Archive

August 20th, 2016

The final insult: Trump is a bore

    If he doesn't ultimately win the election and shred our Constitution, the most annoying thing about Donald Trump may end up being this: He forced us to devote so much of our lives to a man who is, fundamentally, a bore.

    Don't get me wrong: I'm as addicted to coverage of his train-wreck, oh-no-he-didn't campaign as everyone else. Even if we wanted to avert our eyes, as citizens we would have a duty not to, to learn as much about the man and his potential presidency as we can. As Trump pinballed last week from "rigged election" to "Second Amendment people" to "founder of ISIS," I crashed from one bumper to the next along with the rest of America.

    But one reason this feels like such an imposition is that Trump is, in the end, so uninteresting.

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Is Trump destroying the GOP?

    Not long after Donald Trump delivered his acceptance speech at the festival of rage, hate, and megalomania otherwise known as the GOP convention, leading Never Trump conservatives despaired that the GOP's nomination of Trump could cost the party a generation of young voters. As former Jeb Bush adviser Tim Miller pointed out, the two conventions did not give the average 18-year-old any reason to be a Republican. Miller added: "We're giving away a generation."

    A new USA Today/Rock the Vote poll released Monday will not do much to assuage those fears.

    The new poll's toplines are alarming enough for Republicans: They show that Hillary Clinton is beating Trump by 56-20 among voters under 35. By contrast, according to exit polls, John McCain won 32 percent of voters aged 18-30 in 2008 and Mitt Romney won 36 percent of them in 2012, though this is an imperfect comparison of age groups.

    Here's what this all means, per the USA Today article accompanying the poll:

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How the Internet could democratize campaign spending

    The prospect of billions of dollars moving opaquely through the Internet and aimed at influencing our votes can sound ominous, especially as the Web is increasingly a tool that Americans use to communicate both personally and politically. In the broadest sense, allowing this flood of ad money feels contrary to our usual efforts to ensure that we know who is spending large sums to try to influence the makeup and actions of our government.

    But the world of campaign finance regulation has always been fuzzy and complex, especially as we try to balance the values of fairness and transparency with the equally fundamental principle of freedom of expression. These new advertising tools, from email and websites to Facebook and YouTube and more, clearly offer both opportunities and challenges in an already fraught landscape.

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Free speech has been very good to Donald Trump

    If only those First Amendment people could do something about Donald Trump. His latest attack on their sacred cow is the assertion that "It is not 'freedom of the press' when newspapers and others are allowed to say and write whatever they want even if it is completely false!"

    That's wrong as a matter of constitutional law. But it's not crazy. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently accorded a high degree of protection to falsehoods. And the kinds of justices that the Republican presidential nominee might appoint could well reverse it.

    The landmark case for the constitutional protection of lies and the lying liars who tell them was decided in 2012. It involved a prosecution under the Stolen Valor Act, a federal statute that made it a crime to say you have military medals you never earned -- and bigger crime to claim falsely to have received the Medal of Honor.

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Facebook may soon have more power over elections than the FEC. Are we ready?

    For political advertising, like so much else, the digital revolution inspires both utopian and apocalyptic predictions. And as in many other arenas where Internet-based "disruption" looms, the optimists and pessimists both have a point.

    For those of us who study campaign and election regulation, however, new technology poses a serious challenge to the existing ways of thinking about and addressing the campaign finance problem. Government regulation becomes increasingly difficult once communication moves online, thus, large Internet platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter will become the primary regulators of political campaigns. They need to recognize their new role and use their power responsibly.

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Democrats seem tepid about the public option

    Hillary Clinton supports adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act -- that is, a government-run insurance program to compete with private health insurance. She announced her support in July, and the public option was the only specific change to Obamacare that she mentioned in her economics speech last week.

