Archive

May 24th, 2016

Remembrance of Booms Past

    If Hillary Clinton wins in November, Bill Clinton will occupy a doubly unique role in U.S. political history — not just as the first First Husband, but also as the first First Spouse who used to be president. Obviously he won’t spend his time baking cookies. So what will he do?

    Last week Hillary Clinton stirred up a flurry of comments by suggesting that Bill Clinton would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy.” You can see why she might want to say that, since people still remember the good times that prevailed when he was in office. How his role might be defined in practice is much less clear.

    But never mind. What I want to do right now is talk about the lessons the Clinton I boom actually holds for a potential Clinton II administration.

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What's in a team's name? How about a slur?

    Well, that's a relief. It turns out that Native Americans are not offended by the name of Washington's football team after all.

    You know, the Redskins.

    A new Washington Post poll finds nine out of 10 Native Americans say they are not offended by the Washington Redskins name. That, the Post tells us, is a sign of "how few ordinary Indians" -- instead of, you know, those inflammatory identity-politics activist types -- "have been persuaded by a national movement to change the football team's moniker."

    Actually "how few" is how I would describe the number of people surveyed. But that doesn't mean the poll wasn't scientific.

    The five-month survey of 504 people, according to the Post, includes every state and the district.

    It also agrees with a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, the Post notes, and the responses were "broadly consistent" regardless of age, income, education, political party or proximity to reservations.

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Obama’s War on Inequality

    There were two big economic policy stories this week that you may have missed if you were distracted by Trumpian bombast and the yelling of the Sanders dead-enders. Each tells you a lot about both what President Barack Obama has accomplished and the stakes in this year’s election.

    One of those stories, I’m sorry to say, did involve Donald Trump: The presumptive Republican nominee — who has already declared that he will, in fact, slash taxes on the rich, whatever he may have said in the recent past — once again declared his intention to do away with Dodd-Frank, the financial reform passed during Democrats’ brief window of congressional control. Just for the record, while Trump is sometimes described as a “populist,” almost every substantive policy he has announced would make the rich richer at workers’ expense.

    The other story was about a policy change achieved through executive action: The Obama administration issued new guidelines on overtime pay, which will benefit an estimated 12.5 million workers.

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Aging in the Key of Humor

    His back hurts. His memory is slipping. He can’t cook, but then he never could. Igloo-making is no longer one of his diversions. The wit is sharp, quick as ever, but now he’s prone to ... what’s the word? Oh, and he has Parkinson’s disease.

    Michael Kinsley is aging so you don’t have to. The editor in him, the one who held the reins at The New Republic, Harper’s and Slate, and grasped for a few hours the chance to helm The New Yorker, would refine that. Here’s how he puts it, in his guidance to the 74 million baby boomers entering the years of living less dangerously:

    “But when it comes to the ultimate boomer game, competitive longevity, I’m on the sidelines doing color commentary.” His chronic disease, which gives him many of the symptoms of old age but which he believes is no more likely to bring him to an early death than slipping on a bar of soap, has presented him with “an interesting foretaste of our shared future.”

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Meet Deadeye Donald

    Donald Trump has a permit to carry a gun.

    “Nobody knows that,” he told a gathering of the National Rifle Association on Friday.

    Well actually, it’s pretty hard to not know since he brings it up all the time.

    “Boy, would I surprise somebody if they hit Trump,” he told the audience.

    People, have we ever had a president who spoke about himself in the third person? Something to consider. But more important, what would that surprise entail? Was Trump trying to say that he’d quickly draw his concealed weapon and take the gunman out of circulation?

    “If I wasn’t — if I wasn’t surrounded by, like the largest group of Secret Service people,” he began, and it did sound as if we were about to get a description of his shooting prowess.

    But then Trump veered off to demand a standing ovation for police officers and never did get back to the original point.

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Weakend at Bernie’s

    Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee.

    Really.

    Just ask her.

