Friday, February 12, 2016

Cruising the Web

Ted Cruz's campaign has a strong TV attack ad out against Donald Trump and his past use of eminent domain. I've always been of two minds about whether such attacks work since I suspect that most people don't understand what eminent domain is, but Cruz centers on the story of how Trump tried to take the house of an elderly widow, Vera Coking, so he could build a garage for his casino in Atlantic City. The ad uses Trump's own self-praise for his use of eminent domain as well as clips from a John Stossel interview featuring Stossel's skeptically raised eyebrows and mustache. And Coking herself appears saying that "Heart? He doesn't have no heart, that man." The closing line of the ad is "Trump uses power for personal gain. Imagine the damage he could do as president."

That's a long way from how Cruz refused to criticize Trump for so long so that he could ride safely in Trump's wake hoping to pick up Trump's supporters. The gloves now are, apparently, off.

The reason why I think this ad may well work is that it is long enough to explain what Trump actually did and how he tried to benefit himself by taking private property from a woman whom he regarded as beneath him. Some of the attacks on Trump have just been along the lines of saying, "Oh, he used eminent domain and still defends Kelo." The assumption is that people know what eminent domain is and are familiar with Kelo v. City of New London. But I bet that average people have no idea what Kelo is and so such attacks fly right by them.

I was recently teaching my AP Government and Politics class about the concept of eminent domain and we covered Kelo. My students are mostly 10th graders. A couple of kids in each class were familiar with the term. I used a hypothetical example of one of the student's homes and what would happen if the city decided they needed to expand a highway using their home's property. That helped them understand the concept. As the students learned what it meant, they could actually think of places in their own community where this had happened. Then I tell them the story of Suzette Kelo's house and how she lost it because of the Supreme Court's ruling. I tell them that the Pfizer plant was never built and that the property sits empty now and has been used for a dumping ground, they're horrified. They get it. They understand why so many people were so angry about this case because they can imagine it happening to anyone's house if the government decides that a company should have it. It only takes a few minutes of class discussion for students to go from not knowing what the concept means to being upset about how it has been used to go beyond the original idea of taking land for public use to using it to benefit private businesses. I'll present the arguments of the city of New London and the five justices who ruled in their favor that such a taking would benefit more people and (supposedly) create jobs and thus benefit the community as a whole. They aren't convinced. Every year when it comes time to cover eminent domain, I see the same transformation and rejection of the arguments of those who, like Donald Trump, supported the decision.

So my experience seeing how opinions can form when people learn about the case leads me to think that Cruz's ad can hurt Trump. I hope it does. There are so many reasons why I dislike Trump, but if this is the one that resonates with voters, Vera Coking will have had the last laugh.

Here is Cruz's ad.

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And here is today's bad news for Obamacare.
It wasn’t that long ago when ObamaCare fans were wagging their fingers at critics, saying industry profits proved that the law was working. They’ve been noticeably silent as insurers report huge losses.

“It turns out that the law that the insurance industry’s shills demonized has been awfully good to insurance-company investors.” That was from a piece in the Huffington Post almost exactly a year ago, after UnitedHealth Group released its Q1 earnings.

The writer went on to point out that the good news was reported in the pages of IBD, while our editorial page has long been critical of the law. “I can’t wait,” Wendell Potter concluded, “to see how IBD’s editorial writers spin UnitedHealth’s ObamaCare success.”

We can’t wait to see how Potter and other ObamaCare fans are spinning the law’s “success,” now that insurance companies are showing big, sustained losses and threatening to pull out of the program next year.

The latest to join the list is Humana, which just reported that profits fell 30% in the last quarter of 2015 and has set aside a reserve for expected losses this year. It’s now saying it “continues to evaluate its participation” in the individual insurance market.

A few days earlier, Aetna said it lost up to 4% on its ObamaCare policies in 2015 and said it had “serious concerns about the sustainability of the public exchanges.”

