Archive

September 27th, 2016

Can Donald Trump ever go too far?

    Democrat, Republican, or Independent, can't we all agree? This is the craziest presidential campaign we can remember. The two oldest presidential candidates ever. The two least popular candidates ever. The most qualified and least qualified candidates ever. And the first time ever that one candidate could say anything -- anything -- and get away with it.

    Indeed, more than anything else, the history of the 2016 presidential election will be remembered for the number of times the political commentariat has solemnly declared: "This is it! Donald Trump has finally gone too far" -- only to be proven wrong. And within days they were forced to respond to an even more outrageous outburst.

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Trump's assassination innuendo should disqualify him from presidency

    As Donald Trump's strategists try to soften his image, he has taken his assault against Hillary Clinton to a new level with a bizarre suggestion that would make her more vulnerable to violence from opponents, specifically fervent supporters of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

    Trump's lies are bad enough, such as his recent blatantly false charge that Clinton was the source and origin of his own "birther" conspiracy theory about Barack Obama. But Trump has outdone himself by suggesting that Clinton's Secret Service bodyguards should disarm themselves, which could leave her more vulnerable to assassination attempts.

    At a rally in Miami more than a week ago, Trump said this: "I think that her bodyguards should drop all weapons. I think that they should disarm, immediately. Let's see what happens to her. Take the guns away, OK. It'll be very dangerous."

    Many in the crowd applauded and cheered, according to a New York Times report. Trump made the comment in the context of saying Clinton was out to "destroy your Second Amendment," a charge she has denied.

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You're not as rich as you think you are

    The idea that the world is awash in savings -- one factor driving the theory of secular stagnation -- is, on the surface, a persuasive one. Too bad it may not be true.

    Yes, the postwar generation is wealthier than any before it. But the ultimate value of any investment depends upon being able to convert it into cash and thus generate purchasing power. In fact, the world's accumulated wealth -- around $250 trillion, according to Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Report -- is almost certainly incapable of realization at its paper value. The headline number thus vastly overstates the supposed savings glut.

    Most of these savings are held in two forms: real estate, primarily principal residences, and retirement portfolios that are invested in stocks and bonds.

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Why hire a corporate lawyer when a robot will do?

    Lawyers, beware. Robots really are coming for your jobs.

    Exhibit A: Venture-capital firm Invoke Capital just made a multi-million-dollar investment in Luminance, which is developing artificial intelligence to automate the legal drudgery involved in corporate mergers and acquisitions. The robot lawyer is just one of many -- including offerings from Ross Intelligence and Kira Systems -- aiming to replace the overworked factotums known as associate attorneys. Without the six-figure student debt, I presume.

    So how do these virtual attorneys work? Well, according to Bloomberg, Invoke founder Mike Lynch said that Luminance can "read natural language and actually understand it, using it to categorize documents, rather than just searching text to match key words or standard clauses."

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'Trust' is gaining as a fudge factor in economics

    The legendary economist Robert Solow once joked that every discussion about the relative performances of European economies "ends up in a blaze of amateur sociology." The joke has an element of truth. Economists are fond of invoking "culture" to explain large-scale outcomes they don't understand. This often comes up in discussions about Japan, whose macroeconomy defies every standard textbook theory. Culture, I often hear, is at the root of all the mysteries.

    But "culture" is just one of many large-scale fudge factors that economists are tempted to fall back on. There's also "technology," which macroeconomists often invoke to account for inexplicable productivity changes. Or "power," which some left-leaning economists use as a rationale for outcomes that benefit the rich.

    Now "trust" is in fashion and has earned a place on the fudge-factor list.

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Nate Silver says I should be nervous about the election. Here's why I'm not.

    Just a glance at RealClearPolitics or Pollster shows that the 2016 presidential election has tightened considerably over the past month. As of Thursday morning, the political website FiveThirtyEight puts the odds of a Trump victory at better than 40 percent, which should be way too high for my comfort. There is the possibility that, with the steadier management team that he installed last month, Trump could improve on his complete ineptitude as a general-election candidate and actually overtake Clinton in the polls.

    This tightening has caused some on the left to freak out a fair amount. Nonetheless, prediction markets have not had nearly as strong a reaction. And while some news outlets are exploring the prospects of a Trump administration with appropriate seriousness, many pundits are not freaking out at all.

    This is causing Nate Silver to freak out a little. Silver, of FiveThirtyEight, tweeted: "Never seen otherwise-smart people in so much denial about something as they are about Trump's chances. Same mistake as primaries, Brexit."

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It doesn't matter what the press says

    Who's to blame for the fact that November is just around the corner and Donald Trump is within shouting distance of electoral victory?

    The media, of course. Journalistic institutions stand accused of facilitating Trump's rise, through reportorial lassitude or outright connivance with him for the sake of ratings.

    The scapegoating reached its reductio ad absurdum in a recent blog post by Paul Krugman of the New York Times, who labeled the media "objectively pro-Trump" for allegedly ganging up on Hillary Clinton like a "high school clique bullying a nerdy classmate because it's the cool thing to do." As if her email issue had not been reported first by the decidedly not-pro-Trump Times itself, for the very good reason that it's newsworthy.

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Hillary Clinton needs a better campaign slogan

    Bill Clinton had "it's the economy, stupid." George W. Bush had "compassionate conservatism." Barack Obama had "change you can believe in." Donald Trump has "make America great again."

    Hillary Clinton has ...

    The Democratic nominee does have 40 bullet-point programs on everything from child care to mental health to the Middle East. But she has no memorable rallying cry to capture her candidacy and rationale to be president.

    To test that, simply ask a bunch of Clinton supporters to summarize in a sentence or two what her candidacy is about. You usually get multiple paragraphs in response.

    This is more a political than a substantive issue. Slogans are no substitute for governing policies. Trump's perverse platitudes ("pay for the wall") are Exhibit A.

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I adopted two biracial kids. Hateful messages showed up on my town's sidewalks.

    What do you do when a white supremacist writes racist and hateful messages directed at your children and at the students you work to serve? Seriously, what should a person who desires to follow Christ do? What should a college and community do to respond to such hate? These are questions I've been wrestling with as a professional and parent for the past two weeks.

    Two weekends ago, three to five people claiming to be associated with a hateful organization wrote racially offensive messages with chalk on a few of the sidewalks at Bethany College, the small Christian college in Lindsborg, Kansas, where I am the president.

    They drew a chalk outline of a dead body with the words "rest in peace my friend" and "make Lindsborg white again." They wrote messages that were disgusting and completely contrary to Bethany's core values and intellectual identity.

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September 26th

Ready, Aim — Voting

    The hottest political ad of the season — I am not counting anything involving Triumph the Insult Comic Dog — is probably for the Missouri Senate, in which the Democratic candidate talks about ... gun background checks.

    Well, obviously we all miss the one about hog neutering.

    But this is pretty darned good. Jason Kander, who served a tour of duty in Afghanistan, assembles an assault rifle blindfolded while saying that he believes “in background checks so the terrorists can’t get their hands on one of these.”

    His opponent, Sen. Roy Blunt, had been lambasting Kander for his failure to toe the straight National Rifle Association line. “I approve this message,” Kander concludes, swiftly finishing his eyes-closed assemblage, “because I’d like to see Sen. Blunt do this.”

    Not going to happen. But Blunt did release a collection of videos of other blindfolded rifle assemblers. (“Some do it ... really, really fast.”) And then the announcer reminds Missouri that Kander got an “F” from the National Rifle Association.

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