First thoughts, running arguments, stories in progress

Gaffe Track: Gary Johnson's Foreign-Leader Fail

Mark Kauzlarich / Reuters

The candidate: Gary Johnson

The gaffe: At a town hall on MSNBC, Chris Matthews asked the Libertarian nominee, “Who’s your favorite foreign leader?” That’s a pretty weird question, and one that might be useless. If, you know, Johnson could have answered it. “Anywhere, any continent,” Matthews prodded. “I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment,” Johnson said, referring to his recent failure to recall the Syrian city and center of slaughter. “I’m giving you the whole world!” Matthews said. “I know,” Johnson replied ruefully. He offered “the former president of Mexico” but couldn’t name him.

The defense: William Weld, his running mate and a Bill Clinton nominee for ambassador to Mexico in the ’90s, offered Angela Merkel, with full teutonic pronunciation.

Why it matters (or doesn’t): For so many voters, this election is a choice between two undesirable options. Set aside whether Clinton and Trump are equally distasteful for the moment; just recognize that Johnson has an exceptionally low bar to clear. And yet again, he has shown that he’s unable to clear it.

The moral: It’s Sisi as pie, but if you’re un-Abe-le to name a single leader, you May be Putin your candidacy in danger—it might even be the Enda the road.

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'I Felt My Blackness Being Chipped Away Bit by Bit'

My colleague Ta-Nehisi spoke last night with French journalist Iris Deroeux about his time living in Paris and more broadly about race in France compared to the U.S.:

One of audience members of that Facebook Live session was Kaylee, who wrote in to to share her experience living in South Korea as a black woman and the cultural ignorance surrounding her race in the rural school she taught at. (If you’ve ever been a black expat and would like to share your experience living abroad, please drop us a note.) Here’s Kaylee:

I lived and worked in South Korea for three years, and it was the most fascinating and frustrating experience of my life. I taught myself basic Korean and familiarized myself with Korean culture and traditions. While I was prepared in theory to immerse myself in the culture, I was unprepared for the daily racial and cultural microaggressions that came with being the first Black person that my students and colleagues had come in contact with. For example, after the initial Skype interview, my extremely friendly co-teacher casually mentioned how I was much nicer than she had expected. In fact, I was nothing like the angry Black drug dealers and criminals that she had seen on TV.

I taught in rural South Korea, about 1.5 hours from Seoul at a very small elementary school of about 70 students. My first day teaching the second graders highlighted how important my role was as a Black American English teacher. My class consisted of ten adorable, wonderfully excited students who were very curious about me and English class in general. One student came up to me and rubbed my hand and then looked at his hand: “Kaylee-teacher, brown no come off?” He thought my brown skin color was the result of a marker and was surprised that it didn’t come off. A million emotions and thoughts ran through my mind at the moment, some of which I was ashamed of when I remembered that this comment was from a 7-year-old child.

That same first month of teaching, a colleague asked if I had a gun back home because he thought all Black people did. My 5th and 6th graders didn’t understand my natural hair and touched it without asking. And virtually all of my students refused to believe I was American and must be from somewhere in Africa because to them Americans were only blonde and blue-eyed. Parents were frightened to speak to me simply because of what they had seen on TV shows and in movies. And in a small town, every time I walked out of my apartment building I was stared at incessantly. With such an onslaught of questions about my race and culture, I felt my Blackness being chipped away bit by bit, everyday.

Trump Time Capsule #119: 'That Makes Me Smart' vs 'They Don't Pay'

“Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society,” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote in a famous dissent. Donald Trump begs to differ. (Wikimedia Commons)

After Donald Trump became the Republican nominee, he was asked on Fox News about his views on NATO and other American alliances. He gave his familiar “they’re freeloaders” answer:

The fact is we are protecting so many countries that are not paying for the protection. When a country isn’t paying us and these are countries in some cases in most cases that have the ability to pay, and they are not paying because nobody is asking….

We’re protecting all of these countries. They have an agreement to reimburse us and pay us and they are not doing it and if they are not going to do that. We have to seriously rethink at least those countries. It’s very unfair.

This has of course been a repeated theme in his speeches and interviews. Another example: after the Democratic convention, Trump told John Dickerson on Face the Nation, “I want these countries to pay for protection”—“these countries” being the usual range of U.S. allies.

On Monday night, in his debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump essentially acknowledged that he might not be paying any federal tax himself. Here was the remarkable passage:

CLINTON: Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes, because the only years that anybody’s ever seen were a couple of years when he had to turn them over to state authorities when he was trying to get a casino license, and they showed he didn’t pay any federal income tax.

