Archive

February 11th, 2016

Why Bush could defend Islam more easily than Obama can

    Both President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush can say they have visited a mosque as president. Can you guess which one has gotten slammed for it by today's presidential candidates? Need a hint?

    "Maybe he feels comfortable there," said Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

    Ha. Ha. Yes, The Donald is implying that the president is a Muslim, a myth that is so absurd -- yet so widely believed -- that even the president pokes fun at it. Humor can be an effective rejoinder to such idiocy, except to those who suffer from irony deficit disorder, a common malady on the extreme edges of politics. They can't take a joke.

    Throughout his presidency Obama, a Christian, has pushed back against that Muslim myth and the equally false claim that he is not a naturally born American citizen. That claim was famously advanced without evidence by Trump, among others.

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The 'Experience' Republicans Smash Rubio

    Pickett's charge. Waterloo. The Charge of the Light Brigade. Take your pick of historical analogies, the "experience" wing of the Republican Party launched a desperate, and very possibly doomed, assault at Saturday's GOP debate, during a climatic moment for a GOP race that has been dominated by men who have significantly less real-world policymaking credibility. The polls say that the forces of experience will probably leave New Hampshire in defeat, and even if they pulled something out, racking up victories in future primaries would be hard. But at the very least they have made the rising Marco Rubio look like an empty suit.

    Rubio is commonly lumped in with the GOP "establishment" candidates. But he is a first-term senator with few major accomplishments for his handful of years on the national stage, and he has spent much of the race honing a campaign narrative shrill enough to keep up with Donald Trump's bombast and Ted Cruz's hard ideological puritanism. This distinguishes him - negatively - from Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich, who in another year would have had a major experience edge over Rubio and the rest on stage.

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The Time-Loop Party

    By now everyone who follows politics knows about Marco Rubio’s software-glitch performance in Saturday’s Republican debate. (I’d say broken-record performance, but that would be showing my age.) Not only did he respond to a challenge from Chris Christie about his lack of achievements by repeating, verbatim, the same line from his stump speech he had used a moment earlier; when Christie mocked his canned delivery, he repeated the same line yet again.

    In other news, last week — on Groundhog Day, to be precise — Republicans in the House of Representatives cast what everyone knew was a purely symbolic, substance-free vote to repeal Obamacare. It was the 63rd time they’ve done so.

    These are related stories.

    Rubio’s inability to do anything besides repeat canned talking points was startling. Worse, it was funny, which means that it has gone viral. And it reinforced the narrative that he is nothing but an empty suit. But really, isn’t everyone in his party doing pretty much the same thing, if not so conspicuously?

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The gloves come off in the Democratic race

    After cautious and civil sparring by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in their first New Hampshire encounter, they took of the gloves in their Democratic debate Thursday night and defined the essential issues between them in the Tuesday presidential primary.

    The first concerns health care. Sanders insists that the party should lead a popular "revolution" starting with truly universal health care run by the government. Clinton strenuously disagrees, arguing that so-called Obamacare should continue and be improved on an evolutionary basis through the private insurance industry.

    "I don't want us to start over again," she said. "I think that would be a great mistake to once again plunge our country into a contentious debate about whether we should have and what kind of system we should have for health care. ... Let's go down a path where we can actually tell people what we will do. A progressive is someone who makes progress. That's what I intend to do."

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Clinton sees her shadow

    To return to this state for another primary with a Clinton on the ballot is to be reminded about how much has changed in Democratic politics over the last two-plus decades, and how much remains the same.

    The change reflects the party's evolution -- or maybe its reversion to type -- since Bill Clinton ran here in 1992. The sameness involves the Groundhog Day nature of Hillary Clinton's challenge, selling pragmatic experience over alluring hope, against Bernie Sanders now as against Barack Obama in 2008.

    Bill Clinton's pitch, after Democrats' long exile from the White House, was that he represented a third way Democrat championing streamlined government and individual responsibility.

