Archive

August 16th, 2016

Here's how I'll teach Trump to my college students this fall

    As a political scientist and president of a liberal arts college in Wisconsin, I'm looking forward to the fall. I'll have a chance to teach 18- to 22-year-olds during the run-up to a historic presidential election. It'll likely dominate discourse in the classroom, cafeteria and even keg parties.

    This raises the question - how should professors talk about Donald Trump? Is there a way to teach this subject in a thoughtful way, pushing beyond the name-calling and apocalyptic predictions? I believe there is.

    In conversations with my faculty colleagues, I've come to a few conclusions.

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First Amendment has the teeth to help consumers

    The First Amendment was called in to do the dirty work last week on an Ohio rule that bans dentists from advertising their specialties while continuing to practice general dentistry. The rule should have been challenged by the Federal Trade Commission as an anti-competitive restraint on trade. Because it never was, the appeals court had to apply free-speech law.

    The decision is an example of how First Amendment values have expanded beyond self-expression to consumer protection. Whether that expansion was a good idea or not, it's here to stay.

    This story begins with the Ohio Dental Board that enacted the regulation. Its 13 members are appointed by the governor. By law nine of them have to be dentists, and three dental hygienists. There's just one member of the public. That's already a red flag that the board is likely to enact rules designed to help the dental profession, not the patients.

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Don't expect instant gratification from tech

    Another Tesla has crashed because the driver thought its self-driving technology could actually drive the car. As we read all the stories about magical technology and then use the hyped-up products, we ought to keep in mind that the "magic" hits the market long before they live up to their promise, which in some cases they will never do. If it's new, don't expect it to work as advertised.

    The Tesla in Beijing, in Autopilot mode, hit the side of an illegally parked car and kept going until driver Luo Zhen -- who had taken his hands off the steering wheel -- manually stopped it. The $7,500 repair bill was probably a tough way for Luo to learn that when he read and heard about self-driving cars, or even when he watched Tesla's Autopilot video (which tells drivers to grip the wheel at all times but shows the Model S changing lanes, taking curves and parking itself), he was essentially reading and watching sci-fi.

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Clinton's edge grows if third parties fade

    Hillary Clinton, who enjoys a significant lead in the presidential race, is positioned to receive an additional edge if the relatively robust showings of the third-party candidates fade, as usually occurs, by Election Day.

    Clinton has a six-point head-to-head advantage over Donald Trump in the latest Bloomberg Politics poll. That margin is narrowed to four points when Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party aspirant Jill Stein are thrown into the mix.

    Combined, these two candidates are getting 13 percent of the vote. In most recent elections, third- or fourth-party candidates do much better months before November than they do as the election nears and voters focus on choosing a potential winner. When forced to chose between Clinton and Trump in the Bloomberg poll, these Johnson and Stein voters prefer the Democratic nominee, 44 percent to 28 percent.

    If patterns hold, this might give the Democratic candidate an additional point advantage in the Nov. 8 election and conceivably tilt a couple closely contested states.

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August 15th

The So-Called 'Year Of The Angry Voter'

    Supposedly 2016 is the Year of the Angry Voter. To hear the pundits tell it, Americans are just furious.

    Well, call me smug or out of touch, but I think it's mainly a fad. TV talking heads say they're supposed to be bitter, so suggestible people persuade themselves that they are. In interviews, people say that the "American Dream" has stagnated, and they're fearful about terrorism and crime.

    Except that crime rates have decreased so much that the statistics can be hard to believe. Writing in Washington Monthly, Mike Males points out that in 1990 "nearly 500 (Los Angeles) teenagers died from gunfire and 730 were arrested for murder." In 2015, the numbers were 57 gun deaths and 65 homicide busts. This in a sprawling metropolis of 10 million.

    Meanwhile, student test scores are up, dropout rates way down, and teenagers are having far fewer kids out of wedlock. College enrollments are rising. Not only in L.A. but across the country. One of my pet theories has always been that Rush Limbaugh fans get all steamed up because they're stuck in traffic, but maybe not.

