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from Nicholas Wapshott:

I’m Ronald Reagan! No, I’m Reagan! No, over here, I’m the real Reagan!

 Rand Paul introduces U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. McConnell to crowd of campaign supporters after McConnell defeated Tea Party challenger Bevin in state Republican primary elections in Louisville

Did anyone hear the crack of a starting pistol? Nor me. But the race to become the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 is on.

Of course Reince Priebus, the GOP chairman, has been trying to keep the contest under close control since the party’s 2012 presidential primaries became a cable comedy sensation.

Perhaps he should have told the prospective candidates. The most eager wannabes, keen to take an early lead, have jumped the gun. Though it is too early to tell how the race will unfold, let alone who will win, we are already getting a taste of the themes, the policies and, above all, the complexion of the primaries to come. If the vituperative mood of the opening salvoes is anything to go by, we are in for fireworks.

Once again the ghost of Ronald Reagan looms large. Though his record in raising taxes and adding to the deficit, and his involvement in redrawing the map of the world, would make him ineligible to become the nominee were he still alive, the contestants are already comparing themselves with the only Republican president whose conservative credentials are made of the same material as earned him his nickname, the “Teflon president.”

from The Great Debate:

Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom forum features a kinder, gentler Republican message

 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie walks out to shakes hands with Ralph Reed after he spoke at the second day of the 5th annual Faith & Freedom Coalition's "Road to Majority" Policy Conference in Washington

The great American composer and critic Virgil Thomson used to say that when he went to a concert, he didn’t listen to music. He listened for music.

That was a good way to approach the latest convention of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition in Washington, D.C. There was music in the air, especially for those who still hope there is some common ground in our deeply divided republic, but you had to listen hard.

from The Great Debate:

The Republican war cuts through CPAC

The 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference has ended but the harsh debate between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party goes on. Though nothing remains static indefinitely. Things do change.

The venerated conference, for example, begun years ago in a room at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, has more of a corporate, insider feel than in the Reagan days. During the 70s and 80s, this meeting possessed a revolutionary “up the establishment” flair.

from MuniLand:

Chris Christie’s pension reform: round two

I have a lot of experience talking to Congressional staffers, regulators, rating agency analysts, municipal bond traders and portfolio managers. When you pump these parties for information there is always a clear line about the type and amount of information they will share.

But I had a bad encounter with the press spokesperson for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s treasury department. When I questioned the department’s methodology for their claim that reform in 2011 had reduced over $100 billion in future state pension liabilities, the treasury spokesman told me I need to go to college to understand pension fund projections. I wrote in 2011:

from The Great Debate:

Putin’s gangland politics

Russian President Vladimir Putin calls them his “brothers” -- this group of burly motorcyclists who see themselves as road warriors fighting for the greater glory of Mother Russia. They’re known as the Night Wolves, and Putin himself has ridden with them on that icon of American wanderlust, a Harley-Davidson.

Even as Russia was preparing to send troops to Crimea to reclaim the peninsula from Ukraine’s new government, the Night Wolves announced that they would ride to the troubled region to whip up support for their powerful brother and Harley devotee.

from Stories I’d like to see:

Is NBC soft on Sochi terror threats, political stalling, and the lawyer who could nail Christie

1. Is NBC soft on Sochi terror threats? Or are its rivals overdoing it?

I may be imagining it, but while the other network news organizations are giving full, even avid, coverage to the threat of terrorism at the coming Sochi Olympics, NBC -- which is televising the games -- seems to be playing it down. Or at least not playing it up.

It’s no surprise that NBC has been full of segments featuring the arrivals or practice sessions of members of team America, especially the good-looking ones. That’s a time-honored, if cheesy, effort to use ostensible news shows to boost the games’ ratings.

from Stories I’d like to see:

Christie’s legal bills, who profits from retailer hacking, and Davos economics

1. Christie’s legal bills and lawyers’ conflicts:

When it was announced earlier this month that Governor Chris Christie had hired Randy Mastro, the New York litigation head of California-based Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, to represent the Christie administration in dealing with all of the investigations involving Bridgegate, some observers told reporters that signing on Mastro signaled that Christie and his team might be gearing up to take an aggressive posture that is inconsistent with the governor’s initial promise to cooperate fully in all investigations.

That’s a logical assumption: Mastro, a former protégé of tough-guy New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is a notoriously hard-nosed litigator.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Message for Clinton: Look before you leap

There seems to be a rush to get former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to declare her run for the presidency.

Two magazine covers last week heralded the arrival of the fully fledged Clinton campaign-in-waiting, outing the nation’s worst-kept political secret: Clinton is considering a run for the presidency. Both tacitly urged her to jump in soon, before the excitement about the inevitability of her run becomes stale.

from Reihan Salam:

Chris Christie and the ‘failed war on drugs’

What would you do if you were a high-profile governor caught in the midst of a pseudo-scandal, with the national news media hanging on your every word? Here’s an idea: rather than focus exclusively on hurling accusations and counter-accusations, talk about something that actually matters. That is what New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did this past week. After weeks fending off accusations that he had systematically abused his power to punish his political enemies, Christie spent a good chunk of his second inaugural address on criminal justice reform. Cynical observers might conclude that the governor was shrewdly changing the subject, and they’d be right. But it happens that he is changing the subject to the most vexing policy challenge facing the United States, and arguably the most sorely neglected.

New Jersey is one of America’s most affluent states. Yet many of its largest cities are scarred by both high crime and an incarceration boom that has made a stint in prison a disturbingly common rite of passage, particularly for young black men. Though many believe that mass incarceration is a cure for violence, as it incapacitates potential victimizers, problems arise when incarceration becomes so commonplace that it is destigmatized, and that it ruins the lifelong earning potential of young men caught up in its net, few of whom go into prison as irredeemable villains. As Mark Kleiman, a public policy professor at UCLA and a leading advocate of criminal justice reform, argues in When Brute Force Fails, the chief challenge facing many people who wind up in prison is a lack of impulse control. And this problem can be more effectively addressed through low-cost interventions -- like programs for parolees that offer modest punishments for failing drug tests, like a weekend in the clink -- than through high-cost interventions, like a years-long prison sentence. What we’re dealing with is an enormous waste of human potential that harms not just the young men who wind up in prison, but also the families, and the children, they leave behind.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Christie and Murdoch are following similar paths

The problem with Chris Christie, it seems, is not so much that he is a political bully who quickly turns to vindictiveness and retribution when he doesn’t get his own way. It is that our politics have been so “feminized” that the sort of manly, aggressive, healthy pugilism that Christie indulges in with his political enemies is widely considered a weakness rather than an expression of his depth of character.

There are other reasons Americans have not lifted Christie to their shoulders on learning that his people were behind the four days of jams on the George Washington Bridge to punish the Fort Lee residents for electing a Democrat. Christie simply cannot get a fair hearing on Bridgegate so long as the press refuses to acknowledge Hillary Clinton’s part in the murder of Ambassador Stephens in Benghazi.

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