Archive

April 27th, 2016

The 8 A.M. Call

    Back in 2008, one of the ads Hillary Clinton ran during the contest for the Democratic nomination featured an imaginary scene in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. with news of a foreign crisis, and asked, “Who do you want answering that phone?” It was a fairly mild jab at Barack Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.

    As it turned out, once in office Obama, a notably coolheaded type who listens to advice, handled foreign affairs pretty well — or at least that’s how I see it. But asking how a would-be president might respond to crises is definitely fair game.

    And military emergencies aren’t the only kind of crisis to worry about. That 3 a.m. call is one thing; but what about the 8 a.m. call — the one warning that financial markets will melt down as soon as they open?

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A new version of Earth

    The first Earth Day, held April 22, 1970, was designed to draw popular attention to environmental causes and the need to protect nature. It succeeded. At age 46, Earth Day continues to focus our minds on preserving the natural world, if only for a brief moment each year.

    But what if a basic assumption about our planet, one that we all make on Earth Day and every other day, is wrong? What if, in 2016, we no longer inhabit the Earth we once did? What if the nature we seek to protect has already been profoundly altered - by us? Would that undercut the logic of Earth Day?

    Many scientists and scholars wonder if the Earth has entered a new epoch in its 5 billion-year history. They are debating whether we should officially declare the end of the Holocene, the geological epoch that began 11,700 years ago, and the start of what they are calling the Anthropocene. The Holocene was great for our species. The climate was remarkably stable, helping us prosper as never before in humankind's 200,000-year history. The Anthropocene concept, as the root of the term suggests, rests on the notion that human activity has created a new version of an old planet.

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Why humans make such a big deal of looking outraged

    Science is starting to shed some light on the curiously continuous cycle of moral outrages. One week, it's students protesting the use of Woodrow Wilson's name. The next, it's Icelanders hurling yogurt at the parliament building. This week, the social media world is aflame over the way Southwest Airlines employees forced a young man to leave a plane after he spoke on a cell phone in Arabic. And just last summer (but many outrages ago), comedian Jimmy Kimmel cried outraged tears over the shooting of a lion named Cecil.

    There are big mysteries here. Why are some people more prone than others to express moral outrage? Why are people set off by different triggers? Why is one animal killing or tax shelter a travesty and another business as usual?

    Psychologists say it all starts to make sense if you think of outrage as a form of display. Expressing it advertises a person's views and allegiances to potential allies. And the more popular a victim's cause, the less risky it is to join in displaying your umbrage.

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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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