Archive

January 5th, 2016

Our New Year Quiz

    Happy New Year! We’re going to have an exciting 2016 — including, of course, the finale of a presidential race that seems to have been underway since Woodstock.

    So much to look back on, so little time. Take this quick quiz and see how much of political 2015 you haven’t already managed to repress:

 

    1. In her final statement of the last 2015 debate, Hillary Clinton concluded …

    A. “May the Force be with you.”

    B. “We need to discuss the restroom issue.”

    C. “Have I mentioned I’m a grandmother?”

 

    2. The Democratic National Committee tried to ensure maximum TV ratings for that debate by ...

    A. Inviting Adele to ask the first question.

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Elections Have Consequences

    You have to be seriously geeky to get excited when the Internal Revenue Service releases a new batch of statistics. Well, I’m a big geek; like quite a few other people who work on policy issues, I was eagerly awaiting the IRS’s tax tables for 2013, which were released last week.

    And what these tables show is that elections really do have consequences.

    You might think that this is obvious. But on the left, in particular, there are some people who, disappointed by the limits of what President Barack Obama has accomplished, minimize the differences between the parties. Whoever the next president is, they assert — or at least, whoever it is if it’s not Bernie Sanders — things will remain pretty much the same, with the wealthy continuing to dominate the scene. And it’s true that if you were expecting Obama to preside over a complete transformation of America’s political and economic scene, what he’s actually achieved can seem like a big letdown.

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For some black women, the Cosby indictment is painfully complex

    For more than a year, we've watched Bill Cosby's slide in slow motion as dozens of women have come forth to say that he sexually assaulted them. Now we're watching in hyperdrive. The comedian, pitchman and American icon was charged Wednesday with felony aggravated indecent assault stemming from allegations that he drugged and abused a woman in 2004 in his suburban Philadelphia home.

    Since then, we've had the Cosby perp walk and mug shot, timelines, deconstructions and details. Other accusers have celebrated, and social media is debating legal strategies and karma. Spectacle has begun.

    But for some, myself included, there is an extra lane to Cosby's fall from grace. It is gray, twisted and largely traveled by black women, many of a certain age. It both fully recognizes and supports the justice needed for survivors, yet is the opposite of guilty/not guilty binaries. It is full of sadness and reflection on an American double jeopardy others might not know about.

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Expect banner year for 'dark money' in politics

    The 2016 presidential campaign not only will feature more money than any since Watergate, but also more secret money than the days when black satchels of illicit cash were passed around.

    The so-called dark money, or contributions that don't have to be disclosed, topped more than $300 million in the 2012 presidential race, and some experts believe that the levels may be far higher this time. There also is a risk that foreign money could be surreptitiously funneled into the presidential campaign because it wouldn't have to be publicly disclosed.

    This flood of cash is occurring thanks to a ruse that permits political advocacy groups to claim that they are principally social welfare agencies and thus tax exempt and not subject to disclosure. These organizations court interest groups and rich donors, some of whom want the influence that political money brings but not the public association. It's a win for the interest groups and the candidates; the public is kept in the dark.

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Marco Rubio Doesn’t Add Up

    Math was never my strongest subject, so maybe I’m just not crunching the numbers right.

    But the more I stare at them, the less sense Marco Rubio makes.

    Rubio as the front-runner, I mean. As the probable Republican nominee.

    According to oddsmakers and prediction markets, he’s the best bet. According to many commentators, too.

    But Iowa is less than a month away, and in two recent polls of Republican voters there, he’s a distant third, far behind Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.

    So he’s killing it in New Hampshire, right?

    Wrong. A survey from two weeks ago had him second to Trump there, but another, just days earlier, put him in third place — after Trump and Cruz, again. Chris Christie’s inching up on him, the reasons for which were abundantly clear in a comparison of Christie’s freewheeling campaign style and Rubio’s hyper-controlled one by The Times’ Michael Barbaro.

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Prosecuted for my pen

    I'm a cartoonist in a country where cartooning can be a crime. Under my pen name, Zunar, I expose corruption and abuses of power by the Malaysian government. As it happens, I have a good deal of material to work with. For instance, Prime Minister Najib Razak is currently facing questions about a $700 million "donation" made to his personal bank account.

