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

Garbo—er, Clinton—talks! (Here’s what she should say.)

“Generally, I’m concerned, frankly,” said former Democratic Senate leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.). “It still looks positive, and I think if you look at the swing states and where she is right now, she’s got a lead. But it’s certainly not in the bag. We have two months to go, and I think it’s going to be a competitive race all the way through. I would say she’s got at least a 60 percent chance of winning.”

At the same time, Daschle said, “all the things that Trump has done, the numbers should be far more explicitly in her favor, but they’re not.”

Among Democrats’ concerns is the fact that Clinton spent a great deal of time over the summer raising millions of dollars in private fundraisers while Trump was devoting much of his schedule to rallies, speeches and TV appearances — although many of those didn’t go as well as his campaign may have hoped.

Clinton has focused more heavily on fundraising than Democratic strategists had hoped would be necessary at this stage, partly to help Democrats running for Congress and state offices who would be useful to Clinton if she is president and partly to hold off further erosion in the polls.

One new goal for Clinton now, aides said, is to spend more time trying to connect directly with voters by sharing a more personal side of herself — and by telling them where she wants to take the country.

Democrats wonder and worry: Why isn’t Clinton far ahead of Trump?, Anne Gearan, Jenna Johnson and John Wagner, Washington Post, today

Back in the late 1920s, after The Jazz Singer, the first Talkie, proved a hit and foretold the rapid end to the silent-movie era and therefore to the careers of any of the stars of that era who could not make the adjustment, the newspapers would cover the transition by writing about various silent-screen stars’ first Talkie.  A famous headline in some tabloid—probably a Hearst paper—shouted: Garbo Talks!

But Garbo also became known for a line of her own, made to a Hollywood reporter: “I vahnt to be uhloohn.”

To be confused with, “I want to be with my close circle of longtime minions and my very wealthy friends and acquaintances.”

I thought of Garbo last week when I read that Hillary Clinton was stepping out after her six-week mostly-hiatus from speaking to the hoi-polloi and her months-and-months-long failure to speak to reporters except once-in-a-while to one or another chosen one.

The latter which wouldn’t have been such a bad thing had she actually said anything to those chosen reporters, rather than simply tried to seem appealing.  And I don’t mean just to talk about her own policy proposals.

I mean, at least as much, to talk about the several really, really important things some mainstream journalists had uncovered about Trump—such as his extortion payment to Florida AG Pam Bondi; his silencing of the plaintiffs who had sued him in the 2000s for what clearly constituted not just civil fraud but also criminal fraud in a Soho condo project, by settling the lawsuit for enough money to cause them to sign a silencing agreement which—for some mysterious reason—also had the effect of killing a criminal investigation because, um, the plaintiffs stopped cooperating in the criminal investigation.

Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies such as the F.B.I. have subpoena powers that trump such silencing agreements.  But, y’know … whatever.

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President Chauncey Gardiner: ‘Being There’ at the Bait-and-Switch [Updated]

But one of Trump’s campaign advisers suggested Wednesday that Trump might indeed change Social Security and Medicare — but only after he has been in office for a while. “After the administration has been in place, then we will start to take a look at all of the programs, including entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare,” Sam Clovis said during a public forum, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Has Donald Trump stolen Paul Ryan’s party out from under him?, David Fahrenthold, Washington Post, today

As the above quote illustrates, Donald Trump hasn’t stolen Paul Ryan’s party out from under him.  Fahrenthold didn’t write the headline; he just wrote the article, and the headline writer missed its point, reversing the puppet and the puppeteer.

Unlike Chance, Trump knows he’s being coopted by the Republican establishment and that he is perpetrating a coup-like bait-and-switch on a sizable swath of his primary voters.  The most dangerous thing about Trump isn’t even the breadth of his ignorance but instead the casualness with which he has decided to simply front the Club for Growth agenda.

But he does have this in common with President Chauncey Gardiner: the sheer depth of his dumbness.  And therefore the completeness of his manipulability.  He’s switched entertainment genres, from reality TV to puppet theater.

