American Daily: April 17, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

17 April 2015

  • America still hasn't gotten over the Civil War, 150 years on.

On this 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox, Americans mark the end of the Civil War. The questions at the heart of the war, though, still occupy the nation, which has never truly gotten over that conflict. The great issues of the war were not resolved on that April morning at Appomattox. In this sense, not only is the Civil War not over; it can still be lost.

The young woman who was at the cash register was the only employee on duty at the time who thought she recognized her. She considered asking if anybody had ever told her she “looked like Hillary Clinton.” But she didn’t. It was 1:20 p.m., at the tail end of “peak time,” lunch rush.
  • More than 43 per cent of Dems in Congress have endorsed Clinton for president.
One hundred one lawmakers have endorsed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run for president, locking down over 43 percent of all Democrats in Congress, according to a survey by The Hill.
Seventy-three House lawmakers, nearly 40 percent of the 188 Democrats in the chamber, as well as 28 senators, more than 60 percent of the upper chamber’s 46 Democrats, are in the former secretary of State’s camp.
In Hillary Clinton’s case, though, there’s still a good argument that the Democratic Party could use a contested primary this cycle: not to toughen Clinton’s calluses, but to build some redundancy into the presidential campaign. It may even be the case that some of these Democrats with rattled nerves are less anxious about Clinton’s prowess against Republicans than about the fact that all of the party’s hopes now rest on her shoulders. Her campaign has become a single point of failure for Democratic politics. If she wins in 2016, she won’t ride into office with big congressional supermajorities poised to pass progressive legislation. But if she loses, it will be absolutely devastating for liberalism.
  • Why creationists really don't want scientists to find aliens.

Could primordial soup be served ice-cold and made with a liquid other than water? Astrobiologists believe that it’s possible on Titan. Although the temperature on Saturn’s massive moon is a chilly minus 179 degrees Celsius, it has a thick nitrogen atmosphere rich in organic molecules and a surface speckled with methane lakes. These ingredients, according to computer simulations recently conducted at Cornell University, could combine to form cellular membranes, which are crucial for the evolution of complex cells. “Ours is the first concrete blueprint of life not as we know it,” said one of the researchers in a news release. Another expressed hope that we might someday send a probe “to float on the seas of this amazing moon.”

But the creationists at the hilariously misnamed Discovery Institute, a prominent advocate for intelligent design theory, had a different spin on the story. It described the Cornell researchers as hucksters who had proved nothing: “Get out your checkbook, U.S Congress. Coming up: a search across the Solar System for stone-cold dead BUBBLES.”

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Why predicting presidential elections is so hard

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

15 April 2015

I'm not as bullish about Hillary Clinton's chances at the White House as Jonathan Chait is (I think my colleague Brendon O'Connor is right to rate her about 55 per cent), but he has a smart point about how difficult it is to make useful predictions on presidential politics based on past trends;

Is it time for a change? The one remaining ground for Republican optimism is the possibility that voters will decide three straight presidential terms for the Democratic Party is too much. Many political scientists (such as Alan Abramowitz) believe this exhaustion factor is real; after a second term, voters grow increasingly restless with the in-party and are more likely to decide it’s time for a change. If this is true, Clinton may face headwinds even in an otherwise favorable landscape.

It may well be true. But there are reasons to doubt it. One reason is that models that detect voter impatience are based on a very small number of data points. Since World War II, there have been eight presidential elections in which the incumbent party has held office for two terms or more. It’s hard to draw definitive conclusions from such a limited number of events.

Right! And, so goes the theory — which I essentially subscribe to — that since the incumbent party has won on only two of those occasions (Truman in 1948 and Bush in 1988), it looks like the American electorate does have a kind of eight-year itch. 

But although a 25 per cent strike rate is low, Chait is right that the sample size is unreliable. Look at the campaigns in which the incumbent party was beaten to see how much divination and palm-reading is involved in presidential progonostication:

One election in which the incumbent lost decisively: Not easy to see this one going the other way.

  • In 1952, Adlai Stevenson was wiped out by Dwight Eisenhower after twenty years of Democratic Party rule.

Three elections that were essentially coin-tosses: These could have gone either way, depending on the caprices of campaign tactics or turnout.

