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In Search of the Next POTUS

Judy Frankel   |   April 29, 2016    3:42 AM ET

If you're like me, you aren't happy about the two presumed choices for President: Hillary and Trump. Bernie Sanders says he will run for Senate in Vermont again if he isn't nominated, and if Trump isn't the nominee, the other Republican candidates aren't any better.

The weirdness of this Presidential race lies in the fact that both Hillary and Trump are disliked by the MAJORITY of Americans. Recently an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that 65% of registered voters view Trump negatively and 56% of voters view Hillary negatively.

If a third option were taken seriously, they'd have a good chance of winning.

That's why I'm embarking on a mission In Search of the Next POTUS (President of the United States). I'm going to find a third candidate that has a real chance of winning, if only more people knew about them.

Over the next half year, I will be calling, emailing, Skyping, interviewing, videotaping, and otherwise contacting each of the outlier candidates listed at Politics1.com as well as the third party front-runners. If you know of anyone else running as a write-in who has filed enough letters of intent in all the states that accept write-ins, please post their name and contact info in the comments and I will investigate them as well.

Where is America's best and brightest? Where are the decent public servants who aren't beholden to special interests, who will work for the common good?

Where is the visionary leader who understands what's going wrong in the world and how to do the right thing?

If you like what I'm doing, please visit the Pledge for Honest Candidates to support my efforts, and follow this blog to discover the people running for POTUS that you never hear about in the news.

Remember, if you vote for the lesser of two evils, you're still going to get evil.

Are Fair Trade Policies 'Extreme?' Is Clinton Ready for Trump On Trade?

Dave Johnson   |   April 28, 2016    1:46 PM ET

Is it really "extreme" to think we should have fair trade policies?

The New York Times on Tuesday published a story by Nelson D. Schwartz and Quoctrung Bui, "Where Jobs Are Squeezed by Chinese Trade, Voters Seek Extremes," reporting that,

research to be unveiled this week by four leading academic economists suggests that the damage to manufacturing jobs from a sharp acceleration in globalization since the turn of the century has contributed heavily to the nation's bitter political divide.

By "sharp acceleration in globalization since the turn of the century" they mean millions and millions of manufacturing jobs, and more than 60,000 factories, all moved to China since 2000 to take advantage of China's non-democracy that allows exploitation of workers and the environment. (But China doesn't really "trade" with us by buying things, resulting in a record $365.7 billion trade deficit with China just last year.)

They go on:

Cross-referencing congressional voting records and district-by-district patterns of job losses and other economic trends between 2002 and 2010, the researchers found that areas hardest hit by trade shocks were much more likely to move to the far right or the far left politically.

'It's not about incumbents changing their positions,' said David Autor, an influential scholar of labor economics and trade at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the paper's authors. 'It's about the replacement of moderates with more ideological successors.'

Mr. Autor added: 'In retrospect, whether it's Trump or Sanders, we should have seen in it coming. The China shock isn't the sole factor, but it is something of a missing link.'

So Sanders, who basically advocates returning to policies that are not even as "left" as those that were dominant in the Eisenhower era, is now considered by these reporters to be "extreme" and "the far left"? In some minds, apparently, the answer is yes.

There's Trade And Then There's "Trade"

There is trade and then there's "trade." Trade is the exchange of goods and services across borders. People who live in certain climates and can grow bananas can also have cars, and people who make cars can have bananas. Both sides benefit - as long as the value of the banana going one way and the value of cars going the other way line up. In other words, with actual trade we buy things from other countries and they buy things from us.

In our country's current trade regime, however, "trade" is used as a justification and enabler for closing American factories and moving American jobs to places where people are paid less and the environment is not protected, and bringing the same goods that used to be made here back here and selling them in the same outlets. The people who used to employ those American workers can then pocket the wage and environmental-protection-cost differential; the country gets a massive trade deficit.

The Times article quotes corporate economists who, "like most economists," explain that "we all" benefit because "lower prices" result when things are made somewhere else by people who are paid almost nothing. (Apparently moving our jobs out of the country is good for us.) It does not address the inequality and economywide worker wage stagnation that has resulted from these policies. It ignores that our country has had enormous, humongous trade deficits every single year since "free trade" ideology became dominant in elite thinking. Oh well.

This is the reason for the disconnect in American thinking about trade. Elites tell us "free trade" is good but voters can see and feel that what this country has actually been doing has been bad for them. Americans like the idea of actual trade, but they hate our country's trade deals. They are rational; they see that the "trade" deals have really been about moving jobs to benefit corporate elites and they see and feel the terrible results of this all around them.

What About Clinton?

Note that the story specifically names Sanders as on the "far left," while candidate Hillary Clinton also claims to oppose the trade deals that shipped jobs and the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), also claims to be as "progressive" as Sanders, and has taken many of the same positions on most issues as Sanders. The reporters apparently simply do not believe her. There's that old credibility problem cropping up in the strangest places.

This exposes what will likely be one of Clinton's biggest problems in the coming election if she and Trump are the nominees. As the Times story notes, Trump has built his campaign partly on a popular and resonating message about how our trade deals have hurt the country. Clinton says she opposes TPP and other bad trade deals, but no one believes her.

This election will be at least partly, if not mostly, about trade. The consequences of decades of moving jobs out of the country are coming home to roost. People are fed up. This means Clinton needs to toughen up her trade policies - and mean it. She should start by calling on President Obama not to submit TPP to Congress, The public gets it, Clinton better get it, too.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Hillarybots, You Blew It! Thanks for Another Decade of War, Misery, and Scandal

Anis Shivani   |   April 27, 2016    4:11 PM ET

"Hillary looks so beautiful after a victory, radiant, as if she's just had a night of passionate sex with a stranger. She feeds on victory as cops do on doughnuts." -- Facebook post by poet Nada Gordon, New York City.

New York Hillarybots are the same as Hillarybots everywhere. Only ten times worse. They were presented with a golden opportunity to stick it to the establishment that has been screwing us over for decades, making us all miserable (yes, even you New Yorkers), but they went with the cynical choice. And the majority of you voted knowing you were making the cynical choice.

It's not as if Sanders's was some quixotic Ralph Nader-type campaign, or he was some Green Party maverick. This was the real deal. The only way to have done this was not to start a third party, in our undemocratic system, but to take over an existing party from within. Precisely what Trump is doing. Sanders gave clear signals to progressives that he never wanted to be identified with the corrupt Democratic party establishment, and you had a problem with that?

Again, we're talking about the real deal. Bernie has drawn even with Hillary in national polls. Since polling began on him a year ago he has consistently done better than Hillary against every potential Republican nominee. But you, Hillarybots, went for someone who would be handily beaten by any Republican not named Trump or Cruz. You cannot argue that you made the safe electoral choice. You made the unsafe electoral choice, desperately wanting to preserve what your generation has already socked away, hidden from our prying eyes.

