Archive

November 13th, 2015

Trump seduces the press but not his party

    Yes, Donald Trump is good at grabbing media attention. But, no, this doesn't mean that the political system has changed and that candidates from now on will simply say whatever pops into their minds, regardless of what their party thinks.

    Most political scientists believe that Trump's polling success -- which began in June and peaked in early September -- reflects his domination of the media. When Republican voters were hearing plenty about Trump, and little about the other candidates, they told pollsters they would vote for him. Trump is still receiving the most attention. But most voters aren't paying close attention yet, and therefore are unfamiliar with the rest of the candidates.

    Kevin Drum at Mother Jones argues that the real-estate mogul's manipulation of the press is innovative. Trump and Ben Carson are willing to saythings that more traditional candidates would regard as outrageous and politically suicidal, and journalists gobble up these statements.

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The president on why the Trans-Pacific Partnership will benefit working families

    As president, my top priority is to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class. When I took office, America was in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression -- but thanks to the hard work and resilience of the American people, our businesses have created 13.5 million jobs over the past 68 months, the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. The unemployment rate has been cut nearly in half -- lower than it's been in more than seven years. We have come back further and faster from recession than nearly every other advanced nation on Earth.

    That's real progress. But as any middle-class family will tell you, we have more to do. That's why I believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership is so important. It's a trade deal that helps working families get ahead.

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The GOP’s Fickle Pageant

    A college psychology professor of mine liked to say that life was all about adjusting to loss.

    He was clearly prepping me for Tuesday night’s debate.

    George Pataki: exiled. Lindsey Graham: gone.

    Their spots in the minor leagues were taken by Mike Huckabee, who once upon a time won the Iowa caucuses, and Chris Christie, who long ago represented the Republicans’ great hope for taking the White House back from the Democrats. Demoted and diminished, Huckabee and Christie stood in the lesser lineup as testaments to the cruelties of politics, which is another way of saying that they stood next to Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum.

    The major-leagues event shrank, with eight candidates where there had been 11 back in the glory days of Scott Walker. Do you remember Walker? And do you remember that he was briefly considered something of a front-runner, at least for a few weeks earlier this year?

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The decline and fall of America's working class

    One big piece of news in the past couple of weeks has been the release of a new paper by recent economics Nobel winner Angus Deaton and his co-author Anne Case. The paper highlights a very disturbing trend -- death rates are increasing for white people in America, especially for working- class middle-aged whites. The increase looks like it has been going on since the late 1990s.

    Among other American groups, such as Hispanics and blacks, mortality has fallen across all age and income groups during the past decade and a half. Death rates have also plunged in Europe and in other rich countries. Although some statisticians later found that the mortality increase was a bit less than reported in the Deaton-Case paper, even a slight increase stands in stark contrast to the decline among all other groups.

    The trend is concentrated among the less educated. For college-educated whites, mortality fell, much as it did for other racial groups and other nations. For those with some college, mortality was unchanged -- a poor result, but not disastrous. But for white Americans with no college education, deaths have soared.

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Supreme Court shields police from facing juries

    In the post-Ferguson era, the details of a police shooting that kills a fleeing defendant are all- important -- and you might think we would want juries, not judges, to consider them.

    But on Monday, eight justices of the U.S. Supreme Court made it harder for police shooting cases to reach a jury. The court held that a Texas state trooper couldn't be sued for using his rifle to shoot the driver of a car that led police on an 18- minute chase. Only Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who's emerging as the court's conscience on race, thought the suit should be able to go forward.

    The facts of the case are striking, and to a degree disputed. A police officer in Tulia, Texas, approached Israel Leija Jr., who was in his car, and told him he had a warrant for his arrest. Leija immediately sped off with the police in tow. In the chase he brought his car to speeds of between 85 and 110 mph.

    While he was driving, Leija called the Tulia police dispatcher twice, claiming to have a gun he would use to shoot the police officers. The dispatcher, who told the police in pursuit, thought Leija might be drunk.

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Jeb's Last Chance?

    Going into the latest debate, the trending question about Jeb Bush on Google was whether he was “still running for president.”

