Archive

March 29th, 2016

Virginia's needed 'Moneyball' moment

    Virginia's criminal-justice system desperately needs a Billy Beane "Moneyball" moment.

    For anyone who missed the Michael Lewis bestseller or didn't catch the Oscar-nominated movie, Beane was the Oakland Athletics general manager who brought empirical analysis to the practice of recruiting talent and building professional baseball teams. Beane eschewed the traditional method of management based on hunches and stagnant aphorisms - basically consulting an old man in the stands with binoculars following his gut - in favor of an objective, statistical approach. After facing intense resistance to his ideas, Beane's team thrived despite having a smaller payroll than most competitors.

    Since then, the power of information has become manifest. Data and analysis have supplanted intangibles and intuition in a series of industries.

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Though battered for seven years, Michelle Obama doesn't show the bruises

    I recently attended a White House event that featured the cast of the Broadway hit "Hamilton." But it was the host for the occasion who was most impressive: first lady Michelle Obama, still standing tall, chin up, despite nearly eight years of enduring the kind of crudities that the wives of some of the current presidential candidates are starting to get a taste of.

    Personal insults in politics are certainly nothing new, and even first ladies have long been regarded as fair game. But racial contempt for the Obamas and the development of so many new ways to express it resulted in an unprecedented barrage of ugliness toward her.

    In a speech to graduates at Tuskegee University in Alabama last year, she recalled having "a lot of sleepless nights . . . fearing how my girls would feel if they found out what some people were saying about their mom."

    But it's not just uncivil discourse that poisons the political environment.

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Trump-Cruz police state exists. It's called France.

    Imagine if Ted Cruz or Donald Trump proposed a policy to monitor thousands of Muslim citizens even if they had no specific ties to terrorist groups. Then, for good measure, they called for a new law to allow the police to search the homes of suspected terrorists without a warrant and to place terror suspects under house arrest without a court order.

    Sounds like a nightmare. One can imagine the indignation. Pundits and politicians of good conscience would intone against the politics of fear. Some on the right would respond that political correctness should not be a barrier to counterterrorism.

    But what I have just described is not a Republican sound bite. Rather, it is the current counterterrorism posture of France. Since the attacks in Paris last November, the socialist government of President Francois Hollande has placed his country under a state of emergency.

    France's national guard has been deployed to protect sensitive religious sites and other "soft targets." The country of Voltaire, Diderot and Camus is in 2016 the police state that critics warn Cruz or Trump would bring about if given the chance.

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Republican Self-Destruction

    Whatever one may think about the current president and the two Democrats duking it out to replace him, you have to admit that they have, by and large, conducted themselves with an admirable level of civility and couth becoming of the office.

    Not so for their Republican counterparts.

    Indeed, the entirety of the Republican Party seems dead set on convincing voters that it has lost its way and is spinning out of control, consumed with anger and devoid of answers.

    The two leading Republican presidential candidates engaged this week in a crude, sophomoric tiff involving insults of each other’s spouses. A nude picture of the front-runner’s wife was used in a Facebook ad. (I guess folks will have to get over their weird obsession with Michelle Obama’s bare arms if a fully bare naked cover model becomes first lady.) One man threatened to “spill the beans” about the other’s wife; the other responded with a “sniveling coward” quip.

    It was all so depressingly lowbrow.

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Trump, Cruz, Kasich and the Ladies

    Let’s talk about the Republican presidential candidates ... and women.

    Not the fight about who has the prettiest wife, which truly tops this week’s list of Things We Never Thought We’d See in a Presidential Election. That was the dust-up in which Donald Trump tweeted an image of his wife, Melania, a former model, next to a rather unflattering picture of Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi. Cruz called Trump “a sniveling coward” and delivered a stirring tribute to his spouse that would have been even more moving if it had not been lifted from the 1995 film “The American President.”

    He also said, “Trump may be a rat, but I have no desire to copulate with him.” There was no indication what the hell that meant, but it definitely did not come from an old Michael Douglas movie.

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Obamacare is on back burner in presidential race

    No issue has aroused more partisan passion over the past six years than the Affordable Care Act. Yet the law is playing only a secondary role in the U.S. elections.