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UPDATE: Last weekend after reading an article or two about Trump’s statement to Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that he would like to see the minimum wage increased but wanted it left up to the states, I recognized that Trump was parroting the leave-the-minimum-wage-up-to-the-states standard Republican line, which one of his campaign officials had fed him.  I assumed that he knew this was the standard Conservative Movement invocation of “federalism”—a.k.a., states’ rights!—in the service of the Chamber of Commerce/Club for Growth anti-regulatory agenda.  These folks, after all, don’t put Republican state legislators and governors into their elected positions for the fun of it.

But I was wrong.  The articles I read didn’t quote enough of Trump’s answer.

I just finished reading a post by Paul Waldman on the Washington Post’s Plum Line titled “Trump is waging an assault on the entire structure of our democracy. Now what?”, in which Waldman uses as an illustration Trump’s statements about the minimum wage last fall and his several statements about it within the last four days.   Waldman writes:

Speaking [to reporters after his meeting with Trump today, Paul] Ryan said, “It was important that we discussed our differences that we have, but it was also important that we discuss the core principles that tie us together,” and that “Going forward we’re going to go a little deeper in the policy weeds to make sure we have a better understanding of one another.”

This is a fool’s errand, not just for Ryan but for us in the media as well. And it poses a profound challenge to democracy itself.

Just in the last couple of days, something has changed. Perhaps it should have been evident to us before, but for whatever reason it was only partially clear. The pieces were there, but they didn’t fit together to show us how comprehensive Trump’s assault on the fundamentals of American politics truly is….

The foundation of democratic debate is policy, issues, the choices we make about what we as a nation should do. That’s what the government we create does on our behalf: it confronts problems, decides between alternatives, and pursues them. That’s also the foundation of how we in the press report on politics. Yes, we spend a lot of time talking about the personalities involved, but underneath that are competing ideas about what should be done. Should we raise taxes or lower them? Spend more or spend less? Make abortions easier or harder to get? Give more people health coverage or fewer? How do we combat ISIS? How should we address climate change? How can we improve the economy? How can we reduce crime? What sort of transportation system do we want? Which areas should government involve itself in, and which should it stay out of?

We all presume that these questions (and a thousand more) are important, and that the people who run for office should take them seriously. We assume they’ll tell us where they stand, we’ll decide what we think of what they’ve said, and eventually we’ll be able to make an informed choice about who should be the leader of our country.

Donald Trump has taken these presumptions and torn them to pieces, then spat on them and laughed. And so far we seem to have no idea what to do about it.

Let me briefly give an illustration. On the question of the minimum wage, Trump has previously said he would not raise it. Then Sunday he said he did want to raise it. Then in a separate interview on the very same day he said there should be no federal minimum wage at all, that instead we should “Let the states decide.” Then yesterday he said he does want to increase the federal minimum wage.

I clicked on one of the links, which was to the transcript of the Meet the Press interview.  Here’s the full exchange between Todd and Trump on the minimum wage:

CHUCK TODD:

Minimum wage. Minimum wage. At a debate, you know. You remember what you said. You thought you didn’t want to touch it. Now you’re open to it. What changed?

DONALD TRUMP:

Let me just tell you, I’ve been traveling the country for many months. Since June 16th. I’m all over. Today I’m in the state of Washington, where the arena right behind me, you probably hear, is packed with thousands and thousands of people. I’m doing that right after I finish you.

I have seen what’s going on. And I don’t know how people make it on $7.25 an hour. Now, with that being said, I would like to see an increase of some magnitude. But I’d rather leave it to the states. Let the states decide. Because don’t forget, the states have to compete with each other. So you may have a governor —

CHUCK TODD:

Right. You want the fed– but should the federal government set a floor, and then you let the states–

DONALD TRUMP:

No, I’d rather have the states go out and do what they have to do. And the states compete with each other, not only other countries, but they compete with each other, Chuck. So I like the idea of let the states decide. But I think people should get more. I think they’re out there. They’re working. It is a very low number. You know, with what’s happened to the economy, with what’s happened to the cost. I mean, it’s just– I don’t know how you live on $7.25 an hour. But I would say let the states decide.

