Archive

January 24th, 2016

The whole GOP goes rogue

    The fixed smile on Donald Trump's face as Sarah Palin unleashed her free-association, who-knows-what-she'll-say-next harangue endorsing him on Tuesday sent its own message. "How long do I have to stand here?" it seemed to say. But of all the developments in the astonishing Republican presidential contest, this moment told us what we need to know about the state of a once-great political party.

    Consider the forces that brought Palin to the national stage in the first place. In 2008, John McCain, running behind Barack Obama in the polls, wanted to shake up the contest by picking a moderate as his running mate. His first choice was Sen. Joe Lieberman, and he also liked former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

    But McCain won the nomination against the will of the Republican right as more conservative candidates had fractured their side's vote. "He is not the choice of conservatives, as opposed to the choice of the Republican establishment -- and that distinction is key," said Rush Limbaugh, using language that is now oh-so-familiar. The establishment, Limbaugh charged, had "long sought to rid the party of conservative influence."

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The Supreme Court asked four questions about Obama's immigration initiative

    The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case assessing the legality of the immigration initiatives announced by President Barack Obama in November 2014.

    As you'll recall, Obama proposed to make it easier for as many as 5.5 million people now living in the U.S. illegally to stay and to work. (There are about 11 million such people in all; these figures are from the 5th Circuit Court decision from November 2015.) Saying that he wanted to deport "felons, not families," the president announced that he would expand his program of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and create another, larger one: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA).

    These directives were not executive orders. Rather, the Secretary of Homeland Security issued guidance to law enforcement officials, reshaping their "removal priorities." The upshot was that in certain circumstances, the deportation of (1) young people brought to the U.S.as children and (2) parents of U.S. citizens would be deferred, and that in the meantime they would be able to work legally in the U.S.

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Medicare paperwork for all

    In making his case for universal health care, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has reignited a debate over whether the U.S. should have a single-payer system. It would simplify the administration of health insurance, but his proposal is nevertheless ill-advised -- not least because it's possible to simplify billing and claims processing in health care without making such an extreme change.

    In 2014, the net cost of health insurance in the U.S. was almost $200 billion, most of which was for billing and related expenses (as opposed to things like premium taxes and profits). These costs can readily be lowered. After all, other countries with mixed private-public systems -- including the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany -- have administrative processes that cost 25 to 60 percent less than ours.

    Although the Affordable Care Act included some provisions aimed at cutting administrative costs, much more can be done. The Center for American Progress has assembled several proposals that it estimates could save $40 billion a year.

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Let 18-Year-Olds Drink

    In America, alleged land of freedom, a 19-year-old soldier just back from Afghanistan can't sidle up to a bar and legally order a beer. 

    In supposedly regulation-crazed Europe, meanwhile, an 18-year-old can order a martini. In the beer-drinking cultures of Belgium and Germany, a 16-year-old can ask for beer or wine.

    Do you detect a flaw in this story?

    Prohibition has been gone for over 80 years. Most agree that it was worse than the disease it was meant to eradicate -- the scourge of drunkenness. Nowadays, backers of drug legalization rightly hold up Prohibition as their model for failed policy.

    Yet we see few arguments for lowering the national drinking age from the current 21 to 18, where it was until 1984. On the contrary, the public is still being pummeled by "expert" studies linking virtually any alcohol consumption to a variety of maladies, from cancer to road fatalities.

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Global innovation may have a 1 percent problem

    Just in time for the start of this year's World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Oxfam has released another report on income equality in the world. According to the report ("An Economy for the 1%), the top 1 percent of the world's population now owns more than the next 99 percent combined. Even more distressingly, the 62 wealthiest people on the planet own the same amount of wealth as 50 percent of humanity.

    If you take a look at the Oxfam data showing the distribution of wealth in the world, it's clear that something very profound is happening. Since the turn of the century, the pace of income inequality has actually accelerated rather than stabilized. During that time period, the wealth of the bottom half of humanity fell by more than a trillion dollars, a decline of 41 percent. That's because the poorest half of the world's population has received just 1 percent of the total increase in global wealth since 2000, while half of that increase has gone to the top 1 percent.