    Sure, Republican presidential candidates cater to their base by vowing to repeal and replace Obamacare, and on the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont promises to replace it with a government-run universal coverage system.

    But it doesn't dominate the dialogue and isn't a top priority on either side. Among the most embattled Senate Republican incumbents, the campaign websites of New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte, Mark Kirk of Illinois or Ron Johnson of Wisconsin barely mention the ACA. An exception is Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

    The explanation may be that for all its controversy and imperfections, the sweeping law has taken hold. "This is in the fabric of the nation," says Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell.

    To be sure, the presidential election outcome will be a determinant of whether Obamacare is reshaped, bolstered or downsized.

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Revolution incorporated: How Clinton can bring Sanders supporters into the fold

    With the Republican presidential race careening toward a fractious convention in Cleveland and Donald Trump warning of riots, the coming Democratic convention has garnered little comment. But don't expect Philadelphia to be all brotherly love. Reconciling Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and their respective camps, will take some work.

    Yes, modern party conventions have been turned into slickly packaged made-for-TV unity fests: Carefully vetted speakers deliver carefully crafted messages, while any disagreements are settled off-camera. And yes, Barack Obama and Clinton thoroughly made amends after a bitter primary season eight years ago. But there's far more ideological conflict between this year's candidates than between Clinton and Obama in 2008.

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Could the urge to vote against Trump help bridge Clinton's enthusiasm gap?

    Elections are about enthusiasm.

    Pundits will tell you, for example, that Virginia is a purple state. They are wrong. Virginia is sometimes a red state and sometimes a blue state but never a purple state.

    An unenthusiastic Virginia - when only 2.2 million people vote - is red. Any Democrat will have an extremely difficult time breaking 50 percent statewide when turnout is 2.2 million voters. Thus in the 2013 governor's race, Terry McAuliffe actually lost the overall vote by about 5 percentage points, when 2.2 million voted, but the non-Democratic vote was split between a Republican and a tea partyer (who got 6.5 percent of the vote) running on the Libertarian line, giving McAuliffe his 2.5-percentage-point win. And in 2014, another unenthusiastic year, more or less the same 2.2 million voted, making Virginia again a red state. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner - the most popular politician statewide - lost the overall vote by more than a percentage point. But the tea partyer again ran and got 2.4 percent of the vote, giving Warner his slim win over Republican Ed Gillespie.

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No, America isn't 100 percent safe from terrorism. And that's a good thing.

    Admit it. After the terrorist attacks in Brussels this past week, after the brief reflection for those lost or wounded and the sense of "oh, no, not again" passed, other thoughts quickly followed. My own selfish but natural worry, as a mother of three: Should we cancel that trip to Europe this summer?

    And the questions I've fielded from family and friends, as a professional in homeland security and counterterrorism in the nearly 15 years since 9/11, have varied but never ceased: Should I buy a gun? (Only with training and safety measures at home, and certainly not to combat Islamic terrorists.) Is Times Square safe on New Year's Eve? (Like every crowd scene, you have to stay alert, but security is high at events like that.) Or my personal favorite, because it combines parental insecurities with disaster management: Is Tulane a good school so many years after Hurricane Katrina? (Yes; it had a few rough months, but your kid should still apply.)

    All these queries about a world in mayhem boil down to: Is my family safe? The answer is both simple and liberating: No, not entirely. America was built vulnerable, and thank goodness for that.

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A hollowed-out Republican Party

    Seldom in American politics has a major party offered more evidence of self-destruction than the Republicans are displaying right now in their quest for a 2016 presidential nominee.

    Starting with an inflated field of 17 unimpressive candidates, now whittled down to three -- New York celebrity businessman Donald Trump, freshman Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich -- the GOP has been putting on an image-crushing circus.

    By lack of political skill or just plain spinelessness, the shattered party establishment has enabled Trump to hijack the party of Lincoln, Reagan and, yes, the Bushes. It is headed toward the brink of a Goldwater-proportion defeat in November, leaving a shell from which to rebuild a very uncertain future.

    The GOP establishment first pinned much of its hopes on the well-heeled candidacy of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, he of the Trump-described "low energy." Now it is scrambling to avert a train wreck with The Donald at the controls.

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