Archive

August 20th, 2016

Free speech has been very good to Donald Trump

    If only those First Amendment people could do something about Donald Trump. His latest attack on their sacred cow is the assertion that "It is not 'freedom of the press' when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false!"

    That's wrong as a matter of constitutional law. But it's not crazy. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently accorded a high degree of protection to falsehoods. And the kinds of justices that the Republican presidential nominee might appoint could well reverse it.

    The landmark case for the constitutional protection of lies and the lying liars who tell them was decided in 2012. It involved a prosecution under the Stolen Valor Act, a federal statute that made it a crime to say you have military medals you never earned -- and bigger crime to claim falsely to have received the Medal of Honor.

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Facebook may soon have more power over elections than the FEC. Are we ready?

    For political advertising, like so much else, the digital revolution inspires both utopian and apocalyptic predictions. And as in many other arenas where Internet-based "disruption" looms, the optimists and pessimists both have a point.

    For those of us who study campaign and election regulation, however, new technology poses a serious challenge to the existing ways of thinking about and addressing the campaign finance problem. Government regulation becomes increasingly difficult once communication moves online, thus, large Internet platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter will become the primary regulators of political campaigns. They need to recognize their new role and use their power responsibly.

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Democrats seem tepid about the public option

    Hillary Clinton supports adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act -- that is, a government-run insurance program to compete with private health insurance. She announced her support in July, and the public option was the only specific change to Obamacare that she mentioned in her economics speech last week.

    This position makes a lot of practical sense, as the New Republic's Brian Beutler has been pointing out. The Congressional Budget Office has scored a public option as deficit-reducing, which means Democrats wouldn't have to raise taxes or cut spending to pay for it. A public option has also polled well. For example, back in December 2009 a CBS News/New York Times survey found 59 percent favored including a public option in Obamacare, with only 29 percent opposed.

    It was a big disappointment to liberals during the 2009-2010 legislative fight over the ACA when the public option disappeared from the bill. So it would seem to be a logical next step for liberal politicians seeking to improve Obamacare.

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Clinton is getting away with policy malpractice

    Hillary Clinton has given another fine speech about the economy. It was supposed to lay out her plans to create jobs, boost growth and restore income equality, in response to Donald Trump's economic address a few days earlier. Clinton's only new idea, however, was an expansion to an existing child tax credit. Beyond that, there wasn't anything in her latest speech that couldn't be gleaned from her website.

    It was a missed opportunity. Maybe she feels she doesn't have to do more -- that all she has to do is stay on-message and remind voters she's not Donald Trump.

    But with only 12 weeks before Election Day, voters still don't know which of Clinton's hundreds of proposals are her top priorities, or how she'd get Congress' support for ideas both parties have rejected before.

    Clinton's strategy is to mock Trump's proposals with clever ripostes. His 15 percent tax on pass-through business income is now the "Trump Loophole." But rarely is she forced to defend her own ideas on a level playing field.

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Brazil’s Uplifting Olympics

    When I was a correspondent in Brazil 30 years ago inflation was rampant. It ran at an average of 707.4 percent a year from 1985 to 1989. The salaries of the poor were wiped out within hours of being paid. The country went through three currencies — cruzeiro, cruzado and cruzado novo — while I lived in Rio. The only way out for Brazilians, people joked, was Galeão, the international airport.

    Antônio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim, composer of “The Girl from Ipanema” (whose name is now affixed to that airport), famously observed that, “Brazil is not for beginners.” It was not then and it’s not now.

    It’s a vast diverse country, a tropical United States, whose rich and poor are divided by a chasm. High crime rates are in part a reflection of this divide. Flexibility is at a premium in a culture fashioned by heat, sensuality, samba and rule bending. Life can be cheap. You adapt or you perish.

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All of a sudden, economists are getting real jobs

    John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1930 that "if economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people on a level with dentists, that would be splendid." Almost a century later, he's getting his wish.

