Archive

October 1st, 2016

Donald Trump bombs on the ultimate reality TV show

    What on earth was that? For 90 minutes, we watched one candidate for president display the seriousness the office demands while the other did what was once unthinkable: show up unprepared for a globally televised job interview. The first presidential debate between reality-television star and wealthy builder Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was mind-blowing. Trump brought the vaudeville shtick that worked for him in the primaries to the main stage and bombed.

    Trump's performance was the rhetorical equivalent of hurling garbage on the lawn. A question about x would lead to mentions of y, z and whatever else came to mind. For instance, a response about Hillary Clinton's emails led to a mention about the sorry state of New York's LaGuardia Airport. And then there were the gasp-worthy moments that would sink any other presidential aspirant.

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Clinton shifts the election in her direction

    Donald Trump scowled and fumed and fussed and interrupted. On Monday night, he was forced to defend business practices that involved not paying workers and contractors, a tax plan that offers most of its benefits to the wealthy, the fact that he did not pay any federal taxes in some years (which he called "smart") and the debt incurred by his businesses.

    Hillary Clinton wanted to remind Americans of the Trump they had grown accustomed to disliking, the man who demeaned women, minorities and immigrants. Trump helped her out, even debating the moderator, Lester Holt, about "stop and frisk" police tactics. He grunted "ugh" when Clinton called out his sweeping comments on the allegedly parlous state of African-American communities.

    Trump again tried to put the birther issue behind him and failed. The man who built his base on the right end of the Republican Party by insinuating that President Obama was born abroad tried to slough off a question about what had once been his signature cause, but Clinton bore in and linked his treatment of the nation's first African-American president to what she called "his long record of racist behavior."

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Clinton proves it pays to show up prepared

    On the biggest stage in politics, Hillary Clinton did to Donald Trump what 15 men failed to do in the primaries: She took command from the moment she strode over to shake Trump's hand. In 2000, Representative Rick Lazio lost the New York Senate debate when he invaded her personal space. When she invaded Trump's space, she set herself up for a win.

    Have times finally changed? Not really. Clinton still needs to work twice as hard for half the gains of a man, while obscuring her ambition and being pleasant. How many times has Trump been told he just has to be more likable? Clinton was plenty appealing as she ate his lunch Monday night. It's Trump who should have taken Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus's patronizing advice to smile more.

    She had done her homework, an activity Trump scoffs at. When there was an opening to question his position or his manhood -- beginning with her claim that his vaunted success started with a $14 million loan from his dad -- she was ready. Trump's aides were intent on furthering the line that he didn't prepare for the debate and now we believe them.

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Clinton delivers a beat-down

    Donald Trump just got roughed up, and badly, by a girl. On Monday night, at the first presidential debate, Hillary Clinton made her opponent look ignorant, unprepared, egotistical, childish, petulant, impatient and at times totally incoherent.

     How bad did it get? At one point, as Trump was groping blindly across the minefields of foreign policy, losing a foot here and a leg there, he announced, apropos of nothing, that "I think my strongest asset, maybe by far, is my temperament." Clinton smiled sweetly and exclaimed, "Whew, OK!" The audience at Hofstra University, sternly instructed to remain silent throughout the debate, ignored the rules and burst into laughter.

    They were laughing at you, Donald, not with you.

    Clinton then patiently explained the importance of honoring international agreements, such as the NATO treaty, to a man who seemed not to grasp the concept of the nation's word being its bond. One hopes her reassurances were enough to coax allies in Berlin, Tokyo, Seoul and other capitals down from the ceiling.

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Trump takes the bait; Hillary sticks to the script

    Donald J. Trump recently said that he needed to lose 20 pounds. Well, maybe if he would quit taking the bait every time it was offered, his dieting would be more effective.

    Throughout tonight's debate, Hillary Clinton seemed overly rehearsed, as if she were reading straight from a script - but she stayed on topic and managed to come across as competent and deliberate and, surprisingly, didn't face many direct challenges. Hillary also seemed calm, cool and collected throughout. Trump seemed restless, unfocused, uncomfortable and maybe a little nervous. He careened from defensive tirades about his business dealings to non sequiturs that even included a reference to a "400-pound" hacker. Predictably, it appeared that Clinton had been preparing for this debate since high school and Trump hardly prepared at all. Perhaps in the next debate, she'll offer more than buzzwords and tired proposals, and he will understand the value in being able to recite some facts.

