Archive

September 10th, 2016

National parks offer opportunity to next president

    The next U.S. president will face the challenge of bringing two parties together following a polarizing election campaign and years of partisan gridlock. It will be no easy task, but small victories are possible to achieve quickly, and our national parks offer a golden opportunity for the next president and Congress to get off on the right foot.

    The National Park Service just celebrated its 100th birthday last month. Democrats and Republicans alike extolled the virtues of our parks, which are in blue and red states, rural areas and big cities. But despite strong bipartisan public support, the parks are in trouble. They face two major challenges that both parties -- and the National Park Service itself -- have failed to address for too long.

    The first is funding. In 2015, the NPS employed fewer people than it did in 2000, even though Congress created more than two dozen new national parks and monuments during that time and the number of visitors increased by 21 million. The parks also face a $12 billion backlog in repairs. As many visitors can attest, roads and other critical infrastructure are crumbling, trails need maintenance, and facilities are neglected.

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Marijuana could replace tobacco as sin-tax jackpot

    Is marijuana the new sin-tax gusher for the states? It sure looks that way.

    In November, voters in five states will decide on whether to allow recreational use of the drug, while citizens in four other states have the option of legalizing medical marijuana.

    Unlike the fierce battles of the past over decriminalization, resistance by governors, law-enforcement groups and state medical associations is down (though not entirely gone). The ability to collect mountains of new taxes could be a reason, judging from the experience of Colorado, where voters approved medical marijuana in 2000 and legalized its recreational use in 2012.

    For the fiscal year ending June 30, Colorado collected $157 million in marijuana taxes, licenses and fees, up 53 percent from a year earlier and almost four times what it has collected in alcohol excise taxes this year. Thanks to marijuana smokers, Colorado's public schools will receive $42 million, and local governments will get $10 million of the amount collected.

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September 9th

Elites Neglect Veterans

    At a special presidential forum on Wednesday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will appear back-to-back, take questions from military veterans and talk about how our country treats them.

    Wick Sloane’s complaint probably won’t come up, but I wish it would.

    Sloane teaches at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, and eight years ago, after discovering veterans among his students, he reached out to officials at his own alma maters, Williams College and Yale University, for any guidance they might have about working with this particular group.

    “They were bewildered,” he told me, because they’d had so little contact with veterans.

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Don't trust the polls, trust their average

    Yes, it's time for a back-to-school refresher class on how to read the presidential polls, which at this point are good indications of what will happen in November.

    First assignment: What to make of the CNN poll released Tuesday morning showing Donald Trump coming out on top, by two percentage points, over Hillary Clinton among likely voters.

    You've heard it a million times from me and others (such as political scientist Matthew Dickinson and number-cruncher Harry Enten): Look at the polling averages, not individual surveys.

    As Greg Sargent at the Plum Line explained it:

    "Surprising poll results can either be outliers, or can reflect statistical noise or short term fluctuations. Fortunately, we have a remedy for this: The polling averages, which have massive samples that cover longer periods of time and help screen out the noise. Depending on who is doing the averaging, Clinton is up by three (The Upshot), four (Real Clear Politics), or five (Huffpollster)."

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Cashing in on presidential prestige

    The president, as he prepared to leave office, was dead broke. So broke, in fact, that he had to take out a loan to get him through the transition. Bill Clinton in 2001? No, Harry Truman in 1953 -- and the resemblance ends there.

    Back then, although Truman had only a monthly Army pension of $112.56, he was adamant about not employing his presidential service to cash in. As biographer David McCullough relates, Truman turned down a new Toyota; a Miami real-estate development company's offer of "not less than $100,000" to come on board; an array of consulting gigs.

     "I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency," Truman later wrote.

    Those were the days -- and even then they weren't, entirely. Months after leaving office, Truman sold the rights to his memoirs to Life magazine for $600,000 -- the equivalent of more than $5 million today.

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Why Hillary Clinton's perceived corruption seems to echo louder than Donald Trump's actual corruption.

