November 8th, 2016

Obama thumps Trump, Romney conquers Clinton in imaginary elections

    It's often said that the only candidates who could lose to Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Here's one indication that it's more than a wry joke.

    The latest Bloomberg Politics national poll asked voters who they'd support in hypothetical matchups between Trump and President Barack Obama, and between Clinton and the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney.

    The result: Obama would clobber Trump and Romney would trounce Clinton.

    Obama can't run for a third term, but if he could he'd beat Trump by 12 percentage points, 53 percent to 41 percent, according to the poll. Romney would defeat Clinton by 10 percentage points.

    The survey, conducted Friday night through Sunday, showed Clinton leading Trump by three percentage points. Obama was judged favorably by 54 percent of respondents, an approval rating that easily beat Clinton's (46 percent) or Trump's (41 percent). The president couldn't, however, match the 58-percent approval rating of his wife, Michelle.

Schools That Work

    Alanna Clark still remembers the stress of third-grade reading time. When her class read books together aloud, Alanna would often become confused. She didn’t understand how her classmates could answer the teacher’s questions about the book so quickly. As they did, Alanna was still just trying to take in the words.

    “It was frustrating, because I used to think, maybe I’m reading the wrong part,” she said. “But I wasn’t.”

    Alanna had a reading disability, and she was falling behind. Her mother repeatedly asked the school for help, without success — and then began to fear that a pattern was repeating itself. Alanna’s sister, who was 12 years older, had also struggled in school. But schools kept promoting her, until she eventually made it to community college, where, unprepared, she flunked.

    With this fear as a spur, Alanna’s mother entered her into the long-shot lotteries that allow Boston children to attend schools outside their neighborhood. Alanna won one, and today is a poised, soft-spoken 10th-grader at a charter school called Match, housed in an old auto-parts store on Commonwealth Avenue.

A watershed moment for marijuana legalization

    Ignored in the tumult of the presidential race is the fact that the 2016 election may be a milestone in the struggle to end marijuana prohibition. Five states -- Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada -- all have marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot. Polls indicate that all five are likely to pass, as well as a medical marijuana initiative in Florida. Medical marijuana legalization initiatives in Arkansas and North Dakota seem too close to call. A recent nationwide Gallup poll finds that a record 60 percent of Americans support pot legalization.

    If these five states all legalize recreational marijuana -- adding to the four states that have already taken this step -- it would be a major blow to marijuana prohibition nationwide. The California initiative is particularly important, because the state is so big and has such a large population.

Five myths about the FBI

    FBI Director James Comey's 9.0-magnitude political earthquake, announcing in a vague letter to Congress 11 days before the election that new evidence of unknown importance had surfaced in the investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server, has shined a bright light on the bureau's unique role in Washington. Here are some myths about its culture and power.


Myth No. 1

    The FBI isn't political.

    One of J. Edgar Hoover's first acts when he became director of the FBI in 1924 was to clean house of the bureau's political appointees -- and ever since, directors have proudly bragged that the FBI is completely nonpartisan. It's simply a "fact-finding agency," Hoover often promised. Comey himself this summer assured that the Clinton server investigation had been conducted "in an entirely apolitical and professional way."

Now Hillary Clinton knows how Scooter Libby felt

    As Democrats exhale after FBI director James Comey's announcement that his probe into Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server remains closed, my thoughts turn to I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

    You may remember him. He was the aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who Democrats said disclosed the identity of an undercover CIA officer named Valerie Plame to the late columnist Robert Novak.

    Like the e-mail scandal that obsesses Washington on the eve of the election, Plamegate on its surface was about the mishandling of state secrets. Also as in the investigation into Clinton's e-mail, Comey played an important role. After being confirmed as deputy attorney general, Comey recused himself from the case and recommended that his friend Patrick Fitzgerald take it up as a special prosecutor.

    But the main similarity between Libby's ordeal and the ones facing Clinton and her aides is how both targets were tried and convicted in the press before facing a trial. So it's worth noting that last week on Nov. 3, Libby was reinstated to the DC bar -- a signal that the bar considers his perjury conviction to be less than convincing.

