Archive

November 10th, 2015

Next, a House panel to fight the culture wars

    There they go again.

    House Republicans have launched another select investigative committee, a sort-of Benghazi panel for the culture wars. This time the target is Planned Parenthood.

    Democrats are loving it. They -- and more than a few Republicans, too -- think the special panel investigating Hillary Clinton and the 2012 Benghazi tragedy has backfired politically. They expect the Planned Parenthood probe to do the same.

    "It will probably be as big a failure as the Benghazi committee," House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said this week.

    The issue grew out of a highly edited video, secretly taped by an anti-abortion group, showing a Planned Parenthood official talking about the sale of fetal tissue for research. Former Speaker John Boehner appointed the special committee last month; the purpose was to head off conservative threats to shut down the government if federal funds for Planned Parenthood weren't eliminated.

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Jobs report gives a green light to Fed

    The October jobs report on Friday provides a domestic green light for the Federal Reserve to raise rates when its policy-making committee meets on Dec. 15-16. Whether it ends up doing so will be a function of two things: whether the balance of the U.S. data in the next six weeks is consistent with the report (which I think will be); and whether international conditions remain as calm or calmer than they are today (more of a question mark, though the Fed can have a beneficial influence).

    Three data points stand out, two of them in a very positive way.

    First, the U.S. economy added an impressive 271,000 jobs in October, shattering consensus expectations. Together with favorable revisions to earlier estimates and unemployment declining to 5 percent, the report confirms that America's job- creation machine remains one of the strongest in the world, if not the strongest.

    Second, and equally encouraging -- especially after the prolonged period of frustrating wage sluggishness -- average hourly earnings rose by a solid 9 cents to $25.20, taking the one-year growth number to 2.5 percent.

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Job market could be headed for truly full employment … if Congress and Fed let it

    Like most economists, no one would mistake me for the most upbeat guy on the block. Words like "stagnation" fall more trippingly off my tongue than words like "look at that great jobs report!"

    But October was a solid report, boasting 271,000 net new jobs, a tick down in unemployment to 5 percent, a nice bump in wage growth, and a decline in the number of part-timers who'd rather be full-timers.

    Reverting to type, don't get carried away by one month. When we were having the conversation last month, the economy added only 137,000 jobs, leading lots of people to get out their "the end is near" placards. It is, of course, not credible that the actual job market - as opposed to the measured one - stunk last month but smelled great this month.

    The thing to do is average across a number of months to smooth out some of the noise. Over the past three months, payrolls were up just about 190,000 jobs per month on average, a healthy clip that is putting downward pressure on the jobless rate and slowly, but - I think and hope - surely, upward pressure on wage growth.

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Jeb Bush's toxic inheritance

    Poor Jeb Bush, exclamation point! After such high expectations, and with the next Republican presidential debate coming up Tuesday night, the guy can't seem to buy a break.

    The latest reminder of the family baggage he bears is the advance release of a biography of the clan's 91-year-old paterfamilias, in which the 41st president dishes on two of his principal aides during his mixed bag of a single White House term.

    The book by author Jon Meacham quotes George H.W. Bush criticizing Dick Cheney, his own secretary of defense and subsequently vice president under his elder son, President George W. Bush, as building "his own empire" and "march(ing) to his own drummer" as veep. He said his son the 43rd president made "a big mistake ... in letting Cheney bring in kind of his own State Department." But, the father added in an interview for the book, "it's not Cheney's fault, it's the president's fault. ... The buck stops there."

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Ben Carson's striking ignorance

    The political media are chortling at BuzzFeed's article that Ben Carson believes Egypt's pyramids were built for grain storage, not as burial chambers. "My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain," he said in a 1998 commencement speech, referring to Genesis 41, which tells of Joseph storing Egypt's grain during the "years of plenty" for the coming famine. Carson confirmed to CBS on Wednesday that he still believes this, but I'm not sure why this is such a big story. Before Wednesday, we knew that Carson takes the Bible literally. After Wednesday, we knew the exact same thing. Frankly, I don't care whether the president believes the pyramids were built by Joseph, aliens or the Egyptians themselves levitating the stones into place. What matters are the president's ideas - and that's where the focus should be with Carson, since it's clear he has no idea what he's talking about.

