Presidential Debates, Just Around The Corner

In case you haven’t had your fill of politics already, with an important election only a few weeks away and political stories of one kind or another dominating every newscast, here’s some encouraging news — the first Democratic presidential candidate debates for the 2020 election are just around the corner.

t1larg-debate-stage-empty-t1largPolitico is reporting that the first debates will probably occur in the spring of 2019, months before the first primaries and caucuses, and a full year and a half before the 2020 election.  And even though that seems ridiculously early to non-political types like me, it’s apparently causing all of the would-be candidates to ramp up their activities now.  It’s expected that there will be a lot of people who will be vying for the chance to square off against President Trump in 2020 — more people, in fact, that can reasonably fit on one debate stage.  And if sheet numbers mean there will be two debate stages and two sets of debaters, all of the candidates want to be sure that they appear on the stage that includes all of the perceived “real contenders,” and are not relegated to the “everybody else” stage.  So everybody who is contemplating throwing their hat in the ring is out there raising money, hiring staff, visiting Iowa and New Hampshire, and trying to make news and start showing up in the polls.

Who are the “real contenders” for the Democrats?  According to the Politico article, only one person — a Congressman named John Delaney, who I’ve never even heard of — has formally declared his candidacy at this point.  Among the people who reportedly are considering a bid are Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Cory Booker and Kamala Harris.  Some people think Hillary Clinton might run, or Michael Bloomberg, and no doubt there are mayors, governors, other senators and representatives, and corporate figures who may launch campaigns.  If only a few of these folks actually run, you’ve already got a pretty crowded stage.

It’s hard to believe that we’re at the point of gearing up for another presidential election already, but politics being what it is, I am sure that there are a lot of Democrats out there thinking very seriously about running for President.  Why not?  After all, if Donald Trump can win the Republican nomination and actually get elected, just about anything is possible.  So why not take a shot — and do whatever you can to make sure that you get onto the coveted “contenders” stage?

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Should Federal Taxpayers Pay Off Student Loans?

During the 2016 presidential election, the student loan debt of Americans was one of the issues that attracted attention.  Bernie Sanders, for example, advocated for the federal government paying the college tuition of students attending public colleges and universities — with the cost to be covered by a tax on “Wall Street speculators” — and others argued that the federal government should pay off the student loans of college graduates who have found that the real-world problem of paying off their debt is interfering with their ability to follow their dreams.

So, should the federal government pay off student loan debts?  After all, the feds bailed out GM and has helped the big banks, and our politicians have just approved a $1.3 trillion interim spending package — so why not just toss a few billion dollars more onto the national debt load and help out those overwhelmed college grads who are working as waiters or baristas rather than pursuing whatever career awaits philosophy majors?

One of the problems with one-size-fits-all solutions is that, by definition, they do not take into account the important differences that may be revealed if individual circumstances are examined.  That’s where a recent survey of college students comes in.  A company called LendEDU, which operates in the student loan space, polled 1,000 college students at four-year institutions who are receiving student loans — and it found that more than half of them admitted to using their student loan proceeds to pay for spring break vacations.

That’s possible because of the way student loans are administered.  Colleges and universities get the proceeds, take out the tuition costs, and then remit the remainder to the students — who can use it for pretty much whatever they want, including some fun in the sun with their fellow students.  The LendEDU poll isn’t scientific, and of course there are highly responsible college students who aren’t using their student loan proceeds for a frolic and detour on the beach.  Nevertheless, how students actually used their student loans certainly seems like the kind of information we’d want to consider before we decide to pay off their debts.  (And, incidentally, I would apply the same test before bailing out large corporate institutions, too.)

Which of the federal taxpayers among us wants to foot the bill for last Saturday’s excellent kegger?

Not Exactly Principled

Donna Brazile, the long-time Democratic operative who took over as the chair of the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign, has published a tell-all book.  It’s the kind of political book that is described as “explosive,” because Brazile dishes the dirt on the likes of Hillary Clinton, the Clinton campaign, President Obama, and other topics that titillate the inside-the-Beltway crowd.  You can read the Washington Post article about the book and some of its revelations here.

brazileclintonstaffersgotohell-1280x720For example, Brazile now says that she was so concerned about Hillary Clinton’s health after Clinton’s fainting spell at the 9/11 ceremony that she actually considered exercising her ability as party chair to try to throw Clinton aside as the Democratic nominee and replace her with the ticket of Joe Biden and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.  Brazile says the Clinton campaign had no energy, disrespected her and the DNC, and didn’t allow the DNC to participate in get-out-the-vote efforts; she also recounts an incident in which she told Clinton campaign operatives that they were treating her like a “slave.”  She says that the fix was in on the primary battle between Clinton and Bernie Sanders due to a joint fundraising agreement between Clinton and the DNC that effectively gave the Clinton campaign control over finance, strategy, and staff decisions, providing it with an advantage over other candidates.

