Archive for the EXCLUSIVE Category

Bill Whalen

 

The big news out of Washington last week: the swift resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius – a lickety-split split from the Obama Administration in that the news was dropped late on Thursday, followed the next day by a goodbye ceremony at the White House, at which time her replacement was introduced.

Sebelius’ departure is the classic Washington whodunit. Did she leave on her own accord, as do many a cabinet secretary in a second presidential term? Or, now that Obamacare can claim its 7 million signees, was the head of HHS a pre-Easter sacrificial lamb for those who’ve been calling for her head?

(Appropriate for the manager of the Obama Administration’s troubled healthcare law, even her farewell remarks had a noticeable glitch)

Here’s yet another way to look at life after Sebelius: it’s the question of justice – spelled with both a lower- and upper-case “j”.

As for lower-case justice, the argument here is the resignation is months overdue. Sebelius could have/should have stepped down sometime around last Halloween, right after Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander called for her to resign, seconding 32 House Republicans calling for the same. Alexander’s not exactly a bomb-thrower. Instead, he offered a very reasonable rationale: as HHS Secretary, it was Sebelius’ responsibility to oversee the rollout of the new federal health insurance website – a techno-blunder that Sebelius would later try to brush off as “miserably frustrating”.

But Washington being Washington – no culture of shame, no one walking the gangplank unless the ship’s already sinking – Sebelius didn’t step down. At least, not for another five-plus half months.

Not exactly justice denied, but certainly justice delayed.

As for upper-case justice, that would be Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose future isn’t a whodunit. It’s a “when’s-she-gonna-do-it?”.

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Bill Whalen

 

Every four years, before America chooses a new president, the two major parties study the map, weigh their options (financial, political, symbolic) and then choose where to hold their national conventions.

Some years, the choices seem simple. Take the Democrats’ options for 2016. Having twice dabbled in swing states – Colorado in 2008 and North Carolina in 2012 – after two previous stays in safe blue havens (Massachusetts and California), Democrats might prefer something more biographically appropriate, assuming Hillary Clinton is the nominee. That pretty much narrows the list to Chicago and her native Illinois, or New York City and her adopted Empire State (both cities, of course, where Bill Clinton also accepted his party’s nomination, making for the consummate Clinton love-in).

As for Republicans and 2016, choosing a convention site seems as complicated a task as settling on a nominee – the options are multiple and it’s a question of what direction the GOP would like to head.

Last week, the Republican National Committee’s Site Selection Committee announced six cities in the running for the party’s 2016 national convention: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City and Las Vegas. Two other cities that had expressed an interest – Phoenix and Columbus (Ohio) – didn’t make the cut.

The next phase in the process: selection committee members will travel to the cities to hear their pitches and then deliver their recommendations to the RNC, followed by another rounds of cut, and after that a final decision by the national committee this fall.

So what to make of the six cities still in play?

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Bill Whalen

 

Before Ray Donovan, the fictional Hollywood fix-it man seen on Showtime, there was Raymond J. Donovan, the Reagan-era Labor secretary.

It’s been nearly 30 years since Donovan held that cabinet post. While he’s mostly forgotten, one thing he said endures. It came after Donovan had stood trial for larceny and fraud charges in connection with a New York subway-contracting scheme – in all, a two-and-a-half year legal ordeal. Given his New Jersey labor roots and the fact that the Mafia allegedly was complicit, the press presumed Donovan’s guilt.

Only, he was acquitted.

After which, Donovan uttered these words: “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?”

Which brings us to another son of New Jersey looking to restore his luster: Gov. Chris Christie.

Buried under an onslaught of bad press over a state government scandal involving the shutdown of traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge (aka, “Bridgegate”), Christie last week tried to turn the corner on his troubles – and turn the tables on a press corps that’s all but written his political obituary.

First, Christie released the findings of an internal review (here’s the report, in its entirety) conducted by attorneys of the governor’s choosing – five of them, former federal prosecutors.

Second, Christie mounted a media mini-offensive – “mini” in the sense that it’s hard to get on cable these days unless you have an opinion about Putin’s motives, Obamacare’s efficacy, or the fate of the Malaysian jetliner.

Third, a day after he released the review, Christie held his first press conference in nearly 11 weeks. And he sat down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer and Fox News’ Megyn Kelly.

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Tim Kane

A Subtle Danger

 

The new Federal Reserve chair just had a stellar inaugural news conference, and kudos to her.  I said months ago that she was the “safer” choice, and I think President Obama deserves credit for appointing her.  With that said, there is a subtle danger in the language she is using to describe how the central bank now sees the economy and understands the limits of its power.

POLITICO describes the shift:

The Fed has previously said that the magic number for when it might begin to consider raising short-term interest rates is when unemployment hits 6.5 percent. But with that number within reach — it currently stands at 6.7 percent — Yellen and the Fed simply dropped using the target as an indicator, instead referring to more vague “labor market conditions.”

This is an error. What seems rather tiny is in fact an exponentially risky shift away from neutrality.

