Archive

November 1st, 2016

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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Caught in campus censors' crosshairs

    The right to speak freely may be enshrined in some of our nation's great universities, but the culture of listening needs repair. That is the lesson I learned a year ago, when I sent an email urging Yale University students to think critically about an official set of guidelines on costumes to avoid at Halloween.

    I had hoped to generate a reflective conversation among students: What happens when one person's offense is another person's pride? Should a costume-wearer's intent or context matter? Can we always tell the difference between a mocking costume and one that satirizes ignorance? In what circumstances should we allow - or punish - youthful transgression?

    "I don't wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation," I wrote, in part. "I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students."

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A Final Plea to Trump’s America

    At least one of my siblings, and some of my friends from high school, will be among the 50 million or so Americans waking up on Nov. 9 after giving their vote to a man who thinks very little of them, and even less of the country he wants to lead.

    Allow me one last attempt to help you avoid a hangover that will stay with you the rest of your life.

    If you ignored every blast of hatred from Donald Trump, every attempt to defraud people or stiff those who worked for him, every bellow from the bully, consider his low view of humanity in general. “For the most part you can’t respect people,” he has said, “because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

    This is the credo of a loveless man in a friendless world. He also says he has no heroes — not a Lincoln or Mandela, a Jackie Robinson or a Capt. Chesley Sullenberger.

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My Halloween email led to a campus firestorm and a lesson about self-censorship

    The right to speak freely may be enshrined in some of our nation's great universities, but the culture of listening needs repair. That is the lesson I learned a year ago, when I sent an email urging Yale University students to think critically about an official set of guidelines on costumes to avoid at Halloween.

    I had hoped to generate a reflective conversation among students: What happens when one person's offense is another person's pride? Should a costume-wearer's intent or context matter? Can we always tell the difference between a mocking costume and one that satirizes ignorance? In what circumstances should we allow - or punish - youthful transgression?

    "I don't wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation," I wrote, in part. "I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students."

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