Archive

November 1st, 2016

Why what you say in private looks bad in public, even if it isn't

    Imagine a world where you can't feel safe speaking to those you're closest to because an invisible eavesdropper is always lurking, ready to expose your private words to public scrutiny. Actually, we already live in that world, especially if you're a public figure or talking to one, as WikiLeaks has shown by its steady release of hacked emails during the presidential campaign.

    During the primary race, it published emails of Democratic National Committee officials, and this month it has busied itself with broadcasting those of top Democrats working inside Hillary Clinton's campaign. (The most recent, exposing internal discussions of the Clinton Foundation, reveal concerns about appearances but no favors granted to donors - and that campaign Chairman John Podesta loves risotto.)

    Of a different nature was The Washington Post's release of Donald Trump's recorded conversation with Billy Bush during a 2005 taping of an "Access Hollywood" segment, but it too, was an instance of public exposure of presumed private communication.

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Who will save the GOP?

    With Donald Trump's presidential campaign now appearing to be heading over a cliff, where is there a credible figure to save the Grand Old Party?

    One unintentional function of the 2016 primary elections was the liquidation of that field of 16 alleged political stars, from Scott Walker, Rick Perry and Chris Christie to Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. All of them, also including early frontrunner Jeb Bush, were shunted to the sidelines by the Trump primary blitzkrieg.

    At least Bush went down swinging, bearing the brunt of Trump's assault as a "low energy" foil who proved to be a sacrificial lamb, shattering dreams of a Bush family dynasty along the way.

    The reigning family of the Republican Party lost any vestige of meaningful influence with the absence of both former Presidents Bush at the party national convention, and the subsequent fall campaign.

    The party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, who survived that defeat with a modicum of dignity, also made a valiant but failed attempt to rally the GOP establishment to a stop-Trump effort.

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The end of the Islamic State will make the Middle East worse

    In 2014, it would have been difficult to overstate the anxiety and confusion in the Middle East, as Islamic militants hordes swept through Iraq and Syria.

    Across the region, people were asking: Where did the Islamic State come from, and where would it stop? For a while, agitated talk of fading borders and new maps became standard. It was the only time my Lebanese father ever wavered in his stubborn attachment to our fragile and failing country. Perhaps, he mused, buying a refuge in Europe made more sense than renovating our old family house in northern Lebanon, close to places where Islamic State sympathizers might be waiting in hiding.

    Today, as the Islamic State weakens, the sense of relief is unmistakable. The terrorist organization has not turned out to be the Godzilla many feared. Fears about Arab youth being seduced en masse have not materialized. The Iraqi state is in no worse shape than it was before (though that's no reason for contentment). Jordan has remained largely immune, thanks to sustained international patronage and a mighty security apparatus. Lebanon's Sunni mainstream and hardened Islamists both firmly rejected the Islamic State's entreaties.

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How stereotypes of women as weak push female politicians to be hawkish

    Donald Trump and his allies have spent the fall depicting Hillary Clinton as too much of a hawk and too much of a dove, as too reckless with American power and too weak at the same time. She voted for the war in Iraq. She wanted to go into Libya with guns blazing. No, wait: She quailed at confronting the Islamic State. She failed to override Iraqi objections to keeping American soldiers on the banks of the Euphrates.

    From the left, she is criticized for being too eager to project American power abroad, often favoring military force when President Barack Obama was resistant. Even within this critique, though, there is sometimes a suggestion that she is weak - "susceptible" to guidance from neoconservatives.

    It's a bind that's familiar to other women in prominent government roles, especially in the realm of national security: They have to deal with skepticism that they're tough enough to protect American interests and American citizens. Can a woman be "as strong as a man"? That puts them in a position of having to prove their toughness, which in turn puts them at risk of being declared overly aggressive.

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GDP growth climbs to 2.9 percent in Q3: I knew those soybeans had a liberal bias!

    The last gross domestic product report before the election came out Friday morning, showing that the U.S. economy expanded at an annual rate of 2.9 percent in the last quarter (2016Q3). That's that fastest growth rate in two years and a nice pickup from the prior quarter's rate of 1.4 percent.

    Significant contributors to growth in the quarter included net exports and the first inventory buildup in over a year. Consumer spending grew at a moderate 2.1 percent, while prices remained subdued, with consumer prices up 1.4 percent and core prices -- the Federal Reserve's key gauge -- up 1.7 percent, another low-side miss for the Fed of their 2 percent inflation target.

