Hillary chooses morning over mourning in America

Hillary acceptsLast night’s historic moment almost seemed anti-climactic. I had shed my tears at the historic milestone when Hillary Clinton had clinched the Democratic nomination. I held my breath for weeks thereafter until Bernie Sanders had endorsed her, making it clear just how high the stakes are in this election. Last night was all about reinforcing that message: whatever Hillary Clinton’s flaws, this country can’t afford to put Donald Trump in charge.  As she put it, “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man you can trust with nuclear weapons.”

Her speech was solid but not soaring. Yet she showed elements of humor and self-awareness that are not typical for Hillary Clinton’s public persona. She acknowledged that, despite her 40 years of public service, there are people who still don’t get her. At every turn, she reinforced that as a nation we are stronger together. Referring obliquely to Trump, she warned “Don’t believe anyone who says ‘I alone can fix it.’” That devalues the contributions of our troops on the front lines, police, teachers, workers, and more.    Let’s fix it together was a recurring theme. “We have to work together so we can rise together. Donald Trump wants to divide us from the rest of the world and from each other.”

The tone of optimism, while still acknowledging problems and challenges, differentiated Philadelphia from Cleveland. It was morning not midnight for a great nation. Clinton restated how far we’ve come since 2008, saying President Obama doesn’t get the credit he deserves. She acknowledged things are not yet working right and that people are right to be frustrated and furious.  Her wholehearted embrace of the President will be tricky as Republicans try to harness that rage and fury and tie Clinton to the unsolved problems responsible for the anger.

She touched most of the issues that figure in the 2016 campaign, from security and Wall Street reform to student debt, from income inequity and Citizens United to reducing gun violence. At the end, we were reminded that Donald Trump is proud he doesn’t like to sweat the details. In Hillary Clinton we have a wonk and a doer, a person who (unlike her opponents) loves getting into the details of programmatic problem solving, a fighter, a person who was taught from a young age to stand up to bullies.  While she reeks of status quo, she understands the need for change, is capable of negotiating change, and is a voice for responsible change.

Other than testimonials and the accompanying video, Clinton didn’t deal directly with the trust issue that shockingly has two thirds of those polled finding her even more untrustworthy than Trump.  I want her to be more transparent. I want her to shed her bunker mentality. I’m not confident she can do it, or that her handlers want her to do it. But here’s the bottom line: the tone she sets for civic discourse is closer to where this country needs to be than the ignorance, mendacity, narcissism, rashness, hatred, thin skin and acid tongue that this year’s Republican nominee has to offer.

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The table is set for Hillary

Clinton presumptive nomineeWill Hillary Clinton get the post-convention bump she needs to reassure even her anxious supporters and would-be donors that she can win in November?  Tonight will determine that.

Days one through three have set the table, but they won’t necessarily matter as the convention memories recede.  It’s the candidate who counts. On Day 1, it was Michelle Obama who shone. She gave a terrific speech, beautifully delivered, heartfelt and authentic, down to earth while still uplifting. A real home run.

On Day 2, Bill Clinton hit a double with no one on. Bill Clinton has always been a great story-teller (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”) What he left out on Tuesday was more interesting that what he put in. He glossed over his womanizing and humiliation of Hillary with reference to “good times and bad.” I wouldn’t expect him to wallow in it, but I would have appreciated an apology for his transgressions, which have made her life more difficult. Also noteworthy was the oily way he slipped in “There were trade bills, some she voted for; some, against.”  She was a full partner with him in NAFTA, and her early unqualified support for the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement was an unforced error.

Bill Clinton’s task was to humanize Hillary, and his opening line – “In the spring of 1971, I met a girl” – set the tone effectively. He moved from college girl, to wife,  mother and grandmother. He detailed her accomplishments (and there have been many) and  chronicled her lifetime as a change agent(an impressive bill of particulars). Importantly, he tried to differentiate the cartoon character created by Donald Trump at last week’s GOP convention and the real Hillary the former President  was portraying.  The convention, he noted, had nominated the real Hillary. We’ll see tonight what exactly that appears to be.

Day Three was power-packed, with Michael Bloomberg making an effective pitch to independents, Tim Kaine warmly addressing Hillary’s character and reinforcing how he trusts her (even with the life of his Marine son) and Joe Biden straight talking to blue collar and other disaffected white working class males.  President Obama concluded with a full-throated pass-the-baton endorsement. When attacking Trump, he exhorted those who would boo the Republican nominee to vote their disapproval instead. Obama also weighed in appropriately on the blacks versus police controversy, noting that what a black mother feels when her son leaves the house isn’t different what the family of a police officer feel when that officer goes to work. Previously speakers have been notably one-sided on that theme.

