Archive

September 10th, 2016

Phyllis Schlafly's influence lives on in Donald Trump's candidacy

    Rest in peace, Phyllis Schlafly. I respected her for her leadership skills, even when she campaigned against almost all of the causes that I supported.

    I also was often bewildered by her contradictions. In that I was not alone. Schlafly, who died Monday at age 92 in her home in St. Louis, was the quintessential anti-feminist leader in the 1970s, yet she lived a life that embodied in many ways the feminist dream.

    She was a proud wife and mother but also a lawyer who built her own media empire, wrote or edited 20 books, published a monthly newsletter, wrote a syndicated newspaper column (a colleague!), produced radio commentaries, anchored a radio talk show and maintained stardom on the college lecture circuit.

    To me she was the anti-feminist feminist. She founded the Eagle Forum, a potent social conservative group, denounced feminism as promoting "power for the female left" and called "oppression by the patriarchy," among other feminist arguments, a "ridiculous idea."

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One university has a fix for the culture wars

    Last month, the University of Chicago appeared to pick sides in the latest iteration of America's culture wars. But it was really announcing just how silly those culture wars are -- and how to get past them.

    The school informed incoming students that its "commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called 'trigger warnings,' we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."

    Conservatives saw the letter as a political intervention, a courageous stand against "political correctness" -- as if the University of Chicago shared the concern of Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and others about left-wing orthodoxy on campus, in the media and political debates. But the letter's real lesson lies elsewhere. It's a political intervention that doesn't involve contemporary political issues at all.

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National parks offer opportunity to next president

    The next U.S. president will face the challenge of bringing two parties together following a polarizing election campaign and years of partisan gridlock. It will be no easy task, but small victories are possible to achieve quickly, and our national parks offer a golden opportunity for the next president and Congress to get off on the right foot.

    The National Park Service just celebrated its 100th birthday last month. Democrats and Republicans alike extolled the virtues of our parks, which are in blue and red states, rural areas and big cities. But despite strong bipartisan public support, the parks are in trouble. They face two major challenges that both parties -- and the National Park Service itself -- have failed to address for too long.

    The first is funding. In 2015, the NPS employed fewer people than it did in 2000, even though Congress created more than two dozen new national parks and monuments during that time and the number of visitors increased by 21 million. The parks also face a $12 billion backlog in repairs. As many visitors can attest, roads and other critical infrastructure are crumbling, trails need maintenance, and facilities are neglected.

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Marijuana could replace tobacco as sin-tax jackpot

    Is marijuana the new sin-tax gusher for the states? It sure looks that way.

    In November, voters in five states will decide on whether to allow recreational use of the drug, while citizens in four other states have the option of legalizing medical marijuana.

    Unlike the fierce battles of the past over decriminalization, resistance by governors, law-enforcement groups and state medical associations is down (though not entirely gone). The ability to collect mountains of new taxes could be a reason, judging from the experience of Colorado, where voters approved medical marijuana in 2000 and legalized its recreational use in 2012.

    For the fiscal year ending June 30, Colorado collected $157 million in marijuana taxes, licenses and fees, up 53 percent from a year earlier and almost four times what it has collected in alcohol excise taxes this year. Thanks to marijuana smokers, Colorado's public schools will receive $42 million, and local governments will get $10 million of the amount collected.

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September 9th

Elites Neglect Veterans

    At a special presidential forum on Wednesday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will appear back-to-back, take questions from military veterans and talk about how our country treats them.

    Wick Sloane’s complaint probably won’t come up, but I wish it would.

    Sloane teaches at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, and eight years ago, after discovering veterans among his students, he reached out to officials at his own alma maters, Williams College and Yale University, for any guidance they might have about working with this particular group.

    “They were bewildered,” he told me, because they’d had so little contact with veterans.

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Don't trust the polls, trust their average

    Yes, it's time for a back-to-school refresher class on how to read the presidential polls, which at this point are good indications of what will happen in November.

    First assignment: What to make of the CNN poll released Tuesday morning showing Donald Trump coming out on top, by two percentage points, over Hillary Clinton among likely voters.

