Archive

October 24th, 2016

We can learn from a misunderstanding of the American Revolution

    In the grade-school version of American history, the Revolutionary War seems like a righteous inevitability. The typical narrative conflates taxes with tyranny, casting the rebellion as a break from British greed and oppression. "King George III didn't seem to care what the colonists thought," one children's book explains. "He needed more and more money, so Great Britain's Parliament passed more and more taxes on the colonies."

    Such mythologizing is dangerous because it creates the false impression that the nation was conceived out of an allergy to taxation. You see this fable repeated in slogans from the Tea Party, the latest in a long tradition of activists attempting to dragoon the Founding Fathers into their arguments for reducing taxes.

    In truth, the British only wanted the colonists to start paying their fair share of public expenses. And the colonists themselves weren't opposed to taxation in principle; they were angry that they had no official say in the matter, since they had no seats in the British Parliament. As the famous slogan goes, the colonists bristled at "taxation without representation."

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Use of WikiLeaks weakens Trump's case against Clinton

    To get an idea of how much Donald Trump has debased the party that nominated him, consider that he relies on an organization dedicated to disclosing state secrets to prosecute his opponent for endangering them.

    This just came up at the third presidential debate. Trump bellowed about how the FBI and the attorney general colluded to let Hillary Clinton off for mishandling classified information when she used a private e-mail server as secretary of state. Trump said this alone should have disqualified her from seeking the presidency.

    This charge would be more credible if it weren't coming from a man who tells his supporters that evidence of Clinton's criminality can be found in e-mails published by WikiLeaks, an organization whose unofficial motto is "We steal secrets."

    The U.S. intelligence community has assessed that the e-mails of leading Democrats being released by WikiLeaks were stolen by hackers working for the Kremlin. As Clinton herself said, "The Russian government has engaged in espionage against Americans."

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Trump succeeds in campaign to corner Paul Ryan

    Donald Trump hasn't succeeded in discrediting Hillary Clinton, but he has managed to tarnish one target: Paul Ryan, the top Republican office holder in the country.

    This week's Bloomberg national poll, which has Clinton trouncing Trump, shows the painful extent to which the GOP presidential nominee has dragged down the speaker of the House. Ryan's favorability with all voters has dropped, while the Republicans surveyed think Trump, not Ryan, should be the face of the party. This follows a series of attacks on Ryan by Trump for insufficiently supporting him. This week, the nominee even suggested that Ryan might want him to lose since it would clear the way for the speaker to run in 2020.

    After Trump's comments about assaulting women were aired, Ryan said he would no longer campaign for him. Before that, the speaker criticized Trump for his slurs against a Hispanic judge. Trump's attacks on Ryan have been more personal and, as a nominee assailing the party's top congressional leader, unprecedented.

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Trump confirms everyone's worst fears

    It was a two-track debate. At times, it was the setting for a detailed argument over serious issues in which Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offered voters a relatively straightforward clash of progressive and conservative perspectives.

    But this is 2016, and eventually the third and final debate on Wednesday reached the fundamental issue of the campaign: whether Trump is fit to be president. Despite her substantial lead in the polls, Clinton did not hang back, as many predicted she would. Instead, she pressed Trump sharply on the entire catalogue of his shortcomings, accusing him of being a "puppet" of Russian President Vladimir Putin and denouncing his treatment of women, his mocking a disabled reporter and his habit of saying that any contest he loses is "rigged" against him.

    And she clearly signaled one of the closing themes of her campaign when she declared that Trump had shown "a pattern of divisiveness, of a very dark and • dangerous vision for our country." The election, she said, was about "what kind of country are we going to be."

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Three debates, three horrifying moments of Trump

    Wednesday night's presidential debate - the last, thankfully, of this cycle - was not a revelation. It was confirmation.

    This is election is not about left or right, your team or mine, tax cuts or tax hikes, expanding or crimping the welfare state, Obamacare or the Ryan budget, a slightly more liberal Supreme Court or a persistently conservative one. It is about something much more fundamental: the resilience of the country's democratic culture. Over the course of three debates, Donald Trump has admitted that he is a threat to the peaceful transition of power and the rule of law, and he has turned a willful blind eye to a hostile foreign power attempting to undermine the integrity of our nation's presidential election.

