Archive

December 20th

Playing TV tough guys

    It was billed as a foreign policy debate, but Tuesday's encounter among Republican presidential candidates was in large part an acting competition over who could convey the impression of being the baddest, meanest foe of the terrorists -- and of Hillary Clinton and President Obama.

    Before his re-election as governor of very blue New Jersey (and when he was seeking mountains of federal money after Sandy), Chris Christie embraced the man in the White House. Now, he calls his old buddy a "feckless weakling." Ted Cruz defended "carpet bombing" while Donald Trump explained that being "much tougher" on terrorists meant going after their families and "girlfriends."

     "That will make people think," Trump explained, "because they may not care much about their lives, but they do care, believe it or not, about their families' lives." It fell to Jeb Bush, who called Trump out again and again, to pronounce this particular stratagem "just crazy."

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Now This Is Really Criminal

    The media is fond of calling out our “do-nothing Congress.” Indeed, our national lawmakers’ last term was one of the least productive in history.

    But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

    According to author John Whitehead, Congress has created, on average, 50 new crimes per year for the past decade. Not 50 new laws. Fifty new crimes.

    The trend is headed in the wrong direction. In just the five years from 2008 until 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service, Congress created 439 new criminal offenses. That made for a grand total of 4,889 federal crimes. And that’s in addition to the growing number of state and local crimes for which Americans can be prosecuted.

    To make matters worse, many of these federal laws lack any mens rea, or “guilty mind,” requirement. That means you can be prosecuted even without criminal intent. Didn’t mean to break the law? Tough luck.

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No winner as 9 Republicans debate one issue

    In a new wrinkle on CNN on Tuesday, Republicans in Las Vegas were asked to debate basically one issue -- terrorism. If you were hoping to see candidates well versed in foreign policy and national security, the results were ... not encouraging. There was a little substance, along with a whole lot of mush.

    But for now, the horse race.

    It's been a while since the candidates last met (Nov. 10), and the nomination contest has sorted itself out quite a bit. Donald Trump is still the polling leader. Ted Cruz is now first in Iowa polls and second nationally, and appears well on his way to consolidating support from party actors who are social conservatives and perhaps all of those who are most conservative. Marco Rubio is third in the polls, but is the only real coalition-style candidate in the race, and as such is picking up support from elected officials and other party actors.

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Make America Great, Like It Was — When?

    The holiday season is a time for nostalgia. We watch It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, engage in time-honored traditions, and even sing songs about sleighs and sleigh bells.

    Honestly, when was the last time you rode in a sleigh?

    I’ve eaten a roasted chestnut (purchased on the streets of Chicago, so I don’t know if there was an open fire involved in the roasting process), but I haven’t gone for a single sleigh ride in my whole life.

    Donald Trump’s campaign slogan — “Make America Great Again” — plays on this idea of some imagined time in the past when things were better, simpler, than they are now. But The Donald isn’t the only one who evokes this mythical past.

    On the other side of the aisle, Democrats often wax poetic about the strong middle class of the era that followed World War II, or about the social safety net President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put in place before that.

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Killing entitlements would make inequality worse

    Celebrated economist Martin Feldstein in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed argued that U.S. wealth inequality is much less than advertised. The reason, Feldstein says, is that future Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid payments are a form of uncounted wealth that dramatically boosts the wealth of the poor by trillions of dollars. If we take entitlements into account, Feldstein says, wealth inequality isn't so bad.

    It isn't such a novel observation and counting future payments as wealth is OK, as far as the economics goes. Capitalizing a future income stream -- valuing it in terms of its present value and counting it as today's wealth -- is standard practice in finance, and there's no reason this can't be applied to Social Security and Medicare. But if we want to look at wealth in these terms, we have to add a lot more than just entitlements.

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Hillary Clinton's good luck

    With tempers flaring in the fight for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton can rejoice as her own campaign glides along in relative tranquility.

    In terms of her wide lead in national polls and the lack of bitterness compared to the hostility among the GOP contenders, the former first lady and secretary of state continues to enjoy a cakewalk against a self-declared socialist trying to fashion a political revolution in a liberal-to-moderate Democratic Party.

    Clinton's prime opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, trails her in the run-up to the Iowa precinct caucuses by 9 percent (48 to 39) in the latest Des Moines Register poll. She has a much wider lead in national surveys, including the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which has her ahead by 19 percent (56 to 37), with former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley at only 4 percent.

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December 19th

Those Demure Democrats

    The Republican presidential candidates have demonstrated such an appetite for debates that if I set up nine lecterns in my living room on a weeknight around 8 p.m. and chanted “carpet bomb” and “anchor baby,” they’d probably materialize en masse, even before I had time to vacuum and put out the artichoke dip.

    But I could send save-the-date cards, promise canapés by Mario Batali and recruit Adele to belt out “Hello” whenever the doorbell rang: Still the Democrats wouldn’t show up.

    What a shamefully imbalanced primary season this has been. For all their flaws and fakery, the Republican candidates have squared off frequently, at convenient hours and despite the menacing nimbus of Donald Trump’s hair; the Democratic candidates have, in contrast, hidden in a closet.

    Tuesday night’s meeting of Republicans was the fifth. The meeting of Democratic presidential candidates in a few days will be only the third.

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Fear, Loathing and Republican Debaters

    Well, the big Republican presidential debate is over and the message is clear: Be afraid. Be very afraid.

    “America has been betrayed,” began Chris Christie, setting the tone for the night, which might be described as bellicose paranoia. The betrayers were President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. His example of the terror they have wrought was the Los Angeles school system, which closed Tuesday after an email threat from someone who described himself as a Muslim terrorist.

    “Think about the mothers who will take those children tomorrow morning to the bus stop wondering whether their children will arrive back on that bus safe and sound,” Christie said darkly. “Think about the fathers of Los Angeles who tomorrow will head off to work and wonder about the safety of their wives and their children.”

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Cruz Blusters and Trump Sulks at Tense Republican Debate

    Someone needs to explain carpets to Ted Cruz.

    They’re continuous stretches of material, usually rectangular, sometimes round. They’re not staggered, interrupted, with stops, starts, holes and sharp jags so they smother and blot out only the evil bits of floor but leave adjacent, innocent ones untouched.

    When you call for carpet bombing, as Cruz did again Tuesday night, you are not outlining a strategy of pinpoint targeting or of any discernment.

    You are sounding big and bold and advocating something indiscriminate. That’s the nature of a carpet. You can’t pretend otherwise.

    Unless you’re Cruz, who can pretend just about anything.

    “You would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops,” he said, as if there’s no mingling and the fighters of the Islamic State are somehow clustered apart from everyone they control, extinguished with the mere dropping of a rug.

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Coke’s PR Scam Explodes

    If your car’s battery terminals are corroded, just open a can of Coca-Cola. Coke will dissolve corrosion, making your battery connections spiffy clean in a jiffy.

    Ironically, however, Coca-Cola can’t seem to clean up its own corrosive corruption structure.

    By hook or crook, the sugar-water purveyor has long battled schools, nutritionists, and parents concerned about the soda industry’s role in America’s childhood obesity epidemic. Like Big Oil’s climate-change deniers and Big Tobacco’s cancer deniers, Coke and its industry cohorts have put profiteering above public health, aggressively using everything from front groups to outright lies to keep shoving sugary drinks at children.

    Last year, Coke quietly poured $1.5 million into the Global Energy Balance Network. This quasi-academic PR front group asserts that obesity isn’t caused by high-calorie soda pushers, but by parents who fail to make their kids burn off those calories with vigorous exercise.

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