Archive

November 2nd, 2015

Partisan Growth Gaps

    Last week The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed article by Carly Fiorina titled “Hillary Clinton Flunks Economics,” ridiculing Clinton’s assertions that the U.S. economy does better under Democrats. “America,” declared Fiorina, “needs someone in the White House who actually knows how the economy works.”

    Well, we can agree on that much.

    Partisan positioning on the economy is actually quite strange. Republicans talk about economic growth all the time. They attack Democrats for “job-killing” government regulations, they promise great things if elected, they predicate their tax plans on the assumption that growth will soar and raise revenues. Democrats are far more cautious. Yet Clinton is completely right about the record: Historically, the economy has indeed done better under Democrats.

    This contrast raises two big questions. First, why has the economy performed better under Democrats? Second, given that record, why are Republicans so much more inclined than Democrats to boast about their ability to deliver growth?

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Seeking the inner Nixon

    Yet another Richard Nixon book is out, examining his innermost trials and tribulations, called "Being Nixon: A Man Divided." Author Evan Thomas describes it as "an effort to understand what it was like to actually be Nixon." Putting oneself in the skin and mind of another is a daring undertaking.

    He notes rightly that it's "a chronicle of a fantastically contradictory and intriguing figure who set out to change the world and, for better and for worse, did just that." He captures well Richard Nixon's tortured inner struggle and perhaps gives him a larger benefit of the doubt on the lighter side of this demonstrably dark man.

    Nixon's good intentions were often undercut by his deep suspicions and gnawing insecurities that too frequently transformed him into a petty, bitter and scornful man huddled in his private bunker, warding off real and imagined affronts. They made him a sort of Jekyll and Hyde character, switching from sharp insights to gloomy vindictiveness before the eyes of his closest political associates.

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The bind on federal travel

    It's been over three years since an inspector general's report shone a spotlight on a lavish, taxpayer-funded training conference held by the General Services Administration. Following the report's release, Congress and the Office of Management and Budget placed well-intentioned restrictions on federal workers' travel to scientific and technical meetings - and in doing so diminished their ability to engage in the collaboration with private-sector peers that is so critical to scientific innovation.

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GOP debate was not presidential

    One of the 10 Republicans who debated Wednesday night is going to end up as the party's nominee. None of them looked like presidential material.

    That theme was sounded early on, when Ohio Gov. John Kasich swatted away the first question -- what is your biggest weakness? -- by addressing the larger weakness of the field: "My great concern is that we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job."

    Indeed. The two, manifestly unqualified front-runners, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, were remarkably muted. Trump simply repeated his, yes, comic-book version of a presidential campaign -- huge wall, huge tax cut, huge Trump smarts -- except when he was shamelessly denying he had said what was in his own immigration plan.

    Where Trump craves attention, Carson, curiously, seems to flinch from it. Even when pitched softballs, he veers quickly from substance to off-topic platitudes.

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Use these disaster funds

    Three years ago, Hurricane Sandy struck the United States, causing catastrophic losses up and down the East Coast. With families still struggling to get back on their feet, I'm shocked to report that - after all this time - billions of dollars in Sandy relief aid has yet to be spent.

    To be exact, $30.06 billion of the $47.9 billion set aside for relief remains in the coffers of two federal agencies whose primary missions have nothing to do with responding to disasters - the Transportation Department and Department of Housing and Urban Development. This fact alone should cause all of us to stop and question our current approach to disaster recovery.

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What we should learn from viral police videos

    On the same day that President Barack Obama was expressing doubts that cellphone cameras are making police too cautious, video of a police officer in a South Carolina high school was going viral on the Web because he failed to be cautious enough.

    That's not the only reason that video of sheriff's deputy Ben Fields' rough takedown and arrest of an uncooperative 16-year-old girl in Spring Valley High School raised a national uproar.

    The fact that he is white and the girl is black instantly became part of the ongoing national debate about how black people are treated by police.

    I had an additional question as a black parent: What did the girl do to bring this trouble on herself?

    Yes, we can raise that question without becoming kneejerk apologists for police brutality -- or the troubles in our racial dialogue have become way more than skin deep.

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The real GOP divide

    Maybe our definition of the Republican presidential contest is a little off.

    It's often cast, accurately enough, as a choice between "outsiders" and "insiders." But another party division may be more profound -- between Republicans who still view the country's future hopefully, and those deeply gloomy about its prospects.

    The pessimism within significant sectors of the GOP is more than the unhappiness partisans typically feel when the other side is in power. It's rooted in a belief that things have fundamentally changed in America, and there is an ominous possibility they just can't be put right again.

    This is one of the big contrasts between the two parties: Democrats are more bullish on the future.

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Democrats, Beware!

    With Hillary Clinton's having presented herself so splendidly in both her first debate and in her testimony before that pretend Congressional hearing, it is easy to compare her with the Republican candidates and think that she has it made. However, Democrats had best keep in mind that strange things happen in elections.

    After these last few weeks few see anyone as the Democratic candidate but Hillary Clinton. Of course most thinkers would also see Bernie Sanders as head and shoulders above any of the Republican candidates. While the Marylander has something to offer he is too much of a long shot to consider seriously. Still it would be a mistake - a serious mistake - to think that the majority of voters will see through the pronouncements and antics of the Republicans.

    After all, who would have thought that the orange haired one - I simply can't utter his name - would appeal to so many voters? We even thought he was a joke that was in it for a lark. Apparently, not so. He may be slipping in the polls but that is little comfort when we learn of his replacement. At this point the two together hold a sizable vote count no matter how one looks at it.

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October 30th

Was the third debate Bush's last stand?

    Jeb Bush deserves headlines from Wednesday's anarchic GOP debate, but not the good kind. Something like: "Is Bush Finished?"

    The evening in Boulder, Colorado, will be remembered for interruptions, non sequiturs, mangled facts and general chaos. But the most significant impact may have been to dramatically lengthen the odds that Bush, the dutiful scion, will follow his father and brother into the White House.

    The key moment came fairly early in the debate when Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida -- considered Bush's biggest rival for consolidating the support of the GOP establishment -- was asked about having missed so many Senate votes while out on the campaign trail. Rubio responded by attacking "the bias that exists in the American media today," claiming there is a double standard and that Republicans are judged more harshly than Democrats.

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Why Republicans killed their own health-care idea

    In 2009, prominent Republicans, skeptical of requiring people to buy health insurance under the legislation that became Obamacare, proposed an alternative approach: making large employers automatically sign employees up for health insurance, while also allowing them to opt out.

    A version of this idea made its way into the Affordable Care Act. But as a result of this week's budget deal, it is now out-- and Republicans are celebrating. How come? The answers shed new light on some thorny issues in behavioral economics, and also on contemporary politics.

    During the early health reform debates, right after Barack Obama was elected president, Republican enthusiasm for automatic enrollment was spurred by the analogy to 401(k) plans. A lot of research shows that if workers are automatically signed up for such plans, participation increases significantly, even if it is easy to opt out. The saving grace of this approach is that people remain free to choose: If they need the money now, they can choose to stop contributing.

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