Isn’t it too early to speculate about 2016 Senate races?
Democrats, as it happens, are almost certainly feeling a bit better now that a new poll in the Granite State suggests Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) isn’t a shoe-in for re-election. That is, if -- and perhaps only if -- Gov. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) decides to put her name forward.Hassan comfortably won re-election last month. But because executive terms in New Hampshire are only two years long, she may choose to adopt the Jeanne Shaheen strategy -- i.e., run for a Senate seat rather than seek re-election.
Speaking of which, Sen. Shaheen was one of the only Senate Democrats in 2014 to weather the red tsunami that swept away so many of her fellow Obama rubber stamps. This means that New Hampshire is not necessarily susceptible to -- or influenced by -- national electoral trends, adding another interesting X factor into the mix. CNN has the details:
New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte might be headed towards a tough reelection battle if the state's Democratic governor, Maggie Hassan, jumps into the race, according to a new poll. The survey, conducted by the New England College Polling Institute for the New Hampshire Journal, gives the Republican 48 percent support among registered voters to Hassan's 43 percent support. Another 4 percent choose someone else, and 5 percent are unsure.
The single-day automated survey, which was conducted on Dec. 1 among 541 New Hampshire registered voters, is just an early snapshot of the race — but it's one that underscores the difficult fight Ayotte has ahead of her to hold onto her seat. Hassan is a top pick for Democrats to take on the senator this cycle, and while she just won reelection to a second term as governor, she hasn't closed the door on a Senate run.
Of course, unlike Scott Brown, Sen. Ayotte has the advantage of incumbency and actually hailing from the state. These are two factors sorely lacking last election cycle. Hassan, however, has widespread name recognition (she will soon be sworn in for a second term) in a state that is increasingly trending blue.
Needless to say, this could be one of the more interesting match-ups to watch in 2016, especially if Hassan decides to roll the dice.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is already planning the takedown of member-elect Bruce Poliquin (R-ME)...before he's even sworn in. Democrat Emily Cain, who lost to Poliquin by five points in November, is reportedly already being vetted for her second attempt at capturing Maine's 2nd congressional district.
Former Maine state Sen. Emily Cain is on Capitol Hill this week being recruited by House leadership to run again in 2016.
According to a Democratic source, Cain is meeting Wednesday and Thursday with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján to discuss a potential rematch with GOP Rep.-elect Bruce Poliquin.
The seat was previously held by Mike Michaud, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for the governor's mansion.
While I understand that the Democrats must be in panic mode following the GOP beatdown on Election Day, it just seems startlingly early to already be preening a candidate for 2016. A lot can change in two years. The election was literally a month ago.
Personally, I hope Cain runs again...and loses again.
Real Clear Politics has the exclusive:
Two top New Hampshire Republican strategists have been contacted this week by a Jeb Bush confidant to discuss their interest in leading the former Florida governor’s prospective presidential campaign there, RealClearPolitics has learned from GOP sources in the Granite State.
The new outreach from Bush’s camp was directed at a pair of experienced and well-respected New Hampshire GOP operatives, each of whom has previously helmed presidential campaigns in the state.
Both were given the proverbial instruction to “keep your powder dry,” suggesting that Bush is leaning toward entering the race early next year.
“I think the decision’s been made, personally,” said one of the strategists who was contacted by Bush’s camp and who spoke to RCP under the condition of anonymity.
I suspect Bush’s path to the nomination would be not unlike Mitt Romney’s in 2012. Of course, Romney had the added benefit of “winning” the Iowa caucuses (turns out he actually didn’t, of course) which in turn gave him a great deal of momentum heading into New Hampshire. Nevertheless, with scores of tea partiers presumably slugging it out in the Hawkeye State, there’s little room for a squishy moderate like Bush to successfully swoop in and steal victory. In other words, he’ll need to win New Hampshire outright to have any sort of chance of continuing his candidacy past the early primary states.
