Archive

September 21st, 2016

Voters barely worry about their own health. Do they really care about the president's?

    The first of three planned presidential debates will take place at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Sept. 26. Maybe it's good the debate is slated for a gym. If Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are really serious about proving their physical vigor and stamina, they can do laps in the arena while they answer questions.

    Clinton, of course, had to leave a 9/11 commemoration in New York early last Sunday, suffering from dehydration and a case of pneumonia. The infection had been diagnosed two days earlier, after she saw a doctor for a cough that had drawn intense interest from the ready-to-pounce conservative media. The only real health issue the illness raised is whether she had received the recommended vaccines to prevent pneumonia in people over 65 - something the 70-year-old Trump should be asked, as well.

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Trump's Birther Lie Gets Worse

    Wow. Donald Trump says President Barack Obama was born here. What a concession. No wonder he’s trending up in the polls.

    How did we get to this place, people? The big story of the day is that a candidate for president of the United States — a candidate who, according to The New York Times’ Upshot model, now has a one in four chance of being elected — admits he spent years telling the American people a stupendous lie. And even now, he won’t say he’s sorry.

    “President Barack Obama was born in the United States, period. Now we all want to get back to making America strong and great again,” Trump said abruptly and briefly on Friday. This was at his new Washington hotel, which he has been promoting with an avidity he has never devoted to, say, getting his immigration policy straight.

    Then Trump claimed that Hillary Clinton had been first to spread the rumor that Obama was not a native-born citizen. This is a lie. A lie that all the fact checkers in the world debunked when he started saying it long ago.

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To stop Trump, Democrats should focus on the fundamentals -- and get to work

    If Democrats want to beat Donald Trump, they need to get past the freak-out stage and get to work.

    In a sane and just world, this presidential race would be a walkover. Commentators would already be sketching out their postmortem analyses of an all-but-certain Hillary Clinton victory. Pare the contest down to its essentials: A former senator and secretary of state, eminently qualified to be president, is running against a dangerous demagogue who has never held public office and should not be allowed anywhere near the White House. Ought to be case closed.

    But it's not. Clinton's big lead in national polls following the party conventions, which approached double digits, has shrunk to about 2 points -- far too close for comfort. Trump has gained ground in swing-state polls as well. If the election were held tomorrow, Clinton would probably win. But Nov. 8 is many weeks away, and the recent trend line is hardly in her favor.

    Why has the race tightened? I've heard a lot of theories, but I'm not sure I really buy any of them.

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Paychecks haven't changed much in rural America

    In the mostly very positive report on U.S. income and poverty in 2015 that the Census Bureau released this week, there was one sour note. As the Wall Street Journal reported:

    "Income gains were spread across nearly all age groups, household types, regions and racial or ethnic groups. One exception: Incomes didn't rise for households living outside metropolitan areas."

    In fact, the Census Bureau reported that the median household income outside the nation's metropolitan areas fell from $45,534 in 2014 to $44,657 (both in 2015 dollars), although it didn't make a big deal out of that because the difference was less than the survey's margin of error. The increase in median household income inside metropolitan areas, from $55,920 in 2014 to $59,258, was way more than the margin of error.

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Mourning the Syria that might have been

    Earlier this week, when the latest ceasefire in Syria's long-running civil war took effect, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad seized the opportunity to embark on a triumphant tour of a place that has long defied him. He paid a visit to the city of Daraya, a Damascus suburb where rebels managed to resist his forces for four long years until they finally agreed to give up control in the last week of August.

    For those four years the government threw everything it had at Daraya. The troops surrounding it tried to starve it out, refusing to let aid convoys bring food to residents. Syrian helicopters pounded the city with barrel bombs, weapons of indiscriminate terror that have little or no military utility. In August, the Syrian air force used rockets and napalm to obliterate the city's last surviving hospital. Some observers believe this was part of a calculated effort to make the place completely uninhabitable.

    We've seen the same brutality in far too many places in this war. But there was something different about Daraya - something that helps to explain why Assad was so keen to celebrate its fall.

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It's still the economy, stupid

    Because they are tailored to appeal to voters, all political platforms are, to some extent, "populist." But what sets the wave of populism currently sweeping across the Western world apart from politics as usual is its impatience with constraints placed on democratic governments - in other words, its authoritarianism. When Fox News host Brett Baier suggested that the military would refuse Donald Trump's orders to torture captured jihadis, the latter responded simply, "They're not going to refuse me." The notion that leaders elected by popular majorities can flout legal norms, constitutional rules, and democratic checks and balances is at heart of the "illiberal democracy" promoted by Viktor Orban in Hungary and the ethos of Poland's Law and Justice Party, which has held power since October.

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Five myths on presidential health

    When Hillary Clinton announced a diagnosis of pneumonia last week, soon after leaving a Sept. 11 memorial service, she elicited a predictably partisan response. Fans of Donald Trump speculated that she wouldn't survive the year, while her own supporters pointed out that hardworking people get sick all the time. Both presidential candidates have been pressured to release more information about their health. But this information may not be as useful as we think. Past assumptions about the health of presidents and candidates often have been shrouded in myth.

 

Myth No. 1

    Franklin D. Roosevelt gave away Eastern Europe to the Soviets because he was sick.

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Fear of Clinton dominates some voters' choice

    One of the hardest things for a foreigner to understand in U.S. politics, especially its rather extreme 2016 version, is the willingness of voters to support candidates they deemed unacceptable earlier in the campaign. Because the U.S. presidential election narrows to a two-candidate race, the calculus of voters and political operatives shifts in spectacular ways.

    Plenty of this was on display in New Hampshire this week. On Wednesday, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was in the state, which gave him his best performance of the primary season -- 7.4 percent of the vote -- to push a simple message to Republicans. "If you are a Republican and you are not working for Donald Trump over the next 55 days, you are working for Hillary Clinton," he said at a party "unity breakfast."

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Does globalization hurt poor workers? It's complicated.

    Political economists have long debated whether globalization started a "race to the bottom" throughout the developing world - that is, a lowering of labor and environmental standards as governments fiercely compete to attract multinational corporations and supply chain contracts.

    The evidence that this is the case, however, is decidedly mixed. In some cases, globalization can worsen labor standards, and international investment agreements can sometimes shift bargaining power toward multinational firms and away from developing countries' go vernments. But, in other instances, globalization offers mechanisms to improve the conditions faced by workers. Moreover, the sources of poor working conditions are often as much domestic as they are international.

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Chemical weapons watchdog continues hunt for Syria's elusive nerve agent

    When Syria disclosed its long-secret chemical weapons program in December 2013, it presented international weapons inspectors with a hard-to-swallow story: One of the regime's premier chemical weapons facilities - an underground laboratory on the outskirts of Damascus that was designed to fill Scud missiles with a lethal nerve agent - had never in fact produced Sarin.

    The inspectors decided they would have to check for themselves. In three visits to the site, known as Hafir 1, specialists from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons started to believe they had caught Syria lying about the extent of its secret chemical-weapons development.

    Samples collected at the site revealed the unmistakable presence of Sarin in the equipment used to mix the banned warfare agent and pour it into Soviet-era Scud or Tochka tactical ballistic missiles. They also betrayed traces of precursors for another, even deadlier nerve agent, VX, that Syria did not initially acknowledge using at the site. More signatures of Sarin were detected in two mobile filling units parked aboveground at the complex.

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