In terms of monetary policy, the national rate unemployment is the indicator that matters, not the alternative metrics like EPOP and LFPR that are, in my own words, more accurate assessments of how the people in the economy are experiencing the labor market.  Why the contradiction?

Because there are limits to what gunning an engine can do.

Monetary policy is one, giant lever in managing the macro economy. A good metaphor is the gas pedal on an automobile. You push harder, the car goes faster. But no matter how hard you push the gas pedal, the engine’s design will not change. In this metaphor, engine performance is the equivalent of fiscal policy. Business regulations that are rooted in the 1950s worldview will perform, metaphorically, like a car engine from the 1950s. And when fiscal policy degrades the engine’s quality – reduces the number of cylinders, cuts a few wires, uses cheaper gasoline, neglects maintenance on depreciating components – all things which slow the car down, there’s nothing monetary policy can do to fix those things. And here’s the point: it should not try to compensate.

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Bill Whalen

 

It’s fitting that Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul and generous donor to Republican causes (reportedly as much as $150 million in 2012), is hosting a dinner next week in Las Vegas for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

Bush, after all, may or may not seek the presidency in 2016 – he says he’ll decide later this year. And the GOP field in which he’d take part? It’s a crapshoot, with no clear odds-on-favorite. Well, that and the fact that the betting lines keep moving – at a pace only a casino owner (and people fishing for something to write two years in advance) could love.

At the moment, it’s Bush’s odds on the uptick. Larry Sabato, the esteemed University of Virginia political scientist and crystal ball gazer, has the son-of-41/brother-of-43 at the front of the pack. Others see him as a Republican variation of Hillary Clinton – famous surname, potentially formidable, though unlike Hillary unable to clear the primary field.

Maybe most notable of all for Jeb Bush’s long-term prospects: he’s doing better in the all-important Barbara Bush primary – his mother softening her opposition to the thought of a third Bush male seeking America’s top political prize.

Here are four reasons to explain/justify the Bush buzz.

1)  Republican Speed Dating. To the adage “Republicans fall in line, Democrats fall in love” when choosing a presidential nominee, 2016 offers little in the way of order for the GOP. There is no frontrunner – no one candidate with a financial or structural advantage to muscle his or her way to victory (this worked for Ronald Reagan in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, John McCain (to a lesser extent) in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012). Instead, the field is an exercise in speed dating – a presidential hopeful having their moment at the front of the line, then it’s on to the next prospective mate. Such was the case for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, following his re-election last November, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul earlier this year. Now, it’s Bush’s turn to be the media’s speed-date – until they find a new darling.

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Bill Whalen

A Jolly Good Night In Florida

 

As if the week weren’t strange enough politics-wise, what with President Obama going from leader of the Free World to straight man for a hipster comic in hopes of selling his health plan to Gen Y, we’ve now discovered the key to tipping the balance in battleground Florida.

Unleash Bob Barker.

It was Barker, the 80-year-old former host of The Price Is Right, the long-running game show and staple of daytime television, who cut this ad urging voters in Florida’s 13th Congressional District special election to vote for his pal, Republican David Jolly, the narrow winner in Tuesday night’s vote.

Not that Alex Sink, the Democrat in the race and slight favorite going into election day, didn’t tap into her own tv star of yesterday. Her choice: Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, of Sha-Na-Na fame, who recorded a robo-call for the candidate attacking Jolly over wanting to lay waste to the senior safety net.

The net result: elderly game show host trumped elderly greaser, with Jolly winning by enough to avoid a recount (like that could ever happen in Florida).

Some thoughts as to this election’s significance:

1)  Don’t Buy All the Hype. Jolly ran on repealing Obamacare; Sink said she’s amend it, not end it. Republicans will tout this as proof that the President and his plan are albatrosses even in a district that Mr. Obama twice carried (52% in 2008; 50% in 2012). Then again, it wasn’t a regularly scheduled election – and that usually means a lower Democratic turnout. And it’s a swing district, with the two parties evenly dividing voter registration (37% Republican, 35% Democratic, 24% independent). As for Florida’s 13th CD being a preview of coming attractions: it’s true that a House special election in California in June 2006 was a precursor of troubles for the GOP that fall. Then again, in 2010 the Democrats won a springtime special election in Pennsylvania, only to lose 63 seats that fall – the biggest shift in over 70 years.

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Bill Whalen

 

Befitting a land that accounts for one-eighth of the nation’s population – 38 million Californians vs. 316 million Americans, per the most recent U.S. Census count – the Golden State is also home to the same ratio of America’s millionaires (777,624 such households in California; 6.1 million nationwide, according to Phoenix Marketing International’s annual report).

That California total will grow by one if, as advertised, actor/activist Alec Baldwin makes good on his pronouncement to relocate from New York City to Los Angeles. Baldwin’s tipping point, as conveyed in this epic as-told-to rant: he’s tired of being misquoted and misunderstood; maligned and maltreated by the paparazzi, liberal pundits and a modern media culture of snap judgment.

