Archive

November 13th, 2015

College is not for coddling

    Trigger warning: I'm about to commit a micro-aggression. Maybe a macro one. Here goes: Yale students worked up over an email about Halloween costumes, grow up. Learn some manners. Develop some sense of judgment and proportion.

    The Yalies are all spun up over Halloween costumes -- specifically, an administrator's suggestion that an official email cautioning against offensive outfits was unwise and, indeed, infantilizing. The email, from Silliman College Associate Master Erika Christakis, was caveated and respectful.

    Still, she wondered, "Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious? ... And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power?"

    Her husband Nicholas, the Silliman College master, suggested an alternate approach, Christakis wrote. "If you don't like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society."

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Carson's character is his 2016 campaign

    In the race for the Republican nomination for president, Ben Carson is running an "outsider" campaign, has no significant experience in politics or government and reveals little interest in, or understanding of, large swaths of public policy. Donald Trump is running similarly, with a nearly identical lack of experience or obvious interest in governing. Carson has said some things in books and elsewhere that appear to be misremembered, or possibly untrue. Trump has said some things in books and elsewhere that likewise appear untrue.

    In the end, Carson could lose support if his personal narrative proves untrustworthy. Trump? If he falters, it probably won't be due to re-evaluations of his character.

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Candidates tar legitimate press coverage with 'gotcha' epithet

    As the presidential campaign season intensifies, managers for the various competitors and some of the candidates themselves have angrily turned on the moderators and the television networks that host the debates.

    Predictable whining has come from the GOP front-runners, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, and others over supposedly "gotcha" questions meant to pin them down on this or that statement or contention about their records. Scrutiny of Trump's past business bankruptcies and of Carson's boasts of a combative childhood on Detroit's mean streets have been cited as unfair or irresponsible.

    Trump has largely fielded his questions as an accomplished counterpuncher accustomed to such verbal assaults and has been ready, willing and able to dish out as much or more than received, in his famously bullying style.

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Ben Carson For President? Let's Get Serious

    At the expense of spoiling all the fun, let's get real about Dr. Ben Carson's presidential campaign. Every four years, rural Iowa Republicans fall raptly in love with a Bible-brandishing savior who vows to purge the nation of sin. In 2008, it was Mike Huckabee; in 2012, Rick Santorum.

    Mr. Establishment, Mitt Romney, finished second both times.

    In the general election, Iowa voters supported President Obama.

    Soon after the New Hampshire primary, the holy candidate fades fast. Huckabee finished a weak third in New Hampshire; Santorum, fourth, with 9.5 percent of the vote. And that was basically the end of God's self-anointed candidates.

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A new monopoly game

    Like immense amoebas on the prowl, America's already huge corporations are combining like nobody's business. In recent months, Walgreens bought Rite Aid, uniting two of the nation's three largest drugstore chains; in beerland, Molson Coors is buying Miller; mega-health insurers Aetna and Anthem, respectively, bought mega-health insurers Humana and Cigna; Heinz bought Kraft, good news for those who take ketchup with their cheese; and American Airlines completed its absorption of US Airways, reducing the number of major U.S. airlines to four, which now control 70 percent of the air travel market. On Wall Street, the five biggest commercial banks hold nearly half of the nation's bank assets; in 1990, the five biggest held just 10 percent.

    Retailers that look to be rivals actually turn out to be brands of a single firm. A company called Luxottica owns LensCrafters, Pearle Vision, Sunglass Hut, Sears Optical and Target Optical. Online shoppers for flights and hotels may be less than thrilled to learn that once the Expedia-Orbitz merger is completed, the combined company and Priceline will control all the online vendors. Hyatt is considering buying Starwood, itself the owner of the Sheraton, W and St. Regis brands.

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What 'hot deal' means on Singles Day in China

    China's economy is struggling, and come Wednesday the country's lonely hearts will do their best to put it back on track.

    It's Singles Day, when the country's bachelors and bachelorettes celebrate themselves with online retail therapy. Alibaba, which accounts for roughly 80 percent of all online sales in China, rung up $9.3 billion in sales on Singles Day 2014. By comparison, American retailers rang up a comparatively paltry $2 billion on Cyber Monday in 2014.

    There's a problem. A report delivered to Chinese lawmakers on Nov. 2 claims that more than 40 percent of the goods purchased online in China are counterfeit or of poor quality. Or both. Earlier government reports found similar levels of fakery in the past. Forty percent comes to $269 billion of the $672 billion in retail e-commerce sales that China, the world's biggest e-commerce marketplace, is expected to generate in 2015.

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Voters, You Can Have Everything!

    I confess, as much as I am troubled by Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant, anti-free-trade tirades, I do find The Donald’s campaign strategy truly interesting. He’s not, as people say, an “anti-politician.” He’s actually caricaturing politicians. And like any great caricaturist, Trump identifies his subject’s most salient features and then exaggerates them. 

    In Trump’s case, the feature he’s identifying is the ease with which career politicians look right into a camera and lie or embellish. Since so many politicians had come to Trump’s office seeking his money or endorsement when he was just a businessman, and told him whatever they thought he wanted to hear, he’s obviously an expert in their shtick. And so Trump has just taken the joke to the next level. 

    Indeed, if I were writing a book about this campaign, it would open with Trump’s Sept. 27 CBS “60 Minutes” interview. Trump touts his plan for universal health care, telling Scott Pelley, “I am going to take care of everybody.” And when Pelley asks how, Trump gives the greatest quote so far of the 2015 campaign:

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Trump seduces the press but not his party

    Yes, Donald Trump is good at grabbing media attention. But, no, this doesn't mean that the political system has changed and that candidates from now on will simply say whatever pops into their minds, regardless of what their party thinks.

    Most political scientists believe that Trump's polling success -- which began in June and peaked in early September -- reflects his domination of the media. When Republican voters were hearing plenty about Trump, and little about the other candidates, they told pollsters they would vote for him. Trump is still receiving the most attention. But most voters aren't paying close attention yet, and therefore are unfamiliar with the rest of the candidates.

    Kevin Drum at Mother Jones argues that the real-estate mogul's manipulation of the press is innovative. Trump and Ben Carson are willing to saythings that more traditional candidates would regard as outrageous and politically suicidal, and journalists gobble up these statements.

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The president on why the Trans-Pacific Partnership will benefit working families

    As president, my top priority is to grow our economy and strengthen the middle class. When I took office, America was in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression -- but thanks to the hard work and resilience of the American people, our businesses have created 13.5 million jobs over the past 68 months, the longest streak of private-sector job creation in history. The unemployment rate has been cut nearly in half -- lower than it's been in more than seven years. We have come back further and faster from recession than nearly every other advanced nation on Earth.

    That's real progress. But as any middle-class family will tell you, we have more to do. That's why I believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership is so important. It's a trade deal that helps working families get ahead.

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The GOP’s Fickle Pageant

    A college psychology professor of mine liked to say that life was all about adjusting to loss.

    He was clearly prepping me for Tuesday night’s debate.

    George Pataki: exiled. Lindsey Graham: gone.

    Their spots in the minor leagues were taken by Mike Huckabee, who once upon a time won the Iowa caucuses, and Chris Christie, who long ago represented the Republicans’ great hope for taking the White House back from the Democrats. Demoted and diminished, Huckabee and Christie stood in the lesser lineup as testaments to the cruelties of politics, which is another way of saying that they stood next to Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum.

    The major-leagues event shrank, with eight candidates where there had been 11 back in the glory days of Scott Walker. Do you remember Walker? And do you remember that he was briefly considered something of a front-runner, at least for a few weeks earlier this year?

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