Archive

April 27th, 2016

Jackson never wanted to be on the $20 bill anyway

    The announcement by Treasury Secretary Jack Lew that Harriet Tubman will take the place of Andrew Jackson on the front of the $20 bill has caused some grumbling. Senator Lamar Alexander, who like Jackson is from Tennessee, expressed grave misgivings about the swap. Donald Trump said the change was "pure political correctness."

    But there's one major political figure who would be thrilled by the news: Jackson himself.

    Jackson's presence on the notes of the Federal Reserve has always been a slap in the face to the seventh president, who unequivocally hated the idea of a central bank that issued paper currency. Jackson will be finally released from a kind of monetary purgatory.

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How Ford captured Reagan's delegates

    Forty years ago, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford came to a final showdown at the Republican National Convention in Kansas City, Mo. It was the first time since 1948 that no one knew heading into the convention who the nominee would be.

    And it was the last until, most likely, this summer's GOP convention in Cleveland. Unless Donald Trump wins 392 more delegates in the remaining primaries, Republicans supporting Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich will come to a bitter brawl over the nomination and attempts to sway uncommitted and wavering delegates. The outcome is unclear, but this is for sure: It will be the most watched, most controversial convention since 1976, a year that brought the death and eventual rebirth of the Republican Party. In the wake of Watergate, the party was decimated, but Reagan's rise would soon have it back in power.

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Tempest in a Toilet

    Out of the potty mouths of billionaires sometimes comes potty sense. This was the case last week with Donald Trump, who weighed in on which bathrooms transgender people should use.

    His answer: the ones they want. He assumed, correctly, that this is what many had been doing all along. He noted, accurately, that it hadn’t ushered in the apocalypse.

    I am saying, to my astonishment, that we could all learn from him, and my surprise owes something to his previously incoherent rules of the commode. He balked at Hillary Clinton’s bathroom break during one of the Democratic debates. He said that it was “too disgusting” to discuss.

    The pee-peeved plutocrat took a gentler tack when asked Thursday morning where Caitlyn Jenner should find relief in Trump Tower. Up to her, he said. No need for a fuss.

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Hillary’s Big Idea

    If nothing else, the astounding presidential election of 2016 has shown that Americans are ready to junk the present system and try something bold, even reckless. Small ball is out. Incremental change is a nonstarter. Big will beat little.

    Almost two-thirds of voters — Democratic and Republican majorities — agreed with the statement that “The old way of doing things no longer works and we need radical change,” when asked in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. This is not a frustrated fringe.

    The largest cluster of voters willing to chuck the status quo, not surprisingly, supports Donald Trump. But he offers nothing for them, no details, no workable solutions, just a buffoon with a gold-plated selfie stick. Getting his clock cleaned by the loathsome Ted Cruz in caucus states where cajoling stray delegates matters is proof that in the one area where Trump is supposed to be so good — deal making — he is incompetent.

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Debunking the ‘Crooked Hillary’ Myth

    After the New York primary, the betting websites are giving Hillary Clinton about a 94 percent chance of being the Democratic nominee, and Donald Trump a 66 percent chance of ending up as the Republican nominee.

    But Clinton’s big challenge is the trust issue: The share of voters who have negative feelings toward her has soared from 25 percent in early 2013 to 56 percent today, and a reason for that is that they distrust her. Only a bit more than one-third of American voters regard Clinton as “honest and trustworthy.”

    Indeed, when Gallup asks Americans to say the first word that comes to mind when they hear “Hillary Clinton,” the most common response can be summed up as “dishonest/liar/don’t trust her/poor character.” Another common category is “criminal/crooked/thief/belongs in jail.”

    All this is, I think, a mistaken narrative.

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Don't exaggerate the risks of leaving the EU

    This week's U.K. Treasury report and last week's IMF report are the latest in a long line of predictions suggesting doom and gloom if the U.K. leaves the European Union. Are they right?