The City of Angels, Baldwin believes, offers a more realistic shot at privacy. As he rationalized in his manifesto: “L.A. is a place where you live behind a gate, you get in a car, your interaction with the public is minimal.”

That may be so. Photographers won’t hound Baldwin the moment when he steps out the front door with his wife and infant – a constant flashpoint in the streets of Manhattan. He might be in for a surprise should he go dining or shopping.

But what if Baldwin succeeds in reinventing himself as a 21st Century male Garbo? At some point, won’t he start craving attention and the sound of his own voice?

If so, here’s a suggestion: run for public office in California.

It’s not like the thought hasn’t crossed Baldwin’s mind. He’s on the record as having flirted with a Senate run in Connecticut and a mayoral bid in New York City. And he has celebrity friends who like to hang out at the political intersection of vanity and self-convinced nobility. That would include actor Warren Beatty, who just a few years was making life miserable for then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (it’s worth noting that Baldwin has kind words for Jay Billington Bulworth in his otherwise blistering takedown of the entertainment industry).

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Bill Whalen

 

Under the rubric of “lost weekend”, try this: spending Saturday and Sunday leafing through reams of previously withheld documents released late last week by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library – about 4,000 pages chronicling the former First Couple’s years in the White House, with another 20,000 pages coming in the next few weeks, plus another 7,000-8,000 pages whose fate is yet to be determined.

And what did we learn?

1)  The ‘90’s Were a Long Time Ago. Like such other 1990s fixations as grunge, the Macarena and beanie babies, Bill and Hillary Clinton governed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. As evidence of that: Clinton aides talking about some new fangled contraption called the Internet – no “the”, merely “Internet” mentioned – in the same futuristic terms as Einstein writing to FDR about nuclear fission some six years before the Alamogordo blast. As Clinton conversations take us to where we once were as a nation – better economic times and never-ending personal scandals – which is the better slogan for her 2016 campaign: “Ready for Hillary”, or “Let’s Do the Time Warp Again”?

2)  If Only They (the Obama White House) Knew Now What They (the Clinton White House) Knew Then. An unsigned memo from a Clinton aide included this riff on the selling of Hillarycare in her husband’s remarks: “We have a line . . . that says “You’ll pick the health plan and the doctor of your choice”. This sounds great and I know that it’s just what people want to hear. But can we get away with it?” One wonders if, 20 years from now, something similar will emerge from the depths of the Obama Presidential Library.

3)  “You Like Me”. Fitting for a data dump just two days before the Academy Awards ceremony, Mrs. Clinton’s image elves struggled with how to turn the First Lady into the equivalent of Sally Field winning a Best Actress statue. Among the ideas for softening Hillary’s image: turning her 20th wedding anniversary into a friendly couple’s sit-down with Barbara Walters; a cameo on the popular sitcom Home Improvement; a cautionary “be careful to “be real”” when out on the campaign trail; and a recommendation to “look for opportunities for humor” also when out in the public. Yes, people actually get paid top dollar for such advice.

So did this minor glimpse into the inner workings of the Clinton presidency do anything to change Hillary’s long-term political prospects?

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Bill Whalen

Rescuing Obamacare: Leave It To Bieber

 

If there’s a downside to the written medium, it’s moments like this, when trying to convey the essence of a newly released pro-Obamacare ad featuring – this isn’t a typo – singing cats, dogs, parakeets, tortoises and hamsters.

In other words: words can’t do it justice.

Here’s the video, produced by Enroll America and the Ad Council. It’s intent: to connect with 18- to 34-year-old women who aren’t signing up for Obamacare in suitable numbers – a growing concern for the Obama Administration as the March 31 deadline approaches.

So what’s the thinking behind the choice of singing critters instead of, say, a bespectacled hipster?

“We needed a familiar face that would stand out amidst all the noise to communicate to all Americans the benefits of enrolling for health insurance in a way that’s entertaining, reliable and easy to digest,” Rodrigo Butori, a creative director involved with the ad, told The Daily Caller. “We thought about pets. Why? Two thirds of American homes have pets. They have been the recipient of people’s love and care for ages. So it’s time for them to return the favor. It’s time for pets to take care of people for a change.”

So there you have it: the keys to selling the President’s healthcare law – disapproved by a majority of Americans, per this Gallup survey – is tapping into the public’s need to be entertained and comforted by familiar faces.

If that’s the case, here are some suggestions for future Obamacare ads.

The Kardashians.  At least one member of America’s most overexposed family endorsed the President in 2012. Perhaps it’s time for Kim Kardashian, et.al. to do the President a second favor. Consider what the future Mrs. Kanye West and her relatives bring to the Obamacare discussion: pregnancy and neonatal care (baby North West); substance abuse (Khloe Kardashian’s soon-to-be ex-husband), plus cosmetic surgery (Bruce Jenner) and mental health (Kris Jenner coming to terms with her split with Bruce). And if she eventually loses her job over the rollout debacle, perhaps Kathleen Sebelius (first name begins with a K, like all female Kardashians) joins the cast.

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