Archive

February 10th, 2016

Money in politics: Clinton and Sanders both have it wrong

    The role of money in politics is neither as crude as Bernie Sanders suggests, nor as benign -- at least when it comes to herself -- as Hillary Clinton would have you think.

     Sanders presents a mechanistic view of the impact of campaign donors: contributions in, results out. Thus, in Sanders' view, Hillary Clinton, and the money she scoops up, offers a disturbing illustration of a larger problem.

    "What being part of the establishment is, is in the last quarter having a superPAC that raised $15 million from Wall Street, that throughout one's life raised a whole lot of money from the drug companies and other special interests," Sanders said in Thursday's debate.

     "To my mind, if we do not get a handle on money in politics and the degree to which big money controls the political process in this country, nobody is going to bring about the changes that [are] needed in this country for the middle class and working families."

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In media coverage of Chelsea Clinton, the kid gloves are still on

    Politico's Jack Shafer wrote on Friday that it is "time for Chelsea Clinton's easy ride to end." The former - and perhaps future - first daughter turns 36 this month, is vice chair of the Clinton Foundation and a board member of IAC, and is active in her mother's White House campaign. She's not a kid anymore. And she's most definitely a public figure.

    Yet the media still handle her with kid gloves. Here's how Shafer put it:

    "When precisely did Chelsea Clinton complete her transition from a White House kid whom journalists agreed to treat as off-limits to a public figure deserving of the full scrutiny of the press corps?

    "The unsettling answer to the question appears to be, "Not yet." The soon-to-be 36-year-old occupies the status of an American princess - Diana on the Potomac, if you will. The press covers her, of course, attempting to ask her substantive question, but mostly she exists to grace the covers of magazines - Fast Company and Elle most recently - and be treated to lighter-than-air puff pieces. . . .

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In media coverage of Chelsea Clinton, the kid gloves are still on

    Politico's Jack Shafer wrote on Friday that it is "time for Chelsea Clinton's easy ride to end." The former - and perhaps future - first daughter turns 36 this month, is vice chair of the Clinton Foundation and a board member of IAC, and is active in her mother's White House campaign. She's not a kid anymore. And she's most definitely a public figure.

    Yet the media still handle her with kid gloves. Here's how Shafer put it:

    "When precisely did Chelsea Clinton complete her transition from a White House kid whom journalists agreed to treat as off-limits to a public figure deserving of the full scrutiny of the press corps?

    "The unsettling answer to the question appears to be, "Not yet." The soon-to-be 36-year-old occupies the status of an American princess - Diana on the Potomac, if you will. The press covers her, of course, attempting to ask her substantive question, but mostly she exists to grace the covers of magazines - Fast Company and Elle most recently - and be treated to lighter-than-air puff pieces. . . .

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Hillary Battles Bernie Sanders, Chick Magnet

    Hillary Clinton first grabbed the national spotlight 47 years ago as an idealistic young feminist, chiding the paternalistic establishment in her Wellesley commencement speech.

    So it’s passing strange to watch her here, getting rebuffed by young women who believe that she lacks idealism, that she overplays her feminist hand and that she is the paternalistic establishment.

    Bernie Sanders may be a dead ringer for Larry David, but Hillary is running the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” campaign. She can’t fire up young voters by dwelling on what can’t be done in Washington and by explaining that she’s more prose than poetry.

    She’s traveling around New Hampshire with a former president who could easily layer in some poetry, and a handful of specific snappy plans for the future, to her thicket of substance and stack of white papers. But somehow, Hill and Bill campaign side by side without achieving synergy.

    Is it that he’s as tired as he looks or does she feel too competitive with him to ask for that kind of help?

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America Is Flint

    We have been rightfully outraged by the lead poisoning of children in Flint, Michigan — an outrage that one health expert called “state-sponsored child abuse.”

    But lead poisoning goes far beyond Flint, and in many parts of America seems to be even worse.

    “Lead in Flint is the tip of the iceberg,” notes Dr. Richard J. Jackson, former director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Flint is a teachable moment for America.”