The differences between the two couldn't have been clearer. It was like Bush v. Gore all over again. Bernie even managed to arrange the debate in your own backyard, so you, New York Hillarybots, could see for yourself. In that last debate, his forthright opinions were a stark rebuke to the obfuscation Hillary offered on every issue. She wouldn't give a straight answer to a single question, as she never has in her entire political life. This is not some personality flaw. It is a clever tactic designed to accomplish in office, by incremental measures, what the right-wing ultimately wants. Make no mistake, you deliberately spurned the clear progressive choice--who offered a clarity we haven't had in my lifetime!--for the one who acts like a macho warrior in female clothing.

Some of my gay friends in New York voted for Hillary and bragged about it. Gay progressive friends voted for she who, until recently, like any old right-winger, talked about the sanctity of the man-woman relationship, the way the Methodist God himself intended it! Many of the literary people I know in New York voted for Hillary, she who doesn't have a humanist instinct in her, she who always reaches for the unimaginative concession to the dark forces rather than seeking a bold vision.

What, exactly, did you like about her, New York Hillarybots? The way she always resorts to talking about doing something "incremental"--whether it's on climate change or a living wage or college tuition or health care or mass incarceration--as a way of promoting and legitimizing precisely the kinds of policies that represent a step backward on each of these issues? You can see clearly what her trick is, you know what she's up to and which side she stands with, but you, small property-owners to the core, voted for her anyway.

You know that taking away welfare, as she and her husband did in the 1990s, was never meant to take us to some enhanced welfare system, it was just a destructive end goal, and nothing good followed it. You know that when she talks about tinkering with loans for college or tinkering with the Affordable Care Act, she is only legitimizing the privatization of services that ought to be provided for free by government in any decent democracy, as your bête noire Bernie likes to remind you.

It wasn't long ago that college was indeed more or less free. Heck, I went to college in the late eighties and early nineties, and it was mostly free then. Community college was mostly free. Great public institutions of learning were more or less free. The Ivy League gave you substantial aid, regardless of your means, so you weren't saddled with debt. We are not talking about some pie-in-the-sky scheme, we are talking about reality as it existed less than a generation ago, not to mention earlier when higher education didn't cost much in this country. And single-payer health care, as the rest of the civilized world provides it, is that too much of a stretch for you Hillarybots?

And minorities in New York, you fell for this whole shtick of Bill was the first black president, or the black community just loves the Clintons! These are the folks who gave you the enhanced war on drugs, harsher criminal penalties, letting loose cops in your communities with increased powers, painting one and all who's poor--black, white, or brown--as responsible for their own misery and weaning them away from expecting help from government. This Hillary, the natural antithesis of everything that should matter to you, you voted for her and rejected the guy who wants to make your life easier, give you free health care and higher education, give you a breather, for heaven's sake, it's not like he's promising to turn us overnight into Scandinavia. Just a little breather, for a change, you didn't even want that, Hillarybots?

Definition of a Hillarybot, Encyclopedia of Politics, Entry #2,383

A person of apparently civilized demeanor, often older than fifty, with a healthy pension fund and a decent college education, who has a nice job and either has or aspires to have grandchildren, who drives a safe Japanese vehicle, and regularly tunes into NPR to affirm liberal credentials. Unusually impervious to logic and rationality, turning every discussion, from buying a house to where to vacation, into what is practical and what is not. Mocks idealists, dreamers, and utopians under the age of thirty who dream of a better world. Keeps up a social media drumbeat about how anyone who says anything against her idol is a misogynist who will be called out! Justifies her idol's every sell-out by repeating the same litany of sophisms, i.e., "Hillary knows how to get things done, Hillary is practical and will work with the other side, nothing can be had for free and those who promise it are delusional, Hillary has been there and done that, we cannot ask for more." Sees herself (she's typically an older female) as having come by every little scrap she's earned through her own efforts alone, nobody gave her anything for free, and goshdarnit, she's not going to stand for a candidate who promises stuff for free, she's with the "realist" candidate who says we can only do a little bit more, perhaps, it's best to preserve what we've already got (with the right Supreme Court justices in place we get to keep Planned Parenthood, yay!). Keeps herself at a slight distance from the scruffier youthful types, who, to be honest, scare her a bit with all the talk of the 1% and the 99%, she was not raised to grow up in an America defined by class warfare, what's next, revolution? What happens to the grandkids in a revolution? No, it has to be a firm, steady hand at the wheel, to keep things going as they are, we're still the greatest country on earth, right? And she's a woman, for god's sake, she's had to fight for every little privilege that's come her way, she's even had to put up with that philanderer Bill for a lifetime, and this wrinkly old socialist guy from Brooklyn thinks he's going to step in, grab hold of a party he doesn't even belong to, and just take it away from her?
It makes sense that this had to happen in New York, the home of the folks who gave us the intellectual justification for the endless war on terror, for hatred and violence in perpetuity around the world, for an economic system that enslaves everyone not lucky enough to know the rules of the elite and play by them. Of course this crash to reality had to happen in the center of the American media world, the publishing world, the artistic world, the financial world. And yet you want to blame Texas and those backward Southern states for making the wrong choices?

You've already got your own, your little bit of property, your free education (of course you got it for free if you're above, say, 40 or 50), but you want to roll up the welcome mat behind you, you want to be sure no one else gets what you got. You don't say it that way, of course, you rationalize it in the language of "realism" Hillary uses, but we get it, you've done nothing less than declare war on every humane value we believe in, you are determined to have this misery outlast the rest of our lives, you're determined that all this idealism and search for honesty and feminine values ends right away, right now, just as soon as Hillary takes over and starts some new wars or escalates another round of misery at home.

But you're wrong, wrong, wrong! We Berniebros will not give up so easily.

You, in the center of the world, or what passes for it, have nothing much to lose and everything to be afraid of. But what if those you think of as the masses, looking in from the outside, demand that they want some of what you have too? That's what this whole Hillary worship is about, isn't it, to stop that from happening?

To do what you have done is to acquiesce in the racism, imperialism, and classism of the Democratic party establishment, ever since it was taken over by the Clinton machine. And you went with that, not with the guy who told he was going to keep a distance from the stink, you went with the candidate who's right at the heart of the financial machinations to deprive everyone who is not part of the elite a fair shot at a decent life.

Thank you New York Hillarybots. Hang on to your Brooklyn brownstone and your Upper East Side digs because in the ravages of chaos and war and dislocation your macho candidate is going to engineer, you're going to have to keep close watch on every bit of what you've already got stashed away.

I promise you, we're not going away. We know that by voting for Hillary you compromised the health of planet earth by who knows what magnitude, because there is not a destructive policy she will not pursue in the name of capitalism. But in the end the small-minded ideology you represent will cease to exist, like your forerunners in either party who were enraged by the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s. The next Bernie Sanders will even look young and handsome like Justin Trudeau (your worst nightmare, right?), because either the earth as we know it ends, or we move into a more humane arrangement than you Hillarybots can abide. Both cannot be true. So goodbye Paul Krugman, goodbye New York poets and writers, goodbye all of you Hillarybots who showed us your true colors and made us see where not to look for allies.

