Archive

March 10th, 2016

'House of Cards' has become an escapist utopia

    "House of Cards" is back. And just in time to offer an escape from the hilarious dystopia of our actual politics into the utopian vision of a politics where, if things go wrong, it is because an evil someone behind the scenes knows what he or she is doing.

    If only.

    The one true rule of politics is Hanlon's Razor, which states that you should never attribute to malice what can be attributed to stupidity.

    This pretty much rules out "House of Cards."

    Its dysfunctional politics are dysfunctional because people are interested in making deals. Making deals! Can you imagine?

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Hillary Clinton's pledge to remove all lead from the U.S. in five years is just not possible

    The crisis in Flint, Mich. -- site of Sunday night's Democratic debate -- was a crisis centered on the tragic combination of corrosive river water and outdated lead pipes in the city. When Hillary Clinton called for the debate in Flint -- to which Bernie Sanders quickly agreed -- the point was clearly to both criticize the Republican governor of the state and to present ways in which Flint's lead problem could be addressed.

    On Sunday night, lead was introduced as a topic immediately. A member of the audience rose to ask the Democrats if they would support a national effort in their first 100 days in office to remove all lead service lines in the country. Sanders said he'd quickly seek to test the nation's water systems and inform homeowners about the quality in their homes.

    Clinton went further, as she herself said.

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Hillary Clinton's hubris still could trip her

    Hillary Clinton could be in for some political peril.

    Sure, by winning 11 of the 17 contests since her New Hampshire drubbing, and running away with the delegate count, she's not far from sewing up the Democratic presidential nomination. It's the Republicans, not the Democrats, who face bitter divides that endanger the party's future.

    Clinton is riding high; that's the problem.

    "Her history is that whenever she gets ahead and looks in good shape, she reverts to her worst form," says Peter D. Hart, a leading Democratic pollster, citing 2007 and this cycle after her stellar first debate performance.

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March 9th

The other victim of my decline

    Probably the only good thing I can say about having Parkinson's disease is that it has introduced me to the unexpected helpfulness of others. Any time I venture out with my sturdy cane, people go out of their way to open doors, offer a helping hand or instruct their kids to stand aside as I shuffle past. Some teenagers will even extract themselves from their smartphones to offer assistance.

    Yet people seldom offer to help the woman who struggles to hoist me from the car seat, push my chair up to the restaurant table or quietly cope with my unseen, round-the-clock needs and demands.

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The stark contrast between the job market and the election, and why it matters

    Allow me to pose a study of stark contrasts: today's politics and today's job market.

    To say the former is "a mess" only betrays my lack of eloquence combined with the fact that this is a family newspaper. I believe I can say, without partisan challenge, that what's going on in the Republican presidential campaign is an embarrassment to the United States.

    As for the job market, good things are happening. The underlying trend of job gains is over 200,000 per month, a strong enough clip to nudge the jobless rate even lower than its current eight-year low of 4.9 percent. Although wage growth fell back a bit last month, the tight job market is providing workers with a bit more bargaining power. At 2.2 percent, average hourly wage growth is beating (very low) inflation, meaning paychecks have more buying power.

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Economic policymakers at sea on inflation

    Here is a thought experiment that illuminates the challenges facing macroeconomic policymakers in the United States and the rest of the industrial world.

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CNN commentator: Media will share blame when Trump 'institutes internment camps'

    As Donald Trump added to his delegate total on Saturday with primary and caucus victories in Louisiana and Kentucky, CNN commentator Sally Kohn offered a grim forecast of a Trump presidency - and suggested the media will be culpable.

    "There is a fine line between covering a candidate and amplifying a candidate," Kohn, a progressive activist, said during the cable channel's coverage of Saturday voting. "And I'm sorry, but, yes, Donald Trump may be the Republican front-runner, I still think we're giving him way too much attention in proportion to the other candidates who also had victories to celebrate tonight. I'm worried. When he institutes internment camps and suspends habeas [corpus], we'll all look back and feel pretty bad."

    Shortly after making those remarks on the air, Kohn took to Twitter to remind critics - who were quick to dismiss her hypothetical - that Trump previously cited the World War II-era internment of Japanese Americans as a precedent for his plan to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

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Hidden Gold in College Applications

    If the gatekeepers at Davidson College had judged the teenager by her ACT score, she probably wouldn’t have gotten in. It was 25 out of a possible 36, and more than three-quarters of the students at Davidson, a liberal-arts school in North Carolina with about 1,800 undergraduates and an acceptance rate of just over 20 percent, do better than that.

    Her grades at a small charter school in the Boston area didn’t carry the day. I was allowed to look at her application, with her name redacted, and what I saw was an impressive but unexceptional mix of A’s and B-pluses, along with an impressive but unexceptional array of extracurricular activities much like any ambitious high school senior’s.

    I had to read deeper, as the admissions officers at Davidson had done, to understand why they felt so strongly about her, and to feel that way myself. I had to notice details embedded in her letters of recommendation and mentioned fleetingly in bits of personal information that she’d provided.

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'Helicopter money' might be closer than you think

    Central bankers, it may soon be time to don your flying suits and start your engines. There's a growing suspicion that quantitative easing and zero/negative interest rates have lost any power they might have had to kickstart the economy. So Milton Friedman's famous "helicopter money" is back on the radar as a potential solution to what ails global growth.

    With governments still unwilling to flex their fiscal muscles to boost the world economy, Friedman's idea -- easy to articulate, devilishly hard to envisage in practice -- is very much in vogue. Here's how he described it in "The Optimum Quantity of Money," a collection of papers published in 1969:

    "Let us suppose now that one day a helicopter flies over this community and drops an additional $1,000 in bills from the sky, which is, of course, hastily collected by members of the community."

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Donald the Dangerous

    Is there any scarier nightmare than President Donald Trump in a tense international crisis, indignant and impatient, with his sweaty finger on the nuclear trigger?

    “Trump is a danger to our national security,” John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser to the State Department under President George W. Bush, bluntly warned.

    Most of the discussion about Trump focuses on domestic policy. But checks and balances mean that there are limits to what a president can achieve domestically, while the Constitution gives a commander in chief a much freer hand abroad.

    That’s what horrifies America-watchers overseas. Der Spiegel, the German magazine, has called Trump the most dangerous man in the world. Even the leader of a Swedish nationalist party that started as a neo-Nazi white supremacist group has disavowed Trump. J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, reflected the views of many Britons when she tweeted that Trump is worse than Voldemort.

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