Turkey invaded Syria today, sending geopolitical shivers through Western governments. On the one hand, the military initiative is a major step up of Turkey’s sort-of commitment to fighting ISIS. On the other hand, Turkey’s invasion was expressly conditioned on the United States demanding that Syrian Kurds, the most successful anti-ISIS ground force in the region, pull back to the east of the Euphrates River.
A major earthquake struck central Italy today, centered on Amatrice, a medieval town with pre-historic and Roman roots. More than a hundred deaths have been confirmed, a toll that will grow considerably as rubble is cleared. Buildings in the town’s historic center date from the 1200s; according to early reports, the historic center has been “destroyed.”
Louisianans are beginning what will be a long recovery from flooding of historic proportions, caused by rainfall three times as heavy as the rain from Hurricane Katrina. Only 13 people died, but more than 100,000 homes were damaged, 30 percent of the state’s school age population are out of school, and economic losses will be in the billions.
In other words, there was a lot of news – real news, about observable facts – to be reported today. But instead, television news today gave its closest attention to Donald Trump’s fact-free accusations of corruption involving the Clinton Foundation. According to Trump, Hillary and Bill Clinton set up the Clinton Foundation as a “business to profit from public office. They sold access and specific actions by and really for I guess the making of large amounts of money.”
Television news anchors have not bothered to check any of Trump’s claims for factual basis. Instead, they have gone straight to hauling in Clinton surrogates for accusatory interviews.
If we can’t talk about real news, like the Turkish invasion of Syria, the destruction of a medieval Italian town, or the flood in Louisiana, if we absolutely must talk about the Clinton Foundation, can we at least base our discussion on some facts?
For starters, what is the Clinton Foundation? Bill Clinton set up what was originally the William J. Clinton Foundation in 2001, after he left the White House. Chelsea Clinton joined the board of directors in 2011, as did Hillary Clinton in 2013, after her tenure as secretary of state. From 2013 to 2015, the foundation was renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation. When Clinton opened her campaign for president in 2015, she left the board of directors and the foundation became the Clinton Foundation.
The stated mission of the Clinton Foundation is to “convene businesses, governments, NGOs [non-governmental organizations], and individuals to improve global health and wellness, increase opportunity for girls and women, reduce childhood obesity, create economic opportunity and growth, and help communities address the effects of climate change.”
Note that the mission statement has two components, one about process and one about substance. The substantive component lists the goals the foundation pursues: health, opportunity for girls and women, economic growth, climate change, and so on. The process component is about how the foundation will pursue those goals: by bringing together private and public entities and individuals in collaboration.
The Clinton Foundation web site provides a fair amount of detail about its initiatives that support each of its goals. For instance, the home page for the “global health” goal talks about enhancing access for people living in “resource-poor settings” to diagnostics and treatment of treatable diseases like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis. The theme of the health programs is to transform health care systems in low-income countries “into self-sustaining methods of providing low-cost, high-quality care.”
My own view is that any objective observer would have to conclude that the Clinton Foundation has done tremendous good in its 15-year existence. I once characterized Jimmy Carter as “our greatest ex-president,” partly for the quality of his post-presidential work, and partly for his longevity in doing that work. At this point, I would say that Bill Clinton is gunning hard for second place.
But I’m not going to detail the range of work and successes of the Clinton Foundation, because for purposes of this post it makes no real difference if the Clinton Foundation is the most effective NGO in the history of the world or the most inept. (Still, I can’t resist mentioning that the charity watchdog organizations Charity Watch and GuideStar both gave the Clinton Foundation their highest ratings.)
Trump says that the Clinton Foundation was set up to make the Clintons money – to enable them “to profit from public office.” But in fact, none of the Clintons are salaried or otherwise compensated by the Clinton Foundation. So the core of Trump’s allegation is false – not arguable, not partly false, not probably false, not subject to interpretation, but flat-out, flat-earth, two-plus-two-is-five false.
