Tuesday, September 1, 2015


Trump's grandiose plans . . .
Republicans are at a crossroads.  Trump is tapping into a “widespread anger” among white, working-class Americans, who feel culturally, politically, and economically marginalized. Republicans must now decide: Do we remain a “broad coalition” with mainstream appeal, representing everyone who believes in freedom and limited government?  Or does the party follow Trump’s lead and embrace “grievance-based identity politics for white people”? For Republicans, and the future of the nation, the stakes could not be much higher.
--Ben Domenech, The​Federalist.com

 . . . that won't go anywhere . . .
Trump has convinced these voters he can magically give them what they want.  They crave a strongman, a comic book superhero who will cut taxes but save their entitlements, build a 1,900-mile-long wall and force Mexico to pay for it, bring China to its knees, crush ISIS, “and maybe leap some tall buildings in a single bound.” How will he overcome Congress, political opposition, and foreign governments and armies in order to fulfill these fantasies? “By being really tough. Don’t ask for details.
--Megan McArdle, BloombergView.com.

. . . and the 'new fascism'
Welcome to the “new fascism."   Today’s America has been radicalized by a protracted economic crisis, just like the Germany of Adolf Hitler.  And just as Hitler scapegoated the Jews, Trump is demonizing Mexican immigrants as the cause of America’s decline.  Rather than holding up a mirror to the U.S. to show it the corporate greed that is truly responsible for American inequality, the Republican presidential front-runner gives the country an enemy to hate.  That, of course, is why the media dotes on him and the establishment allows him to flourish.
--Juan Carlos Guerra, El Horizonte

Will Biden be bluffed?
A savvy friend who's held elective office emails says "Those are somewhat amazing stories in the Post, Politico, & CNN about how strong Clinton is and how hard it would be for Biden to win the nomination. Note: they largely quote Clinton supporters and use her talking points.

"Each story is written as if the email and trust issues have not emerged, or as if Sanders isn't running very close to her in early states.  If I were Biden I'd be cheered by the lengths to which Clinton is going to discourage him. "I think if he gets in and any more negative stuff comes out about emails/security etc., her numbers will drop significantly.

"If Biden doesn't run, it will mean that he has looked at the race exclusively from the conventional wisdom perspective. From that vantage point he doesn't have a chance. But in fact he does have a chance, especially if he can demonstrate that he could advance an Obama/Warren agenda and isn't tainted, and then if one or two more negative revelations about Clinton occur. If he's already in the race then, he is the beneficiary. If he's not, then someone else will emerge."

I very much agree with this. The key question on the Democratic side now is: Will Biden be bluffed out of running by the Clinton machine?
--William Kristol, The Blog

Sanders’ progressive paradise
Bernie Sanders wants to bring Vermont’s model to all of America but voters may want to look at the results first.   Progressive Vermont is in the vanguard of all liberal causes, including the $15 minimum wage, the labeling of genetically modified foods, and single-payer health care.  Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin made the adoption of single-payer, or socialized, health care the centerpiece of his 2010 campaign, and Sanders was one of its biggest cheerleaders.  But single-payer is now dead, due to  sticker shock.

After four years of trying to figure out how to pay for free health care for all, Shumlin and liberal lawmakers concluded that the state would have to impose an 11.5 percent payroll tax and a state income tax with a top rate of 9.5 percent.  Even then, projections showed the system running in the red by 2020. So much for single-payer. Progressive promises of free health care and free college education always sound nice in the abstract--until taxpayers realize they’re stuck with the bill.-
--Geoffrey Norman, Wall Street Journal

The tyranny of 'quarterly capitalism'
Whatever the merits of Clinton’s plan [to transform Wall Street], the ritual of quarterly earnings produces nonsensical results.  Only in the bizarre world of earnings season can Apple report a 38 percent gain in profitability and still be dubbed a "disappointment" because it failed to beat analysts’ even higher expectations.

But that’s exactly what happened last month; in a day, traders wiped $60 billion off Apple’s value, despite soaring sales and profits.  It’s no wonder then that companies jockey endlessly with analysts to get earnings estimates they’ll have no trouble beating.   We don’t have to wait for Clinton or any other politico to tell us this is nonsense.  Corporate earnings news does matter, but the noise that surrounds it rarely does.
--Suzanne McGee, The Guardian (U.K.). 

