Archive

October 11th, 2016

Veep candidates' debate was an unedifying insultathon

    At the start of the vice-presidential debate the other night, moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News made a valiant attempt at conducting an exchange of substance and seriousness. She asked Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence to cite the qualifications, skills and temperament that equip them to step into the presidency "at a moment's notice" if circumstances should dictate.

    Each cited his previous governmental experience, Kaine as a mayor of Richmond, governor of Virginia and U.S. senator, and Pence as an Indiana congressman and governor.

    They left it at that and proceeded to turn the debate into a sparring match over the deficiencies not of each other but of their ticket mates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Pence seemed to have the best of it, not for Trump but at least for himself, displaying a smoother and more courteous manner than Kaine, who repeatedly interrupted him, eager to force Pence to defend Trump's numerous contradictions.

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The United States and Russia are prepping for doomsday

    The other day, a little present arrived in the mail. It was book, or rather a pair of doorstops. Titled "Doomed to Cooperate," the massive two-volume set is about 1,000 pages of essays, interviews, and vignettes from more than 100 participants in the remarkable period of cooperation between the nuclear weapons complexes of the United States and Russia in the immediate post-Cold War period. Siegfried Hecker, who edited the volumes, titled them after the remark of a Soviet scientist, who said of the shared danger that nuclear weapons pose, "Therefore, you know, we were doomed to work together, to cooperate." Not everyone got the message, certainly not Vladimir Putin. Set against relations between Washington and Moscow today, the incredible stories in Hecker's two volumes seem to be from another era entirely. On Monday, Putin issued a decree suspending a plutonium disposition agreement with the United States due to its "unfriendly actions." (An unofficial translation is available from the Center for Energy and Security Studies in Moscow, as is a draft law submitted by the Kremlin.) Putin's decree ends one of the last remaining forms of cooperation from that remarkable era.

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October 10th

An icon's journey from 'I Love NY' to 'Dump Trump'

    It was probably inevitable that Milton Glaser, the designer of the iconic "I[heart]NY" logo, would work at some point with another New York institution, Donald Trump. As with so many of the billionaire's collaborators, it didn't go well. Now, the only thing Glaser is willing to design with the Republican presidential nominee's name on it is a "Dump Trump" pin.

    Glaser, 87, is one of the founders of New York magazine and the designer of the Brooklyn Brewery's logo, many album and book covers, and even some subtle artwork in the notoriously unadorned New York subway. He wasn't surprised when Trump called him in 2005 and asked him to design a vodka bottle for distribution in his clubs. The result, in Glaser's words, was "powerful, masculine, like a '30s apartment building, two sides opaque with gold and two sides transparent so there's a real internal drama between the part that you can see and the part that you can't see."

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The jobs report and the election

    You may have noticed that there's this election that's about a month away. You also may have noticed that the monthly jobs report came out Friday morning. What do these two have to do with each other?

    At this point, every economic hiccup becomes campaign fodder. That's not to say that this has been. . .um. . .the most fact-based or policy-oriented campaign season in recent memory. To the contrary, at times like this, such data get twisted every which way. So let's take this opportunity to try to do two things. First, take an objective look at what's up and what's down in the job market, and two, muse a bit about the impact of these facts on the election.

    On net, employers are adding jobs at a solid clip, nudging the job market towards full employment. That's having two important, positive effects: It's pulling more people off the sidelines and back into the labor force, and it's boosting the pace of wage growth. There are, however, pockets of weakness in some key sectors.

    Upsides

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Republicans are paying for their conservative media obsession

    This election year is memorable for many reasons but among the most important is showing Republicans the cost of their infatuation with "alternative" news sources.

    The rise of the conservative alternative media can be traced back to the founding of the newspaper Human Events in 1944, Regnery Publishing in 1947 and National Review in 1955. But it did not become a mass phenomenon until the debut of Rush Limbaugh's national radio show, in 1988, followed in 1996 by the launch of the Fox News Channel and the Drudge Report. Those still remain three of the most popular outlets on the right, but they have been joined by radio hosts such as Mark Levin and Michael Savage, authors such as Ann Coulter and Dinesh D'Souza, and websites such as Breitbart News, TheBlaze, Infowars and Newsmax.