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Clinton speaks Mormon while Trump speaks nonsense

    Eight hundred and one words in the Deseret News, Utah's Mormon-owned newspaper, show the difference between a competent, respectful campaign and whatever Donald Trump is running.

    In an op-ed published Wednesday, Hillary Clinton extended a hand to one of the most Republican voting blocs in the country - members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - as part of an audacious strategy to make inroads into some of the reddest states in the country. Her piece reflects a basic difference between her and her opponent. Clinton assumes everyone has interests and preferences that must be acknowledged and, hopefully, reconciled. Trump assumes everyone is shallow and manipulable.

    Turns out she - or someone on her staff - speaks Mormon pretty well. It's easy for non-members to get LDS lingo wrong. Mormons have wards, not parishes, sacrament meeting, not mass, stakes, not dioceses. Even non-members who should know better often have trouble, as when, in an early episode of HBO's Big Love, Harry Dean Stanton mispronounces "Palmyra," Joseph Smith's home town in upstate New York.

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You Choose or You Lose

    If you’re a Republican politician, announcing you’re not going to vote for Donald Trump is a little like declaring that you’re not going to rob a bank to finance your next campaign. Really, you don’t get any credit unless you say what you’re going to do instead.

    “I truly don’t know,” said Sen. Susan Collins unhelpfully.

    Collins, R-Maine, made news this week when she penned an op-ed for The Washington Post, announcing that she couldn’t support her party’s nominee because “Mr. Trump’s lack of self-restraint and his barrage of ill-informed comments would make an already perilous world even more so.”

    It’s tough being a high-profile Republican these days. People are always demanding to know what you think about your candidate’s latest horrific remark. But unless you come up with an alternative, disavowing a candidate is more like a sulk than a solution.

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Why I'm not convinced Donald Trump will show up at the debates

    "I will absolutely do three debates," Donald Trump told Time magazine Tuesday. "I want to debate very badly. But I have to see the conditions." Yeah. That last sentence is what makes his unbelievable assertion that less believable.

    Among "the conditions" the Republican presidential nominee promises to assert himself is over the moderators of the three debates with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Trump told Time, "Yeah, I would say that certain moderators would be unacceptable, absolutely." He added, "I want to have fair moderators . . . I will demand fair moderators."

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Voters settle in to scrutinize candidates in detail

    As the presidential campaign moves on to the seven-week stretch before the first nationally televised debate by the party nominees, the voters have the serious task of sorting out who can best be trusted to lead this great country over the next four years.

    On the simplest level, the choice is between Donald Trump, who denies the basic premise that this is a great country and pledges to make it great again, and Hillary Clinton, who says it is great now and she will keep it so.

    Two minor-party candidates, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian nominee, and Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, will be using the time trying to build 15 percent support in five designated public opinion polls to qualify in the three debates conducted by the independent Commission on Presidential Debates, starting on Sept. 26.

    Right now, Johnson with about 5 percent support is considered to have a better chance than Stein. Even a minor third-party vote could affect the outcome, as longshot Ralph Nader demonstrated in 2000.

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Trump's Second Amendment line is protected speech

    A century ago, Donald Trump might have gone to prison for suggesting that "the Second Amendment people" might find a way to stop Hillary Clinton's agenda as president. Today, the First Amendment protects him -- barely.

    It's still a federal crime to threaten the life of the president, and people go to jail for it all the time, despite the apparent abridgment of free speech. But while Trump's words would probably get him a Secret Service visit if he were an ordinary crazy person, they wouldn't lead to prosecution.

    The law here is 18 U.S.C. Section 871(a). First passed in 1917 and used to punish threats to Woodrow Wilson's life, it makes it a felony to utter a threat of bodily harm against the president "knowingly and willfully."

    Originally directed only against the president, vice president or others in line for the office, the law was subsequently expanded to include "a major candidate for the office of President or Vice President, or a member of the immediate family of such candidate." So Clinton is covered by the law, even though she isn't president.

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