Archive

June 1st, 2016

Delusions of Competence

    In general, you shouldn’t pay much attention to polls at this point, especially with Republicans unifying around Donald Trump while Bernie Sanders hasn’t conceded the inevitable. Still, I was struck by several recent polls showing Trump favored over Hillary Clinton on the question of who can best manage the economy.

    This is pretty remarkable given the incoherence and wild irresponsibility of Trump’s policy pronouncements. Granted, most voters probably don’t know anything about that, in part thanks to substance-free news coverage. But if voters don’t know anything about Trump’s policies, why their favorable impression of his economic management skills?

    The answer, I suspect, is that voters see Trump as a hugely successful businessman, and they believe that business success translates into economic expertise. They are, however, probably wrong about the first, and definitely wrong about the second: Even genuinely brilliant businesspeople are often clueless about economic policy.

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The police killed my brother. No one went to jail. This is how I've found justice.

    My heart broke on Monday for the family of Freddie Gray. Edward Nero, one of the six officers facing charges related to Gray's death, was acquitted. For me, it was another example of law enforcement facing no consequences after taking someone's life. It took me back to Sept. 14, 2013, when I lost my brother, Jonathan, after an encounter with police.

    My mom came to my apartment at 6:30 a.m. the day it happened. I knew right away something was wrong. When she told me what happened, I was shocked. This can't be true, I thought. Shot 10 times by a police officer? This can't be right.

    Coming from a family of sheriff's deputies and police officers, we were taught from an early age that members of law enforcement are to be respected, not challenged. Jonathan would never threaten or attack a police officer. He wasn't a criminal. He was a college student. He had no criminal record.

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The True Cost of War

    A recent study by the Rand Corp. concludes that the U.S. military is unable to provide adequate therapy sessions for thousands of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The February study of 40,000 cases, the largest ever, found that only a third of troops with PTSD received the minimum number of therapy sessions needed after being diagnosed. As a veteran, I am appalled.

    Though my war experience was 70 years ago, it haunts me to this day. I can still remember the sound that froze my blood. The stomach- churning whistle of a field artillery round, like a thousand shrieking pigs, increasing in a ghastly crescendo until it finally explodes - and bodies fly in every direction.

    Anyone who has served in ground combat knows that sound. It's our worst nightmare. You never know where the incoming projectile is going to hit. You're either dead or you've managed to squeak out alive one more time, deeply shaken. It happens nonstop, any hour of the day or night. It seeps into your bones.

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Why Hillary Clinton does for fun

    (We may never get to see the transcript of the chat going on among the Hillary Clinton team right now, but I can only assume that were it leaked, it would go something like this.)

 

    IN CHAT: Hillary, Redacted, Redacted

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Trump is only a sign of our times

    Sit through any tech conference these days, and the gap between scientific optimism and our current political pessimism is extraordinary to behold. There are speeches on gene silencing, which promises breakthroughs in the treatment of dementia; on plant-based beef substitutes, which could reduce the bovine boost to global warming; on computers that will screen your skin for cancer and your refrigerator for dwindling milk. But voters across the Western world aren't celebrating these excitements. To the contrary, they are furious.

    We have been here before, of course. On Carnival Day in 1497, the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola piled the trappings of Renaissance progress - heretical books, provocative paintings, imported baubles symbolizing globalization - into a towering heap in Florence's central piazza and set fire to the lot. Recalling that first Bonfire of the Vanities in their new book, "Age of Discovery," Oxford thinkers Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna note its weirdly 21st century irony. Savonarola denounced modernity. And yet, like Donald Trump or the Islamic State, he also exploited it, spreading mass propaganda via the new communications technology of the printing press.

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Trump, Clinton would (mostly) do what they say

    A number of Republicans rationalize Donald Trump's proposals on immigration and trade as just political show. Similarly, some free-trade Democrats suggest that Hillary Clinton's protectionist stance is merely rhetoric.

    They are deluded. Academic research and recent history show that newly elected presidents try to hew closely to their campaign commitments.

    "New presidents actually believe they have a mandate, feel empowered," says Shirley Anne Warshaw, a presidential scholar at Gettysburg College. "There is no reason to think it would be any different this time."

    Thus, politicians and voters should assume that a President Trump would start deporting millions of undocumented immigrants and building a wall along the Mexican border, threaten China with a trade war, roll back regulations concerning Wall Street and the environment and make nice with Vladimir Putin.

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Proposed Trump-Sanders debate mirrors cuckoo campaign season

    In the current presidential campaign that seems to have been converted into a television reality show, what would be more natural than to have a debate under the klieg lights between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders?

    The notion came up the other night on Jimmy Kimmel's late-night talk show when Trump not only expressed interest, but also suggested it could be a vehicle to raise $10 million or more for a good cause, in keeping with his deal-making modus operandi.

    "If I debated him, we would have such high ratings," Trump said. "And I think we should take that money and give it to some worthy charity." Sanders quickly tweeted: "Game on."

    Trump seemed to be proposing that a television network would ante up the dough from the huge revenue it would garner for staging what promised to be the biggest brawl since the second Joe Louis-Max Schmeling fight in 1938.

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What Latinos know about America and Trump doesn't

    News from the campaign trail has Latinos across America cringing.

    It happens every time a scene like this splashes across the news: Protesters went plumb loco outside a Donald Trump rally in Albuquerque, N.M. Waving Mexican flags, they lobbed rocks at police, set fires, pushed aside barriers and generally acted like little hooligans.

    The outburst was followed by the inevitable. Cable news talking heads, as they always do, wondered why the protesters were so angry.

    Really? The United States is veering shockingly close to electing as president a man whose version of "making America great again" includes scapegoating some of the very people who helped make the country so incredible -- Latino immigrants.

    That's the problem. That this has to be explained. And, no, this is not an excuse for the riotous behavior of a few.

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A Walk in the Dead Woods

    They appear at random, cinnamon-and-silver-colored pines and firs, the standing dead amid otherwise healthy groves of cloud-snagging trees in the mountains of Southern California. Last week, the Forest Service said there were 40 million of them — that is, 40 million dead trees in this state, almost one for every resident.

    Soon, they will be fuel, for what rangers fear will be a catastrophic wildfire season — “40 million opportunities for fire,” as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack put it. Or they will be ghosts, gone in that sweep when the Earth broke all records for overheating.

    The collapse of the conifers is blamed in large part on a beetle the size of a grain of rice that has metastasized with climate change. In record warm years — which is to say, nearly every year of the past decade — the trees’ natural defense systems weaken and beetles reproduce in large numbers. The infestation killing forests all over the Western Hemisphere has been called the largest insect outbreak in global history.

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The Liberal Blind Spot

    Classic liberalism exalted tolerance, reflected in a line often (and probably wrongly) attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    On university campuses, that is sometimes updated to: “I disapprove of what you say, so shut up.”

    In a column a few weeks ago, I offered “a confession of liberal intolerance,” criticizing my fellow progressives for promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses — except ideological. I argued that universities risk becoming liberal echo chambers and hostile environments for conservatives, and especially for evangelical Christians.

    As I see it, we are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

    It’s rare for a column to inspire widespread agreement, but that one led to a consensus: Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.

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