One should talk about the past and the other about the future.
For tonight's highly anticipated presidential debate, I decided to skip right to the end. Here are two closing statements for the candidates that basically reflect their best arguments. For Obama, that his first term was considerably more successful than people give him credit for; and for Romney, that the president has failed to offer a compelling new agenda for his second term.
OBAMA'S BEST CASE: SEE THAT RECOVERY? I BUILT THAT
The Boy Scouts of America have a simple rule. "Leave it better than you found it."
It's an easy promise to make. But recently, presidents have have a hard time keeping it. The previous guy in this job inherited a surplus and left us with the Great Recession.
When I entered office, the U.S. economy was in flames. My administration successfully put out the worst of the fire and we've been pouring as much water as we can for the last three years. I'd like to share credit with the Republicans, but you know what? They don't deserve any. The recovery you've felt in the last two years: We built that. The other party just stood around saying "no."
The stimulus I signed over Republican objections set a floor under the recession. The economy started growing just six months later. Unemployment insurance that I made a priority over Republican objections helped millions of families buy food and diapers. But not just that. It also stimulated the economy by putting government spending to efficient use in the hands of the neediest families who were most likely to spend. For the last year, Republicans in the House have fought to slash government spending in the face of a slow recovery. According to every macroeconomists I've consulted, these cuts would have slowed growth in the next quarters. I fought them. I prevented them. And because of that, the recovery is on track.
Today, there are more Americans employed in the private sector than on my first day in office. The S&P 500 is up nearly 70% since my first month. Corporate profits are at an all-time high. Some people ask: Are you better off than you were four years ago? Well, if "you" are part of this tremendous business recovery or if you are among the wealthiest Americans, there is no question. You are better off. And you are better off because we put out that fire.
But I'm a realist. I know the answer to that question -- are you better off? -- isn't as clear for everybody. It's not as clear cut for a single mom trying to send a kid to university when the cost of public college is rising faster than her paycheck, while state cuts push up tuition. It's not as clear for the millions of families where one parent can't find work or is fighting an illness without health care.
The Republicans have an answer to these problems. It's "cut and pray." Now, I'm a religious man, but we need a better answer than prayer, alone. That's why I'm fighting to preserve college assistance and affordable student loans. It's why I'm fighting to save unemployment insurance and programs for the low-income that would be decimated in Romney's budget. It's why I'm fighting to save a health care program that covers tens of millions of people by the end of the decade.
So, here's the deal I'm striking. Can I ask the folks who know they are better off than they were four years ago to help the folks who are still struggling? I know Americans. From the single-mother waitress to the million-dollar entrepreneur, they are not selfish. They're smart. They know a good deal when they see it. This is a good deal.
After four years, I've left the country better than when I found it. And I'm not ready to leave just yet! I've still got work to do. We all do. And, with your vote, with another four years, I promise to you that it will keep getting better.
ROMNEY'S BEST CASE: OBAMA HAS NO FUTURE
You can learn a lot about somebody by listening. And listening to the president tonight and for the last few months, I've learned something important. Have you noticed that he can't help but speak in the past tense? It's because, when it comes to the future, he's got nothing to say.
The president is fond of telling us how he put out the fire of the Great Recession, how he passed health care, how he fought Republicans. That's all fine. But we don't need a fire fighter in chief. We need a leader. And the president has failed the most important test of leadership: trust.
He said he would bring Washington together. He failed. He said he would keep unemployment under 8 percent. He failed. He said he would cut the deficit. He failed. Washington is more divided than ever, unemployment spent 43 months over 8 percent, and the deficit has topped $1 trillion each year of his administration. Now he's asking you for another four years ... even though he has practically no new ideas for a second term! My friends, the record is long enough. And it's no good.
My critics love to complain that I'm not specific enough. That I don't use enough numbers. Well, I've got a number for you today. It's 2030.
In the last two years, job creation has been so slow that we're not on pace to close the jobs gap until the year 2030. Folks, stop for a minute and think about that. It means that if you're 40 years old today, the pace of the so-called Obama Recovery won't get us back to normal until you are at least 60 years old. You know what you're getting with this president. It is the slow and steady creep of mediocrity, plain and simple. Economic growth and job growth in 2012 has been almost identical to 2011. That's the Obama economy. You've seen it. You know it. An if you're satisfied with it -- if you're alright with voting for 2030 -- then go ahead and vote for 2030.
But if you want to vote this year, if you want to vote for 2012, then I've got a plan. It will create jobs. It will simplify your taxes. It will grow the economy. You might disagree with it. You might think it goes too far here, and isn't ambitious enough there. That's okay. At least I've got a plan. And I'm committed to doing what this president isn't: Going to Washington and getting things done.
As I mentioned in this post in late November, and in this followup, and also in a discussion with Diane Rehm on her new podcast series yesterday, Donald Trump’s lies differ from those we have encountered from other national figures, even Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton during their respective impeachments. The difference is that Trump seemingly does not care that evidence is immediately at hand to disprove what he says. If he believes what he’s saying, at least in that moment, why shouldn’t we?
For the record, the latest entry of this sort is the repeated insistence by Trump and his associates that he won a “landslide” or “major” victory. For instance, this was his transition team’s response to reports of Russian attempts to swing the election in his favor:
Should you drink more coffee? Should you take melatonin? Can you train yourself to need less sleep? A physician’s guide to sleep in a stressful age.