  • In 1960, Richard Nixon lost the popular vote to John Kennedy by a tenth of a percentage point. Some Republicans still believe Kennedy only prevailed through voter fraud in Texas and Illinois. (The Republican obsession with voter fraud really is mostly about shoring up their advantage amongst more reliable and privileged voters, but it does have some roots in history.) 
  • In 1968, Hubert Humphrey lost the popular vote to Richard Nixon by 0.7 per cent of the popular vote and in the Electoral College might have been spoiled by Southerner George Wallace's protest campaign. He was also hampered by the Democrats' connection to the War in Vietnam, the party's chaotic convention that year, and the unpopularity of President Lyndon Johnson — all of which seem better explanations for his loss than the eight years his party had already spent in the White House.
  • In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote against George W. Bush, and lost the Electoral College when the Supreme Court halted a recount in Florida and awarded its votes to his opponent. 

Two elections that closely followed recessions: Recessions have a more reliable track-record of predicting electoral outcomes.

  • In 1992, George H.W. Bush saw his sky-high approval ratings following his victory in the Gulf War plummet when the economy went into recession.
  • In 2008, John McCain sought to succeed fellow Republican George W. Bush in the midst of a deep financial crisis and recession. (That Bush had presided over the unpopular war in Iraq didn't help.)

One election that followed the Watergate scandal: A president resigned in the face of certain impeachment and conviction.

  • In 1976, Gerald Ford's bid for a Republican third term after Richard Nixon had resigned in disgraced was almost certainly doomed.

Even if voters do tire of incumbent parties, that's not a solid body of evidence in favour of the theory. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in the middle: the longer a party holds the White House, the more likely it is to be struck by recession, corruption, or a badly run campaign. It's good news for the Clinton campaign that the Obama White House has been exceptionally clean in its dealings and has overseen a period of economic growth. But even if it's not quite true that nobody knows anything about presidential politics, the past is complex territory on which to base one's expectations.

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American Daily: April 9, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

9 April 2015

  • Should America reserve a holiday to celebrate the Union's Civil War victory?

This week provides an occasion for the U.S. government to get real about history, as April 9 is the 150th anniversary of the Union’s victory in the Civil War. The generous terms of Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House foreshadowed a multitude of real and symbolic compromises that the winners of the war would make with secessionists, slavery supporters, and each other to piece the country back together. It’s as appropriate an occasion as the Selma anniversary to reflect on the country’s struggle to improve itself. And to mark the occasion, the federal government should make two modest changes: It should make April 9 a federal holiday; and it should commit to disavowing or renaming monuments to the Confederacy, and its leaders, that receive direct federal support.

The framework nuclear deal establishes only the very basics; negotiators will continue to meet to try to turn them into a complete, detailed agreement by the end of June. Still, the terms in the framework, unveiled to the world after a series of late- and all-night sessions, are remarkably detailed and almost astoundingly favorable to the United States.

  • How Democrats went from looking to cut Social Security to trying to expand it.
During a last-minute budget session, the Massachusetts senator [Elizabeth Warren] introduced an amendment to “expand and protect Social Security” by raising taxes to keep the program solvent and increasing benefits to better assist seniors. The resolution failed to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, but not before Warren won support from all but two of her Democratic colleagues. (The holdouts were Tom Carper of Delaware and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.)
  • White American milennials are about as racist as their parents.
When it comes to explicit prejudice against blacks, non-Hispanic white millennials are not much different than whites belonging to Generation X (born 1965–1980) or Baby Boomers (born 1946–1964). White millennials (using a definition of being born after 1980) express the least prejudice on 4 out of 5 measures in the survey, but only by a matter of 1 to 3 percentage points, not a meaningful difference. On work ethic, 31 percent of millennials rate blacks as lazier than whites, compared to 32 percent of Generation X whites and 35 percent of Baby Boomers.
  • Why did California charge a black woman with lynching?

Hampton’s arrest — and sensational-sounding charge — made headlines. California’s lynching law was put on the books in 1933, to prevent mobs from forcibly taking people from police custody for vigilante justice.

But the statute has long been used against protesters as well, by police if not prosecutors. In 1999, anti-fur protesters in San Francisco who blocked access to a Neiman Marcus store in Union Square were charged under the lynching law. Prosecutors declined to take the case to court.