And yes, your mockery, Hillarybots, of Bush and Palin and Mitt and Trump and Cruz has no meaning at all now. You are the problem, you've always been the problem, you in the Democratic party who've long supported the candidates of war and misery and debt. But just think, we have gone from Ralph Nader, unable to get on the debate stage, to 30,000-person rallies in the heart of the Hillarybot establishment in New York. There will be another Bernie, there will be countless Berniebros, who will finish the job and take us again to America's promise.

Anis Shivani's most recent books are Karachi Raj: A Novel, Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems, and Soraya: Sonnets (forthcoming June 2016). Both Sides of the Divide: Observing the Sublime and the Mundane in Contemporary American Writing will be out later this year.

Sanders's Failed Revolution

Stefan Hankin   |   April 25, 2016   11:12 AM ET

There is little doubt that Bernie Sanders has done far better than expected when he initially declared he was running for president. But with his defeat in New York, his chances of winning the Democratic nomination and becoming the president are small at best. With these defeats, it would appear that the "revolution" he personifies has suffered a grave and insurmountable setback. While Bernie Sanders not winning the presidency will certainly be problematic for the cause, the bigger problem for the "revolution" is that it never had a chance of succeeding to begin with. This vision of millions of working class voters banding together to elect very liberal representatives and pass Sanders' vision of free college for all, single-payer healthcare, getting money out of politics, substantial tax increases on the rich, etc. was doomed to run into the institutional buzzsaw specifically designed to avoid radical change that is the U.S. Senate.

Imagine a world where Bernie Sanders somehow succeeds. He won the presidency. Millions of detached first-time voters actually show up and provide a huge down ballot wave allowing Democrats to win all of the remotely plausible Senate seats in play (New Hampshire, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, Missouri, and North Carolina). This gives Democrats a 54 to 46 lead in the Senate. Let's take it a step further and say that not only do Democrats retake the Senate, but they achieve the virtually impossible and win the House as well.

Alas, even if these extremely unlikely set of circumstances were to come to pass, Bernie would still be on a path leading nowhere. Perhaps if the whole Senate was up for election in 2016, like the House is, it would be possible for Bernie's millions of new voters to truly overwhelm the status quo and elect a strongly liberal majority. Unfortunately for Bernie's Revolution, this was exactly the type of thing the Founding Fathers were trying to prevent when they created the Senate. Senate elections are staggered with only a third of the Senate up for re-election at any time. This means to get a more dominate progressive majority the Revolution would need to be sustained over several cycles.

But let's push on. Now that the easy part of winning the 2016 election is over, President Sanders would turn to implementing the agenda his legions of supporters pushed for. Here he runs into his first set of problems. With just 54 Democratic Senators, Bernie would be working with six less than President Obama had when they barely passed Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act, both of which Bernie wants to replace with even more liberal versions. Like Obama, Bernie would almost certainly not have any Republicans to go along with his policies, meaning any filibuster would simply render his agenda inert.

The only other option to get his agenda implemented is to completely do away with the filibuster. Again this is exceptionally unlikely to happen; Senators Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly, Claire McCaskill and Jon Tester to name a few of the more moderate Democratic Senators are not going to vote to eliminate the filibuster for proposals that they are unlikely to vote for anyway.

Sanders' challenge would be two-fold going forward into 2018. Moderate Democratic Senators would need to be replaced by more liberal candidates that can still win the general election, and they would have to elect liberal Senators in states currently represented by Republicans. There is little evidence that Sanders' supporters have the numbers to elect liberal options in primaries. In Illinois, Tammy Duckworth crushed her liberal challengers, Patrick Murphy has led most of the recent polling against Alan Grayson, and it remains to be seen if Loretta Sanchez or Kamala Harris will win in California.

If the new voters can't elect more liberal Senators and Representatives in this year's primaries, it would leave a President Sanders in a position where he we be unlikely to achieve much in his first two years. Given Bernie's thoughts on President Clinton's and Obama's "half-loaves" approach, it is very unlikely that he would give in to get part of what he wants. Even if he did agree to compromise to achieve some of his goals, it would likely reduce his standing in the eyes of those that view him as beyond politics as usual.

Two years into his presidency, it's hard to see how Bernie would have achieved any of his revolutionary vision. That or he has "sold out" (his words, not ours) to move forward with partial reforms. Then we'd arrive at the 2018 midterms, when the president's party historical does quite poorly and Democrats have to defend a lot of seats. Indeed, Democrats would need to defend sitting Senators, or win with more liberal candidates, in MT, ND, IN, MO (to name a few) and then win six more seats. These six would need to come from NV, UT, AZ, TX, WY, NE, TN, and MS, not exactly a list of liberal leaning states. Further complicating the math is imagine you are one of the millions of formerly disillusioned or first-time voters that Bernie drew to the polls to win in 2016, are you really going to come out to the polls again after Bernie has been unable to deliver on the promises in the first two years? We think it is far more likely that those voters will go back to sitting out. Democrats will get shellacked once again in the midterms, and none of Sanders' initiatives would ever be implemented.

Bernie Sanders' "revolution" is great short-term politics, that even had it been successful would have set him up for long-term failure when he was unable to deliver on his promises. In a lot other countries, a Bernie Sanders-type candidate could ride a wave of political support and remake the country in a single cycle. However, the design of America's political institutions simply doesn't allow short-term bursts of political activity to overwhelm the system. Instead, if Democrats want to continue to push the country in a more progressive direction, the Democratic Party will have to maintain a sustained focus on all elections; Senate, House, state and local, not just the presidency. It's not quite as catchy a slogan, but it actually has a chance to produce lasting results.

What Dilma Rousseff Can Teach Americans About Hillary Clinton

Colt Jensen   |   April 25, 2016   12:00 AM ET

With Hillary Clinton's recent victory in New York, her path to becoming the first female nominee for the Democratic party has become much more clear, but her victory in New York wasn't the only vote that garnered major headlines in the last week. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff also lost the first vote in her now official impeachment process. On the surface, these two events may seem unrelated, but I want to analyze the factors that connects these two events. Before we start, let's thankfully acknowledge all the gender barriers these two women have broken, and assume for the sake of convenience that current polls hold true and Clinton will beat Sanders, then Cruz or Trump, and become president.

Now, let's look at the time before Rousseff's historic rise to the presidency and Clinton's presumable rise to presidency. For starters, both were involved in major scandals that greatly damaged their credibility before they took office. For Rousseff it was the Petrobras scandal which occurred, at least in part, while Rousseff was the chairwoman of the state-owned oil company. Brazilian prosecutors in "Operacão Lava Jato" unveiled a multi-billion dollar and multiyear corruption scandal within the state-owned Petrobras. Though criminal charges haven't been filed against President Dilma for any part or any role she may have had in the scandal, but her credibility was irreparably damaged.