    She should have been able to finally savor shattering that “highest, hardest glass ceiling” — the one she gloried in putting 18 million cracks in last time around — when she attends her convention in Philadelphia in July.

    Instead, she is reduced to stomping her feet on CNN, asserting her dominance in a contest that has left her looking anything but dominant. Once more attempting to shake off the old socialist dude hammering her with a sickle, Clinton insisted to Chris Cuomo on Thursday: “I will be the nominee for my party, Chris. That is already done, in effect. There is no way that I won’t be.”

    It’s a vexing time for the Clintons. As Bill told a crowd in Fargo, North Dakota, on Friday, it’s been an “interesting” year: “That’s the most neutral word I can think of.”

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How Facebook Warps Our Worlds

    Those who’ve been raising alarms about Facebook are right: Almost every minute that we spend on our smartphones and tablets and laptops, thumbing through favorite websites and scrolling through personalized feeds, we’re pointed toward foregone conclusions. We’re pressured to conform.

    But unseen puppet masters on Mark Zuckerberg’s payroll aren’t to blame. We’re the real culprits. When it comes to elevating one perspective above all others and herding people into culturally and ideologically inflexible tribes, nothing that Facebook does to us comes close to what we do to ourselves.

    I’m talking about how we use social media in particular and the Internet in general — and how we let them use us. They’re not so much agents as accomplices, new tools for ancient impulses, part of “a long sequence of technological innovations that enable us to do what we want,” noted social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who wrote the 2012 best seller “The Righteous Mind,” when we spoke last week.

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Election From Hell

    Sometimes people are surprised, or even unsettled, by how sanguine I can be about the coming election. I sometimes say that it’s not that I have some magic foresight about the outcome — I don’t make predictions like that; anything could happen — but it is rather that I have been here before. One of the first elections I ever voted in had candidates who were even more flawed and was even more of a circus. Hard to believe, I know, but it’s true.

    And there are eerie similarities that I can’t shake.

    The Democrat, who had occupied the white-columned home of the executive during an earlier period of prosperity, had testified more than 15 times before grand jury investigations and had twice been tried, but never convicted, on felony charges.

    The Republican, a divorcé, was a well-known racist and demagogue who tried to disavow his past and who once said his plan to deal with illegal immigration was to heavily fortify the Mexican-American border and round up and deport all illegal aliens.

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Fighting phony 'populism'

    From the coverage of the 2016 campaign over the last six months, you would think that American workers battered by economic change have finally won their moment in the political sun.

    After all, Donald Trump is said to be the paladin of white blue-collar men and Bernie Sanders speaks unabashedly about the working class, a term many have (wrongly) written off as an antique concept out of 1930s black-and-white movies.

    But media interest in policy initiatives that would benefit those who are struggling is scarce. It's far more interesting, apparently, to cover the latest poll about an election that's still a long way off, or to wax eloquent about a kerfuffle at a Democratic state convention in Nevada.

    We had an objective test of this last week when the Obama administration announced much-needed new rules on overtime pay.

    One of the insidious trends costing workers a lot of income has been the fake reclassification of even relatively low-paid employees as "managers," which deprived them of overtime pay.

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When it comes to lying, Trump is in a class by himself

    Stonewaller, shape-shifter, liar. I wrote last week about how an all-but-certain presidential nominee embodied these characteristics, prompting comments from readers observing, with varying degrees of snarkiness, that they had assumed I was referring to Hillary Clinton.

    My target was Donald Trump, but these readers raise a reasonable and important question: Can't the same criticism I heaped on the presumptive Republican nominee be applied to the Democratic front-runner? To all politicians, for that matter? Am I just whaling on Trump and going soft on Clinton because I disagree with Trump's positions and agree, for the most part, with Clinton's?

     Some will conclude that I am simply in the tank for Clinton, willfully blind to her faults. (On that score, full disclosure: My college-age daughter has volunteered for the Clinton campaign as an unpaid intern this summer.)

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