Archive

June 15th, 2016

A horrible day for Orlando, gay pride and US history

    One year after celebrating the most joyous pride month in U.S. history with the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in this country, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and the nation as a whole are now in mourning. As of this writing, at least 50 people are dead and 53 were injured when a madman unleashed hell inside a gay nightclub in the wee hours of Sunday, June 12.

    This is by far the worst mass shooting in American history.

    Law enforcement officials identified the shooter as Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American citizen who lives in Port St. Lucie, Fla. He was killed in a shootout with police inside the Pulse nightclub. In explaining a possible motive, Mateen's father told media that his son became "very angry" after seeing two men kiss in downtown Miami a few months ago. Authorities are calling this an act of terrorism.

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Senators Embedded Within a Brain Fog

    The U.S. Senate—under the leadership of Mitch McConnell who once said his primary mission was to see that the Senate didn’t agree with anything President Obama said or did, and to limit him to one term—continues to be one of the nation’s leading obstructionists. This time, the Senate isn’t meeting to advise or consent to the President’s nomination of Chief Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

    Garland was valedictorian in his class at Harvard College and magna cum laude from the Harvard law school. He worked in the Department of Justice before becoming the chief judge on the D,C. Court of Appeals, having been confirmed by the Senate, March 1997.

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Breaking up with Bernie

    A great relationship can be ruined by a lousy breakup. Instead of remembering the many wonderful times you had together, when he taught you that "socialist" was not a dirty word, took you to inspiring rallies with great soundtracks and urged you to take down corrupt money in politics, all your recent memories are of his dozens of ALL-CAPS TEXTS insisting "THIS CONVERSATION IS NOT OVER YET!!!"

    Standing in the yard with a boombox for one evening can be viewed as a romantic, if mildly creepy, gesture. But standing there until July 25 is grounds for a noise complaint.

    You wanted to remember the good times. And there were many of them. You felt energized, at least in caucus states. You changed. You moved left.

    But for you to start to miss and remember him fondly, he needs to leave. He needs to stop lurking around with a bird perched on his finger, hoping you will change your mind.

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Did Elizabeth Warren play her cards right to be Hillary Clinton's vice president?

    Up until Thursday evening, Elizabeth Warren was the only female Democratic senator who hadn't endorsed Hillary Clinton. In fact, she was one of the last high-profile members of the Democratic Party to endorse her.

    Yet, more so than any other Democratic senator, there is buzz that Clinton will or should pick Warren as her vice presidential running mate. Given her holdout on coming on-board Team Clinton, it's worth asking: Does Warren have a chance at the job?

    Warren told Rachel Maddow on MSBNC on Thursday she's not being vetted for the job and she's happy with her current one. But despite what she says, it seems like Warren might be interested. Reuters reports that people close to her say she's considering the pros and cons of being Clinton's veep. Harry Reid reportedly wants her to be the pick. And she gave a closely watched, fiery speech Thursday for the sole purpose of knocking Donald Trump down a peg or two.

    In fact, almost out of nowhere, Warren has gone from watching the campaign on the sidelines to becoming one of Trump's loudest critics -- especially on his home turf, Twitter.

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Trump is a racist Republicans can work with

    Donald Trump is a deplorable racist. I'm supporting him.

    This is not hyperbole. After all the hemming, the hawing, and the tugging of double chins, it's the consensus of the elders of the Republican Party, despite Trump's inability to tamp down his prejudices and his propensity to sound like a drug lord threatening a judge about to break up a murderous cartel.

    Of all the reactions to Trump's attack on Gonzalo Curiel, an Indiana-born federal judge who happens to be of Mexican heritage, House Speaker Paul Ryan's was the clearest. On Tuesday, as Ryan attempted to steal a little attention for his poverty-fighting proposals, he was instead forced to account, again, for the antics of his party's standard-bearer. Trump's contention that Judge Curiel couldn't be impartial by virtue of his ancestry was the "textbook definition of a racist," said Ryan, R-Wisconsin.