Trump wants to leave minimum-wage legislation entirely up to the states so that the states could compete with each other on how low the wages of their fast-food workers, Walmart employees, hospitality industry workers and home-healthcare aides can go, folks.  This would be his aim as president.  Because he thinks these workers should get more because they can’t live on $7.25 an hour.  And because less is more.  And more is less.  More or less.

What’s happening here is that Trump hears terms, phrases, lines, clichés that people who talk about policy use, and since he doesn’t understand anything, he just says a memorized policy bottom line—the minimum wage should be left to the states, for example—fed to him from the Republican policy playbook.  And then, when asked to elaborate, he starts spewing terms, phrases, lines, clichés that he’s heard people who talk about policy use.  And—voila!—we have … non sequiturs.

Popcorn, anyone?

Update added 5/12 at 6:58 p.m.

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What Worries Me Most About Clinton: That she may not have the intellectual capacity to discern even critically important distinctions. Including glaring ones.

Update appended, 6/13 at 12:42 p.m.

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“It should not take longer to start a business in America than it does in Canada or France. But that is the fact.”

— Hillary Clinton, during a small business discussion, Cedar Falls, Iowa, May 19, 2015 

Our antenna always goes up when a politician asserts a “fact.” Clinton made this remark in the midst of a discussion about the “perfect storm of crisis” that she said small businesses face in the United States.

She made a similar point in an article she posted on LinkedIn on May 21, but with an additional country added:  “It should not take longer to start a business in the U.S. than it does in Canada, Korea, or France.”

Clinton’s claim that it takes longer to start a business in the U.S. than in Canada or France, Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 22

My own antenna always goes up when I hear a politician assert as fact a generic statement that is intended to imply what I know is a falsity or that patently makes no sense.  In this instance, it was both, and, stunningly, was intended to imply a false fact that supports a key line in the Republican playbook: that federal regulation is keeping middle-class folks from starting or expanding a small business.

Marco Rubio claimed something similar in April—to which Martin O’Malley famously responded, when asked about it in an interview, “It is not true that regulation holds poor people down or regulation keeps the middle class from advancing. That’s kind of patently bulls—.”  And Jeb Bush hinted at it a couple of months earlier.

When I read about Clinton’s statements before I read Kessler’s post (I didn’t see the post until about a week after it was posted), I was absolutely dumbfounded.  As Kessler notes, Clinton complains about “red tape” in starting small businesses and says that the length of time in starting a business, caused by red tape, keeps people from starting businesses.  The claim startled me; most red tape in starting businesses is state and local red tape, not federal, and the amount and type of red tape depends almost entirely upon the type of business and factors such as whether it requires a trade license of some sort (e.g., beautician), or a liquor license, and whether a permit of some sort must be obtained.

Opening a restaurant, for example, requires local health department permits and adherence to health department rules.  It also requires procuring a physical space in which to have the restaurant, and usually also means obtaining a business loan.  Starting a home-based web-design business requires none of those things.  The incorporation process involves filing a short filled-out form with the state Secretary of State’s office and paying a fee.

Clinton doesn’t know these things?  Really?

So the generic breadth of her statement was stupefying.  She holds a law degree from Yale, was a partner in a corporate law firm, an active First Lady of a state and then of the country.  Did she really not know that most red tape in starting a business does not touch upon anything that the federal government regulates?  Or did she have something accurate and specific in mind, but rather than identifying it, indulged her penchant for talking in incoherencies apparently in order to avoid ever saying anything specific about, well, anything?

Kessler’s post answered that question.  She did indeed have something specific in question: average statistics for businesses that employ between 10 and 50 people within one month, having five owners, using start-up capital equivalent to 10 times income per capita and being engaged in industrial or commercial activities and owning no real estate.  In Los Angeles, where it takes an average of eight days to start such a business.  Whereas in Paris it takes only 4.5 days and in Toronto five days.  In New York City, though, it takes only four days.

Clinton lives near New York City and represented New York state as a senator.  She knows that New York City is in this country.