Obviously, the GOP establishment is looking for a credible, compelling candidate to fill (ahem) Mitt Romney’s presumed absence. Is Jeb the guy? Wall Street is reportedly itching for him to run, as is (almost) the entire Bush dynasty. His supporters, it seems, are numerous and growing, and thus the only question left is will he give into their pleas?
Judging by what you've just read, my friends, perhaps he already has.
In the wake of President Obama’s executive amnesty, some on the Right have quite fervently put forth the suggestion that House Republicans should cancel the State of the Union address as some sort of response, or slap on the wrist, if you will. And it’s an idea that’s gained steam among members of Congress and pundits, alike. But the move would most likely be seen as petty, and one the liberal media would eat up. In the end, it would also accomplish nothing in terms of changing the president’s immigration actions.
It’s a good thing, then, that House Speaker John Boehner has rebuffed those pleas.
"The more the president talks about his ideas, the more unpopular he becomes," Boehner said on Thursday. "Why would I want to deprive him of that opportunity?"
It's symbolic because it's dead on arrival in Harry Reid's Senate (a formulation that will meet its glorious expiration date in a few weeks), and because President Obama has already issued a veto threat if Reid and company accidentally passed the thing. Congressional Republicans, and some Democrats, believe that Obama lacks the authority to impose his amnesty fiat. Obama disagrees, naturally -- although his stance on that question was both adamant and completely different not too long ago. Barack Obama's legal constraints depend on Barack Obama's political needs. Regardless, this afternoon's vote was little more than an on-the-record 'sense of the House' rebuke:
JUST IN: House votes 219 to 197, 3 voted present, to block Obama from changing immigration laws by executive authority— Ed O'Keefe (@edatpost) December 4, 2014
More and more Christmas shoppers rely on online retail now than ever, and sometimes that means that they're buying from overseas. It might not be widely known, but shipping from Asia is ludicrously low - and it's because of an international United Nations agreement and a special deal between the U.S. Postal Service and the Chinese government mail carrier.
As reported in the Washington Post, this means that goods from overseas are much, much cheaper to ship than goods made in the United States:
The USPS offers this service, called “ePacket,” to foreign postal operators looking to increase global trade with the United States, spokeswoman Darlene S. Casey said in an e-mail. It has proven popular. Between fiscal years 2011 and 2012, China nearly tripled the number of packages sent under this program, from 9.5 million to 26.8 million. Revenues quadrupled. Casey also noted that the USPS relies on business income, not tax dollars, to fund its operations. (It lost another $5 billion last fiscal year.)
But this has still been a money sink for the Postal Service. In 2012, USPS was paid only 94 cents on average for each piece of Chinese ePacket mail, according to a February report from the Postal Service’s inspector general’s office. That report estimated that the Postal Service was losing about a dollar on each incoming item, adding up to a $29.4 million net loss in 2012.
Forums on eBay are filled with angry notes about ePacket. “I must say that it is simply an economic disaster for US Sellers,” one person wrote. “One product that we sell for 2.00 with 2.50 shipping a chinese company is selling for .99 with free shipping,” another complained. The person added, “Too much work no money here anymore. Let the Chinese have it.”
Of course, as the Post notes toward the end, upshot of this is that American consumers have access to cheaply-produced goods at hugely-reduced prices. But what it also means is that we can't say that manufacturers are fighting on a level playing field: when it costs less to send something from China than it does from the United States, something is amiss - especially with a USPS that is hemorrhaging money.
The internet giveth, and the internet taketh away. Today the internet was in full-blown "giveth" mode, when the PAC "Stand With Hillary" released this absolutely glorious gem of a country song begging her to run for president in 2016.
You literally can't make this stuff up.
Looking back in time, learning hindsight’s always right. We came together in ‘08, a defining moment we all can celebrate. And now it’s 20-16 and this time I’m a thinking, Guys, put your boots on and let’s smash this ceiling.