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The surprising ways people use the dictionary during elections

    Americans are turning to an unusual source to help them decode the presidential campaign and the rhetoric of the day: the dictionary.

    In 1996, Merriam-Webster took a gamble and put its dictionary online, available for all to use without a fee. For the first time in 175 years, we had real-time information about how people were using their dictionaries: what words they looked up and when.

    It was fascinating. Everything we assumed about how people use the dictionary was wrong. People didn't look up extremely difficult words, the sorts of terms that you think dictionaries are for - National Spelling Bee words. People looked up words that they were familiar with, whose meanings they had some vague knowledge about. What they were looking for, it seemed, was nuance and explication. What exactly does "pragmatic" mean; what parts of your personality are covered by "disposition"?

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The last debate: Donald Trump doesn't care about democracy

    I honestly don't believe the debates are over. You will have to demonstrate to me slowly and gently over a period of months that there aren't any more debates, because I am too afraid to believe that they have really stopped.

    However, here is what I hope is my final recap for this election season.

    CHRIS WALLACE: Hello. I have come to your world from a different reality, Fox News, a fact that will become apparent as this debate goes on. This is the final presidential debate of the season, or, depending on whom you vote for, the final presidential debate of all time. If you play your cards right, all future elections can be settled by the spear! Now, let's bring out the candidates.

    HILLARY CLINTON: Hello. I am dressed as Saruman the White. My best moments this evening will occur when I am forced to defend the basic principles of democracy, a terrifyingly low bar that this election season has set. Thank you for making it so easy, but also, eeegh.

    DONALD TRUMP: *low guttural hiss* Tonight I have worn my RED tie.

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Republicans can't say they weren't warned

    Donald Trump went into his third and final debate on the defensive, with Hillary Clinton threatening to poach a string of once loyally Republican states from a man who says he hates losers.

     Trump is in danger of being one of his party's biggest losers -- and, as President Obama pointed out on Tuesday, a whiny one at that.

     The states on Clintonâs new target list include Arizona and, of all places, Texas. In Nevada, the polling is mixed, though Clinton seems to have gained ground. A Monmouth University Poll released Tuesday put Clinton ahead of Trump here by seven points. Trump was up by two points last month. But a new Washington Post-SurveyMonkey poll, which showed her in a commanding position nationally, had her still down here by four.

    All these states have something important in common: They include large numbers of Latino voters, who are clearly mobilizing to defeat Trump. He is also suffering from profound weaknesses among African-Americans, college educated voters of all backgrounds, and the young.

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Relax, America, democracy will survive Trump

    There's a lot of shock and horror about Donald Trump's refusal to say during Wednesday night's debate that he'd accept the result of the Nov. 8 vote. The outcry overstates the danger this poses to American democracy. European democracies have been dealing with this kind of threat in recent years, and have survived nicely.

    After its candidate Norbert Hofer lost the May 22 presidential election by 30,863 votes, Austria's anti-immigrant Freedom Party challenged the result and the nation's constitutional court overturned it. It ruled that mail-in ballots had been treated improperly in most electoral districts: Opened earlier than allowed by law or handled by unauthorized people. The election was supposed to be re-run this month, but it has been postponed again until December because it was discovered that adhesive seals on postal ballots were coming unglued.

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Psychiatry's moral crisis on euthanasia

    Once prohibited - indeed, unthinkable - the euthanasia of people with mental illnesses or cognitive disorders, including dementia, is now a common occurrence in Belgium and the Netherlands.

    This profoundly troubling fact of modern European life is confirmed by the latest biennial report from Belgium's Federal Commission on the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia, presented to Parliament on Oct. 7.

    Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002 for patients suffering "unbearably" from any "untreatable" medical condition, terminal or non-terminal, including psychiatric ones.

    In the 2014-2015 period, the report says, 124 of the 3,950 euthanasia cases in Belgium involved persons diagnosed with a "mental and behavioral disorder," four more than in the previous two years. Tiny Belgium's population is 11.4 million; 124 euthanasias over two years there is the equivalent of about 3,500 in the United States.

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