    In Flint, 4.9 percent of children tested for lead turned out to have elevated levels. That’s inexcusable. But in 2014 in New York state outside of New York City, the figure was 6.7 percent. In Pennsylvania, 8.5 percent. On the west side of Detroit, one-fifth of the children tested in 2014 had lead poisoning. In Iowa for 2012, the most recent year available, an astonishing 32 percent of children tested had elevated lead levels. (I calculated most of these numbers from CDC data.)

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Who had the worst week in Washington? Donald Trump

    Ever since Donald Trump rode his white-hot rhetoric on immigration to the top of the Republican presidential field, one question has lingered: When voters went to, you know, vote, would they have second thoughts about supporting the Donald?

    The early returns suggest that the answer is yes. In the run-up to Monday's Iowa caucuses, polling - including the almost-always-right survey conducted by Ann Selzer for the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics - suggested that Trump was poised to win.

    It didn't turn out that way. Instead Ted Cruz, the senator from Texas whom Trump had systematically worked to savage in the final weeks before the caucuses, rolled to victory on the strength of his very un-Trumpian focus on building a grass-roots turnout organization. Trump held on for second, but barely, as establishment favorite Marco Rubio nipped at his heels.

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Time to take the lead in Syria

    Of the critical global challenges faced by the Obama administration in its final year, Syria may be the most confounding.

    The brutal Syrian civil war has reached a crisis point, with more than 250,000 dead and 12 million Syrians homeless. The cancer of this war has metastasized into neighboring countries and the heart of Europe. It could destabilize the Middle East for a generation.

    We believe that President Obama can no longer avoid providing stronger American leadership to reverse this tidal wave of suffering and violence in the Levant. U.S. strategic interests and our humanitarian responsibilities as the world's strongest country dictate a change of strategy, as well as of heart, in Washington.

    Where the administration has done well, led by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, is to launch new negotiations for elections, a transitional government and a cease-fire. Those talks will be difficult to sustain, however, and diplomacy alone is unlikely to be effective.

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The answer to old 'rent or buy?' question is your call

    Should you buy a house or rent? It's one of the most contentious topics among economists and econ writers, and there's still no general agreement. Recently, it was the subject of an online debate between Alex Tabarrok of George Mason University and Timothy B. Lee of Vox. Tabarrok gives reasons why renting is the right financial move, and Lee counters with reasons why buying is smart.

    I'll go over some of these arguments, and add my own thoughts, but here is a preview of my conclusion: If you really want to own a house, buy a house. If it isn't very important for you to own a house, don't do it just for the supposed financial benefits. With this rule of thumb, you can avoid all the complicated back-and-forth and probably get the decision right. But anyway, on to the pros and cons, which are interesting to think about.

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Sanders fights Clinton for 'progressive' with little progress

    The first hour of Thursday night's debate between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton was full of fireworks -- Clinton clearly came out ready to brawl, and Sanders was eager to take her on. The debate was substantive. But it was also, I'm fairly sure, the least policy-specific hour of a Democratic presidential debate ever.

    Instead, the candidates debated ideology, party loyalty, the nature of power in a capitalist system, and other generalizations. They spent an inordinate time (egged on by the MSNBC moderators) discussing what counts toward being a "progressive" (the Democrats, unfortunately in my view, having settled exclusively on that word rather than good old-fashioned "liberal").

    In other words, they sounded a lot like Republicans. I mean, without the sideshow.

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People who believe in conspiracy theories are more likely to endorse violence

    On Jan. 26, FBI agents made public a foiled plot against the Freemasons. Samy Mohamed Hamzeh was arrested with a machine gun and silencer. The FBI alleges that he intended to storm the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple in Milwaukee and kill upwards of 30 people. The complaint quotes him as saying:

    "They are all Masonic; they are playing with the world like a game, man, and we are like asses, we don't know what is going on, these are the ones who are fighting, these are the ones that needs to be killed, not the Shi'iat, because these are the ones who are against us, these are the ones who are making living for us like hell."

    So are people who are prone to believing conspiracy theories prone to violence as well?

    Recent events suggest they are. Robert Dear, who allegedly killed three and injured nine at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs on Nov. 28, 2015, had a history of spouting anti-government conspiracy theories. He encouraged his neighbors to install metal roofing on their homes to prevent the government from spying on them.

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