Oh I been thinkin’ about one great lady Like the women in my life, She’s a mother, a daughter, and through it all she’s a loving wife.
Oh, there is something about her…this great lady. Caring, hard working once a First lady She fights for country n my family. Now it’s time for us to Stand Up with Hillary Hillary. Stand with Hillary
The video includes various throwback pictures of the Clinton family interspersed with images of blue-collar, working-class rural America.
Naturally, Twitter reacted appropriately:
My favorite kind of parody is when extreme earnestness and mockery are indistinguishable. This: https://t.co/vycBxq2faA— Michael Munger (@mungowitz) December 4, 2014
OK, this is the first time I've actually thought Hillary will lose in 2016. http://t.co/e82HN4xMqy— Conn Carroll (@conncarroll) December 4, 2014
The Hillary Clinton country music video will make you want to jump in front of a moving tractor. https://t.co/dFdDgo4ZhI— Angela (@Bear2theRight) December 4, 2014
I'd rather chug bleach than listen to an awful country song released by the Stand With Hillary PAC http://t.co/A6vJlLXPDU— Joe Schoffstall (@JoeSchoffstall) December 4, 2014
Someone literally took the time to write an entire song AND THEN MADE A VIDEO for Hillary Clinton. Is this real life?!— Krystle (@TarheelKrystle) December 4, 2014
In the meantime, I'll just sit here patiently waiting for Stand With Hillary's pro-Hillary pop-punk ballad.
What is Bitcoin, how does it work, and can it revolutionize government? Peter Van Valkenburg reports for the December issue of Townhall Magazine.
Bitcoin is going mainstream.
No longer the exclusive toy of fringe political movements, basement dwellers, and assorted ne'er do wells, Bitcoin’s gaining the sincere admiration of some heavy hitters in the world of technology, politics, and economics.
Where once it was just the likes of former-Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) calling for Bitcoin to “be perfectly legal,” now Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, has called it a “remarkable cryptographic achievement” with “enormous value,” and former-Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has said it “may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure, and more efficient payment system.”
Hype aside, it’s important to understand just how these technologies work and why they could be a force for greater liberty and prosperity in our time.
What is Bitcoin and How Does It Work?
First off, Bitcoin is both a payments network on the Internet—that’s “Bitcoin” with a capital “B”—and the coins or tokens of value that flow through that network—“bitcoin(s)” with a lower case “B.” Bitcoin is correctly referred to as a decentralized cryptocurrency. Those words are packed with meaning. In order to understand Bitcoin, let’s look carefully at “decentralized,” “crypto,” and “currency” individually.
Decentralized, in this case, means that the currency is not controlled by a single entity, like a corporation, bank, or government. Instead, it is created and maintained by the interactions of many individual persons or businesses that join the Bitcoin network on the Internet.
This is not as strange as it may sound. The English language, like Bitcoin, is an extremely valuable tool but no single group or individual controls what is and isn't English. Words are invented by individuals and adopted, or not adopted, by the English-speaking world. Particular sentence structures may be improper at some points in history, as when a preposition is what a sentence ends with. But those rules may change, disappear—as with never start a sentence with “but”—or reappear depending on the attitudes and choices of the many individual speakers of English.
Bitcoin is like a language. Its users, the Bitcoin network, all use computer software that speaks the same language, the Bitcoin protocol, and if enough users decide to change the way it's spoken by tweaking their software, then the protocol changes. But because everyone on that network is invested in Bitcoin, it's extremely unlikely that any change would be adopted if that change made Bitcoin less secure. Just like English, there are plenty of people on the Bitcoin network ready to step in and criticize poor Bitcoin grammar, spelling, or the too-artful use of a word.
The "crypto" in cryptocurrency isn't anything related to the Loch Ness Monster or the basement of a cathedral. It comes from "cryptography," the art and science of keeping secrets using math. Cryptography's been around since at least the ancient Romans, whose generals scrambled messages on scrolls to communicate in the field.
