Archive

October 27th, 2016

The 2016 debates lacked Quemoy and Matsu.

    In 1960, a gentlemanly quarrel about these two tiny islands was the most significant policy difference in the Kennedy-Nixon debate, though historians call the proceedings a watershed event in televised politics.

    Nixon said the islands off China’s coast merited Cold War saber-rattling. Kennedy said they didn’t.

    The Clinton-Trump presidential debates? Nothing of that sort. Really, nothing at all. However, I’m here to convince you that they were the most important, and yes, substantive, ever.

    They were important because we saw the substance in both candidates. More accurately: In one candidate we saw substance; in the other we saw a charred crater.

    As many have observed, any real policy distinctions in these debates were obscured by layers of tar and slime. Personal distinctions, however, became crystal-clear, like – you know, the first time the optometrist fits you for corrective lenses.

    The polls say hundreds of thousands of Americans watched these debates and exclaimed, “Oh, my goodness; I see.”

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'If you can't save us, please bomb us'

    The calls come to Khaleel's phone every day, dozens every week: Women and girls, held captive by the Islamic State, beg us to rescue them.

    Like us, they are Yazidis. And in the wickedest of ironies, they are survivors of genocide, kept alive by the Islamic State to be raped and subjected to sexual slavery. They have heard about our rescue network and reach us on cellphones that they have managed to hide.

    We save as many victims as we can and provide care to help rehabilitate them. Thus far, however, we've been able to help only a small number of the 3,700 who are enslaved. We believe most are in Mosul, which is Iraq's second-largest city, the Islamic State's most important stronghold after Raqqa in Syria and the largest urban center under the Islamic State's control. So intense is the suffering of these women and girls that they tell us that they want the United States and other countries to attack Mosul, even if the bombs pose a threat to their lives.

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If Trump loses, the news media should break the addiction - but can they?

    In the final pages of Richard Ben Cramer's seminal book about presidential politics, "What It Takes," Michael Dukakis looks around in wonderment at the scene outside his Massachusetts home less than 24 hours after his crushing 1988 loss to George H.W. Bush.

    "The barricades were gone. And the agents. And the cop cars, the van, the people - that block had been wall-to-wall demonstrations," Cramer wrote. No TV trucks, photographers, microphones. The only sound: birds.

    "Nobody," Dukakis says with relief to top aide John Sasso. And Sasso smiles and agrees: "Yeah."

    It's what happens to losing presidential candidates: Mitt Romney, Al Gore, the elder Bush himself in 1992, after his loss to Bill Clinton.

    The blazing spotlight moves away. It's over.

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House Republicans wage war on medical research

    The House Energy and Commerce Committee has a Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives that has held only two hearings since it was created a year ago. Its meetings are marked by walkouts and little substantive discussion. Many House members, including some Republicans, hope it will expire by year-end.

    Some medical experts say this special committee may seem like a joke but is nonetheless having a chilling effect on important medical research. The issue is the use of fetal tissue taken from aborted fetuses that would otherwise be discarded.

    The genesis of the panel was a secret and selectively edited video of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of these tissues. The language was indelicate, actually stupid, and Planned Parenthood apologized. But the notion that there was a racket illicitly making money from the sale of fetal tissue is bogus.

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Guns on campus only invite tragedies

    Texas this year became the eighth state to require state colleges and universities to allow civilians with permits to carry concealed guns in public places. As a result, the University of Texas at Austin - a school that 50 years ago suffered the trauma of the nation's first campus mass killing - must allow guns to be brought onto campus.

    To those behind the campus-carry movement making such inroads in Austin and other state capitals, that's a good thing. This effort is based on the belief that allowing more guns in public places will lead to less violence. But does the evidence support this premise? A new report released by Johns Hopkins University, with co-authors from Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts at Boston, surveys the best available research and says no.

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Donald's gift to Hillary

    Two high-profile political events of the last week provided an unintended present from Donald Trump to his rival for the presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton.