    Economists are far more split on the consequences of a U.K. exit than the conventional view suggests. While a number of global investment banks have given dire warnings of negative fallout, just as many reports from respected economists or independent City firms -- including Capital Economics, Toscafund and Peel Hunt -- have concluded that the Brexit threat is overblown. Even the recent report by PwC predicts financial services would continue to grow strongly outside the EU, after some short-term uncertainty.

    The "remain" campaign stresses the benefits of being in a large market and the disruption of leaving it. Brexit would be a leap into the dark, they say. And yet what matters in today's fast-moving age is having the right set of policies in place to ensure growth and investment. Thus little Switzerland is rich, as is medium-sized Canada, while Brazil remains relatively poor. Size is irrelevant.

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Denying voting rights to ex-felons is unfair

    Good news for democracy in the United States: Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, R, is restoring voting rights to some 200,000 citizens who were convicted of felonies, served their time and completed parole.

    While this move is likely to help Democrats (ex-felons in Virginia are disproportionately African-Americans, and black voters overwhelmingly favor Democrats), it's wrong to cast it as a partisan move. Virginia did not represent the status quo nationally. It has been one of only 12 states where conviction on a felony strips you of voting rights for a lifetime.

    It would have been partisan not to restore the right. The default should be that every citizen in a democracy has the right to vote unless particularly strong reasons argue otherwise. "Because it would help one party" is not a strong reason. I oppose removing voting rights even for felons currently serving their sentences. Currently, only Vermont and Maine allow these prisoners to vote. And voting should be easy.

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The 8 A.M. Call

    Back in 2008, one of the ads Hillary Clinton ran during the contest for the Democratic nomination featured an imaginary scene in which the White House phone rings at 3 a.m. with news of a foreign crisis, and asked, “Who do you want answering that phone?” It was a fairly mild jab at Barack Obama’s lack of foreign policy experience.

    As it turned out, once in office Obama, a notably coolheaded type who listens to advice, handled foreign affairs pretty well — or at least that’s how I see it. But asking how a would-be president might respond to crises is definitely fair game.

    And military emergencies aren’t the only kind of crisis to worry about. That 3 a.m. call is one thing; but what about the 8 a.m. call — the one warning that financial markets will melt down as soon as they open?

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A new version of Earth

    The first Earth Day, held April 22, 1970, was designed to draw popular attention to environmental causes and the need to protect nature. It succeeded. At age 46, Earth Day continues to focus our minds on preserving the natural world, if only for a brief moment each year.

    But what if a basic assumption about our planet, one that we all make on Earth Day and every other day, is wrong? What if, in 2016, we no longer inhabit the Earth we once did? What if the nature we seek to protect has already been profoundly altered - by us? Would that undercut the logic of Earth Day?

    Many scientists and scholars wonder if the Earth has entered a new epoch in its 5 billion-year history. They are debating whether we should officially declare the end of the Holocene, the geological epoch that began 11,700 years ago, and the start of what they are calling the Anthropocene. The Holocene was great for our species. The climate was remarkably stable, helping us prosper as never before in humankind's 200,000-year history. The Anthropocene concept, as the root of the term suggests, rests on the notion that human activity has created a new version of an old planet.

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Why humans make such a big deal of looking outraged

    Science is starting to shed some light on the curiously continuous cycle of moral outrages. One week, it's students protesting the use of Woodrow Wilson's name. The next, it's Icelanders hurling yogurt at the parliament building. This week, the social media world is aflame over the way Southwest Airlines employees forced a young man to leave a plane after he spoke on a cell phone in Arabic. And just last summer (but many outrages ago), comedian Jimmy Kimmel cried outraged tears over the shooting of a lion named Cecil.

    There are big mysteries here. Why are some people more prone than others to express moral outrage? Why are people set off by different triggers? Why is one animal killing or tax shelter a travesty and another business as usual?

    Psychologists say it all starts to make sense if you think of outrage as a form of display. Expressing it advertises a person's views and allegiances to potential allies. And the more popular a victim's cause, the less risky it is to join in displaying your umbrage.

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