Iran Nuclear Deal Win For Obama

[ Posted Thursday, September 3rd, 2015 – 17:05 PDT ]

Senator Barbara Mikulski became the 34th Senate Democrat to indicate she'll stand with President Obama on the Iran nuclear deal, which is significant -- although, in all likelihood, also merely symbolic. The media are reporting it is significant because it assures Obama that his veto won't be overturned, but what they're mostly missing is that a Senate veto-override vote likely wouldn't even have to happen.

The process is rather convoluted, and actually started months ago. President Obama has long held the legal opinion that Congress doesn't even have a say in the deal he (and six other nations) struck with Iran. It's an executive deal, according to Obama, therefore Congress isn't even part of the process. Congress, understandably, didn't much like this and demanded the right to be heard on the deal. So Obama struck a deal with Congress -- and, by doing so, Obama stacked the deck entirely in his own favor. Which Congress fully agreed to, months ago.

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Albany Museum Of Political Corruption Student Essay Contest Announced

[ Posted Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015 – 17:37 PDT ]

Two years ago in this space, I interviewed Bruce Roter, the man behind the idea of creating an "Albany Museum of Political Corruption," mostly because I thought it was such a great (and amusing) idea. A museum with a "perpetual revolving door" in the Lobbyists Lobby? A self-guided "Follow The Money" tour? I know I'd go out of my way to visit such a museum! The museum's purpose would be to combine humor and history to teach children and adults some of the sordid tales of corruption from New York's past (of which there are many -- how many of us still recognize the name Boss Tweed, for instance?). This would be the first museum of its kind in the United States, and could eventually branch out to other state capitals that sorely need one (Baton Rouge, I am looking in your direction...), or even go national. Who wouldn't want to visit an American museum of political corruption on D.C.'s National Mall, after all?

In the intervening two years, College of Saint Rose professor Bruce Roter has made significant progress towards seeing his dream become a reality. He has secured a charter for his museum from the state, and is now in the process of filing paperwork registering as a non-profit (to assure that donations to the Museum of Political Corruption will be tax-deductible). And just yesterday, the M.P.C. announced its first-ever essay contest for high-school students, to answer the question: "What is political corruption and why should we care?"

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Obama Poll Watch -- August, 2015

[ Posted Tuesday, September 1st, 2015 – 17:24 PDT ]

Another bad August for Obama

President Barack Obama just had another bad August in the polls. This doesn't come as any real surprise, as summer seems to be the worst time of year for him throughout his term in office. Last month Obama posted the first positive July he ever has, but this month he reverted to form and slipped significantly in his job approval polling. Let's take a look at the new chart.

Obama Approval -- August 2015

[Click on graph to see larger-scale version.]

August, 2015

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Trump More Progressive Than Democrats On Warren Buffett Problem

[ Posted Monday, August 31st, 2015 – 17:00 PDT ]

Donald Trump made a rather startling proposal last week out on the campaign trail, but few in the media noticed. Perhaps this was due to the fact that Trump says so many startling things that the media can be excused for not paying attention to all of them. Perhaps it was because it wasn't as incendiary as many other Trump campaign promises. But for whatever reason, his words merit a lot more attention than they're so far getting, especially from all the Democratic presidential candidates. Because, as things stand, Trump is now more progressive on this particular issue than the entire slate of Democrats.

Don't believe me? Here is what Donald Trump had to say on one particular facet of the income inequality issue. When asked how he would revise the tax code, Trump answered:

I would change it. I would simplify it. I would take carried interest out, and I would let people making hundreds of millions of dollars a year pay some tax, because right now they are paying very little tax and I think it's outrageous. I want to lower taxes for the middle class.

He was then asked whether this would mean he'd be raising taxes on himself. Trump responded:

That's right. That's right. I'm OK with it. You've seen my statements, I do very well, I don't mind paying some taxes. The middle class is getting clobbered in this country. You know the middle class built this country, not the hedge fund guys, but I know people in hedge funds that pay almost nothing and it's ridiculous, OK?

It really pains me to say it, but Donald Trump is right.

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Friday Talking Points [359] -- Every Sulfurous Belch

[ Posted Friday, August 28th, 2015 – 17:00 PDT ]

OK, I fully admit I stole that title. Well, maybe not "stole," since I'm about to give it proper credit, but it certainly wasn't my own original idea. The line comes from George Will, and (of course) refers to Donald Trump. Part of the fun for Democrats this summer has been watching the angst of serious-minded conservative columnists as they realize how large a portion of the Republican base doesn't really care what serious-minded conservatives inside the Beltway think about much of anything. Will was the best (but by no means only) example of this last week, as he started his column off with a real humdinger of an opening paragraph:

Every sulfurous belch from the molten interior of the volcanic Trump phenomenon injures the chances of a Republican presidency. After Donald Trump finishes plastering a snarling face on conservatism, any Republican nominee will face a dauntingly steep climb to reach even the paltry numbers that doomed Mitt Romney.

Ah, c'mon George... tell us how you really feel about Trump! Heh.

The entire Trump phenomenon reminds me of a basic rule from the world of magical/fantasy fiction. It's not quite Asimov's "three laws of robotics," but it's still been used by many authors who write about wizards casting dangerous spells. The rule of thumb among wizards? "Do not call up that which you cannot put down." Don't summon demons or otherworldly forces if you're not strong enough to defeat them, in other words.

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What To Call Trump's Supporters

[ Posted Thursday, August 27th, 2015 – 16:30 PDT ]

Just a warning, right up front: this is going to be a very silly column. As August draws to a close, the official Washington "Silly Season" also nears its end, which is usually when pundits get a bit loopy in general, when writing about the vast and changing landscape that is American politics. I am no different than the rest, and am succumbing to the overwhelming urge to write a trivial piece of fluff today. I state this right up here at the beginning, to give the reader a chance to spend their time more productively -- perhaps by watching online cat videos, or something equally edifying.

