Archive

November 1st, 2016

And the 'Mr. Deplorable" prize goes to...

    If Donald Trump's presidential campaign were one of his beauty pageants, instead of a "Miss Congeniality" consolation prize there would have to be a "Mr. or Ms. Deplorable." According to my scorecard, the winner is Rudy Giuliani.

    Trump is the master of ceremonies, so he's ineligible. The competition among his enablers -- to see who can most thoroughly squander credibility and reputation -- has been fierce. There are so many worthy candidates for the Deplorable sash that it's a shame only one aide or surrogate can win.

    Begin with Mike Pence, a committed Christian, who disingenuously tells audiences that his running mate -- known to be a bully, a bigot, a misogynist and a libertine -- is "a good man." Pretty deplorable.

    Then there's Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, who let Trump steal his party and then became one of Trump's vassals. Allowing the traditions and honor of the party of Lincoln to be so horribly debased is definitely deplorable.

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The great big Clinton email scandal that wasn't

    Have you heard? With the help of WikiLeaks, Donald Trump has finally found his secret weapon: a trove of emails written to and from Clinton Campaign Chair John Podesta, which are so explosive they will dominate the headlines, prove how corrupt Hillary Clinton really is, turn the American people against her and be the deciding factor in this election.

    Have you heard? That may have been Donald Trump's dream, but it's bombed big-time. Yes, the emails -- some 40,000 of them -- have been dripping out, a couple thousand a day for the last two weeks. There are only two problems. One, there are so many of them that nobody has time to read them all, except low-level reporters who are paid to do so. Two, they are monumentally boring.

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Caught in campus censors' crosshairs

    The right to speak freely may be enshrined in some of our nation's great universities, but the culture of listening needs repair. That is the lesson I learned a year ago, when I sent an email urging Yale University students to think critically about an official set of guidelines on costumes to avoid at Halloween.

    I had hoped to generate a reflective conversation among students: What happens when one person's offense is another person's pride? Should a costume-wearer's intent or context matter? Can we always tell the difference between a mocking costume and one that satirizes ignorance? In what circumstances should we allow - or punish - youthful transgression?

    "I don't wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation," I wrote, in part. "I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students."

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Obamacare Hits a Pothole

    For advocates of health reform, the story of the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, has been a wild roller-coaster ride.

    First there was the legislative drama, with reform seemingly on the edge of collapse right up to the moment of passage. Then there was the initial mess with the website — followed by incredibly good news on enrollment and costs. Now reform has hit a pothole: After several years of coming in far below predictions, premiums on covered plans have shot up more than 20 percent.

    So how bad is the picture?

    The people who have been claiming all along that reform couldn’t work, and have been wrong every step of the way, are, of course, claiming vindication. But they’re wrong again. The bad news is real. But so are reform’s accomplishments, which won’t go away even if nothing is done to fix the problems now appearing. And technically, if not politically, those problems are quite easy to fix.

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A Final Plea to Trump’s America

    At least one of my siblings, and some of my friends from high school, will be among the 50 million or so Americans waking up on Nov. 9 after giving their vote to a man who thinks very little of them, and even less of the country he wants to lead.

    Allow me one last attempt to help you avoid a hangover that will stay with you the rest of your life.

    If you ignored every blast of hatred from Donald Trump, every attempt to defraud people or stiff those who worked for him, every bellow from the bully, consider his low view of humanity in general. “For the most part you can’t respect people,” he has said, “because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

    This is the credo of a loveless man in a friendless world. He also says he has no heroes — not a Lincoln or Mandela, a Jackie Robinson or a Capt. Chesley Sullenberger.

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My Halloween email led to a campus firestorm and a lesson about self-censorship

    The right to speak freely may be enshrined in some of our nation's great universities, but the culture of listening needs repair. That is the lesson I learned a year ago, when I sent an email urging Yale University students to think critically about an official set of guidelines on costumes to avoid at Halloween.

    I had hoped to generate a reflective conversation among students: What happens when one person's offense is another person's pride? Should a costume-wearer's intent or context matter? Can we always tell the difference between a mocking costume and one that satirizes ignorance? In what circumstances should we allow - or punish - youthful transgression?

    "I don't wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation," I wrote, in part. "I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students."

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October 31st

Keeping the internet free might get very expensive

    Modern economics has little room for parasites. In the vast majority of models, there are only buyers and sellers -- there's no one who just comes up and steals your money. In the real world, of course, there are parasites galore -- thieves, con artists, fraudsters, extortionists and more. In the long term, the amount of parasitism in any system should depend on the cost of policing -- if it's easy for thieves to steal, there will be more theft.

    On the internet, parasites are rampant. Email spam, identity theft and cyberespionage are some of best-known examples. And, of course, there was the Oct. 21 denial-of-service attack that made many prominent websites inaccessible. Every year, billions of dollars are spent on cleaning the system of these bloodsuckers. That spending might add to gross domestic product, but in economic terms it's social waste -- in an ideal world, we wouldn't have to use resources stopping parasites.

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Hillary Clinton is blazing a momentous trail

    Not enough has been made of two obvious facts: Hillary Clinton, if she wins, would be the first woman elected to the White House. And it will have been the votes of women who put her there.

    Think, for a moment, about what a remarkable milestone that would be. Consider what it would say about the long and difficult struggle to make the Constitution's guarantees of freedom and equality encompass all Americans. The first 43 presidents were all members of a privileged minority group -- white males. The 44th is a black man, and the 45th may well be a white woman. That is a very big deal.

    The historic nature of Clinton's candidacy has been all but lost amid the clamorous sound and fury of the Donald Trump eruption. The campaign has seen many unforgettable moments, but one that I believe will prove truly indelible came during the third and final debate, when Clinton was speaking and Trump interrupted her by snarling, "Such a nasty woman."

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Trump disorders the GOP House

    It is a message Democrats will be sending in suburban precincts all over the United States during the 2016 campaign's final days: Defeating Donald Trump isn't enough. Fully rejecting Trumpism also means routing Republican House and Senate candidates who showed any ambivalence in pushing back against a nominee so many upscale voters regard with horror.

    Rudra Kapila, a Democratic organizer, explained the mission to a group of volunteers who filled a cheerful suburban home here just outside of Washington on Tuesday night to work a party phone bank. "The idea," she said, "is to get folks to vote Democrat down the ballot."

     It's an objective that really matters in Virginia's 10th Congressional District, where Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock faces Democrat LuAnn Bennett in one of the most closely contested House races in the country. If Democrats are to have any chance of gaining the 30 seats they need to take over the House -- a long shot still -- they have to win in places like this, where Hillary Clinton is expected to enjoy large margins.

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The death penalty's persistence

    You'd think Proposition 62, a referendum to abolish California's death penalty and replace it with life without parole, including for the 749 current occupants of death row, would win easily on Nov. 8.

    Democrats dominate this state; their 2016 national platform advocated an end to capital punishment. Former president Jimmy Carter, left-populist icon Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the state's major labor unions and 38 newspaper editorial boards are urging a "yes" vote.

    California's death row costs millions to maintain but the state has only executed 13 people since restoring capital punishment in 1978, mainly due to lengthy appeals processes, including recent successful challenges to its lethal-injection protocol.

    "Replace the Costly, Failed Death Penalty," read the yellow-and-black "Yes on 62" sign I saw planted in a well-kept Brentwood yard.

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