Archive

September 7th, 2016

It's time to rethink the US approach to human rights in China

    When world leaders touch down in early September in the city of Hangzhou for this year's G-20 leaders' summit, which China will they see? The one of glossy skylines, enviable growth statistics, and perfectly choreographed diplomatic exchanges? Or the one in which China's prominent human and civil rights lawyers are detained, forcibly disappeared, and prosecuted on charges of subversion? The one in which civil society groups aiding survivors of domestic violence and sexual harassment are abruptly shut down?

    And will they see the ominous international trend emerging, of Chinese authorities and their agents abducting critics outside the mainland, then broadcasting some of their "confessions" on national television, while often denying their lawyers, family members, and - in the cases of those who hold other citizenship - even embassies access to them?

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Five myths about labor unions

    The first Labor Day celebration took place 134 years ago in New York City, at a time when organizing a union was not yet a protected right. At the time, labor unions were often viewed as criminal conspiracies, and a few years later, with the passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act, they were treated as anti-competitive trusts. It took years for labor to debunk these myths - indeed, some still think of labor unions in these terms - so this Labor Day it is worthwhile to look at a few misconceptions that currently surround labor.

 

Myth No. 1

    Unions are for the working class workers only.

    Labor seems to suffer from a branding problem - specifically, the notion that unions are for blue-collar workers in old-school jobs. As journalist Harold Meyerson wrote in the American Prospect, labor stands in the minds of many for "autoworkers and steelworkers, for the cutting-edge industries of 1935." Likewise, the AFL-CIO has bemoaned the "misperception that organized labor is predominantly a blue collar movement."

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By his own definition, Trump is bigoted against whites

    Hillary Clinton suggests that Donald Trump of Fifth Avenue is at heart a Klansman from Mississippi. Trump says Clinton is a "bigot."

    Really?

    Both of them have a bit of creepy racial stuff in their pasts: Clinton hailed the late senator Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who once bore the risible title "Exalted Cyclops" of the Ku Klux Klan, as her "friend and mentor." Trump was obliged to settle a housing discrimination case and says woefully stupid things about wanting Jews rather than blacks handling his money. But the idea that either candidate is a racist in the way David Duke is a racist is absurd.

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Black and white and Trump all over

    Maybe it was jet lag. But the scene seemed a bit surreal: The African-American hawker selling "Donald 'F- - - - - -' Trump" buttons, the young Hispanic guy with the "Build a Wall" T-shirt, the grinning fellow of Chinese descent strategically placed behind the podium.

    I had stepped off a flight from the United Arab Emirates just 12 hours earlier. Now, improbably, I found myself at a Donald Trump rally. I had expected the sea of white faces - flecked with camo, Confederate flags, biker leather, and National Rifle Association logos - in the crowds, eagerly awaiting their hero. But the fact that the majority of the Trump supporters were polite and well-dressed, not a bunch of obscenity-screaming loonies, and included a few assorted people of color, had me wondering if I wasn't suffering the effects of sleep deprivation.

    I was jolted back to reality the moment the Republican nominee came into the arena. I have spent the past two weeks in Pakistan and the Middle East, steeped in the geopolitical complexities of the region, a place painted in shades of gray. Now I was back in Trump's world of black and white.

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A big question mark: The Fed and the jobs report

    The big question mark about Friday's jobs report was (and still is): Will they or won't they?

    The nation's payroll rose by 151,000 jobs on net last month and the unemployment rate held steady at a low 4.9 percent. Once the Federal Reserve plugs the new numbers into their reaction function - one that most Fed watchers find increasingly elusive - will they decide to hold or raise the benchmark interest rate at their meeting later this month?

    My impression, similar to that of most Fed watchers, is that it would have taken a stronger jobs number- something north of 200,000 - to get them to tap the brakes by slightly raising the rate to slow the economy/job market a bit. Though they still, of course, might do so, this 150,000 payrolls number, in tandem with a few other points - elevated underemployment, low labor force participation rates, wages that are accelerating a bit but not pressuring prices - will likely stay their hand for now.