Hillary Clinton had a similarly troubled time as head of her own government agency before for her presidential campaign. It all starts with what president Obama calls the "Worst Mistake" of his presidency, and that is the US intervention in Libya. That Obama's regret is relevant to Clinton because The New York Times has documented how persuasive secretary Clinton was in convincing Obama to make the decision intervene and take part in the overthrow of Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi. Since the US helped overthrow Gaddafi the country has become a safe haven for ISIS and case study in political unrest and civil war. That resulting political unrest in Libya led to the death of US ambassador Chris Stevens and his staff, and the subsequent follow-up investigation into the Benghazi embassy attack led to her the release of her personal emails and her now famous "e-mail scandal." The e-mail scandal, Benghazi attack, and this poor foreign policy decision have plagued Clinton throughout the campaign election cycle. At one point, a YouGov poll found that she was viewed as the most dishonest candidate in both parties, and yes that means the poll found her to viewed as less honest than even Donald Trump -- that in large part is due to voters concern with these Benghazi-related incidents. Clinton, like Rousseff, has not yet been formally charged with any legal wrong doings in these matters.

The fact that both leaders have faced similar troubles before their ascension to the presidency, or in Clinton's case presumably ascension, is not where the similarities end. Dilma Rousseff inherited an economy that GDP had grown significantly during the previous presidency of her mentor President Lula, who recently made headlines when he was detained and questioned about his involvement in the Petrobras scandal, and Clinton will also inherit an well recovered economy with an unemployment rate about half of what her predecessor inherited. Now why does this matter? It matters because the exact same thing that is happening to president Dilma Rousseff in Brazil could happen to a future president Clinton here, so let's look at how this could happen.

Currently, President Rousseff is being impeached not because of her involvement in the Petrobras scandal, but for allegedly tampering with state funds to make the economy seem better than it was during her reelection campaign. NPR reported this charge is deemed "insubstantial" by many legal analysts. So, what's essentially happening is Brazilians are taking their frustration with a weakening economy out on their president, because before she took office economically things were improving and prospects were bright, and now things are going downhill and people are taking it out their president. The Brazilian people already had very little trust in her and the presidency after news of the Petrobras scandal broke, and speaking from personal experience I can say that there was already a growing number of people who were dissatisfied with her election and the PT's (workers party) long, almost 14-year reign of power. Those that I spoke with who didn't vote for Dilma in 2014 were livid when she narrowly won reelection by 3%. Now let's draw some parallels with the USA and Clinton. The economy may be recovering, but there are any number of factors which could send it back into turmoil. There is already a growing number of people even within her own party that are dissatisfied with her, and with the conventional democratic party, which has helped fuel the rise of Bernie Sanders. That number dissatisfied would likely grow in the face of economic hardships. If this economic/general dissatisfaction were to mount, finding a legal ground for impeachment would be simple, because a president takes so much legal action that it would be not to find at least one decision that isn't legally spotless. The resulting political turmoil of an impeachment could serve to deepen economic woes, and cause political destabilization or at least increase general distrust of government. It's not a guaranteed dystopian event that is going to happen or an event that is even necessarily very likely to happen, but when looking towards the election and the future we must be aware of what our vote could mean.

For Clinton To Beat Trump, She Must Toughen Up on Trade

Dave Johnson   |   April 22, 2016   10:54 AM ET

Yes, much of Donald Trump's message has a white nationalist and anti-woman character to it. But here is a warning: If Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee she had better get tough on trade - and mean it.

One of Donald Trump' main elements of appeal to his voters - if not the main appeal - is his stance on trade and bringing jobs back to America. It is a winning message and Clinton is waaaayyyy behind the curve on this.

Much Of Trump Appeal Based On Trade

Much of Trump's campaign message is about how our country's trade deals have wiped out jobs. On Day 1 much of his speech announcing that he was running was about trade. From the transcript, here is some of the trade talk:

"That's right - a lot of people up there can't get jobs. They can't get jobs because there are no jobs because China has our jobs and Mexico has our jobs. They all have our jobs.

[. . .] I'm going to tell you a couple of stories about trade, because I'm totally against the trade bill for a number of reasons.

... Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have people that are stupid. We have people that aren't smart, and we have people that are controlled by special interests and it's just not going to work.

So here's a couple of stories. Happened recently, a friend of mine is a great manufacturer, and you know, China comes over and they dump all their stuff.

... And it's impossible for our people here to compete. So I want to tell you this story. Friend of mine if a great manufacturer. Calls me up a few weeks ago, he's very upset.

I said, 'What's your problem?'

He said, 'You know, I make a great product.'

I said, 'I know, I know that, because I buy the product.'

He said, 'I can't get it into China. They won't accept it. I sent a boat over and they actually sent it back. They talked about environmental, they talked about all sorts of crap that had nothing to do with it.'

I said, 'Oh, wait a minute, that's terrible. Did anyone know this?'

He said, 'They do it all the time with other people.'

I said, 'They send it back?'

He said, 'Yea, so I finally got it over there, and they charged me a big tariff.'

They're not supposed to be doing that. I told him. Now they do charge you tariffs on trucks when we send trucks and other things over there.

Ask Boeing. They wanted all their patents and secrets before they agreed to buy planes from Boeing.

Hey, I'm not saying they're stupid. I like China. I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?

There's much more if you keep reading. From that moment on in his campaign, he has continued to talk and talk and talk about trade.

Trade and jobs are at the center of Trump's appeal. He rightly says China is killing us on trade and taking jobs, and people listen. He wrongly says that immigrants are taking people's jobs, but people believe it and people listen. But it's all jobs, jobs, jobs, and it's a powerful message.

Well-To-Do Donor Class Likes Trade As It Is

America's well-to-do elites think everything is going fine. Their stock portfolios are way up, so they're feeling good. They're writing op-eds about how well things are going and how our corporate paradigm is doing so well for us and the world. The elite "donor class" is giving huge sums to "continuity" politicians. This is elites talking to other elites and not at all hearing what is going on in the country.

Donald Trump is not dependent on this donor class and he is saying that things are not fine, that wages are not going up, that jobs are hard to find, that trade is killing us. So people for whom things are not going fine, for whom jobs are hard to find, for whom wages are not going up and who trade is killing are listening. And that is most people in the U.S.

A Must-Read On Trump And Trade

There is a must-read on Trump and trade at Bloomberg: Trump Wave Builds in a Steel Town Forsaken by the World Economy

The town of Johnstown was devastated by floods not once, not twice, but three times in less than a century. Then came the economic wave that washed away the steel industry, and with it a way of life.