Obama’s tone was optimistic, reminding us that we can’t fear the future, we have to shape it.  Among his many references to Trump, the President said we don’t look to be ruled. We seek to work together. (Tell that to our gridlocked Congress and our starkly divided electorate.)

Previous speakers set the table with their best things, the good dishes, silver and china, but it won’t matter if what Hillary serves tonight is less than stellar. She has to convince voters how, beyond being uniquely qualified, she can connect with real people and their concerns.  Beyond being declared by others to be a change maker, she must demonstrate that, in a “change election” (when 60 percent believe the country is on the wrong track), she is not just the latest iteration of the status quo. Dare we hope she apologizes for mistakes made and commits herself to rebuilding people’s trust in her?  The fact that it is a serial liar and pathological narcissist against whom she is running  gives her some room to do so.

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Pay equity issues start at the top

income graph

 

Stock market and share prices are near record highs. At the same time, Republicans and Democrats alike bemoan a sluggish recovery that has left too many behind. As delegates gather in Philadelphia this week, I wonder how many of the speakers will address this disconnect seriously, especially when so many there contributed to this situation. No one talked about this in Cleveland.

Pay inequity is a hot topic. It cuts across all income groups. Women fight for pay equal to that of men performing the same job. Others broaden the push for pay equity to include jobs of comparable value or requiring similar training and experience.

Some of the most shocking disparities occur in the gap between what CEO’s and the average worker make. According to Fortune Magazine, CEO’s make 300 times what the average worker earns.  For the top CEO’s, the multiple is 373 times.  What’s more to the point, however, is that from 1978 to 2014, CEO pay grew 1000 percent, while average worker income increased by just 11 percent.

Ah, but you say, aren’t those CEO’s worth every cent?  Isn’t their growth central to their company’s well-being and the health of the economy. Not so fast. Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on a study by corporate research firm MSCI that found that the best paid CEO’s run some of the worst-performing companies as measured by stock performance over a ten-year period. And the results of lower paid CEOs were best. The results held whether the researchers analyzed across all companies or on a sector-by-sector basis.

According to the Economic Policy Institute,  in 1965, CEOs earned an average of $832,000 a year while workers earned $40,200. By 2014, CEO pay had grown to $16,316,000 while workers were getting just $53,200. The study noted that this was not linked to productivity. It was just that the guys at the top were taking a bigger slice of the pie.

We’re a market-driven economy, and people should be able to get what they’re worth, or more if they can work that out. But a regulatory shift, supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, distorts the compensation game. Stock option incentives and corporate buybacks now make legal acts once deemed market manipulation, and may have contributed to some of the recent bubbles.

One of the major problems is that Bill Clinton’s administration, in an effort to curb grossly excessive CEO salaries, decided that corporations could write off salaries in excess of $1 million only if the companies met certain performance metrics.  One was stock prices.  So corporations started to do stock buy-backs to artificially boost stock prices, thus perversely inflating those same CEO salaries, without benefitting employees, consumers or the long-term health of the economy. Today’s study tells us that even investors in these companies lose out.

If you want to be charitable, call it the law of unintended consequences. We’d have a much better handle on these trends if the Securities and Exchange Commission reported salary inflation over a ten-year period rather than one year at a time.

Candidates Clinton and Trump should be asked whether their administrations would do that. And they should be asked whether, as Rana Foroohar asked in Time Magazine, whether it’s time to rethink buybacks and stock options that encourage executives to focus more on share price than other metrics.

These discussions often get too complicated for the short attention span of most of us as we follow the news. But it’s a legitimate issue to be raised in some larger debate on the economy and its inequities. Especially when some of Bill Clinton’s key economic advisers are part of Hillary’s team.

At a minimum, boards of directors need to scrutinize CEO pay more closely, and more clearly align remuneration and perks with how a company produces and how it treats its employees. Failure to do that will continue to foster the kinds of understandable resentment that has fueled much of this year’s populist discontent.

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz should be fired now

debbie wasserman schultzBernie Sanders has been saying for eight months that the Democratic National Committee  rigged the primary system. He also has long said that, in the interest of fair play, DNC Chair Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz should be forced to resign.

Emails written by DNC CFO Brad Marshall, released yesterday by Wikileaks,  suggest Sanders had it right.  We knew early on that the DNC thought Hillary a better choice than Bernie in November, so it scheduled fewer debates, started them later in the season than did the Republicans,  and held them on Saturday nights to minimize the audience.  But the DNC Chair  oversaw a thumb-on-the-scale operation that went farther.

The emails suggested that Sanders be critiqued because of his religion.  He is Jewish, but Committee staffers were suggesting that, beyond being a non-practicing Jew, he is an atheist (which he says he isn’t). This is totally outrageous and un-American. A move is now underway to deny Schultz a speaking role at the convention that she is running. The DNC Rules Committee has named Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio to wield the gavel at the sessions.