    The original impetus for these outlets was to offer a different viewpoint that people could not get from the more liberal TV networks, newspapers and magazines. But soon the alternative media moved from propounding their own analyses to concocting their own "facts," turning into an incubator of conspiracy theories such as "Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster" and "Barack Obama is a Muslim."

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Remembering a journalist who was killed for standing up to Putin

    Ten years ago Friday, Anna Politkovskaya, Russia's most famous journalist, was murdered in Moscow. Her death serves as a window to Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin autocrat whom many Americans are looking at for the first time - his name now in U.S. election headlines as a result of alleged hacking of Democratic National Committee servers by Russian actors and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump's praise of Putin's strongman rule.

    Politkovskaya was known throughout the world for her reporting on the second Chechen war, a conflict Putin pursued with the same ruthless brutality that he is using today in Syria, an approach U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described as "barbarism."

    Only an utterly fearless journalist such as Politkovskaya would dare to visit war-torn Chechnya in the North Caucasus. Showing astounding bravery, she brought the lesser-known war to the world's attention, documenting murders, kidnappings, torture and the destruction of whole villages. Her investigative reports even resulted in the initiation of more than 20 criminal cases in Chechnya.

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Reefer Republic

    The budtenders of the Rose City are relentlessly helpful with tips pairing a marijuana strain that is “equal parts fruity and musky” with a stimulating Sichuan dish. As Oregon, the place where empires once clashed over the global trade of beaver furs, glides into a second year of legalized recreational pot, the state is determined to show the world that a certain kind of drug prohibition belongs in history’s dumpster.

    Soon, with the likely passage of legal pot in California next month, all of the West Coast — from the tundra of Alaska to the sun-washed suburbs of San Diego — will be a confederacy of state-regulated marijuana use.

    Across the Pacific, a completely a different view of drug use is playing out in the horror of the Philippines. That country is ruled by Rodrigo Duterte, a crude and brutal strongman known as the Donald Trump of the Philippines. Under his watch, more than 3,500 suspected drug users and dealers have been killed. Many of those murders are “extrajudicial,” as the State Department calls them.

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Mr. Market doesn't care about your politics

    It's election season, and that means it's time for partisans to pose as economists and strategists in order to explain how much the markets support their favorite candidate. It is an exercise fraught with a fundamental misunderstanding of what drives markets at best -- or intellectual dishonesty at worst.

    So let's get this out of the way: Mr. Market doesn't care who you are voting for, doesn't care very much who wins, isn't choosing one candidate over another and isn't especially concerned with politics.

    That isn't to say there is no information contained in market prices and price movement. Properly interpreting what the message of the market is requires a level of objectively that seems to be beyond the capacity of many pundits during the silly season.

    When it comes to any presidential election, there are a few things that readers, investors and pundits should take into account.

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Interruptology explains the presidential debates

    If the thought of tuning in to the second presidential debate on Sunday fills you with dread, you're not alone. More than 80 million Americans watched Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump spar at the last debate, while moderator Lester Holt fired off critical questions that seemed to disintegrate, unanswered. After 90 minutes of noisy word exchange, viewers were left with only the broadest outlines of the candidates' stands on domestic and foreign policy -- the issues presidents are supposed to deal with.

    What trickery do the candidates employ to make the challenging questions or uncomfortable topics disappear? One clear pattern from the last debate was that the candidates interrupted each other almost constantly.

    But as I learned from University of Iowa communications professor Kristine Muñoz, it wasn't just the number of interruptions that made the debate so unsatisfying. It was the type. A study in "interruptology" sheds light on why the last contest was so uniquely exhausting -- and how viewers might glean more information from the next one.

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Fix the debates by making them reality TV

    I really hate the presidential debates. I bet you do too. This isn't the first year they have been all but unwatchable. So I propose a handful of minor but useful reforms (for those who want to fix them) and a radical reform (for those who think them unfixable).

    First among the minor reforms is more time for answers. Granting aspirants to the most powerful office in the world only two minutes to explain complex positions (and less time than that to rebut) is absurd. It tests no actual skill, unless we count the skills of memorizing lines or saying the first thing that comes to mind. Certainly the time limits leave no space for persuading the audience rather than simply stating a view. If we don't let candidates have at least eight minutes -- the standard for most forms of high school debate -- then we're doing more harm than good.

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