RealClearPolitics provides a useful tool to compare the Republican and Democratic nomination races today to similar points during the 2012 and 2008 primary cycles. Those nominating contests show that the candidates ahead at this point in the election cycle did not take home the nomination. This suggests that despite Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton’s persistent leads throughout the summer and fall of 2015, their primary victories remain uncertain.
Averaging across recent December polls, Donald Trump holds the lead among national Republican voters (not necessarily likely primary voters), at 35 percent. Trump holds a 15-point lead over Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in second place at 19.5 percent and an over 20-point lead over Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in third place with 11.5 percent. Trump’s support took-off in July and, for the most part, he's remained ahead and increased momentum.
Does Trump’s lead entering into 2016 portend his eventual win? Not necessarily.Read the rest of this post »
The first debate among Democratic presidential contenders was more than half over before moderator Anderson Cooper of CNN got around to asking a question about the biggest intelligence scandal in more than 40 years. You can read the full transcript here but the exchanges between Cooper and the candidates on Edward Snowden (via Ars Technica) is what's worth the read:
COOPER: Governor Chafee, Edward Snowden, is he a traitor or a hero?Read the rest of this post »
CHAFEE: No, I would bring him home. The courts have ruled that what he did—what he did was say the American...
COOPER: Bring him home, no jail time?
CHAFEE: ... the American government was acting illegally. That's what the federal courts have said; what Snowden did showed that the American government was acting illegally for the Fourth Amendment. So I would bring him home.
COOPER: Secretary Clinton, hero or traitor?
CLINTON: He broke the laws of the United States. He could have been a whistleblower. He could have gotten all of the protections of being a whistleblower. He could have raised all the issues that he has raised. And I think there would have been a positive response to that.
COOPER: Should he do jail time?
ClINTON: In addition—in addition, he stole very important information that has unfortunately fallen into a lot of the wrong hands. So I don't think he should be brought home without facing the music.
COOPER: Governor [Martin] O'Malley, Snowden?
O'MALLEY: Anderson, Snowden put a lot of Americans' lives at risk. Snowden broke the law. Whistleblowers do not run to Russia and try to get protection from Putin. If he really believes that, he should be back here.
COOPER: Senator Sanders, Edward Snowden?
SANDERS: I think Snowden played a very important role in educating the American people to the degree in which our civil liberties and our constitutional rights are being undermined.
COOPER: Is he a hero?
SANDERS: He did—he did break the law, and I think there should be a penalty to that. But I think what he did in educating us should be taken into consideration before he is (inaudible).
Over the next couple of days, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be playing up her new, $350‐billion proposal primarily intended to make paying public college tuition a debt‐free experience.
According to early information about the plan – I couldn’t find details on Clinton’s campaign Web page yet – under the proposal the federal government would spend $200 billion over ten years on public colleges and universities, with a condition that states also increase their higher ed outlays. The goal would be to make paying public college tuition debt‐free for all. In addition, the plan — called the “New College Compact” — would give $25 billion to historically black colleges and universities, and other schools with low endowments, over ten years. Next, the proposal would allow all current student debt holders to refinance loans at lower interest rates and sign up for income‐based repayment plans capping monthly payments at 10 percent of discretionary income and forgiving whatever remained after 20 years. The loan‐term plan is estimated to cost $125 billion over ten years.
Of course, as with any politically good plan, it seems details on how all this would be paid for – other than to say the rich will cover the $35‐billion annual price tag – will be announced at some later, likely quieter date. Ditto details on how the plan will ensure colleges spend all the new, forced taxpayer largesse on instruction rather than fluff like climbing walls and water parks that students demand and schools, increasingly, deliver. Putting off these latter details could be especially important politically because while colleges love money, they do not love strings. To keep maximum support from the Ivory Tower – typically a welcoming edifice for Democrats – you’ll want to keep the downside hazy.
Of course, the estimated price tag is just the most immediate, obvious cost of the plan. The more hidden cost would be the plan’s deleterious effects: encouraging yet more people to spend more time in programs even less tethered to real‐world needs. Quite simply, when someone else pays your bills you are more likely to consume, and less likely to think efficiently about what you are consuming. That’s been the higher education problem for decades, and this plan would have someone else foot even more of the bill.