    "We offer our people a new choice based on old values. We offer opportunity. We demand responsibility," Clinton said in his 1992 convention speech. "The choice we offer is not conservative or liberal; in many ways it's not even Republican or Democratic."

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Why Sanders is a menace to the Democrats

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is a decent human being and a passionate politician. He is also a grave threat to the Democratic Party. Because the Democratic Party is currently the only major U.S. party devoted to moderation and rational empiricism, Sanders's robust campaign for president is consequently a threat to the U.S. as well.

    The Republican Party has been debilitated, as a source of policies and as a governing party, by the ever more stringent ideological demands that the party's powerful and adamant fringe imposes on its diminished and enfeebled center. It has succumbed so thoroughly to the paranoid style of politics that the leading Republican presidential candidate from the so-called establishment wing routinely suggests that President Barack Obama is a nefarious agent of the nation's doom. Delusional, rancid talk has become so commonplace on the right that it rarely merits notice anymore.

    Sanders lacks the talent for sneering contempt that animates the candidacies of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, businessman Donald Trump and, often enough, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. But he shares other unwelcome attributes.

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What the Web puts at risk for colleges: Prestige

    It happened to newspapers. It happened to magazines. It happened to books. Now it's happening to higher education: another industry thrown into turmoil and shock because its business model has been overturned by the Internet.

    Fifteen or 20 years ago, the newspaper industry was just awakening to the implications of moving online. At first, those implications seemed miraculous. Newspapers were already more or less monopolies in all but a half-dozen U.S. cities. Now, some of their biggest expenses - for printing, for delivery, for the paper itself - were about to disappear.

    But as newspapers put their content online, the industry changed virtually overnight from a collection of separate geographical monopolies into one giant competitive market in which every English-language outlet competed with all the others in the entire world.

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Ted Cruz Won’t Be Denied

    Another Ted Cruz rally, another Ted Cruz rant about the media’s failure to give him his due. I endured one in the tiny town of Weare, New Hampshire, on Thursday afternoon and had two thoughts.

    The first was that I’d seldom heard a voice as ripe with self-regard — as juicy with it — as his. He’s pomposity’s plum tomato.

    The second thought was that he’s right.

    We’ve sold him short. We continue to underestimate him. He’s even craftier than we appreciated. He’s more devious than we realized.

    And he has a better chance to win the Republican nomination than we want to admit, because he’s not just a preternaturally slick political animal. He’s an uncommonly lucky one.

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Taking the true measure of economic inequality

    Inequality and what to do about it figure prominently in political debate in the U.S. and Europe. A clearer view of the problem and the possible remedies would be valuable -- and a new study by Alan Auerbach, Laurence Kotlikoff and Darryl Kohler helps. It shows the hazards of jumping to conclusions about inequality, and also highlights some pernicious effects of America's convoluted tax-and-benefit system.

    The study begins by noting that inequality in lifetime spending power is more important than inequality in current incomes and wealth, the usual measures. Incomes and wealth change a lot over the course of a life. Momentary snapshots of the kind provided by the standard estimates are misleading.

    A new graduate just starting out isn't poor in the way that a high-school drop-out is poor, though their current incomes may be the same. So while figures for wealth suggest that a retired person with meager savings is richer than a new Harvard graduate with student debt, common sense says otherwise.

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February 10th

The Things We Love to Loathe

    When it comes to bringing us all together, I don’t think anybody is better at it than Martin Shkreli.

    Shkreli is a 32-year-old former hedge fund manager — see, I just said “hedge fund manager” and already masses of readers are shuddering in unison. He’s the one who bought rights to a drug needed for HIV patients and then hiked the price 5,000 percent. He later appeared, wearing a hoodie, before a Forbes Healthcare Summit to say his only regret was that he had not raised it higher.

    Yes! That guy! Naturally, all this drew a lot of congressional critics, and Shkreli expressed a yen for an honest exchange of opinions. (“I would berate them. I would insult them.”) He got his chance this week when he was called before the House oversight committee, where he took the Fifth, while smirking and twiddling a pencil.

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