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American Daily: April 8, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

8 April 2015

Even worse for the filibuster, both sides are completely convinced that if they don't eliminate the filibuster, the other party will do so as soon as it's convenient. "There is every reason to expect that similar political expediency will lead to future limitations on the filibuster when there is again a Democratic Senate majority — which should give comfort to any Republicans who continue to support the filibuster out of respect for Senate tradition," write Rivkin and Casey.
  • The roots of the current turmoil in Yemen.
After Hussein’s death in 2004, Yemen’s US-backed president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, continued waging intermittent wars on the Houthis—now led by his brother, Abdulmalik. These were carried out with such brutality and incompetence that the Houthi movement grew in size and fighting ability, gaining sympathy from northern tribes who suffered in the wars. After the uprising in 2011 that ultimately forced Saleh to step aside, Yemen was theoretically governed by Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi, the new president named in a transitional process underwritten by the Gulf states and the US. In reality, the government was losing control of the country, with al-Qaeda bombers and kidnappers running rampant. The Houthis were the only group with the cohesion and discipline to hold terrain. They grew even stronger after forming a tactical alliance with their former enemy, ex-president Saleh, who still controlled much of the military. And the Iranians gave them the money they needed for the final push to Sanaa, the capital, last fall.
  • Why American Jews stick by the Democrats, despite predictions otherwise. 
As has been the case almost every four years since the early 1970s, and much like Charlie Brown to Lucy’s football, the political media is waiting expectantly for an electoral swing. “Cracks Appear in Democratic-Jewish Alliance Over Iran Deal, Netanyahu,” the Wall Street Journal announced over the weekend. “G.O.P.’s Israel Support Deepens as Political Contributions Shift,” the New York Times added.
  • Why etiquette has always been important to discrimination.

That’s a counter-intuitive definition. Discrimination, especially the pervasive discrimination of the Jim Crow era, tends to be remembered as a matter of violence, not as a matter of manners. Jim Crow involved lynchings, beatings, and the KKK—politeness and etiquette seems like secondary matters at best. And yet politeness and violence are in fact intertwined and inseparable. Segregation was accomplished through an elaborate system of norms about when black and white people could meet, and how they could interact.

There are the 1960s, and then there is "the Sixties," and they only overlap to a degree. Popular culture and popular history have turned the Sixties in America into a dreamscape of mop-topped British invaders, painted hippies, an escalating war in Vietnam, a moon landing, and massive social unrest. But before the rise of the flower children, there were men in suits and short haircuts, women in conservative dresses, and chaste movie musicals dominating at the box office. And it's not like the counterculture obliterated the culture that had already existed. The psychedelic-inflected comedy of "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" was the highest rated show of the 1968-69 season, but the top 10 also included "Gomer Pyle," "Bonanza," "Mayberry RFD," "Family Affair," "Gunsmoke," "The Dean Martin Show," "Here's Lucy" and "The Beverly Hillbillies." In 1969, the same year that The Beatles released "Abbey Road" and The Rolling Stones presented "Let It Bleed," aging Rat Pack icon Frank Sinatra had a huge hit with what would become his signature song, "My Way."

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Even now, Puerto Rico is not a state

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

1 April 2015

As I've mentioned before on this blog, Puerto Rico, the island and US territory, voted in 2012 to become the 51st state of the Union. This would resolve the current difficult situation Puerto Ricans find themselves in: they are considered citizens of the United States, but do not receive the full protection of the constitution unless they move to the mainland.

Julio Ricardo Varela comments on the above recent John Oliver segment, which explains exactly how absurd the island's continued colonial status is:

For years, Puerto Ricans such as myself have been writing and speaking about the island’s perpetual limbo relationship with the United States; a relationship — formed in 1898 when the US invaded and annexed Puerto Rico at the tail end of the Spanish–American War — that was glaringly lopsided from the start. As US citizens, Puerto Ricans can fight on behalf of America in foreign wars, but they can’t vote for the president who sends them there. They pay taxes, but don’t have a representative in Congress who can vote on how to spend them. It’s definitively anti-American: modern-day taxation without representation.

All these years, we Puerto Ricans both on the island and the mainland (about eight million of us) have tried to convince our fellow Americans to pay attention to the injustices playing out in their own back yard. We are mired in obvious inequities, but are distracted by political status options (statehood, commonwealth, independence) with non-binding status plebiscites leading nowhere (in 2012, Puerto Ricans rejected the status quo and favored statehood). And if that weren’t enough, the island’s neo-colonial economy is about to go bankrupt, too.

James Surowiecki expands on the island's economic troubles:

[Puerto Rico] had been one of the great postwar economic-development success stories, turning itself from a poor, largely rural society into a manufacturing powerhouse with a thriving middle class. But by the nineteen-nineties the economy had slowed, and then it went off the rails. Puerto Rico has been in and out of recession since 2006. Its unemployment rate is around fourteen per cent; forty-five per cent of the population lives below the federal poverty line; and there’s a fiscal crisis — a scramble to restructure debts of seventy-three billion dollars. Last year, the new governor, Alejandro Padilla, said, “We’ve proved that Puerto Rico is not Detroit and not Greece.” As boasts go, that’s hardly encouraging.

