Archive

February 17th, 2016

'Redebating' is a test for Clinton and Sanders

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders shared a stage Thursday night for the third time in eight days. Their skills are being tested: The same old talking points are growing stale to those of us who watch every one of these things, but the campaigns know that new people are tuning in all the time. With every approaching primary and caucus, a new crop of voters is paying attention. Both candidates are good enough politicians that they manage to address both the new and the returning viewers.

    Sanders has improved over the course of the campaign, and easily handles himself as if he belongs on the stage. The performance gap evident in the early debates has narrowed considerably. Still, he goes through his greatest hits each time. He repeated once again his complaints about a "rigged" economy and millionaires and billionaires, and bragged as usual about his small donors.

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NFL can't keep out felons if colleges protect them

    The NFL will ban prospective draftees with domestic violence, sexual assault, or weapons convictions from attending the annual scouting combine. But as long as colleges and teams go to great lengths to protect players who have been accused of such crimes, this new policy shift won't change much.

    Case in point: On Tuesday, six women filed a federal Title IX lawsuit against the University of Tennessee, accusing the school of fostering a culture that enables sexual assault by athletes who can be all but sure they won't be thoroughly investigated or prosecuted. Five of the six women say they were raped, in events dating to 1995, by three former football players, a former basketball player, and a non-athlete. According to the civil suit, "UT intentionally acted by an official policy of deliberate indifference to known sexual assaults" creating a "severely hostile sexual environment."

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Marching Bands and High School PE

    The Millard Public Schools in Omaha, Neb., will not allow its students to substitute marching band for its requirement that students take three semesters of physical education.

    The proposal would save about $75,000 a year, according to the administration. But, the administration also said if the proposal was implemented it would negate the district’s emphasis on wellness and promoting physical fitness.

    There are two issues here.

    First, as almost everyone who ever was a member of a marching band knows, it’s physically challenging. Every member must not only march, sometimes at a rapid pace, but also read music, do maneuvers and play an instrument at the same time.

    Some parades are a mile; the Rose Parade is 5.5 miles. Students train not just to march, but to march the entire distance.

    For majorettes, it means marching, throwing and catching batons, a feat not many can do if they are not physically fit.

    Waiving PE credit is reasonable.

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February 16th

Ads just don't work in the 2016 campaign

    To a foreign observer, perhaps the most incomprehensible aspect of the U.S. presidential election is the advertising. It's omnipresent and hellishly expensive, but it doesn't appear to do anything tangible for the candidates. It certainly doesn't win more votes for those who spend more.

    Based on ad spending estimates from Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primaries, a vote cost the top 10 candidates $107 on average. In the general election of 2015, British parties spent an average of 42 U.S. cents per vote.

    This factoid seems tailor-made for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who promises to do his best to reverse the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision -- which allowed unlimited spending by super PACs on candidates' behalf. Even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the candidate with the most expensive votes to date, now says he'd "eliminate" the ruling and calls the super PAC system "ridiculous."

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How the United States built a welfare state for the wealthy

    Syracuse University political scientist Chris Faricy is the author of the newly published book "Welfare for the Wealthy." The book has been called "critically important" and "eye-opening." He kindly answered some questions via email. A lightly edited transcript is below.

    Q: The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats want to expand government and Republicans want to shrink it. But you argue "a vote for the Republican Party is not necessarily a vote for smaller government." Why is that?

    A: The Republican Party is not immune from electoral pressures to use the federal government to benefit Republican constituencies. The main difference between Democrats and Republicans is not whether to spend federal money but rather who those constituencies are.

    For the GOP, two important groups are wealthier households and businesses. Republicans have pursued policies that benefit both -- things like government subsidies for IRAs and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

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How Sanders spent his Soviet 'honeymoon'

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders's long-ago "honeymoon" in the Soviet Union is held up by his opponents as evidence of dubious judgement, and even Communist sympathies or anti-American tendencies. The self-described socialist was questioned about the visit during a debate of Democratic presidential candidates in October as a way to raise doubts about his electability.

    Those descriptions and concerns are based on distortions and exaggerations: The trip, which began the day after his wedding with his second wife, Jane, in May 1988, was undertaken as part of Sanders' official duties as mayor of Burlington, Vermont. And in any case, most of his critics seem to have forgotten that the Soviet Union at the time was hardly the place for an admirer of communism to find comfort.

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How Flint's water and Brazil's Zika fuel fear about kids

    The news reports of children poisoned by tap water in Flint, Mich., and of babies' brains damaged by Zika in Brazil are horrifying for some of the same reasons. In both cases, the threat is invisible. Lead has been leaching into Flint's water from pipes buried deep underground. The Zika virus, carried by tiny mosquitoes, produces no symptoms in 80 percent of infected people. With Zika and lead, it can take months or years to realize that irreversible damage has been done - for microcephaly to become evident in a fetus, for lead poisoning to show up as learning disabilities and behavior problems. In the meantime, it's difficult to trust what health authorities are saying, because government officials in Flint seem to have acted with negligence verging on malice and because doctors are still trying to understand Zika.

    But perhaps the most chilling parallel between Zika and lead is that they both assault children. In an era of heightened anxiety about protecting kids from contamination and harm, they play on our greatest fears.

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Hillary plays the establishment card

    Hillary Clinton, seeking to recover from her thrashing from Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, sought refuge in President Obama in Thursday night's debate, as his heir to the Democratic establishment.

    His former secretary of state, putting aside her earlier disagreements with Obama on combatting Islamic State terrorism in Syria, attacked Sanders as a disloyal critic of the president and cast herself as his stout defender.

    In an otherwise civil two-hour discourse, Sanders called her allegation "a low blow" and cited his frequent support of Obama's presidency, asking her: "Have you ever disagreed with the president?"

    Obviously striving to bounce back from her 22-point loss in the Granite State, Clinton defended Obamacare, the failed forerunner of which was often called Hillarycare in her husband's presidency, and said she would build on the existing Affordable Care Act pushed through by Obama.

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Five myths about love

    Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is detectable on an fMRI scan? Poets have written about love for millennia, but only recently has it become a subject of serious scientific pursuit. Psychologists, biologists, economists and anthropologists are all investigating the role of love in our lives and our culture. The poets, it turns out, have gotten a lot right (for example, the metaphor of love as a kind of madness gained credence when one study found a chemical resemblance between romantic love and obsessive-compulsive disorder). But we still have a lot to learn. Maybe love will always be part myth, but it's worth debunking a few of our more outdated ideas.

 

    1. Women are more romantic than men.

    The central premise of many relationship advice columns is that women need more romance; it's up to the clueless, sex-crazed men out there to provide it.

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Exploring new frontier of negative interest rates

    When central banks start exploring strange new worlds, the results aren't always ideal.

    Quantitative easing wasn't just a change in monetary policy, but a whole new kind of monetary policy -- a journey into the unknown. It isn't over yet, but there's already a debate about drawbacks and unintended consequences. With that question far from resolved, another adventure in super-loose monetary policy has begun: negative interest rates. This week, as global markets plunged, unforeseen complications have arisen there too.

    Shares in European banks suffered especially badly during this renewed market turmoil. There was more than one reason, but negative rates seem to be implicated. Banks' deposits at the European Central Bank now pay minus 0.3 percent, and a further cut has been advertised for next month. The idea is to encourage banks to lend more (rather than sit on idle balances) and to lower the cost of capital for riskier borrowers. The new concern is that negative rates have squeezed banks' profits and put their soundness in question.

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