Archive

February 2nd, 2016

Ease the poverty penalty in college admissions

    When I was chancellor of the New York City schools, I thought that if you were smart and poor, you could write your own ticket to college. I was dead wrong.

    A new study by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, where I serve as executive director, reveals that only 3 percent of students at our most selective colleges come from the 25 percent of families with the lowest incomes, while 72 percent come from the richest 25 percent of families.

    The unfairness of the situation is compounded by the fact that once admitted, poor students soar academically. According to our study, the poor students who do attend these elite schools graduate at equal rates and earn similarly high grades as their wealthy peers. The Cooke Foundation awards scholarships to exceptionally high-achieving low-income students; 95 percent of Cooke Scholars graduate from these selective schools with top grades.

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Donald Trump's one-man show is a smash

    The competing spectacles put on by Republican presidential candidates in Iowa on Thursday night should put to rest any remaining doubts that the party's 2016 nomination contest is a show-business phenomenon, and has little to do with the boring realities of governing after Election Day.

    Donald Trump adopted the role of the capricious lead singer who had quit his band in a huff and was playing a gig across town. First, he refused to take part in a Fox News debate with other candidates. Then he negotiated his return to the show until the last moment (Fox said he demanded a $5 million contribution to charity, but was told that money couldn't change hands under any circumstances). The other candidates were his jilted bandmates, haplessly trying to get through the show without their star and wisecracking about him throughout.

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Barbie is past saving

    How do you fix a problem like Barbie?

    She has been under fire for some time for being, in essence, a portable and inexpensive reminder of society's unrealistic beauty standards that we give little girls to carry around with them at all times. Which is nice, if that is what you are going for, but a bit disappointing if you are just trying to find a toy.

    Now Mattel has hit on a solution: Give Barbie a plethora of bodies. Barbie now transcends the physical plastic plane. She is no longer limited to a single form. She has become multitudes, splitting her soul into a myriad of horcruxes with equally impeccable hair and tiny portable accessories. Now there's a Curvy Barbie, a Petite Barbie and a Tall Barbie, all in a variety of skin tones and hair colors (so that we have four unreasonable standards to aspire to instead of just one) so that all kids will get a doll in whom they can see themselves, kind of.

    My parents were not Barbie parents and let me buy toys regardless of which gender-coded aisle they came from, so my idea of the ideal body type is Darth Vader. (Is this not correct?)

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As HIV approaches epidemic scale again, positive thinking is not enough. It's time to take PrEP, seriously

    When the FDA approved a drug to reduce the risk of HIV infections in July 2012, gay men rejoiced. If taken daily, Truvada works like a vaccine against HIV, effectively halting its spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hailed it as an "important new tool" in the fight against the disease. Slate described it as "a miracle drug." President Barack Obama went even imagined an "AIDS-free generation."

    It hasn't worked out that way. Truvada isn't making gay men healthier and safer; few are using the drug at all. And after years of decline, sexually transmitted diseases are spreading fast across the U.S. From 2005 to 2014, HIV diagnoses jumped 6 percent among men who have sex with men, with spikes of 101 percent among Asians, 24 percent among Latinos and 22 percent among blacks. Six in 10 gay African American men will be HIV-positive by their 40th birthday, according to some estimates. Transmission continued to climb even after Truvada hit the market.

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A brilliant scientist steps on history's toes

    By any measure, Eric Lander, director of the Broad Institute, is one of the most important scientists in the world today. His science is groundbreaking, his institutional power is enormous, and his ethical reputation is sterling. Yet Lander now finds himself the target of immense criticism as a result of … trying to do history.

    Lander's essay "The Heroes of Crispr," recently published in the journal Cell, has been attacked for its failure to disclose his research center's stake in a massive patent fight over the extraordinary genome-editing technology Crispr/Cas9, as well as for downplaying the roles of two female scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, who are on the other side of what's been called the biggest patent war in the history of biotech.

    What went wrong? The lesson of this kerfuffle isn't only, as some have proposed, that critics are jealous of Lander's influence or opposed to his big-science ideology and accomplishments. It's something more subtle and more interesting: There's a huge difference between doing your job and trying to write the history of that job.

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Plutocrats and Prejudice

    Every time you think that our political discourse can’t get any worse, it does. The Republican primary fight has devolved into a race to the bottom, achieving something you might have thought impossible: making George W. Bush look like a beacon of tolerance and statesmanship. But where is all the nastiness coming from?