Puerto Rico’s difficulties are rooted, in part, in its earlier success. Its path to industrialization was paved with corporate tax breaks. The most important one was Section 936 of the U.S. tax code. (Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.) This went into effect in 1976, and exempted the profits earned by American companies from federal taxes ... The problem was that the growth depended on that crucial tax break, and in 1996 Congress began phasing it out. It expired completely a decade later, and, as the subsidies disappeared, so did many factories, relocating to places where labor was cheaper and regulation lighter. Between 1996 and 2014, the number of manufacturing jobs on the island fell by almost half. Last year, the island’s Secretary of Economic Development, Alberto Bacó Bagué, said that, once the island’s tax exemption expired, “we kind of disappeared from the map.”

Perhaps resolving the island's status and giving its people full representation in Congress, as they have requested, might help draw some attention to these problems. And there is some sign things are moving forward, as was recently reported by the Latin American Herald Tribune:

The Puerto Rican representative in Washington and leader of the island’s opposition party, Pedro Pierluisi, proposed on Wednesday the law of the admission process of Puerto Rico as state.

In 2014, the U.S. Congress approved a $2.5 million endowment to finance the holding of the first consultation on the issue in the history of Puerto Rico sponsored by the federal government, provided certain conditions were met.

Pierluisi has proposed a new law that would those funds to once again put the statehood question to a Puerto Rican vote, which, if successful, see the island admitted to the Union on January 1, 2021. The bill has been referred to committee, and gives a not-encouraging 10 per cent chance of it being enacted. Also, there's this:

The party in favor of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st U.S. state is the opposition New Progressive Party, while the ruling Popular Democratic Party wants to maintain the current political status.

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American Daily: April 1, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

1 April 2015

At stake are losses for manufacturing ($95.4 billion in annual state output), finance ($44 billion) and tourism ($10.3 billion) -- not to mention reputational harm. Arizona adopted a similar religious-freedom bill last year, but “opposition from the state’s business interests led Republican Governor Jan Brewer to veto it.”

Patel was arrested in July 2013 after she went to the emergency room, bleeding heavily, at St. Joseph Hospital in Mishawaka, Indiana. Despite initially denying the pregnancy, Patel eventually admitted to medical authorities that she had a miscarriage and threw the stillborn fetus in a dumpster.

According to Sue Ellen Braunlin, doctor and co-president of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice, Purvi was most likely 23-24 weeks pregnant, although prosecutors argued Patel was 25 weeks along in the state's opening argument. The prosecution confirmed on Monday that the baby died within seconds of being born.

For one, movements toward racial justice have always attracted a sliver of the young white population with a disposition geared toward radical politics. They are not necessarily representative of their entire generation. Furthermore, with respect to this particular generation, the Millennials, the education these young white people have received have left them ill-equipped to understand the nature of racism and subsequently supplied them analysis that won’t address the problem. As children of the multi-cultural 1980s and 90s, Millennials are fluent in colorblindness and diversity, while remaining illiterate in the language of anti-racism. This may not be the end of the world, if weren’t for the fact that Millennials don’t know the difference between the two.
  • How The Birth of a Nation split liberals over issues of race and free-speech.
In 1915 moral panic over the depiction of crime and vice in such movies as Traffic in Souls and The Inside of the White Slave Traffic was feeding conservative demands for constraints, with Congress already mulling a federal censorship board. The most successful legislation to that point, a 1912 bill to ban interstate sales of boxing films, had a blatantly racist motive: the desire to suppress footage of boxer Jack Johnson defeating “great white hope” James Jeffries. Free-speech advocates fought back against the rising tide. Vetoing an ordinance to introduce movie censors in New York City, Mayor William Jay Gaynor wrote, “Do they know what they are doing? Do they know anything of the history and literature of the subject? Do they know that the censorships of past ages did immeasurably more harm than good?”