Already we see massive overconsumption of higher ed: About a third of bachelor’s degree holders are in jobs that don’t require the credential. Lots of employers seek people with degrees for jobs that don’t appear to need college‐level learning. And “college‐level learning” has come to mean less and less actual learning. In other words, thanks largely to third‐party funding, we appear to have a vicious cycle of credential inflation that would almost certainly get even worse as more and more people saw college as “free.” And no, it does not appear that spending more on higher education automatically increases human capital and, hence, economic growth. Indeed, government college spending may well hamper growth by taking money from the individual taxpayers who earned it – and would have used it for their real needs – and giving it away to colleges regardless of what people need.
“Free” always sounds so good. Until, that is, you think through how costly “free” can be.
The New York Times reports:
For decades, idealistic twenty‐somethings have shunned higher‐paying and more permanent jobs for the altruism and adrenaline rush of working to get a candidate to the White House. But the staffers who have signed up for the Clinton campaign face a daunting obstacle: the New York City real estate market.…
Mrs. Clinton’s campaign prides itself on living on the cheap and keeping salaries low, which is good for its own bottom line, but difficult for those who need to pay New York City rents.…
When the campaign’s finance director, Dennis Cheng, reached out to New York donors [to put up staffers in their apartments], some of them seemed concerned with the prospective maze of campaign finance laws and with how providing upscale housing in New York City might be interpreted.
Here are some words that don’t appear in the article: rent control, regulation, zoning. But those are among the reasons that housing is expensive in New York. As a Manhattan Institute report noted in 2002:
- New York City and State have instituted policies that severely distort the dynamics of housing supply and demand. Only 30 percent of the city’s rental units, for instance, are subject to market prices. These distortions — coupled with Rube‐Goldbergian environmental and zoning regulations — have denied New York the kind of healthy housing market enjoyed by most other major cities.
And a report by Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko for the Federal Reserve Board of New York Economic Policy Review suggests that “homes are expensive in high‐cost areas primarily because of government regulation” that imposes “artificial limits on construction.”
As I’ve said in other contexts: This is the business you have chosen. If you want the government to control rents and impose regulatory costs on the building of housing, then you can expect to see less housing and thus more expensive housing. Welcome to your world, Hillary Clinton staffers.
The Washington Post ran an editorial on Wednesday indicting Hillary Clinton for her silence on the trade agenda. Yesterday morning, the Post published an op‐ed by Robert Kagan of Brookings titled “Clinton’s Cowardice on Trade.” Both pieces offer some valid observations, but the matter deserves more scrutiny still.
Is it just me or do others see it as presumptuous, disrespectful, and even contemptuous that the person who expects to head the Democratic Party ticket next year feels entitled to her silence on the single most divisive issue confronting that party? Trade policy is causing a schism between Democrats, and Clinton chooses to showcase her leadership bona fides by … refraining from taking a position? And what does that say about the judgment of her steadfast supporters, whose return silence countenances an evasion akin to deceit? On the other hand, Clinton’s supporters are accustomed to accommodating a more expansive definition of honesty, so perhaps they’re oblivious.
If I were an engaged Democrat, I’d demand to know, now, where Hillary Clinton stands on trade. And if I were a presidential candidate with a reputation for favoring expedience over principle and whose most compelling claim to the White House is that I really, really want to be president, I would want to demonstrate my worthiness by taking a firm position, explaining to my party why I believe that position is the right one, pointing out (as President Obama has) that many of the Left’s objections to trade are based on fallacies, and sticking to it, even if it alienates some factions. Making some people unhappy is a necessity of leadership.
