Browsing the archives for the Obama Administration category.


Making Derp Great Again

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Obama Administration

I caught a bit of Chris Christie’s speech last night and savored the irony of Mr. 26 percent — that’s the percentage of New Jersey registered voters who still think Christie is doing a good job — calling Hillary Clinton “incompetent.”

It occurs to me that both parties are primarily running on scaring the bejeezus out of the voters. Vote for X, because Y will bring about the Apocalypse. But, true to form, the Right is threatening more violence. Josh Marshall:

As we’ve discussed, it’s not normal for one nominee and his convention delegates to be chanting for the opposing party nominee to be put in prison. I felt a bit silly writing that because that is extremely obvious. But it’s not some silly novelty. You go from opposition, to demands for imprisonment and finally for murder. We saw that case with the state rep down in West Virginia. Now we have a Trump delegate and advisor saying Clinton should be “shot for treason.” This kind of incitement is poisonous to the political process and civic life generally. And let’s be honest, it can have horrific consequences. This has the feeling of the crazy talk that was circulating about President Kennedy before November 1963.

And then there’s this:

According to xHamster, one of the leading aggregators of online porn, traffic from users in Cleveland spiked significantly this week as the Republican National Convention got underway. Viewership in the city shot up by 184 percent from its pre-convention average, surpassing traffic the site gets from people in large cities including New York, Miami and Los Angeles.

“This increase is unprecedented,” said Mike Kulich, a spokesman for the web site. “They’re making porn great again.”

Since the GOP platform declares that porn is a public health menace, perhaps they were doing research.

Although it doesn’t quite rise to the level of Clint Eastwood and the Chair, Melania Trump’s partly plagiarized speech has gotten more media attention than whatever it was Chris Christie said last night. The Trump campaign has offered up a number of excuses, until today when a staffer fell on her sword and took the blame. But the damage was done.

Across the country, slack-jawed Republican political operatives and speechwriters expressed expletive-laden bewilderment at the organizational breakdown allowing such an episode to occur.

“It’s like some guy trying to paddle across a river in a rowboat who shoots a hole in his boat,” said Stuart Stevens, who wrote speeches for Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, throughout the 2012 campaign.

In interviews, alarmed Republican speechwriters outlined the layers of formal scrutiny, apparently disregarded by the Trump campaign, traditionally applied to almost every draft of a major convention address. They described word-by-word fact-checking by a dedicated team of experts and computer software designed to catch plagiarism. Several online programs, like DupliChecker, are available at no cost.

The Trump family: Making Derp Great Again.

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Notorious RBG Gets Snarky

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Obama Administration

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been speaking her mind about Donald Trump.

Here’s a look at what Ginsburg, the 83-year-old justice appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993, said about Trump in three interviews.

One note: The media that did the interviews did not publish transcripts of Ginsburg’s complete remarks. What follows are all of the quotes that were published.

Interview July 7, 2016 with Associated Press

Asked what if Trump won the presidency, Ginsburg said: “I don’t want to think about that possibility, but if it should be, then everything is up for grabs.”

Interview July 8, 2016 with New York Times

“I can’t imagine what this place would be — I can’t imagine what the country would be — with Donald Trump as our president. For the country, it could be four years. For the court, it could be — I don’t even want to contemplate that.

Referring to something she thought her late husband, tax lawyer Martin Ginsburg, would have said, she said: “Now it’s time for us to move to New Zealand.”

Interview July 11, 2016 with CNN

“He is a faker. He has no consistency about him. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He really has an ego. … How has he gotten away with not turning over his tax returns? The press seems to be very gentle with him on that ….

“At first I thought it was funny,” she said of Trump’s early candidacy. “To think that there’s a possibility that he could be president ….

“I think he has gotten so much free publicity ….

“Every other presidential candidate has turned over tax returns.”

Now, all manner of people, including the New York Times editorial board, has the vapors because Supreme Court justices aren’t supposed to say political stuff like that. Trump himself tweeted that “her mind is shot,” which is hilarious coming from him.

