Archive

June 4th, 2016

Feel the Math

    This is my fifth presidential campaign as a New York Times columnist, so I’ve watched a lot of election coverage, and I came into this cycle prepared for the worst. Or so I thought.

    But I was wrong. So far, election commentary has been even worse than I imagined it would be. It’s not just the focus on the horse race at the expense of substance; much of the horse-race coverage has been bang-your-head-on-the-desk awful, too. I know this isn’t scientific, but based on conversations I’ve had recently, many people — smart people, who read newspapers and try to keep track of events — have been given a fundamentally wrong impression of the current state of play.

    And when I say a “wrong impression,” I don’t mean that I disagree with other people’s takes. I mean that people aren’t being properly informed about the basic arithmetic of the situation.

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Penne and Prejudice

    If there’s a gayer country than Italy, I haven’t ogled it.

    I don’t mean demographically gay. That’s unknowable. I mean spiritually gay. I mean the self-conscious style and gaudy opera of the place.

    It’s shaped like high-heeled footwear. It’s a mecca of high-priced menswear. Its signature hunk of marble, the David, looks less like he’s girding for Goliath than like he’s posing between squats at the local Equinox. And have you seen those Venetian glass chandeliers, with their wild colors and wacky tentacles? They could be gay octopi on their way to an underwater Cher concert.

    So why isn’t Italy kinder to gays?

    Just a few weeks ago, after considerable shaming by the European Union, it finally legalized civil unions for same-sex couples. While that was a step forward, it was also a reminder of how far Italy still lagged behind such densely Roman Catholic European peers as Ireland, Portugal and Spain, all of which had already accorded gays and lesbians actual marriage rights.

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Politicians and the Lies That Matter

    Your Honor, I rise this week in defense of Hillary Clinton.

    I see from polls that Clinton scores very low on “trustworthy” questions. Well, let’s talk about truth in politics. All politicians shade the truth at times. Some do it more than others. Indeed, when Donald Trump tells the truth, it should be labeled “Breaking News — Trump tells truth without immediately contradicting himself. We’re going live to the scene right now.”

    Here is what is relevant: Lying is serious business. But Clinton’s fibs or lack of candor are all about bad judgments she made on issues that will not impact the future of either my family or my country. Private email servers? Cattle futures? Goldman Sachs lectures? All really stupid, but my kids will not be harmed by those poor calls. Debate where she came out on Iraq and Libya, if you will, but those were considered judgment calls, and if you disagree don’t vote for her.

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Trump's rolling bluster

    Donald Trump looked like a fool and a fraud on Sunday. But what else is new?

    Even the most ardent Trumpistas would have to admit that Trump's appearance at the annual Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally was, as spectacles go, pretty pathetic. It was supposed to be a vast, multitudinous gathering on the plaza in front of the Lincoln Memorial, one of the greatest and most historic public spaces in the nation. Instead, Trump drew a paltry crowd estimated by organizers at perhaps 5,000.

    As Trump might say in a late-night tweet: "Sad!"

    The presumptive Republican nominee cut a ridiculous figure, sporting a red "Make America Great Again" baseball cap to guard against rogue breezes that might unhinge his comb-over. He lamented the attendance: "I thought this would be like Dr. Martin Luther King, where the people would be lined up from here all the way to the Washington Monument, right?"

    Wrong. So very, very wrong.

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Better Labels, Better Food

    Food labels are changing.

    In the past, you could only see how much total sugar was in your food. That included sugars naturally occurring in healthy, whole foods — like lactose in milk — alongside extra sugars like sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, which aren’t so healthy.

    But the Food and Drug Administration just announced that in the near future, labels will specify the amount of added sugars in packaged products. That makes it easier to spot the sugars you should limit in your diet.

    Will this change America’s eating habits and health for the better? I hope so.

    But it might not.

    The new labels could benefit consumers in two ways. First, and perhaps most obviously, health-conscious eaters may read the labels and select healthier food choices. That would be welcome.