TRUMP: That makes me smart.

That makes me smart. Among the several hundred people watching the debate at the site where I saw it, there was an audible gasp at this line.

Everyone tries to minimize taxes. But not many “normal” people manage to avoid them altogether, or even contemplate doing so. Most Americans, regardless of politics, resent the rigged nature of our public systems and look for ways to corner-cut annoying obligations (“Yeah, yeah, juries are really important, but I’d just as soon not get picked”). But most still recognize some basic obligations we all bear—school taxes even if we don’t have children, paying for highways or emergency relief even in places where we don’t live—to keep the system going as a whole.

You might call this mutual burden-sharing as part of Making America Great Again. You could call it “the price we pay for civilization,” if you were Oliver Wendell Holmes. Or “paying for protection,” if you were Donald Trump.


I’m not sure Trump would recognize any tension between his own outraged demand that allies start paying their way, and his reflexive response that “it makes me smart” to avoid paying his own way. And I realize that his committed supporters might embrace both sentiments at the same time: Those foreigners are screwing us! And, at least one shrewd guy figured out how to keep the IRS from screwing him!

But I can imagine this staying on as a reminder of the gap between Donald Trump’s economic/civic role in society, and that of most of his supporters. It was one of several related moments in the debate—significantly, all of them coming in unprompted responses rather than the usual lines from his speeches:

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Track of the Day: 'Ring of Fire' by Lera Lynn

Reader Bruce submits a Lera Lynn cover of the Johnny Cash classic:

Where Cash’s ring of fire is the blazing love that symbolizes passion with its upbeat tempo, Lynn’s is melancholic, as if the hellfire of love has descended into the lover’s heart. With no hope, we wait to burn.

Any other covers of Cash’s song you really like? Drop us a note and I’ll update. Update from Richard: “Elvis Costello’s version of ‘Ring of Fire’ is marvelous; his voice really captures the emotions and the arrangement and production are top-notch.”

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

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Are Criticisms of the NFL Overblown?

A dissenting reader, Alex, pushes back on most of the readers who have written in so far:

Like many football fans, I’m often conflicted about following the sport. Many of the concerns raised by your readers are valid, but I think it's important to put them in the proper context. In many cases, troubling high-profile incidents have been turned into anecdotal evidence of a problem not supported by data.

For example, as your readers detailed, one of the recurring issues is the head trauma that players are subjected to and the league’s head-in-the-sand approach to safety concerns. Indeed, several players have retired early rather than risk the ravages of CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy].

But what most people don’t know is that—despite a higher rate of neurodegenerative diseases—NFL players have longer lifespans on average than the general population. They even commit suicide at a lower rate. So the notion that players are “killing themselves for our entertainment” is not statistically true. At best, one could argue that players are putting themselves at risk for some future health issues while also improving other factors (fitness and wealth) that correlate strongly with longevity.

Another argument echoed by your readers is that watching the NFL makes one complicit with a league full of domestic and sexual abusers who have faced little to no consequences for their actions. Indeed, the league’s approach to cases like Ray Rice and Greg Hardy has been abysmal—and the NFL’s “No More” awareness campaign on the issue reeks of a CYA [cover your ass] public relations move. But for all the NFL’s failures on the issue, its players are still less likely to be arrested for domestic violence and sex offenses than males of the same age.

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How Shimon Peres Helped Bring Peace Between Cuba and the U.S.

Shimon Peres
Feng Li / Reuters

A surprising name came up in conversation earlier this year in Miami. Just before President Obama visited Cuba in March, I headed down to Florida to see how Cuban Americans felt about the normalizing relations between the two countries. For some, it was impossible for them to move on from the traumatic experience of fleeing their home country, forced to relocate to the U.S. after a new communist government seized their parents’ businesses and threatened their families. But for others, they are ready to look ahead to a new era.

One of those Cuban-Americans was Mike Fernandez, a billionaire who has become a leading national voice in ending the embargo, frequently meeting with Washington lawmakers. Fernandez, speaking to me at his home in Coral Gables, said that one of the people who inspired him to forgive Fidel and Raul Castro and move forward with peace was Shimon Peres, the Israeli president and Nobel Prize winner.

It was a detail that I did not include in my original article, but one that feels more relevant than ever. With news last night that Peres has passed away, I asked Fernandez about his friend and what he meant for this new era in U.S.-Cuba relations. He writes:

Shimon Peres is a world leader I have admired and respected for decades. It’s an odd friendship we made, as I am neither an Israeli citizen nor a man of Jewish faith, but we met by way of a mutual friend many years ago.

