Archive

April 3rd, 2016

What if Clinton isn't indicted?

    This may sound strange coming from someone who doesn't expect Hillary Clinton to be indicted and doesn't think she should be, but I've been worrying about what will happen if she isn't.

    There is a school of people -- a big school, judging from my email -- for whom there are only two possibilities:

    Either Clinton is charged with a crime for mishandling classified information on her private server -- an outcome, this group thinks, that should be devastatingly obvious to anyone with half a brain. Or the Justice Department will squelch the indictment out of a politically motivated desire to protect the likely Democratic presidential nominee. The only disagreement here involves whether Attorney General Loretta Lynch will act on her own or under orders from President Obama.

    Heads, she's indicted; tails, they're corrupt. For this crowd, there is no outcome here that contemplates independent, sober-minded prosecutors looking at the facts and the law and reaching a contrary conclusion.

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Nightmare nominee: Nobody likes Donald Trump. Not even white men.

    Donald Trump would be "the least popular major party nominee in modern times," Thursday's Washington Post headline blares. That sounds pretty bad! But if you dig into the demographic breakdown of The Washington Post's new analysis of this month's polling, which looks at Trump's favorability across a range of voter groups, it looks even worse.

    The numbers are simply amazing: Trump is viewed unfavorably by at least 80 percent of some of the groups that Republican strategists had hoped the GOP might improve among: young voters and Latinos. He's viewed unfavorably by three out of four moderates. That GOP autopsy into what went wrong in 2012 has been torn to shreds and scattered to the winds from the top of Trump Tower.

    Just as bad, this new polling further undercuts the already weak case for an implausible Trump victory: the idea that he can win by making surprise inroads in relatively white states in the industrial Midwest, thus riding a wave of working class white anger into the White House. Trump is viewed unfavorably by a narrow majority of non-college whites (52 percent).

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Neuroscience is cracking the code for handling risk

    How do human beings behave in response to risk? That is one of the most fundamental unanswered questions of our time. A general theory of decision-making amid uncertainty would be the kind of scientific advance that comes only a few times a century. Risk is central to financial and insurance markets. It affects the consumption, saving and business investment that moves the global economy. Understanding human behavior in the face of risk would let us reduce accidents, retire more comfortably, get cheaper health insurance and maybe even avoid recessions.

    A number of our smartest scientists have tried to develop a general theory of risk behavior. John von Neumann, the pioneering mathematician and physicist, took a crack at it back in 1944, when he developed the theory of expected utility along with Oskar Morgenstern. According to this simple theory, people value a possible outcome by multiplying the probability that something happens by the amount they would like it to happen. This beautiful idea underlies much of modern economic theory, but unfortunately it doesn't work well in most situations.

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Speaker Ryan takes on You-Know-Who

    "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling strongly objects to those who compare Lord Voldemort, the "Dark Lord" who is Potter's archenemy in Rowling's novels, to Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump.

    As Potter fans know, Voldemort strikes so much fear into the hearts of other wizards that they refer to him only as "You-Know-Who" or "He Who Must Not Be Named."

    Some Twitter users compared Trump to Voldemort in December after the billionaire developer and TV reality show star proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

    "How horrible," Rowling responded in a tweet of her own. "Voldemort was nowhere near as bad."

    Grant this much to Ms. Rowling: She has standards.

    Yet, the Trump/Voldemort comparison seemed to take on new life last week after an important "address on the state of American politics" by House Speaker Paul Ryan.

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Republicans' Gun-Free Zone

    Latest in the long, long line of Controversies We Weren’t Really Expecting: the right to bear arms at the Republican National Convention.

    A petition calling on the Republicans to allow people to carry their pistols when they assemble this July collected more than 50,000 signatures rather speedily this week. The Secret Service instantly turned thumbs down. The presidential candidates, who are normally so rapturous about all things gun-related, refused to get involved.

    The author of the petition later told CBS that he was just trying to point out that Republicans’ enthusiasm for weaponry does not necessarily extend to large, potentially rancorous gatherings at which they are personally present. This gives us an excellent opportunity to talk about guns and politics.

