Archive

February 6th, 2016

Trump's Woman Problem

    I used to have this poster in my office reflecting the timeless wisdom of a relief pitcher named Larry Andersen. Today he does radio broadcasts for the Philadelphia Phillies. A friend who's a calligrapher made it for me.

    "Hey, you're only young once, but you can be immature forever."

    The poster got lost after we moved, and my wife doesn't miss it. Possibly because it reflects an aspect of my personality she's sometimes uneasy with: the part that helps me do a pretty good Donald Trump impression. The part that reflects my bygone youth in New Jersey, the Insult State.

    The part that makes her laugh until I imitate Trump attacking Hillary Clinton as a woman The Donald would not want to see naked.

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The word Republicans and Democrats want to own

    Rigged. No word more appropriately describes the 2016 presidential election. I don't mean that the election is being fixed by ballot-box stuffing, or that politicians are buying votes by handing out "walking-around money."

    I'm talking about how the word "rigged" keeps popping up everywhere, as if speech writers had a lexicographic central casting. Politicians use it to make the case for their candidacies. Voters use it to explain why they're hopping mad. Liberal movements use it as their raison d'etre. Conservatives use it to mock the liberal "elites" and government in Washington. Everything, it seems, is rigged -- from banks to tax codes and criminal prosecutions.

    Elizabeth Warren put the word into political play in 2012, in a passionate speech at the Democratic National Convention: "People feel like the system is rigged against them, and here is the painful part, they're right. The system is rigged." The worst offenders: oil subsidies, low tax rates paid by billionaires, and Wall Street CEOs who, after the 2008 financial crisis, "still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors."

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Social Media: Destroyer or Creator?

    Over the last few years we’ve been treated to a number of “Facebook revolutions,” from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to the squares of Istanbul, Kiev and Hong Kong, all fueled by social media. But once the smoke cleared, most of these revolutions failed to build any sustainable new political order, in part because as so many voices got amplified, consensus-building became impossible.

    Question: Does it turn out that social media is better at breaking things than at making things?

    Last month an important voice answered this question with a big “yes.” That voice was Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee whose anonymous Facebook page helped to launch the Tahrir Square revolution in early 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — but then failed to give birth to a true democratic alternative.

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Protecting children versus protecting privacy

    Can Wisconsin make a sex offender who's completed his sentence wear a GPS monitor on his ankle for the rest of his life? Reversing a lower court judgment last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit said the answer is yes. The opinion, by the influential Judge Richard Posner, presents itself as an exercise in cost-benefit analysis and legal common sense. But the decision is wrong nonetheless, because the right to privacy can't be balanced away by statistics.

    In the 1990s, Michael Belleau was convicted two separate times for sexually assaulting children. When his term for the second conviction ended in 2005, he wasn't released. Instead, the state had him civilly committed as a danger to others because of a propensity to abuse children. (This practice may seem like an illegal extension of a defendant's criminal sentence, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that post- sentence civil regulation of sex offenders is constitutional, because it's for prevention and not punishment.)

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The Sanders Sensation

    When I crossed paths with a Democratic campaign consultant in Austin last March, I suggested he come to the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall to hear Bernie Sanders speak. The Vermont senator, I added, was pondering a presidential run.

    “You gotta be kiddin’ me,” he snorted. “Bernie Sanders? Let me tell ya,’ his chances are slim and none, and Slim don’t live in Bernie’s precinct. First of all, no one south of Greenwich Village ever heard of him. Second, who’s gonna vote for some old senator from a tiny state of Birkenstock wearers damn near in Canada?”

    He was a no-show, but we didn’t have room for him anyway. The hall was designed to seat 200 — but nearly 500 Texans showed up that night to hear the undiluted populist message of this senator “no one ever heard of.”

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Near Virginia Tech, a 13-year-old's online fantasies turn fatal

    There are few holes deeper than those in the heart of a 13-year-old girl.

    For many, it is an age of painful yearning, of a life lived in imaginary cloud worlds, away from acne and algebra and all that awkwardness.

    It used to be 13-year-olds would cry into their pillows. Or write in rainbow-covered journals, with rainbow pens. Their pain was private. Still, most endured, and survived.

    But Nicole Madison Lovell found something we all wanted when we were 13: an audience.

    There are people out there who listen to sad, lonely girls, tell them they are beautiful and smart. They were right there - in Nicole's bedroom.

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The perils of political hindsight in Iowa

    On to New Hampshire. But first, before it fades, here's what's in the rear-view mirror in Iowa.

    1. For the Democrats, there are two ways of interpreting what was basically a tie. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won on spin because the "Sanders surges, Clinton in trouble" story is irresistible for the media. But former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton won on delegates, because if she and Sanders split the regular delegates in other races too, she'll win the nomination thanks to her huge lead in superdelegates. Unless there's a media surge for Sanders, Clinton's enormous and seemingly decisive lead among black and Latino voters seems unshakable.

    2. Related: There are hindsight claims that the strong Sanders showing in Iowa meant that Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren would have won had she entered the Democratic contest. Maybe, but there's no way of knowing if Warren or anyone else could have run as impressive a campaign as Sanders has so far.

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Iowa narrows the presidential field

    Iowa doesn't pick nominees. It eliminates candidates.

    Sometimes that happens quickly: On Monday night, Democrat Martin O'Malley and Republican Mike Huckabee announced immediately that they were out.

    Sometimes it happens more slowly. Iowa Republicans just sent a strong signal to New Hampshire and national Republicans that only two candidates remain viable: Ted Cruz, who finished first with 28 percent of the vote, and Marco Rubio, who as of this writing is in third place with 23 percent, just barely behind Donald Trump.

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The Election Moves On

    Before the Iowa caucuses were mercifully laid to rest, I predicted that the surging Donald Trump — he of what George H.W. Bush called “the Big Mo” — would win the Republican contest handily. Bernie Sanders, I believed, would be confounded by the complexity of the Democratic rules and lose more or less badly.

    What happened? Senator Ted Cruz handed The Donald his head and Bernie overcame a 40-point disadvantage to finish in a dead heat with Hillary Clinton.

    That’s why they pay me the big bucks. Accuracy.

    Ah well, such is the life of a political pundit — one humiliation after another. We move on.

    The biggest Republican winner, it seems to me, was Marco Rubio, the third-place finisher. In a single day he went from being a pipsqueak rolling in the mud with Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and other assorted “mainstream” Republicans, to a legitimate main event opponent of the big guys, Cruz and Trump. It’s what the Iowa caucuses can do for you, and they did it for him.

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In an Iowa high school, a lesson in democracy

    On Monday night, the Stilwell Junior High School in West Des Moines, a suburb of Iowa's state capital, was repurposed as the 114th precinct for Democrats and Republicans to caucus for the first-in-the-nation presidential nomination contest. The Democrats' chaotic gathering was in the cafeteria, the more sedate Republicans were in the auditorium. Both spaces were chock-full: The 2016 election left few Iowans indifferent.

    Scott Hale, the chairman of the Democratic caucus who has been running such proceedings since 1992, said he'd never seen so many new voters. Despite his preparations, he even seemed at risk of running out of registration forms at one point.

    Pollsters and commentators had predicted that the enthusiasm of the previously politically inactive would benefit Bernie Sanders, and many of the 111 new voters made their way to the corner of the room designated for the Vermont senator (at Democratic caucuses, each candidate's supporters stand in their own corner of the room). "I like socialism," said Emma Griffiths, 21, a community college student. "I like what Bernie says about banks and about the minimum wage."

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