    Well, then, is he withdrawing his support? No.

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June 14th

A Tale of Two Parties

    With their presumptive presidential nominees now in place, the two major political parties face starkly different, and critical, challenges. The Democrats have already taken impressive steps toward internal unity approaching the Hillary Clinton campaign. The Republicans, meanwhile, are deep in disunity over the fallout of Donald Trump's selection and his divisive behavior.

    The rapid response in Democratic ranks to Clinton's victories over Sen. Bernie Sanders in four of last Tuesday's six state primaries, including California, was breath-taking. Sanders quickly congratulated her, and while he pledged to his faithful followers that he would remain a candidate through the primary process and into Democratic National convention late next month, he vowed he would do all he could to make sure Trump never will reach the presidency.

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Economics comes up short in coping with reality

    There are basically four different activities that all go by the name of macroeconomics. But they actually have relatively little to do with each other. Understanding the differences between them is helpful for understanding why debates about the business cycle tend to be so confused.

    The first is what I call "coffee house macro," and it's what you hear in a lot of casual discussions. It often revolves around the ideas of dead sages -- Friedrich Hayek, Hyman Minsky and John Maynard Keynes. It doesn't involve formal models, but it does usually contain a hefty dose of political ideology.

    The second is finance macro. This consists of private-sector economists and consultants who try to read the tea leaves on interest rates, unemployment, inflation and other indicators in order to predict the future of asset prices (usually bond prices). It mostly uses simple math, though advanced forecasting models are sometimes employed. It always includes a hefty dose of personal guesswork.

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Trump or Clinton have already persuaded you

    We're now out of nomination politics (barring any late-breaking "dump Trump" effort), and the general-election campaign is on. If there was any doubt about that, Barack Obama's endorsement of Hillary Clinton on Thursday will be the flag to start the race.

 

    What happens now? Slate's Jamelle Bouie, in referring to the veepstakes, gives a great introduction to the larger subject of what campaigns really do at this point: "I guess this is a 'hot take,' but it is a waste of resources to mobilize base voters who by definition are *already mobilized*."

    In one sense, presidential general-election campaigns are enormous undertakings to mobilize those most susceptible to being mobilized.

    Remember, most voters have barely been paying attention so far. Hillary Clinton received almost 16 million votes in primaries and caucuses, and a little more than 13 million voted for Donald Trump. Barack Obama received about 66 million votes to win in November 2012. So both Clinton and Trump need to find more than 53 million new votes.

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Why boards will never be any good at policing their executives

    The job of the corporate board of directors is to oversee company management on behalf of shareholders. This is, I think it's fair to say, the most widely accepted understanding of what boards were put on earth to do.

    Yes, there are those who think the board should be looking out for other stakeholders -- employees, customers, society -- beyond just the owners of shares. There's also a lot of evidence that boards aren't all that great at management oversight.

    Yet the belief that the board's most important role is to oversee the corporation's top executives -- "monitor" them, as the academic jargon has it -- remains entrenched. It informs most journalistic accounts of corporate debacles, and most research into the attributes that make boards effective. It is also behind the big push over the past quarter century to get more outside directors onto boards, and to separate the jobs of chairman and chief executive officer.

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This campaign broke the U.S. two-party system

    Americans find it hard to imagine that the two-party system could ever break down. "Democracy works, this country works when you have two parties that are serious and trying to solve problems," President Barack Obama said recently. Yet U.S. democracy and the country itself would be better served if politicians started acting as if there were more parties -- which might be the case after this year's election.

    Americans have laughed at me when I suggested that their two-party system might be giving way to a more European-style one. Yet foreigners like myself, used to multiparty parliaments and coalition governments, are not the only ones who see the U.S. moving toward this model. Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, one of the architects of Poland's successful post-Communist transformation, wrote this week as calls multiplied for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to drop out of the Democratic race:

    "By 2020, it is quite possible that we will actually have four major political parties: a social democratic left, a centrist party, a right-wing conservative party and a populist anti-immigrant party (represented by Trump followers)."

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