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Mervyn King writes the book on radical uncertainty

    Mervyn King's new book on the financial crisis and its aftermath is not what you might have expected from the former head of the Bank of England -- from an official, that is, who played a crucial role before, during and after the crash. "The End of Alchemy: Money, Banking, and the Future of the Global Economy" isn't a memoir. There's no blow-by-blow narrative and no attempt by the author to justify what he did or failed to do. It's more ambitious and more daring than that.

    The book asks deep, difficult questions about the theory and practice of finance and economics, and comes up with interesting answers every time. They're sobering answers too, in many cases, because they show how hard it will be for policy makers to avoid the next crisis. The title of the last chapter -- "The audacity of pessimism" -- is all too apt.

    The central idea is "radical uncertainty," meaning the kind of uncertainty that statistical analysis can't deal with. For risks you can precisely define and measure against historical data, you can calculate probabilities. That's why the risk your house will burn down, for instance, is easily insurable.

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I'm a transgender Christian in N Carolina, and my faith does not stop at the bathroom door

    I'm trans. And I'm Christian.

    Put together, those two words sometimes earn me strange looks. But in truth, these identities have been knitted together within me - and have been knitting me together - since I was a child.

    For the first two weeks of my life, I had no name. "Baby Plant" was the placeholder, while my parents searched for the perfect name for their little girl. Had I been assigned male at birth, my name would have been Adam. This truth gave me constant comfort as a child, when I would whisper that name and let the sound of it wash over me.

    Other names enticed me. I tried in vain to get my family and friends to call me Jack, or Tony. The names never stuck, but my deep sense of knowing that I was a boy - that never went away.

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How Turkey uses terrorism to justify its crackdown on the press

    Before Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Washington Tuesday evening, the U.S. and Turkish press exchanged a number of accusations bound to make his visit awkward. The American media warned of Erdogan's growing authoritarianism, citing his attacks on critical journalists, academics and parliamentarians. Turkish media claimed that these domestic critics were terrorists engaged in a American-backed coup plot against Erdogan.

    The accusations are not unrelated. In recent years, the Turkish government has used widespread fears over coups and terrorism to justify ever more brazen efforts to silence legitimate opposition. To do so, it has widened the definition of both terms, to the point where government rhetoric increasingly depends on the threat of coups without soldiers and terrorists without guns.

    Erdogan is hardly unique among aspiring authoritarians in seeing elaborate foreign and domestic conspiracies as justification for undemocratic actions. But by weaving together fact and fantasy, by drawing on Turkey's long history of coups and its very real terrorist threat, he has won widespread popular support for his authoritarian measures.

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GOP: Women need not apply here

    Pity poor Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington State. Nobody in Washington has a tougher job.

    For McMorris Rodgers, it's not being the No. 4 Republican in the House, and the only woman in House leadership, that's tough. It's not even juggling her responsibilities on Capitol Hill with raising three young children ages 8 and under. Her tough job? Trying to convince women there's a home for them in the Republican Party when her party's front-runner disparages women and treats them like third-class citizens.

    Granted, Donald Trump has never run for political office before. But you'd think even an amateur politician would have figured this out: You can't win the presidency with old white males alone. Or, in Trump's case, you can't alienate all Latinos, African-Americans, and women -- and have any chance of winning the White House, even if you can attract enough hate-filled primary voters to steal the party's nomination.

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Don't save British steel, help its workers retool

    With the announcement that Tata is looking to sell its British plant in Port Talbot, South Wales (a decision which also affects its plants in three other British cities) the great rebalancing project for the British economy looks in danger. The temptation will be to find some way to rescue the steel plants in the name of the broader goal; but that would be a mistake.

    Since the financial crisis, the British government has been hoping to see some of Britain's output move from finance to manufacturing, from the prosperous south of the country to the ailing industrial north, from consumption to investment and from imports to exports. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne noted back in 2014 that "the recovery is not yet secure and our economy is still too unbalanced." Britain, he argued, was not investing enough and not exporting enough. "We can't be passive observers of the forecasts. We need to roll up our sleeves, get to work and make it happen."

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