Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

The Start-Up They Signed

“The one thing you have over me is experience,” Mr. Trump said at one point.

And yet it seemed clear through this last confrontation that there was a gap in knowledge, or at least in command of the material that candidates seeking to be president are expected to master.

“Take a look at the Start­-Up they signed,” Mr. Trump said at one point, apparently referring to the Start nuclear arms reduction treaty.

Hillary Clinton, Mocking and Taunting in Debate, Turns the Tormentor, Amy Chozick and Michael Barbaro, New York Times, yesterday

When Trump said that Wednesday night—said it really emphatically—Clinton’s facial expression reflected what I’m sure was mine: What the hell is he talking about?

I figured he was referring to some provision in NAFTA or the Paris climate-change accords, having to do with small-business startups.

So now I know I was wrong.  And I even know what Start-Up they signed.

Glad I read the New York Times.

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Trump claimed today that Clinton’s donors won’t let her reduce taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Wonder whether anyone else will notice that he said that.

Outside the factory setting [which Clinton toured today before she gave her economic-policy speech], a scattering of pro­-Trump protesters held “Hillary for Prison” signs and criticized Mrs. Clinton’s connections to Wall Street. And more than 1,000 miles away in Florida, Mr. Trump echoed that critique.

“She doesn’t have the talent” to jump­start the economy, Mr. Trump said. “If she wanted to do it, she couldn’t because her donors won’t let her.”

Wielding a chart, Mr. Trump said the Obama administration’s policies that Mrs. Clinton wants to continue have led to plummeting homeownership rates and anemic economic growth. He also suggested that Mrs. Clinton wanted to raise taxes by $1.3 trillion and place more of that burden on the middle class — something that she has not proposed.

“Many workers are earning less money in real dollars than they were in 1970,” Mr. Trump said. “And then you wonder why they’re angry.”

In Michigan, Hillary Clinton Calls Donald Trump Enemy of ‘the Little Guy’, Amy Chozick and Alan Rappeport, New York Times, today

Okay, so Clinton’s Wall Street donors won’t let her eliminate the estate tax and dramatically cut corporate taxes and taxes on wealthy individuals, which is what the Trump plan—devised by his Wall Street hedge-fund and real estate mogul advisers, his Heritage Foundation-economist adviser, and Edgar Bergen, er, Paul Ryan—says is the surefire way to jump-start the economy. Those folks know that will work because this kind of thing worked so well during the Bush administration.

Well, all right, it worked well in conjunction with bank deregulation and unregulated shadow banking that caused that skyrocketing homeownership rate during the G.W. Bush administration. The highs from which homeownership rates plummeted after the banking and shadow banking industries collapsed in the months before Obama’s inauguration.

The plummeting of which made Trump happy, he has said, because he was able to pick up so much real estate on the (very) cheap once all those homes went into foreclosure.

But Trump is crediting the wrong president for creating that buying opportunity.  His memory fails him.

And it’s not only his long-term memory that fails him.  His short-term memory is slipping, too.  He’s a businessman, so I assume he follows the trend of the stock market and corporate profit reports, or at least the profits of, say, the Fortune 100.  But apparently he forgets from one day to the next. And one week to the next.  Not to mention one year to the next, although that would be long-term memory, I guess.  Anyway, comparisons don’t seem to be his thing.

Which I guess explains why he doesn’t know that both the stock market and large-corporation profits are at record highs.  So high, in fact, that corporate CEOs don’t know what to do with all that money.  Although they do know what they won’t do with it: raise compensation for their rank-and-file workers and invest in, say, research and development.  You know, the stuff that could result in economic growth: spending by these corporations that would obviate the point of dramatic tax cuts, which Ryan, the Heritage Foundation, and Trump’s hedge fund and real estate mogul friends say the corporations would spend on compensation raises for their rank-and-file workers.  Well, all the tax-cut savings that are left after all the spending on research and development. Because money isn’t fungible after all.