A new chair will be chosen anyway by Clinton after the gathering in Philadelphia. But Schultz should be required to step down today.  This issue shouldn’t be allowed to permeate the convention in the drip-drip-drip  way that RNC handlers fumbled that  plagiarizing of Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech by Melania Trump did.

Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook dodged the larger question on this morning’s talking head confabs, raising the specter that it was Russian hackers who had compromised the DNC computer system for a year.  He hinted that Russian hacking was designed to help Donald Trump, who has shown an affinity for Vladimir Putin. That’s a distraction, but it does indicate a disturbing lack of security in the Democrats’ computer system during Schultz’s watch.

Regardless of how the information was leaked, the emails speak for themselves. People at the DNC were thinking in traditional Nixonian terms, and the person at the top of the organization, Debbie Wasserman Schultz should be held accountable.

There are additional reasons Schultz shouldn’t head the party beyond her feckless leadership in the 2014 mid-term races. Sanders adds that she doesn’t address the working class concerns that have been the drivers of his campaign. After receiving many donations from the banking industry and $68,000 from payday lenders, Schultz voted against proposals to have the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulate payday loans.

She should have been dropped long before now. Forcing her to step down today has important symbolic value and could do much to ensure the fragile rapprochement between Sanders and Clinton supporters. The Democrats need to demonstrate that they are more unified than the Republicans. Discord won’t sell well.

Some have recommended that Housing Secretary Julian Castro speak in Schultz’s  stead, which has some appeal. There’s plenty of talent to replace her in that role and as party chair.  (It appears Donna Brazile  will  be the interim chairwoman through the election.)  The need is for the Democrats to remove Debbie Wasserman Schultz now.

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Donald Trump a clear and present danger*

Trump at RNCDonald Trump’s kids shone at the Republican national convention. Poised, articulate, attractive, they’d make any parent proud and certainly reflect well on their parents. Ivanka Trump’s call for pay equity and child care support were a welcome contrast to the GOP platform. So, too, was PayPal CEO Peter Thiel’s assertion that the party shouldn’t let “fake culture wars distract us from more important issues.” Of the party’s focus on which bathroom transgenders use, Thiel said, “Who cares?” But, as reassuring as these counterpoint messages might have been, they matter not one bit.  The only thing that counts is the party’s nominee, Donald J. Trump.

In a 75-minute scream, nominee Trump painted a picture of America as overrun by criminals, undermined by terrorists, marauded by immigrants, suffocated by regulators, crushed by trade deals with foreign nations, in short, a nation in imminent peril. His Kafkaesque world plays to people’s conscious and subconscious fears in ways we haven’t seen since the 1930’s.  He surpassed Richard Nixon’s call for law and order in 1968, pitting groups against each other and dividing rather than uniting.  Our nation is better than this and deserves better.

The media need to do more to expose Trump’s manipulation of facts, to push him to release his tax returns , which every candidate since 1976 has done (what’s he covering up?), to question his support of Vladimir Putin (campaign advisor Paul Manafort has been a consultant to several dictators), to demand details of Trump’s policies.  We should all pay heed to the observations of Tony Schwartz, who ghost-wrote The Art of the Deal, whose first-hand observations of Trump’s pathology in The New Yorker make one’s blood run cold. And read tomorrow’s NY Times column by Nicholas Kristof documenting Trump’s pattern of bigotry.  These portraits must give us pause.

Trump played to his base on Thursday night. His most effective line, directed to those with legitimate frustrations and feeling marginalized, was “I am your voice.” The challenge for Hillary Clinton is to convince voters that she understands their discontent and has specific strategies for dealing with its causes. Donald Trump’s voice is that of a liar, a narcissist, a demented authoritarian who believes he is the only person who can fix the challenges we face. He gave not one specific about how he’d put things right.

Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate. Very flawed. But as Joe Biden said several years ago, don’t compare me to the Almighty; compare me to the alternative.” The alternative this year is someone who is, as a recent Washington Post editorial lays out,  uniquely unqualified by experience, temperament and character to lead the United States.* This nation cannot, must not,  assume the risk that Donald Trump represents.

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Republican convention: Red meat turns rancid, mean, and poisonous

Melania Trump at conventionTwo down, two to go. Days, that is, of the Republican National Convention.

I’m not watching gavel to gavel. I have a life. But, as a political junkie, I’m drawn to watch the evening activities, as deplorable as they are.

From an organizational perspective, especially for an alleged master of the spectacle, Day One was a disaster.  The Speakers’ schedule was neither timed well nor arranged to achieve maximum impact. Rudy Giuliani screamed hysterically to drive home the law-and-order message of Donald Trump, eager to play to the worst fears of the American people.  Gone was the firm but modulated Giuliani after 9/11.  Today’s version was like the head of a lynch mob.