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Trump rides on waves of other people's money

    During a campaign stop in North Carolina last week, Donald Trump described the logic behind his plans for billing other countries for U.S. military support should he become president:

    "It's called OPM. I do it all the time in business. It's called other people's money. There's nothing like doing things with other people's money because it takes the risk -- you get a good chunk out of it and it takes the risk."

    By "takes the risk," Trump means that using other people's funds reduces his risk of losing any of his own money on deals. Trump has spent a lifetime using other people's money - and losing piles of it along the way.

    Trump's MO around OPM in his early days was defined largely by his father, Fred, basically because Fred had a lot of M. While Trump frequently downplays the role his father played at the start of his business career, his dad was always there for him, wallet and Rolodex open.

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I trashed the economy when I was head of the Fed

    The San Francisco branch of the Federal Reserve has a game on its website that lets you play at being Chair of the Federal Reserve. After tinkering with it, I've come to some conclusions: Modeling the economy is a mug's game, short-term interest rates are a poor tool for steering the economy, and I should never be given the job of running a central bank.

    The website sets out the objectives:

    "Your job is to set monetary policy to achieve full employment and low price inflation. Your term will last four years (16 quarters). Keep unemployment close to its natural rate of 5 percent. Keep inflation near the Fed's 2 percent inflation target. Pay attention to the headlines for information about the economy."

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Progressive Family Values

    Here’s what happens every election cycle: pundits demand that politicians offer the country new ideas. Then, if and when a candidate actually does propose innovative policies, the news media pays little attention, chasing scandals or, all too often, fake scandals instead. Remember the extensive coverage last month, when Hillary Clinton laid out an ambitious mental health agenda? Neither do I.

    For that matter, even the demand for new ideas is highly questionable, since there are plenty of good old ideas that haven’t been put into effect. Most advanced countries implemented some form of guaranteed health coverage decades if not generations ago. Does this mean that we should dismiss Obamacare as no big deal, since it’s just implementing a tired old agenda? The 20 million Americans who gained health coverage would beg to differ.

    Still, there really are some interesting new ideas coming from one of the campaigns, and they arguably tell us a lot about how Clinton would govern.

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Police Violence: American Epidemic, American Consent

    Another set of black men killed by the police — one in Tulsa, Oklahoma, another in Charlotte, North Carolina.

    Another set of protests, and even some rioting.

    Another television cycle in which the pornography of black death, pain and anguish are exploited for visual sensation and ratings gold.

    And yes, another moment of mistakenly focusing on individual cases and individual motives and individual protests instead of recognizing that what we are witnessing in a wave of actions rippling across the country is an exhaling — a primal scream, I would venture — of cumulative cultural injury and a frantic attempt to stanch the bleeding from multiplying wounds.

    We can no longer afford to buy into the delusion that this moment of turmoil is about discrete cases or their specific disposition under the law. The system of justice itself is under interrogation. The cultural mechanisms that produced that system are under interrogation. America as a whole is under interrogation.

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September 29th

Readers Want News Not Fluff

    The New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch tabloid publication that isn’t likely to win a Pulitzer Prize anytime soon, splashed a full page picture of a smiling Jennifer Anniston on its Sept. 21 front cover. In the upper left-hand space it placed all-capitals text: “BRANGELINA 2004–2016.” Inside the Post were four full consecutive pages, and a half page and part of a column deeper in the newspaper, all devoted to one of the most critical social issues facing the country—Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are getting a divorce.

    People magazine put the multi-million dollar couple on its cover, and teased us with the text: “WHY SHE LEFT” and “THE REAL STORY.” US magazine had an “EXCLUSIVE.” ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX NEWS, MSNBC, and NBC evening newscasts all devoted air time to the divorce. “Entertainment Tonight,” “TMZ,” dozens of entertainment-fueled TV programs, Reuters and AP news services, hundreds of daily newspapers and countless online blogs all had coverage of the epic event. The news also dominated the social media, especially Twitter and Facebook.

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