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Building Children’s Brains

    First,  a quiz: What’s the most common “vegetable” eaten by American toddlers?

    Answer: The french fry.

    The same study that unearthed that nutritional tragedy also found that on any given day, almost half of American toddlers drink soda or similar drinks, possibly putting the children on a trajectory toward obesity or diabetes.

    But for many kids, the problems start even earlier. In West Virginia, one study found, almost one-fifth of children are born with alcohol or drugs in their system. Many thus face an uphill struggle from the day they are born.

    Bear all this in mind as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump battle over taxes, minimum wages and whether to make tuition free at public universities. Those are legitimate debates, but the biggest obstacles and greatest inequality often have roots early in life.

    If we want to get more kids in universities, we should invest in preschools.

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June 3rd

Clinton Should Have Exposed Sanders When She Had The Chance

    Here's my basic problem with Bernie Sanders. To put it bluntly, once a Trotskyite, always a fool. Personal experience of '60s-style left-wing posturing left me allergic to the word "revolution" and the kinds of humorless autodidacts who bandy it about. The Bernie Sanders type, I mean: morally superior, never mistaken and never in doubt.

    I'll never forget the time in 1970 that several "radical" colleagues my wife had invited for dinner denounced our record collection as racist. Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Flatt & Scruggs. Never mind that we also owned B.B. King, Lightnin' Hopkins, Beethoven and British rock albums. A taste for country music made us, pardon the expression, politically incorrect.

    Also professionally doomed. I needed to resign ASAP before they fired me. I had no interest in either of the academic community's ruling passions: Marxist sentimentalism or real estate.

    How Bernie missed becoming an English professor at some picturesque New England college, I cannot understand.

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For Billionaire Donors, Academic Integrity Comes Cheap

    First came withering hoots of laughter when the honchos of George Mason University named their law school the Antonin Scalia School Of Law — or ASSOL, for short. It was an honor Scalia might’ve merited, but very embarrassing for the university.

    Even though administrators quickly changed the name to the Scalia Law School, their embarrassment turned into shame. It turns out they’d sold the naming rights to none other than Charles Koch, a multibillionaire right-wing extremist.

    For years, Koch and other moneyed corporatists have quietly pumped millions into pseudo-academic centers on college campuses to promote their laissez-faire ideology, including a handful at George Mason itself.

    But here was Virginia’s largest public university letting the infamous Koch brother and another un-named right-winger give $30 million in exchange for branding George Mason’s law school — one of the university’s core academic institutions — with Scalia’s name.

    Students and faculty rebelled at the idea that

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Tightwad Trump Explodes

    Donald Trump has a simple reason for his long delay in explaining what happened to the money he raised for veterans’ charities: He didn’t want any publicity.

    “Because I wanted to make this out of the goodness of my heart,” he told a news conference in which he castigated reporters for forcing him to provide details.

    Of all conceivable explanations, “too self-effacing” ranks somewhere below “temporarily kidnapped by space aliens.” Let’s look elsewhere. The best possibilities seem to be:

    A) Cheapness.

    B) Tendency to make things up.

    C) Difficulty in getting a disorganized, minimally qualified, perpetually short-handed staff to keep track of the cash.

    Obviously, we’re going for all three.

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Trustworthiness remains Hillary Clinton's Achilles heel

    The long-awaited State Department inspector general's report on Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server produced no smoking gun. But it did unveil an even worse political vulnerability: her transparent dissembling.

    After months of stonewalling and insisting that she had done nothing illegal or barred by department regulations, the former secretary of state finally took refuge in saying that what she had done was "a mistake" and that in reflection she regretted the choice she had made.

    Throughout, she said, she had chosen to use the private server in her New York suburban home as a matter of convenience and never was told it was against department policy.

    While the Office of Inspector General's report made no allegation of actionable wrongdoing, it did pointedly observe that, for all of her claims that she was being forthcoming, she twice "declined OIG's request for an interview," as did two key staff aides.

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