    Last February, police raided my home in the middle of the night and hauled me off to jail. I was handcuffed for eight hours and thrown into a cell with all the other criminal suspects. I managed to avoid telling my cellmates what I was in for: using Twitter.

    I was accused of sedition over a series of tweets I sent out opposing the jailing of a prominent Malaysian opposition leader. Now I'm facing nine charges under my country's archaic, colonial-era Sedition Act, which could result in a 43-year prison sentence. The court proceedings against me begin this month.

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A doctor's dilemma: How to treat the angry

    The narrator asked: "Are you going to be a victim or a survivor- protector"? I am an obstetrician, and I was taking my annual online course on "workplace violence." My favorite part is the instructions on how to "fight" a gunman if one shows up at my office: I am advised to throw a cup of coffee at them. But in our "infection control" course, I learned I couldn't have any food or drink in the hospital. As a backup, it was suggested that I could hurl a stapler. I use a paperless records system, but I keep my stapler locked and loaded just in case.

    Four years ago, when I was first required to view this material, I was cynical about it. Then in 2012 the tragedy at Sandy Hook unfolded, and other shootings have followed. Last January, my medical school classmate Michael Davidson was shot to death at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital by a family member of a former patient.

    Davidson was murdered in pro-gun-control Massachusetts. I practice in Virginia, with more relaxed gun laws.

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2015: A Year That Happened

    I was going to write a wrap-up of the year, but thanks to all the election coverage I had been laboring under the misapprehension that it was 2016 and had been so all year, and the news that there were still eleven months of campaign to go - and 10 MORE primary debates - nearly broke me.

    Still, now that I have my bearings, I refuse to accept the general valuation that 2015 was an unmitigatedly terrible year. Some good things happened. Adele released the massively successful album "25" after her initial pick, "I Am Young! Just Look How Young I Am! What Have You Ever Done With Your Life?" was ruled less marketable.

    A new "Star Wars" movie came out and was actually good! People complained about it by saying things like "This was TOO MUCH like the original Star Wars" and "The female protagonist was TOO STRONG AND GREAT and I FOUND HER FAR LESS ANNOYING THAN LUKE SKYWALKER!" which - SPOILER ALERT! - are not complaints. Especially compared with the complaints they had about the prequels, which were things like "Has a human being ever uttered that sentence?" and "Jar Jar."

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GOP consultant, for a day

    The value of free advice is measured by what you pay for it, and Republicans don't usually ask me for mine.

    Nonetheless, the GOP's presidential race is one of the most fascinating political brawls in years. It's about to hit full stride, and I can't resist kibitzing. I know the leading candidates will take my guidance for what it's worth.

     Marco Rubio: You have three related problems. You're trying to appeal to every wing of the party, which means that none regards you as one of its own. There is no state in the early going that you can consider an obvious bet. And, to put it charitably, you do not look like a person of conviction.

    You were pro-immigration until you weren't. You optimistically embraced the changing nature of our nation until you ran an ad about "all of us who feel out of place in our own country." You left McCainville to enter Trumpland.

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The Affluenza Candidate

    Ethan Couch, meet Donald Trump, fellow Affluenza sufferer.

    Couch is the Texas teenager whose drunken driving killed four people in 2013 when he lost control of his -- or, should I say, his mommy and daddy's -- speeding pickup. Couch was 16. Three hours after the grisly crash, his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit for an adult.

    His lawyer and his expert witness psychologist -- or, should I say, the lawyer and the expert witness psychologist hired by his mommy and daddy -- argued that Couch should be spared imprisonment because his overprivileged upbringing had failed to teach him the difference between right and wrong. Mommy and Daddy had never set limits or imposed consequences on young Ethan.

    Couch's infuriating defense -- it's not fair to punish me because I've never been punished before -- succeeded in winning him probation instead of the 20 years sought by prosecutors. Of course, Couch is back in the news because complying with the no-alcohol terms of probation was apparently too much for him; Mommy fled with him to Mexico rather than allow him to face punishment.

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