Archive

October 30th, 2015

Republican candidates debate the news media

    There's an old adage in the newspaper business: Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel. The Republican presidential debaters in Colorado the other night openly and vigorously ignored it in their desire to tap into the public unpopularity of the folks who bring you the news, in print or on television and the Internet.

    They spent a fair amount of their allotted time complaining about the tone and content of the CNBC interrogators. And they were echoed by Republican National Chairman Reince Priebus afterward, who sulked that "CNBC should be ashamed of how this debate was handled."

    His lament only invited conclusions that his party's 10 candidates didn't do very well and hence needed a defense from the GOP chairman. But in a sense he took his cue from several of them, including Donald Trump, an avid baiter of the press, who whined that some of the questions were "nasty." If that isn't the pot calling the kettle black, nothing is.

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President Obama kicks the can

    On Jan. 15, 2009, President-elect Barack Obama told The Washington Post that the United States was "at the end of the road" in putting off reform of entitlement programs. He promised "hard decisions," adding: "You have to have a president who is willing to spend some political capital on this. And I intend to spend some."

    Now Obama and congressional Republicans have struck a two-year budget deal, the likely final act of fiscal policymaking until his successor arrives in 2017. It's time to ask: What does the Obama-era record show?

    The answer depends, in part, on the policy goal you have in mind. If you're worried about the actuarial sustainability of the two biggest entitlement programs for the elderly - Social Security and Medicare - the news is relatively positive, especially about the latter.

    As of the day Obama took office, Medicare's trustees projected that its hospital trust fund would be insolvent by 2017. Today, they say 2030. The additional 13 years reflect the unexpected slowing of health-care cost increases, surely a highlight of Obama's presidency.

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Oh, Those Debating Republicans

    On his way into the big presidential debate, Ben Carson told reporters his plan was “to be me.” Excellent idea — way better than planning to be Chris Christie.

    “We are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job!” cried Gov. John Kasich of Ohio at the moment the contest began. Kasich had actually been asked to name his biggest weakness, but the thought of Carson’s tax plan and Donald Trump’s immigration plan seemed to send him a little off topic.

    “He was so nice, he was such a nice guy,” sneered Trump at Kasich’s howling. “But then his poll numbers tanked.”

    Hard to believe the race is still barely beginning — one week until one year until presidential Election Day! But you can’t say things have been boring. “What the hell are you people doing to me?” Trump demanded in Iowa, where he’s no longer in the lead. Perhaps we will look back on this as the moment when the former star of “The Apprentice” fired a state.

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Inequality looms in our retirement accounts

    In the Republican presidential debate Wednesday night, the issue of income inequality came up with surprising frequency. Why that happened is worthy of its own column; for now, let's explore the issue with some recent data. Specifically, I want to consider inequality in the funding of our collective retirements.

    As a nation, we do a rather mediocre job preparing for the day we stop working. We underfund Social Security, a program originally developed to combat poverty among older Americans. As individuals, we fail to save enough to fund our own secure retirements.

    To go deeper on the topic, let me direct your attention to Charley Ellis, founder of Greenwich Associates and former chairman of the Yale endowment. Ellis wrote the seminal investment book "Winning the Losers Game." More recently, he co- wrote a sober explanatory book, including reasonable solutions, titled "Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What to Do About It."

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Debate didn't boost a GOP in need of one

    Even the erstwhile front-runner Donald Trump didn't have fun at the third debate of Republican presidential candidates on Wednesday night. He used his summation to praise himself for at least setting limits to the boredom by pushing the network host to keep the event to two hours.

    It would be hard to argue that he was wrong. It was as if the 10 Republican candidates had watched Democrats debate and were clumsily trying to show that they get down to substance, too. But, with the exception of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who deftly found ways to remind everyone that he had and could govern, they couldn't quite pull it off. Sen. Ted Cruz tried to shift the blame on to the moderators, chastising them for lowering the tone, saying "This is not a cage match," even though at times it resembled one.

    At one time Jeb Bush was the designated grown-up, but these days he's lost his air of authority. More than any of his rivals, Bush needed to shine to revive his stumbling, cost- slashing campaign. But his performance was out of kilter and at times he looked lost.

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Cities Losing People, Not Brains

    The population of New Orleans fell 7.3 percent after Hurricane Katrina, but guess what. NOLA now has 40,000 more college graduates than before the disaster.

    From 2000 to 2013, Detroit lost over 160,000 residents but amazingly added nearly 167,000 college graduates.

    It's an urban myth that population loss and brain drain go hand in hand. On the contrary, of the 100 largest American metropolitan areas that lost population in this time period, every one gained in the percentage of college-educated residents. Such findings are contained in a report from the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that studies urban issues.

    In some, cities with major population losses actually saw their college-educated head count rise to exceed the national average. "Buffalo and Cleveland went from less educated than America to more educated than America," Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the institute, told me.

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Can this revolution last?

    Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign is different. He has refused to establish a super PAC. He shuns personal attacks. And, not incidentally, he proclaims himself a democratic socialist.

    But there's one further way in which his campaign fundamentally differs not just from those of the other candidates but also from any in many years: While striving to win votes, it also has to morph into an enduring left-wing movement.

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Air goes out of Jeb Bush balloon

    Once again, the media got it wrong. That big blimp circling out of control over Pennsylvania farmland this week? It wasn't an Army experiment from Aberdeen Proving Ground, after all. It was the Jeb Bush campaign, leaking air as it made one final, desperate pass over a key battleground state before crashing and burning -- just as Jeb himself would do a couple of hours later on the debate stage in Boulder, Colorado.

    But Bush wasn't the only loser in the latest GOP dust-up. Oddly enough, there were two big losers, before we even got to the candidates.

    The first big loser was the American people. Consider: This is only the end of October. Yet we've already suffered through four presidential debates, three by Republican candidates and one by Democrats -- for an election that's still 13 months away!

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A dancing Washington cop offers a tremendous lesson in policing

    Twice this week, the nation was moved by the way a white cop confronted a black teenaged girl and her mobile phone. For very different reasons.

    In South Carolina, the teen was texting in math class and wouldn't put her phone away. Teens and their phones, right?

    But the campus officer who came to the class responded in the worst possible way, yanking, slamming and dragging the girl across the classroom. It was a violent 11 seconds of video that made millions of people gasp and, thankfully, got the cop fired.

    Sadly, in this time of a national awakening to stunning incidents of Bad Cop brutality - from ruthless arrests caught on camera to fatal shootings - this has become what we expect to see.

    But many of this country's 780,000 sworn police officers know how to do their jobs the right way.

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Why Ukrainians backed a 'Star Wars' emperor

    Less than two years after Ukraine's "revolution of dignity," local elections on Sunday handed power in the south and east to former supporters of the ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych,. The vote also created sizable ultranationalist factions in a number of local legislatures, including in the capital. The election proved voters' growing mistrust of the political class, which was only partially reshaped by the revolution, and revealed a disappointed nation that still is divided along an east-west line.

    The vote was an important milestone for Ukraine. President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to decentralize the country by giving cities and communities more political and budgetary powers. Ukraine is scrapping its system of regional governors appointed from Kiev and giving authority to local legislatures, an attempt to shift from a Soviet-style supercentralized state to a European nation managed from the bottom up. It's a good idea. But unless oligarchs and corrupt local bosses are kept out, the country risks getting a version of medieval feudal disunity instead of European self-government. The elections made that risk palpable.

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