Archive

July 7th, 2016

It's time for Hillary Clinton to face the music - and the media

    Last week's landmark Supreme Court decision striking down Texas anti-abortion laws has emboldened abortion-rights activists, who now hope to lay waste to abortion restrictions all over the U.S. Their success or failure will depend on whether the Supreme Court proves willing to overhaul its abortion jurisprudence. And that's no sure thing.

    To understand the developing legal war, you have to distinguish between different kinds of abortion restrictions. Some state laws resemble those struck down in Texas in their focus on regulating abortion providers. Others are broader limitations on a woman's decision-making autonomy, or the treatment of fetal tissue after abortion.

    The first set of laws will now have to pass the Supreme Court's new cost-benefit test, making them vulnerable to challenge. But the broader laws do not fit into that framework as neatly, and will probably require the Supreme Court to weigh in again.

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It's time for Hillary Clinton to face the music - and the media

    Remember Fort Dodge, Iowa?

    No? Well, that's understandable. It's been a long time - seven months - since an event in Fort Dodge that turned out to be historic: Hillary Clinton's last news conference.

    The candidate, famously opaque, answered a grand total of seven questions there on Dec. 4, 2015. Since then, although she's given individual interviews, she hasn't made herself available for general media questioning.

    That must change, and what better moment than immediately, given the news that FBI Director James B. Comey has recommended no charges be brought against the presumptive Democratic nominee for president.

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July 6th

How Mother Jones went undercover to reveal ugly truths about for-profit prisons

    Undercover reporting is the James Dean of journalism: thrilling, but dangerous.

    Nellie Bly did it in 1887 when she checked herself into an insane asylum and emerged with stories of beatings and neglect.

    ABC Primetime Live did it in 1992 when reporters posed as supermarket workers at Food Lion to expose some of the chain's practices, including the repackaging of older meat with a new sell-by date.

    And now, Mother Jones magazine has published its 35,000-word investigation of a Louisiana for-profit prison, based on reporter Shane Bauer's four-month stint as a prison guard.

    In doing so, the magazine walked up to the line of accepted journalism ethics: Reporters shouldn't lie or misrepresent themselves as they pursue a story.

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Innovation doesn't always start in the garage

    I'm a fan of the idea of disruptive innovation. Popularized by Harvard business professor Clay Christensen, this happens when a company offers new or cheap products for market segments overlooked by big incumbent players. Eventually, after gaining a foothold, the newcomers move up-market and overtake the established companies. This is one way to get creative destruction -- an older and more general concept popularized by economist Joseph Schumpeter, in which industrial churn leads to greater productivity growth. Successful disruption clears away corporate deadwood, and the opportunity for disruption gives hungry young businesses an incentive to innovate.

    Economists often trumpet creative destruction, and there's lots of research on its effects. But recently, there has been a bit more focus on the other source of private-sector innovation -- incremental improvements by large companies. Even as we celebrate disruption, we shouldn't forget that big companies are critical players in the innovation game.

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Hillary Clinton needs to find her Doctor No

    The FBI was right to recommend that no criminal charges be filed against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server while Secretary of State. But she still needs a cure for the reckless arrogance she displayed, an attitude that could produce more disasters if she reaches the White House.

    To protect herself as president, and to protect her presidency, Clinton needs a Dr. No. That's somebody more powerful than the smart loyalists she surrounds herself with, somebody with the stature to say: "Ma'am, you cannot do that."

    Donald Trump and a chorus of Republicans will scream that the long Federal Bureau of Investigation inquiry that's now finally over was fixed, and that she should have been indicted. That's partisan demagoguery.

    The decision was made by FBI director James Comey, a man of impeccable integrity and bipartisan credibility. He didn't even inform Attorney General Loretta Lynch, whose impromptu private meeting with Bill Clinton last week gave fodder to critics, even though both Lynch and Clinton said they didn't discuss the case.

