Archive

February 16th, 2016

The Absurdity Of It All

    Having long complained about what we in the Western World pay for entertainment as compared to the necessities of life, I should not be surprised at the figures coming out of Super Bowl Fifty.  Nevertheless, it is mind boggling. 

    At this point I am not referring to the over the top amounts paid to the players but what would-be attendees do and pay to get tickets and the additional cost once inside. I can't help but think that the old saying of "more money than sense" applies.  It is reported that tickets valued at $500 were offered on line at $28,000. 

    My daily newspaper quoted a man paying $16,000 each for tickets for himself and wife saying that it was worth it for all the fun.  One luxury suit on the fifty-yard line rented for $350,000.

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On Economic Stupidity

    Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign famously focused on “the economy, stupid.” But macroeconomic policy — what to do about recessions — has been largely absent from this year’s election discussion.

    Yet economic risks have by no means been banished from the world. And you should be frightened by how little many of the people who would be president have learned from the past eight years.

    If you’ve been following the financial news, you know that there’s a lot of market turmoil out there. It’s nothing like 2008, at least so far, but it’s worrisome.

    Once again we have a substantial amount of troubled debt, this time not home mortgages but loans to energy companies, hit hard by plunging oil prices. Meanwhile, formerly trendy emerging economies like Brazil are suddenly doing very badly, and China is stumbling. And while the U.S. economy is doing better than almost anyone else’s, we’re definitely not immune to contagion.

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February 15th

Understanding the 'Bernie Bros'

    Sometimes I think I learned more politically relevant lessons playing ball than anywhere else. If nothing else, sports teach realism: what you can do, what you can't, how to deal with it. Also, what's the score, how much time's left, and what's the best tactic right now?

    It helps to know the rules, and it's important to keep your head. Bad plays are inevitable, dumb plays less forgivable.

    But here's something else you learn playing ball: Not everybody on your team is going to be your friend, just as people wearing different-colored shirts aren't personal enemies. Also, spectators can be fickle. Your most passionate fans can quickly turn into your opponent's ally.

    These are all useful concepts during an American primary election.

    An athlete in his youth, Bernie Sanders appears to understand overwrought fans. His campaign's apology to Hillary Clinton supporters harassed online by so-called "Bernie Bros," angry young men given to coarse attacks upon anybody -- especially women -- supporting his rival was a class move.

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The 5 Republicans who could be president

    We began with more than 20 Republican candidates. Seventeen made it to a formal announcement. Eleven reached Iowa. Now six remain; and with former surgeon Ben Carson going nowhere, only five have a chance to win the nomination. Here is how each of them could do that.

    - Billionaire Donald Trump wins by repeating what he did in New Hampshire. As long as the rest of the field is split, he'll benefit in two ways: Negative ads will be aimed at other Republicans, and a third of the vote will be enough to win.

    It remains an unlikely path. Losers drop out. Before long Trump will probably have only one or two opponents. This is bad news for a candidate who remains unpopular among many Republicans and appeared vulnerable to negative ads in Iowa. His ability to dominate the media has been his greatest strength, but that's more difficult now than it was before Iowa, and it will continue to get harder.

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Some Sage Advice for Hillary Clinton

    I come not to rebuke Hillary Clinton, who remains by far the most capable presidential candidate. I come bearing advice for her campaign.

    Hillary, this is something you sorely need.

 

    1. Understand that New Hampshire didn't owe you anything. "New Hampshire had been good for the Clintons," we kept hearing. Its primary saved Bill's hide in the 1992 presidential race. In 2008, it gave you a needed boost when the sisterhood, enraged at perceived sexist attacks, rushed to your defense.

    But what did any of this have to do with 2016?

 

    2. Women don't owe you anything, either. Which side was paying Gloria Steinem to disparage younger women who chose to vote for Bernie Sanders? She said they were chasing boys; can you imagine? And what prompted Madeleine Albright to say that women should vote to help other women as opposed to helping their country?

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Republicans make the case for Obamacare

    The Republican presidential candidates are pitching President Obama's health-care law.

    Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wants to "ensure those with pre-existing health conditions can get access to affordable coverage." Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wants to "delink health insurance from employment." Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush favors letting employers "use financial incentives to encourage wellness programs." Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants to use episode-based payments to hold down costs, and let doctors and hospitals share the savings from reduced spending.

    What each of those proposals has in common is that Obamacare is already doing it. Passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act prevents insurers from charging higher premiums based on your medical history. It built subsidized, regulated insurance markets for people who don't get coverage through their job. It increased the rewards employers can offer for joining a wellness program. And it created pilot programs in Medicare to advance accountable-care organizations and bundled payments, exactly the ideas Kasich supports.

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President wanted; experienced candidates need not apply

    With the first two nominating contests out of the way, each party's field remains split along ideological lines. But there also is a deep divide separating candidates who stress their governance experience and those who cast such a background as irrelevant or even a liability when it comes to fixing a "broken" or "rigged" system.

    For Republicans, the New Hampshire primary campaign was, to a large extent, about this choice. After a weak showing in Iowa, the three Republican governors, Ohio's John Kasich, Jeb Bush, formerly of Florida, and New Jersey's Chris Christie, did their best to push their executive experience as the main selling point. Kasich campaigned on his success in balancing Ohio's budget, Bush stressed his "steady hand" in Florida and Christie his success in cleaning up New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the campaign in New Hampshire was Christie's goading of Sen. Marco Rubio during Saturday's Republican debate: "You have not been involved in a consequential decision where you had to be held accountable. You just simply haven't."

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Photos deserve 'fair use' protection, too

    It's been called "ridiculously petty" and a "hissy fit," but a copyright lawsuit filed by the New York Times against the author and publisher of a book critical of the newspaper's war photography could turn out to be good news for commentators on our image-saturated culture - if it gets to court.

    The book is "War Is Beautiful" by David Shields, who argues that from the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, the Times systematically selected front-page photographs that "glamorized war and the sacrifices made in the service of war." To make his case, he reproduces 64 photographs, each on a separate page, and classifies them into categories such as "Father," "Painting," "Movie," and "Pietà," based on their aesthetic elements. Inside the back cover, the book shows the photos in their original context, with a thumbnail of each front page, about 2 inches by 3 inches. (The cover also includes essays meant to be read as part of the text, making it more integral than the usual dust jacket.)

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NSA is massively reorganizing itself in a way that's going to hurt its credibility

    The National Security Agency has been having a tough time the last couple of years, as it takes the blame for widespread surveillance. It has just announced a major reorganization plan under which its Signals Intelligence (spying) and Information Assurance (domestic protection) directorates are going to be combined in a new Directorate of Operations. From an internal perspective, this is a more rational way to use resources. Spying and protecting U.S. military networks from spying are closer than you might think. From an external perspective, it is likely to damage the NSA's credibility still further. Here's why.

    The NSA has two big responsibilities

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Justice Department has few tools to fix Ferguson

    The Department of Justice must have expected that the Ferguson, Missouri, City Council would stall in accepting the terms of a consent decree over allegations that the city's police and courts have violated black residents' civil rights. The department had a 56-page complaint for a lawsuit at the ready, and filed it just a day after the council demanded several changes to the negotiated draft.

    Presumably, Ferguson won't want the embarrassment or the expense of fighting a federal lawsuit. The department is using force as a negotiating tactic, and Ferguson will have to fold.

    Yet the episode raises a problem with roots in the history of civil-rights enforcement. What should the Department of Justice or the courts do if a city like Ferguson won't accept a deal, and insists on litigating alleged civil-rights violations to completion?

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