‘I’m With Her’: The Strengths of Hillary Clinton

    One of the great misperceptions of this political year, among many Democrats and Republicans alike, is that Hillary Clinton is a third-rate candidate with no core or convictions — oops, wrong word, but you get the point.

    So in this last column before the election I want to pitch you the reasons to vote for Clinton and not just againstDonald Trump.

    I’ve known Clinton a bit for many years, and I have to say: The public perception of her seems to me a gross and inaccurate caricature. I don’t understand the venom, the “lock her up” chants, the assumption that she is a Lady Macbeth; it’s an echo of the animus a lifetime ago some felt for Eleanor Roosevelt.

    (When Roosevelt spoke up for Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, a letter in The Los Angeles Times thundered: “When she starts bemoaning the plight of the treacherous snakes we call Japanese (with apologies to all snakes), she has reached the point where she should be forced to retire from public life.” Strong women sometimes drive people nuts.)

Ugly campaign presages crisis of government

    One word describes this U.S. presidential election: dismal. That has ominous implications for the important tasks of governing over the next several years.

    Elections in which big issues are joined have value because they provide a governance agenda to be debated and decided.

    Both sides bear responsibility for the sorry state of politics this year, but the overwhelming blame belongs to Donald Trump. He has largely waged a campaign of venom and cruel insults that was substantively shallow. If you waded through his deepest policy thoughts your ankles wouldn't get wet.

    Let's suppose he wins on Nov. 8. What would be his mandate? To build a wall along the Southern border and make Mexico pay for it? Even a number of his supporters know that's a foolish fantasy. To round up and deport millions of undocumented workers? That would cost a fortune and would be socially catastrophic. To start a trade war with China, the world's second-largest economy? That would be a replay of the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930.

Anxious about the election? Here's some perspective.

    It's hard to recall another time as uncertain as this.

    Americans are worried that they are vulnerable to terrorist attacks, that they won't have enough money to retire or pay medical bills, that jobs are becoming less secure, and that the next generation will be worse off financially than their parents. And they are downright frightened by the election.

    About the only thing partisans agree on is that a victory for the other side would be a catastrophe. There has been talk of insurrection, national collapse, even nuclear war. Unsurprisingly, The Washington Post tracking poll finds 61 percent of likely voters worry about Donald Trump becoming president and 56 percent are anxious about the possibility of a President Hillary Clinton. The American Psychological Association reports that 52 percent of American adults are experiencing election-related stress. "I've been in private practice for 30 years, and I have never seen patients have such strong reactions to an election," clinical social worker Sue Elias told the New York Times.

    But here's a consoling thought: We've felt this way before. Many times.

November 7th

President Havoc

    This is no ordinary election. Time for a reminder of what's at stake:


    Climate policy and the clean-energy economy: For anyone who accepts the scientific consensus that global warming poses a clear and present danger, there is only one choice. Hillary Clinton will continue along the path laid out by President Obama and other world leaders. Donald Trump has claimed, ridiculously, that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese.

    For the first time, the three nations most responsible for spewing heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere -- China, the United States and India -- have all formally agreed to curb emissions. The landmark Paris agreement is the biggest and most important step taken to date. Clinton would honor the accord; Trump would renounce it on his first day in office.

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Your WiFi-connected thermostat can take down the whole internet. We need new regulations.

    Late last month, popular websites like Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit and PayPal went down for most of a day. The distributed denial-of-service attack that caused the outages, and the vulnerabilities that made the attack possible, was as much a failure of market and policy as it was of technology. If we want to secure our increasingly computerized and connected world, we need more government involvement in the security of the "Internet of things" and increased regulation of what are now critical and life-threatening technologies. It's no longer a question of if, it's a question of when.

    First, the facts. Those websites went down because their domain name provider -- a company named Dyn -- was forced offline. We don't know who perpetrated that attack, but it could have easily been a lone hacker. Whoever it was launched a distributed denial-of-service attack against Dyn by exploiting a vulnerability in large numbers -- possibly millions -- of internet-of-things devices like webcams and digital video recorders, then recruiting them all into a single botnet. The botnet bombarded Dyn with traffic, so much that it went down. And when it went down, so did dozens of websites.

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