There’s something about money from tax cuts that would make corporations spend the money in ways other than increased dividends, acquisitions of other companies, and mega-increases in top-executive-suite compensation.  And Paul Ryan has the secret to what it is, and he’ll only share it with Trump.

Anyway, at least we now know why Clinton, unlike Trump, wouldn’t eliminate the estate tax and dramatically cut corporate taxes and taxes on wealthy individuals.  Her donors won’t let her.

And to think I’ve wanted to see the reversal of Citizens United.  How shortsighted of me.

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I’m with Brian Fallon

Campaigns are complicated things. No one gets every piece of them right. Some candidates are great at big rallies. Some are good only at small events. Some are terrific TV communicators but bad on the stump. Some delegate well, and others don’t. Some never waver from a message, while others can’t seem to find one with a 10-foot pole. It’s a high-wire balancing act every day with tens of millions of people watching.

Trump is making a real mess of his campaign, Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, Jul.10

Okay, I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that 10-foot poll line two weeks ago, which is why I remembered it today.  It was no mystery which two candidates Cillizza had in mind in drawing that contrast in that sentence.

Throughout Clinton’s campaign pundits and ordinary voters alike have wondered what exactly her justification is for running for president.  But I am not among them.  Her justification, from its outset, has been that she’s a woman and that this particular glass ceiling must be broken, now, and by her.  That was, and remains, it.

Thus her cringe-inducing statement at that debate last winter that she doesn’t understand why people think she’s a member of the establishment.  After all, she’s running to become the first woman president.

And thus the focus of her speech on the night of the California primary, which it turns out troubled a number of her advisors as much as it did me.  Which is, a lot.

Amy Chozick has an article in this morning’s NYT titled “Hillary Clinton’s Team Seeks a Balance: Celebrating Women Without Alienating Men” that begins:

PHILADELPHIA — When Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic presidential nomination last month, her campaign put together a video that framed Mrs. Clinton’s victory as a giant leap in the women’s movement. Scenes of suffragists, Gloria Steinem and little girls in their mother’s arms flashed on the screen.

The footage brought some of Mrs. Clinton’s advisers to tears, but others asked a practical, and delicate, question: What might men be thinking?

Good question. But I’ll amend it: What were women, as well as men, thinking?  The ones who think this election is really, or at least mostly, about the economic and political-power issues that Bernie Sanders has built his campaign around.  That Elizabeth Warren (no less a female than is Clinton) has built her public career around.  That Donald Trump has so fraudulently coopted, these days interspersing his claim to fight the economically and politically powerful on behalf of working class whites with his actual fiscal and regulatory policies written—literally—at the Heritage Foundation.**

Trump is now openly seeking donations on behalf of a superPAC operated by and for some of the most fiscal and regulatory regressive billionaires and multimillionaires in the world.  

Yet he’s apparently winning among white working class men who aren’t all that enthused about Building a Wall, Barring Muslims From Entering This Country, and, now—again, literally; unabashedly—turning this country into a fascist state because five police officers in Dallas were murdered by a mentally disturbed man after he lured them with a 911 phone call.

Yet the Clinton campaign, according to Chozick’s detailed article, now debating “how much her nomination this week should be focused on women.”  Chozick writes:

Some advisers believe that overemphasizing Mrs. Clinton’s historic achievement as the first woman to accept a major party’s nomination could backfire, driving away men who favor her Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, and alienating younger women who are less motivated by gender. The result is what Democrats describe as a cautious mix, attaching the women’s movement to issues like the economy and health care. …

“This has been a long, drawn­-out debate,” said Tracy Sefl, a Democratic strategist who worked for Mrs. Clinton in 2008 and has been involved in discussions with her 2016 campaign about women’s outreach.

The debate inside the campaign about the focus on women during the convention was described by a person involved in the planning who requested anonymity to discuss private conversations.

The discussions date to the start of the campaign, when some advisers suggested she choose Seneca Falls, N.Y., the birthplace of the modern women’s movement, to hold her kickoff rally.