And UnitedHealth Group said it expects losses from its ObamaCare enrollees to top $650 million this year and next. “We cannot sustain these losses,” is how CEO Stephen Hemsley put it.
And remember. Obama wanted the federal government to bail out insurance companies for their losses from Obamacare. Think of what a bottomless pit of spending that would have been. Fortunately, there was a provision placed in 2014's spending bill that prevented federal money being used to bail out those insurance companies. And Marco Rubio had a big role to play in accomplishing that. Yuval Levin, who knows a whole lot more about Obamacare and the efforts supporting and opposing it, explains that yes, Rubio did play an important part in protecting us from bailing out the insurance companies.
So what, you might ask, does Marco Rubio have to do with this complicated story? The answer, it seems to me, is that none of it would have happened if Rubio had not made the risk-corridor insurer bailout an issue, starting in 2013. Before that, a few health wonks on the right had raised red flags about the issue, but it wasn’t until Rubio and his staff grasped its significance, insistently drew attention to it, and produced a bill to avert an insurer bailout that the issue became prominent among the priorities of Obamacare’s opponents. Rubio was without question the first and most significant congressional voice on this subject, and if he hadn’t done the work he did, the risk-corridor neutralization provision would not have been in last year’s (or this year’s) budget bill.

In this sense, Rubio and his supporters are certainly right to say that he has done more than pretty much anyone to actually push back against Obamacare, and to force the system to confront the implications of its command and control economics. But the lesson some of those supporters draw from that fact isn’t quite the one I’d draw: Ironically, although some Rubio supporters are using the issue to contrast his actually getting things done with Ted Cruz just making noise about things, Rubio got something done on this issue entirely by making noise about it. He was effective because he chose the right target, and because he made noise in an effort to champion a specific, concrete, practical step in response. For that, Rubio surely does deserve credit. There is no question in my mind that Obamacare’s insurer bailout would not have been stopped if not for him.
I've always been surprised that Rubio doesn't make more of his history here, especially to answer the charges that he didn't accomplish anything while in the Senate. My recommendation to him would be to play this up a lot. But he needs to find a way to explain in a couple of a sentences what it was he was preventing. People don't understand it unless it's explained to them, just like with eminent domain. So instead of firing off a list of issues that he was involved with, he should focus on one issue and explain what his role was and the impact of that provision. Walk people through what he did as a demonstration of how he worked with others to raise a red flag and get something done that has done more to damage Obamacare than all of Ted Cruz's grandstanding and shutting down of the government. He didn't do it all himself, but he worked with others to get the provision written and passed. I think Rubio has been missing a big opportunity here to let people see what he's done in the Senate beyond the Gang of Eight bill.

And if eminent domain becomes a subject in Saturday's debate, he needs to talk more about what he did in the Florida House to change Florida's laws.
Right before taking the speakership, Rubio headed a special committee assigned to craft legislation in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo vs. New London, which broadened the power of governments to take private property through eminent domain. Rubio put together a bill that limited the state’s authority to seize property and declared that the prevention or elimination of slums, blight, or public nuisance was no longer considered a valid public purpose for the government’s use of eminent domain. Few lawmakers wanted to stand up for the government’s right to seize private property, and the final bill passed with only three nays.
If Rubio wants to fight the accusation that he's just an empty suit who talks nice, he needs to go into more detail about what he has done in both the Florida legislature and the Senate. He needs to tell the story so people understand. Presenting a bullet-point list is not enough. Too often he falls back on his family's immigrant story and what that means to him. It's time to move beyond that to talk about what he's done when he had the power and influence his parents could never have imagined. I keep waiting for him to do that and he really hasn't. That's why Christie's attack so resonated when Rubio could have fought back talking about real accomplishments instead of going down the rabbit hole of arguing over whether or not Obama is an evil ideologue or an incompetent amateur.

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It's a tough job for Obama to convince people that the economy is going along just great. No one seems to be buying that. It's clear from the New Hampshire vote that voters are very worried about the economy.
A striking finding in Tuesday’s voter exit poll is how anxious nearly everybody in the Granite State is about the U.S. economy—even more than six years into the expansion that Mr. Obama so vigorously salutes.

As the nearby table shows, pollsters asked voters in both parties how worried they are about “the direction of the nation’s economy in the next few years.” An astonishing 93% of Republicans said they were either very or somewhat worried. It makes you wonder what the 1% who said they aren’t worried are drinking. (Substitute smoking if you live in Vermont.)