Trump’s next claim is that Hillary Clinton used the foundation to sell “access and specific actions.” The notion about access is that people donated to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for getting meetings with Secretary of State Clinton. So, for instance, the media treated it as a great scandal that Secretary of State Clinton met with the Crown Prince of Bahrain after he pledged $32 million to Clinton Foundation programs.
Wait, what? A sitting secretary of state met with the Crown Prince of Bahrain? OMG, what is the world coming to? The evidence so far indicates that when Secretary Clinton’s aides thought a meeting was unwise, they said so and nobody overruled them.
Ultimately, though, even assuming the worst possible factual scenario on Trump’s “access” accusation, nothing illegal happened. The worst possible factual scenario would presumably be that donors said to Secretary Clinton’s aides, I’ll be glad to contribute to the Clinton Foundation if that will get me face time with the secretary. And guess what, folks – that’s not illegal.
Some surely wish that was illegal, including those who wanted former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to go to jail. Remember that Governor McDonnell was convicted of taking gifts worth $175,000 – gifts to him personally, including Rolex watches and catering for his daughter’s wedding, not gifts to any charitable McDonnell Foundation – in exchange for setting up meetings and making phone calls to help the gift givers sell their products and services.
But the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the conviction on the ground that setting up meetings and making phone calls were not “official acts” under the applicable federal law. That case makes clear that Hillary Clinton did not violate federal law even if she “accepted” gifts to what was at that time her husband’s foundation in exchange for taking meetings.
In other words, even if Hillary Clinton was, as Trump charges, “selling access,” there is no violation of law.
Last is Trump’s most outrageously fact-free accusation: that Clinton took “specific actions,” presumably beyond taking meetings, in exchange for contributions to the Clinton Foundation. If any such action can be proved, then Trump would be right, Clinton would be in violation of federal law, and she should not be president. But no one, despite unprecedented effort and attention, has come up with any evidence whatsoever of such an “action.”
When the accusatory interviews of Clinton surrogates on TV today get to that point, the television news anchors fall back on this: But isn’t there an appearance of impropriety?
George H. W. Bush set up the Thousand Points of Light Foundation in 1990, while he was president, and no one claimed any appearance of impropriety. Elizabeth Dole was the salaried president of the Red Cross while Bob Dole ran for president, and no one claimed any appearance of impropriety.
Presidents, and secretaries of state, meet with all kinds of people for all kinds of reasons. The possibility that Secretary Clinton met, or President Clinton might meet, with someone who gave big to the Clinton Foundation seems to me to be at the very bottom of our ladder of political, social, economic and international concerns.
Donald Trump has once again proved that he is very good at creating a whirlwind of allegations and convincing the medial that his whirlwind is actually smoke, at the source of which there must be fire, or at least the appearance of fire.
By the way, can someone please ask Donald Trump: what have you done to fight treatable diseases, advance global growth and opportunity, roll back global warming, and equalize opportunities for girls?
I’ve said from the beginning that Donald Trump isn’t running a political campaign; he’s running a business campaign. The only thing I couldn’t figure out was his exit strategy.
Fair enough: I didn’t expect Trump to win the Republican nomination. I forgot what I learned during the 2012 campaign, which is that the Republican Party is “intellectually and politically bankrupt.” The GOP lacked the resources to stop Trump’s hostile takeover.
But I remain convinced that the last thing Trump wants is to live under the constraints of the presidency. When Trump picked running mate Mike Pence, I thought his exit strategy might be to get elected, issue a bunch of executive orders for a few weeks, and resign.
But this week’s events suggest a different exit strategy. Trump may be an idiot, but he isn’t stupid. He knows his polls have tanked, and he knows it’s because of his bomb-throwing provocations. Yet he shakes up his campaign in a way that says out loud that he wants to continue with the provocations.
Trump’s new campaign chairman is Steve Bannon, bomb-thrower extraordinaire. Bannon excels at destructive, anti-establishment, fact-free rhetoric, shows a special fondness for conspiracy theories, hates the Republican Party establishment, and adores Donald Trump. One thing we can be pretty sure he has no aptitude for is running a successful national political campaign.
