Archive

September 19th, 2016

Donald Trump and the Politics of 'Huh?'

    Even Donald Trump is capable of posing interesting questions, and he asked one of this election's most important when he declared: "What the hell do you have to lose?"

    He was specifically addressing his query to African-Americans, but it's something all Americans should think about. And the latest report on incomes released Tuesday by the Census Bureau suggests that the vast majority of Americans, including African-Americans, have a great deal to lose if the progress the country has made since we began our recovery from the Great Recession is endangered by a candidate whose policies are, depending on the day, quite radical, entirely unpredictable, or simply incoherent.

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Brexit isn't the only great British divide

    David Cameron's political career arguably came to an end this week because of Britain's longest-running policy debate. Not over leaving Europe, but over education.

    When he resigned as prime minister after the Brexit referendum in June, Cameron pledged to keep his parliamentary seat until 2020. On Monday, he decided he'd had enough and many concluded that the timing of his decision was no accident.

    Cameron's successor, Theresa May, had just announced that Britain should increase the number of academically selective state-run secondary schools, dubbed "grammar schools" for their 16th-century origins as places for instruction in Greek and Latin grammar.

    Cameron had opposed expanding grammar schools, so May's changes put him in an awkward position. If he supported her he would be repudiating his own education policy. A vote against her would undermine his successor going into a contentious Conservative Party conference in October.

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A people's history in our eyes and hands

    The story of a people is a million stories, and there are stories told in objects that let us remember but also teach us what we do not know.

    Each family has its stories, and sometimes they come together as something collective, of a people. Objects of the sort that have been gathered in this museum - precious objects, handled by generations and thus infused with meaning and power - will allow visitors to recall known experience and passed-along tales. The mystery and force of collective memory is that we can access experiences that we might not have had ourselves but reside in a collective unconscious that the museum will make material.

    We - and this "we" means all Americans - have long needed a place where we can come and come again to learn our history through our eyes and hands, the objects that tell these millions of stories. It is a simple truth: It is upon today's young people of all colors to imagine and forge the future, and it cannot be set right unless there is a clear understanding of the past.

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A loophole ends privacy of Social Security numbers

    Federal law is supposed to protect the privacy of your Social Security number from government inquiries -- but apparently that doesn't extend to a check on whether you've paid back taxes and child support. In a decision with worrying implications for those who oppose a single national identification number, a divided federal appeals court has rejected a lawyer's refusal to submit his Social Security number along with his renewal of Maryland bar membership.

    The state says it needs Social Security numbers to make sure lawyers' child support and taxes are up to date. The court's majority said that was enough to fit the Social Security number under the federal law that allows states to use your number for tax purposes. That definition is so loose that it enables states to ask for your Social Security number pretty much whenever they want -- even when their records have been hacked.

    The test case was initiated by a Washington-based lawyer named Michael Tankersley, who is a member in good standing of the Maryland bar. He got legal help from the watchdog group Public Citizen, which among other things is interested in promoting privacy-rights litigation.

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When a Crackpot Seeks Office

    One of the mental traps that we all fall into, journalists included, is to perceive politics through narratives.

    President Gerald Ford had been a star football player, yet somehow we in the media developed a narrative of him as a klutz — so that every time he stumbled, a clip was on the evening news. Likewise, we in the media wrongly portrayed President Jimmy Carter as a bumbling lightweight, even as he tackled the toughest challenges, from recognizing China to returning the Panama Canal.

    Then in 2000, we painted Al Gore as inauthentic and having a penchant for self-aggrandizing exaggerations, and the most memorable element of the presidential debates that year became not George W. Bush’s misstatements but Gore’s dramatic sighs.

    I bring up this checkered track record because I wonder if once again our collective reporting isn’t fueling misperceptions.

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We'd know if they were too ill to lead

    For centuries, prognosis was the principal thing doctors could offer to patients. They couldn't heal much, but they could say what was likely to happen. Their art was knowing the natural history of disease and imparting that knowledge in an authoritative way.

    Today, medicine is awash in treatments that work, but the expectation that doctors can foretell the future has changed little. Every presidential election season, the candidates are asked to bring forth their doctors and medical records to, in effect, attest to their good health for the next four years.

    That's happening in the current campaign, especially this week as Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, takes a break to recover from what is presumably a case of community-acquired pneumonia.

    Such infections can be caused by a long list of viruses or bacteria; it's often hard to identify the pathogen even if you look carefully. Diabetes, emphysema, cirrhosis and other chronic illnesses increase a person's chance of developing pneumonia, but in one-fifth of cases there's no underlying problem. Age, however, is an indisputable risk.

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Voters have a right to know about nominees' health

    The 2016 political campaign, heretofore marked by concerns over Republican Donald Trump's temperament and knowledge to be president, has suddenly pivoted to whether Hillary Clinton's health is up to the same challenge.

    Her forced interruption to her campaign over the weekend dramatically focused attention on a question that Trump had sought to make central issue: whether Clinton lacks the stamina for the job.

    In purely political terms, her failure to disclose that her doctor had diagnosed her with what is called walking pneumonia only unscored her penchant for personal secrecy, which has long plagued her political career.

    Aides sought to defend that failure as evidence of Clinton's gritty determination to "power through" the immediate difficulty and continue her strenuous schedule, despite medical advice to take a few days off the trail to recuperate.

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Understanding Hillary

   I saw Hillary once working a rope line for more than an hour, a Secret Service man holding her firmly by the hips as she leaned over the rope and reached into the mass of arms and hands reaching out to her. She had learned the art of encountering the crowd and making it look personal. It was not glamorous work, more like picking fruit, and it took the sort of discipline your mother instills in you: those people waited to see you so by gosh you can treat them right.

    So it's no surprise she pushed herself to the point of collapse the other day. What's odd is the perspective, expressed in several stories, that her determination to keep going reveals a "lack of transparency" -- that she should've announced she had pneumonia and gone home and crawled into bed.

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September 18th

Google isn't swaying voters, but it could

    Long before artificial intelligence brings about the singularity, algorithms are having an influence over our most important decisions, including which candidate to back in elections. The danger this could go too far is real and we probably need some well-considered regulatory intervention.

    Earlier this week, the U.S. psychologist Robert Epstein published a harsh article about Google's alleged manipulation of its search suggestion feature. When you start typing in Google's search window, it suggests ways to autocomplete the request. Epstein showed, for example, that when a user entered "Hillary Clinton is...," Google suggested finishing the sentence with "is winning" or "is awesome." Other search engines, Bing and Yahoo, completed the sentence differently: "Hillary Clinton is a liar."

    Epstein went on to give other examples of the purported bias and claimed that his research showed that the manipulation of search suggestions could "shift between 800,000 and 3.2 million votes" in the U.S. presidential election.

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Trump’s ‘Deplorable’ Deflections

    In August 2015, The New York Daily News published an exclusive report on a 1991 letter that Donald Trump wrote to the chairman of the state Assembly’s Committee on Cities, complaining about disabled veterans vending their wares on Fifth Avenue, home of Trump Tower in Manhattan.

    A New York state law dating from 1894 “allowed disabled veterans to work as sidewalk peddlers in New York City regardless of municipal rules,” as The New York Times wrote in 1991.

    But Trump was not empathetic to these wounded warriors’ plight, at least not on Fifth Avenue. He saw them and their vending as an eyesore.

    The Daily Beast published its own report on Trump’s efforts to get the veterans booted from this tony part of Manhattan, quoting Trump’s letter as reading:

    “While disabled veterans should be given every opportunity to earn a living, is it fair to do so to the detriment of the city as a whole or its taxpaying citizens and businesses?”

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