Archive

November 13th, 2015

The phony 'War on Christmas' is back, fueled by those alleged Jesus haters at Starbucks

    Like everything connected to Christmas, this year's "War on Christmas" freakout has arrived early. And it has taken the form of a red Starbucks cup.

    Never mind that stores across America are already playing Christmas carols.

    Forget that Wal-Mart started its holiday layaway plan in August, and Target rolled out the Christmas trees alongside Halloween decorations in September.

    And let's pretend that radio stations across the country aren't getting angry calls about Mariah Carey's Christmas list hitting the airwaves the first week of October.

    Nope. The Christmas crusaders are certain that the War on Christmas is on yet again.

    It's totally obvious because Starbucks is serving pumpkin spice lattes and caramel macchiatos in plain red cups this holiday season. (Oops. Did I say "holiday"?)

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No more questions for the GOP field

    "Welcome to absolutely the very last Republican presidential debate. We promise. I’m your moderator, Elizabeth Hasselbeck.

    “Because the candidates have complained about their treatment by the media, each questioner on our panel has been selected by an individual candidate based on mutual affection and nothing more.

    “Though we are here at Fox News headquarters, pursuant to agreed-upon rules, Megyn Kelley is nowhere in the building. So let’s begin.

    “Our first question-answer team is -- Ben Carson and Glenn Beck!”

    Beck: “Dr. Carson, you are a truth-teller, man of great faith, a man of great intellect. When you say that a 10 percent to 15 percent flat tax would not explode the federal deficit as the Tax Foundation asserts, but that instead it will dynamically, indeed, miraculously, generate enough revenue to wipe out the deficit, I believe you. I really, really believe you.”

    Carson:  “Thank you, Glenn.”

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Minimum wages are great, except when they're not

    Debate about the minimum wage is often too simplistic. It's usually just about whether minimum wages are good or bad -- as if the answer would be the same across all of time and space. In reality, the answer should be a nuanced one. Obviously, if we raised minimum wages to $400 an hour, the economy would collapse. Minimum wages that are fine in one area will cost lots of jobs in places where prices overall are lower. Minimum wages will tend to help certain groups and hurt others. The list of qualifications and caveats goes on and on, but is typically drowned out in the partisan shouting.

    I'd like to add one more caveat to the list. Minimum wages may be perfectly fine when the economy is doing well, but be a drag in times of recession. That could bias us toward thinking that minimum wages are good, if our studies of their effects are limited to prosperous times.

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Diseases are bad, but that can be good politics

    Did you catch that line from Mike Huckabee during the last Republican presidential debate in which he calls for a declaration of war on four major diseases?

    "I really believe that the next president ought to declare a war on cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's," he said, "because those are the four things that are causing the greatest level of cost."

    Until he repeated it a few minutes later, I didn't take much notice. But it turns out he's not alone. A "cures caucus" is building within Republican ranks.

    Ted Cruz, for example, is urging the United States to intensify its focus on deadly diseases. He was chairman of a July hearing on the subject and wrote a recent op-ed about it.

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Arne Duncan's high hopes for U.S. universities

    U.S. higher education is the envy of the world, with the most renowned universities attracting young men and women from around the globe.

    As Americans consider college possibilities, the choices are terrific: large and small, public and private, in every region, along with a robust community-college system that is a gateway for many immigrants and for training older workers.

    Yet higher education faces severe problems. It is unaffordable for many, creating a $1.3 trillion mountain of student debt. About half of students graduate. Politics and budget squeezes affect great public institutions such as the University of California at Berkeley and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    Few people have thought more about this than Arne Duncan, who will step down as education secretary in December after seven years on the job.

    "We have the best system of higher education in the world," he said in an interview, "but have real and serious challenges."

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November 10th

A soft-hearted tough guy?

    Just when his fellow Republican presidential candidates most need to listen closely to what he has to say, Chris Christie finds himself knocked off the main debate stage.

    If the Republicans did listen to Christie, they might not have to complain about how their encounters have become a blend of a professional wrestling match and a hallway argument among high school students.

    The hopefuls can gripe about the debate moderators all they want. Their real problem is not with formats or with who is asking what questions. It's their own profound lack of empathy.

    With a few exceptions, these candidates are so focused on addressing a rather narrow part of their own party's primary electorate that they are not really speaking to anyone else. They worry that any hints of social concern or generosity might make them sound like -- God forbid! -- liberals. And they can't have that.

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To see race clearly, we need new lenses

    A University of North Texas professor gets stopped by two white police officers while walking in her suburban Dallas neighborhood and pens an op-ed alleging racial profiling. After the dashcam video of the incident is released, Dorothy Bland is the one accused of racializing a routine interaction, and there are calls to fire her.

    A South Carolina police officer is fired after a cellphone video shows him throwing a black teenage girl across a classroom because she had refused to put away a cellphone. Federal officials launch civil rights probes, but some community members, including the sheriff, have said that they don't believe race played a role.

    A black teenage college student is forcefully detained by two white police officers near a Capitol Hill bank after a white woman said that she felt uncomfortable when he opened the vestibule door for her at a bank. Protesters, including those from the Black Lives Matter movement, blocked streets demanding "justice for Jason."

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The world - including China - is unprepared for the rise of China

    For the first time in centuries, China affects the global economy as much as it is affected by the global economy. In the years ahead, China is likely to account for between one-third and one-half of growth in global incomes, trade and commodity demand, and its significance will only increase as its share of the world economy rises.

    I returned last week from a trip to China with the dispiriting conclusion that the world lacks shared understandings regarding goals for the evolution of the Chinese economy, the objectives of China policy in the short and medium terms, and the institutional structures needed to manage both cooperation and inevitable tensions. Chinese President Xi Jinping has rightly called for a "new type of great-power relations." But it must be embedded in, if not a new international economic architecture, then a substantially revised and updated one.

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The many, many things the 2016 election is 'about' - according to the candidates

    Back in the 1990s, when I was a graduate student in English and "postmodernism" was still in fashion, the hipper students and faculty wouldn't say what a poem or novel was "about" without putting that preposition in quotation marks. "Sure," one of them might say, "'Tintern Abbey' is 'about' Wordsworth's philosophy of nature"- ostentatious air quotes - "but we can read it more fruitfully as a reactionary protest against sexual equality . . ."

    Under the reign of postmodernism, nothing was ever "about" what it seemed to be about.

    I don't know how the word is faring in academic literary circles these days - I've been gone awhile - but it's everywhere in politics. Consider the candidates' numerous and protean explanations of what the 2016 presidential campaign is really "about."

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So-called 'war on cops' more myth than menace

    News that the police lieutenant widely and affectionately known as "G.I. Joe" in the Chicago suburb of Fox Lake, Ill., is not the hero he made himself out to be has taken some fuel from the media-driven myth that has given us headlines like these:

    "War on Police Sparks National Crime Wave" --Investor's Business Daily

    "Police face recruiting shortage due to war on cops" --New York Post

    "(New York Police Chief) Bratton warns of tough times ahead due to 'war on cops' " --New York Post.

    Conservative politicians and pundits who promote the idea that there's a "war on cops" reacted with a bold message to the fatal shooting of Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz in Fox Lake on Sept. 1. Their message: Blame 'Black Lives Matters' first.

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