Archive

March 19th, 2016

Let Trump Make Our Trans-Pacific Trade Deal

    What if the United States had had a truly savvy deal maker like Donald Trump negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade accord instead of the wimpy Obama team? I mean, be honest, folks, would you let Barack Obama sell your house? I’ve researched the deal and concluded Trump would have gotten us this:

    He would have begun by saying “a baby could figure out” that since 80 percent of the goods from our 11 TPP partners come into our country duty-free already, and so much of our stuff is still hit with tariffs in their countries, if we eliminate 18,000 tariffs we’ll be able to keep more production at home and sell more abroad. “We’ll export so much we’ll actually get tired of exporting,” Trump would say.

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Kasich, the Boulder Between the GOP and Trump

    Wow, John Kasich.

    The governor of Ohio is not normally a person you’d connect with a “wow.” Maybe a “jeepers.” Or a “huh!” But here he is! The medium-size, crinkly-eyed boulder between the Republican Party and Donald Trump.

    Kasich got more than 40 percent of the vote in Ohio, which might be the only non-Trump-triumphant saga of the night. There was a time, people, when you would really not have been throwing confetti in the air just because a Republican governor who believes “you’ve got to help people that are downtrodden and poor” won the presidential primary in his own state. But we are where we are.

    “I labored in obscurity for so long!” said the triumphant governor, whose most celebrated victory until now was coming in second in New Hampshire with 16 percent of the vote. Now he’s having dreams about a contested convention where delegates flee from the specters of Trump and Ted Cruz into his arms.

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March 18th

My autistic son has the right to vote

    A while back, someone at a conference told me that intellectually disabled people with guardians could not vote. I believed it and stuffed away thoughts about taking my severely autistic son, Nat, to get registered. It was one more stinging "no" in his life. I should be used to it by now, but I'm not.

    Recently, however, I noticed the Twitter hashtag #CripTheVote, which is a rallying call to political candidates to take note of this huge constituency. As a disability rights advocate, I retweeted dutifully. The shadow of sadness for Nat never quite cleared, though, and one day I found myself angry about it: Why couldn't Nat vote? Who was to say that he couldn't make such decisions for himself?

    But the objections, the whispers, the doubt in people's eyes. I imagined a Town Hall bureaucrat skeptically appraising Nat with lidded lizard eyes. Or that other kind, the overly helpful person who treats Nat like a child. I imagined everyone thinking: He can't possibly understand the issues. He'll need assistance in the booth. The voting volunteers will hassle him. You're really doing this so you can vote twice.

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Deny her 95-year-old grandma burial at Arlington National Cemetery? No way.

    Oh, they've made exceptions. The men in charge of approving coveted plots at Arlington National Cemetery have made hundreds of exceptions to the strict military rules about who gets buried there.

    A chief White House usher was an exception. As were a doctor who developed an oral vaccine against polio, an ambassador and a national security advisor. And don't forget the retired brigadier general, Charles F. Blair Jr., who didn't meet the military requirements, but was married to a famous Hollywood actress, Maureen O'Hara. Right here, sir, we have a spot.

    But when it comes to a World War II pilot who happens to be a woman? Nope. No exception available. No space in Arlington for you, Second Lt. Elaine Danforth Harmon.

    This isn't some long-standing, sexist rule that's keeping Harmon, who died at 95 a year ago, from being given full military honors at Arlington. This is last year's reversal of the eligibility that female pilots were granted in 2002.

    Still think women's rights aren't seeing a backslide?

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A less costly stimulus for battling recession

    What should the U.S. government do to fight recessions? What should it do to fight slow growth? This is the eternal question of so-called countercyclical policy. The two mainstream ideas are fiscal and monetary stimulus. The fiscal version works by having the government borrow and spend money, either on useful things like infrastructure, or by simply mailing people checks. The typical monetary variety works by having the Federal Reserve swap money for financial assets, which lowers interest rates.

