Archive

April 18th, 2016

Putin tones down his annual reality show

    Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his annual television call-in show on Thursday. This time, however, his heart didn't seem to be in it. As in the past, some of his statements failed the test of basic fact-checking. and he still sounded like a parody of himself -- recalling Dr. Evil from the "Austin Powers" film series -- but he also also read economic statistics from a piece of paper, while previously he had made a point of demonstrating his impressive memory.

    The session lasted for 3 hours and 41 minutes, short by the standards of the last five events (the longest, in 2013, clocked in at 4:47). Putin showed up in the studio without a watch, seemingly prepared to answer questions from ordinary Russians -- there were more than 3 million, according to the call center -- for as long as necessary.

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Paul Ryan does his best Sherman act, though some are unconvinced

    House Speaker Paul Ryan tried again this week to discourage speculation that he might be a compromise presidential choice at the coming Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.

    He echoed the famous rejection of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who told Republican suitors in 1884, "I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected."

    In his own statement, Ryan put a fine point on it: "I should not be considered. Period. End of story."

    Ryan, who in 2012 was perfectly willing to run as the vice-presidential nominee with Mitt Romney, said that as co-chairman of the 2016 convention he would seek a rule restricting candidates to those who ran in the primaries. Donald Trump's new convention manager, Paul Manafort, quickly insisted that a Ryan candidacy would never happen because his man would be nominated on the first ballot, as he will go in with the 1,237 delegates needed.

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April 17th

Bring out the bathroom police

    The Department of Transportation is in the process of deciding which U.S. airline should be awarded new nonstop routes between Los Angeles and Beijing. When you think about it, that's a bit bizarre: Why decide the question administratively, when the agency could simply auction off the slots?

    Airline routes are significant assets. Indeed, airlines often use their takeoff and landing slots as collateral for airline bonds, a practice that has spread from the U.S. to Europe. The LA-Beijing route is especially valuable, with airline traffic between the U.S. and China growing by double digits annually over the past three years. And that's why this example is compelling.

    As a matter of principle, the government should not be in the business of giving away assets, whether they are pollution permits, excess government property or broadcasting spectrums. To be sure, auctions need to be appropriately designed (in particular, an auction for the LA-Beijing route would need to comply with the constitutional prohibition against export taxes), but only when they're likely to be severely flawed should agencies step in to name the lucky winner.

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Megyn Kelly made up with Donald Trump. Everyone else on the right will do the same.

    Fox News and Donald Trump are reaching a detente at last; yesterday Megyn Kelly went to Trump Tower for an hour-long meeting she described as allowing "a chance to clear the air," after which Trump went to the Fox offices to have lunch with network chief Roger Ailes. This comes after Kelly had the temerity to ask Trump about sexist remarks he had made in the past, which led him to unleash a months-long campaign of insults at her (The Donald doesn't like to be challenged, especially by a woman).

    The time had obviously come for Kelly to make nice, and more importantly, Fox needed to smooth over any conflict with Trump, given that he's likely to be the Republican nominee for president soon.

    Though Fox is a unique and complicated media outlet, this is is a preview of what's to come from many quarters on the right. People and organizations which have criticized and even attacked Trump, some in the harshest possible terms, will come around. They might not start praising him to the heavens, but they are going to join in the effort to get him elected. Because the alternative will be irrelevance, the last thing anyone in politics wants.

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Meet the radical anti-Islam conspiracy theorists advising Ted Cruz

    Donald Trump's call to bar Muslims from entering the country got all the attention, but an even uglier thread of anti-Muslim bigotry exists inside Ted Cruz's campaign. The team of foreign policy advisers he announced on March 17 - "trusted friends who will form a core of our broader national security team," Cruz called them - includes some of the most fanatical anti-Muslim activists in America. The list got some attention when it was unveiled because of its leader, Frank Gaffney, a prominent anti-Muslim writer. But the campaign has enlisted a deeper bench of aides with records that are, if anything, even more shocking.

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Kids are strangling on blind cords when we've known for years they're dangerous

    There's all this talk this election season about government overreach.

    So let's talk about a case where the government barely stretched and certainly didn't reach.