Dahlia Lithwick:

There can be no disputing that this conduct was improper under the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, which prohibits judges from endorsing or opposing a candidate for office, and under basic conventions that prohibit judges from overt politicking during election season. We can debate how improper it actually was, but it’s clear she upset the norms that we generally ask judges to respect. And with all due respect, it’s not a legitimate counterargument to claim that it’s OK because Ginsburg is on a lot of tote bags and T-shirts sporting a crown.

The serious arguments in favor of Ginsburg’s conduct are that (1) the nation faces an unparalleled existential threat, at the nomination of a man who imperils the very rule of law and (2) nobody really believes judges are impartial anyhow, so why shouldn’t we celebrate her for ripping off the umpire mask and telling it like it is.

Under the first theory, Ginsburg is correct to expend whatever moral capital she has accrued to say out loud what most politicians are afraid to say, because we are in an extraordinary moment in history, a terrifying period of racism, xenophobia, and violence, and it’s incumbent on even traditionally temperate citizens to speak out. According to this view, the failure to condemn Trump would be its own form of cowardice, and Ginsburg only did what a sane person facing a fascist leader should do. Under the second theory, nobody over age 7 really thinks judges have no political preferences, and it’s better to have them laid bare than hidden under flimsy claims of oracular impartiality.

Like Lithwick, I applaud that first argument. The Trump candidacy shouldn’t be given the dignity of, well, dignity. It’s a joke. He’s a joke.

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Update on the Dallas Shooting — No “Assault Weapon”

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Obama Administration

Following up on what I wrote last week about assault weapons — a news report said the Dallas shooter used an SKS, which is a Soviet-designed semi-automatic carbine that’s been around since the 1940s. The standard SKS has a fixed magazine rather than a detachable one, which means it doesn’t qualify for anybody’s legal definition of “assault weapon.” There are models of the SKS that have detachable magazines, however, and these are illegal in California (at least). But because these weapons lack many of the other standard features attributed to “assault weapons,” they may not be considered assault weapons in some state codes even if they have detachable magazines.

This is an excellent example of why pushing for an “assault weapons” ban is stupid. Ban semi-automatic firearms, period, I say.

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HRC’s Non Indictment

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Obama Administration

FBI director James Comey’s announcement that Hillary Clinton would face no criminal charges regarding the emails actually was something of a relief. I didn’t expect her to be indicted, and I’m damn tired of the children on social media eagerly anticipating the indictment that wasn’t going to happen. It didn’t help that clickbait sites and hacks like H.A. Goodman continued to exploit the last, best hope of Bernie Sanders die-hards by promising them an indictment.

Charles Pierce has a good analysis of the email issue. Once again, Hillary Clinton used absolutely terrible judgment.  This is from FBI.gov:

 Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information. For example, seven e-mail chains concern matters that were classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level when they were sent and received. These chains involved Secretary Clinton both sending e-mails about those matters and receiving e-mails from others about the same matters. There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those government employees with whom she was corresponding about these matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.

In addition to this highly sensitive information, we also found information that was properly classified as Secret by the U.S. Intelligence Community at the time it was discussed on e-mail (that is, excluding the later “up-classified” e-mails). None of these e-mails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these e-mails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at Departments and Agencies of the U.S. Government—or even with a commercial service like Gmail. Separately, it is important to say something about the marking of classified information. Only a very small number of the e-mails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked “classified” in an e-mail, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.

To which Pierce comments,

Let us also state plainly at the outset that what Comey is describing above is a more than legitimate issue in the presidential campaign, and that “Hoorah! I’m Not Indicted!” isn’t exactly an inspiring Message Of The Day for your first appearance on the stump with the president.

It’s inspiring enough for Clinton supporters, who remain supremely confident that Their Glorious Candidate did absolutely nothing wrong. But in a normal election year, this would have been a serious, damning blow to Clinton’s presidential hopes, indictment or no indictment.

