect rather than its contempt in a few months?

Of course since elections are usually exercises in building consensus, campaigns can be a slog toward mediocrity. Disappointed with the result of the 1924 presidential election, the social critic H.L. Mencken renounced democracy itself.

“Democracy,” Mencken wrote, “is that system of government under which the people, having 35,717,342 native-born adult white men to choose from, including many who are handsome and thousands who are wise, pick out a Coolidge to be head of the state. It is as if a hungry man, set before a banquet prepared by master cooks and covering a table an acre in area, should turn his back upon the feast and stay his stomach by catching and eating flies.”

And Coolidge didn’t turn out so badly, as Mencken had to admit when he wrote the former president’s obituary in 1933: “He had no ideas and he was not a nuisance.”

But Donald Trump in charge of the nuclear arsenal? Hillary Clinton —futures trader extraordinaire, tool of Goldman Sachs, destroyer of universal medical insurance, dissembler of Benghazi, compromiser of classified documents — in charge of anything?

Now will someone please start circulating the petitions?

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.

Chris Powell: Don't blame the NRA or Yale

MANCHESTER, Conn.

Connecticut saw four of the five remaining presidential candidates on the eve of its primary election.    

On the Republican side, Donald Trump, having admitted that he doesn’t want to seem "presidential," went to Bridgeport and Waterbury to revel in the buffoonery, mockery and contempt that have made him so appealing to so many. In Glastonbury, Ohio Gov. John Kasich easily contrasted himself as thoughtful and respectful.   

On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders complained to a rally in New Haven that 36 percent of that city's children are not just living in poverty but doing so within sight of Yale University's $26 billion endowment, as if there was some connection.

Hillary Clinton visited Hartford, emphasized the problem of gun violence, and pledged to confront the National Rifle Association and strive to "change the gun culture."  

But repugnant as the NRA may be, it has little to do with gun violence, and the"gun culture" Clinton deplored -- presumably the NRA’s 5 million purported members -- is not the culture doing the most damage with guns.   

Rather, the "gun culture" that does the most damage is the culture of poverty,  unconditional welfare, drug dealing and drug prohibition. Most shootings --  from Hartford to Chicago to Los Angeles -- are not committed by NRA members but by fatherless and uneducated young men, products of the family-destroying welfare system who see drug dealing and crime as their best career options.    Sanders’s silly linking of child poverty in New Haven with Yale’s endowment only emphasizes the difficulty of pushing the political left out of its ideological dead end.   

Since Yale is such an awful influence, the expropriation of its endowment and the resulting smashing of its political influence under the assault of Sanders’s socialism would be positive. But all Yale’s money could be spent in the name of alleviating poverty and, if it was spent as the hundreds of billions of dollars before it have been spent, there would be only more poverty and dependence afterward.   

Amid this half century of policy failure it is hard not to suspect that poverty and dependence are actually the objectives of the political left generally and the Democratic Party particularly. For poverty and dependence fuel the need for government patronage and become not afflictions to be eliminated but profitable businesses and ends in themselves.   

A few decades ago it was possible for a few on the left and a few Democrats to acknowledge this failure of policy, as the sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan did before becoming one of Clinton’s predecessors as a Democratic senator from New York.   

Moynihan wrote in 1965: "From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable  lesson in American history: A community that allows a large number of men to grow up in broken families, dominated by women, never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future -- that community asks for and gets chaos. Crime, violence,  unrest, disorder -- particularly the furious, unrestrained lashing out at the whole social structure -- that is not only to be expected; it is very near to inevitable. And it is richly deserved."  

In the Senate 20 years later, Moynihan elaborated: "The institution of the family is decisive in determining not only if a person has the capacity to love another individual but in the larger social sense whether he is capable of loving his fellow men collectively. The whole of society rests on this foundation for stability, understanding, and social peace."   

To end poverty and gun violence, government needs first of all to stop manufacturing them. 

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn. 

David Warsh: Hillary Clinton the Hawk

SOMERVILLE, MASS.

Victory in the New York State primary seems to have all but clinched the Democratic nomination for Hillary Clinton. I won’t be surprised if this week’s quintet of Northeast primaries puts Donald Trump so close to the top as to diminish the suspense surrounding the Republican convention.

So it is an auspicious time for Alter Egos: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Twilight Struggle over American Power (Random House, 2016), by Mark Landler, to appear.  The magazine of The New York Times published a  scoop on April 24, under the headline, “How Hillary became a hawk.” The story says:

"Throughout her career she has displayed instincts on foreign policy that are more aggressive than those of President Obama — and most Democrats.''

The article, at least, reads like a campaign document, consisting mainly of vignettes that have been fed to the journalist:  Clinton pivoting towards the center in preparation for the general election. “We’ve got to run it up the gut,” she exclaims to her aides after China warns against sending an aircraft carrier into the Yellow Sea to protest North Korean actions.