    Over the Labor Day weekend, there was quite the chatter comparing and contrasting the news media coverage of Hillary Clinton's alleged improprieties involving the Clinton Foundation and Donald Trump's actual improprieties involving the Trump Foundation, his businesses, and his campaign.

    Trump supporters will complain about bias in the previous paragraph, to which I say, hey, go to town. None of the news stories about the Clinton Foundation (as opposed to her handling of emails at the State Department) demonstrate anything truly disturbing. Consider:

    --The Associated Press suggests Clinton's meetings with non-state officials were biased in favor of Clinton Foundation donors. Vox's deconstruction of the AP's report, however, showed there was no there there.

    --The Los Angeles Times suggested ties between a Nigerian billionaire donor to the foundation and Clinton favors, but Kevin Drum eviscerated it in Mother Jones to the point where he asked, "Am I missing something? How did this end up as the lead story in today's LA Times?"

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We Are All Noah Now

    Robert Macfarlane, in his book “Landmarks,” about the connection between words and landscapes, tells a revealing but stunning story about how recent editions of the Oxford Junior Dictionary (aimed at 7-year-olds) dropped certain “nature words” that its editors deemed less relevant to the lives of modern children. These included “acorn,” “dandelion,” “fern,” “nectar,” “otter,” “pasture” and “willow.” The terms introduced in their place, he noted, included “broadband,” “blog,” “cut-and-paste,” “MP3 player” and “voice-mail.”

    While this news was first disclosed in 2015, reading it in Macfarlane’s book still shocks me for what it signifies. But who can blame the Oxford editors for dumping Amazon words for Amazon.com ones? Our natural world is rapidly disappearing. Just how fast was the major topic here last week at the global conference held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which I participated in along with some 8,000 scientists, nature reserve specialists and environmentalists.

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State ballot measures in 2016 reflect shift to left

    A funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box this year. Though grassroots referendums and initiatives have been on the wane for two decades, 73 have been approved for ballots so far in the 26 states that allow them. That's still well below the 1996 peak of 92 measures, but it's the highest number since 2006 and almost 50 percent more than in 2012.

    Why the spike? A big reason, says Josh Altic of the politics website Ballotpedia, is that the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot in many states is based on voter turnout in the previous statewide election. And turnout in 2014 was the lowest since World War II.

    In California, for example, activists needed the signatures of just under 366,000 registered voters, 27 percent fewer than in 2014, to propose changes to state law. California, the hothouse of citizen action, will have 17 ballot initiatives this year, versus four in 2014 and 13 in 2012.

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Roger Ailes should be down for the count by now, but he's still hitting back - and it could get ugly

    If Roger Ailes believes in anything, it's the counterattack.

    When you're accused, losing, wounded, bleeding - hit back hard. Go for the jugular.

    That philosophy - actually, a whole way of life - is surely what's behind a letter sent a few days ago to New York magazine from one Charles Harder, on behalf of the deposed Fox News founder, suggesting that a defamation action may be coming.

    Harder is the high-profile Hollywood lawyer behind the Hulk Hogan lawsuit that, in effect, put Gawker out of business last month. He's the same lawyer representing Melania Trump in her assertions that publications defamed her when they reported that she once was associated with an escort service; one of those publications took down its story after the threats.

    And so, when a letter arrives from Charles Harder, it sends a loud message: Stop messing with my client, or else.

    Or else what? Well, in the post-Gawker era, the suggestion is this: Or else we'll come after you so hard, and with such deep pockets, that you'll have to fold.

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In Ukraine, live by the pen, die by the sword

    On the morning of July 20, the idyllic calm of Kiev's leafy center was shattered. A bomb planted beneath award-winning journalist Pavel Sheremet's red Subaru exploded, killing him instantly and raining down fiery debris on the quiet boulevard. Triggered by remote control, the assassination was intentionally visible, loud, and meant to send a message. What made the loss so hard for Kiev's journalist community was that the 44-year-old Sheremet had survived the intimidation and censorship that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, moving from his native Belarus to Russia and finally to Ukraine, fleeing authoritarian presidents who aimed to control the press to secure their own political stability. Sheremet's death has made many in the media fear that Ukraine has returned to its darker days of journalism.

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