However, it’s not a normal election year, and Donald the Doofus is ignoring the serious issue of Clinton’s terrible judgment and is instead arguing that Clinton wasn’t indicted because the system is rigged. Well, the system is rigged, but in this case there are legitimate reasons to argue she shouldn’t have been indicted. Pierce goes into those, too.

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More Stuff to Read

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Obama Administration

We may think about Washington and national elections when people talk about dark money, but it permeates state and local elections as well.

Voters probably know much less about the candidates in contests like that, which get little news coverage but whose winner will have enormous power to affect energy company profits and what homeowners pay for electricity. For a relative pittance — less than $100,000 — corporations and others can use dark money to shape the outcome of a low-level race in which they have a direct stake.

Over the last year, the Brennan Center analyzed outside spending from before and after the 2010 Citizens United decision in six states — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine and Massachusetts — with almost 20 percent of the nation’s population. We also examined dozens of state and local elections where dark money could be linked to a particular interest.

We found that, on average, 38 times more dark money was spent in these states in 2014 than in 2006. That’s an even greater increase than at the federal level, where dark money rose 34 times over the same period, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Compounding the problem was the growth in “gray money,” spent by organizations that are legally required to disclose their donors but receive their funding through multiple layers of PACs that obscure its origin.

The Washington Post has published more details about the Texas mother and gun, um, enthusiast who killed her daughters. The article includes this bit:

The Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office has not yet determined what led to the bloodshed Friday night, only that it began after a family argument. Deputies had responded to the home more than a dozen times in the past, reported the AP. A sheriff’s office spokesman told People magazine the calls involved a “mental crisis” related to the 42-year-old mother.

I wrote  last week that “severe mental illness” was behind only 4 percent of gun homicides in the U.S.  This may be one of those. Without knowing more details it’s hard to say. But there appears to be no way to disarm someone exhibiting mental instability, and by disarming I mean taking their firearms away from them before they kill somebody. And doing whatever is necessary to be sure they can’t acquire more.

WaPo also says Donald Trump is a charity cheapskate. Not surprised.

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Are Guns Nuts Too Mentally Ill to Own Guns?

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Obama Administration

Lots of people have commented on the Senate’s failure to pass any of the four gun control measures it considered this week. And some of those commentaries pointed out that the measures were lame to begin with.

As I understand it, one of the measures would have provided for federal background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or over the Internet, which I certainly support. Another would have blocked people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. This makes for a good talking point — let’s take guns away from ISIS!  But the terrorist watch list is an opaque and mysterious thing that easily could be used to unfairly jerk people around (see Glenn Greenwald on this point). And it’s highly questionable how effective such blocking would be, anyway.

But to me, the single biggest howler among these proposals was the Republican one for a “mental illness” database.

The Senate rejected first a Republican proposal to update the background check system for gun purchases, which would have required states to add more information on mental health records to a national database. …

… Some Senate Democrats warned that the legislation’s revised definition of who would be considered mentally ill could potentially still allow those with significant psychological issues to legally purchase guns.

The “revised definition” be damned; doing this at all is objectionable on several levels.

First, “mental illness” is not a tightly defined scientific term; it could apply to a wide range of brain, behavioral and mood disorders, from mild and common to severe and rare. I do not want a bunch of politicians with no background in psychology defining it, especially since I suspect at least half of Congress currently might qualify as “mentally ill” depending on where you draw parameters. And I’m not joking.

Second, given the stigma attached to any kind of psychological disorder, a list like that could visit all kinds of discrimination against the people on it.

Third, data tell us that even severe mental illness accounts for very little of our gun violence. According to this article, people with severe mental illness commit only about 4 percent of firearm homicides in the U.S. And expecting psychiatrists to report on potentially violent patients probably won’t help;  predicting which patient might become violent is an inexact science, “only slightly more accurate than flipping a coin.”