    Unfortunately, both of these methods have major drawbacks. Fiscal stimulus is dependent on Congress, which these days doesn't tend to respond in a rapid, reliable or even a responsible way. Monetary stimulus just doesn't seem to work very well when interest rates are near zero -- the impact of quantitative easing, for example, was questionable.

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A few do's and don'ts regarding trust in science

    It's been a tough year for science. The American Statistical Association just issued a statement scolding scientists for misusing statistical analysis. Scientists continued to fight over an evaluation of 100 psychological studies, most of which could not be reproduced. Critics have cast doubt on a widely believed psychological theory of human willpower.

    So yes, science is fallible. Scientists are only human and science is not a synonym for truth. It's a bumpy, meandering road that heads in that general direction.

    That makes skepticism good, up to a point. Beyond that point lie nonsense and superstition. The Earth really is round.

    So how do you tell what to believe?

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A chilling mathematical model of inequality

    Economists have offered various explanations for the frustrating slowness of global growth, from excessive debt to a shifting balance of power bringing an end to an American century. A new analysis suggests there's one that deserves greater attention: the chilling effect of inequality.

    Think of an economy as a large network of individuals and firms who make and use things, interact and exchange with one another. Any party can, in principle, transact with any other, buying and selling, the only constraint being the budget of the buyer. Economists have studied network models of this sort -- called random exchange economies -- to explore how normal trading activity might (or might not) make an economy approach equilibrium.

    Now some European physicists have used such a model to examine a different question: How does a significant change in inequality affect the overall level of exchange? Their study makes use of some fairly abstruse mathematics coming from physics, developed precisely for messy network problems of this kind. What they find is troubling, although not all that surprising -- rising inequality tends to undermine exchange.

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Trump wines are pretty good, but I can't put them on restaurant menus

    Over the weekend, President Barack Obama weighed in on one of the pressing issues in the campaign for the Republican nomination to succeed him in the White House.

    No, not how to stop Donald Trump - but whether the wine that bears his name is any good. "Has anybody bought that wine? I want to know what that wine tastes like," Obama said at a Democratic Party fundraiser in Dallas on Saturday. "I mean, come on. You know that's like some $5 wine. They slap a label on it. They charge you $50 and say it's the greatest wine ever."

    As those of us who live near the winery know, though, the real shame about Trump Winery is not that its wines are not good. It's that some of them actually are - but these days, their association with the GOP frontrunner is likely to keep them off wine lists they otherwise belong on.

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The real Super Tuesday arrives

    Amid a rise in violence between protesters and supporters of Donald Trump at his weekend rallies, a new cloud hangs over today's five Republican primaries, which could affect his chances to narrow the field in his stampede toward the presidential nomination.

    Although a dozen delegate-selecting Republican contests took place two weeks ago, the voting today in Florida, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina figures to be more significant in determining whether Donald Trump can yet be stopped.

    Of the five primaries, Trump's victories in Florida and Ohio could drive two of his remaining three challengers, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Gov. John Kasich of Ohio, from the race. That result would leave only Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who has already won his own state, to take Trump on in a two-man showdown the rest of the way to the July convention in Cleveland..

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Supreme Court's precedent backs Donald Trump

    The melee at the Donald Trump rally Friday night in Chicago raises a fundamental First Amendment question: When a speaker, such as the Republican presidential candidate, is confronting angry protesters, whose speech rights come first: the speaker's or the protesters'?

    The U.S. Supreme Court's answer to this question has evolved over the years. At one time, the court was ambivalent, sometimes favoring the speaker and sometimes willing to shut down the speaker to avoid public disorder.

    Today, however, the norm is clear: Protesters who disrupt a rally can be removed by police so that they don't exercise what's called a heckler's veto over the rally's organizer. It shouldn't matter whether it's the Ku Klux Klan interrupting a civil-rights speaker or civil-rights protesters interrupting a racist diatribe. The law considers the speaker's rights as paramount.

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