The euro’s lesson for the U.S.
To understand the risks of hiking the minimum wage, look no further than the euro debacle.  It’s hard to remember now, but the shared currency was  immensely popular in the decade after it debuted in 1999, credited with stabilizing economies and promoting European unity.

Hindsight shows us the inevitable consequences just took time to emerge. Similarly, American economists in the 1960s believed it was possible to use government spending and interest rates to minimize recessions and achieve  full employment.  Early success eventually gave way to double-digit price increases--and four recessions. The parallel today is the populist crusade for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

 Raising the federal minimum wage, which has been $7.25 since 2009, might be justified.  But doubling it  would be a radical act that front-loads the benefits and back-loads the costs.  With time, job losses would mount as companies downsized or went out of business.  The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the Obama administration’s proposed raise, to a mere $10.10, would cut employment by 500,000 jobs; imagine what $15 would do.  Undoing the damage would take years.  So let’s pause to truly consider the consequences before we act.  What’s politically appealing in the short run can be economically disastrous in the long run.
--Robert Samuelson, Washington Post

Jon Stewart, pro . . . 
While The Daily Show had only about 1.5 million nightly viewers, Stewart became one of the most important and influential voices on the progressive left"--especially for Millennials.  His primary purpose was to make his viewers laugh, but he also encouraged us to think.
--Katrina vanden Heuvel, Washington Post

 . . . and con
Like hell he did.  Stewart was a partisan hack who only occasionally jabbed Democrats and the Obama administration to disguise his loyalties.  His targets were almost always conservatives, and we now know he had two secret meetings with the president, in 2011 and 2014, and regularly chatted with senior White House officials.  Stewart wasn’t speaking truth to power--he dined with those he should have been dining upon.
--Kyle Smith, New York Post

The comedian ultimately never lived up to his own responsibility.  Stewart claimed he wanted to promote civilized debate, yet he succumbed to intellectual smugness--encouraging his liberal disciples to see themselves as smarter, more tolerant, and better than those ridiculous, moronic conservatives.  Stewart never asked his fans to see the planks in their own eyes.
--Gerard Alexander, New York Times

Hacking into a hospital
Even on the operating table, we’re now vulnerable to a hack attack.  When Scott Erven was invited to test the Internet security at a chain of Midwestern hospitals, he was appalled by how easy it was to break into the hospitals’ networks and assume control of their medical devices.  Using phishing techniques--or sometimes even simply typing in the username "admin" and the password "1234"--Erven was able to take over sensor-driven surgical robots, morphine drips, and even Bluetooth-connected defibrillators, which he could have used to administer lethal shocks to patients’ hearts.  Former Vice President Dick Cheney had the wireless capability of his own defibrillator disabled in 2007 to prevent terrorists from doing that to him.  Unfortunately, says Erven, that kind of vigilance is rare.  "Many hospitals are unaware of the high risk associated with these devices," he says.
--The Week

Why presidents for life aren’t so bad
Western conventional wisdom says national leaders should step down after one or two terms--but that has not worked in Africa.  When President Obama visited Kenya last month, he lectured Africans on term limits.  "Nobody should be president for life," Obama scolded us.  "Your country is better off if you have new blood and new ideas."

He’s wrong. The African countries that are currently relatively peaceful and democratic--such as Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana, Kenya, and Senegal--all started out with presidents who ruled for at least 18 years.  The long-serving presidents bequeathed peaceful transitions leading to stable democracies.  But those African countries with leaders who did the right thing and transferred power within a few years to a democratically elected government met with disaster.  Ugandan President Yusuf Lule, for example, was voted out legally by Parliament in 1979, and the result was a series of military coups and civil war.  Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Liberia had similar experiences.   Traumatized by colonialism, African nations seem to need the stability of a single ruler before multiparty democracy can take root.  Longevity and term limits are not mutually contradictory--one seems to lay a foundation for the other.
--Andrew Mwenda, The Independent