Others questioned whether she should visit the town at all. In the end, she started her campaign in New York City, and in April, her daughter organized a “Women for Hillary” event in Seneca Falls in her mother’s place.

A campaign spokesman, Brian Fallon, did not respond to questions on Sunday about the internal discussions, other than to say, “It will not be lost on anyone that she is a woman.”

So here’s something Clinton should understand: Every time she suggests that the purpose of her campaign is to make history as the first woman to become president she also suggests that she truly doesn’t get this election—that she doesn’t understand the economic populism of this moment.  That is true even though some of the traditional women’s policy issues she will talk about also are very much economic ones.

Brian Fallon is not, I’ll just say, a favorite among Clinton spokespeople, and I know that other fervent Sandinistas shared that sentiment over the last year.  But I think I can speak for all Sandinistas—Sanders Bros and Sanders Sisses alike—in supporting his advice to the candidate: “It will not be lost on anyone that she is a woman.”

And if she really thinks we’re stronger together she should let that speak for itself.  It will not be lost on anyone that she is a woman.

A huge problem for Clinton and her campaign has been that its unremitting focus on things everyone already knows, and its failure to educate the public about things most or at least many people don’t know about Trump’s actions.  Their specifics.  His very modus operandi.  And, for heaven’s sake, his fiscal and regulatory policy proposals.

Also from the Chozick article:*

She drives me crazy with this woman thing,” Misty Leach, 43, a high school teacher who voted for Senator Bernie Sanders in the primary, said of Mrs. Clinton. “‘I’m going to be the first woman president’ to me just feels like she’s entitled.

To me it just feels like she wants to be sure no one misses that she thinks this is what is most on most people’s minds.  Excuse me, on most women’s minds.

Clinton should think back to her husband’s War Room’s famous mantra: It’s the economy, stupid.  This time the campaign’s internal mantra should be: It’s the economic and political power, stupid.

I think Trump made a serious mistake last week in “pivoting” from a (faux) anti-establishment-economic-and-political-power theme to a (bizarre) law-and-order one, which I found bizarre. (I didn’t watch any of that convention, but have more than enough about what transpired.)  In Clinton’s case, the opposite is necessary: She needs to pivot away from her campaign’s raison d’être, and toward the raison that matters.

*The quote and comment about it that follow were added on 7/26 at 1:44 p.m.

**Paragraph rewritten to make sense, 7/26 at 8:10 p.m.

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Okay, so Hillary Clinton thinks the election outcome will be determined by whether or not her running mate has a national security background, because Donald Trump has pronounced this a law-and-order election. Seriously.

Facing a fall contest against a Republican opponent focused on law and order, Hillary Clinton has narrowed her search for a vice­-presidential candidate, telling several potential running mates that she needs a No. 2 who would bring national security experience to the Democratic ticket.

Mrs. Clinton’s shortlist includes James G. Stavridis, a retired four-­star Navy admiral who served as the 16th supreme allied commander of NATO, and Senator Tim Kaine, a former Virginia governor who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. She is widely expected to present her choice at a rally in Miami on Saturday, according to people involved

Hillary Clinton Is Said to Seek National Security Experience for Vice Presidential Pick, Amy Chozick, New York Times, today

Oh.  Brother.

This, folks, is what’s wrong with Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party nominee for president.  I ask you folks: How many of you think the folks who’ve been downsized from, say, their well-paying blue-collar jobs in the Rust Belt will determine their vote based on whether or not Clinton’s running mate has national security experience, because Donald Trump has pronounced this a law-and-order election?

Seriously.  Vote on this in the Comments thread.

Setting aside for moment that her supposed big selling point is the breadth of her government experience, and particularly her national security, and that most people don’t recognize that presidents normally have several national security advisors and that all that’s really necessary is that the president have a, y’know, brain and a semblance of mental stability, the fact that Clinton is so, so easily spooked into triangulation-and-toughness mode is genuinely scary.

