From Hanover, N.H., five things we learned from Tuesday's Republican debate on the economy
HANOVER, N.H. -- Five takeaways from the GOP debate:
1. So much for the big Perry comeback. Coming off a streak of debate performances so notably shaky that they threatened to torpedo his high-flying campaign, the Texas governor needed to rally in a big way. His advisers promised he was getting more practice -- and more sleep -- in order to turn things around.
It didn't work.
Perry stammered through his answers, missed obvious gimmes and seemed strangely absent from much of the discussion.
Late in the debate, Perry got perhaps the biggest fat pitch of the night: a question about Solyndra, the bankrupt solar-energy firm that has become conservatives' touchstone for Obama administration incompetence. Instead of teeing off on the president, environmentalists and pork-barrel spending, Perry replied, "Well, I don't think the federal government should be involved in that type of investment, period. If states want to choose to do that, I think that's fine." It was the perfect cue for the moderator's follow-up on similar projects funded by a controversial Texas investment office -- and though Perry has been defending that for years in debates back home, he had trouble clearly explaining it.
Early on, Perry noted his short time in the race compared to two-time candidate Mitt Romney: "Mitt has had six years to be working on a plan. I have been in this for about eight weeks." It seemed like he was making excuses -- and not very convincing ones considering his nearly three decades in public life.
With all the training he's supposedly done, Perry's campaign now faces a proposition that, if true, would be insurmountable: It's not the preparation that's the problem. It's the candidate.
2. Romney is in command. The former Massachusetts governor has an assurance, deftness and poise that have eluded him at the beginning of his presidential-candidate career more than four years ago. Maybe it's practice. Maybe it's the delicious feeling of his solidifying front-runner status. Maybe it's the lingering glow, and instructive aggressiveness, of his big endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier Tuesday.
The Mitt Romney of 2007 tended to get impatient and flustered when confronted. This Romney stays cool and doesn't take slights personally. Most important, he seems to be in his comfort zone: He's not afraid to be the smart guy, the geek, the Harvard Business School guy. That's what he's running on now. The voters who prefer heart to head have been written off as unwinnable.
Romney was willing to venture into very dangerous territory -- defending the Bush administration's much-reviled financial-system rescue. He name-dropped academic economists both alive (Greg Mankiw) and dead (Milton Friedman). He spoke in favor of progressive taxation. He mounted a nerdily stirring justification of complexity against Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan, which he deemed overly simplistic: "Herman, I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems, and I must admit that simple answers are always helpful, but oftentimes inadequate."
Romney even went on offense on health care, his biggest conservative heresy, touting himself as the only candidate to propose a reform plan for once Obamacare is repealed, as they all have sworn to do.
3. They're gunning for Herman Cain next. Cain has floated to a healthy second place in numerous national polls, picking up steam based on his personal charisma, his business background and Perry's crash to earth. His "9-9-9" plan was mentioned so often in the debate you'd think it was American voters' No. 1 concern rather than an obscure -- and, it turns out, intermediate -- plot to dynamite the tax code.
Cain showed how he got this far: He's quick on his feet and likable. To a moderator's assertion that his plan wouldn't raise enough tax revenue to fund the government, he replied -- without snapping or growling -- "The problem with that analysis is that it is inaccurate," drawing a big laugh. He patiently endured the other candidates' condescension, such as when Jon Huntsman said he "thought [9-9-9] was the price of a pizza when I first heard about it." After the debate, Cain appeared in person in the spin room, drawing a huge media throng and showing he's able, and unafraid, to face questions.
But Cain also showed signs he'll have trouble as the probing deepens now that he's in a competitive position. He named as his chief economic adviser an Ohio wealth manager who is not a trained economist. He said he had two candidates in mind to head the Federal Reserve, but refused to name them. And his praise for Alan Greenspan, coupled with his onetime service on the Federal Reserve Board of Kansas City, are likely to alienate some of his tea-party supporters as they come to light.
4. It's crowded in the second tier. With Romney seeming to pull away from the pack and hope fading for Perry, the would-be giant-killer, a vacuum has been created, and we know how nature feels about those.
Even as the media were rushing to anoint Cain as the new No. 2, there was a sense he wouldn't own the spot for long based on the boom-and-bust cycles of Perry and Michele Bachmann before him. Bachmann also had a good debate, showcasing her command of policy with answers that drew on her experience in Congress. So did Newt Gingrich, whose campaign is staffing up in key states and hoping for a rebirth. So did Rick Santorum, who's proven over and over that he's the field's most adept verbal combatant, skilled at spotting the logical flaw in an opponent's argument -- and fierce in calling him on it. So did Ron Paul, who got served softballs on Fed policy without getting drawn into his less orthodox views on foreign policy. Even Huntsman, who's been gaining in New Hampshire, had a decent debate.