But lest you think this anxiety is partisan, the mood among Democrats is little better. A total of 79% of Democratic voters said they were either very or somewhat worried, with 29% very worried. Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton by 3 to 1 among the very worried. Add up the totals in both parties and some 86% of the state’s voters are at least somewhat worried.
And listen to Sanders and Clinton talk. Neither of them seem to agree with Obama that there is no reason to worry about the economy.
To put it another way, the most persuasive repudiation of Mr. Obama’s economic record is coming from Democrats. Mr. Sanders and Mrs. Clinton are both campaigning against the economic status quo, deploring the lack of income growth, rising income inequality and unaffordable health care, among other problems.

Mr. Obama once let slip in 2008 that he wanted to become the progressive version of Ronald Reagan by changing the terms of America’s political debate. Yet when George H.W. Bush campaigned to succeed the Gipper in 1988, he ran to extend the undeniable prosperity of the Reagan years. No one in either party is running to extend Mr. Obama’s prosperity because the voters know it doesn’t exist.

Kimberley Strassel details how Bernie Sanders has played the role for Hillary Clinton of the little boy exposing the emperor's nudity. I apologize for the mental image that metaphor might have evoked. But Strassel is exactly right.
Picture Bernie Sanders as a small child in the court of Empress Clinton, and you have a modern twist on Hans Christian Andersen. The adoring Democratic townspeople oohed and aahed over their “tough” and “experienced” and “masterful” leader, the anointed heir to the Clinton throne. Then Bernie murmured what was obvious, and the crowd looked again.

What they saw in New Hampshire was a dour, 68-year-old woman, shouting at her audience in her best impression of emotion. They saw a gaunt former president, rambling to half-empty forums, grumping about his wife’s political opponent. They saw the candidate’s surrogates try to snag the votes of young women by threatening them with eternal damnation. They saw a campaign in disarray, dragging carload upon carload of ethical baggage. They saw that the empress has no (or very few) clothes.

No one knows whether Bernie Sanders can pull off a nomination. But what everyone does know now is that Hillary has (and is) a problem either way. Let’s dispense with some spin: Bernie never had a lock on the Granite State. New Hampshire had stepped up for the Clintons twice before, in 1992 and 2008. This year Hillary went into the contest with endorsements, a huge operation and plenty of money.

What she didn’t have was the interest of voters. They’d had their eyes opened, and they chose to use their primary to highlight Mrs. Clinton’s many and obvious political weaknesses. She may still be the favorite to hold her party’s banner, but the mantle of inevitability has been stripped away.

New Hampshire exposed again what a wooden candidate Hillary is. Mr. Sanders strolls on stage and makes his audience sing and cheer. Mrs. Clinton’s events begin with propaganda videos about her past, followed by a tutorial on why she deserves this. They are heavy, and droning.
If Barack Obama's argument for his leadership experience in 2008 was to point to his successful political campaign for the nomination, Hillary's campaign is the anti-argument. She just can't run a good campaign. She couldn't in 2008 and it's a mess again this year.
New Hampshire also uncovered the mismanagement that always attends the Clintons. Hillary wakes up every day with a new campaign. She ignores Mr. Sanders. Then she runs left. Then she attacks him. Then she softens. Her staff has endless debates, which always end up leaked to the press, about whether she needs to appear “stronger,” or more “human,” or “sharper,” or “softer,” or more “pragmatic,” or more “lofty.”

She has a habit of unceremoniously firing campaign teams. And this scattershot approach comes from a woman who has been plotting to be president for at least a decade? All this shifting may be another reason why the public sees her as “untrustworthy.”

To that point, New Hampshire proved that concerns about Mrs. Clinton’s ethics aren’t merely a right-wing talking point. They’ve permeated the electorate. Some stunning numbers: Among the one-third of Democratic primary voters who said “honesty” was the top quality they wanted in a nominee, Mr. Sanders won 91%. Among the quarter who said they focused on a candidate who “cares about people like me,” Mr. Sanders won 82%.
If the Democratic Party hadn't been so enamored of the Clintons for so long, they would have realized what a potential disaster she could be as a candidate and other Democrats beyond Sanders and O'Malley and poor Jim Webb would have had the financial and political support to get into the race. And now, she'll have to play the race card big time if she wants to defeat Sanders in the upcoming primaries. The only comfort I've had, as Trump rides his wave of enthusiasm, is enjoying the disaster that the Democrats are facing in their own race.