Then there was Melania, whose speech should have been the climax of the opening day.   Donald’s gorgeous wife, who clearly didn’t write her speech herself (but foolishly claimed she did), was tarred by portions of it being lifted verbatim from Michelle Obama’s  speech at the 2008 Democratic convention. How bizarre is that, the wife of the devil being a role model!  Donald Trump kept the plagiarism story going by  failing to admit any transgression. Delaying until Wednesday for someone to own up kept the story dominating the evening’s and next day’s news. The man known for peremptorily snapping “You’re fired” meekly said the errant speechwriter and others involved in the debacle would not be punished.

Melania deserves points for her poised delivery of a simplistic paint-by-numbers paean to her husband, but she failed to provide a single anecdote to counter his image as a pathological narcissist. Could it be she didn’t have any?

I won’t even comment on the ludicrous stagecraft (blue smoke, no mirrors) heralding Donald Trump’s entrance to introduce his wife. Everything is always all about him, which helps to explain why he called Fox News in the midst of the gripping speech by Pat Smith, mother of Sean Smith, who blames Hillary Clinton “personally” for her son’s death in Benghazi.

Day two was better organized and finished on time, but it gave viewers little sense of how a Trump administration would bring back jobs, allegedly the evening’s theme.

Even though the convention voted and removed the word “presumptive” from Trump’s status, the program was more about Hillary than the nominee.  Intermittent chants of “lock her up” were the leitmotif.

Former Attorney General (now New Jersey Governor) Chris Christie was in full prosecutorial mode citing “facts” about Clinton. Even on simple policy differences, he used the audience as jury, repeatedly inviting members to declare her guilty or not guilty. You know what the answer was, and the repetition intensified, reaching fevered pitch, resembling nothing so much as the Salem Witch Trials. Christie played his attack dog well, perhaps adding to Trump’s buyer’s remorse he didn’t pick Christie for Vice President.

In that same spirit, former candidate Ben Carson not only made it clear the GOP sees this as a Christian nation, but also views Hillary as Lucifer. Has a national convention in either party ever been so venomous?

House Speaker Paul Ryan tried to appeal to the saner members of the RNC, talking about conservative principles and trying, unsuccessfully, to support the party nominee while dancing away from him.  As today’s NY Times editorial suggests, Ryan has diminished himself significantly in trying to have it both ways.  He has become what Trump disdains most, a “loser.”

The Trump kids shone last night. Recent college grad Tiffany, 22, was sweet and loving and reflected well on her father and his second wife, Marla Maples. Donald Trump, Jr., 38, gave a more traditional conservative speech, more substantive, better presented than anything his father has ever done. While some critics have said he cribbed the portion on education from The American Conservative,  the language seems more drawn from the marketplace of conservative ideas and, in any event, the column’s writer gave permission for its use (just as Deval Patrick had voluntarily shared verbiage with Barack Obama). Donald Jr. spoke to blue collar frustrations, pledged not to destroy Medicare, and even promised an end to loopholes that favor the wealthy. His singular interpretation of facts and his hyperbolic reflections on his father were standard convention fare. My bottom line is that he seems a much more sane version of his old man.

For the most part, this convention has been really ugly and often hateful, an accurate reflection of the GOP nominee. Donald Trump is fully in control. He is neck-and-neck with Hillary in the national polls, which probably don’t mean much at this time.

If he loses, he will have taken down the party with him, and a lot of decent conservatives will have to start over again from scratch.  If he wins, a lot of decent conservatives will have to start over again.

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg fumbles

Ruth Bader GinsburgSupreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was way out of line in her scathing criticism of Donald Trump. Three times in the last week, she let it be known she can’t imagine this country under a president Trump, She called him “a faker,” said he “has no consistency about him,” and added that he says whatever comes into his mind.  Which was exactly what she was doing.

It doesn’t matter than she wasn’t wrong on content. But she was dead wrong speaking publicly that way.  As she acknowledged this morning, it is wholly inappropriate for a Supreme Court Justice to weigh in on politics or a political candidate. Other justices have occasionally let their political views be known, but never this egregiously.  She was right to apologize, but it’s a little like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Will she have to recuse herself if the outcome of the Clinton v. Trump election went the route of Bush v. Gore? Would she have to recuse herself if Tom Brady appeals to the Supreme Court  for a stay in his  four-game suspension because she’s the single justice now handling appeals from the Second Circuit? And if she did recuse herself, would she also have to recuse herself from other deliberations on his case?  After all, he has made clear that Donald Trump is a good  friend of his?

Ginsburg deserves credit for owning up to the error.  Supreme Court Justices rarely, if ever, apologize for anything. Still, her regrettable remarks reinforce the sense that campaign 2016 is a race to the bottom and that the disease of name calling has infected the body politic far and wide.

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