I read about Brazile’s disclosures in the Washington Post article linked above, and I wonder:  why do these political operatives always seem to wait until after everything is settled before speaking up?  Who knows whether, for example, providing information during the primaries so that the news media could report on the joint fundraising agreement might have made a difference in the result?  And when Brazile took over the DNC, why not immediately publicly expose the culture of corruption and financial mismanagement that she describes in her book?  But the D.C. operatives never seem to do that, do they?  Instead, they smile and give speeches and toe the party line during the campaigns, regurgitating the canned talking points on the Sunday morning public affairs shows and hoping for a good result so that they can be appointed to some plum position by the new President — but then when the results are bad, they write a tell-all book and make a hefty personal profit spilling the beans.

It’s not exactly principled behavior, is it?  Of course, this is the same Donna Brazile who, when she was a paid contributor to CNN, gave the Clinton campaign a heads-up on potential topics and questions that might be asked at a CNN town hall, so maybe she really didn’t care all that much about the Clinton campaign getting an unfair advantage.  And in any case, since when should we expect principled action from the gaggle of toadies and sycophants that seem to make up the vast majority of the political class in both the Democratic and Republican parties in this country?

When Not Even Early-Morning Baseball Practice Is Safe

Yesterday members of the Republican congressional baseball team met early in the morning for a practice session in advance of an upcoming game against a team of Democrats.  The annual game, which gets played in the stadium where the Nationals play and typically produces lots of money for charity, is one of the handful of remaining vestiges of civility and across-the-aisle cooperation that can still be found in our increasingly polarized national politics.

2017-06-14t131000z1lynxmped5d12artroptp4virginia-shootingBut the world being what it is these days, even an early-morning baseball practice is no longer safe.  A heavily armed gunman, who has been identified as James Hodgkinson, showed up and began firing — apparently with the intention of killing Republicans.  He shot  Congressman Steve Scalise, who remains in critical condition, and others as well before engaging in a firefight with authorities and sustaining fatal injuries.  In view of the fact that the gunman got off dozens of rounds, and the players practicing on the field were described as “sitting ducks,” it’s almost miraculous that more people weren’t killed or seriously injured.  Those who were present say that the heroism and prompt actions of police saved many lives.

The shooter is described as a Bernie Sanders supporter who hated Republicans — but in reality you could just call him a nut, based on what he’s written and posted to social media.  Senator Sanders immediately disavowed what the shooter did, because of course Sanders’ political positions don’t call for his supporters to engage in murderous violence.  And yet there are people out there on the fringes, at both ends of the political spectrum, who can’t simply content themselves with political opposition and have to take the next step, and the next, first into more vitriolic speech and imagery and ultimately into some kind of twisted mindset where going to a baseball practice and shooting whoever is out of the field seems like the right thing to do.

There have always been nuts out there.  What’s discouraging about the modern world is that there seem to be more of them ready to act out their disturbed impulses, heedless of who might get hurt.  And now we’ve reached the point where even a simple baseball practice isn’t safe.

The baseball game is going to be played, by the way.  That’s a good thing, I think, but it’s the only good thing about this whole ugly episode.  And you inevitably wonder:  how many more nuts are lurking out there, thinking the answer to what troubles them is a lot of indiscriminate killing?

 

Weird World

Let’s face it, we live in a weird, incredibly unpredictable world.  Just when you think you’ve got it nailed, you turn around and are astonished to learn that Donald Trump is the “presumptive Republican nominee.”

120408033849-ybl-van-jones-best-advice-00002022-story-topSome months ago, we went to dinner with a large group of friends, and someone suggested that we each predict the Republican and Democratic nominees who would emerge this year.  Even though the dinner occurred during the early days of Trumpmania, I’d guess that nobody picked Trump as the eventual carrier of the GOP banner.  His behavior and comments were uniformly viewed as so inflammatory that the notion that he could somehow navigate through the primary process without spontaneously combusting seemed wildly, impossibly implausible.  And since that dinner party I’ve been regularly expecting and predicting that, with each grossly improper, know-nothing comment, Trump was bound to fall.

And yet . . . here he is.  To be sure, he’s continued to say outlandish things that would have been immediately, irreversibly fatal for every other candidate who has ever vied for the presidency, and yet . . . here he is.  The Governors and Senators, the seasoned pols, who made up the large field of initial Republican candidates have all fallen by the wayside, leaving an egomaniacal reality TV show star as one of the two major party candidates for the most powerful office in the world.  Last night Ted Cruz “suspended his campaign,” and today John Kasich threw in the towel.  Amazingly, Trump has actually triumphed over his Republican opponents while Hillary Clinton is still struggling to drive a stake into the heart of Bernie Sanders’ rebel campaign.

