Archive

June 25th, 2016

How voters' personal suffering overtook reason - and brought us Donald Trump

    On a sleepless night last winter -- insomnia being an intelligent response to the condition of our country -- I turned on the television and found "The Deer Hunter." As I watched the extraordinary first hour --the steel mill and its fiery floor; the homely tavern with its clinking beer bottles and its crooning jukebox; the VFW hall festooned for a wedding with a banner that proclaimed "serving God and country"; the Russian Orthodox church, its onion domes reaching stubbornly for the heavens past a bleak industrial sky; the hunting party in the Allegheny Mountains, in which a crude, even revolting masculinity somehow collides with the sublime -- the elegiac tale suddenly acquired a sharp political point.

    The film is the great cinematic poem to the world of what we have come to call, as a consequence of the current presidential campaign, "the white working class."

    "The whole thing," Christopher Walken says lovingly about his Pennsylvania town on the night before he and his friends are to deploy to Vietnam. "It's right here."

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Hasty death penalty review raises more doubt in Alabama

    Everyone who follows the vicissitudes of the death penalty knows Alabama's sentencing process is seriously flawed. Jaded as I am, I was still shocked to read about the case of Doyle Lee Hamm, who lost his post-conviction quest for review when the judge adopted verbatim an 89-page opinion proposed by the state prosecutor -- one business day after receiving it.

    There's no doubt that this apparent judicial contempt for the deliberative process is morally outrageous, especially when a man's life is at stake. But does it violate due process? That's the question that Hamm's lawyer has asked the Supreme Court to consider. And as it turns out, the answer is far from easy. An appeals court has already said no. And it seems highly unlikely that the justices would agree to take it up. In a perfect world, the Supreme Court would find a way to avoid the legal issue while still making the court write a new opinion.

    Hamm isn't denying that he committed the 1987 murder for which he was convicted. He's challenging the death sentence, primarily on the ground that his trial lawyer was so ineffective that he was denied his right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment.

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Donald Trump's problems are making it too easy for Democrats to ignore their own

    If you're a liberal Democrat, you could be forgiven for feeling pretty smug these days. Though the convention is still to come, Hillary Clinton, the standard bearer of establishment Democrats, is virtually assured of getting the nomination. She seeks to follow eight years of a Democratic president, and 16 years out of the past 24. With presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump beset by a hostile media and a skeptical-at-best GOP leadership - owing to his own inflammatory and erratic behavior - the safe bet is to assume at least another four years of a liberal Democrat in office.

    And yet look below the surface, and you'll find that liberal Democrats face existential problems - none more glaring than a fundamental question of identity. The question that must preoccupy the party if, as expected, it earns a third consecutive presidential term is simple but uneasily answered: What do liberal Democrats stand for?

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Trump's attacks on freedom of religion

    Donald Trump apparently wants to institute something akin to Jim Crow discrimination against Muslims, including those who are citizens of the United States. Is this what the Republican Party wants as well?

    What's your opinion about legalized religious bigotry, House Speaker Paul Ryan? How about you, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? Do Republican quislings agree with the man they have endorsed for president? They should never again speak of the hallowed traditions of the Party of Lincoln, because those ideals are being spat upon by the presumptive nominee. The GOP is now the Party of Trump.

    On Sunday, "Face the Nation" host John Dickerson reminded Trump that last year he had raised the idea of "profiling" for Muslims and asked him to elaborate. Trump's response: "Well, I think profiling is something that we're going to have to start thinking about as a country. Other countries do it," he said, naming Israel, and "we have to start using common sense."

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Trump's misfires send Republicans scurrying

    The four measures to tighten gun laws that got shot down in the Senate on Monday provided further evidence that Donald Trump can't even get right with his supporters, much less enemies in his own party.

    In the wake of the June 12 massacre in an Orlando night club, the presumptive Republican nominee took on one of his most important allies, the National Rifle Association, inadvertently, with two completely opposite positions: Flanking the powerful lobby on the left, he advocated barring those on the terrorist watch list from buying guns -- one of the measures that failed to pass on Monday that is anathema to the NRA. And coming at them from the right, a place that is hard to get to without falling off the face of the Earth, he suggested that the club-goers would have been better off had they been armed, too, and able to shoot the terrorist "right smack between the eyes."