Public key cryptography is the particular, recent cryptographic innovation that has made things like Bitcoin possible, and it's also the technology used when you send your credit card information over the Internet to buy things on Amazon.
Public key cryptography allows Bitcoin users to see but not impersonate each other. Everyone with bitcoins has a public address. Think of it like an account number. Everyone on the network can see how many bitcoins are in all the different public addresses, but they can never impersonate the owner of another address in order to steal those coins. Each public address has a private key. Think of it like a password, and only the person with that password can move Bitcoins out of that account.
The full list of balances for all these accounts, from accounts holding tiny fractions of a Bitcoin to accounts with millions of dollars worth, is kept in a large publicly shared spreadsheet called the blockchain. When I give two of my Bitcoins to a friend, I'm really just using an app on my phone, called a Bitcoin wallet, to tell the Bitcoin network that my address is now two bitcoins poorer and my friend's address is now two bitcoins richer. The people on the network listen for my announcement, and some of those people, called miners, set their computers to compete to be the first to record those new balances in the blockchain—the list of all balances.
A miner will only record my transfer to my friend if I had at least two bitcoins in my address to begin with—otherwise I'd be sending money I didn't own—and the miner’s computer knows that I do—or don't— have those bitcoins because my initial balance was listed in the blockchain. The miner’s computer knows that I am the person that has the right to give up those bitcoins because I signed my announcement using my secret private key, something that only I have.
But, why would a miner spend the effort to write my transaction in the ledger? The miner does this because she can put 25 new bitcoins in her own public address if she's the first to record all the transactions that take place within a 10-minute period, and also the first to solve a difficult math problem that was set up by the last miner to win the reward. In short, miners compete to honestly record transactions across the network so that the network will reward them with new bitcoins. That, in total, is how Bitcoin works. There’s a big public ledger describing who has which bitcoins—the blockchain. There are miners who update that ledger in return for rewards of new bitcoins. And the only person who can ask for the ledger to show that bitcoins have moved from one address to another is the person with the private key to the public address that holds those coins.
Now that we’ve talked about how bitcoins can be sent and received, one big question still remains: Why is a bitcoin valuable? The answer is surprisingly simple. It’s valuable because it is scarce and demanded. People demand bitcoin for all sorts of reasons: They might want to invest in it because they expect the price to rise; they might want to hold some in order to buy products on the Internet; or, send it to a friend to satisfy a debt.
Bitcoin is scarce because there are only so many bitcoins that exist in the world. As discussed, bitcoins can only be sent by people who already hold them in their public address. You can’t just print up new bitcoins in order to send them; someone needs to send them to you first, or you need to buy them from an exchange. Miners, it’s true, are rewarded with new bitcoins whenever they faithfully list new transactions on the blockchain. These rewards, however, are set to diminish as time goes on, and ultimately only about 21 million bitcoins will ever exist.
Not as Hard to Use as It Sounds
Bitcoin's not as difficult to use as all this explanation may suggest. It’s true that until recently a bitcoin was pretty complicated to purchase, hold, or send. That’s mostly because it was a new technological innovation made by savvy people without too much attention paid to the user experience. The same thing could have been said about the Internet in 1995, but today that’s clearly not the case.
The Internet became easy to use because innovative companies built web browsers like Netscape, Firefox, and Chrome. These programs connected to the Internet and could display information on the network as visual layouts, webpages, rather than raw computer code or ordinary text. Eventually, other companies built graphics-rich websites that a user could visit with her browser in order to read, watch, and interact with content, all without even thinking about the complicated networks of ones and zeros that lay beneath it.
The same thing is now happening with Bitcoin. A number of companies and software designers have started making Bitcoin as easy to use as online banking and shopping websites. The communication on the Bitcoin network looks the same, a bunch of seemingly random letters, numbers, and math, but the user sees a webpage or smartphone app attractively displaying their bitcoin balance alongside a button to cash out that balance into dollars sent to their bank account, and another button to send or request payment in bitcoins from a friend.