This column's subject matter suggested itself to me while perusing a recent George Will column. Will is absolutely horrified at Donald Trump's impressive and lasting popularity among the rank and file of the Republican base, because he is one of those conservatives who truly believes that Republicans somehow haven't been encouraging fringe voters on their side for the past few decades. This whole Trump phenomenon is downright distasteful for arbiters of conservative serious thinking such as Will, and I have to say it is rather amusing to watch them all clap their hands so furiously, in the hopes that the Tinker Bell of thoughtful conservatism will arise once again and save the day. If Trump shows anything, it's that this particular Tink is long dead and buried, but George Will and his ilk still forlornly hope for a resurrection.

See there? Only the second paragraph, and already we're into the world of fantastical metaphors. Hey, I warned you this was going to be silly.

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Keeping Trump Off The Ballot Will Backfire

[ Posted Wednesday, August 26th, 2015 – 16:31 PDT ]

The Republican Party is now the party of Donald Trump. That's a pretty astounding statement, but as Trump continues to not only lead in all the primary polls but also to drive the debate for all the other contenders, it would be hard to make the case that Trump hasn't completed what might be called a hostile takeover of the Republican Party brand. This could always change, of course -- nothing is ever set in stone in a presidential race. But for the time being, Trump's not only the party frontrunner, he is actually defining the race for everyone else.

This state of affairs is downright terrifying to the establishment Republican Party machine. Trump is, almost by definition, uncontrollable. He could do or say anything, and often does. The party elders have watched the rise of Trump and seen their own power diminish. What worries them most is the fact that so far Trump refuses to publicly commit to supporting the Republican candidate (if it turns out not to be him), and has left the door wide open for a third-party or independent run. Trump is using this threat as leverage over the party, which he freely admits.

Some party leaders are now contemplating pushing back, but this effort seems destined to blow up in their faces. This first surfaced in the run-up to the first televised Republican debate, as the Republican National Committee considered limiting the debate stage to only those who would pledge not to run an independent campaign if they lost the Republican nomination. In the end, they didn't do this, and Trump took center stage. The first question he faced was about his commitment to not running independently, which he again refused to rule out.

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Some Cuba Questions For Both Sides

[ Posted Tuesday, August 25th, 2015 – 17:02 PDT ]

In the midst of the current eruption of nonsense over American immigration policy from out on the campaign trail, I have a few more targeted questions to ask of all the candidates. They're really just extensions of one basic question, really, which would be: "What will your policy towards Cuba be if you become president?" However, since Republicans and Democrats have different basic viewpoints on the issue, it must be broken down into more specific queries in order to elicit useful answers. Both questions, for different reasons, will be tough for Democrats and Republicans alike.

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Biden Speculation

[ Posted Monday, August 24th, 2015 – 16:34 PDT ]

Vice President Joe Biden certainly has got the media talking. All it really took was one leak to Maureen Dowd and a meeting with Senator Elizabeth Warren, and the recurring story in the media is now: "Biden's son Beau made a deathbed plea to his father to run for president again, and he's now seriously considering it." That's a compelling political narrative, to be sure. The Wall Street Journal is even reporting that Biden's now leaning towards running. Now, I have no inside sources of my own, so I have no idea what's really going on in Biden's head, but no matter how likely it turns out to be, a Biden candidacy bears political examination beyond the simple question of: "Will he or won't he run?"

Joe Biden's political personality is that of an "average Joe." He's even got the first name to match! And without even announcing a candidacy, for months now he's had the best bumpersticker of the 2016 presidential season: "I'm Ridin' With Biden!"

OK, that's it for the Biden humor, I promise -- because the concept of a Biden campaign should indeed be taken seriously. Joe Biden would (if he runs) obviously try to position himself firmly between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. The other three Democrats running have generated no interest whatsoever among the Democratic electorate, and can thus be ignored for the time being. Biden's entry would instantly create a three-way contest with Sanders and Clinton. But would this triangulation be enough to win him the nomination?

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Friday Talking Points [358] -- Trump's Immigration Roundup

[ Posted Friday, August 21st, 2015 – 17:16 PDT ]

Another week has gone by, and Donald Trump remains the Republican frontrunner in the presidential nomination race. We've noticed that all the inside-the-Beltway pundits who so confidently predicted Trump's imminent and inevitable downfall are now slowly starting to revisit their predictions. This is making them extremely nervous, of course. Some are still finding solace in the "Trump's going to say something any day now that will sink him like a stone" way of thinking, but their numbers are getting smaller as time goes by and Trump defies political gravity once again.

Last weekend, Trump released his very first policy paper. It was, naturally, on immigration (Trump's signature issue). Reduced to tweet-length, this policy could be summed up as: "Build a big wall. Repeal birthright citizenship and 14th amendment. Round them all up and send them home." Of course, it was immediately popular with all of Trump's supporters.

The rest of the Republican presidential field, once again, was caught scrambling to respond. All of the other Republicans running for the highest office in the land routinely quake in their boots whenever Trump opens his mouth, because nobody's yet come up with any great ideas as to how to respond. Take Trump on directly? That hasn't worked out so well for the three notable candidates who have tried it (Rand Paul, Rick Perry, and Lindsey Graham), who are all polling below five percent. Agree with Trump no matter what comes out of his mouth (in the hopes of picking up all his supporters if he stumbles)? That's working pretty well for Ted Cruz, which is why Scott Walker is now giving it a try. Ignore him completely? That's what Jeb! Bush would really like to do, but again this hasn't worked out so well for him (as he watched his own poll numbers sink into single digits).

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