So I’ll repeat here what I wrote yesterday:

One of my pet peeves about Hillary Clinton is how mindless—how autopilot-y—her political instincts are.  I wrote recently, and had written earlier, about her factually off attempt last summer to pander to current and aspiring small-business owners by promising that she could have the federal government streamline the time it takes to start a business and cut down on regulations on small businesses.  The federal government plays virtually no role in the regulation of small businesses—local and state governments regulate most small businesses—and the role that government at any level plays in business startup time is a matter of about a week for most businesses.

But hiding in plain sight were things she could have mentioned about the role that the federal government could play in things of critical importance to small business owners of various types.  And some things that, thanks to Dems, it already does.  Specific regulation of the financial services industry, for example—such as the Durbin Amendment, a form of antitrust regulation of Visa and Mastercard concerning business fees for credit and ATM card transactions, enacted by the Dem.-controlled Congress in 2009—has mattered a lot, and should be strengthened.  And other antitrust enforcement and proposed legislation, such as to decrease the market chokehold of the major transportation companies and Big Ag, would make a significant difference to small-business owners, including farmers.

Elizabeth Warren talked about this in a highly publicized speech a couple of weeks ago.  And Bernie Sanders discussed it often on the campaign trail, including, in Iowa, proposals for antitrust legislation to limit the market power of Big Ag.

Clinton reflexively equates the possibility of Dems attracting white rural and small town residents with triangulation.  I myself have long believed that standard-issue triangulation is not the ticket to winning some support in rural and small town areas, but that specific sophisticated policy discussions about nonconventional issues—such as about antitrust regulation—is.  Ditto for small-business owners and aspirants.

The rap on Vilsack apparently is that he’s boring.  And that he wouldn’t make a good attack dog against Trump.

I don’t think Clinton needs an attack dog, in the conventional sense, as her running mate.  Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders both get extensive media coverage for what they say, and people really listen to and care about their speeches.  They’ll play a tremendous dual role in educating the public about the Dem platform—and the Repub one.  And Warren can skewer Trump like she was born to do it.

My own choice for VP nominee is Sherrod Brown, whom I’ve been a huge fan of since he appeared on my radar screen during his 2006 Senate campaign; he and Dick Durbin are my favorite senators.  Brown would make a wonderful candidate, and would appeal to rural and small town voters precisely because he’s a liberal—in ways that would matter to them.  But I share the hesitation about him that Clinton and other Dems have: his seat would be turned over to a Kasich appointee for a while.

And I think his teaming up with Sanders, Warren, Durbin, Jeff Merkley, Baldwin and Jack Reed in a Dem-controlled Senate, along with a couple of new true progressives, would prove historic.   Which is what I think Clinton should campaign on.

And, innocently, I added:

As for progressive NeverHillary holdouts, I think they should understand the possibilities that would come from that.  And, conversely, from this.

Then I added this:

ThesePeopleAreCrazy.

That crazy thing, though, may not be enough to determine the outcome of this presidential election, after all.  And it’s not because, see, Donald Trump has declared this a law-and-order election.

Just when I thought we’d gotten lucky, in that someone within her trust-and-personal-comfort realm who is among her finalists actually could make a difference in the campaign, for the right (no, not that way) reasons, and would make a good president should that situation arise, she reverts to form.

Toughness-and-triangulation forever!

Whatever. …

Clinton will have my vote.  But I recognize now my naiveté in expecting her to run a rational, spooked-free campaign.  It’s not what she does, because it’s not who she is; whoever she is, it’s not that.

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Why did the Clinton campaign say earlier this month that Trump’s statement that he plans to partially default on the national debt could work? (And, yes, that, as the NYT mentions today, is what the Clinton campaign said.)

Debates have broken out in Mrs. Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters over the best approach to take. Some advisers worry that by running against Mr. Trump as she would a traditional Republican candidate, Mrs. Clinton is actually making the reality­ television star appear more legitimate.

