Archive

May 22nd, 2016

Sanders and party establishment need to cool tensions

    As Bernie Sanders and his enthusiastic followers cling to their hope to survive in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination, some of them seem to be veering into self-destructive behavior more associated with the rival Republicans.

    The evidence came last weekend in an ugly spectacle in Las Vegas, where Sanders supporters hurled epithets in a state convention melee over allocation of delegates to the July national party convention. Nevada's Democratic state chairwoman, Roberta Lange, claims she also received threats of violence.

    Lange insisted she was following party rules in giving the rival Hillary Clinton campaign the majority, in keeping with her winning both the most votes and delegates in the state's February caucuses. She noted that a credentials committee involved in the allocations had equal representation from the Sanders and Clinton camps.

    But Sanders accused the Nevada state party leadership of using "its power to prevent a fair and transparent process from taking place." Lange said the Clinton camp had simply out-organized the Sanders team at the weekend event.

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Leaving Europe is a risk Britain should avoid

    The British electorate does not need Americans to tell them how to vote in the June 23 referendum, and I wouldn't dare try. I have always had great admiration for the British people -- and great respect for the country's democratic traditions. But from across the Atlantic, we Yanks are watching the campaign closely -- and many of us who have deep personal and business ties to Britain can't help but take a close interest.

    The special relationship between Britain and U.S. holds a special place in my heart, and not just because I had the great privilege of being named an honorary Knight of the British Empire by the Queen in 2014. I consider London my second home, my daughters hold British passports (thanks to their British mother), the company I founded employs nearly 4,000 people here, and we have long supported some of London's world-class cultural institutions.

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For cheap rent, build expensive housing, then wait

    The new housing that developers have been building in America's cities in recent years hasn't necessarily been cheap housing.

    This is perhaps most glaringly apparent in Manhattan, where the prices of condominiums in the skinny skyscrapers going up just south of Central Park range from $17 million to $100 million. But it's true even in Houston, where developers have been putting up lots and lots of apartment buildings. This is from the May "Economy at a Glance" report by the Greater Houston Partnership, a regional business group:

    "With a few exceptions, developers don't build Class B units. Of the 24,000-plus units currently in 'lease-up,' only 500 are Class B. Sub-A inventory tends to expand as properties age, floor plans become dated, and structures deteriorate. Only if owners neglect their investments during the downturn will we see a large number of Class A units slide into the Class B market."

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Did bombing Hiroshima save Japanese lives?

    "Yoshikado-sensei said, 'They're still there. Spear them! Spear them!' and it was really fun. I was tired, but I realized that even one person can kill a lot of the enemy."

    So wrote Mihoko Nakane, a 10-year-old Japanese girl, in her diary in July 1945. She was describing the hand-to-hand combat training she and her classmates were getting for the "decisive battle" to be fought if and when the U.S. and its allies invaded mainland Japan.

    It's one of many sobering vignettes recounted in Samuel Yamashita's recently published "Daily Life in Wartime Japan." Drawing on more than 100 wartime diaries, Yamashita offers snapshots of how Japanese civilians mobilized for war, celebrated their military's initial stunning victories, obeyed (or resisted) their government's edicts, and endured the tightening circles of hardship that culminated in the collapse of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

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Clinton, Sanders and 'visionary gradualism'

    The success of Bernie Sanders' insurgency is a marvel and an achievement.

    His showing is a mark of the anger and frustration felt by so many Americans over the abuses of capitalism that led to the crash of 2008. With the help of millions of voters, especially the young, he has broadened a political debate long hemmed in by the dominance of conservative assumptions and the stifling of progressive aspirations.

    Sanders has put a progressive alternative to Obamacare (a single-payer system) back on the political agenda. He has offered a sweeping plan to provide free public college education for all Americans, and spoken indefatigably about the corrupting influence of money on our political system.

