Archive

November 2nd, 2016

These are the good old days

    A significant segment of Americans sees this nation in decline, if not free fall. Never has the United States been in such bad shape, they say, and it is getting worse.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. I would ask today's naysayers to identify a period in our recent history when the nation was in better shape - economically, socially or in any other way than now.

    It certainly could not be any time between 1925 and 1950, a period of economic depression, war and its aftermath. I am 88 years old. I was born near the end of the 1920s and grew up in the Great Depression, when one-third of Americans were out of work. There were bread lines; those who could worked for the U.S. government in the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration or other such programs. It could not be the 1950s or '60s, with the Korean War, the Vietnam conflict, riots and unrest. Would they select the 1970s to 1990s and the mortal dangers of the Cold War? Perhaps they would select the dawn of the new century to 2008, as we slid into the worst recession since the Great Depression.

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North Carolina will be the real bellwether state

    Michelle Obama, making her first joint campaign appearance with Hillary Clinton in North Carolina on Oct. 27, suggested the state is ground zero in this election. That's routine rhetoric; it also may be true.

    In the maze of color-coded maps and exit polls on Election Night, North Carolina will send a resounding message. The state, which voted for Barack Obama eight years ago and for Mitt Romney in 2012, is a must-win for Donald Trump. If Clinton wins, she's probably off to a night that will resemble Obama's 2008 victory.

    The Senate race is one of a half-dozen that will decide the critical question of which party controls the chamber. There's also a governor's race, mired in controversies over discrimination against gays and voting rights for minorities, with important implications for the state and perhaps nationally.

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Nate Silver blew it when he missed Trump - now he really needs to get it right

    Nate Silver is on the downtown 1 train. Possibly because he looks like a (modestly) hip math teacher, and hardly looks up from his phone, he goes unrecognized until he reaches the PlayStation Theater in Times Square.

    There, his name is in lights, and people start to nudge one another and point him out. Hundreds of fans - many of them male, young and white - have lined up outside, waiting to watch the data journalist and his colleagues record a podcast. Those who hold the priciest tickets ($100) even get the chance to mingle with the stars of the website FiveThirtyEight and have their picture taken with top editor Silver afterwards.

    "We're giant nerds," explained Priyanka Mitra-Hahn, a PhD student from Brooklyn, when asked why she, her wife and a friend came out to last week's sold-out event.

    If a statistics guru can be a rock star, Silver is surely it. But even rock stars have bad days.

    Silver, 38, had a run of them a few months ago, when it became obvious that his consistent early dismissals of Donald Trump's chances to be the Republican presidential nominee were flat-out wrong.

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James Comey is damaging our democracy

    The Justice Department has a proud history of enforcing the federal criminal law without fear or favor, and especially without regard to politics. It operates under long-standing and well-established traditions limiting disclosure of ongoing investigations to the public and even to Congress, especially in a way that might be seen as influencing an election. These traditions protect the integrity of the department and the public's confidence in its mission to take care that the laws are faithfully and impartially executed. They reflect an institutional balancing of interests, delaying disclosure and public knowledge to avoid misuse of prosecutorial power by creating unfair innuendo to which an accused party cannot properly respond.

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In Trump's odious campaign there is a civics lesson

    As Donald Trump presses on with his scorched-earth politics, the mayhem he has created may well be striking a welcome chord of reflection and patriotism among many Americans. In the end, he may remind them of what has already made America great, and why they must reject his self-destructive, essentially un-American course.

    In a major irony, Trump's crass denigration of women may prove to be the catalyst for the repudiation on November 8 of the man and his egomaniacal campaign to take over a nation founded on principles of equality of opportunity and personal respect for fellow citizens.

    Women again are expected to constitute the majority of voters next week, rendering Trump's crude and endless assault on the female gender a politically mindless campaign strategy. Even worse, he couples it with his blatant rejection of America's proudest symbol as a beacon to the world's oppressed.