Giving the Fed Some Healthy Competition
Bitcoin is not replacing the dollar bill, and probably never will. It can, however, compete. Central banks hold a great deal of power. Increasing the money supply of a central bank like the Fed can cheapen the dollars in the pockets of every American. By failing to conform its behavior to market expectations, a central bank can cause shocks to the economy. Advocates seeking to “audit the Fed” want to use transparency to help rein in these abuses, if and when they emerge.
Oversight is, however, not a silver bullet. Monetary theory is complicated stuff, and it’s difficult to say who might even be qualified to authoritatively criticize certain decisions.
A better alternative is having alternatives.
If Americans can easily use Bitcoin rather than dollars then that’s all the more incentive for the Fed to get it right and not screw around. Debase the dollar and you’ll only lose dollar-users to the bitcoin market. Until virtual currency, the only viable alternative to dollars was using foreign currency from other nations. Trouble is, not many corner stores in downtown Des Moines take Brazilian real or Vietnamese dong as payment. Moreover, foreign currencies merely repeat the dilemma with dollars: If the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago has questionable credibility then it’s doubtful the central bank of India or—more obviously—Zimbabwe would be much of an improvement.
Bitcoin should be celebrated for bringing real alternatives to otherwise monopolistic money printers, and—just maybe—giving Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen another reason to get it right.
Terrorists are Not Impressed
The ease with which Bitcoin can be transmitted overseas seemingly makes it an attractive choice for those sending funds to international criminals or, worse, terrorists. Thus far, however, that threat has yet to materialize. Edward Lowery, special agent for the American Secret Service, recently testified before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on the subject of virtual currency and crime. He observed that “within what we see in our investigations, the online cybercriminals, the high-level international cybercriminals we are talking about, have not, by and large, gravitated towards the peer-to-peer crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin.”
Why are criminals reticent to use Bitcoin? Ultimately it’s hard to say, but the fully public ledger might have something to do with it. Bitcoins move from public address to public address on the blockchain. Those public addresses are just long strings of random numbers and letters that uniquely identify particular holders of coins. The name of that holder, however, is not public. In other words, Bitcoin, like many fine novels, is pseudonymous.
This doesn’t mean, however, that it’s particularly easy to hide one’s transfers from authorities. At some point in a string of transactions the bitcoin will often need to be exchanged for dollars, pesos, or rupees. Exchange services generally collect a great deal of data about their users including credit card numbers, bank accounts, names, addresses, and IP addresses. Therefore it can be easy to put a name and location to a public address that purchased bitcoins on an exchange.
If the authorities have reason to suspect this person, then transfers to and from his address can be investigated. If the users of those linked addresses ever purchased bitcoins on an exchange, spent bitcoins with an online merchant that captured their computer’s IP address, or spent coins at a physical merchant that had security cameras, then they too can be identified. Gradually, police and counterterrorism agents might be able to identify an entire network of users. At this point the authorities would have perfect visibility into all the transactions and funding mechanisms used by the particular criminal network. The agents can now wait until a transaction indicates an opportune time and place to arrest a network participant and repeat the procedure for each linked suspect.
This stands in stark contrast to centralized money transmitters that keep closed books and locate in obscure jurisdictions to avoid the scrutiny of regulators and law enforcement. It stands in even starker contrast to plain old cash, good-old greenbacks, which leave no record of transactions, not even a pseudonymous one. In the world of crime, cash—preferably a whole pallet of it in the belly of a container ship with a less than honorable captain—remains king.
Bitcoin and Smaller Government
As revolutionary as Bitcoin already is, many of the truly thrilling uses of cryptocurrency are still on the horizon. These innovations are collectively referred to as Bitcoin 2.0 and they have tremendous potential to bolster commerce, liberty, and free exchange.
