Archive

March 25th, 2016

Will Trump Be Dumped?

    Most people would be upset to be at the center of an agitated national debate about whether they were more like Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin, George Wallace or a Marvel villain.

    Not Donald Trump.

    He doesn’t like invidious comparisons, but he’s cool with being called an authoritarian.

    “We need strength in this country,” he told me Friday morning, speaking from his Fifth Avenue office. “We have weak leadership. Hillary is pathetically weak.

    “She got us into Libya and she got us into Benghazi and she’s probably got 40 eggheads sitting around a table telling her what to do, and then she was sleeping when the phone call came in from the ambassador begging for help. You know, the 3 a.m. phone call?”

    I asked the brand baron if he’s concerned that his brand has gone from fun to scary, from glittery New York celebrity to “SNL” skits about him featuring allusions to the KKK and Hitler. He blamed a “disgustingly dishonest” press.

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Donald Trump is wicked. As a rabbi, I had to protest his AIPAC speech.

    As a rabbi of an Orthodox congregation in Washington, I am a strong supporter of Israel and of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which lobbies on its behalf here. For more than a decade, I've traveled to Israel at least once a year, and I've been to many AIPAC events over my 17 years as a rabbi.

    So when Donald Trump addressed the group's annual policy conference at the Verizon Center on Monday, I was sitting six rows away from the stage. And as Trump began his speech, I rose from my seat. I spread my tallit over my shoulders, raised my hands up high and declared: "This man is wicked. He inspires racists and bigots. He encourages violence. Do not listen to him." With every cell in my body, I felt the obligation to declare his wickedness to the world.

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On Invincible Ignorance

    Remember Paul Ryan? The speaker of the House used to be a media darling, lionized as the epitome of the Serious, Honest Conservative — never mind those of us who actually looked at the numbers in his budgets and concluded that he was a con man. These days, of course, he is overshadowed by the looming Trumpocalypse.

    But while Donald Trump could win the White House — or lose so badly that even our rotten-borough system of congressional districts, which heavily favors the GOP, delivers the House to the Democrats — the odds are that come January, Hillary Clinton will be president, and Ryan still speaker. So I was interested to read what Ryan said in a recent interview with John Harwood. What has he learned from recent events?

    And the answer is, nothing.

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Counting the ways that Trump is wrong about trade

    Just about everything Donald Trump says about trade is wrong, but his use of trade-deficit numbers is especially so.

    To understand why, consider his attacks on Apple, which he accuses of destroying American jobs by making devices in China.

    The company just unveiled a sleeker, upgraded iPhone that it plans to sell for less than $400. The device was designed and engineered in the U.S. Its software was developed by Apple in the U.S. Many of the phone's parts come from suppliers outside China, including the U.S., Germany, Japan and South Korea.

    But because China assembles and ships iPhones -- adding only about $6.50 in value, according to one study -- government statisticians worldwide register the entire wholesale value of the device as an export from China. The full value of phones destined for the American market count as imports to the U.S. (The figures subtract the value of any U.S.-made components shipped to Foxconn, Apple's assembler, in China).

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Learning Lessons From Outrage

    There is so much we have learned from this painful election season and the rise of a demagogic real estate developer.

    We have learned that a human branding machine who grew up in the shadows and spotlight of New York City’s cutthroat media knows intuitively how to exploit that media.

    We have learned that too many in the media are ever so willing to be exploited if the exploitation is mutual and money is to be made.

    We have learned what conditions make the prime environment for the rise of a demagogue: disaffection, demographic change, the demise of hope and opportunity and the dislocation of traditional power and privilege from automatic inheritance of prosperity.

    We have seen that divisive, dangerous leaders don’t necessarily rise because of stirring oration or a clear and compelling vision. They can be quirky, disarming and idiosyncratic, with a vague, hollow message that says little even as it promises much.

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Clinton is a tad closer, Trump inches back

    Tuesday was a good day for Hillary Clinton, even though her delegate lead is a bit smaller. Donald Trump's lead is a bit larger, which made Tuesday a little disappointing. Delegate math is weird. Here are the details.

