Archive

July 4th, 2016

Paul Ryan sits atop the ruins of his party

            Paul Ryan is a sunny politician in a party devoted to spreading gloom. But as Republicans slouch toward Cleveland, even he must be having dark moments.

            As the highest-ranking official in his party, he will oversee the Republican National Convention that is poised to nominate Donald Trump -- a role he could have avoided, and almost did. His predecessor as speaker, John Boehner, helped deliver a huge Republican majority in the House. Yet the party's conference was so ideologically unhinged and practically dysfunctional that it rewarded Boehner for this historic achievement by forcing him into retirement.

            After a protracted show of ambivalence about replacing Boehner, Ryan opted to succeed him last October. "We will not duck the tough issues," Ryan said after being sworn in. "We will take them head on." The new motto, Ryan said, would be: "Opportunity for all."

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GOP stoops for scandal

    The Republican yearning to pin a scandal on Hillary Clinton knows no bounds. Any scandal will do, real or imagined. She must somehow be -- or appear to be -- guilty of something.

    They tried Benghazi. Boy, did they try Benghazi. House Republicans even put together a special committee, which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy praised for hurting Clinton's chances of being elected president. "Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?" he said last September. "But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping."

    To the GOP's consternation, however, those numbers recovered nicely. According to the Real Clear Politics average of polls, she leads Donald Trump by about 5 points; the most recent Washington Post survey showed her ahead by 12. Adding insult to injury, the Benghazi committee came up empty-handed. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., the panel's chairman, released a final report last week that found no smoking gun. In fact, it didn't find smoke.

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Debating whether the First Amendment protects online reviews

            Does the First Amendment protect online reviews? The issue is salient as Congress considers passing a law outlawing form contracts that make you promise not to review the goods or services you purchase. And the answer is: the Constitution matters more than you might think. Among other things, it guarantees that private websites can curate content, probably including reviews they host.

            The proposed law, known as the Consumer Review Freedom Act, passed the Senate unanimously in January and has been awaiting action in the House since then. Its purpose is to outlaw contractual agreements between a business and customer prohibiting the customer from writing a review.

            Consumer activists call such contractual provisions "gag laws." The strongest argument for banning the agreements is that prohibiting reviews can distort the market. They block the free flow information that would help other customers decide whether to purchase a business's goods and services. That increases the asymmetry of information between a business and its potential customers.

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July 3rd

Time to really shatter the glass ceiling

    No matter how much money they raise, every political campaign is strapped for cash. Even Hillary Clinton's campaign. So here's my tip on how the Clinton campaign can save a lot of money: for Secretary Clinton to turn off the spigot. Tell her vice-presidential selection team to go home. Stop vetting anybody else -- and just name Elizabeth Warren as her running mate.

    There's only one reason to pick Warren, and it's not what most pundits say: not because Clinton needs Warren on the ticket in order to win over Bernie Sanders supporters. Despite all the fears expressed by Clinton staffers during the campaign, that's not a problem. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, released this week, shows that 81 percent of Sanders supporters already say they'll vote for Clinton. Only 8 percent of them support Donald Trump.

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Yes, Trump's flip-flops are taking a toll

    Many in the media seem to be having some difficulties comprehending just how badly Donald Trump is doing, and how unusual it is for the Republican Party to be so resistant to their own presidential nominee.

    Alan Rappeport and Maggie Haberman had a perfectly fine piece in the New York Times Wednesday listing the many issues on which Trump has flip-flopped. But the preface is bizarre: They compare Trump to Secretary of State John Kerry in his 2004 run for president, and claim Kerry was destroyed by charges of flip-flopping while Trump "has so far avoided much harm" from switching positions on core issues of public policy.

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Who's to blame for Benghazi

    You'll never guess who comes off as a hero of the Republican-drafted House Benghazi committee's majority report: President Barack Obama.

    Within 90 minutes of the Sept. 11, 2012, surprise attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and an aide, the report tells us, Obama had told his secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to do everything possible, implicitly including using military force, to protect Americans.

    These were "very clear directions," according to Peter Roskam, R-Illinois, one of Obama's harshest critics on the panel.

    How different from the version of the president's conduct propounded on right-wing talk radio and TV in the aftermath: that he and his aides coolly watched live video of the mayhem in Benghazi, supplied by drones flying overhead, but declined to order a rescue mission.

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When 'telling it like it is' exposes 'lazy' thinking about blacks

    I've really struggled with how to write about the results of two polls on race released this week. So, let me just toss out the two findings that have induced this paralysis.

    According to the Reuters-Ipsos poll, " Supporters of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump are more likely to describe African-Americans as 'criminal,' 'unintelligent,' 'lazy' and 'violent' than voters who backed some Republican rivals in the primaries or who support Democratic contender Hillary Clinton."

    According to the Pew Research Center's survey on race, "About six-in-ten (59 percent) white Republicans say too much attention is paid to race and racial issues these days, while only 21 percent of Democrats agree. "

    That folks harbor anti-black views is nothing new. An Associated Press poll from 2012 showed that negative views of African-Americans jumped from 48 percent in 2008 to 51 percent in 2012. And that number jumped to 56 percent when implicit racial attitudes were factored in. But the Reuters-Ipsos poll still shocks the conscience.

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Social networks could predict the next Brexit

    The failure of polls and bookmakers to predict the outcome of the Brexit referendum will push the financial sector, which relies on accurate information, to search for alternatives. Some claim they obtained good results from scraping social media, which may have been the best way to predict the June 23 vote result.

    Brevan Howard Asset Management, co-founded by the billionaire Alan Howard, reportedly reduced risk ahead of the vote after using artificial intelligence to study social network data. Its $16 billion macro fund gained 1 percent on the day the results were announced; hedge funds globally lost 1.6 percent. Other funds, Bloomberg News reports, are increasing investments in this technology.

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German chancellor is the U.K.'s best hope

    The leaders of the remaining 27 European Union members have spoken on Brexit, and it would appear that they spoke with one voice. Could it be, however, that France and Germany, the EU-27's two leaders, really have different approaches to handling the U.K.'s departure?

    The statement from their Brussels gathering this week was calm and firm: The U.K. should start the formal withdrawal process "as soon as possible," but hopefully it will remain a close partner. It can, however, only be part of the EU's common market if it adheres to all of its "four freedoms" -- the free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

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Sanders: making his goodbye count

    Nick Salvatore, the biographer of Eugene V. Debs, wrote that the popularity of the great American Socialist leader in the early decades of the 20th century "rested upon his ability to articulate and symbolize something of the severe dislocation experienced by all Americans in the transformation to industrial capitalism."

     Bernie Sanders' appeal bears a striking similarity to his political hero's. Debs gave voice to the unease and unhappiness bred by the disruptions of the industrial period. Sanders speaks forcefully for those dismayed by the inequalities and injustices in this era of deindustrialization.

     Like Debs, Sanders failed to achieve victory in a presidential contest. Nonetheless, both democratic socialists spoke for many who neither shared their ideology nor voted for them. Just as Debsian socialism had a powerful impact in preparing the way for the New Deal, so will Sanders have an influence on where American politics moves next.

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