This information was taken from the World Bank website, which, Kessler says, provides statistics that “lets you compare the individual cities to countries, so New York ends up tied for 6th place — with Belgium, Iceland, South Korea, the Netherlands and Sao Tome.”  Los Angeles, he says,  is in 15th place, tied with Cyprus, Egypt, Madagascar and the Kyrgyz Republic, among others. Oh, dear. But he points to another World Bank report that notes that “the differences are so large because, in the United States, ‘company law is under state jurisdiction and there are measurable differences between the California and New York company law.’”

I knew that!  I should run for president in the Democratic primary. Every small-business owner and aspiring small-business owner knows that, so I’d have a natural constituency.  And I have the advantage of actually recognizing problems that do affect many small businesses and that the federal government can address, by regulation.  Including ones that recent Democratic congresses, together with a Democratic president, actually enacted.

Kessler comments, “So what does data about starting a business in the largest city have to do with small businesses in Iowa? Beats us.”  It surely also beats small-business owners and people who are seriously considering becoming one.  Including those who are fairly recent immigrants to this country and who don’t hold a law degree from Yale.

Kessler notes that even if Clinton were accurate in her claim that it takes longer, on average, throughout this country than in the other countries she mentioned to start small businesses generally, the difference would be a matter of a day or two.  He writes:

The World Bank’s database lists 189 countries in terms of the time required to start a business. For 2014, in first place is New Zealand, with one day. In France and Canada, along with eight other countries, it takes five days. (South Korea, along with six other countries, is listed as four days.) The United States, with 12 other countries, is listed as six days.

First of all, one extra day does not seem like much of a hindrance — so much so that, as Clinton asserted in the LinkedIn article, the fact signified the “red tape that holds back small businesses and entrepreneurs.”

This is crazy.  What, pray tell, is her point?  To show that she’s too dumb to recognize distinctions between state and federal regulation, and between one type of small business and another?  If you’ve seen one small business, you’ve seen ‘em all?  And if you’ve seen state or local regulation, you’ve seen federal regulation?

Elsewhere in her LinkedIn letter she says that it takes longer to complete small-business federal tax forms than it is to complete multi-national corporations’ federal tax forms. Maybe so, but is that because the multi-nationals keep PricewaterhouseCoopers or Deloitte on retainer and the owners of the Thai food restaurant down the road probably don’t?  She doesn’t say. She thinks the ultimate in clever political rhetoric is to make some dramatic comparison; the accuracy and even the coherence of the comparison doesn’t matter to her.

Clinton does this conflation/sweeping-two-or-more-things-together-that-need-to-be-recognizated-as-separate-things thing regularly. In her brief comment in Iowa in April in which she said she would support a constitutional amendment, if necessary, to reverse Citizens United and get “unaccountable” money out of politics, she misrepresented that Citizens United bars election laws that would require super PACs to identify their donors, and corporations to report the recipients of their political largesse.  It doesn’t.  No constitutional amendment is needed to permit such statutes and SEC, IRS and FEC regulations.

I had planned to post on all this earlier but didn’t get around to it.  But two articles published in recent days, one in the Washington Post last weekend about the 2008 Clinton campaign’s gift of snow shovels to supporters in Iowa before the caucuses, the other a Washington Post column yesterday by Katrina vanden Heuvel, prompted this post.  The snow shovels article, by David Fahrenthold, begins:

AMES, Iowa — In Phyllis Peters’s garage, there is a snow shovel. A nice one: green, shiny, with an ergonomic steel handle. It came from Hillary Rodham Clinton.

And it plays a part in a modern-day political legend, about some of the strangest money a candidate has ever spent.

Eight years ago, Peters was a volunteer for Clinton’s first presidential run. She had been an admirer of Clinton since her time as first lady. But just before Clinton lost the Iowa caucuses, her staffers did something odd: They bought shovels for Peters and the hundreds of other volunteers.

“If you’re in Iowa, you [already] have a snow shovel,” the article quotes Peters as saying.  But she accepted the gift so as not to be rude.  “For both those who gave out the shovels and those who received them,” the article says, “they came to symbolize a candidate who never quite got their home state.”