Now a backlash is building in the maple-studded hills of southwestern Pennsylvania. Captured in interviews and confirmed in statewide polls, the sentiment is propelling Donald Trump toward the Republican nomination, and possibly even the presidency of the world's biggest economy.

It's the feeling people get when they're afraid of being left behind.

"This town is beyond distressed. We've been destroyed. It's sad, because this was a good place to grow up. You didn't have to lock your door," said Robert Vargo, 63, as he talked politics with a friend in a McDonald's. The retired Johnstown native, who worked as a security guard despite having an engineering degree, plans to vote for Trump. "People are sick of being ignored. That's why Trump is popular. He's actually saying the things people are afraid to express."

Why Trump? Simple: trade.

Trump's proposed remedy has already helped him win in places that resemble Johnstown: in the Rust Belt that used to make up the country's manufacturing heartland, and down through the Appalachians, rich in coal but racked by poverty. The billionaire argues that decades of "disastrous" trade deals and immigration policies have destroyed the American middle class. He's promised to slap tariffs on Chinese goods, deport illegal immigrants and force Mexico to pay for a border wall.

Just go read it...

Clinton Not Tough On Trade

Hillary Clinton is not seen as someone who will fight against our country's corporate-driven trade policies. In the most recent New York primary exit polls, for example, voters who self-describe as pro-trade voted for Clinton over Sanders 61 percent to 39 percent. In Michigan voters who feel trade takes away jobs voted for Sanders 56 percent to 41 percent.

Clinton has been hedging. For example, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) she said, just before the first Democratic primary debate, "based on what I know so far, I can't support this agreement." But she also said, "I still believe in the goal of a strong and fair trade agreement in the Pacific as part of a broader strategy both at home and abroad, just as I did when I was secretary of state."

Clinton has said she will not lobby her supporters to vote against TPP and other such corporate-dominated agreements. She has not said that TPP and other corporate-dominated trade supporters won't be invited into her administration. She certainly will not demand that Obama withdraw TPP from consideration by Congress.

The result? Clinton has a credibility problem on trade. Almost no one believes her. (See "Chamber of Commerce Lobbyist Tom Donohue: Clinton Will Support TPP After Election.")

"Pro-trade" voters vote for her. "Pro-trade" donors continue to give the max to her campaign. In fact, this hedging has left the donor and corporate class believing she is on their side, that she supports the "free trade" agenda that has killed off so many jobs, factories, entire industries, entire regions and left us with enormous, humongous trade deficits year after year after year - while making a very few at the top wealthy beyond belief.

Clinton is hedging, leaving herself room to appeal to the donor and corporate class. But if Clinton "moves to the center" on trade after the convention, as business and donor community believes she will, she risks losing those voters who feel that these trade agreements have ruined their lives, their towns, their regions and their country.

Will they believe she is against these trade deals? Or will they turn to Trump?

Warnings

A few past warnings:

"Trump Taps Into Economic Anxiety Resulting From 'Free Trade'":

Trump is tapping into an economic anxiety felt by many, many Americans. Our trade policies are at the root of this anxiety, and Trump knows it and says it, and people nod their heads.

... If you go to the "flyover states" and even vast parts of the coastal states you see towns, cities and entire regions where shops, gas stations, even entire shopping centers are closed and boarded up. You see empty houses with the porches collapsing and roofs caving in, and somewhere you will find the "old factory" - a fenced-off empty building with broken windows and weeds growing in the cracks in the parking lot...

People Believe This Is From Trade Policies

What happened? Factories closed and jobs dried up and our government didn't do a thing about it. This left people competing for what's left of the jobs.

"'Free Trade': The Elites Are Selling It But The Public Is Longer Buying"

"Donald Trump Was Correct About TPP And China"

"Why Trump Gets Traction From Trade":

Donald Trump is getting traction. He is talking about trade, jobs, China, manufacturing, China, jobs, China and China -- and it is resonating with a public sick of being told to ignore what they can see in front of their faces. "Nobody, other than OPEC, is ripping off the United States like China," he says. And he climbs in the polls.

"Trade Shapes Wisconsin Primary"


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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America's Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary and/or for the Progress Breakfast.

Why Clinton Ranks With Trump as the Most Disliked Candidates in History

Earl Ofari Hutchinson   |   April 20, 2016    9:58 AM ET

In any other time and place it would be the most idiotic and unbelievable headline one could imagine. The headline being that Hillary Clinton ranks close to Trump as the two most hated candidates in the history of American presidential elections. That's a lot of years and a lot of candidates for her to get one of the most disliked of candidates tag. It's no mystery why Trump is loathed by so many. He's worked doubly and triply hard to earn his race to the bottom ratings. The hideous string of Trump inanities, bigoted jibes, idiotic rants, bloviated and inflammatory incitements, and just thick headed contempt for one and all have been on ample display from the moment he announced he was a presidential candidate,

But Hillary in company with him on the most disliked list, why? I mean Trump's well-earned and deserved stratospheric negatives have been pretty consistent from day one. This isn't the case with Clinton. Before she formally announced her presidential bid last April, she got overwhelmingly high popularity marks as a much admired public official.

Then things changed, and changed radically. Her favorability numbers steadily marched South. Her unfavorable numbers, unlike Trump's consistently low ball status, have steadily marched higher with each passing poll. The prime, but by no means only, culprit for this is the Republican National Committee. It put her dead in its hit sights and vowed to do everything possible to render her candidacy stillborn even before it officially became a candidacy. It not so subtly recycled the old trumped up scandals of the past from Whitewater to the Lewinsky scandal. It then cranked out a sneering "poor Hillary" video that touted Hillary's quip that she and Bill were "dead broke" when they left the White House. It then intimated that she shook down poor cash strapped universities for her alleged outrageous speaking fees. It latched on to and played it for all it was worth the phony, totally manufactured, scandals and alleged wrongdoing from Benghazi to her State Department emails. It churned out clip after carefully edited clip of Clinton's testimony before dirt digging, inquisition GOP controlled congressional committees that attempted to make her look and sound like a chronic and inveterate liar.

The aim was to embarrass and discredit her not because of her alleged missteps as Secretary of State, but as a 2016 presidential candidate. Republicans got what they wanted when their phony accusations against her of cover-up and incompetence got tons of media chatter and focus and raised the first shadow of public doubt. The doubt quickly ballooned into the image of Clinton in the mind of many as a shifty eyed and shifty talking candidate who every time she opened her mouth grew a Pinocchio length nose. This ballooned even more into the image of her as a slick politician who would change positions on issues faster than a Blackjack dealer shuffling a card deck.

Then there is Sanders's sledgehammer attacks on her alleged cozy ties to Wall Street. That's been sprinkled with hefty whispering and rumor mongering over her supposed outsized fees for talks to Goldman Sachs and other Wall Streeters. This further paints Clinton as a greedy, bought and paid for politician in the hip pocket of big money interests.