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First-generation college students are not succeeding in college

    Christopher Feaster lived in a homeless shelter in Washington for most of high school. Laundry was a once-a-month luxury. "I would have to re-wear socks," he says. "They were white socks, but they were so dirty that they were brown and sometimes they were starting to go black. I had to re-wear underwear because I didn't have clean underwear."

    Homeless students face terrible odds of graduating high school, but Christopher excelled at school. A young man with an easy smile and bubbly personality, he maintained close relationships with his teachers and took part in a long list of extracurricular activities. He was the poster child for grit and determination. And it finally paid off: During his senior year, Christopher won $200,000 in college scholarships. His mother, teachers and classmates cheered, and in the fall, he headed off to Michigan State University, planning on a career in hospitality.

    A year later, he dropped out.

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Donald Trump is repaying a debt to Sarah Palin

    Returning to the political stage this week to endorse Donald Trump, Sarah Palin showed that she is, well, still Sarah Palin. With every sentence a mouthful of gobbled words, misplaced modifiers and mixed tenses, all delivered in a high pitch, she accomplished the parlor trick of missing the point while going too far:

    "He's got the guts to wear the issues that need to be spoken about and debate on his sleeve, where the rest of some of these establishment candidates, they just wanted to duck and hide. They didn't want to talk about these issues until he brought 'em up. In fact, they've been wearing a, this, political correctness kind of like a suicide vest."

    Suicide vest references aren't as bad as allusions to the Holocaust but they're still not advisable. There were more unparseables as she took after President Barack Obama, returning as always to his early career as a community organizer, this time as the explanation for what she regards as a weak foreign policy:

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Clinton takes on an intelligence watchdog

    Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign Wednesday accused the intelligence community's top oversight official of conspiring with Republicans in the Senate to leak sensitive information about her personal e-mail server. That's a risky move, considering that it has produced no hard evidence of a conspiracy and the accused parties are denying it.

    The public dispute between the former Secretary of State and the inspector general of the Intelligence Community reached new heights following Tuesday's report by Fox News on a letter sent by inspector general I. Charles McCullough to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn. In the letter, McCullough stated that he had received sworn declarations from two separate intelligence agencies that cover "several dozen e- mails" on Clinton's private server. These e-mails were determined by these agencies to contain information that should have been treated as secret, top secret, and "SAP," an abbreviation that refers to "special access programs," which are among the most sensitive in the government.

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Why U.S. stopped being a startup nation

    For years, economists have been warning that something seems very wrong with the fundamentals of the U.S. economy. We think of the U.S. as a dynamic country of entrepreneurs and independent business owners, but this is a lot less true than it used to be. As economists Ryan Decker (now of the Federal Reserve Board) and others have demonstrated, the rate at which new businesses start up in the U.S. has been in decline. Until 2000, most of that decline was the result of big chain stores and restaurants pushing out local businesses. But since the turn of the century, high-growth companies are also forming at lower rates. The Silicon Valley startup boom we read about in the news is the exception, not the rule.

    What is the reason for this troubling trend? Many explanations have been proposed, but one favorite theory on the free-market right is that government has been choking off entrepreneurialism with a thicket of regulation. For example, Ryan Streeter, director of the Center for Politics and Governance at the University of Texas-Austin, writes:

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The problem with attacking America's 'billionaire' class

    Thirty-six years ago, a local gadfly's column in a free Vermont weekly argued passionately for "democratic control" of television, so as to rid the industry of corporate advertisers who believe that "people should be treated as morons and bombarded over and over again with the same simple phrases and ideas."

    Today, that gadfly, Bernie Sanders, is a U.S. senator, and he's gaining traction as a challenger to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination - by bombarding people over and over again with the same simple phrases and ideas.

    For the Bern, no generalization is too sweeping: "The business model of Wall Street is fraud." "Make college tuition free and debt free." "Health care must be recognized as a right, not a privilege." Then there's "the billionaire class," as in, We need people "to stand up to the billionaire class."

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