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Trump's campaign? What campaign?

    Donald Trump's firing of his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, sounds like a big deal, until you realize how little of a Trump campaign there is to manage.

    Late Monday, hours after presumptive Republican presidential nominee Trump let his campaign manager go, new campaign filings revealed that Trump ended May with less than $1.3 million in the bank.

    That might sound like a nice piece of change until you learn that Hillary Clinton, his presumptive Democratic opponent, raised more than $28 million in May and started June with $42 million in cash.

    Even Trump's fellow Republican Ben Carson reported $1.8 million -- $500,000 more than Trump -- in his campaign fund in May, even though he stopped campaigning in March.

    Overall, Team Trump -- his presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee and Trump's allied super PAC Great America PAC -- went into June with $21.7 million in cash. That compares to $103.4 million in cash on hand held by Team Clinton, which includes her campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Priorities USA super PAC.

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June 24th

I'm a doctor in a critical-care unit. Here's what gun violence looks like to me.

    The critical care team making rounds - my team for today - stops abruptly in front of the next patient room, and I hear my co-resident present the story: The 18-year-old patient suffered a gunshot wound to the face. The circumstances of the shooting aren't clear, but we heard it had something to do with "gang violence." And we continue listening to the presentation: an update on any changes in the patient's status that happened overnight, his vital signs over the past 24 hours, the input of different specialists, and, finally, the treatment plan for the day.

    We shuffle into the room - an army of white coats - with hopeful, patient smiles. We stand in a halo around the bed as we look at the young man, wearing a cervical collar and not able to fully open his mouth. This is what gun violence leaves in its wake. Though we're trained, as doctors and nurses, not to let emotion cloud our clinical judgment as we treat devastating wounds and illnesses, it's still jarring to see the damage that can be done by a weapon so readily available in our society.

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The best-case scenario for Trump

    Donald Trump fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, on Monday. The move followed a disastrous stretch for the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in which he's driven away his party's elites, failed to organize a proper general election campaign and fallen far behind Hillary Clinton in the polls.

    Trump trails Clinton by 7.6 percentage points in the HuffPollster estimate. Her lead is larger than any that President Barack Obama was able to establish over Mitt Romney in 2012, and Trump has to do about 4 percentage points better than Romney. Moreover, it still seems likely that Clinton has a bit more of a surge remaining as she consolidates the Democratic vote once Bernie Sanders drops out and endorses her.

    There's no reason to believe that Trump will suddenly change, and it's far more likely that the candidate, not the campaign manager, is the problem with his White House quest. Still, it's possible that the staff contributed to some of the dysfunction, or that a shake-up reflects the candidate's realization that he can't win the general election by appealing to a plurality of Republicans while angering the rest of the nation.

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Sure, Trump promotes women. That doesn't mean he respects them.

    One of the more head-scratching aspects of Trump's worldview is this: he routinely denigrates women while also promoting them within his own businesses. In a recent interview with Bill O'Reilly, he again trumpeted these efforts again, claiming he "really broke the glass ceiling" in the construction industry.

    But how can we square his record of promoting women -- and the fact that many of his female former employees have called him a "terrific mentor" -- with the fact that he routinely insults women and calls them "pigs" and "dogs"? Or that his supporters routinely refer to presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a b---? As a Washington Post reporter documented at a recent campaign stop, "At most of Trump's rallies, there is a palpable hatred of Clinton in the air, and some of Trump's strongest applause lines come when he attacks the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, calling her 'crooked' and accusing her of playing 'the woman's card.'"

    In fact, it's no contradiction at all: it's a classic example of what's known in psychology as "subtyping."

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Another Age of Discovery

    Have we been here before? I know — it feels as if the internet, virtual reality, Donald Trump, Facebook, sequencing of the human genome and machines that can reason better than people constitute a change in the pace of change without precedent. But we’ve actually been through an extraordinarily rapid transition like this before in history — a transition we can learn a lot from.

    Ian Goldin, director of the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University, and Chris Kutarna, also of Oxford Martin, have just published a book — “Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance” — about lessons we can draw from the period 1450 to 1550, known as the Age of Discovery. It was when the world made a series of great leaps forward, propelled by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus and Columbus, that produced the Renaissance and reshaped science, education, manufacturing, communications, politics and geopolitics.

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