    Well, there’s debate about that — and it’s a debate that is at the heart of the Democratic contest.

    Like many people, I’ve described the competition between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as an argument between competing theories of change, which it is. But underlying that argument is a deeper dispute about what’s wrong with America, what brought us to the state we’re in.

    To oversimplify a bit — but only, I think, a bit — the Sanders view is that money is the root of all evil. Or more specifically, the corrupting influence of big money, of the 1 percent and the corporate elite, is the overarching source of the political ugliness we see all around us.

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Michael Bloomberg, perennial non-candidate

    Wall Street executives are nervous, and not just about the Chinese economy. They're nervous because, here at home, the battle for 2016 looks like it might end up stacked against them. On the Democratic side, the Senator from Wall Street is losing ground to Wall Street's arch-nemesis, Bernie Sanders. On the Republican side, unguided missile Donald Trump, who promises to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires, leads the pack. Ted Cruz, no friend of Wall Street either, lurks close behind.

    Yes, Wall Street's nervous. So several financial titans have been making calls to the only man they believe can save them from Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders. Wall Street's calling Michael Bloomberg. And, as first reported by The New York Times, Bloomberg is flattered. So flattered, in fact -- or is it so bored? -- that he's already dispatched aides to cobble together a strategy on how to run as an Independent candidate for president in 2016 -- in case Trump and Sanders, or Cruz and Sanders, become the major party nominees. And Bloomberg has indicated he's willing to spend $1 billion of his own money on such a Quixotic bid.

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February 1st

The long, painful road to Iowa

    Politics sometimes moves with lightning speed and in a clear direction. The rise of the New Deal coalition in the midst of the Great Depression is an example of how fast things can change.

    But often, currents of anxiety and rage swirl below the surface. Citizens, stunned by large events and torn by contradictory feelings, can't figure out immediately where they want to go.

     As voting in the 2016 presidential campaign begins, it's apparent that this strange and melodramatic contest was created by the second kind of history. This is the political upheaval that didn't immediately happen after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, after the failure of the war in Iraq, after the Great Recession.

    Americans made the best sense they could of these events as they came along. The 9/11 tragedy called forth a spirit of national unity, but it quickly gave way to a renewed partisan acrimony after President George W. Bush launched the invasion of Iraq. Divisions worsened as the war bogged down. The Great Recession deepened the backlash against Bush and paved the way to President Obama's victory in 2008.

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The strange wind-up to the Iowa campaign

    Iowa Republicans are poised to brave the cold Monday night to vote in the first presidential precinct caucuses of 2016, apparently none the worse for wear after Donald Trump boycotted the final televised debate there.

    The political world did not collapse because of his absence, as he petulantly attended a rival rally of his own in Des Moines as a benefit for wounded warriors. He took a little verbal heat for playing politics with a noble cause, but only the results Monday night may indicate any substantial voter backlash.

    Instead, the customarily bombastic and aggressive Trump largely saved himself from being the prime target of either the Fox News moderators, who again asked tough questions, or of the other candidates who showed up.

    The attendees, and notably Floridians Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, still hoped to be the party's establishment alternative to the celebrity real-estate mogul, and benefited from more air time by virtue of Trump's absence. The debate lacked much of its spark without him but did provide more focus on the others.

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An Iowa To-Do List

    Iowa Republicans have a lot of choices Monday, none of whom bear any resemblance to the second coming of Abraham Lincoln.

    They’re not going to pick a paragon. But maybe they could at least get rid of somebody awful. Ted Cruz? Please, Iowa, if you could do anything to knock Ted Cruz out of the race, the country would be grateful. I know he has supporters. But the intensity of loathing among the rest of the population is very strong.

    In Iowa, Cruz has been attempting to overcome his personality handicap by visiting every single one of the state’s 99 counties. That’s a sort of tradition, among candidates who don’t know how to prioritize. It didn’t even work on television for Alicia Florrick’s husband on “The Good Wife.” Who, admittedly, was under the handicap of having gone to jail for using public funds to hire prostitutes.

    Probably Cruz felt that since he had failed to endorse Iowa’s most beloved government subsidy — the ethanol program — the least he could do was make his way to the town of Fenton, population 279.

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