Trump’s new debate prep adviser is Roger Ailes, disgraced exile from Fox News. As the founding CEO at Fox, Ailes built the most popular cable news network and a hugely profitable enterprise. Ailes made Fox News one of the most, if not the most, politically influential media organization in American history. Although Ailes worked as a political consultant before going to Fox, there is no particular reason to believe that he is especially skilled at advising presidential candidates in debate tactics.
Trump has already laid the foundation for his post-defeat career with his claim that the election will be “rigged,” and his bizarre assertion that “the only way” he could lose the vote in Pennsylvania is if “they cheat.”
As a birther, Trump spent a lot of time and energy attacking the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency. As a rigged election “truther,” Trump will spend even more time and energy attacking the legitimacy of Hillary Clinton’s presidency. Although the media eagerly gave Trump’s birther rantings plenty of play, the bottomless pit of need for attention that is Trump’s narcissism would be better fulfilled if Trump had his own platform, rather than having to rely on media outlets he doesn’t control.
For varying reasons, Trump, Bannon and Ailes would no doubt love to launch a competitor to Fox News. For Trump, controlling his own media platform would serve his insatiable need for validation, both in the form of attention to him personally and in the form of business success.
Although Trump claims to be worth $10 billion, based on his supposed business genius, the hallmarks of his business career are not profit-making successes, but clever bankruptcies, stubborn litigation, and quixotic failures like Trump University. Fortune magazine, among others, calculates that Trump would have done better by taking his inheritance and investing it in S&P index fund.
Politically, Trump has a relatively small but intensely loyal following. You can’t win a presidential election with a few million loyal voters, but you can build one heck of a media network with a few million loyal readers, listeners and viewers. Fox makes billions; Trump pretends he’s made billions, but would no doubt prefer the real thing.
Controlling a media outlet would give Trump the platform he needs to continue his white nationalist movement and the freedom he wants to continue his bomb-throwing. Ailes is not known for his concern for objectivity, and Bannon is not known for his concern for facts. Trump cares about neither. Trump will spend the next four years tearing at the Clinton Administration and the Republican Party.
In other words, Trump’s defeat on November 8 isn’t the end of the nightmare.
Republican Senator and former San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson won election to become California’s governor in 1990. Consistent with previous Republican statewide candidacies, Wilson took 47 percent of the Hispanic vote.
In 1990, the Latino population of California was booming – from 12 percent of Californians in 1970 to 26 percent in 1990. The non-Hispanic white population shrank even more than Hispanics grew – from 78 percent in 1970 to 57 percent in 1990.
Governor Wilson did not have an easy first term. He went into his re-election campaign with record low approval ratings, polling 20 points behind Democratic nominee Kathleen Brown (sister of once and future Governor Jerry Brown). During the summer of 1994, a ballot proposition got enough signatures to go before the voters in November – Proposition 187 would bar publicly funded health care, public education, and social services to illegal immigrants, and would require public servants to report people they suspected might be illegal immigrants.
Prop 187 was immediately popular, and Governor Wilson ran hard on it, promising vigorous enforcement. Kathleen Brown disagreed, contending that the measure was counterproductive and unconstitutional.
Prop 187 passed with an 18 percent margin, and Wilson won re-election by 15 percent. But the campaign prompted two very important and closely related long-term changes in California politics. First, Prop 187 impelled legal Hispanic residents of California to become citizens and register to vote in unprecedented numbers. Second, Prop 187 all but eliminated political diversity among California’s Latinos. After Prop 187, Hispanic Californians largely abandoned any interest in the Republican Party, committing themselves to the Democrats.
In other words, the shrinking non-Hispanic white population chose to alienate and unify the fastest-growing demographic in the state.
