It’s the Inflation, Stupid

           Franklin D. Roosevelt, scion of one of the wealthiest families in American history, was worth about $67 million in today’s dollars. He attended the prestigious Groton boarding school, Harvard College and Columbia Law. He was relatable to the masses despite his privileged background. In the words of a PBS documentary, he was “a patrician who spoke the language of the dispossessed.”             Bill Clinton, on the other hand, had every tool he needed in order to connect with ordinary voters. He grew up poor in rural Arkansas with his mother and abusive alcoholic stepfather. When he ran for president he was the lowest-paid governor in America, not even bringing in $40,000 a year. He deployed the common touch he picked up via his background during his successful election campaign. As president, however, he succumbed to the D.C. bubble, initially prioritized the right of gays to serve in the military, and pushed a convoluted healthcare plan and disastrous trade deals…
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How Do You Feel About Sarah Palin? It Shouldn’t Matter.

            Scrolling through the comments sections under news stories about Sarah Palin’s defamation lawsuit against the New York Times—dismissed by a judge while a non-sequestered jury was still deliberating and no doubt next heading to an appeals court—provides ample evidence of the dismal state of political tribalization in this country. With few exceptions conservatives wanted to see her prevail against a media outlet they revile, while liberals who care neither for her politics nor her style argued that she deserves to lose because she helped contribute to the rhetorical toxicity in which they themselves are unwittingly participating. Politics is personal. But the personal shouldn’t obscure policy.             If they stopped to think about it, lefties ought to sympathize with Palin. Declaring herself “powerless,” Palin testified: “I was in Wasilla, up against those who buy ink by the barrel and I had my No. 2 pencil on my kitchen table.” She’s not wrong. Having been a few million votes away from…
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How Sarah Palin May Save Defamation Law

           How easy should it be to sue a newspaper or other news outlet for defamation? Thanks to a 1964 Supreme Court decision and the proliferation of constitutionally-dubious “anti-SLAPP” laws, it’s virtually impossible for someone who accuses a media company of lying about him to get to trial, much less win a damage award. If your local paper decides to smear you, the truth is, there’s not much you can do about it. Sarah Palin’s lawsuit against the New York Times poses the first threat in years to the American press’ ability to print whatever it wants. Opening statements in her trial began last week; the fact that a public figure is getting her day in court against a major newspaper is a news story in and of itself.             The 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan set a high standard for a public figure like Governor Palin, or even a “limited public figure” like an editorial cartoonist, to…
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Make Text Messages Private

           Nearly a decade ago, the Edward Snowden revelations prompted a national debate about data security. Polls show that a growing number of Americans take data-security precautions like choosing different passwords for online accounts and using encrypted communications platforms like Signal. Eight out of 10 people believe companies should be required to obtain direct consent to collect or sell their data. But there still hasn’t been any meaningful discussion about data privacy. Text messages, particularly one-on-one exchanges as opposed to group chats, feel as intimate as whispers across your pillow. Do you expect your text messages to remain private? I bet you do. Most people do. Why am I so sure? Because so many people mouth off in text messages that get them into trouble. The law, on the other hand, does not codify the reasonable expectation of privacy to the dispenser of digital diarrhea. Either the sender or the recipient of an SMS may publish it anywhere she likes,…
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Clean Our Mess: Release Guantánamo Detainees in the U.S., Close the Camp

            Parents teach their children: you make a mess, you clean it up.             Twenty years ago, the United States government transformed its naval base at Guantánamo Bay into a legal, moral and foreign-policy disaster. It’s time for President Biden to fulfill his promise to complete the task his predecessors didn’t have the wisdom or desire to do: close America’s gulag.             Thirty-nine prisoners remain at Gitmo. The Pentagon has cleared 18 for release. Yet they will remain captive until the U.S. finds a country willing to accept them, and offers assurances that they’ll be surveilled to ensure they don’t present a threat to U.S. interests and allies. When possible, former detainees are sent home. Others are either denied the right of return by their home countries or would face torture or execution for domestic political reasons.             Kidnapped, tortured, held in isolation without visits from friends or family, Gitmo victims  have never been charged with a crime and in…
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Perhaps We Need More Uncertainty, Maybe