I was in love with his mind the night we met, sitting side by side at my friend’s home. The elder statesman spoke to me with gracious and powerful words about saving children’s lives. “Where in Israel are these children?” I asked. He smiled and said, “I speak of Palestinian children.” He had my attention. He was a maestro of peace and unity.

As the years passed, I learned more about him, always in private and always in his somber, low-toned voice. In one occasion, he asked me where in Cuba I was born. I was shocked to hear him say, “I know where Manzanillo is at.” How could he possibly know? So I asked. With effort he leaned back and further sank in his chair and told me, “In 1947 or ’48, we needed weapons for Israel and we were buying them from anywhere we could. One place was Cuba. I remember being in a ship going to buy whatever we could and we could either drop anchor near Holguin on Cuba’s northern coast or Manzanillo on the southern coast. We chose the northern coast.” Little did I know.

Last year, I visited with him in May. Our conversation turned, as it often had, to Cuba. I asked him, “Mr. President, would you consider joining an effort to help Cubans reconcile on both sides of the Florida Straits?” He almost jumped out of the chair in excitement. “I would love to,” he said. At 92, the idea of putting his energy at work on an issue of peace made him grin.

Within a few minutes, there were half-a-dozen people in his office, planning a strategy. He then turned to me and said, “But it can’t be done if there is no forgiveness. Have you forgiven and can both groups move on? If you are focused on the past, you will not succeed. There will be no future.”

Today, I have forgiven. Not all have, but many more have crossed that line because an Israeli president instructed a Cuban friend.

Trump Time Capsule #118: John Warner, Arizona Republic

Former Republican senator John Warner, right, greeting former Senator Bob Dole in 2008. Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, was one of the long series of GOP nominees whom Warner endorsed, until this year. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Republican newspaper. Earlier this month, the Dallas Morning News made a first-in-modern-times recommendation of a Democrat for president over a Republican, in endorsing Hillary Clinton.

The news this evening from Phoenix is if anything more dramatic: the Arizona Republic has also endorsed Hillary Clinton. Why is this newsworthy? The beginning of the editorial, whose title is “Hillary Clinton is the only choice to move America ahead," spells it out:

Since The Arizona Republic began publication in 1890, we have never endorsed a Democrat over a Republican for president. Never. This reflects a deep philosophical appreciation for conservative ideals and Republican principles.

This year is different.

The 2016 Republican candidate is not conservative and he is not qualified.

That’s why, for the first time in our history, The Arizona Republic will support a Democrat for president.

The editorial’s tone gets tougher as it goes. The common theme in this series of for-the-record time capsule notations is things that have not happened before. The Republic endorsing a Democrat is one of those.   

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Trump Time Capsule #117: Chinese Climate Change

Donald Trump on Twitter

In my current debate story I quote a body-language expert named Jack Brown on a surprising aspect of Donald Trump’s performance skills. Brown argues that while Trump’s gestures and expressions seem unusually operatic, they actually cover a smaller range of variation that most people’s do. You can go to the article for the rationale, but the non-obvious upshot, according to Brown, is that it is easier for Trump to lie “convincingly” than for most other people. There are fewer “tells” in his face and expression.

This is a way of setting up, for the record, another extraordinary aspect of Trump’s debate performance last night: his reeling off statements that he must have known would be trivially easy to disprove.

In the NYT today, David Leonhardt has a formidable list of Trump’s misstatements in the debate, with the straightforward headline “The Lies Trump Told.” It follows “A Week of Whoppers,” by Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, in the NYT three days ago.

Here’s just a single illustration that jumped out at me from the debate:

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Trump Time Capsule #116: ‘Somebody Who Likes to Eat’

Alicia Machado (R), in 1998 shortly after her reign as Miss Universe, interviewing model Nathalia Paris. Reuters

There’s no way to tell which moments might end up being remembered from last night’s first Clinton-Trump debate.

Perhaps Donald Trump’s implicit confirmation that he had not paid taxes (“That’s called smart!”)? Or his acknowledgement that he’d “sort of hoped” for and profited from the devastating crash of housing values in 2008 (“That’s called business, by the way”)? His Montgomery Burns-like comment that he had not paid subcontractors because “he was not satisfied with their work”? His frequent “manterruptions” of Hillary Clinton (“Wrong!”) or talking over her answers, as a modern counterpart of Rick Lazio’s over-aggressive stage manners toward her during their New York Senate debates in 2000? His resurrection of his false claims that Hillary Clinton had started the birther movement, and that he had opposed the Iraq war?