    Economists tend to be a grandiose bunch. They advise presidents and billionaires. They are generally unashamed about offering semi-professional opinions on everything from moral philosophy to politics to family life. Their models make sweeping assumptions about the future of technology, and leave out huge things like norms, values and emotions. I once joked that scientists might like to play God, but economists simply write down some equations for God and calibrate His parameters.

    But there are signs that some economists are now embracing a humbler role. Instead of holding forth on policy issues or the welfare of nations, many are working with companies to create the kind of ideal markets that were previously confined to the pages of their academic papers. In other words, Keynes' dream of economic dentistry -- or, more accurately, economic engineering -- might at last be coming true.

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August 19th

A retweet from freedoms: If our forefathers replied

    Donald Trump says he wants the news media to stop being crooked, dishonest and - his favorite word - rigged.

    What he really seems to want is for journalists to stop doing their jobs, which is to examine the backgrounds of candidates and hold them to the truth. As many reporters have toughened their questioning in recent weeks, and as his campaign has struggled under one self-inflicted disaster after other, the Republican nominee has squealed ever louder.

    Based on every complaint Trump has made, he doesn't understand what journalism's role in our democracy is supposed to be. It is not, of course, shilling for Donald Trump - or any other candidate.

    The attacks have an unmistakable whiff of desperation, and they are surely meant as a distraction and as a hearty helping of red meat to his political base.

    Many of his objections, naturally, have been expressed in tweets - @realDonaldTrump's favorite form of direct-to-the-people communication.

    Here are just three examples from the past few days:

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'A Lot of People Are Saying' Trump's a Democratic Ploy

    How would Donald Trump assess Donald Trump's candidacy? As he might put it: A lot of people are saying his campaign is an operation on behalf of the Democratic Party to destroy the Republicans.

    "A lot of people are saying"? That's not a very high evidentiary standard. What else?

    Well, to start there is the photo. You know the one, where Trump and his new bride Melania are rubbing elbows with the Clintons. Bill Clinton spoke with Trump right before Trump announced his candidacy. Trump has of course contributed to Clinton campaigns in past years as well. This doesn't even get into the fact that Ivanka Trump and Chelsea Clinton are friends.

    All of that adds up to a lot of conjecture and coincidence. It's more likely there is a less sinister explanation for Trump's obvious political errors in the general election: An isolated egomaniac rejects the advice of political professionals.

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A defense of Obama's Mideast 'balancing act'

    For those responsible for U.S. foreign policy, explaining and defending it is often one of the most challenging aspects of government. The ideal goal in selling the policy is always to be intellectually honest, respectful, and responsive while making sure not to wander away from approved talking points.

    And that's not always an easy balance to maintain. In 1989, while working at the State Department under Secretary James Baker, I gave a talk to a large and primarily Jewish audience in Detroit. I was doing my best to persuade a clearly skeptical - and sometimes hostile - crowd that in fact President George H.W. Bush and Secretary Baker had been enacting policies that were staunchly pro-Israel. The last question came from an elderly man sitting in the back row. First, he politely thanked me for my remarks and then, with perfect comedic timing, asked: "If things are so good, why do I feel so bad?"

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Politics as an Olympian endeavor

    Simone Manuel, Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles will not be eligible to run for president until 2032, although Michael Phelps hits 35 years old in 2020. After watching these Olympians display so many traits we admire -- persistence, discipline, grace, goal orientation, resilience, and inner strength -- perhaps we should consider drafting one of them some day.

    It is both a blessing and a curse that the Summer Olympics happen during the election year. The blessings are obvious. Especially in this campaign, it is a relief to watch a display of American talent that truly brings the country together. It's a nice change of pace to see participants judged by objective standards (with all the caveats that gymnastics scoring invites). It is good to see these men and women achieve because they absolutely earned it.

    And during a campaign in which one of the issues is whether the United States has lost its "greatness," a glance at the Olympic medal board suggests otherwise while a look at the members of Team USA suggests how our diversity is part of our strength.

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