Archive

April 27th, 2016

Clash of the Injured Titans

    If trends hold and the parties’ front-runners become the parties’ nominees, November is going to be an epic election: a hobbled titan (Hillary Clinton) versus a mortally wounded one (the real estate developer).

    The upcoming contests only buttress the possibility that those two will be the last man and woman standing.

    As of Sunday, The Huffington Post’s Pollster average of polls had the real estate developer leading Ted Cruz by almost 30 percentage points in Connecticut, 19 points in Pennsylvania and 20 points in Maryland. All three states vote on Tuesday. The real estate developer is leading in Rhode Island and Delaware as well — states that also vote on Tuesday — but those states don’t have the same volume of polling to make the results as reliable.

    That same site had Clinton leading Sen. Bernie Sanders by 26 points in Maryland, 15 points in Pennsylvania and six points in Connecticut. She, too, was leading in Rhode Island and Delaware.

    We seem to be watching the prequel to a foregone conclusion.

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U.S. can meet Paris climate goals, with or without the Supreme Court

    As world leaders gather Friday in New York to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change, some have expressed concern that the U.S. Supreme Court has put the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan on hold. Their concern is understandable, but it's important to recognize: The federal government is not the primary force in the U.S. fight against climate change, and even if the court ultimately strikes down certain parts of the plan, the U.S. will meet and probably exceed its commitment to reduce emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025. Here's why.

 

    - It was a modest goal.

    By 2015, the U.S. had already cut emissions by 11 percent compared with 2005 levels. So our starting line was nearly halfway to our goal. Given this progress, many of us believed that President Obama should have set a more ambitious target. Even now, with the Clean Power Plan on hold, a more ambitious goal is achievable.

 

    - The court's ruling is limited.

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Never mind missile tests; Iran just wants to get along

    Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, is angry. For some reason Iran's Arab neighbors, not to mention many U.S. politicians and journalists, think his country is an aggressor, unworthy of international investment and entry into the global community of nations.

    It's enough to make you want to arrest an American businessman on phony espionage charges. But Zarif is a man of reason. So he has taken to the pages of The Washington Post to make his case that despite Iran's ballistic missile tests, and its supreme leader's threatening speeches, and its support for Syria's dictator … his country really just wants peace and harmony.

    It all comes down to a simple misunderstanding, according to Zarif. During the nuclear negotiations, he writes, "my country insisted at every turn our defenses were not on the table."

    Zarif says this goes back to the Iran-Iraq war and Saddam Hussein's use of chemical weapons. Zarif writes that the West was "actively preventing Iran from getting access to the most rudimentary defensive necessities."

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April 26th

Comeback kids in New York

    The results in the New York presidential primaries were not decisive in either party, but they certainly were course corrections after brief stalls in the dashes of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton toward their party nominations.

    Their losses in the Wisconsin primary, particularly Sen. Bernie Sanders' whipping of Clinton in eight of the previous nine state primaries and caucuses, had raised warning flags. But Trump's 60.4 percent romp over Sen. Ted Cruz (14.5 percent) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich (25.1 percent) in the Empire State, and Clinton's 58 percent drubbing of Sanders (42 percent), put both frontrunners back on track.

    Nor did the outcomes resolve the pursuit of convention delegate majorities in either party. But they did enhance the prospect of Clinton going over the top before the month of April is out, while likely still leaving Trump short of the 1,237 delegates (under current rules) to avoid a second or later ballot at the GOP convention.

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Kasich's problem: Too little drama

    Of all the mysteries of this very mystifying political season, none is more baffling than the Republican Party's determined refusal to nominate Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president.

    On paper, he makes sense. He's a tax-cutting, budget-balancing conservative with 18 years in Congress under his belt, plus a term-and-a-half leading the nation's seventh-largest state. Kasich's state has 18 electoral votes, which Republicans need in November; he is popular there, with a 62 percent approval rating.

    What's more, in 15 head-to-head polls during 2016, he beat Hillary Clinton every time, by the margin of error or greater, according to RealClearPolitics. Both Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, consistently trail the Democrat.

