Archive

November 20th, 2015

Republicans who fault the media show their bias

    For Republican presidential contenders challenged by the media, the go-to answer has become a claim of victimhood: You are biased against us. As Marco Rubio put it at the CNBC debate last month, "The Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC. It's called the mainstream media."

    Are media outlets really biased against Republican candidates? One of the most careful studies, by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago, doesn't find much evidence of that. Its central conclusion is that readers have a strong preference for like-minded news-- and that newspapers tend to show a slant in a direction that is consistent with the preferences of their readers.

    With respect to television broadcasters, the evidence remains ambiguous. But Republicans who think that the media are biased against them might want to consider a striking empirical finding: Whatever their beliefs, political partisans have long tended to see, and to complain loudly about, media bias.

    In short, people are biased about bias.

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Race, College and Safe Space

    Before there were the Paris terror attacks that changed everything and the second Democratic presidential debate that changed nothing, much of America had been transfixed by the scene playing out on college campuses across the country: black students and their allies demanding an insulation from racial hostility, full inclusion and administrative responsiveness.

    There was a part of the debate around those protests that I have not been able to release other than by writing here, one step off the news, but hopefully in step with the history of this moment.

    Last week I heard artist Ebony G. Patterson talking about the black body as a “site of contention,” and that phrase stuck with me, because it seemed to be revelatory in its simplicity, and above all, true.

    Black bodies are a battlefield: black folks fight to defend them as external forces fight to destroy them; black folks dare to see the beauty in them as external forces condemn and curse them. 

    Or worse, most insidiously, black folk try to calibrate their bodies to avoid injury.

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Race to be right’s anti-intellectual champion

    Sure, it seems like the race for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination has been going on since lily pads were green. However, let’s acknowledge that it was just June 16 when the starter’s gun fired.

    Or, when Donald Trump first shot off his mouth.

    Trump registered in decibels and kinship with xenophobes the moment he accused Mexico of shipping rapists and murderers our way.

    For a fifth of Republicans polled, he had them at “hello.”

    Seeing which way the derby flags were flying, the field began to bunch almost immediately at the wind of his tail in a quest to be the contender who most deftly defied logic.

    Well, it’s neck-and-neck now, with Trump astride Sea Bigot while Ben Carson applies the whip to a steed named Mythmaker.

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Missouri gears up for next free speech fight

    As if the University of Missouri didn't already have enough problems, state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R, is trying to block a research study by a graduate student in the School of Social Work. The senator, who's a one-man scourge of Planned Parenthood, is claiming that the study violates a Missouri law that bars spending state funds to encourage abortion.

    Schaefer's effort blatantly violates academic freedom. If it succeeds, it might possibly violate the First Amendment.

    But the constitutional point isn't a slam-dunk. As interpreted by the Supreme Court, the First Amendment allows a state, when it's doing the talking, to promote only the views and values that it likes. In theory, a state could conceivably demand that its universities and their employees take a one-sided view and promote only those ideas the legislature and the public prefer.

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France has had its 9/11. What happens next?

    Paris is getting back to life as usual after Friday's attacks, if you discount the armed police on the streets and a general sense of grief. But for France, the question of what President Francois Hollande should do, now that he has declared the nation at war, remains unanswered.

    This situation is completely different from the aftermath of the attacks in January on the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Then, Paris was all about unity. The lone voice of Marine Le Pen's nativist National Front, attempting to make political capital out of the tragedy, was ignored. Those attacks weren't directed at the citizenry as a whole, but at a very particular kind of magazine and a Jewish supermarket. Charlie Hebdo was not France's 9/11. Friday's attacks were.

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Democrats compete for our attention and fail

    The latest Democratic presidential debate did not go as we expected a few days ago. The terrorist attacks in Paris, which unfolded only about 24 hours before candidates took the stage, changed the whole dynamic. They talked about terrorism. And then everything else they said, all the meat-and-potatoes domestic policy talk that we were waiting for, seemed almost petty in comparison.

    So how did the candidates handle the terrorism questions? They were fine, but they were also not in a position to say much. At this point the honest answer to "How does Paris change things?" should probably be "too early to tell" -- not what any debate coach would suggest.

    Perhaps that's why none of the three remaining candidates were particularly sharp by their own standards this time around. No big loss there. It's ever more obvious that Hillary Clinton has had the nomination wrapped up for months. Still, debates can be useful exercises in representation even if they have nothing to do with who will win.

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Carson's real scandal is his ignorance

    The vetting of Ben Carson is focused in the wrong direction. Yes, when a candidate's raison d'etre is biography, the accuracy of his purported life story is fair game -- even if some of the Carson flyspecking has been tendentious.

    But the more fundamental question -- the scarier question -- about Carson isn't whether the retired neurosurgeon is a fabulist, and therefore whether he has the right character to be president. It's whether he has the knowledge and understanding to be president. The evidence is rather conclusive that he doesn't.

    Why single out Carson? This is a fair question in a Republican race whose front-runner is Donald Trump. But Trump's brand of blustery unpreparedness is more self-evident, more accessible, than Carson's. Trump will build a tremendous wall. He'll stop making stupid deals. If voters are credulous enough to be seduced by his supposed managerial skills and convinced by his grandiose promises -- well, that's on them, though woe to the rest of us.

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Americans won't think of Paris at the polls

    Don't believe anyone who tells you how the attacks in Paris will affect the general election for president in November 2016.

    Depending on what happens or doesn't happen, we can't even say for certain if terrorism and the war against Islamic State will be leading issues by next fall. Memories (and media attention) are short.

    Let's suppose there are more attacks. Or thwarted plots. Or a military intervention that is considered a failure or a success.

    We still don't know how voters will react. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, George W. Bush's approval ratings soared. Yet Barack Obama received only a minor, short-lived bump after the death of Osama bin Laden. Neither reaction was easily predictable.

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3 reasons why economic recovery goes unappreciated

    The vetting of Ben Carson is focused in the wrong direction. Yes, when a candidate's raison d'etre is biography, the accuracy of his purported life story is fair game -- even if some of the Carson flyspecking has been tendentious.

    But the more fundamental question -- the scarier question -- about Carson isn't whether the retired neurosurgeon is a fabulist, and therefore whether he has the right character to be president. It's whether he has the knowledge and understanding to be president. The evidence is rather conclusive that he doesn't.

    Why single out Carson? This is a fair question in a Republican race whose front-runner is Donald Trump. But Trump's brand of blustery unpreparedness is more self-evident, more accessible, than Carson's. Trump will build a tremendous wall. He'll stop making stupid deals. If voters are credulous enough to be seduced by his supposed managerial skills and convinced by his grandiose promises -- well, that's on them, though woe to the rest of us.

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November 17th

The winner of the GOP debate: foolish economic policy

    The real headline from this week's Republican debate wasn't that the candidates clashed over immigration and national security. It was that they agreed on economic policies that have proved unpopular and unwise -- and that may make the eventual nominee unelectable.

    The central issue facing most American families is that incomes, for all but the wealthy, are stagnant. The consensus response from the GOP field is a big collective shrug.

    The evening began with front-runners Donald Trump and Ben Carson announcing they would not raise the federal minimum wage, presently a paltry $7.25 an hour.

    "I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is," said Trump, the allegedly populist billionaire. "People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum. But we cannot do this if we're going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can't do it."

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