    This position makes a lot of practical sense, as the New Republic's Brian Beutler has been pointing out. The Congressional Budget Office has scored a public option as deficit-reducing, which means Democrats wouldn't have to raise taxes or cut spending to pay for it. A public option has also polled well. For example, back in December 2009 a CBS News/New York Times survey found 59 percent favored including a public option in Obamacare, with only 29 percent opposed.

    It was a big disappointment to liberals during the 2009-2010 legislative fight over the ACA when the public option disappeared from the bill. So it would seem to be a logical next step for liberal politicians seeking to improve Obamacare.

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Clinton is getting away with policy malpractice

    Hillary Clinton has given another fine speech about the economy. It was supposed to lay out her plans to create jobs, boost growth and restore income equality, in response to Donald Trump's economic address a few days earlier. Clinton's only new idea, however, was an expansion to an existing child tax credit. Beyond that, there wasn't anything in her latest speech that couldn't be gleaned from her website.

    It was a missed opportunity. Maybe she feels she doesn't have to do more -- that all she has to do is stay on-message and remind voters she's not Donald Trump.

    But with only 12 weeks before Election Day, voters still don't know which of Clinton's hundreds of proposals are her top priorities, or how she'd get Congress' support for ideas both parties have rejected before.

    Clinton's strategy is to mock Trump's proposals with clever ripostes. His 15 percent tax on pass-through business income is now the "Trump Loophole." But rarely is she forced to defend her own ideas on a level playing field.

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Brazil’s Uplifting Olympics

    When I was a correspondent in Brazil 30 years ago inflation was rampant. It ran at an average of 707.4 percent a year from 1985 to 1989. The salaries of the poor were wiped out within hours of being paid. The country went through three currencies — cruzeiro, cruzado and cruzado novo — while I lived in Rio. The only way out for Brazilians, people joked, was Galeão, the international airport.

    Antônio Carlos (“Tom”) Jobim, composer of “The Girl from Ipanema” (whose name is now affixed to that airport), famously observed that, “Brazil is not for beginners.” It was not then and it’s not now.

    It’s a vast diverse country, a tropical United States, whose rich and poor are divided by a chasm. High crime rates are in part a reflection of this divide. Flexibility is at a premium in a culture fashioned by heat, sensuality, samba and rule bending. Life can be cheap. You adapt or you perish.

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All of a sudden, economists are getting real jobs

    John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1930 that "if economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people on a level with dentists, that would be splendid." Almost a century later, he's getting his wish.

    Economists tend to be a grandiose bunch. They advise presidents and billionaires. They are generally unashamed about offering semi-professional opinions on everything from moral philosophy to politics to family life. Their models make sweeping assumptions about the future of technology, and leave out huge things like norms, values and emotions. I once joked that scientists might like to play God, but economists simply write down some equations for God and calibrate His parameters.

    But there are signs that some economists are now embracing a humbler role. Instead of holding forth on policy issues or the welfare of nations, many are working with companies to create the kind of ideal markets that were previously confined to the pages of their academic papers. In other words, Keynes' dream of economic dentistry -- or, more accurately, economic engineering -- might at last be coming true.

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August 19th

A retweet from freedoms: If our forefathers replied

    Donald Trump says he wants the news media to stop being crooked, dishonest and - his favorite word - rigged.

    What he really seems to want is for journalists to stop doing their jobs, which is to examine the backgrounds of candidates and hold them to the truth. As many reporters have toughened their questioning in recent weeks, and as his campaign has struggled under one self-inflicted disaster after other, the Republican nominee has squealed ever louder.

    Based on every complaint Trump has made, he doesn't understand what journalism's role in our democracy is supposed to be. It is not, of course, shilling for Donald Trump - or any other candidate.

    The attacks have an unmistakable whiff of desperation, and they are surely meant as a distraction and as a hearty helping of red meat to his political base.

    Many of his objections, naturally, have been expressed in tweets - @realDonaldTrump's favorite form of direct-to-the-people communication.

    Here are just three examples from the past few days:

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