When visiting Fort Drum, in upstate New York, for the first time as a newly elected senator, she sits down, takes off her shoes, puts her feet on the coffee table, and asks, “General, do you know where a gal can get a cold beer around here?”

She reads “cover to cover” the counterinsurgency field manual General David Petraeus has given her

She befriends and receives the (qualified) endorsement of retired four-star Gen. John M. “Jack” Keane, Fox news military analyst and promoter of the Iraq “surge.”

And when reporter Landler surfaces a striking disagreement with former U.S.  Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry (and for two years previously U.S. commander there), a Clinton aide volunteers,  “She likes the nail-eaters, [Stanley] McChrystal, Petraeus, Keane – real military guys, not these retired three-stars who go into civilian jobs.” 

Landler writes:

"As Hillary Clinton makes another run for president, it can be tempting to view her hard-edged rhetoric about the world less as deeply felt core principle than as calculated political maneuver. But Clinton’s foreign-policy instincts are bred in the bone — grounded in cold realism about human nature and what one aide calls “a textbook view of American exceptionalism.” It set her apart from her rival-turned-boss, Barack Obama, who avoided military entanglements and tried to reconcile Americans to a world in which the United States was no longer the undisputed hegemon. And it will likely set her apart from the Republican candidate she meets in the general election. For all their bluster about bombing the Islamic State into oblivion, neither Donald J. Trump nor Senator Ted Cruz of Texas have demonstrated anywhere near the appetite for military engagement abroad that Clinton has.''

The book itself will be useful in the event Clinton becomes president, as seems increasingly likely. Whether she is a neo-con or liberal hawk or a conservative internationalist is an open question.  In the interval, however, better to read America’s War for the Greater Middle East: a Military History (Random House, 2016), by Andrew Bacevich, a scathing assessment of US military policy since 1980.

David Warsh is a long-time financial journalist and economic historian. He the proprietor of economicprincipals.com, where this piece originated.

Isaiah J. Poole: Give 'tax and spend' a chance

via otherwords.org

This time of year, a whole lot of Americans are feeling taxed enough already.

But the astonishing momentum of Bernie Sanders’s presidential candidacy reveals something else: Millions of taxpayers are willing to entertain the idea that some of us aren’t taxed enough, and that it’s hurting the rest of us.

Sanders has propelled his race against Hillary Clinton on a platform that would ramp up government investment — in infrastructure, education, health care, research and social services — while boosting taxes on the wealthiest Americans and big business to cover the cost.

Clinton’s own vision is less ambitious, but it’s also a far cry from “the era of big government is over” days of her husband’s administration.

The old conservative epithet against “tax-and-spend liberals” hasn’t completely lost its sting, says Jacob Hacker, a political-science professor at Yale University who pushed the idea of a public option for health insurance during the Affordable Care Act debate. But “we are moving toward the point where we can have an active discussion” about why “you need an activist government to secure prosperity.”

Hacker’s latest book, with Paul Pierson of the University of California at Berkeley, is American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper.

Hacker and Pierson argue that it was “the strong thumb” of a largely progressive-oriented government, in tandem with “the nimble fingers of the market,” that created the broad prosperity of the post-World War II era. Conservative ideologues and corporate leaders then severed that partnership.

Anti-government activism replaced the virtuous cycle of shared prosperity that existed into the 1970s with a new cycle that’s reached its depths in today’s radical Republican-run Congress: Make government unworkable. Attack government as unworkable. Win over angry voters. Repeat.

But in today’s mad politics, growing numbers of voters seem to have gotten wise to the routine and how it’s been rigged against them. Some are gravitating toward Donald Trump, as Hacker puts it, out of “the need to put a strong man who you know is not with the program in Washington in charge.”

Sanders has the opposite vision. He’s looking to spark a people-powered reordering of what government can do, with the biggest wealth-holders paying the share of taxes that they did when America’s thriving middle class and thriving corporate sector were, together, the envy of the world.

That vision is embodied in "The People's Budget.'' a document produced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus as an alternative to the House Republican budget.

It’s based on the premise that America can break out of its slow-growth economic malaise through a $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan that would create more than 3 million jobs, increased spending on green-energy research and development, and universal access to quality education from preschool through college.

“There are two messages that come out of the progressive budget,” Hacker said. One is that “we can actually increase investment if we don’t cut taxes further on the wealthy.” The other is that “if we got tougher with the modern robber barons in the healthcare and finance and energy industries, we could actually achieve substantial savings without cutting necessary spending.”

Unfortunately, The People’s Budget won’t get close to a majority vote in Congress — and that’s if it gets a vote at all in the dysfunctional Republican House.

Yet together with the debate provoked by the Sanders campaign, Hacker says, it shows that now “we have a little bit more of an opening for the kind of conversation we should’ve had 20 or 30 years ago, when we were trashing government and abandoning all of these long-term investments that are essential to our prosperity.”

Isaiah J. Poole is the online communications director at Campaign for America’s Future (OurFuture.org).