Even among our infamous mass shooters, who certainly seem to have been deranged, it’s estimated that only about 22 percent of them were “mentally ill.” And only about 11 percent had problems severe enough that they’d been reported to a doctor or another authority before the shooting. As a group, mass shooters may be less crazy than Congress. And according to this guy, only 10 percent of “jihadist terrorists” in the U.S. were mentally ill, which makes them saner than the general population.

However, there may be a connection between behavior or personality and gun ownership that does raise red flags for potential gun violence.

The more guns a person owns, the more likely they are to report experiencing serious, uncontrollable outbursts of anger and aggression. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, which found that nearly one in ten Americans have both a history of impulsive anger and access to a firearm.

“The new research also indicates that the 310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “That’s because people owning six or more guns were more likely to fall into both of these categories than people who owned a single gun.”

It turns out that being chronically angry is the REAL warning sign that predicts a potential killer.

A number of common mental health conditions — including personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder — tend to be associated with the risky mix of pathological anger with gun access, according to the APA.
“However, only a small proportion of angry people with guns has ever been hospitalized for a mental health problem — voluntarily or involuntarily — and thus most would not be prohibited from firearms under the involuntary commitment exclusion.”

IMO an argument could be made that people — men especially but possibly not exclusively — who are militant about their unfettered right to own and carry any firearm they want are displaying behavior that ought to disqualify them from owning guns at all.

In fact, people have made that argument.

What we’re seeing is a strong correlation between pathological anger and a desire to own multiple guns. There is also a strong correlation between pathological anger and violent behavior.  Therefore, the very people who are most motivated to purchase more than one high-powered weapon are the last people who ought to be purchasing high-powered weapons.

But maybe some day the American Psychiatric Association will include “gun nut disorder” in the DSM, making it an official “mental illness.”  Then we can talk about a mental illness watch list.

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Another Day, Another Atrocity

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Obama Administration

I was out all day and am just catching up on the news of the mass shooting in Orlando. So terribly sad.

I understand the current thinking is that the gunman was a “lone wolf,” born in the U.S. of Afghan parents, who talked about fighting for ISIL/Daesh but had no known ties to it. He’d been investigated by the FBI twice and wasn’t connected to any terrorist organization. He had legally bought guns in the past couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, a guy identified as James Howell of Indiana was detained in Los Angeles with a car full of guns and explosives, allegedly intending to use them at a Gay Pride event.

Meanwhile, all over social media, people are posting every video they can find of Bible-thumping preachers calling for gays to be put to death.

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What I Just Posted on Facebook

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Obama Administration

Sanders supporters: By all means, keep fighting for what you believe in. However, take care to fight smart and not stupid.

As I write this, with 92 percent of precincts reporting in California, Clinton leads with 56 to 43 percent of the vote. This is seriously bad. This result pretty much erases any chance Sanders might have had at going into the convention with serious leverage. I do not doubt that there are all kinds of reasons (such as the “no party preference” ballots) why this result does not accurately reflect the will of voters. But here in Real World Land those numbers are all that matter.

The reality is that at the DNC convention Hillary Clinton will officially receive the nomination on the first ballot, and that will probably be one of the first things the convention does. There will be no “contesting.” Sanders simply does not have the leverage to contest anything. Had he won California, or had the vote even been a close second, things might have been different. But they aren’t.

(Note that massive street demonstrations in Philadelphia won’t give Sanders the nomination, either. And if such demonstrations turn violent, they will discredit Sanders and any movement he might lead going forward. I’m not saying don’t go to Philadelphia to demonstrate, but I am saying that if you go, be disciplined and be careful.)

In fact, he probably has more leverage right now than he will later, since the Democratic Party will be just about frantic to get him out of the way asap. The convention is supposed to be a celebratory rah-rah occasion. Clinton will want to be choosing and announcing her running mate and otherwise be getting ready for the big party. So if there’s anything he still hopes to achieve regarding the party platform, convention speakers, or senate committee assignments, IMO he’s got a better shot at getting those things now than he will in July.