We won’t know for a while. But there’s a good chance that the already-famous exchange in the debate’s final few minutes, about the beauty-pageant winner he called “Miss Piggy,” will have a lingering effect.

The NBC story about it is here and the NYT’s is here; NBC is the source of the video below. Their subject is of course Alicia Machado, a one-time Miss Venezuela who was chosen as Miss Universe in the period when Donald Trump was in charge of the Miss Universe pageant.

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A Trump Email Dump

via @sonnyandthesunsets (thnx @cantina_ )

A video posted by Chill Wildlife™ 🖖🏼 (@chillwildlife) on

I’m helping my colleague Jim Fallows with some housecleaning regarding the massive amount of reader email piling up over Donald Trump. One notes for the record:

I appreciate your Trump Time Capsule serial, but I think you all have missed one. Please correct me if I am wrong, but I am unaware of a presidential candidate ever releasing his (or her) testosterone level before? Since Trump has released so little other health information, the message it sends is … I can’t find the words for it.

Speaking of the Time Capsule, this reader has an apt literary reference:

It seems this passage from Lewis Carroll “fits” your Time Capsule: Alice laughed/said, “One can’t believe impossible things.” The Queen replied, “I daresay you haven’t much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” (Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 5)

This scene from Tim Burton’s version of the Carroll classic has a certain resonance with last night’s debate:

This next email is a fascinating followup to the reader who saw a Trump-Pence bumper sticker on a car equipped with The Club and parked at a Hollywood studio—the kind of secure place where a security measure like The Club seems unnecessary at best:

In 1992, my most favorite car ever was stolen from the streets of New York City while protected by The Club. When I reported the theft to police and insurance, I learned that The Club is not a deterrent; it is actually an aid to car thieves. I didn’t grasp the details at the time, but as I was reading your post about the Trump-Pence car, I remembered how my confidence in The Club was disappointed and found this paragraph on Freakonomics:

A pro thief would carry a short piece of a hacksaw blade to cut through the plastic steering wheel in a couple seconds. They were then able to release The Club and use it to apply a huge amount of torque to the steering wheel and break the lock on the steering column (which most cars were already equipped with). The pro thieves actually sought out cars with The Club on them because they didn’t want to carry a long pry bar that was too hard to conceal.

So there’s a pretty rich irony in this whole metaphor: a voter who is frightened by threats that aren’t real, or aren’t statistically significant, trusts a protector who will not provide any meaningful protection, who will, in addition, make the voter more vulnerable. Trump has cheated employees, lenders, stockholders, charities, customers, and now he’s setting himself up to cheat his voters and supporters too.

Another reader replies to the note from Fallows featuring the massive searchable database containing every tweet from Trump:

Thanks for sharing the link! This is awesome! In just two minutes, I was able to answer a question that long bedeviled me: on Planet Trump, what are all the failing media operations? The answer:

The New York Times (the champion by far), CNN, New York Daily News, Glenn Beck/The Blaze, National Review, Manchester Union Leader, Politico, Daily Beast, Des Moines Register, Weekly Standard, The View, Vanity Fair, Bill Maher, Huffington Post, DC Examiner, New York Magazine

Meanwhile the Washington Post only gets a one-time appellation of “phony.” Clearly, the Fahrenthold stories aren’t stinging too much.

Fallows covered the latest from Fahrenthold yesterday. Another reader takes a big step back to try to understand this moment in political history:

Maybe some part of the electorate has always been paranoid. But like your reader [who saw the Trump-Pence bumper sticker] points out, this year seems a watershed. I can see some reasons:

1. LGBT marriage equality: Came SO fast, I don’t think people have processed it yet. As they are struggling to cope with this decidedly liberal agenda, the wedding cake mafia is not helping either. No one likes being held hostage to ideas in their own home/city/country.

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Track of the Day: ‘Vincent’ by Don McLean

“Speaking of shedding new light on an artist,” reader Diane recommends a song by Don McLean:

“Vincent” is often known by its first line, “Starry starry night,” after Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous painting. While the lyrics contain references to many of the artist’s other works—“morning fields of amber grain,” “flaming flowers that brightly blaze,” and more—I think it’s safe to say The Starry Night is the one work of art that the song best sums up. The unfurling swirls of color in the painting are mirrored by the movements of a wistful melody that seems to ask a question in each line, and the notes of McLean’s acoustic guitar capture the rippling texture of Van Gogh’s brushstrokes.

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

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