    If the government had done more to insist that millions of blinds hanging on millions of American windows be safe for kids, Cormac Thomas would be a 4-year-old in a Bethesda, Md., preschool now. And first-grader Adam Bailey would probably be wearing pajamas on pajama day this week at his Frederick, Md., elementary school.

    But Adam didn't make it to pajama day at Whittier Elementary School. And Cormac will forever be 2 in his parents' photos.

    Blind cords and baby deaths. Remember those horrible stories? They're not new. And the worst part is, they haven't gone away because the blinds industry - with some notable exceptions - has been reluctant to stop making window treatments dangerous for kids. And government regulators haven't made them do so, despite pleading from parents.

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It's been rough coming of age in the new century

    By many measures, the U.S. economy has spent most of the past six-plus years getting better: Unemployment has fallen by half to 5 percent, 12 million jobs have been created and household wealth is at record highs. Specific industries and regions seem to be doing well. But those averages belie exactly how uneven the gains have been spread.

    No demographic group has suffered more from this disparate distribution of economic progress than the 25-34 age cohort (if we include college-age students, that increases the age range to 18-34). This group, despite all of the data showing improvements in the broader economy, continues to significantly endure economic hardship.

    I was reminded of this recently when perusing some of the data on U.S. Census website. More millennials are living in poverty and fewer are employed or own homes, compared with baby boomers in 1980. The impact of graduating in a recession is more than a temporary setback; research has shown that it has lasting effects on a person's career and their lifetime incomes.

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Islamist radicals are a threat. But do you need to attack their religion?

    "I think Islam hates us," Donald Trump said last month on CNN. "There's something there that - there's a tremendous hatred there. We have to get to the bottom of it. There's an unbelievable hatred of us."

    Trump's wording here is important, as casual as the Republican presidential front-runner may be at times with language. It's Islam that hates us - not individual Muslims, not a radical fringe, but a whole religion that, to varying degrees, is followed by more than a billion people. And we have to plumb the depths of this vast, billowy entity - "get to the bottom of it," he says - and, presumably, somehow, defeat it.

    In the meantime, Trump has proposed bans on all Muslim arrivals to the United States, the closure of mosques, the surveillance of existing Muslim communities and the use of torture. He has dismissed the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees. It is for such sweeping statements and gestures that a British activist group satirically bestowed upon him the accolade of "Islamophobe of the Year."

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In the GOP, no room for nice

    On the day that Paul Ryan said he really, truly, honestly did not want to be the Republicans' presidential savior, John Kasich did his best to channel the House speaker. Both undertakings underscored how much trouble the old pro-business, pro-tax-cut conservatism faces.

    A cynic might theorize that since absence makes the heart grow fonder, Ryan's reticence would only make his party hope and pray harder that he would deliver it from catastrophe. But the 46-year-old speaker knows that the 2016 GOP is unlikely to be the vehicle for the neo-Reaganite revival he seeks. He's much better off waiting until 2020.

    Kasich, in the meantime, did what he should have done long ago, casting Donald Trump and Ted Cruz (without naming them) as taking the party down the "path to darkness."

    If you like what Sarah Palin once mocked as "that hopey-changey stuff" (and I do), the Ohio governor's New York speech was a magnificent relief from the horror movie motifs and exclusionary rhetoric that have become the staples of this year's Republican contest.

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How Sanders supporters can revolutionize the Democratic Party

    One of the great ironies of the American political process in the 21st century is the Democratic Party superdelegate. On campaign finance reform and voting rights, the party fights to give regular Americans more of a voice. Yet when it comes to choosing a presidential nominee, it's the Democrats, not the Republicans, who give 712 party insiders roughly the same influence as 5.5 million ordinary voters in Texas, Florida, Ohio and Michigan.

    And for the second contested presidential primary in a row, these superdelegates are playing an important role. Though Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, has been far more successful than many in the establishment thought possible, it will be difficult for him to overcome Hillary Clinton's 200-strong lead among pledged delegates. But Clinton's 400-plus lead among superdelegates takes the task of Sanders winning the nomination from challenging to nigh impossible.

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