Almost certainly not coincidentally, 1994 is a line that divides time in California politics. Republicans did well in California until 1994, and have done badly ever since. Before Prop 187, Californians voted Republican in four of five presidential elections; after Prop 187, they have voted Democratic five times in a row. Before Prop 187, Republicans won three of five gubernatorial elections, four of five lieutenant gubernatorial elections, three of five attorney general elections. After, Democrats won four out of six races for governor (Arnold Schwarzenegger being the only exception, twice), all five races for lieutenant governor, all five races for attorney general. Before, Republicans won three of eight Senate races; after, Democrats won all six.
Totaling these up, before 1994 Republicans won 17 of 28 of these state-wide races; since 1994, Democrats have won 25 of 27, Schwarzenegger’s two elections being the sole Republican victories among them.
Proposition 187 itself was found to be unconstitutional, an intrusion by California into exclusive federal authority over immigration, and ultimately the law was repealed – a symbolic act in light of the fact that the law was unenforceable. The Hispanic share of the population of California has grown to 38 percent. In 2014, Hispanic Californians outnumbered non-Hispanic whites for the first time, and California became the third “majority minority” state in the U.S.
The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials estimates that 9.7 million Latinos voted in 2008 and 11.2 million in 2012, and projects that 13.1 million will vote in 2016. Donald Trump’s Prop 187 is his Mexican border wall and his stigmatization of Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.
As did Prop 187, Trump is further reducing political diversity among Hispanic Americans. Even Florida’s Cuban-American community, traditionally the most Republican of Latinos, overwhelmingly rejects Trump’s candidacy. And as did Prop 187, Trump is pushing Hispanics to become citizens and register to vote. There is plenty of room for growth in the Hispanic electorate – although 11.2 million Hispanics voted in 2012, NALEO estimates that 13.7 million were registered to vote, and 23.3 million were citizens of voting age.
Puerto Ricans are American citizens, and Puerto Ricans living in the 50 states are eligible to vote for president. Just by the way, Puerto Rico’s financial crisis being what it is, many Puerto Ricans have been moving – an estimated 1,000 per week to Florida alone. Many of them are registering to vote, and a sentiment voiced by one Puerto Rican resident of Florida is almost certainly common: “He [Trump] wants to go after Mexicans now, but we’ll be next.” Lots of non-Mexican Latinos see it the same way: “He’s calling all of us Hispanics rapists,” a Cuban-American in Florida said.
Hispanics in the United States are much younger than the population at large: almost 45 percent of Hispanics are under 25 years old, compared to 30 percent of non-Hispanics. And younger Hispanics are more likely to be native-born than their elders: 94 percent of Hispanics 18 or under were born in this country, and therefore citizens eligible to vote as they come of age.
Donald Trump is the Republican Party’s only new idea for 2016. Twenty years from now, we will look back and see that 2016 is a year that divides time in American politics.
I’ve complained when Republican partisans have made exaggerated claims of American achievements to further their political goals – as when House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asserted that American health care was the best in the world to justify their opposition to the Affordable Care Act. In that case, I compared per person health care costs to average life expectancy by country and found that the United States spends far and away more on health care than any other country but ranks 31st in life expectancy – about a month shorter life expectancy than Cubans, who spend 93 percent less per person on health care than we do.
One of the themes of the Democratic National Convention last week was American greatness. In accordance with that theme, Vice President Joe Biden pronounced during his speech that American workers are “the most productive in the world.” Flattery of American workers is no doubt a good electoral tactic. But fair is fair, so I decided to do a little checking.
The standard measure of worker productivity is gross domestic product per hour worked. The problem is that neither GDP nor hours worked can be precisely calculated; both must be estimated.
Still, the two sources of solid-looking information I found agree: the United States is not king of the hill in worker productivity. Widipedia lists 62 countries in order of GDP per hour worked; the United States ranks third, behind Luxembourg and Norway. Wikipedia’s listing is based on data from estimable sources: The Conference Board, Eurostat, and the Penn World Table maintained by academics at the University of California and the University of Groningen. Wikipedia uses the purchasing power parity (PPP) measure of GDP, and uses data from 2013.