So if he does announce that he is suspending his campaign later this week, or after the final primary (DC) next Tuesday, I hope you don’t think less of him.

I’ve also been saying all along that Sanders is not going to run as a third party or independent candidate in November. Because of the way we run elections, such candidacies have no hope of winning and have never accomplished anything but generate meaningless publicity for the candidate. Such an attempt is a prime example of stupid, IMO.

Of course, I don’t know the man personally, and he may continue to campaign, and he may choose to run third party, but IMO those would be terrible misjudgments on his part and would tell me he’s not as smart as I think he is. But we’ll see.

In any event, I urge everyone to get involved in the Brand New Congress movement that some former Sanders staffers started, aimed at having a big impact on the 2018 midterms. Bernie will still be in the Senate, where he can continue to provide leadership. Don’t think of this presidential campaign as a failure, but as a start.

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Pub Quiz

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Obama Administration

“The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.” — Mark Twain

I like to check in with British news sources like The Guardian and The Financial Times because sometimes they actually do a smarter job of figuring us out than we do.  FT content is behind a subscription firewall, alas, but sometimes I get lucky and find a usable link.

Anyway, because we’re all burned out, or at least I am, and to lighten the mood, see how well you do on this Pub Quiz created by the Brits at FT. I only got a couple of them right.

I’ll add some more questions. Eventually I’ll put the answers in a comment.

1. Which Republican candidate said “Net neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet”?

(a) Ted Cruz (b) Ben Carson (c) Rand Paul (d) Carly Fiorina

2. Bonus: What the hell does “Obamacare for the Internet” even mean?

3. At one point Jeb Bush was criticized for saying “Look, stuff happens.” What was he referring to?

(a) Global warming (b) Gun violence (c) That his brother George endorsed him (d) That his mother didn’t

4. Ben Carson recently was un-appointed from Trump’s vice president search committee. According to rumors reported at The Daily Beast, this was because …

(a) He nominated himself. (b) He nominated Sarah Palin. (c) He nominated Jesus. (d) He was vetting candidates by examining “the fruit salad of their life.”

Your turn.

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They Aren’t Listening to Us

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Obama Administration

Following up the last post, I want to direct you to an article by Ted Morgan: “This isn’t how a democracy should work.”

In his book “Democracy, Inc.,” the late, distinguished political scientist Sheldon Wolin has argued that we have a “managed democracy,” that elite “management” of elections is the key to perpetuating the “primal myth” that the people determine the rulers. As Wolin put it, this “antidemocracy” doesn’t attack the idea of government by the people, it encourages “civic demobilization” – conditioning the electorate to be aroused for a brief spell, controlling its attention span, and then encouraging distraction or apathy.

Yeah, pretty much.

For decades, going back to another supreme practitioner of cultural politics, Ronald Reagan, the right side of the elite has moved into a dominant political position by sounding unconventional, like they are on the side of millions of Americans who have long felt that their place in society and the economy is being marginalized. The right consistently trots out scapegoats – “liberals,” protesters, “welfare cheats,” immigrants, Muslims, etc. – to “explain” why this audience’s fortunes are declining.

This is the faux populism that the right has mastered in its ride to power. It’s also the faux populism of advertisers when they suggest they’re on our side as we try to make our lives better. But neither one is on the side of the people. They’re all on the side of corporate America. Despite his conservative rhetoric, Ronald Reagan arguably did more than any other president to accelerate the decline of family-supporting jobs and manufacturing communities than anyone else. Similarly, with the Trump campaign, building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico won’t improve the livelihood of American citizens one iota. But it feels that way to significant numbers of Americans.

There’s no question that the Right has done a better job than the Left of generating faux populism and making it downright tribal. But the Dems keep trying.

Not surprisingly, the Democratic Party establishment embraced Hillary Clinton from the start; she plays the same big-money, managed democracy game they play. Nor is it surprising that the national news media have also embraced her candidacy while dismissing the “unrealistic” campaign of the “unelectable” Bernie Sanders – though he does keep surprising them.