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Convention is Trump's latest reality show

    Donald Trump says conventions are boring, especially the part where the presidential nominee waits three days to show up. The star of "The Apprentice" and longtime organizer of the "Miss Universe" pageant knows stagecraft. That's why he's looking for a way to appear every day of the Republican coronation in Cleveland in late July, on site or from an undisclosed location.

    But the "yuge" interest Trump is taking in his convention is causing consternation in his party. On one side of an office building in Cleveland sit Republican National Committee veterans of conventions past. On the other sit Trump staff, willing to hew to some traditions while hoping "The Show to Make America Great Again" will take advantage of the showman who got them there.

    Trump has a point: Conventions are boring, but so is democracy and other worthy rituals like marriage ceremonies before entire wedding parties started tumbling down the aisle.

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Comey reasserts his independence

    Law enforcement officials tend to inhabit a universe that is both binary and terse: Prosecute or don't prosecute. Let the facts in the indictment speak for themselves. No further comment.

    So the remarks by FBI Director James Comey accompanying his announcement that he would not recommend bringing charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were, as he acknowledged, "unusual." Indeed, that word scarcely captures what happened. Comey's comments were an extraordinary, important and, on balance, justifiable departure from normal practice. Clinton may not be better off for them, but the country is.

    The decision not to bring charges was the correct one, but a simple announcement to that effect would have deprived the public -- deprived voters who are being asked to choose a president -- of any understanding of the judgment underlying that determination. It would have kept hidden from public view information that is insufficient to support criminal charges but that many voters may deem relevant to their assessment of Clinton's fitness for the presidency -- and that they can test against Clinton's own, often contradictory account.

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Clinton can thank Obama for a neutral FBI

    FBI Director James Comey said today that there will be no indictments stemming from Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail account while she was secretary of State. Clinton, campaigning with President Barack Obama in North Carolina, has Obama in part to thank.

    Specifically, she can thank both Obama's high ethics and his broad disregard for his critics. During his administration, Republicans have accused Obama of all manner of corruption. Yet Obama felt so little to fear from legitimate investigation that in 2013 he appointed a Republican, Comey, to head the FBI. Comey delivered a bracing rebuke to Clinton today, calling her conduct "extremely careless." But he also ended Republican dreams of a Clinton indictment.

    "Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information," he said, "our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case."

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The decapitation will not be televised

    One of the most popular tropes in dystopian fiction is the "violent spectacle." Immortalized in recent years by The Hunger Games series, the concept is simple: A corrupt society uses some public display or broadcast of violence to manipulate the masses.

    But it's never been purely fiction. The concept of providing the masses with an experience of intentionally shared violence has, from time to time, also surfaced in the real world. In its heyday, the Roman Colosseum hosted mock battles and public executions that drew massive crowds. And during France's Reign of Terror, tens of thousands were executed, many of whom in public, with the clear intent to intimidate.

    But only recently have we seen a quantum leap toward what fiction writers, since at least the 1960s, have been imagining in the "not-too-distant future": broadcast technologies that allow violent spectacle to be commoditized and streamed directly into people's homes.

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Trump's white supremacist tweets aren't the problem. They're a symptom of the problem.

    We get worked up about a lot of silly stuff in presidential campaigns, micro-controversies driven by faux outrage that are inevitably forgotten in a couple of days once the next micro-controversy comes along. On first glance, that's what the kerfuffle over Donald Trump's latest Twitter hijinks - once again, passing on something from white supremacists - looks like. After all, should we really care what's in Trump's Twitter feed, when we're talking about our country's future? The answer is that we should care, but it's not about the tweet. The tweet isn't the problem, the tweet is the result of the problem.

    In case you haven't heard, here's what we're talking about, from The Post's David Weigel:

    "It was so close to the message that Republicans say they want from Donald Trump: a tweet describing Hillary Clinton as "crooked" and the "most corrupt candidate ever," on the morning that the likely Democratic presidential nominee met with the FBI.

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