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John Podhoretz did his duty as a political columnist and watched last night's Democratic debate so we wouldn't have to. The message coming from Clinton and Sanders was not one of uplift.
The message from Thursday night’s Democratic debate is that everybody in America should get on a leaky rowboat and find somewhere, anywhere, else in the world to live — because life in the United States is a nightmare from which millionaires and billionaires and the Koch brothers and the Republicans will not allow us to awake.

The two candidates for the Democratic nomination spent most of two hours arguing over who was the better diagnostician of the moral diseases, ideological calamities, spiritual infirmities, racial injustices and downright evils that are being visited upon the suffering 320 million who have found themselves through no fault of their own trapped between two oceans in a dystopian oligarchic hell they call America.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were essentially auditioning last night for the role of Snake Plissken. Do you remember Snake Plissken? He was the eyepatch-wearing hero of “Escape from New York,” the 1981 science-fiction picture in which Manhattan has become a prison and Snake Plissken is the only guy who can find the way out.

Only the America from which they want to liberate us is Barack Obama’s America. Oh, they don’t say as much. Hillary blames the Koch brothers. Bernie blames millionaires and billionaires and the campaign-finance system. They both blame the Republicans.

But let’s face it: It’s Obama’s world. They and we are all just living in it.
Yeah, it's getting tougher and tougher for Obama to convince everyone how wonderful things are going when the two contenders of his own party to succeed him are vying with each other to paint the darker picture of Obama's America.

At least Hillary could be thankful that the PBS moderators didn't do their due diligence and let her slide by without a question on her looming scandals.
So let me get this straight: on the same day that the Washington Post reports that the State Department issued subpoenas to a family foundation bearing Hillary Clinton’s name as part of a federal investigation, the PBS debate moderators didn’t ask her about it.

While presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has been asked about a loan from Goldman Sachs and Donald Trump about bankruptcies in his past (legitimate questions in my mind), a federal subpoena to a foundation where Hillary Clinton recently served on the board doesn’t even warrant a murmur from Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodward, two PBS journalists?

As the Washington Post’s investigative unit reported just today, the State Department Inspector General issued subpoenas to the Clinton Foundation as part of a federal investigation. (Why did the Inspector General issue the subpoenas? Did the Clinton Foundation refuse to turn over relevant documents? It’s unclear at this point.) What is clear is that the State Department felt the need to obtain internal documents from the Clinton Foundation as part of their investigation.

It’s also clear that the Clinton Foundation is of interest to the American people. All day it was a ten top trending subject of Facebook, which was the cosponsor of the debate. But it was never mentioned by the debate moderators.

In addition to the ongoing email investigation by the FBI, we now know that the bureau is also investigating the Clinton Foundation. How does this not warrant a single question by debate moderators?
Well, they're part of the Clinton Praetorian Guard. That explains it.

Poor Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She really does have a terrible job. Watch Jake Tapper totally flummox her when he asks her to explain the Democratic Party's system in which Sanders and Clinton can have the same number of delegates coming out of New Hampshire even though he built her by 22 points there.

As Jennifer Rubin argues, Hillary's candidacy may just not be salvageable. She's a terrible candidate facing a serious legal threat that is all of her own making. And leaks are coming out of the FBI investigation at a regular pace to expose how much trouble she's in. And playing the race card might not work any better than playing the gender card has worked for her.
Clinton and her supporters thought gender loyalty would save her. It has not. Now she thinks minority voters will ride to her rescue. But why should they? Sanders is giving away free stuff and telling them the system is rigged. Voters under 40 years old don’t remember the Bill Clinton years; they remember Hillary Clinton as the candidate who tried to take down then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and the person who jetted around the world while Obama was delivering on health care. She has not as yet shown the talent to reconstruct the Obama coalition, despite her faith that identity politics will win the day. (In case you have forgotten, her “identity” is a rich, white woman.)

Clinton may not dig herself out from all of this. Democrats who don’t think so are whistling past the graveyard of the Democratic Party. For months Democrats worried about an alternative to Clinton; now they should be worrying about an alternative to Sanders. Clinton may just not be up to the task.

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