The GOP Clinton smear team has planted just enough seeds of doubt and distrust among a wide swatch of the public that it could momentarily turn things over to the Sander's campaign, the pollsters, and the legions of now encrusted Hillary loathers. They have pilloried, ridiculed and lambasted her for all of her alleged political and personal sins.

The problem in trying to make Clinton the flip side of the political coin of Trump in repulsiveness is that she gets consistently high marks from a wide body of the public for her experience, political competence and savvy. Also, a solid majority of African-American, Hispanic, labor, women, and LGBT voters have remained firmly in her vote columns. The New York primary result convincingly showed that. These are the core Democrats who count the most and are the Democrats who are most likely to march to the polls in November to vote for her.

Voters do want a president they can trust to say and do the right thing both on the issues and in their dealing with the public. But they also want a president who is experienced, well-versed, thoughtful, and firm in dealing with the inevitable crises that will confront the country, here and abroad. There's absolutely no hint in the polls or anywhere else that the general public has shut down on Clinton on this vital area of concern. One need look no further than the GOP candidate, unlike Clinton, who genuinely earned and deserved his most hated moniker to confirm that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is From Sanders to Trump: A Guide to the 2016 Presidential Primary Battles (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Saturdays 9:00 AM on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network

Senator Sanders Was Wrong to Claim Clinton Is Unqualified

John A. Tures   |   April 19, 2016   12:00 AM ET

In 1936, Gallup polled people, asking "Would you vote for a woman for President, if she were qualified in every other respect?" This question, and other examples of surveys targeting women in politics, is documented by Vicky Randall in her book Women and Politics: An International Perspective. Unfortunately, the latest example of such behavior came 80 years later from an unlikely source: Senator Bernie Sanders.

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At a rally at Temple University in Philadelphia, according to Politico, Senator Sanders told the crowd "We have won, we have won seven out of eight of the recent primaries and caucuses. And she has been saying lately that she thinks that I am, quote unquote, not qualified to be president."

"Well let me, let me just say in response to Secretary Clinton: I don't believe that she is qualified if she is, if she is, through her super PAC, taking tens of millions of dollars in special interest funds," he said. "I don't think you are qualified if you get $15 million from Wall Street through your super PAC." Sanders added "I don't think you are qualified if you have voted for the disastrous war in Iraq. I don't think you are qualified if you've supported virtually every disastrous trade agreement, which has cost us millions of decent-paying jobs. I don't think you are qualified if you supported the Panama free trade agreement, something I very strongly opposed and which, as all of you know, has allowed corporations and wealthy people all over the world to avoid paying their taxes to their countries."

Clinton's campaign and Philadelphia supporters pointed out that their candidate never said Sanders was unqualified, and demanded he take back his words, according to Hanna Trudo and Nick Gass with Politico.

In Sanders' defense, Clinton did dodge questions about whether Sanders was qualified, after he gave a poor interview with the New York Daily News, even as she endorsed him over Republican rivals. But she did avoid calling him unqualified, a term Sanders couldn't resist using, as so many have done in the past.

Robert Borosage wrote a column defending Sanders. "But the kerfuffle was all nonsense. Sanders doesn't think Clinton is "unqualified," as he quickly acknowledged. He has repeatedly paid respect to her experience and qualifications. And the rhetorical misstatement frankly wasn't all that harsh."

Actually, Sanders did directly say Clinton was unqualified. And he said it repeatedly in his statements in front of a large crowd. It was unnecessary, as it clearly detracted from some otherwise good points Sanders was making about Clinton's record. And it played into the old attacks that female candidates have had to repeatedly face over the years. The old Gallup poll question about "would you vote for a woman for President if she was qualified" is frequently given to voters, with results that hyped in the press (even if only five percent say no, the press will claim it will cost her in a close race). Nobody asks "would you vote for a white male if he was qualified?"

Borosage cites the 2008 election as a nastier one about qualifications. But both Obama and Clinton refrained from calling each other unqualified, as they made subtle jabs at each other. Sanders is a long-time politician and a seasoned pro at campaigning. He knows what he's doing.

If Sanders loses the primaries, historians are likely to cite this moment as a critical mistake, a gaffe that blunted his momentum after beating Clinton in several states.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.

A Clinton Presidency Would Not Be a Victory For Progressives

Dr. Milton Mankoff   |   April 14, 2016    7:11 PM ET

The positive case for supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination is not that she is clearly more electable. Sanders has been doing better against all Republicans in matchups for some time. It is true the GOP will red-bait Sanders and reduce his chances to win in November, but that effort might well ultimately fail. The Cold War is over and polls show he is personally the most likeable of all candidates. This matters to many independent voters and tends to undercut claims that he is the second coming of Lenin.

Moreover, Clinton will also be the subject of vicious attacks, some of which will be new, e.g., any damaging information found to make the Clinton Foundation look like the headquarters of the Bavarian Illuminati or, more realistically, an enterprise in which wealthy contributors to the Foundation, some of whom have dubious financial or political records, received special favors from Clinton when she was Secretary of State, or would if she became President.

Instead, the primary argument her supporters cite is her superior experience and knowledge of the nuts and bolts of policies and how to get them through Congress. Clinton is conversant in the minutiae of more domestic and foreign policy issues than Sanders, but this is a less powerful argument than it might appear. Clinton's domestic policy wonkiness is only relevant if, as President, she could actually implement her domestic agenda.

The Democrats have an excellent chance to win back the Senate, though unlikely a super-majority sufficient to override a filibuster. More significantly, they have only a very slim chance to win back the House. Thus, Clinton's domestic agenda, and Sanders', should he win, will almost surely never be enacted. The claim that more of hers will be passed, because it is more moderate, ignores the fate of President Obama, who is to the right of her on domestic policy. In his second term, Republicans blocked everything he tried to achieve that was even moderately progressive. Eventually he gave up. Republicans just needed to have control of one legislative chamber to veto his proposals. Clinton can utilize executive orders, as Obama ultimately resorted to, but that's it. Sanders could do the same, but the scope of executive orders are limited. In regard to economic policies, they cover federal purchasing policies and 3 million federal employees. Nothing to sneeze at, but hardly transformative,

It's true that Clinton will be the first woman President. That has undoubted symbolic value and will be a source of pride and encouragement to women. A solid majority of women voting in Democratic primaries support her, however, a Clinton administration is no more likely, in itself, to affect women in general than Obama's being the first black President fundamentally changed black lives.

Younger women, in particular, seem to be supporting Sanders, probably because the pervasive sexism that affected the lives of older women is not perceived to be nearly as characteristic of their own. Moreover, like Obama vis-a-vis blacks, Clinton might believe she has to bend over backwards not to appear to be prioritizing legislation specifically targeting women's unique needs. But, even if that were not true, or she refused to trim her sails, Republican obstructionism would block her initiatives.