    You've heard it a million times from me and others (such as political scientist Matthew Dickinson and number-cruncher Harry Enten): Look at the polling averages, not individual surveys.

    As Greg Sargent at the Plum Line explained it:

    "Surprising poll results can either be outliers, or can reflect statistical noise or short term fluctuations. Fortunately, we have a remedy for this: The polling averages, which have massive samples that cover longer periods of time and help screen out the noise. Depending on who is doing the averaging, Clinton is up by three (The Upshot), four (Real Clear Politics), or five (Huffpollster)."

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Cashing in on presidential prestige

    The president, as he prepared to leave office, was dead broke. So broke, in fact, that he had to take out a loan to get him through the transition. Bill Clinton in 2001? No, Harry Truman in 1953 -- and the resemblance ends there.

    Back then, although Truman had only a monthly Army pension of $112.56, he was adamant about not employing his presidential service to cash in. As biographer David McCullough relates, Truman turned down a new Toyota; a Miami real-estate development company's offer of "not less than $100,000" to come on board; an array of consulting gigs.

     "I could never lend myself to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency," Truman later wrote.

    Those were the days -- and even then they weren't, entirely. Months after leaving office, Truman sold the rights to his memoirs to Life magazine for $600,000 -- the equivalent of more than $5 million today.

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Why Hillary Clinton's perceived corruption seems to echo louder than Donald Trump's actual corruption.

    Over the Labor Day weekend, there was quite the chatter comparing and contrasting the news media coverage of Hillary Clinton's alleged improprieties involving the Clinton Foundation and Donald Trump's actual improprieties involving the Trump Foundation, his businesses, and his campaign.

    Trump supporters will complain about bias in the previous paragraph, to which I say, hey, go to town. None of the news stories about the Clinton Foundation (as opposed to her handling of emails at the State Department) demonstrate anything truly disturbing. Consider:

    --The Associated Press suggests Clinton's meetings with non-state officials were biased in favor of Clinton Foundation donors. Vox's deconstruction of the AP's report, however, showed there was no there there.

    --The Los Angeles Times suggested ties between a Nigerian billionaire donor to the foundation and Clinton favors, but Kevin Drum eviscerated it in Mother Jones to the point where he asked, "Am I missing something? How did this end up as the lead story in today's LA Times?"

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We Are All Noah Now

    Robert Macfarlane, in his book “Landmarks,” about the connection between words and landscapes, tells a revealing but stunning story about how recent editions of the Oxford Junior Dictionary (aimed at 7-year-olds) dropped certain “nature words” that its editors deemed less relevant to the lives of modern children. These included “acorn,” “dandelion,” “fern,” “nectar,” “otter,” “pasture” and “willow.” The terms introduced in their place, he noted, included “broadband,” “blog,” “cut-and-paste,” “MP3 player” and “voice-mail.”

    While this news was first disclosed in 2015, reading it in Macfarlane’s book still shocks me for what it signifies. But who can blame the Oxford editors for dumping Amazon words for Amazon.com ones? Our natural world is rapidly disappearing. Just how fast was the major topic here last week at the global conference held every four years by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which I participated in along with some 8,000 scientists, nature reserve specialists and environmentalists.

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State ballot measures in 2016 reflect shift to left

    A funny thing happened on the way to the ballot box this year. Though grassroots referendums and initiatives have been on the wane for two decades, 73 have been approved for ballots so far in the 26 states that allow them. That's still well below the 1996 peak of 92 measures, but it's the highest number since 2006 and almost 50 percent more than in 2012.

    Why the spike? A big reason, says Josh Altic of the politics website Ballotpedia, is that the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot in many states is based on voter turnout in the previous statewide election. And turnout in 2014 was the lowest since World War II.

    In California, for example, activists needed the signatures of just under 366,000 registered voters, 27 percent fewer than in 2014, to propose changes to state law. California, the hothouse of citizen action, will have 17 ballot initiatives this year, versus four in 2014 and 13 in 2012.

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