Archive

September 21st, 2016

It's still the economy, stupid

    Because they are tailored to appeal to voters, all political platforms are, to some extent, "populist." But what sets the wave of populism currently sweeping across the Western world apart from politics as usual is its impatience with constraints placed on democratic governments - in other words, its authoritarianism. When Fox News host Brett Baier suggested that the military would refuse Donald Trump's orders to torture captured jihadis, the latter responded simply, "They're not going to refuse me." The notion that leaders elected by popular majorities can flout legal norms, constitutional rules, and democratic checks and balances is at heart of the "illiberal democracy" promoted by Viktor Orban in Hungary and the ethos of Poland's Law and Justice Party, which has held power since October.

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Five myths on presidential health

    When Hillary Clinton announced a diagnosis of pneumonia last week, soon after leaving a Sept. 11 memorial service, she elicited a predictably partisan response. Fans of Donald Trump speculated that she wouldn't survive the year, while her own supporters pointed out that hardworking people get sick all the time. Both presidential candidates have been pressured to release more information about their health. But this information may not be as useful as we think. Past assumptions about the health of presidents and candidates often have been shrouded in myth.

 

Myth No. 1

    Franklin D. Roosevelt gave away Eastern Europe to the Soviets because he was sick.

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Fear of Clinton dominates some voters' choice

    One of the hardest things for a foreigner to understand in U.S. politics, especially its rather extreme 2016 version, is the willingness of voters to support candidates they deemed unacceptable earlier in the campaign. Because the U.S. presidential election narrows to a two-candidate race, the calculus of voters and political operatives shifts in spectacular ways.

    Plenty of this was on display in New Hampshire this week. On Wednesday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in the state, which gave him his best performance of the primary season -- 7.4 percent of the vote -- to push a simple message to Republicans. "If you are a Republican and you are not working for Donald Trump over the next 55 days, you are working for Hillary Clinton," he said at a party "unity breakfast."

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Does globalization hurt poor workers? It's complicated.

    Political economists have long debated whether globalization started a "race to the bottom" throughout the developing world - that is, a lowering of labor and environmental standards as governments fiercely compete to attract multinational corporations and supply chain contracts.

    The evidence that this is the case, however, is decidedly mixed. In some cases, globalization can worsen labor standards, and international investment agreements can sometimes shift bargaining power toward multinational firms and away from developing countries' go vernments. But, in other instances, globalization offers mechanisms to improve the conditions faced by workers. Moreover, the sources of poor working conditions are often as much domestic as they are international.

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Chemical weapons watchdog continues hunt for Syria's elusive nerve agent

    When Syria disclosed its long-secret chemical weapons program in December 2013, it presented international weapons inspectors with a hard-to-swallow story: One of the regime's premier chemical weapons facilities - an underground laboratory on the outskirts of Damascus that was designed to fill Scud missiles with a lethal nerve agent - had never in fact produced Sarin.

    The inspectors decided they would have to check for themselves. In three visits to the site, known as Hafir 1, specialists from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons started to believe they had caught Syria lying about the extent of its secret chemical-weapons development.

    Samples collected at the site revealed the unmistakable presence of Sarin in the equipment used to mix the banned warfare agent and pour it into Soviet-era Scud or Tochka tactical ballistic missiles. They also betrayed traces of precursors for another, even deadlier nerve agent, VX, that Syria did not initially acknowledge using at the site. More signatures of Sarin were detected in two mobile filling units parked aboveground at the complex.

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September 20th

The reason the Lehman moment still is with us

    Sept. 15 is the eighth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy. Not enough time has passed yet for me to recall those anxious days without getting angry.

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, has used the occasion of this anniversary to suggest the next administration should "investigate and jail" those Wall Street bankers who committed crimes. Although I doubt there will be any perp walks, I do have some ideas about how to proceed.

    Before we look into the senator's suggestion, it is time for an honest appraisal of one of the lingering mysteries of the financial crisis: Why were there were no prosecutions of major executives?