Those intending to vote for Clinton over Sanders, therefore, have to face the reality that they will primarily be getting half-a-loaf: her foreign policy, the one area in which presidential power is largely unchecked by Congress. But doesn't Clinton have superior experience in that area? No doubt this is true, but her foreign policy inclinations would be Republican-lite. She admires and even vacations with unindicted co-conspirator Henry Kissinger and those whose mindset is comparable--support friendly dictators, not popular movements against them; undercut democratically elected leaders who are to the left--as in Honduras; propose corporate friendly trade policies. The foreign leaders Clinton has known and embraced, like Egypt's Mubarak, have often been hated by their own people.

Jimmy Carter has recently said he admired John Kerry's tenure as Secretary of State, but Clinton "took very little action" to bring about world peace. Her full embrace of the Netanyahu government's relentless territorial expansion at the expense of the Palestinians is no different from the mainstream Republican position, perhaps to the right of Donald Trump, who says he will at least pretend to be neutral in that conflict.

Ironically, American Jews have supported a two-state policy and overwhelmingly supported President Obama when he criticized Netanyahu's extremism. But, Clinton is more interested in the views of American Jews who are willing to raise millions for her campaign: staunch Netanyahu supporters, such as billionaire Haim Saban. Her recent speech to AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the powerful lobby that supports Netanyahu, opposed the Iran nuclear deal, and raises millions of dollars to support candidates who endorse right-wing Israeli positions, barely paid lip service to Palestinians. More than any other issue, America's unwillingness to distance itself from Israeli policies has undermined claims to be champions of human rights and given additional convincing ammunition in the propaganda war the: U.S. does not think Muslim lives matter.

Sanders' foreign policy views contrast sharply with Clinton's. His chances of winning the nomination, at this point, appear very slim, but not hopeless. Clinton or Sanders should win in November, but it would be a pyrrhic victory for progressives if Clinton triumphs, yet in the one area presidents have great power she will not significantly depart from mainstream Republican ideology. Americans will be getting the stale half-a-loaf.

Paige Lavender   |   April 14, 2016   11:21 AM ET

Read More: clinton

During a speech Wednesday at the National Action Network Convention — an event in New York City put on by the Rev. Al Sharpton — former Secretary of State and current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced a new plan to “fight for environmental justice,” which would include eliminating lead as a major public health threat within the next five years.

Why Don't the Candidates Talk About Afghanistan?

Peter Van Buren   |   April 11, 2016    3:24 PM ET

Heading into its sixteenth year, with no endpoint in sight, America's longest war is its least talked about.

Afghanistan has not come up in any Republican or Democratic debate, except perhaps as one of a list of countries where Islamic State must be destroyed (left out is the reality that no Islamic State existed in 2001 when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban, who, by the way, are still not defeated.)

For her part, the only mention of Afghanistan from Hillary Clinton is a vague statement last year of support for Barack Obama's decision to keep 5,500 troops in Afghanistan when he leaves the White House in 2017. Bernie Sanders' web site has a long series of statement-lets that generally say things have not worked out well in Afghanistan, but stays away from much of a stance.

Republican front runner Donald Trump, least at first, was more honest on the situation. "We made a terrible mistake getting involved there in the first place. We had real brilliant thinkers that didn't know what the hell they were doing. And it's a mess. It's a mess. And at this point, you probably have to stay because that thing will collapse about two seconds after they leave. Just as I said that Iraq was going to collapse after we leave."

However, once it was clear no one wanted to handle the truth, Trump quickly walked his statement back, denying that he had characterized U.S. entry into Afghanistan as a mistake and said he had only talked about Iraq.

As the United States appears prepared for an indefinite presence in Afghanistan, what really is the situation on the ground 15 years in?

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, John Sopko, had a few thoughts on what has been achieved in those years, all at the cost of an estimated 149,000 Afghan deaths, alongside 3,515 American/Coalition deaths. No one really knows how much the U.S. has spent in dollars on the war, but one reasonable guess is $685 billion.

Sopko, in remarks recently at Harvard University titled "The Perilous State of Afghan Reconstruction: Lessons from Fifteen Years" said:


-- Conditions are not, to put it mildly, what we would hope to see 15 years into a counterinsurgency and nation-building campaign.

-- Large parts of Afghanistan are effectively off-limits to foreign personnel.

-- Other consequences of insecurity are less headline-grabbing, but are still evil omens for the future of a desperately poor and largely illiterate country. Late last month, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Education was quoted as saying 714 schools have been closed and more than 2.5 million children were being denied schooling, mainly because of the war.

-- Bombings, raids, ambushes, land mines, and temporary seizures of key points can all serve to undermine the government's credibility and affect security force and popular morale.

-- Security is where most of the U.S. reconstruction funding has gone, about 61% of the $113 billion Congress has appropriated since fiscal year 2002, or $68 billion.

-- As a result of the U.S. military draw down in Afghanistan, the Department of Defense has lost much of its ability to collect reliable information on Afghan security capability and effectiveness. We continue to rely on Afghan reporting on unit strengths, a concern because the rolls may contain thousands of "ghost" personnel whose costs we pay and whose absence distorts realistic assessments of Afghan capabilities.

-- Fifteen years into an unfinished work of funding and fighting, we must indeed ask, "What went wrong?" Citing instances of full or partial failures, is part of the answer. But no catalog of imperfections captures the full palette of pathologies or root causes.


A lot of chew on there. Perhaps at some point the media, the voters, or the next debate moderators might inquire of the candidates what their thoughts are.

Trumping Office Politics

Jocelyn Greenky   |   April 6, 2016   12:54 AM ET

Donald Trump has it all. Racism, sexism, misogyny... Everything that would get him fired from pretty much any job in that is. As someone who coaches business leaders on how to foster diversity in the workplace, and in doing so increase their bottom line, I'm amazed Trump has made it this far in his job interview process for the most important job in the country: the job of POTUS.

Let's take a look at some of Trump's recent sound-bytes:

Racism

"When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending the best. They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists... And some, I assume, are good people."

"The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive."

"Laziness is a trait in the blacks. ... Black guys counting my money! I hate it."

Sexism + Misogyny

"All the women on The Apprentice flirted with me -- consciously or unconsciously. That's to be expected."

"Arianna Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man - he made a good decision."

Imagine encountering a boss or a colleague who spoke this way to you. Imagine a boss that would chew you out for your looks, your race or your gender. Not a guy you would want on your team, huh? Me either.

There is a reason companies don't hire racist and sexist leaders and employees. It's called lawsuits and company policy. And lawsuits are costly on many fronts. They cost public good will. They cost customers. They cost sales and earnings.

But there is actually a more important reason why office politics matters and why racism, sexism, and most 'isms' should be avoided. The reality is diverse teams outperform their homogenized Caucasian, male counterparts in boardroom decision making, start-up growth, and stock market gains. According to Forbes, "Companies with a female founder performed 63 percent better than our investments with all-male founding teams." Thanks to communication technology, increased global travel, and several equality movements, the world is more diverse and interconnected than ever before. Which means the only way to stay competitive and understanding the market is to embrace that diversity.