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Trump reinvents himself on immigration?

    Politicians have often tried to re-invent themselves, and some have actually succeeded. Southerner Lyndon Johnson became the champion of civil rights. So did former KKK member Robert Byrd. Anti-communism crusader Richard Nixon opened the door to Communist China. And hardliner Ronald Reagan signed a nuclear arms deal with the Soviet Union.

    But this week, Donald Trump tried to re-invent himself on the issue of immigration, and failed. He failed because what he proposed in the first place wasn't real -- and neither was his much-heralded reinvention.

    Illegal immigration, of course, is Trump's signature issue. He not only made it the centerpiece of the Republican primary, he forced the Republican Party to reverse course on immigration: from reaching out to Latino voters -- as Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham and other GOP leaders proposed -- to, in effect, declaring war on them.

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September 6th

The 2016 election is actually kind of normal

    The 2016 election appears on the surface to be weird and different, with all the rules of politics seemingly broken every day.

    But take a step back, and the general election is behaving -- so far, at least -- exactly how it should, given that the Republican Party nominated a total outsider as its candidate. In an era of strong parties, the 2016 general election is easily understood as being about ... parties.

    On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton proved perfectly acceptable to Democratic party actors -- the politicians, campaign and governing professionals, donors and activists, formal party officials and staff, and party-aligned interest groups and media. These Democrats control their party's future and are solidly in control of it. Clinton received an overwhelming majority of their endorsements even before the primaries and caucuses. And almost all of the few party actors who supported Bernie Sanders wound up endorsing Clinton once the Vermont socialist had lost.

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It's McAuliffe's choice on individual rights restoration

    House Speaker Bill Howell is back before the Virginia Supreme Court seeking to have Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe cited for contempt.

    Last month, in the extraordinary case of Howell v. McAuliffe, the speaker and Senate Republican leader Thomas Norment sued the governor on the issue of restoring voting and other civil rights of those lawfully convicted of a felony.

    Their lawsuit argued that the state constitution forbade the governor from restoring the rights of 206,000 disenfranchised felons in one sweeping, unprecedented executive order.

    We agreed with their argument. We further admonished the governor for labeling those opposed to his position as racist.

    The Constitution of Virginia seems plain enough. It says a person lawfully convicted of a felony loses the right to vote until the governor restores it in a constitutional fashion.

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From realism to cynicism to Trump

    Only the naive have ever believed that democracy is solely a noble contest over competing ideas, proposals and solutions. Emotion looms large in every human decision, including how we cast our ballots, and smart politicians have always blended appeals to the heart and the gut with their entreaties to reason.

     We cherish what might be called the Lincoln-Douglas approach to politics, inspired by the 1858 debates between Honest Abe and "The Little Giant," Stephen Douglas, when the two candidates went from place to place in Illinois arguing with great eloquence about the future of slavery. But we forget that even in those debates, emotion was often in the saddle. Racism was at work, and so was a passionate anger at "the Slave Power," the popular term in the North for the domination of the federal government by southern planters.

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Black Lead Matters

    Donald Trump is still claiming that “inner-city crime is reaching record levels,” promising to save African-Americans from the “slaughter.” In fact, this urban apocalypse is a figment of his imagination; urban crime is actually at historically low levels. But he’s not the kind of guy to care about another “Pants on Fire” verdict from PolitiFact.

    Yet some things are, of course, far from fine in our cities, and there is a lot we should be doing to help black communities. We could, for example, stop pumping lead into their children’s blood.

    You may think that I’m talking about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which justifiably caused national outrage early this year, only to fade from the headlines. But Flint was just an extreme example of a much bigger problem. And it’s a problem that should be part of our political debate: Like it or not, poisoning kids is a partisan issue.

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