    It's a fair question. I believe there were 10 areas where fraud and abuse took place. These were the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems; mortgage pools; securitization; "misplaced" mortgage notes; force-placed insurance; servicing fees; fake documents; false affidavits, perjury and robo-signing; foreclosure mills; and active military members losing homes while on duty.

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A sharper focus on North Korea

    North Korea's accelerating nuclear and missile programs, including its recent nuclear test, pose a grave and expanding threat to security, stability and peace in Asia and the rest of the world. This threat affects close U.S. allies - South Korea and Japan - and U.S. personnel and facilities in the region. In the coming months and years, it will create increasing danger for the United States. It is likely that the next president will face a North Korea that has gained the capability to strike the United States with nuclear weapons.

    President Barack Obama's administration has succeeded in strengthening U.S. alliances in Asia and deterring a war, but, like its predecessors, has failed to change Pyongyang's assessment that defiance is preferable to conciliation. It is clear that the next president will have to sharpen Pyongyang's choice: offer greater benefits for cooperation and promise greater costs for continued defiance.

    For the past several months, we have led a task force to assess the state of U.S. policy toward North Korea and to propose a new comprehensive strategy for the region.

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The 24/7 Sneeze Factor

    Hillary Clinton is recovering from a mild case of pneumonia. However, shortly after she collapsed at Ground Zero while part of the 15th annual memorial of 9/11, her campaign staff said she was just exhausted and suffered heat exhaustion. It took a couple of days for her to reveal the extent of her medical issue.

    Donald Trump, who had many times this past year questioned Clinton’s health and suggested she should leave politics, now tweeted he was hoping his Democratic opponent would have a quick recovery. However, the Renegade Republicans, fueled by scandal-makers of the conservative media, think Clinton is a piñata, and are hitting her hard—she has Parkinson’s disease; she suffered from a concussion; the Democratic National Committee is working on how to replace her because she is so ill; she is on her death-bed, and a body double is the one the public is seeing.

    Prior to Clinton’s bout with pneumonia, she had released a two page letter from her physician stating medical specifics about her health; he concluded Clinton is in excellent health.

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That time when 'that time when' took over the Internet

    In March, Taylor Swift posted some photos from her trip to an undisclosed tropical location with then-boyfriend Calvin Harris. One caption read, "That time we finally took a vacation." This summer, Swift went on another jaunt with a new boyfriend and a group of girlfriends. Elle covered the resulting high jinks with a piece titled, "That Time Cara Delevingne Scared he Sh*t out of Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston."

    The expressions "that time I" and "that time when" have bubbled up all over the Internet, in headlines, in promotions and on social media. Just recently, there was "That Time When Johnny Depp Looked Just Like Justin Bieber," "That Time I Stumped a Gallup Pollster," "That Time I Came Face to Face With an Anti-Semite" and "That time I tried to be a stripper . . . but pepper-sprayed myself in the face."

    It's a strange construction, one that doesn't make much sense. Why wouldn't Swift just write, "We finally took a vacation?" Why tack on an unnecessary grammatical flourish?

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Of course Clinton went to work sick. That's the American way.

    As Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton demonstrated when she nearly collapsed from the effects of walking pneumonia early this week, the benefits of running for elected office may include many things, but sick days are not among them.

    This is perhaps unavoidable in light of the fact that the job of actually being an elected official doesn't allow for much rest and recuperation, either - see, for instance, John F. Kennedy plowing ahead despite crippling back pain and Addison's disease, which he wanted to conceal from the public; and George H.W. Bush ignoring a doctor's advice in 1992 to stay in bed rather than attend a state dinner in Japan, with the result being that he vomited on the Japanese prime minister. "The president is human," Bush's physician told reporters at the time. "He gets sick."

    Going to work sick is not just a function of political work, however, or even of merely being human - it is a profoundly American behavior.

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