    First in their final debate Wednesday in Las Vegas, and then the next night at the Al Smith charity dinner in New York, Trump's behavior gave Clinton venues in which she displayed her superior political skills, knowledge and temperament.

    In the debate, she repeated her ability to goad Trump into excesses of personal invective, misstatements of fact and insensitivity to women. Then, at the officially Democratic but traditionally nonpartisan dinner, she largely maintained a sense decorum fitting the occasion, as he occasionally overstepped the affair's tradition of good-natured ribbing, drawing audible boos from the invited guests.

    In both settings, the Democratic nominee offered a much greater level of comfort and control of the facts expected of a would-be president. In contrast, her Republican opponent in that final debate had gravely wounded himself with his unwillingness to say he would accept the American voters' decision in the election outcome.

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Clinton’s Specter of Illegitimacy

    President Barack Obama is fond of saying that Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person to ever seek the presidency. And, if current polls are correct and prove resilient, she will be one of the most qualified people to be elected and ascend to that office.

    But one of the great ironies of this election is that America’s first female president may be viewed by many as the country’s most invalid president, hanging under the specter of suspicion, mistrust and illegitimacy.

    This is partly because her opponents all along the way have complained that the system — from the media to the electoral apparatus — was “rigged” and unfairly tilted in her favor, and it’s partly because of unflattering bits of information that have come to light from an illegal hack.

    During the primaries, Bernie Sanders (who now supports Clinton) made very clear that he thought that both the media and the Democratic Party itself had not been fair to him. As he put it, “We knew we were taking on the establishment.”

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Trump won't inherit the land, so he's sowing it with salt

    When Donald Trump said on Tuesday night that he would leave us in "suspense" come November 9, much of the country let out a gasp and the statement has dominated campaign coverage ever since. I wish this weren't the case, but I was not all that surprised. Not because this wasn't, as Hillary Clinton responded, a "horrifying" statement, not because Trump has been alluding to a "rigged" election for weeks now, not because I've become numb to the non-stop logorrheic rainbow of horror constantly shooting from Trump's mouth, and not even because I was watching with a group of deep-red North Carolina Republicans who seemed to operate in base-12 while I was stuck in conventional old base-10.

    To me, all of this was just one more step in the long, absurdist slog of the Russianization of this campaign. I'm not talking about Paul Manafort, or Trump's real estate investors, or even his open invitation to the Russian intelligence services to hack U.S. computers in search of Clinton's deleted emails. Even the Wikileaks-Trump-Putin triad feels natural at this point.

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The Media’s Moment of Truth

    The media’s responsibility for Donald Trump’s political success will be debated for a good long while, with the network honcho Les Moonves’ words about Trump’s candidacy (“It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS”) front and center. But almost from the moment Trump entered the 2016 presidential race, he has been a justifiably huge story. A lead in the polls became a lead in the delegate count and then, surreally, the nomination of the Republican Party.

    Was he ridiculous? Beyond measure. Relevant? Beyond doubt. As long as the reporting about him was skeptical — and, after a certain point, the bulk of it was — there was more reason to train the spotlight on him than to pull it away.

    That’s about to change — bigly. He is bound to lose the election, and we in the media will lose the rationale that his every utterance warrants notice as a glimpse into the character of a person in contention for the most consequential job in the world.

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Contrary to Trump adviser's view, helping people save retirement money isn't like slavery

    While waiting in a bank this month, I happened to overhear a broker from one of the country's largest firms try to explain to his client why the Labor Department's new fiduciary rule was so terrible. It was an unpersuasive exercise in self-interest, and the client was having none of it.

    "Why can't you put my best interests first?," he asked.

    The fiduciary rule, which requires financial advisers to place the interests of clients with retirement-saving accounts ahead of their own, will be implemented sometime next year, assuming there are no additional delays. That also assumes that Donald Trump -- now polling on average about 7 percent behind Hillary Clinton -- doesn't win the presidential election.

    But if he does win, one of the voices that might be the loudest in opposition to the fiduciary rule would be that of Anthony Scaramucci, an economic adviser to Trump.

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