During residency, Iworked hospital shifts that could last 36 hours, without sleep, often without breaks of more than a few minutes. Even writing this now, it sounds to me like I’m bragging or laying claim to some fortitude of character. I can’t think of another type of self-injury that might be similarly lauded, except maybe binge drinking. Technically the shifts were 30 hours, the mandatory limit imposed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, but we stayed longer because people kept getting sick. Being a doctor is supposed to be about putting other people’s needs before your own. Our job was to power through.
The shifts usually felt shorter than they were, because they were so hectic. There was always a new patient in the emergency room who needed to be admitted, or a staff member on the eighth floor (which was full of late-stage terminally ill people) who needed me to fill out a death certificate. Sleep deprivation manifested as bouts of anger and despair mixed in with some euphoria, along with other sensations I’ve not had before or since. I remember once sitting with the family of a patient in critical condition, discussing an advance directive—the terms defining what the patient would want done were his heart to stop, which seemed likely to happen at any minute. Would he want to have chest compressions, electrical shocks, a breathing tube? In the middle of this, I had to look straight down at the chart in my lap, because I was laughing. This was the least funny scenario possible. I was experiencing a physical reaction unrelated to anything I knew to be happening in my mind. There is a type of seizure, called a gelastic seizure, during which the seizing person appears to be laughing—but I don’t think that was it. I think it was plain old delirium. It was mortifying, though no one seemed to notice.
The personality test isn't perfect, but it plays to people's desire to understand themselves and others.
A group of young adults shyly meet for the first time on the second floor of an empty Manhattan shopping mall. The stores are all closed for the weekend, and other than a man stopping in the lobby to read his phone, this group is the only sign of activity.
“I actually really like clubbing,” shares one guy.
The group goes silent.
“Get out of the circle,” a woman whispers.
Everyone in this group took the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a personality test. They all tested as the same type (one that tends to be introverted), joined an online group for others who got the same result, and decided to meet up.
Which explains why they’re meeting in an empty food court: It’s perfect for a group of people who like quietude. In this crowd of 20-something New Yorkers, the clubber is, truly, an oddball.
How Vladimir Putin is making the world safe for autocracy
Since the end of World War II, the most crucial underpinning of freedom in the world has been the vigor of the advanced liberal democracies and the alliances that bound them together. Through the Cold War, the key multilateral anchors were NATO, the expanding European Union, and the U.S.-Japan security alliance. With the end of the Cold War and the expansion of NATO and the EU to virtually all of Central and Eastern Europe, liberal democracy seemed ascendant and secure as never before in history.
Under the shrewd and relentless assault of a resurgent Russian authoritarian state, all of this has come under strain with a speed and scope that few in the West have fully comprehended, and that puts the future of liberal democracy in the world squarely where Vladimir Putin wants it: in doubt and on the defensive.
A profanity-filled new self-help book argues that life is kind of terrible, so you should value your actions over your emotions.
Put down the talking stick. Stop fruitlessly seeking "closure" with your peevish co-worker. And please, don't bother telling your spouse how annoying you find their tongue-clicking habit—sometimes honesty is less like a breath of fresh air and more like a fart. That’s the argument of Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett, the father-daughter duo behind the new self-help book F*ck Feelings.
The elder Bennett is a psychiatrist and American Psychiatric Association distinguished fellow. His daughter is a comedy writer. Together, they provide a tough-love, irreverent take on “life's impossible problems.” The crux of their approach is that life is hard and negative emotions are part of it. The key is to see your “bullshit wishes” for just what they are (bullshit), and instead to pursue real, achievable goals.
The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.
You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately.
This “Marshmallow Test,” first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschek at the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
When you’re alone in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness, the simplest question becomes the most complicated: How do you fill a day?
A couple of years ago, I woke to three birds circling over my body, barking. I’d been sleeping in a bivouac, a kind of raincoat for a sleeping bag, camped in the tundra of Alaska’s Kantishna Hills. I unzipped the bivouac and popped my head out, peering up as the eerie silhouetted birds swooped toward me. The moon was a low and yellow sliver in the eastern sky; clouds to the northwest stacked in electric oranges and dark purples.
The birds' bodies stretched wide, their faces were flat. I could see faint stripes on the undersides of their extended wings. One of them landed on my food canister nearby and hissed. The other two circled about fifteen feet above the ground. They rose, then dove toward me, then rose and circled once more. They kept a rhythm: every few circles, one of them plunged toward me again. They eyed me from above, barking all the while like angry watchdogs. When one came close enough to claw at me, I flung my arms overhead and screamed, “Stop! What’s wrong! Go away! Please!”
His paranoid style paved the road for Trumpism. Now he fears what’s been unleashed.
Glenn Beck looks like the dad in a Disney movie. He’s earnest, geeky, pink, and slightly bulbous. His idea of salty language is bullcrap.
The atmosphere at Beck’s Mercury Studios, outside Dallas, is similarly soothing, provided you ignore the references to genocide and civilizational collapse. In October, when most commentators considered a Donald Trump presidency a remote possibility, I followed audience members onto the set of The Glenn Beck Program, which airs on Beck’s website, theblaze.com. On the way, we passed through a life-size replica of the Oval Office as it might look if inhabited by a President Beck, complete with a portrait of Ronald Reagan and a large Norman Rockwell print of a Boy Scout.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.