    Still, the acceleration in GDP growth in the quarter will likely create more pressure for the central bank to raise rates in its December meeting.

    The positive net export contribution of almost one percentage point (0.83) is the largest since late 2013, a result of both the leveling of the real, trade-weighted dollar and a one-time bump in soybean exports to South America, where weather whacked their soybean crop.

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Do shark attacks swing elections?

    Do shark attacks influence elections?

    That's what a pair of political scientists argued in 2002. Chris Achen and Larry Bartels presented a paper called "Blind Retrospection - Electoral Responses to Drought, Flu and Shark Attacks." The authors trace "the electoral impact of a clearly random event - a dramatic series of shark attacks in New Jersey in 1916″ and say they "show that voters in the affected communities significantly punished the incumbent president, Woodrow Wilson, at the polls." The finding has been widely discussed in political science over the past several years and was featured in Achen and Bartels's recent book "Democracy for Realists."

    If it's accurate, the finding has disturbing implications about our citizenry - and about democracy in general. As linguist Steven Pinker wrote in his blurb for "Democracy for Realists," "however cynical you are about the democratic process, it's worse than you think."

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Bookmakers pine for a piece of the election

    Jimmy Vaccaro, the 71-year-old doyen of Las Vegas oddsmakers, says that in the last week only five to 10 people have come to his counter at the South Point Casino's Sports Book lounge to ask him about the presidential election. "Used to be five to 10 people every two hours," Vaccaro says. "The interest is waning. We're worn out here."

    Yet in Nevada, a state that has called every presidential race in the last 60 years (except in 1976, when it favored Gerald Ford over Jimmy Carter), the contest is too close to call.

    Vaccaro's odds have been "for entertainment purposes only," a mere publicity instrument for the casino where he works. Politics is one of the few sports on which the Nevada gaming industry cannot take bets. He and other bookies here, as well as at least one state senator, believe the state missed a golden opportunity this year by not allowing betting on what Vaccaro calls "the most cantankerous election in history."

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And the 'Mr. Deplorable" prize goes to...

    If Donald Trump's presidential campaign were one of his beauty pageants, instead of a "Miss Congeniality" consolation prize there would have to be a "Mr. or Ms. Deplorable." According to my scorecard, the winner is Rudy Giuliani.

    Trump is the master of ceremonies, so he's ineligible. The competition among his enablers -- to see who can most thoroughly squander credibility and reputation -- has been fierce. There are so many worthy candidates for the Deplorable sash that it's a shame only one aide or surrogate can win.

    Begin with Mike Pence, a committed Christian, who disingenuously tells audiences that his running mate -- known to be a bully, a bigot, a misogynist and a libertine -- is "a good man." Pretty deplorable.

    Then there's Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, who let Trump steal his party and then became one of Trump's vassals. Allowing the traditions and honor of the party of Lincoln to be so horribly debased is definitely deplorable.

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The great big Clinton email scandal that wasn't

    Have you heard? With the help of WikiLeaks, Donald Trump has finally found his secret weapon: a trove of emails written to and from Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta, which are so explosive they will dominate the headlines, prove how corrupt Hillary Clinton really is, turn the American people against her and be the deciding factor in this election.

    Have you heard? That may have been Donald Trump's dream, but it's bombed big-time. Yes, the emails -- some 40,000 of them -- have been dripping out, a couple thousand a day for the last two weeks. There are only two problems. One, there are so many of them that nobody has time to read them all, except low-level reporters who are paid to do so. Two, they are monumentally boring.

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Obamacare Hits a Pothole

    For advocates of health reform, the story of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has been a wild roller-coaster ride.

    First there was the legislative drama, with reform seemingly on the edge of collapse right up to the moment of passage. Then there was the initial mess with the website — followed by incredibly good news on enrollment and costs. Now reform has hit a pothole: After several years of coming in far below predictions, premiums on covered plans have shot up more than 20 percent.

    So how bad is the picture?

    The people who have been claiming all along that reform couldn’t work, and have been wrong every step of the way, are, of course, claiming vindication. But they’re wrong again. The bad news is real. But so are reform’s accomplishments, which won’t go away even if nothing is done to fix the problems now appearing. And technically, if not politically, those problems are quite easy to fix.

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