I’ve said before that a big part of Hillary Clinton’s appeal with among those who genuinely support her is that they identify with her on a deep level. Her followers can get pretty tribal also. Many of them refuse to even look at questionable aspects of her record — her hawkishness, for example — and dismiss all criticism of her as sexism, or just repetition of the mud from the Whitewater era.

Clinton doesn’t just play the same games the Dem establishment plays; it’s obvious she is queen of the establishment realm. Speaking as someone who doesn’t identify with her, it’s obvious to me that the ultimate source of her power comes from a place that has nothing to do with democracy. And that’s the primary reason I refuse to support her.

The quote at the top of the post about managed democracy says it pretty well. Clinton did not offer herself as a candidate; she was packaged and marketed to us as the inevitable nominee. The entire Democratic Party aligned itself to make that happen early last year; the primaries were supposed to be just formalities.  We’re being “managed” to accept her as a candidate, and as a president. I’m sure the insiders fully expect us all to go back to sleep as soon as she’s inaugurated.

And whatever innocent idea I still harbored that the system was still more or less democratic has been destroyed this primary season. Seeing Rachel Maddow all-too-obviously provide cover for the Clinton Machine was too much.

Back to Ted Morgan:

Our news media, television in particular, work at two levels simultaneously. One level is cultural. This is where market-driven news accentuates its entertainment value, seeking to maximize audience or readership by grabbing attention with all the devices common to entertainment. News stories are brief, dramatic fragments; they accentuate eye-catching imagery, conflict, and personalities. They play on our emotions, but tell us almost nothing about why the world is the way it is.

The other level is ideological, or political.  This is where the mass media are corporate institutions that reflect the consensual and competing views of elites who dominate our politics.  This is where Democrats and Republicans “debate” political issues, where they tell us how to interpret the world.  It is definitely not where more fundamentally critical, or outsider, views are taken seriously.

Yes to both. Mainstream media set the parameters of “acceptable” political thought and discourse, and at the same time they fail to provide information or context that might enable people to reach unacceptable conclusions.

Although the New York Times is a major enabler of the management, they do sometimes give us a peak behind the curtain:

This year the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions in Cleveland and Philadelphia will be bankrolled entirely with money from corporations and wealthy individuals. Not since the Watergate era, when a $400,000 pledge to the 1972 Republican convention from ITT Corporation was linked to a favorable outcome for the company in a federal antitrust decision, has this happened.

Industries with business before the federal government have long found opening their checkbooks for the conventions to be one of the most efficient means for influencing an incoming administration and Congress in one quick action. …

… The ITT scandal prompted legislation that provided public financing for conventions, and limited their budgets to that amount. But the parties soon found multiple ways around that, including using “host committees” that operate in the cities where the conventions are held, soliciting unlimited amounts of convention money from corporations and wealthy individuals. These committees, established to skirt federal laws banning corporations from giving to political parties directly, should be abolished.

And what’s different about this year?

The demise of public convention financing is a result of the 2014 Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, named for a Virginia girl who died of brain cancer. The law ended government funding for nominating conventions, which in 2012 amounted to about $18 million, or one-quarter, of each political party’s convention costs, and redirected $126 million over 10 years to pediatric disease research.

Talk about unintended consequences. Of course, I’m sure no sponsor expects direct quid pro quos for their money.  The benefits they receive will be more indirect and more subtle.

And this is just one example. There have been allegations about the foreign governments that donated to the Clinton Foundation while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State. Some of those governments were lobbying the U.S. State Department about something. I have defended the Clinton Foundation in the past, but one does wonder.  And I’m sure there’s plenty of ammunition in there somewhere for the Republicans to use against her in the fall.

Remember what I said in this post about foot dragging? We are in for some epic foot dragging. Clinton and her allies will be pragmatically certain that whatever she does will be incremental enough to not cause the clients, or the sponsors, much consternation.

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