"There is a sort of intramural going on between all the non-Romney [candidates]," observed Perry strategist Dave Carney. "Very few Cain people are going to be for Romney when it comes down to it. ... All voters are shopping around right now. They'll light on a name, but most of them are not going to lie down in front of a bus for anybody."
5. Broad agreement on economics. After the last few intensely acrimonious debates, Tuesday's was marked by broad comity -- probably because it was exclusively focused on economic issues.
Sure, there was sniping. But the social and cultural issues that cause so much intensely personal friction, like immigration and religion, weren't in the mix. And foreign policy, where the candidates have real disagreements, didn't much enter in either, though Romney's plan to confront China on trade drew a substantive rebuke from Huntsman, the former ambassador to Beijing.
For the most part, though, they endorsed each other's points, extended each other's arguments and echoed each other's ideas. At one point at the end of the debate, while Gingrich was talking, Bachmann chimed in to feed him lines that would help his argument, smiling and nodding, "I agree, I agree."
This is, after all, the field of candidates who all agreed that they would not raise taxes even if offered a bargain whereby 10 times as much would be cut from government as the amount of new revenue raised. When it comes to economics, they may disagree about the means, but they agree on the ends -- reduce the size of government, don't raise taxes.
And of course, they agree on the ultimate end: Get rid of a once-popular president made vulnerable by a staggering economy.
Some researchers believe that the microbiome may play a role in regulating how people think and feel.
By now, the idea that gut bacteria affects a person’s health is not revolutionary. Many people know that these microbes influence digestion, allergies, and metabolism. The trend has become almost commonplace: New books appear regularly detailing precisely which diet will lead to optimum bacterial health.
But these microbes’ reach may extend much further, into the human brains. A growing group of researchers around the world are investigating how the microbiome, as this bacterial ecosystem is known, regulates how people think and feel. Scientists have found evidence that this assemblage—about a thousand different species of bacteria, trillions of cells that together weigh between one and three pounds—could play a crucial role in autism, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.
Trump’s greatest gift to the GOP may be the distraction he’s provided from other party meltdowns.
Even though 2016 appears to be the year of painful, public disqualification from higher office, you may be forgiven for not noticing the extraordinary implosion of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. After all, the Trump surrogate and White House Transition chair has benefitted from his early endorsement of the Republican presidential nominee in unusual fashion: Christie’s power in the Grand Ole Party has decreased, rather than increased. The likelihood of a plum position in the Trump administration—Attorney General, perhaps, since Christie was spurned as the Republican running mate—is decidedly dim, what with the presently apocalyptic predictions about November 8th.
Instead, Trump’s gift to Christie has been shadow: the top Republican’s national meltdown has obscured that of the one-time rising Republican star and sitting New Jersey governor. But make no mistake—Christie’s is a fall of epic proportions, precipitated by an unfathomably petty revenge plot. The contrast of the two, the top-heavy-ness of the fallout compared to the insignificance of the initial transgression, would be comic, were it not so tragic. Remember that in November of 2012, Governor Christie had a 72 percent approval rating. Today, it stands at 21 percent.
In the 1970s, a new wave of post-Watergate liberals stopped fighting monopoly power. The result is an increasingly dangerous political system.
It was January 1975, and the Watergate Babies had arrived in Washington looking for blood. The Watergate Babies—as the recently elected Democratic congressmen were known—were young, idealistic liberals who had been swept into office on a promise to clean up government, end the war in Vietnam, and rid the nation’s capital of the kind of corruption and dirty politics the Nixon White House had wrought. Richard Nixon himself had resigned just a few months earlier in August. But the Watergate Babies didn’t just campaign against Nixon; they took on the Democratic establishment, too. Newly elected Representative George Miller of California, then just 29 years old, announced, “We came here to take the Bastille.”
Tom Hanks’s Doug has a lot in common with “Black Jeopardy” contestants—except, of course, for politics.
SNL’s ongoing “Black Jeopardy” series has been, in part, about divisions. In each edition, black American contestants answer Kenan Thompson’s clues with in-jokes, slang, and their shared opinions while an outsider—say, Elizabeth Banks as the living incarnation of Becky, Louis C.K. as a BYU African American Studies professor, or Drake as a black Canadian—just show their cluelessness.