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Ben Carson explains other phenomena using his pyramid logic

    Ben Carson's gift for saying things that are Right-Sounding But Completely Ungrounded in Reality is not, it turns out, new. He has been doing this at least since 1998, when he delivered a commencement address at Andrews University.

    He told assembled students that "My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain," Carson said. "Now all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs' graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don't think it'd just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain."

    He also observed: "And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they'd have to be that way for various reasons. And various of scientists have said, 'Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that's how - ' you know, it doesn't require an alien being when God is with you."

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Baby boomers: Five myths

    There are 75.4 million baby boomers in the United States, people from 51 to 69 years old. They are the largest generation in American history, raised during the economic prosperity that followed World War II. Media and marketers have treated the generation as one enormous, monolithic group since their youth. But larger than the entire population of France, America's baby boomers are a far more diverse demographic than any of their many stereotypes convey. The oldest boomer, born in 1946, was 18 years old and voting for LBJ when the youngest was just entering the world. It's time to debunk some generalizations about the original Me Generation.

 

1. Boomers are wealthy.

    The Lake Weir Preserve retirement community in central Florida has about 30 custom homes with garages as huge as 3,000 square feet, to fit RVs, boats and classic-car collections. Most of its boomer residents paid cash for their houses, and the developer plans to build 350 more.

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Affirmative action for ideology is a bad idea: Noah Smith

    The American Enterprise Institute is a think tank that generally favors free markets. Its president, Arthur Brooks, recently took to the pages of the New York Times to warn that the marketplace for intellectual ideas is badly failing and needs to be corrected from the outside.

    Conformity and ideological groupthink, Brooks warns, are stifling intellectual inquiry throughout much of American academia: A lack of ideological diversity "is taking a toll on the quality and accuracy of scholarly work. This year, a team of scholars from six universities studying ideological diversity in the behavioral sciences published a paper in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences that details a shocking level of political groupthink in academia. The authors show that for every politically conservative social psychologist in academia there are about 14 liberal social psychologists…79 percent of social psychologists admitted they would be less likely to support hiring a conservative colleague than a liberal scholar with equivalent qualifications."

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GOP candidates drown in crocodile tears

    Little did Jesus know. When he warned his followers that "in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth," he had no idea he was talking about the Republican primary of 2016.

    Yet, ever since the last Republican debate, on October 28, that's all we've heard from GOP candidates: nonstop weeping and gnashing of teeth about the tough questions they faced in all three debates, but especially by moderators from CNBC. Such hostile questions prove, they claim, that debate moderators -- representatives of the hated "liberal media" -- had only one goal: to make Republicans look bad, and Democrats look good.

    Oh, stop whining! Let's remember, first of all, that Republican primary debates are following a playbook written by the Republican National Committee. After suffering through 22 primary debates in 2011 and 2012, it was Chairman Reince Priebus himself who dictated how many debates would be held in 2016 (11), where they would be held, what month they would begin and which networks would host them. In other words, they created their own mess -- and now they're complaining about it.

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Give questions to presidential candidates pre-debate

    If the Republicans are right that televised debates have turned into cage matches and that moderators betray a liberal bias, there's a solution. Before next Tuesday's debate hosted by Fox Business News, how about letting the candidates see the questions in advance?

    If the candidates, moderators, viewers and voters all want substance, then give the candidates time to think about their answers beforehand.

    The condition is that candidates must answer the question being asked, not the question they want to answer. They also have to provide data and peer-reviewed research to show how their numbers add up, what effect their tax plans will have on the deficit, how they'd "save" Social Security, and so on.

    Sure, the Republican debate on CNBC two weeks ago was a bit of a mess. But as Brian Steel, CNBC's senior vice president for public relations, said afterward, "People who want to be president of the United States should be able to answer tough questions."

    Here are some examples:

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