    Bernie Sanders won landslides in the Utah and Idaho caucuses; Clinton's solid win in the Arizona primary wasn't enough, this time, to give her a delegate victory on the day. Nevertheless, Sanders did nothing to change the situation: He can't win primaries in large, ethnically diverse states, and if he can't do that, he can't come close to the nomination.

    There's essentially nothing that Sanders has done to this point to give him even a hint of a chance of catching up in pledged delegates, or of eating into Clinton's decisive lead in superdelegates. The only question remaining is how long Sanders will stay in, and whether he can find a way to do something constructive with the enthusiasm he has generated.

    Trump won solidly in winner-take-all Arizona, but Ted Cruz had an even larger win in Utah -- with more than 50 percent of the vote, he takes all of the delegates there. That gave Trump 58 for the day, Cruz 40, plus 9 uncommitted delegates from American Samoa.

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How the Internet powers a winner-take-all economy

    Several new pieces of research have investigated the cause of declining dynamism among U.S. businesses. The drop in the number of startups is a real concern, since new high-growth businesses are believed to be an important driver of economic expansion.

    One new paper, by Massachusetts Institute of Technology economists Jorge Guzman and Scott Stern, argues that new companies are having trouble scaling up. The researchers used historical data to identify companies that are likely to grow a lot in the future -- such as where the company is registered (Delaware is best). Five out of the eight characteristics they use involve the company's name -- in the past, for example, new companies with shorter names have tended to grow more later on. Guzman and Stern find that many more companies with these telltale indicators of growth potential have been started in the last few years, but that these companies have been succeeding much less frequently than in the past.

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Class-action suits have a shot in post-Scalia Era

    One of Justice Antonin Scalia's chief policy concerns -- some might call it an obsession -- was class actions, which he saw as excuses for plaintiffs' lawyers to make money by aggregating small individual claims to the detriment of corporate defendants. On Tuesday the Supreme Court hinted that, in Scalia's absence, class-action law might not continue to be interpreted narrowly. It cautiously upheld the use of representative sampling as evidence for common claims among plaintiffs -- a small but meaningful victory for class actions in a decision that, under the precedent established by Scalia, might've gone the other way.

    The case, Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo, is a fairly ordinary one. It involves the classic labor-law question of compensation for time spent putting on and taking off protective gear, in this instance by workers killing hogs and trimming pork products at Tyson's plants in Iowa. The Supreme Court has been considering such "donning and doffing" cases since before 1947, when Congress passed the Portal-to-Portal Act requiring pay for preparation that is "integral and indispensable" to the job.

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How O.J. Simpson led to candidate Trump

    It is a strikingly appropriate that FX is running its surprisingly gripping true-crime series "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" during the presidential campaign of Donald Trump.

    How are they related? Let me count the ways.

    Trials, like political campaigns, are contests between dueling narratives. The side with the best story wins, says the Johnnie Cochran character in the FX show. (Cochrane was the defense attorney who masterminded Simpson's acquittal.) His teammate, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, expands on that axiom:

    "Look at what the culture is becoming," he tells his students as they watch the trial on live television. "The media, people -- they want narrative too. But they want it to be entertainment. And what's out in the world osmoses back into the courtroom, sequester be damned. If there's gonna be a media circus, you better well be the ringmaster."

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Belgium, my country, has been living in denial

    There was a time when Belgium was at Europe's vanguard. It was the second country in the world to industrialize, the founder of art deco and surrealism, and a producer of Nobel scientists who discovered -- among other things -- the God particle.

    I was born and bred in this country, but I fear we are now trailblazing a much less positive path for Europe.

    Although Islamic State has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's terrorist attacks in Brussels, they were also symptoms of a profoundly Belgian failure. The institutions of a well-policed and efficiently governed state have been evaporating for decades.

    Belgium has been torn by the demands of its warring Flemish- and French-speaking communities. At the same time it has been squeezed by an ambitious European project that subsidized and empowered the country's regions at the expense of the state. Belgian institutions were left hollowed out, impotent to address the strains of immigration and incompetent to penetrate a rising extremist threat.

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