The Bitcoin protocol uses blockchains to transmit value authoritatively from one public address to another. But the blockchain is, essentially, nothing more than an open, trusted ledger. Accordingly, blockchains could be used to create authoritative records for any purpose. A blockchain could be used to build a decentralized property registry where users can publically store and transfer title to their cars or their homes. The keys to many vehicles already have embedded chips and use cryptography to prevent unauthorized access. Using a blockchain, the key-code could be transferred from seller to buyer as a digital asset over the Internet. When the buyer sends bitcoin to the seller, the buyer can automatically receive, in return, an ignition code and the ability to start the car with his smartphone.
A blockchain could also be used to create and transfer tokens that represent shares of a corporation, a stake in the outcome of a civil suit, or the payout on an insurance policy. Blockchains can even be used to memorialize and automatically carry out complicated contracts between individuals. The language of a bitcoin transaction can be more advanced than “Alice sends two bitcoins to Bob.” It can include agreements by multiple parties, at designated dates, and times. For example, ”Alice commits two bitcoins to Bob UNLESS Bob fails to deliver his car to Alice by November 1st at noon, AND Charlie, the arbitrator, agrees that the failure is Bob’s fault.”
These technologies would lower the cost of governance. A humble country lawyer with some Bitcoin-coding knowledge could help the owner of a small business sell shares of her company to investors without a stock exchange, or help a couple transfer the deed to their house without costly title insurance companies. The same lawyer could build contracts for a local businessman that would self-enforce, automatically adjusting grain prices to reflect global markets or automatically demanding a resolution from an appointed arbitrator if the parties disagreed.
Putting the power of these governance tools into the hands of local lawyers and entrepreneurs reduces our dependence on large, inefficient central governments and corporations to validate and enforce our agreements or property rights.
The future of governance with Bitcoin 2.0 looks less like the bureaucratic expansion of the late 20th century and more like the common law systems of earlier centuries. Peace and order are maintained not because a centralized authority is surveilling and policing the land, but, instead, because virtuous individuals are able to establish trust within their communities using the local legal tools of smart contracts and smart property, while the less-than-virtuous suffer as mathematical systems of agreement and ownership become ever more resistant to fraud and manipulation.
Peter Van Valkenburg is the director of research for the Coin Center, a non-profit dedicated to issues facing cryptocurrency technologies, such as Bitcoin.
First came this frank and stunning analysis from Chuck Schumer, an evidently disgruntled member of Senate Democrats' leadership team. Now Iowa's Tom Harkin -- one of the ignominious 60 'yes' votes for Obamacare who will be replaced by conservative Republican Joni Ernst in January -- weighs in:
He wonders in hindsight whether the law was made overly complicated to satisfy the political concerns of a few Democratic centrists who have since left Congress. “We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified healthcare, made it more efficient and made it less costly and we didn’t do it,” Harkin told The Hill. “So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all. “What we did is we muddle through and we got a system that is complex, convoluted, needs probably some corrections and still rewards the insurance companies extensively,” he added. … Harkin says in retrospect the Democratic-controlled Senate and House should have enacted a single-payer healthcare system or a public option to give the uninsured access to government-run health plans that compete with private insurance companies. “We had the votes in ’09. We had a huge majority in the House, we had 60 votes in the Senate,” he said.
Of the 60 Democratic senators who voted for Obamacare in 2010, 28 are no longer in office. Of course, not all of the retirements and defeats can be attributed to the advent of Obamacare, but the numbers are striking. The electoral scorecard suggests that Schumer may have less opposition than anticipated to his bid to shift the central concern of the party to more overtly economic issues. Insofar as Democrats try to reduce hostility to Obamacare, they face two problems. The first is a Republican Party unwilling to support any legislation making the A.C.A. more palatable. The other is the danger that tinkering with any of the provisions that have provoked the strongest opposition could eviscerate the legislation….As if Democrats do not already have enough trouble, data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows that many, if not most, of the seven million people who purchased insurance through the A.C.A. will either have to pay higher premiums or higher deductibles, or submit themselves to the complex process of switching plans.