Archive

February 5th, 2016

Clinton may lose battles but win the war

    Hillary Clinton has won the Democratic nomination. I've been saying that for a year. Despite Bernie Sanders's impressive campaign, nothing really changes that.

    Democratic party actors are close to united behind her. In presidential elections, that kind of support -- not polls, money or even results in early states -- is what best predicts who gets the nomination.

    Still, plenty remains at stake for Democrats in the vote in Iowa, where the former secretary of State remains a narrow favorite. The final Bloomberg/Des Moines Register/Selzer polls gives her a three- percentage-point lead, close enough that it wouldn't be a surprise if Sanders, the Vermont senator, comes out on top.

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A German lesson for Clinton's email scandal

    The more threatening Hillary Clinton's alleged mishandling of classified information becomes to her chances at the presidency the more I think the story has a relevant precedent.

    In 1974, 12 days after it was revealed that his personal assistant had been an East German spy, Willy Brandt, the chancellor of West Germany, announced his resignation. While Britain's Profumo affair had disastrous consequences for the government of Harold Macmillan in 1963, I can't think of another example of a leader of this caliber being brought low by being too careless with secret information, and there are important similarities -- and differences -- in the Brandt and Clinton cases that are interesting to consider.

    First, the similarities.

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Iowa’s Black Caucusgoers

    On Monday, Iowans will become the first people in the nation to officially express their choices for the next president of the United States.

    But what interested me in particular was that a subset of those voters will be black. And since black voters in national polls are overwhelmingly Democratic and overwhelming prefer Hillary Clinton to her rivals, it seemed important to explore how these voters are processing this election cycle and its candidates.

    Over three days in Des Moines — from Friday to Sunday — I interviewed more than 30 black people, and spoke briefly to many more at a black church, a black-owned barbershop, a popular soul food restaurant and at African-American social events.

    My first impression from these conversations was that there existed a staggering level of ambivalence and absence of enthusiasm. A surprising number of people said they were undecided and started an answer with the clause, “If I had to choose ...”

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February 4th

Wind, Sun and Fire

    So what’s really at stake in this year’s election? Well, among other things, the fate of the planet.

    Last year was the hottest on record, by a wide margin, which should — but won’t — put an end to climate deniers’ claims that global warming has stopped. The truth is that climate change just keeps getting scarier; it is, by far, the most important policy issue facing America and the world. Still, this election wouldn’t have much bearing on the issue if there were no prospect of effective action against the looming catastrophe.

    But the situation on that front has changed drastically for the better in recent years, because we’re now achingly close to achieving a renewable-energy revolution. What’s more, getting that energy revolution wouldn’t require a political revolution. All it would take are fairly modest policy changes, some of which have happened and others of which are underway. But those changes won’t happen if the wrong people end up in power.

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Why the golden age of growth is behind us

    This is the first of two excerpts from "The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War," published this month by Princeton University Press. The second will explain the implications of all this for the next quarter century.

    Can future innovations match the great inventions of the past? Will artificial intelligence, robots, 3D printing and other offspring of the digital revolution do for economic growth what the second industrial revolution did between 1920 and 1970? The techno-optimist school of economics says yes. I disagree.

    The rise in the U.S. standard of living from 1870 to 1970 was a special century -- and won't likely be repeated. Growth over the next quarter century will resemble the slow pace of 2004-2015, not the faster growth rate of 1994-2004, much less the rapid rate achieved between 1920 and 1970.

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What this politically (in)correct campaign tell us

    "Political correctness" may be the most intriguing issue to emerge in the current presidential election cycle, especially for Republicans. Yet it also may be the most under-discussed, perhaps out of fear that it would not be politically correct to do so.

    In Friday's Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa, for example, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz criticized President Barack Obama for refusing to use the diplomatically inflammatory term "Islamic terrorism" and then attacked "political correctness" as if he had not been practicing a conservative version of PC against Obama.

    Earlier, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump sarcastically tweeted about his least-favorite Fox News anchor, "I refuse to call Meghan Kelly a bimbo because that would not be politically correct."

    What is PC? A mostly pejorative term to describe language, rules and policies intended to avoid offending particular groups in society.

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The three delusions driving the Cruz and Sanders campaigns

    Ted Cruz is the Bernie Sanders of the Republican race, and Bernie Sanders the Ted Cruz of the Democratic race. No matter how you look at it, three delusions drive both candidates' campaign narratives.

    Delusion Number 1: We will transform the country, uniting it behind an expansive agenda that will move the nation's politics sharply away from center. The country must see that it agrees with us and has all along.

    "All across this country, millions of people rose up and became the Reagan revolution," Cruz said to an overflowing hotel auditorium in Ames, Iowa, on Saturday, citing a moment in which a Republican who was called too conservative converted a generation of working-class Democrats. "The same thing is happening again. All over this country people are waking up."

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Sanders' supporters ignore the lessons of Obama

    The sobering reality of Barack Obama's presidency has been the difficulty of achieving the change that he promised. The surprising development of the 2016 campaign is the degree to which a large segment of Democratic voters, at least in the early voting states, appear to have forgotten or rejected that lesson.

    They seem willing to entrust their hopes of retaining the presidency to a candidate envisioning change far more radical than anything Obama ever dangled before them.

    Bernie Sanders' voters remind me of women who, once the baby is delivered, instantly forget the pain of childbirth and are prepared to do it all over again. Except that this analogy fails when it comes to the question of ultimate payoff. Why would voters, after watching Obama's excruciating experience with congressional Republicans, believe that Sanders could deliver his promised "political revolution"?

    For all the fevered Obama-is-a-socialist rhetoric of Republican imaginings, the facts remain that he ran -- and has governed -- largely as a rather centrist, pragmatist Democrat. Sanders is an actual socialist.

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February 3rd

Her Father Shot Her in the Head, as an ‘Honor Killing’

    Whether it wins or not, the Oscar nominee with the greatest impact — saving lives of perhaps thousands of girls — may be one you’ve never heard of.

    It stars not Leonardo DiCaprio but a real-life 19-year-old Pakistani woman named Saba Qaiser. Her odyssey began when she fell in love against her family’s wishes and ran off to marry her boyfriend. Hours after the marriage, her father and uncle sweet-talked her into their car and took her to a spot along a riverbank to murder her for her defiance — an “honor killing.”

    First they beat Saba, then her uncle held her as her own father pointed a pistol at her head and pulled the trigger. Blood spewed, Saba collapsed and her father and uncle packed her body into a large sack and threw it into the river to sink. They then drove away, thinking they had restored the family’s good name. 

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Jobs are under attack, but not by robots

    This is the second of two excerpts from "The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War," published this month by Princeton University press.

    Does the last decade's slow growth in total factor productivity, which measures innovation, indicate that the dot-com revolution of 1994 to 2004 is unlikely to be repeated? How fast will the U.S. economy grow over the next 25 years?

    Not as fast as Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee assert. As techno-optimists, they believe the U.S. is at an inflection point between a past of slow technological change and a future of rapid advances. They remind us that Moore's Law predicts endless exponential growth in the performance of computer chips, yet ignore that chips have fallen behind the predicted pace of Moore's Law since 2005.

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