Clinton grew up in a suburb of Chicago, then spent four winters in Wellesley, MA.  That was decades ago.  But, geeez.  She didn’t get cold-climate folks?

Vanden Heuvel’s column, titled “A new definition of freedom in America,” argues that the term “freedom” has had different meanings in different political eras, and that it’s imperative now that the Democratic presidential nominee, presumably Clinton, move aggressively away from the Conservative Movement definition of freedom as economic laisse faire, and reinstitute and expand upon FDR’s famous Four Freedoms. She writes:

This is Hillary Clinton’s historic opportunity. The greatest threat to freedom now is posed by the entrenched few that use their resources and influence to rig the rules to protect their privileges. She would do a great service for the country — and for her own political prospects — by offering a far more expansive American view of what freedom requires, and what threatens it.

Clinton should make it clear to Americans that in a modern, globalized world, we are in the midst of a fierce struggle between economic royalists and a democratic citizenry. If we are to protect our freedoms, citizens must mobilize to take back government from the few, to clean out the corruption and to curb the oppressive power of the modern day economic royalists.

But this requires a candidate who is both mentally quick enough and willing to respond, accurately and in specifics, to the Republican anti-regulation, supply-side-economics nonsense.  Clinton doesn’t seem like she has either of these attributes.

Clinton appears to think that all that matters is the generic ideas people have about what she stands for, and a few specific policy proposals all in good time.  She’s wrong.  She needs to respond, in full oral statements, using clear fact-based arguments, to the anti-government policy cant of the Republican sheep herd, from which her opponent eventually will come.  But I don’t think she can.

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ADDENDUM: I posted a comment in response to a comment by Mark Jamison that says in part:

One thing that comes through loud and clear from her attempt to Sister Souljah small-business owners and aspirants, Mark, is that she thinks Democrats NEED a Sister Souljah moment for small-business owners and aspirants. Dick Durbin could educate her on that, simply by referring her to what’s known as the Durbin Amendment.

Another thing that comes across is that, just as she didn’t realize in 2008 that Iowans all have snow shovels, she apparently doesn’t recognize that small-business owners and aspirants want solutions to problems that they actually have, and that that requires knowing the specifics of the problem, including the cause.

I want to make clear that I think the concerns of small-business owners are very much appropriate issues for progressive Democratic politicians to address. And that progressive Democratic elected officials do address them–the Durbin amendment to the Dodd-Frank Act being an example.  What Democratic candidates and officeholders should not do is create straw men for them to swat down.

Added. 6/10 at 5:41 p.m.

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UPDATE: Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith yesterday linked to this post (thanks, Yves!), and the link spawned a surprisingly long exchange of comments there, started by reader Carolinian, who noted and linked to a Harpers piece from last year that makes similar or complementary arguments.

Carolinian notes in one of her comments in that thread that Clinton’s campaign is hellbent on getting across the claim that Clinton is a wonk–something that I’d planned to post on here at AB.  A day or two after I read the articles about Clinton’s federal-red-tape-is-discouraging-people-from-starting-small-businesses tack, I read two articles, one by Peter Beinart on The Atlantic website (I can’t remember where I read the other, or who wrote it), assuring readers that Clinton is a wonk. I remember thinking, “OK, got it. Clinton is a wonk.  It’s just that she’s a wonk who thinks most small businesses need permits or licenses from the federal government in order to open.  And just this morning I read two more along that line, one of them (in Politico, I think), which says that her staff is pushing the “wonk” moniker because it’s accurate: that’s what she is.

The gist of these articles is that she really cares about policy–the nitty-gritty of policy, especially how best to achieve a policy goal.  One problem with that, though, is that she keeps making sing-songy soundbite statements that are either inaccurate or misleading or irrelevant or downright incoherent.

Clinton and her staff seem to be misconstruing the meaning of “wonk,” which does including within it the ability to understand the meaning and implications of the statistics and other facts–and recognize the actual sources of those facts, as distinguished from the cliches that the Republicans are selling.  The problems that people have in trying to start a business almost never involve federal red tape.  By saying otherwise, Clinton’s now made clear that she’s no wonk.

Updated 6/13 at 12:42 p.m.

 

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