This month, when Mr. Trump suggested he would reduce the national debt by negotiating with creditors to accept something less than full payment, economists dismissed the idea as fanciful. Hours later, the Clinton campaign sent out a news release about Mr. Trump’s “risky” idea of defaulting on the national debt with a response from Gene Sperling, formerly a senior economic adviser to both President Obama and Mr. Clinton, condemning the idea. The seriousness of the campaign’s response seemed to elevate a nonsensical proposal.

The seriousness of the campaign’s response seemed to elevate a nonsensical proposal. “That is a danger,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a former senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “You have to take the threat of Trump becoming president seriously, but you shouldn’t treat him as a serious person.”

Hillary Clinton Struggles to Find Footing in Unusual Race, Amy Chozick, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, New York Times, today

Oh.  Brother.  The Clinton campaign characterized Trump’s statement that he wants to partially default on the national debt as “risky.” In other words, they said that, yeah, this would be a big risk, but there’s also the possibility that it could work!

Actually, when I read that sentence this morning in the Times I did remember reading an article about that response by the Clinton campaign shortly after it was made.  I remember thinking, “Risky?  Seriously?  Risky?  Not absurd?  Not a guarantee of global economic collapse and immediate major increase in the Treasury debt needed to pay off current debt that Trump was agreeing to pay off immediately in this refinance scheme?  No, merely risky?”

I also remember reading the Sperling response, which was concise, very good and easily understandable, I thought.  But, why the borderline-comical characterization of this proposal as risky?  Why not say it would be certain to cause global economic collapse and, by its own terms as a refinancing scheme, would require the borrowing of the money to pay the debt at far higher interest rates than the current full-faith-and-credit debt is borrowed at?

And, why wasn’t the candidate herself on television, immediately, saying these things?

What Trump actually said was that he was going to renegotiate with creditors.  It took me—me, a complete novice in anything resembling high finance—only a few hours after Trump’s comments hit he internet for me to post what I thought (okay, probably incorrectly, but it did make the point) was a hilarious parody of Trump sitting across the negotiating table from all the owners, worldwide, of Treasury securities, their lawyers and financial advisors in tow, negotiating reduced interest rates on these securities.

Okay, I posted this on an economics blog.  But the points on all of this could be made—and were made, by Sperling and many others—clearly, understandably, and easily.

The Times article quotes Clinton campaign official Jennifer Palmieri as telling one of the reporters on this article “Each tactic we use is designed for a particular purpose to either engage the press or reach a certain audience.”  The article summarized Palmieri’s explanation, paraphrasing her as saying that “[a]ny aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, however, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate.”

What Palmieri apparently didn’t explain (at least it’s not reported) is why a response to Trump’s outlandish proposal as merely risky was expected possibly to engage the press, presumably because it was not.  It was instead, I guess, intended to reach a certain audience: the audience that political consultants for both parties long have been telling their clients respond negatively to candidates who seem “risky” or to policy proposals that seem (and may well be) risky.  “Risky” is one of the buzzwords that focus groups show should be used as often as possible to characterize the opponent or a policy proposal of the opponent.

And since the Clinton campaign limits its responses and campaign rhetoric to focus-grouped buzzwords and clichés, and “risky” seemed the most apropos of the words and phrases on the be-sure-to-use list, “risky” it was.

Good grace. Any aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?  Any aggressive approach by Mrs. Clinton is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?  Explaining to the public how ludicrous Trump’s partial-default proposal is, and how stupefyingly ignorant he is of even basic public-finance and economics mechanisms, is potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?

Educating the public about Trump’s actual fiscal-policy proposals and matching them with Romney’s and Paul Ryan’s would be potentially dangerous, because recent polls show she is viewed negatively by a majority of the electorate?

If so, then Clinton should throw in the towel.  She and Sanders could ask their delegates to come together to nominate Warren, or something.  ‘Cuz this ain’t working, folks.

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