When Tom Hanks showed up in a “Make America Great Again” hat and bald-eagle shirt to play the contestant “Doug” this weekend, it seemed like the set-up for the ugliest culture clash yet. The 2016 election has been a reminder of the country’s profound racial fault lines, and SNL hasn’t exactly been forgiving toward the Republican nominee on that front: Its version of Trump hasn’t been able to tell black people apart, and it aired a mock ad painting his supporters as white supremacists—which, inarguably, some of them really are.
Just why was Tom Hanks dancing in a black-and-orange suit on Saturday Night Live so funny?
This weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live offered a mini masterpiece: a gloriously silly Halloween-themed piece revolving around a “Haunted Elevator” ride and its unusual star attraction. Beck Bennett and Kate McKinnon played a couple looking for spooky thrills who instead found something far more bewildering: a pumpkin-suited man who would randomly appear alongside two cheerful skeletons and perform a dance routine. “Who are you?” asked a frustrated Bennett after the man (played by Tom Hanks) appeared for the second time. “I’m David Pumpkins!” came the reply.
McKinnon followed up: “Yeah, and David Pumpkins is … ?”
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
What use is there today for one of the oldest virtues?
As many Americans go about their days, I imagine they have two little angels perched on their shoulders, whispering conflicting messages about happiness and material wealth. One angel is embodied by James Altucher, a minimalist self-help guru recently profiled by The New York Times. Altucher claims to have only 15 possessions, after having unburdened himself a few months ago of 40 garbage bags’ worth of stuff and never looking back. As I read about Altucher, I rolled the numbers 15 and 40 over in my mind, thinking about the belongings in my bedroom and the garbage bags under my kitchen sink.
The other angel is Tyler Brûlé, the editor in chief of the fantastically high-end lifestyle magazine Monocle and a columnist for the Financial Times. He is the sort of writer who tosses off such lines as “I zipped along the autostrada through the Val d’Aosta with the ever-trusty Mario (my Italian driver for the past 20 years) at the wheel” with little regard for how privileged and pretentious he sounds (especially in his superfluous parentheticals). Still, there is something, I’m a little ashamed to say, that I envy about Brûlé’s effortless cosmopolitanism—which, it’s hard to miss, is only made possible by unusual wealth.
Answering a common question from a polarizing election cycle
Our major party candidates have historically high disapproval ratings. So I am often asked, usually by people in “blue” enclaves, “How can anyone vote for him?” and by people in “red” enclaves, “How can anyone vote for her?” Since I live in coastal California, and because so many more Americans presently intend to vote for Hillary Clinton, rather than Donald Trump, who is disapproved of by significantly more people, I hear “how can anyone vote Trump” more than the reverse.
And I myself could never vote Trump, so I get the confusion on some level––I might even share it if I hadn’t spent time with so many Trump supporters who are good people, not “deplorables” (though there is a faction of deplorable Trump supporters). Still, the answer I’ve started giving Clinton voters is probably as effective for similarly confounded Trump supporters. Without further ado, here it is:
Tristan Harris believes Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones. He’s determined to make it stop.
On a recent evening in San Francisco, Tristan Harris, a former product philosopher at Google, took a name tag from a man in pajamas called “Honey Bear” and wrote down his pseudonym for the night: “Presence.”
Harris had just arrived at Unplug SF, a “digital detox experiment” held in honor of the National Day of Unplugging, and the organizers had banned real names. Also outlawed: clocks, “w-talk” (work talk), and “WMDs” (the planners’ loaded shorthand for wireless mobile devices). Harris, a slight 32-year-old with copper hair and a tidy beard, surrendered his iPhone, a device he considers so addictive that he’s called it “a slot machine in my pocket.” He keeps the background set to an image of Scrabble tiles spelling out the words face down, a reminder of the device’s optimal position.
Trump supporters are convinced Democrats are using “oversampling” to stuff the polls in Hillary Clinton’s favor. But they’re just wrong about statistics.
Late last night, pro-Trump Twitter lit up with excited chatter. Donald Trump is falling fast in the polls, sliding through a month-long decline most statisticians would say is a result of him being, you know, unpopular. (And maybe this. Or this. Or this.) But one blogger had another theory: Polling organizations are deliberately interviewing more Democrats to skew the surveys toward Hillary Clinton.
This afternoon, Trump threw his support behind the idea. “When the polls are even, when they leave them alone and do them properly, I’m leading,” he said at a rally in Florida. “But you see these polls where they’re polling Democrats. How’s Trump doing? Oh, he’s down. They’re polling Democrats. The system is corrupt and it’s rigged and it’s broken.”