Last night Kish and I were watching CNN’s coverage of the Indiana primary and Trump’s by-now-familiar stream of consciousness victory speech.  CNN has not one, but two panels of pundits to cover such events, and one of them is activist Van Jones.  Most of the pundits seemed to focus on the typical things that pundits do — that the early Republican candidates made this mistake or that that allowed Trump to survive and ultimately prevail.  Not Jones.  He cautioned that the political elites may be oblivious to something brooding in the country, something big but still under the radar, a kind of broad and deep, visceral dissatisfaction with the state of things that the inside-the-Beltway types are just missing but that finds its outlet in the insurgent, unconventional candidacies of Trump and Sanders.  Perhaps he’s right.  It’s as good an explanation as any for a “presumptive GOP nominee” that leaves me slack-jawed in wonderment.

 

Robots, Jobs, And The Minimum Wage

In his campaign for President, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has called for raising the minimum wage significantly, to make it a “living wage,” and in many places local governments have raised the minimum wage.  The argument for such raises is that if we just increased the minimum wage, people working at those minimum wage jobs would earn more money, could provide better for their families, and might actually spend more of their pay and help the economy.  In short, the country as a whole would be better off.

These arguments seem to defy basic rules of economics and normal human experience.  We know from our own lives that the cost of something matters.  How many people shop without looking at the price tag?  We also know from our own experience that if something becomes too expensive, we will try to do without that costly item.  So the notion that you can raise the cost of anything without any negative reaction or consequences seems both naive and outlandish.  The across-the-board minimum wage hike arguments presuppose that those who employ minimum wage workers — who are, by definition, the most unskilled, untrained, fungible people in the national workforce — have an endless supply of money and will simply accept a minimum wage hike without taking any steps to account for their increased costs.  If you know anyone who has worked as a manager of a fast-food restaurant, you know that assumption is fantasyland.

hqdefaultSome municipalities have increased the minimum wage anyway.  So, how is it working?  While the data is preliminary, it seems to show what any rational person would suspect — that minimum wage increases affect hiring.  A recent economic research study by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco concluded that “the overall body of recent evidence suggests that the most credible conclusion is a higher minimum wage results in some job loss for the least-skilled workers—with possibly larger adverse effects than earlier research suggested.”  The study adds that “allowing for the possibility of larger job loss effects, based on other studies, and possible job losses among older low-skilled adults, a reasonable estimate based on the evidence is that current minimum wages have directly reduced the number of jobs nationally by about 100,000 to 200,000, relative to the period just before the Great Recession.”  And more recent data from the U.S. Department of Labor suggests that hiring slowed in those locations where the minimum wage was increased.

I’m sure the minimum wage hike advocates will dispute the data, or argue in the alternative that the better earnings by the employed more than compensate for any job loss that might have occurred.  Such arguments seem to me to be both misguided — wouldn’t we rather have more people working, and taking that first step up the job progress ladder? — and short-sighted.  If employers of minimum wage workers are cost-sensitive, as the data is indicating, they’ll look for other ways to avoid paying wages that are too high as a result of governmental fiat.  As the Washington Post has reported, one option that is being explored is increased reliance on machinery and robotics in places like fast-food restaurants, which already have seen declines in worker employment.

Let’s not kid ourselves.  Hiking the minimum wage is no panacea, and we don’t live in a fairyland where employers have endless supplies of money.  Don’t be surprised if, in a few months or years, you don’t see that teenager behind the counter at your favorite fast food restaurant and are served your burger by Robbie the Robot instead.

Fueling The Bern

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A member of the Webner family who is feeling the Bern went to Sanders HQ here in Columbus to do some campaign work today and snapped a few photos.  Sanders campaign volunteers were busily working the phones, canvasing the city, and generally doing what is necessary for a presidential campaign to do on a primary election day.

Turnout is reported to be good in Columbus.  One concern for Democrats is that lifelong Ds may have decided to vote in the Republican primary to cast a vote against Donald Trump.  (I know at least one person who falls into that category.)  If that kind of backlash vote is happening, what might it mean for the Ohio Democratic primary results?  I don’t know for sure, obviously, but I wonder:  who is more likely to not vote for their candidate and vote against Trump — Clinton voters, who don’t seem terribly enthusiastic about their candidate to begin with, or those fired-up, true believer Sanders backers?

Right now, it feels like it’s anybody’s ballgame.

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