            “We know where they are,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in March 2003 about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. “They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” We found nothing. Rumsfeld knew nothing. A year after the invasion, most voters believed the Bush Administration had lied America into war. At the core of that lie: certainty.             The 2002 run-up to war was marked by statements that characterized intelligence assessments as a slam dunk. “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us,” Vice President Dick Cheney said in August 2002. “These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence,” Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN.             Rumsfeld knew that if he said that Saddam probably had…
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Corporate Journalists are Blind to a Big COVID Lesson

           One of my complaints about mainstream media is that they recruit reporters from inside the establishment—Ivy League colleges, expensive graduate journalism programs, rival outlets with similar hiring practices. Some staffs develop admirable levels of gender and racial diversity. But they all come from the same elite class. Rich kids believe in the system and they accept its basic assumptions.             On New Year’s Day a reporter (UPenn and Oxford, of course) published a solid piece for The Washington Post about an important issue, how America’s “fractured healthcare system” hurts our response to COVID-19. Seeking to answer the question of why the pandemic is still going on after the miraculously rapid development and distribution of vaccines, the Post identified organizational shortcomings as part of the problem, citing the need for “improvements on the delivery side.” She quoted an expert who called for “increasing staffing and funding for local health departments, many of which have been running on a shoestring. Officials…
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America’s Tortured Take on Political Violence

[Original post modified 1/9/22 to correct an error as noted below in the text]           In line with other surveys taken in the run-up to the anniversary of the January 6, 2021 Capitol Hill riot, a new NPR/Ipsos poll finds that 32% of Republicans and 22% of Democrats say that political violence is sometimes justified. The media is going nuts—as usual. Fearful expressions that we might lose our democracy to an act of terrorism, coup attempt, assassination or another form of brute force have been a staple of official propaganda for years. A December 2021 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science notes: “Since 2016 we counted 2,863 mentions of political violence on news television, more than 630 news stories about political violence, and over 10 million Tweets on the topic of the January 6th riot alone.”             Politicians of all stripes constantly state that, as Trump commented after the 2017 Unite the Right march in…
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Student Loans: A Silent Scandal No More

            Student loans, long a non-issue that ruined countless lives, have finally become a political flashpoint in the conflict between progressive and moderate Democrats. Yielding to lefties’ pressure after Joe Manchin torpedoed Build Back Better, President Biden has extended Trump’s pandemic relief to 43 million federal borrowers by pausing payments another three months, to May 1. The issue isn’t going away. 62% of Democratic and 57% of Republican voters aged 18 to 29 told a Harvard Institute of Politics poll that student loan debt is a major problem—a problem they think about when they pay their bills every month. Left-leaning lawmakers want to go far beyond Biden’s stop-gap extension as well as his long-forgotten campaign promise to cancel $10,000 of debt per borrower. (The average ex-student owes $37,000 in federal loans.) Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren and Ayanna Pressley propose to wipe out $50,000 each; Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez want to forgive all $1.7 trillion. A bill proposed by Republican…
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Our First Lockdown Experiment Failed. Let’s Not Try a Second One.

           Shutting down businesses and schools felt to many people like a natural response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the extended coronavirus lockdown of 2020 did not follow any widely-accepted standard strategy; lockdowns were sporadic and short-lived during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the most recent historical parallel. Encouraging and coercing tens of millions of people to shelter in place in 2020 was one of the most radical social engineering experiments in modern history, as novel as the coronavirus itself.             The political impulse to cancel events and close nonessential services we experienced during the spring and summer of 2020 is reemerging as the highly contagious, albeit anecdotally less severe, omicron variant sweeps through New York City and other hotspots. Broadway theaters, rock and hip-hop performers have canceled performances, the Rockettes closed their season a week early and Mayor Bill de Blasio is considering curtailing attendance at the city’s annual ball drop at Times Square. Rumors that New York City…
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