    After hearing an endless stream of preposterous attacks on President Obama as a socialist, we now know what the real thing looks like. And many more Americans now realize that the words "democratic socialism" refer to popular movements in rather attractive places (Denmark, Norway, Sweden) and not to the old Soviet Union.

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Chinese government fakes nearly 450 million social media comments a year

    Internet researchers have long known that the Chinese government manipulates content on the Internet. Not only does it engage in heavy censorship, but it also employs hundreds of thousands of people, the so-called "50 cent army," to write comments on the Internet. New research by Gary King, Jennifer Pan and Margaret Roberts (whom I'll refer to as KPR for convenience) uses sophisticated techniques of gathering and analyzing massive amounts of data to tell us what is going on.

    - The fake commenters are being paid by the government.

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May 21st

Sanders is leading his movement over a cliff

    At this point, the best thing Bernie Sanders's supporters can probably do for his reputation is to vote against him in the remaining primaries and caucuses.

    Hillary Clinton long ago wrapped up the nomination. Tuesday's results -- her narrow victory in Kentucky and his win by about 10 percentage points in Oregon -- doesn't change anything: It's over. If you include super-delegates, Clinton is only about 100 delegates away from clinching, and with Democratic proportional allocation she is basically guaranteed to get there.

    Yet the closer Clinton gets to her official victory, the more Sanders and his campaign act as if the nomination was unfairly stolen from him -- that somehow the doors of the party have been unfairly closed against his followers. This culminated in an ugly scene in Nevada last weekend, with Sanders supporters threatening Democratic Party officials there.

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A very important post about … the global governance of superheroes

    (WARNING: this post contains plot spoilers to "Captain America: Civil War." Also, this column is called 'Spoiler Alerts,' for goodness sake. You get the idea.)

    The plot question that sets "Captain America: Civil War" into motion is the very important question of whether the Avengers should comply with an international regime that will monitor and deploy superheroes. Tony Stark -- a.k.a. Iron Man -- wants to comply with the Sokovia Accords, designed to put constraints on the superheroes. He sees the way the political winds are blowing after some costly collateral damage in New York, D.C., Sokovia and Lagos, and thinks that agreeing now will be better than agreeing later. Steve Rogers -- a.k.a. Captain America -- rejects being the puppets of a remote international regime. He worries that a U.N.-controlled body will use the Avengers to serve its own political agenda and not do the right thing.

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Will 'President Hillary Clinton' open the X-Files?

    If "the truth is out there," as they used to say on the old "X-Files" program, Hillary Clinton says she's eager to expose it.

    No, she's not talking about her controversial email server, although an FBI investigation is looking into that, too.

    She's talking about UFOs (unidentified flying objects) or, as she corrected Jimmy Kimmel when he recently asked her on his late-night-TV show about possible visitors from other planets, "unexplained aerial phenomena" -- or U.A.P.

    "That's the latest nomenclature," she said, scoring points, no doubt, with UFO -- or UAP -- enthusiasts.

    Barring any threats to national security, the former secretary of state said, she would open up government files on little green visitors or whoever else may have paid us a visit from other planets.

    It would be easier, I suppose, than opening up the texts to her high-priced speeches to Goldman Sachs, as requested by her Democratic rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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Uber Goes Under in Austin

    Pouty, whiney, spoiled-bratism isn’t nice coming from a four-year-old. But it’s altogether grotesque when it comes from billion-dollar corporations like Uber and Lyft.

    The two car-for-hire companies call their service “ridesharing.” But these internet-based brats are takers, not sharers: Much of the fares they charge riders ends up in the pockets of their hedge-fund owners.

    Still, they insist that they’re new-economy, tech-driven geniuses — and that they’re above the fusty old local laws that other transportation companies follow. Uber and Lyft have made it corporate policy to throw hissy fits when cities — from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Houston to Portland — have dared to even propose rules to protect customers and drivers.

    The latest tantrum from the Silicon Valley giants came in Austin, when the city council adopted a few modest, perfectly reasonable rules — like fingerprint-based background checks for drivers.

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