Archive

July 17th, 2016

Clinton's room to grow

    The year's political cliche is that Americans will be choosing this fall between two of the most unpopular presidential candidates in our republic's history. Hillary Clinton is in the midst of a concerted effort to change that story line. And the not-so-distant past suggests that she has a fighting chance of succeeding.

    The assumption behind the debatable cliche is that while a disliked candidate can win by arguing that her opponent is even worse, politicians' unfavorable ratings are something of a constant. As it happens, voters are willing to revisit their opinions and often start liking someone they once dismissed.

    Lesson No. 1 comes from Clinton's husband in 1992. Hammered by a series of highly negative reports about his personal life and draft record, candidate Bill Clinton's favorable rating in the New York Times/CBS poll stood at a mere 16 percent in June.

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July 16th

How to embrace nationalism responsibly

    It is clear after the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's victory in the Republican presidential primaries that electorates are revolting against the relatively open economic policies that have been the norm in the United States and Britain since World War II. If further evidence is needed, one need only look to the inability of Congress to pass legislation on immigration reform and the observation that the last four candidates left standing in the U.S. presidential contest all oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

    Populist opposition to international integration is also on the rise in much of continental Europe and has always been the norm in much of Latin America.

    The question now is: What should be the guiding principles of international economic policy? How should the case be made by those of us who believe that the vastly better performance of the global system after World War II than between World War I and World War II was largely due to more enlightened economic policies?

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The profit motive behind financial complexity

    Economist George Akerlof has spent much of his celebrated career thinking about how trickery and deceit affect markets. His most famous insight, which won him the 2001 Nobel Prize in economics, is that when buyers and sellers have different information, lack of trust can cause markets to break down. In those models, no one actually ends up getting tricked -- everyone is perfectly rational, so even the possibility of getting cheated causes them to stay prudently out of the market. But in his book "Phishing for Phools," written with fellow Nobelist Robert Shiller, Akerlof goes one step further. Much of the actual, real-world economy, he says, involves trickery and deception.

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Britain has a new snooper-in-chief

    Boring, competent, and highly cautious, Theresa May, Britain's home secretary and as of Wednesday its prime minister, is sometimes favorably compared to Germany's Angela Merkel. Indeed, the two share a political style oriented toward efficiency and away from ideology, toward getting results and away from the spotlight. But that's where the comparisons end.

    Take intelligence policy. Whereas Merkel grew up under the suffocating eye of the East German secret police, May will enter No. 10 Downing St. on Wednesday after six years ensconced in the British national security apparatus. May has championed intelligence legislation -- the Investigatory Powers Bill -- that Privacy International, an advocacy group, calls the "most draconian surveillance law in the democratic world." And when she opens the door to No. 10, she'll bring it with her.

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Ireland celebrates a misleading growth spurt

    Who said euro-area economies aren't growing fast enough? Ireland has reported a 26.3 percent increase in its real gross domestic product for 2015. No Western country has posted such a rate of expansion in this century, though small but oil-rich Azerbaijan grew 34.5 percent in 2006, when oil prices rocketed. Unfortunately, Ireland's freak growth has less tangible causes. It is a result of tax shenanigans and a clear indication that GDP increases shouldn't be considered the ultimate measure of policy success.

    "When statistics go bad," the Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman commented on the release by Ireland's Central Statistics Office. Indeed, Ireland is going to jump in the per-capita GDP rankings -- the measure of nations' relative wealth -- but few people in Ireland would have noticed that last year made them wealthier by more than a quarter. And yet the growth number -- calculated in accordance with the European standard -- is going to have some real consequences, as Finance Minister Michael Noonan said in a glowing statement on Tuesday.

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A History of White Delusion

    In 1962, 85 percent of white Americans told Gallup that black children had as good a chance as white kids of getting a good education. The next year, in another Gallup survey, almost half of whites said that blacks had just as good a chance as whites of getting a job.

    In retrospect, we can see that these white beliefs were delusional, and in other survey questions whites blithely acknowledged racist attitudes. In 1963, 45 percent said that they would object if a family member invited a black person home to dinner.

    This complacency among us white Americans has been a historical constant. Even in the last decade, almost two-thirds of white Americans have said that blacks are treated fairly by the police, and 4 out of 5 whites have said that black children have the same chance as white kids of getting a good education. In short, the history of white Americans’ attitudes toward race has always been one of self-deception.

    Just as in 1963, when many well-meaning whites glanced about and couldn’t see a problem, many well-meaning whites look around today, see a black president, and declare problem solved.

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I thought I had found proof that Donald Trump gives to charity. But it wasn't that Donald Trump.

    For weeks, The Washington Post has been trying to prove Donald Trump right about something: The presumptive Republican nominee's claim that he has given millions of dollars to charity, directly out of his own pocket.

    But proof has been hard to find. Public records show no gifts from Trump to his own namesake charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, since 2008. A canvass of 200-plus charities, all of them with connections to the mogul, turned up just one small gift of less than $10,000 between 2009 and this May (when Trump, under pressure, made good on a $1 million pledge he had made to help veterans).

    Then: a tip. DonorSearch, a professional search firm, had turned up a record that "Donald Trump" had given to the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, which supports a cancer center in Buffalo, New York.

    The tip was right.

    But the Trump was wrong.

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Free speech protects even ignorant tour guides

    My first paid job at age 14 was giving tours of historic Cambridge, Massachusetts. I did a lot of research and studied hard, but I still remember the moment, mid-tour, when I forgot the year an old wall was built. Then it dawned on me: my clients didn't know, either. They were completely dependent on me and had no way to check.

    The incident dramatizes a constitutional problem that haunts all efforts to license historic tour guides. Right now the problem is on display in Charleston, South Carolina, a place with a lot of history. A federal judge has to decide whether the city is violating tour guides' free-speech rights by requiring them to pass a 200-question written test, plus a follow-up oral exam, to get a license that would allow them to give tours.

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Will racial tensions tarnish Obama's legacy?

    It's been a long time since we've seen Republican lawmakers as concerned about bad race relations as they have been in recent days, especially when they can blame the whole mess on the nation's first black president.

    After all, "Blame Obama First" has been the unofficial motto of Capitol Hill Republicans since President Barack Obama's first election.

    So, after the killing of five white Dallas police officers by an apparently deranged black gunman who, according to police, wanted to kill white cops, some of those Grand Old Party pols didn't have to look far for someone to pin it on.

    "(T)he constant instigation by prominent leaders, including our president," said Rep. Roger Williams of Texas in a statement, "have contributed to the modern day hostility we are witnessing between the police and those they serve."

    "Instigation?" Is he talking about the president's promises to make sure the rights of victims in controversial police killings are protected? What a scandal.

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Why women are winning at the politics game

    Now that two of the world's five biggest economies -- Germany and Britain -- are headed by women, and the biggest one of all, the U.S., has a woman front-runner in its presidential election, the glass ceiling in politics can probably be declared broken, and it's time to consider what kind of change this brings to the world.

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