'Ugly Americans' have company
Saudis and Kuwaitis are making a nuisance of themselves all over Europe.  Social media is abuzz with video clips of Persian Gulf tourists acting appallingly--many uploaded by the culprits themselves, apparently oblivious to how rude they appear.  We watch as they picnic in public parks, then stroll away, leaving their garbage on the grass.  We cringe as they double-park their luxury cars, shipped overseas especially for the vacation, in the middle of busy European streets and "boast and brag about the ensuing traffic jams.  One group squatted in the dirt next to the Eiffel Tower and smoked from a hookah.  Another stole a duck from a pond in an Austrian park and cooked and ate it in front of the horrified locals.  That last episode prompted Viennese authorities to call for a reduction in visas for Gulf citizens, and we can hardly blame them.  Saudi Arabia has spent huge sums on scholarships, conferences, and forums to improve the image of our country, only to be undermined by a handful of reckless holidaymakers.  We can’t tolerate this.  Anyone caught infringing the laws or customs of a foreign country should lose the privilege of traveling for a few years--maybe then they would learn how to act respectfully.
--Mahmoud al-Madani, Okaz

Where a medical degree means little
Indian health care is in a woeful state.  The Medical Council of India, the body that oversees medical schools and the licensing of doctors, has been "steeped in corruption for the last two decades.  At the high end, of course, Indian doctors are superb, which is why patients come here from all over the world to be treated.  But many doctors bribe their way into and through medical school.  Once they’re practicing, there’s no mechanism to ensure that they keep up to date on research and no way to assess patient satisfaction.  Doctors don’t have to adhere to any set standard of care, or compare their patient outcomes against national standards.  Two recent studies, in fact, found little difference in the quality of care given by licensed doctors and informal village practitioners. Indian doctors, like local healers, freely give out antibiotics for ailments that don’t require them.  The result is that India is developing new superbugs resistant to all known treatments.  Obviously, the solution is strict and independent oversight of medical school admissions and physician licensing.  But with so many bureaucrats and politicians pocketing "easy money," there’s just no incentive to launch a thorough overhaul of the system.
--K.M. Shyamprasad and Meenakshi Gautham, The Indian Express

The universe, too, suffers from burnout
The universe is slowly dying. An international team of astronomers has discovered that the energy output across some 200,000 nearby galaxies is roughly half what it was 2 billion years ago, Scientific American reports. The reason is simple: Stars are slowly exhausting their fuel.

The universe is now 13.8 billion years old, and in all that time, stars, quasars, and other radiant objects have been converting matter into energy. Scientists have known for some time that the cosmic storehouse of energy is declining, but a team of 100 scientists working for the Galaxy and Mass Assembly (GAMA) project has pinpointed the process with unprecedented precision. Using some of the world’s most powerful telescopes, the team surveyed energy output at 21 wavelengths, from ultraviolet to infrared, and determined the universe is sliding into dotage, though it won’t disappear entirely. "It will just grow old forever, slowly converting less and less mass into energy as billions of years pass," says Luke Davies of the University of Western Australia, part of the GAMA team. "Eventually, it will become a cold, dark, and desolate place where all the lights go out."
--The Week

Obama’s lowest deficit
The U.S. budget deficit will fall this year to its lowest level since President Obama took office, following an unexpected flood of tax revenues, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said [recently].  The CBO said this year’s deficit is expected to be $426 billion--less than a third of the record $1.4 trillion budget gap Obama faced in the wake of the Great Recession in 2009.  But government budget analysts also warned that the country’s aging population and growing health-care costs could produce budget shortfalls of more than $1 trillion by 2025, providing fodder for Republican lawmakers just weeks ahead of an expected spending battle in Congress.  “There is an unsustainable path here for federal debt,” said CBO Director Keith Hall.
--The Week

The high cost of cheap oil
At first blush, $40-a-barrel oil sounds like a beautiful thing.  American consumers get cheaper gas, businesses benefit from lower energy bills, and automakers sell more vehicles, especially gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs.  But there’s a price to pay for all this cheap oil.  Employment in the 500,000-person U.S. oil and gas industry will take a hit as energy companies scale back operations.  Cheap, plentiful gasoline could also derail work on alternative fuel sources like solar and wind.
--Andy Serwer, Yahoo.com

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