Archive

August 4th, 2016

One reason to elect Clinton: Resisting rising dictators

    Vladimir Putin is not a Bond villain, the Kremlin is not Spectre and, in the real world, we don't need Daniel Craig to push back against Russia's hybrid foreign policy. But we do need to elect Hillary Clinton for president. If we don't, as we learned in recent days, we'll be led by a man who appears bent on destroying the alliances that preserve international peace and American power, a man who cheerfully approves of hostile foreign intervention in a U.S. election campaign. And please remember: If that's how he feels about Russia, there's no guarantee that he'll feel any different about China or Iran.

    We also need a President Clinton to distance herself from the current administration, at least in this sense: President Obama has consistently refused to take seriously Russia's hybrid foreign policy, a strategy that mixes normal diplomacy, military force, economic corruption and a high-tech information war.

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Investor education seems to be going in reverse

    Amid all the hoopla and theater of the national political convention you might have missed a noteworthy report about the financial literacy of the average American adult. It's worth taking a look during the weekend if you want a break from the presidential race, which seems like it begins again as soon as the election results are in.

    There's not much in the National Financial Capability Study to suggest that people are getting smarter about their finances. "Only 37 percent of respondents are considered to have high financial literacy, meaning they could answer four or more questions on a five-question financial literacy quiz-down from 39 percent in 2012 and 42 percent in 2009," according to the study.

    This is a troubling development. You would think that after the financial crisis, when so many individual investors got badly burned, that they would make a greater effort to understand investing. But the academic evidence suggests that investor education is at best an uphill battle, and at worst a big waste of time.

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In U.S. politics, the tribe always comes first

    If nothing else, the past two weeks bear witness to the amazing resilience of America's political parties -- not as political or intellectual movements, but as tribes. Ideas come and go -- but what do ideas matter, really? The parties, God help us, endure.

    Donald Trump is neither a conservative nor a Republican, as President Barack Obama told the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday. The Republican nominee's program, such as it is, rejects mainstream conservatism in almost every particular. In taking over the party, he ran against it. Yet see how the party accommodated itself to the invader. The Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week celebrated his coronation. Expressions of discontent weren't tolerated, as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz found out: Republicans ditched everything except the imperative to unite against the enemy.

    The remolding of the Democratic Party has been less dramatic, but there are similarities. Senator Bernie Sanders stands for a tendency within liberalism, not something entirely outside it, so he isn't the Democratic equivalent of Trump. Even so, the demands of tribal politics have yielded a notable reordering of ideas.

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August 3rd

100 years ago: Another foreign attack on New York

    In the wee hours of July 30, 1916, shells and shrapnel suddenly rained down on lower Manhattan as a World War I munitions depot exploded across from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. It was an eerie prelude to the 9/11 terrorist attacks 85 years later that took down the Twin Towers and brought another foreign war to American shores.

    The depot on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River on what now is Liberty Park, where tourists board the ferry to the historic attractions, was set afire by arsonists employed by Imperial Germany, to combat the flow of armaments to Britain and France from the American "arsenal of democracy."

    The explosion lit up the skies as shrapnel struck both sites and blew out thousands of windows in skyscrapers, set the Brooklyn Bridge swinging precariously, causing many injuries but surprisingly few fatalities from the sabotage attack on the depot known as Black Tom Island.

    It was the centerpiece of a major effort by the German government of Kaiser Wilhelm II to counter the advantage the Allies had in the British navy's mastery of the Atlantic sea lanes.

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I've taught my kids to obey the police. But my son with autism isn't wired for that.

    I worry that all of my children will have problems dealing with the police, but for different reasons.

    Damien, 11, is the darkest and most clearly non-white of my children. His first response when given any order is to question, not comply, and most cops I've seen don't take that too kindly.

    Antonio, whose skin tone looks more like my dark bronze hue, has at the tender age of 5 convinced himself, and everyone he gets a chance to ramble on to, that he will be a police officer as soon as he turns 21. He especially loves the fact that they can carry guns. Every L-shaped twig that he passes becomes a handgun, a habit I hope he drops before he reaches the same age as Tamir Rice.

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I can be baited with a tweet, and that's OK

    "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons," Hillary Clinton declared in her speech to the Democratic National Convention on Thursday. The jab played well with the anti-Trump audience, but in truth, anyone who runs a Twitter account knows they, too, can be baited with a tweet. "Oh hell, that rules me right out, too," the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, an early investor in most of today's tech miracles, tweeted in response to Clinton's soundbite.

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How the West censors for China

    Two years ago, I was invited by the American Bar Association to prepare a manuscript for a book to be titled "Darkness Before Dawn." This book was to describe the decade I spent engaged in human rights work in China and what those experiences tell us about the country's politics, society and future. But the ABA soon rescinded the offer. The reason I was given? The group did not want to anger the Chinese government.

    I don't write this to pick on the ABA. There was nothing uncommon about this episode, but the details are useful in illustrating the corrosive influence of the Chinese Communist Party on the West. Far too many Western organizations and scholars working in China practice self-censorship - and for perfectly understandable reasons. If their conclusions on a sensitive political topic anger the regime, they won't get a visa, and their work and funding will be jeopardized.

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Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump speeches point to an ugly campaign season

    New York's late Gov. Mario Cuomo used to say, "We campaign in poetry, we govern in prose." That line's been quoted quite a bit these days. We like to talk about things we miss -- and poetry in politics is one of them.

    It comes to mind in assessing Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. The speech sounded less like poetry than a rerun of Comedy Central's 2011 "Roast of Donald Trump." That's partly because the former secretary of state tends to speak in something of a monotone, although she seemed on this occasion to have trained herself to show a bit more emotion when the material called for it.

    Donald Trump, by contrast, exhibited too much emotion during his speech a week earlier at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, turning even prosaic domestic and foreign concerns into a doomsday scenario. Gone was the sunny optimism of Ronald Reagan. It was replaced by Trump's strongly delivered apocalyptic vision, which essentially said, "The world is going down a sinkhole and only I, Donald Trump, can roll back the clock and save you from it."

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Democrats send our political pros home impressed

    Two of America's smartest political strategists are analyzing the Democratic National Convention this week for Bloomberg View, giving their perspectives on how the proceedings are coming across to millions of viewers and voters. They are Vin Weber, a Republican lobbyist, consultant and former Minnesota congressman who has advised presidential contenders Bob Dole, George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney and, this year, Jeb Bush; and John Sasso, a longtime Democratic adviser who was the leading strategist for the presidential campaigns of Michael Dukakis in 1988 and John Kerry in 2004.

    Our Democratic and Republican strategists both said that Hillary Clinton wrapped up an effective Democratic National Convention Thursday night with an acceptance speech that demonstrated her strength and discredited Donald Trump.

    "It wasn't a great speech, but she was able to project strength and experience and present Donald Trump as an unacceptable alternative," said Weber, the Republican.

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Democrats actually did get stronger together

    Democrats left their presidential nominating convention in Philadelphia Thursday night remarkably unified given the tensions at the start of the week, in sharp contrast to the Republicans a week earlier.

    If history is any guide, the more unified party has an advantage in the autumn election. This is a year, however, that has defied a lot of history.

    The coming together was evident on the convention floor, even in delegations from California, Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia that started off deeply split.

    By Wednesday night, most of the Bernie Sanders delegates from Wisconsin, where the Vermont senator won a decisive primary victory, were seated next to supporters of the nominee, Hillary Clinton. "We will have some hiccups, but everyone will be there by November," predicted David Bowen, a Sanders backer who is vice chair of the party and a state legislator.

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