Like President Obama, Hillary Clinton has a history of flip‐flopping on trade, so people are understandably confused. As First Lady, she advocated on behalf of her husband’s efforts to forge NAFTA. As a U.S. senator, she was a solid protectionist, voting against trade barriers only 31 percent of the time and against trade‐distorting subsidies only 13 percent of the time. As a candidate for president, she expressed skepticism and, at times, indignation about trade agreements and joined with the political left in vilifying NAFTA. As secretary of state, she not only embraced the Trans‐Pacific Partnership (TPP), but was instrumental in making it the centerpiece of the administration’s “pivot to Asia.” Today, in the midst of a debate that will make or break the TPP and shape next year’s Democratic Party platform and more, Clinton is mum.
The Trade Promotion Authority legislation struggling to gain support from congressional Democrats would extend the terms of TPA through the entirety of the next president’s first term and into the second (it would expire in July 2021). It is a tool that would be welcomed by any president who sees trade agreements as channels for economic growth and diplomacy. Clinton’s silence implies indifference to the outcome of the TPA debate in Congress and, thus, indifference to trade liberalization as a policy tool. Clinton is well aware that the most important aspect of U.S. foreign policy to most countries is our trade and commercial policy.
So, unless the former top U.S. diplomat, as president, would turn her back on the TPP she once embraced, and pull the rug out from under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership — outcomes that would deprive the economy of valuable growth opportunities, offend 39 foreign governments, and reinforce perceptions of U.S. decline — she should affirmatively endorse TPA now.
Clinton’s endorsement would signal leadership and provide cover for scores of Democrats in Congress who are wary of the party’s dash to the far left. It would provide refuge for members who want to be on the economically responsible side of the schism. It would create an environment where it is safe to say the anti‐trade, progressive emperor is stark naked.
The New York Times reported Thursday:
Mr. Obama is fast becoming the past, not the future, for donors, activists and Democratic strategists. Party leaders are increasingly turning toward Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, as Democrats face difficult races this fall in states where the president is especially unpopular, and her aides are making plain that she has no intention of running for “Obama’s third term.”
Which put me in mind of this statement famously attributed to another woman who had “the heart and stomach of a king” and the will to rule, Queen Elizabeth I:
I know the inconstancy of the English people, how they ever mislike the present government and have their eyes fixed upon that person who is next to succeed. More people adore the rising sun than the setting sun.
Which is why Elizabeth never designated a successor. Every incumbent president probably wishes he had that power.
In a front-page story for the Wall Street Journal, Adam Entous reports that President Obama rejected a plan to arm Syrian rebels presented by officials at the Pentagon, CIA, and State Department. It seems that despite the advice of the most senior members of his national security team, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and then-CIA director David Petraeus, the president decided against becoming more deeply embroiled in a brutal civil war.
The president’s caution is welcome news for those of us who are skeptical of the United States’ ability to pick winners and losers in distant conflicts. I am also deeply sympathetic with the president’s dilemma, which is the theme of my book The Power Problem. “With great power comes great responsibility,” as the saying goes. But true responsibility means acting wisely, not simply acting. It takes enormous discipline and courage for a president to resist the incessant demands that he do something---anything---when horrible things occur. He should only act (1) in those rare cases when vital U.S. national security interests are at stake, and (2) when it is clear that the action being taken has a reasonable chance of delivering tangible results at a reasonable cost.
Neither of those criteria is satisfied with respect to the Syrian conflict.
Indeed, as the Journal story notes, the president appreciated that armed support for individuals and factions within the Syrian opposition was likely to have a number of unintended consequences. Specifically, the White House was dissatisfied with the answers to “lingering questions” including “which rebels could be trusted with the arms, whether the transfers would make a difference in the campaign to remove Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, and whether the weapons would add to the suffering.” And the president apparently didn’t listen only to those making the case for expanded U.S. involvement; an anonymous U.S. official told the Journal that a team of CIA analysts cast doubt on the impact of arming the rebels in the conflict.
Although the United States is providing non-lethal support to Syrian rebels, there are other good reasons to avoid doing more. One is the United States’ terrible track record in providing material, and lethal, support to opposition groups and figures. We have often mistaken power-hungry thugs, or simply manipulative charlatans, for committed democrats, and it is unreasonable to expect that our ability to separate the true patriots from the phonies has improved markedly since Iraq.