It was the early 1970s, and my parents had each arrived in the United States with only a vague sense of what their respective futures held, beyond a few years of graduate studies. They certainly didn’t know they would be repeating these treks in the coming decades, subjecting weary passengers (namely, me) to their own long drives in search of Chinese food. I often daydream about this period of their lives and imagine them grappling with some sense of terminal dislocation, starving for familiar aromas, and regretting the warnings of their fellow new Americans that these were the last good Chinese spots for the next hundred or so miles. They would eventually meet and marry in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois (where they acquired a taste for pizza), and then live for a spell in Texas (where they were told that the local steak house wasn’t for “their kind”), before settling in suburban California. Maybe this was what it meant to live in America. You could move around. You were afforded opportunities unavailable back home. You were free to go by “Eric” at work and name your children after US presidents. You could refashion yourself a churchgoer, a lover of rum-raisin ice cream, an aficionado of classical music or Bob Dylan, a fan of the Dallas Cowboys because everyone else in the neighborhood seemed to be one. But for all the opportunities, those first days in America had prepared them for one reality: sometimes you had to drive great distances in order to eat well.

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American Daily: March 31, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

31 March 2015

Indy Star front page

It hadn’t been easy for Jones to transition back to a life of freedom. He managed to stick it out, he said, because he was determined not to return to the place where he spent the final eight years of his last sentence: the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., known more colloquially as the ADX. The ADX is the highest-security prison in the country. It was designed to be escape-proof, the Alcatraz of the Rockies, a place to incarcerate the worst, most unredeemable class of criminal — “a very small subset of the inmate population who show,” in the words of Norman Carlson, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, “absolutely no concern for human life.” Ted Kaczynski and the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph call the ADX home. The 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is held there, too, along with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef; the Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols; the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab; and the former Bonanno crime-family boss Vincent Basciano. Michael Swango, a serial-killing doctor who may have poisoned 60 of his patients, is serving three consecutive life sentences; Larry Hoover, the Gangster Disciples kingpin made famous by rappers like Rick Ross, is serving six; the traitorous F.B.I. agent Robert Hanssen, a Soviet spy, 15.

By the turn of the century, with the acquiescence of the Supreme Court, a comprehensive system of racial, political and economic inequality, summarized in the phrase Jim Crow, had come into being across the South. At the same time, the supposed horrors of Reconstruction were invoked as far away as South Africa and Australia to demonstrate the necessity of excluding nonwhite peoples from political rights. This is why W.E.B. Du Bois, in his great 1935 work “Black Reconstruction in America,” saw the end of Reconstruction as a tragedy for democracy, not just in the United States but around the globe.
  • The sexism you can't quite prove.
But there is one very clear lesson we should draw from the murk of her case. Pao did not sue just because she felt that Kleiner Perkins fostered a sexist corporate culture. She sued because she felt that the culture prevented her from ascending in the firm, costing her work opportunities and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

@jhinderaker is John Hinderaker, one of the proprietors of the conservative blog PowerLine, and he's peddling a theory that the injuries Reid suffered while exercising in January weren't an accident at all. To Hinderaker the official story is just a cover-up for an incident that involves Mafia violence — likely the fallout of what Hinderaker alleges to be long-running corruption on the part of the Nevada senator and Democratic Senate leader.

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American Daily: March 27, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

27 March 2015

  • Republicans are for the most part united behind a flat tax.

When Steve Forbes made a flat tax the centerpiece of his 1996 campaign for president, it was met with a certain degree of puzzlement. Here was a guy who inherited a huge fortune, talking about how the rich shouldn't have to pay so much in taxes. (In a weird coincidence, his plan would have saved him a couple of billion dollars in taxes over the course of his lifetime.) But before long, in Republican circles the flat tax became, if not quite dogma, then certainly the default option for candidates.

Bundlers who used to carry platinum status have been downgraded, forced to temporarily watch the money race from the sidelines. They’ve been eclipsed by the uber-wealthy, who can dash off a seven-figure check to a super PAC without blinking. Who needs a bundler when you have a billionaire?
Many fundraisers, once treated like royalty because of their extensive donor networks,are left pining for their lost prestige. Can they still have impact in a world where Jeb Bush asks big donors to please not give more than $1 million to his super PAC right now? Will they ever be in the inner circle again?
House Judiciary Committee press release

  • Mitt Romney talks to himself before going on Jimmy Fallon.