    The answer is yes, and on Tuesday night, he tried, yet again, to put an exclamation point on it.

    After a week of fresh attention to the rococo psychology of the Bush dynasty, after huddles with new media advisers, after countless requiems for his campaign, Bush gave this troubled, increasingly quixotic quest of his one more shot, maybe his last.

    He insisted on speaking time.

    He sarcastically expressed gratitude to Donald Trump for saying that he should get some.

    “Thank you, Donald, for allowing me to speak at the debate,” Bush said, and for perhaps the first time in one of these debates, he didn’t sound entirely self-pitying. He sounded nervy. “What a generous man you are,” he told Trump.

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It's hard to pay your lawyer without any money

    If you're arrested and charged with a white-collar crime, can the government freeze the assets you need to pay for a lawyer to prove your innocence? Remarkably, there's no definitive legal answer to this question, which was on the Supreme Court's docket Tuesday. It's established that the government can freeze tainted assets that it traces to your alleged crime, and that you don't get to challenge that determination. But Tuesday's case will answer the further question of whether the government can freeze any of your assets up to the value of what it says you stole -- not just assets it identifies as tainted proceeds.

    The case involves Sila Luis, a Miami home-care provider with two companies. In 2012, she was charged with Medicare fraud that the government says amounted to $45 million. According to Luis, the government wasn't her only source of revenue; she says her companies earned some $15 million from private sources.

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Energy Beggars No More, We Can Be Choosy

    The Obama administration has finally passed judgment on the Keystone XL pipeline, and it's a thumbs-down. The environmental arguments against it have always been impeccable. But it took America's turn toward energy independence to cut down the economic case for it.

    Americans still need oil, but we can choose to reject the dirtiest kind. A 1,179-mile pipeline was to carry crude from the tar sands in Alberta to a pumping station in Nebraska, with a separate expansion to the Gulf Coast. Tar sands oil generates 17 percent more planet-warming gases than conventional oil.

    In the days of heavy reliance on Mideast oil, opposing any dependable new source of oil, above all from friendly Canada, posed political risk. But boy, have things changed. New technologies have enabled us to get at large stores of domestic oil and gas. And we're developing ways to harvest clean energy.

    Texas has so much wind power now that some utilities are giving away electricity at night. Why on earth should the U.S. be enabling the transport of tar sands gook from the bottom of the environmental oil barrel?

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Ben Carson's own weapon of mass distraction

    Ben Carson's woe-is-me whining about media scrutiny is more than just a sorry spectacle. It shows the extent to which a culture of victimization has infected the conservative movement.

    "There's no question I'm getting special scrutiny, because there are lot of people who are very threatened," Carson said in a "Face the Nation" interview Sunday. "The whole point is to distract, distract the populace, distract me."

    That's rich, given how Carson's own mouth has proved to be such a powerful weapon of mass distraction. His "personal theory" that the pyramids of Egypt were built by the biblical patriarch Joseph as grain silos -- rather than by Egyptians as pharaonic tombs -- is but one example.

     The retired neurosurgeon and novice politician, one of the leaders in the GOP presidential race, is aggrieved that journalists are looking into his background. Was he really "offered a full scholarship" to West Point, as he has claimed? Not exactly, it turns out. Was he really as much of a juvenile delinquent as he says? Maybe yes, maybe no.

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The phony 'War on Christmas' is back, fueled by those alleged Jesus haters at Starbucks

    Like everything connected to Christmas, this year's "War on Christmas" freakout has arrived early. And it has taken the form of a red Starbucks cup.

    Never mind that stores across America are already playing Christmas carols.

    Forget that Wal-Mart started its holiday layaway plan in August, and Target rolled out the Christmas trees alongside Halloween decorations in September.

    And let's pretend that radio stations across the country aren't getting angry calls about Mariah Carey's Christmas list hitting the airwaves the first week of October.

    Nope. The Christmas crusaders are certain that the War on Christmas is on yet again.

    It's totally obvious because Starbucks is serving pumpkin spice lattes and caramel macchiatos in plain red cups this holiday season. (Oops. Did I say "holiday"?)

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