Companies hire me to train them on cross-cultural politics, intergenerational dialogue, and office culture because they understand that to stay competitive they need to attract and retain diverse talent. And America needs to attract and retain diverse talent too if we're going to stay competitive on a global scale.

Look at Elon Musk who is revolutionizing NASA, e-commerce, and transportation. He was not a US born citizen. There are more big names like Oprah. Satya Nadella. Salma Hayek, Mary Barra, Melinda Gates, Ava DuVerney, Shonda Rhimes. The list goes on. Women, minorities, and immigrants of all shapes and sizes are re-shaping the American are tapping into what audiences want and reshaping the American and global marketplace. Immigrant founders started 52 percent of all new Silicon Valley companies between 1995 and 2005, and 21% of Inc. 500 CEO leaders were born outside of the US.

When it comes to business and politics having it all really comes down to having diversity at the top. So the only question left, America, is who do you want on top raising our country's bottom line?

Blurred Lines: When Reality TV, Social Media and Presidential Races Collide

Nia Hamm   |   April 4, 2016   10:03 PM ET

Notwithstanding reality television's success and profitability, there was a time when the genre was considered an outlier in the entertainment industry. Overtime however, its growth into a viable form of entertainment has made it both a birth place of many celebrities as well a virtual stage on which mainstream celebrities attempt to revive their careers. Fast forward past Jersey Shore, The Kardashians, The Real Housewives of Wherever (insert place here) and not only has reality television and many of the break out stars it has spawned surpassed soap operas and traditional news in relevancy for some people, but many reality stars are as much of a household name as some of their more mainstream celebrity counterparts.

Is it any wonder that the presidential candidate who makes up a majority of the campaign political coverage is a former host of a reality show himself? It really shouldn't be. Sure, plenty people are angry and fed up with the nation's elected establishment. Many are desperate for new leadership that will put the people first, keep the country safe and spur economic growth.

However, the ever momentous campaign of Donald Trump, once considered the ugly step-child of the Republican presidential field, has made the him leading contender for the party's presidential nomination. And that is in part a reflection of how many Americans' appetite for entertainment and celebrity culture are influencing their political sensibilities. To be fair the New York businessman was the subject of his fair share of headlines before his hit show, The Apprentice and later Celebrity Apprentice. Though his celebrity status was solidified because of his show, which gave him his first national platform. Mr. Trump also possesses a character trait he shares with a host of other successful reality stars: that attention-grabbing personality that translates into controversial plot lines and ratings hikes. Some of those involved in The Apprentice say Trump is using some of the tactics he learned on the show to his advantage on the campaign trail, something Mr. Trump has denied.

Pundits and strategists have expended a great deal of oxygen debating how this presidential election cycle became circus-like in nature and marred by insults, fractured political parties and policy proposals from candidates that have drawn both criticism and praise from political, religious and world leaders both nationally and abroad. However, the intersectionality of entertainment and politics becomes more apparent as the campaign season draws on and it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that this presidential election is partially emblematic of the nation's evolving taste for entertainment.

Reality TV is big business. There is literally a reality show or "docu-series" for nearly every interest: cooking, parenting, homemaking, business, etc. But as the over-the-top personalities that have become the draw of many of these shows garner higher ratings and more publicity, the limits to which these characters are allowed to express their personas seems to be stretched further and further. Trump may be known for his controversial remarks on the campaign trail but The Apprentice was PG compared to many other "unscripted series." The violent behavior once thought to be unacceptable and the crass language once considered too offensive for most television audiences doesn't even carry the same shock value as it once did because its no longer uncommon on some reality shows. Ratings now determine how far these shows can push the envelop.

While voting blocs have traditionally been based on the shared policy ideals of the people who make up those demographics, this presidential election cycle has seen voting blocs evolve into more personality-driven groups. However, this is a phenomena that has been happening for decades to a lesser extent. Experts say charisma wasn't as much as a factor for America's earlier presidents since there weren't as many opportunities to address the nation on a national scale and most policy decisions were made behind closed doors. The presidency of
Franklin D. Roosevelt -- considered one of the most charismatic presidents in history -- is considered to be the turning point with regards to the way personality factored into a successful run for president.

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(Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum)

Why? The growing popularity of radio and television meant the nation was consistently listening to and watching their candidates, who now had to be more interesting and compelling for their audience. Over time the trend continued as is evident in the successful campaigns of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama -- all known for their own unique charisma, which is partially credited for the popularity that helped propel them to the White House. Even non-political elites like Sarah Palin, Joe the Plumber, Herman Caine and even Jimmy McMillan (founder of The Rent Is Too Damn High Party) have benefited from the power of personality.

America's evolving taste for entertainment, including the simultaneous rise of "scripted dramas" and the ascending legitimacy of various social media platforms seems to have kicked the nation's thirst for politicians with dynamic personalities into overdrive. Both reality television and social media have provided a magnified view of the everyday lives of our favorite 'celebs' as well as ordinary people. This is especially true for millennials who have both grown up during the burgeoning prevalence of both mediums and are in large part responsible for their success. And if we've learned anything from the success of social media and reality TV, its that people really are interested in the lives of other people. Whether its a perfect stranger or a celebrity, people are drawn to the shared sense of humanity, which is omnipresent in this age of instant information and connectivity; even if what's being portrayed is a filtered or scripted version of reality. Our global society has blurred the lines between news and entertainment as well as what or who is or isn't legitimate. If something or someone is trending than their relevance cannot be denied.

Politicians and presidential candidates understand that if they want to gain popularity with voters, they're going to have to be a part of the main drivers of national discourse, which these days, are as much social media and entertainment, as it is policy and traditional sources of news. People are drawn to those whom they can relate to and to as well as those they love to hate. For better or for worse, bad publicity has become good publicity and sex tapes are vehicles to fame. That's not to say that the issues don't matter. Bernie Sanders is enjoying his momentum - in part - because he has been able to connect with voters in a way that makes him feel both relatable and empathetic to the plight of the eroding middle class. But his popularity has also been driven largely by social media and young voters. It's also a large reason why he continues to be a thorn in the side of Hillary Clinton, who last year was all but assumed to be the eventual Democratic party nominee.

On the other hand the attention and votes a candidate receives has as much to do with what they stand for as it does who they are. Voting blocs are not monolithic groups of potential constituents. People will cast their ballots for reasons pertaining to personality and policy -- and not always in equal numbers. If history is any indication, the more a candidate can dominate the news cycle with their personality, the greater a chance they have of dominating the national stage. Whether that strong personality translates into voter turnout is another issue entirely.

PART 2: A Wide-Ranging Conversation with Physicist Geoffrey West on Life, Evolution and US Presidential Politics

  |   April 4, 2016    6:47 PM ET

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