    In his pledge to build a wall across our southern border, he promises to slam the door on more immigrants whose journey to our shores created a truly homogenous society -- foreigners of all races, religions, ethnicities and even political views.

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Bill Clinton's role as First Spouse: To disappear

    How do you solve a problem like Bill Clinton?

    More precisely, how does, as is increasingly likely, President Hillary Clinton figure out what to do with First Gentleman Bill Clinton and his cargo hold of accompanying baggage?

    Bill Clinton may be an asset to his wife, but he is also a problem -- a sprawling, messy and hard-to-manage one that encompasses the twin minefields of sex and money.

    Sex first. Donald Trump's misbehavior with women is a far more important topic than Bill Clinton's, for one simple reason: Trump is on the ballot; Bill Clinton is not.

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The Chaos of College Rankings

    Willard Dix is one of the crankiest observers of the college admissions process I know; he’s also one of the smartest. He worked at Amherst, his alma mater, then advised college-bound students at a private secondary school in Chicago. He now blogs about higher education.

    I asked him on the phone the other day about the dizzying proliferation of college rankings beyond those by U.S. News & World Report, each using its own methodology and emphasizing different metrics. If a tone of voice can approximate an eye roll, his did.

    “You can slice and dice it any way you like, but this isn’t like Consumer Reports, which tests something to see if it does or doesn’t work,” he said. “The interaction between a student and an institution is not the same as the interaction between a student and a refrigerator.”

    I can’t improve on that quip. But I can explain it in terms of what rankings do and don’t reveal and how high school seniors, who are right now in the thick of figuring out where they want to apply, should approach them.

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James Comey needs to clean up his mess. Here's what we need to know.

    There is a lot of new reporting out there Saturday morning about the letter that FBI director James Comey sent to Members of Congress, notifying them about newly discovered emails that may be pertinent to the FBI's previous investigation into Clinton's use of a private email server.

    Those emails reportedly could number in the thousands and were discovered on a laptop used jointly by former Congressman Anthony Weiner and his wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Clinton, and were discovered in the course of an unrelated probe into Weiner's sexting.

    Unfortunately, the latest reporting is often contradictory and confusing. So here's my best effort to sift through it.

    - Comey's language is maddeningly opaque and cryptic. In his letter to lawmakers, Comey says that the new emails "appear to be pertinent" to the previous investigation into Clinton's use of a private server. He also says the FBI is now seeking to "determine whether they contain classified information," and "cannot yet assess whether the material may or may not be significant."

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James Comey fails to follow Justice Department rules yet again

    FBI Director James B. Comey's stunning announcement that he has directed investigators to begin reviewing new evidence in the Clinton email investigation was yet another troubling violation of long-standing Justice Department rules or precedent, conduct that raises serious questions about his judgment and ability to serve as the nation's chief investigative official.

    Comey's original sin came in July, when he held a high-profile news conference to announce his recommendation that the Justice Department bring no charges against Hillary Clinton. In doing so, Comey violated Justice rules about discussing ongoing cases and, as I argued at the time, made assertions that exceeded FBI authority, recklessly speculated about matters for which there was no evidence, and upended the consultative process that should exist between investigators and prosecutors.

    Comey argued that his news conference was necessary in a case of intense public interest, but as his actions in the months since have shown, the precedent he set has led only to increasingly problematic outcomes.

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Don't let FBI's email surprise swing the election

    To borrow a phrase from Vermont's favorite socialist, I too am sick and tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton's damn e-mails.

    As we all found out on Friday afternoon, the FBI is reviewing some messages involving a close Clinton aide to see if they contained classified information. The agency's director, James Comey, said so in a vague letter to congressional leaders, and it has turned the election yet again on its head.

    This is the political equivalent of crack cocaine. House Speaker Paul Ryan called on the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to suspend classified briefings to the Democratic candidate. Prominent liberal pundits are in high dudgeon, alleging that Comey is trying to throw the election to the Republicans. The Trump campaign meanwhile is elated. Its campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said that "A great day in our campaign just got even better."

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