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development compiles data annually for its 35 member countries, 2014 being the most recent year for which OECD data are complete. The OECD also uses the PPP measure of GDP, and, although OECD’s numbers are slightly different than Wikipedia’s, the OECD ranking also puts the U.S. third, again behind Norway and Luxembourg, where we have been since 2010. Before 2010, U.S. workers last ranked third in productivity in 1973. In between, American productivity fell as low as ninth, in 1997, before recovering to third place 13 years later. In no year of OECD data, which goes back to 1970, was American worker productivity the highest, or even second.
Third place ain’t bad. I’ve been to Norway and Luxembourg, and while there’s a lot to recommend both countries, I’ll be glad to stick with the U.S. – better Chinese food, if nothing else. Still, the Vice President said we are number one, and we are not.
I came across an interesting side point in data published by a British consulting firm, Expert Market. Expert Market pointed out that seven countries were in both the top ten of most productive per hour and the bottom ten in number of hours worked. Conversely, eight countries were in both the bottom ten of most productive per hour and the top ten in number of hours worked. Mexican workers put in the most hours, at an average of 2,228 per year; Germans worked the least, at 1,371. American workers put in an average of 1,789 hours per year, almost exactly halfway between the two extremes.
These number suggest that, worldwide, there are limits to the desire to acquire. Where workers are less productive and therefore less well paid, they tend to put in more hours. But as workers become more productive and therefore earn more per hour, they are apparently inclined to cut back their work hours. In that respect, American workers have in recent years been an exception: hours worked in this country has held more or less constant since 1980, while productivity has climbed.
For several months leading up to last month’s Republican National Convention, The Weekly Standard editor William Kristol was all over the airwaves and the Twittersphere about finding a candidate to run as an independent alternative to Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. But he seems to have gone silent.
Based on a Google search of reasonable diligence, the most recent report I’ve been able to find on Kristol advocating for a third-party candidacy was a July 18 item in The Daily Standard based on a Kristol tweet on July 17.
As it happens, Donald Trump let it be known on July 15 that he had selected Indiana Governor Mike Pence to be his running mate; Trump’s formal announcement came the next day, July 16.
Pence is a standard issue post-Reagan conservative, only more so. FiveThirtyEight.com’s quantitative ratings rank Pence as the most conservative Republican vice presidential candidate in the 40 years for which they have ratings – slightly more conservative than the previous record-holder, the 2012 second banana, Paul Ryan.
It was hardly inevitable that Pence would be Trump’s pick, and certainly not from the point of view of the Republican right. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had been a leading contender, and in any event Trump is erratic enough that he might have picked anyone. For conservatives, Pence was a real reassurance.
It occurs to me – and, if it has occurred to me, it has surely occurred to Republican strategists – that Trump’s selection of a solid conservative vice presidential candidate gives the Republican establishment a new option.
The Republican political establishment – think Speaker Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – have publicly disagreed with, even strongly condemned, various of Trump’s trumpetings, but the political establishment (unlike the Republican foreign policy establishment) has nearly uniformly endorsed his candidacy nonetheless.
Up until the Pence selection, the Republican political establishment had to choose between its principles and its loathing of Hillary Clinton. Formal division of the Republican establishment – endorsement of an independent candidate; endorsement of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson; or, heaven forfend, endorsement of Clinton herself – would only further the chances of the loathed Clinton presidency. So Republican establishment figures swallowed their principles and went along with Trump, who they had all but unanimously condemned during primary season as unfit, unqualified, incapable, unacceptable.
The Pence selection creates a way for the Republican to adhere to its principles while still supporting Trump: if Trump is elected and does anything as crazy as pretty much everyone expects, Republicans can comfortably join Democrats in impeaching The Donald, removing a president from office for the first time in the history of the Republic.
Mike Pence, the rock-ribbed conservative who makes Sarah Palin look moderate and Bob Dole look liberal, would become the President of the United States.
You say you want a revolution,
Well, you know
We all want to change the world.
