Archive

July 30th, 2016

Israel's religious culture war is getting ugly

    Measured against a tempestuous U.S. election season and a failed Turkish coup, Israel (for a change) seems quiet and stable. Bolstered by coalition agreements with the religious right, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems politically secure. For now, at least, elections are not on the Israeli horizon and the borders are quiet.

    Mostly out of international view, however, Israel is in the grips of a renewed battle between an increasingly hard-line, anti-Western and extremist rabbinate, arrayed against Israeli liberal society, the army and even American Jews. The long-simmering battle resurfaced this month when a rabbinic court rejected a woman's conversion that had been overseen by the widely respected New York Orthodox Rabbi Haskel Lookstein. (Lookstein was the same rabbi who accepted and then declined an invitation to deliver the invocation at the Republican National Convention.)

    Despite protests by many moderate personalities, including the long-time Jewish human rights activist Natan Sharansky, the religious courts refused to back down, highlighting their disregard for how foreign Jews and much of Israeli society perceive them.

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Is Hillary Clinton Carmela Soprano - or Walter White?

    As first lady, Hillary Clinton was reviled as the wife who sold out her principles and stood by her man, just like the wives who surrendered to their husbands on the dramas that ushered in a new Golden Age of television as Bill Clinton's tenure in office came to a close. Now, as the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for president, she has become the main character in her own story. But however much the Clintons function as a model for the antihero age of television, the genre's difficult men seem unlikely to predict the fate of this difficult, history-making woman.

    If, as Emily Nussbaum memorably wrote about the reputation of "The Sopranos," "David Chase's auteurist masterpiece cracked open the gangster genre like a rib cage, releasing the latent ambition of television," Chase also had the advantage of launching his masterpiece at a moment when American audiences were uniquely prepared to receive it.

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Here are six theories for why Donald Trump won't release his tax returns

    On Monday night, conservative columnist George F. Will offered a new - to me - explanation for Donald Trump's ongoing refusal to release his tax returns.

    "Perhaps one more reason why we're not seeing his tax returns is because he is deeply involved in dealing with Russian oligarchs and others," Will speculated in a conversation with Fox News's Bret Baier. "Whether that's good, bad or indifferent, it's probably the reasonable surmise."

    The context for Will's comment is a whisper campaign from some Democrats that Russia understands Trump would be better for its interests than Hillary Clinton and, therefore, is orchestrating the leaking of hacked Democratic National Committee emails to damage her. Many experts think that Russia was indeed behind the hack.

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Forget Bernie Sanders. Michelle Obama stole the show.

    Monday was Bernie Sanders's night at the Democratic National Convention. As usual, he and his supporters brought all the nuance and subtlety of a sledgehammer to the head. The speech that the country needed to hear was not his. It was Michelle Obama's.

    In an address not much longer than 10 minutes, the first lady brought a sense of context and history to the race - and, indeed, the state of the country - that, in its telling, demanded that the nation raise its gaze from the ugliness into which its politics have descended. She appealed to Americans' better natures.

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Economists give up on Milton Friedman's biggest idea

    One of the core pieces of modern macroeconomic theory, handed down to us by the great Milton Friedman, probably missed the mark. And now it might be on the way out. And this shift has big implications for how we think about economic policy and finance.

    The idea is called the permanent income hypothesis (PIH). Friedman first put it on paper in 1957, and it still holds enormous sway in the econ profession. The PIH says that people's consumption doesn't depend on how much they earn today, but on how much they expect to earn over their lifetime. If a one-time windfall of money drops into your lap, says Friedman's theory, you won't rush out and spend it all -- you'll stick it in the bank, because you know the episode won't be repeated. But if you get a raise, you might start spending more every month, because the raise was a signal that your earning power has increased for the long term.

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Democrats were told their party was divided. They just proved that wrong.

    Early in the first day of its 2016 convention, the Democratic Party's train threatened to jump the tracks. As the convention was gaveled into session, delegates for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., loudly booed Rules Committee chair Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, and other speakers. Coming on the heels of the acrimonious exit of Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz over hacked emails that showed DNC officials' animosity towards Sanders, things could easily have taken a turn for the worse.

    But the train stayed on the rails, thanks largely to a deep bench of the sort that the Republicans were unable to muster last week in Philadelphia.

    A week ago, the most Donald Trump and company could offer to viewers their first evening were Melania Trump, a single U.S. senator and several Trump advisers. Monday night, Democrats rolled out not just current First Lady Michelle Obama, but a half-dozen senators and other elected officials representing multiple wings of the party, including progressive heroes in Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

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Can the Democrats stay out of their own way?

    I've spent a lot of time this year counseling Democrats, independents and establishment Republicans not to freak out. That advice still holds -- but barely.

    The release of illegally hacked Democratic National Committee emails, coming on the eve of the convention in Philadelphia, was a fiasco that the forces of truth, justice and the American way -- those, in other words, determined to prevent a Donald Trump presidency -- surely could have done without. It's not the end of the world, but yes, it's a big deal.

     What were they thinking at the DNC? That's not a tough question. Hillary Clinton, a leading figure in the Democratic Party for decades, was struggling to tamp down a surprisingly strong challenge from Bernie Sanders, who wasn't even a Democrat until he launched his campaign. The emails leave no doubt that some at party headquarters wanted to give Clinton a little help.

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Bernie Sanders fans were just a distraction

    The first day for the Democrats in Philadelphia couldn't have gone better -- from the podium. In the convention hall? That was a little more complicated.

    Let's start on the podium.

    The contrast with the Republican convention's day one was enormous. The Democrats offered first-rate headliner speeches. The standout was Michelle Obama's short but powerful message: "When they go low, we go high." And there was an effective mix of politicians and "regular people" speaking in the afternoon and evening, along with a sprinkling of celebrities and some humor, courtesy of Sen. Al Franken and comedian Sarah Silverman and in a video featuring Ken Jeong.

    The Democrats quickly swapped signs in and out, so that, for example, the Bernie placards were waving when Bernie Sanders was speaking, and the Michelle signs were hoisted when the first lady gave her address. Some videos used Donald Trump's words against him; others showed Hillary Clinton in action.

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Trump's GOP: No facts or ideas necessary

    From a mass media perspective, let’s look at what brought us Donald Trump.

    Once upon a time we had television networks that were truly mass media – they had something for everybody, and none of it patently offensive. Things changed with cable, satellite and online programming, many choices – some good, and a lot of them really bad.

    One spawn of this was reality television – niche-oriented, cheap to produce, full of empty calories. Scripts? Actors? Actual plots? They’re for losers. In reality TV, when you’ve got your narrow niche audience, you can just make things up as you go along.

    And with reality television – “The Apprentice” -- came Donald Trump as a pop culture and political player.

    With him, and with the Republican National Convention last week, has come an embarrassment of riches – OK, just a bunch of embarrassments.

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Trump reaps a windfall from his children

    The Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week was a pudding without a theme, except for one mantra that tumbled out of the mouths of every Republican from top to bottom. If you say that you're worried about Trump's impulsive temperament or substance or motivation for running, the reflexive justification given to trust him with the nuclear codes is that "he raised great kids."

    There was a time in American politics when talking about a candidate's kids, even adult ones, was considered bad form. Trump has made it impossible not to talk about his. One of the motifs of his candidacy, promulgated in every corner of Trumpland, indeed by the man himself, is that he's made fatherhood great again. The word's gone out to staff, to every pro-Trump talking head on every show and seeped into almost every speech.

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