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American Daily: March 25, 2015

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

25 March 2015

“I grew up listening to classic rock and I’ll tell you sort of an odd story,” Cruz explained to CBS This Morning on Tuesday morning (March 24). “My music taste changed on 9/11. And it’s a very strange… I actually find this very curious, but 9/11… I didn’t like how rock music responded, and country music collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me, and I have to say it, just as a gut level, I had an emotional reaction that says, ‘These are my people.’
  • Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan need to keep a better check on their web presence

But other potential GOP presidential nominees need to up their website game. Take Sen. Ted Cruz. Unfortunately for the Texas Republican, long before he ran for Senate in 2012, had been nabbed by an Arizona attorney who shares his name. Based on a search of the Wayback Machine, an internet archive, the Arizona Cruz's website dates back to at least early 2008, when it was a normal, if slightly Geocities-tinged, business website. "Putting All Your Real Estate Needs In 'CRUZ CONTROL,'" the attorney's tagline said at the time. But sometime within the past year he ditched his law site to instead mock the would-be-president. On a simple black background, in large font, the website screamed: "COMING SOON, Presidential Candidate, I Luv CHRISTIE!!!!!" Attorney Cruz wouldn't say anything to Mother Jones over email except to acknowledge that he has owned the domain for several years. But he deleted the section about loving Christie shortly thereafter. Given the initial message, though, it seems unlikely that the Arizona attorney will be easily persuaded to relinquish control of the domain to the senator.

I discussed the Tax Foundation report with 10 public finance economists ranging across the ideological spectrum, all of whom said its estimates of the economic effects of tax cuts were too aggressive. “This would not pass muster as an undergraduate’s model at a top university,” said Laurence Kotlikoff, a Boston University professor whom the Tax Foundation specifically encouraged me to call.
Here’s why there was a Confederate flag in each of those windows on the second floor in Davis Hall. The school, being as small as it was, had Greek organizations, but rather than having separate Greek housing, they had Greek floors in the dorms where all members lived. The floor with the Confederate flags in the windows was inhabited by the men of Kappa Alpha Order, known as the KAs. Every black person on campus (and those who were attuned to racial insensitivity) knew to stay away from the KAs. They were the good ol’ Southern boys, and the organization itself was founded on loaded terms like “chivalry,” “modern knighthood” (gee, why does that sound familiar?), and the “ideal Christian gentleman.” They list Confederate commander Robert E. Lee as their “spiritual founder,” which still doesn’t really make much sense to me, and though it wasn’t their official emblem, they were very, very fond of the Confederate flag. Those windows and the flags in them belonged to the KAs.

"Pimp My Ride" premiered on MTV in 2004 with a straightforward premise that was beautiful in its simplicity: Take a kid with a beat up car and have the rapper Xzibit orchestrate a massive and ridiculous upgrade. The theme song explained it all in just a few lines: "So you wanna be a player, but your wheels ain't fly / You gotta hit us up, to get a pimp't out ride."

But although the show operated within such a minimal framework, things were a bit more complicated behind the scenes. From cars that would break down in a matter of weeks to fat-shaming a contestant to one MTV employee apparently trying to convince another car owner to break up with his girlfriend, there was a lot more to the creation of this show than Xzibit simply saying, "Yo dawg."

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The Homer Simpson rule and Donald Trump

By Jonathan Bradley in Sydney, Australia

23 March 2015

Donald Trump

Hello everyone. You might have seen news last week that TV personality and real-estate mogul Donald Trump has formed an exploratory committee to investigate a presidential run. This is further than he got in 2012, when he stoked a lot of speculation about a run, but did not undertake any of the necessary administrative steps to becoming a declared candidate. 

Now that Trump is more formally running in 2016, this is a good opportunity to remind you of the Homer Simpson rule of American politics:

There's an episode from season six of "The Simpsons" in which a young Homer sees Jack Kennedy on TV. Homer's mother suggests to her husband that their son might grow up to be President. Grampa, however, scoffs at the idea. "You, President?" he sneers. "This is the greatest country in the world. We've got a whole system set up to prevent people like you from becoming President."

I think Grampa Simpson had it right. As much as the American system is designed to give members of a party base the power to choose its nominees, there is so much vetting involved that if the party insiders in Fairfax genuinely don't want someone to be a nominee, they won't be.

In other news, the Houston Chronicle is reporting that Senator Ted Cruz of Texas will announce a bid today. Senator Cruz is in a different league to Trump, if only by dint of being an elected politician rather than a joke, but the Homer Simpson rule applies to him, too. There are a lot of people in the Republican Party who don't want Cruz to be their nominee, and that will make it very difficult for him to get the nod.

Finally, when Jeb Bush first announced his interest in running, I said I was skeptical of his chances. Three months later, and my prediction seems to still be up in the air. Bush hasn't crashed and burned, but he hasn't cleared the field either.

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