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In Hamilton’s Debt

    The Treasury Department picked an interesting moment to announce a revision in its plans to change the faces on America’s money. Plans to boot Alexander Hamilton off the $10 bill in favor of a woman have been shelved. Instead, Harriet Tubman — one of the most heroic figures in the history of our nation, or any nation — will move onto the face of the $20 bill.

    She will replace Andrew Jackson, a populist who campaigned against elites but was also, unfortunately, very much a racist, arguably an advocate of what we would nowadays call white supremacy. Hmm. Does that make you think about any currently prominent political figures?

    But let me leave the $20 bill alone and talk about how glad I am to see Hamilton retain his well-deserved honor. And I’m not alone among economists in my admiration for our first Treasury secretary. In fact, Stephen S. Cohen and J. Bradford DeLong have an excellent new book, “Concrete Economics,” arguing that Hamilton was the true father of the U.S. economy.

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I lost my son to a drunken driver. Could I have stopped him from getting in that car?

    What parent hasn't told her son or daughter, "No more sweets until you clean your room," only to grab some M&Ms to munch on herself, knowing good and well the sink is full of dirty dishes with her name on them?

    But what about telling her son or daughter to not get in a vehicle driven by a driver who has been drinking -- when she herself has ridden with a driver who had a drink or two?

    "Do as I say, not as I do" isn't a strong parenting tool. I know, because this didn't work with my son Cole. When Cole was 19, just one year after his high school graduation, he was killed while riding with a drunken driver.

    Call it mother's intuition, but I knew the moment Cole was born that he would be a handful. He was my little stinker, always keeping me on my toes and making me laugh. He was incredibly adorable. His big blue eyes could get him out of almost anything.

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Hubris made Volkswagen settle with the U.S.

    Volkswagen is apparently setting aside $10 billion to settle all U.S. claims against it for cheating on emission tests. As part of the settlement, it's offering American VW owners $5,000 each or a buyback of their cars. If a deal with U.S. regulators and plaintiffs has indeed been reached on these terms, it's a high price to pay to maintain a presence in a relatively unimportant market, especially since paying it will result in losses to its reputation in bigger markets.

    The U.S. is not huge for VW, which has struggled and failed to break into the big leagues there. In 2014, the last full year before the emissions scandal, it made $36.7 billion in revenue in North America. Applying the company's 5.2 percent net income margin would mean a profit of about $1.9 billion, less than 13 percent of the global total. Even assuming that VW's sales in the region don't drop following the emissions scandal, $10 billion is more than five years' worth of American profits for the company. Essentially, it's agreeing to operate at cost, or at a loss, for half a decade just to lay the scandal to rest.

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Here's how we could hide Earth from aliens if we had to

    What would it take to hide an entire planet? It sounds more like a question posed in an episode of "Star Trek" than in academic discourse, but sometimes the bleeding edge of science blurs with themes found in science fiction.

    Of course, we've been leaking our own position to distant stars via radio and television signals for six decades now, largely ignorant of the cosmic implications. But several notable scientists, such as Stephen Hawking, have publicly voiced concerns about revealing our presence to other civilizations. These concerns largely draw from the darker chapters of our own history, when a more advanced civilization would subjugate and displace a less advanced one.

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Harriet Tubman will be on the $20 bill, but still doesn't rate a statue in the Capitol

    Harriet Tubman will officially be the face of a $20 bill.

    And, sure, it's great news that the defiant, brave and inspiring abolitionist will replace slaveholder Andrew Jackson on the currency of America's ATMs.

    But hold the confetti because the fight to get a proper honor for Tubman - or just about any American woman - is far from over.

    You won't find Tubman's likeness on the National Mall. And you won't find the African-American, Maryland-born heroine among the giants honored in the U.S. Capitol, despite a long fight to have Maryland replace its statue of John Hanson (I know, who?) with one honoring Tubman.

    Nope. Didn't happen.

    But that's the case with our continued mansplaining of American history.

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