Senator Bernie Sanders says that his presidential campaign began a political revolution in the United States. Some Sanders supporters have cast Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as the candidate of the status quo. But there is a lot of distance between a revolution and the status quo.
A fair look at the policy proposals of Sanders and Clinton can only yield the conclusion that both constitute strongly and comprehensively progressive platforms; neither one comes anywhere close to advocating for the status quo.
Nor does the fact that Clinton has now squarely positioned herself as a candidate to continue President Obama’s legacy make Clinton an advocate of the status quo. Obama successfully brought important changes to American life, but Republican Congressional majorities impeded many other changes he tried unsuccessfully to realize. So even if a Clinton presidency were nothing more than a continuation of the Obama presidency, an effort to get done what Obama was unable to get done, it would hardly be a status quo administration.
Unfortunately, for at least the first two years of a Clinton presidency, it is almost certain that Democrats will remain a minority in the House of Representatives and will not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. Therefore success will depend largely on the degree to which a President Clinton could obtain cooperation from Republicans, meaning that progressive change will not be revolutionary but incremental – at best.
It’s important to recognize that a President Sanders would labor under the same constraints. The practical importance of the partisan constraints is large enough to overwhelm the differences between Clinton’s and Sanders’s policy positions.
So, for instance, Sanders advocates infrastructure investment of $1 trillion over five years, while Clinton proposes a much more modest investment of $275 billion over five years. My own belief is that we need to spend more than Sanders proposes, and much more than Clinton proposes – I’ve argued for $2.8 trillion over 14 years. And my position in turn falls well short of the position taken by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which contended in 2013 that the United States must spend $3.6 trillion on infrastructure over the next seven years.
This presumably implies that I should reject Hillary Clinton’s position in favor of Bernie Sanders’s. But the bottom line is that the Clinton position won’t fly with a Republican House majority, much less the Sanders position, much less the Ecce Homo position, much less the ASCE position. The same is true about essentially all of the Democratic Party platform.
If there’s going to be a revolution in American politics in the next decade, it will not come from the policy positions taken by a Democratic president; it will come from the Supreme Court appointments of that president.
A political revolution would come from overruling Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the 2010 decision by which the Supreme Court held that spending money constitutes constitutionally protected exercise of free speech rights, and the fact that most voters lack the resources to engage in much speech-by-spending is just their tough luck. The law in its majestic equality allows the rich and the poor alike to spend as much as they want to influence elections.
Both Clinton and Sanders want to see Citizens United overruled. Although Trump was critical of the Citizens United decision early on in his campaign, he promises to appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of the late Antonin Scalia, who enthusiastically joined the 5 – 4 majority in Citizens United.
A political revolution would be furthered by overruling Shelby County v. Holder, the 2013 Supreme Court decision that threw out the section of the Voting Rights Act that required areas of the country with proven histories of illegal discrimination in voting rights to submit changes in voting rules to “pre-clearance” by the federal Justice Department. Overlooking a detailed, fact-based four justice dissent, the five-justice majority opined that “‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination” no longer exists in the application of voting rules, and that the pre-clearance requirement was outdated.
Republican states and municipalities reacted quickly to the elimination of the pre-clearance provision by enacting voting provisions clearly intended to discourage voting by groups, including African-Americans, that tend to vote Democratic. These states enacted voting restrictions that could not have survived pre-clearance – and, in some instances, restrictions that had actually been rejected before pre-clearance was struck down.
The restrictions imposed by one of those states, North Carolina, were invalidated last week by a federal appeals court that said that “the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision” and that the provisions “impose cures for problems that did not exist.” The North Carolina legislature’s motivation was so nakedly racist that, before legislating, it sponsored research into the use of various voting provisions by race, then changed or eliminated provisions, like early voting, that were disproportionately used by African-Americans.
Both Clinton and Sanders want to “restore” the Voting Rights Act and aggressively expand voting rights; Trump has nothing to say about voting rights, but his baseless beefing about supposed voter fraud suggests that he will have no problems with his Scalia-like Supreme Court appointees following or even expanding on the Shelby County decision.