Archive

April 2nd, 2016

Fixing our schools: An essential combination of education and infrastructure policy

    We can argue all day about the role of government in our economy, but there are two areas where that role is widely agreed to be essential: education and public infrastructure. Well, there's a great way to roll those roles together: a deep investment in the quality of our public school facilities.

    Here are some facts to get you thinking about the scope of the problem, from a careful and timely new study by three groups that brought some heavy analytic firepower to this question of the state of our schools:

    -- Every school day, 50 million students and 6 million adults (mostly teachers) meet at the 100,000 K-12 public schools nationwide. These buildings, along with supporting areas, such as bus lots and storage areas, comprise 7.5 billion square feet, the equivalent of half the total commercial space in the country. After highways, this is the biggest piece of our public infrastructure.

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Economists are warming to government intervention

    Economists argue so much about everything that people are always asking them "Is there anything you folks agree on?" The usual stock response is "free trade." But when Stanford economics professor Jon Levin took the question on Quora, he gave a very different answer:

    "Virtually all economists agree with the principle that externalities should be taxed and tend to see externality taxes (or "Pigovian" taxes after the economist Arthur Pigou) as quite natural."

    This might seem like a dry, scholarly response, but for those of us who watch the econ profession, it is eye-opening. This is the first time I've seen a professor at a top school cite government intervention in the economy as the main example of agreement in the field.

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Dying in Prison

    Over the past three decades, judges and juries have filled America’s prisons with non-violent offenders.

    Many are serving draconian sentences for first-time offenses. Indeed, while only about 5 percent of the world’s people live in the United States, our country is locking up nearly 25 percent of the world’s prison population.

    President Barack Obama has at least begun to address this issue by creating the Clemency Project, which connects prisoners to pro-bono lawyers who can argue for them to have their sentences reduced. Inmates are eligible if their sentences would have been shorter today than when they received them — as long as they’ve already served at least half their time.

    That doesn’t help prisoners who haven’t yet served half of their sentences. It’s an especially glaring gap for prisoners who are elderly and gravely ill. Where is their relief?

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Donald Trump, the tabloid candidate

    The frontrunner in the Republican presidential race is not only a favorite subject of the newspaper tabloids but also their chief competitor in the business of dishing out trash.

    Donald Trump has become the master of venom and innuendo that long has been the trademark of "the tabs" that survive in big cities that still have subway strap-hangers devouring their eye-catching headlines. In New York especially, the Daily News and the Post continue in vivid gossip competition.

    Their latest juicy morsel is Trump's sleazy effort to smear Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over a report in the gossip tabloid National Enquirer of five alleged cases of sexual misconduct, which Cruz has stoutly denied.

    Soon after the allegation, a very unflattering photo of Cruz's wife, Heidi, surfaced on the Internet, twinned with a striking photo of Trump's nearly nude third wife, former supermodel Melania. Cruz blamed Trump for its appearance and called him "a coward" for dragging his wife into the campaign conversation.

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Donald Trump was (sort of) right; Pen bombs are indeed possible

    Donald Trump did not at any point actually think that he was in physical danger when Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields approached him after a victory speech in Florida earlier this month. Fields, carrying a phone in one hand to record Trump and a pen in the other to write down how he answered her questions, looked like any of the other scores of reporters that have surrounded Trump over the last nine months -- a presence that he has obviously enjoyed.

    But after Trump's campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was charged with battery for grabbing Fields's arm and dragging her out of the way, Trump was forced to migrate from his untrue original position -- that it didn't happen -- to a new one: Lewandowski was trying to protect me.

    CNN's Anderson Cooper asked him about it during a town hall on Tuesday night.

    "She went through the Secret Service," Trump said. "She had a pen in her hand, which Secret Service is not liking because they don't know what it is, whether it's a little bomb or..."

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Curing cancer is within reach

    One of the most frightening words a patient can hear from a doctor is "cancer." We know it from the experience of our families and friends, and the millions of Americans who hear it directly from their doctors each year.

    In President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address, he compared the effort required to eradicate cancer to a "moonshot," summoning the American ingenuity and scientific pursuits that sent humankind to the moon. We believe that it's time for a full and complete national commitment to rid the world of this disease, because the truth is that ending cancer as we know it is finally within our grasp.

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Can the Supreme Court demand compromise? It just did

    It's happening: The Supreme Court is getting desperate. With a 4-4 tie looming over whether religious organizations have to file a form with the government requesting an exemption from the mandatory contraceptive care provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the justices took an extreme step. They issued an order that basically told the federal government and the religious entities to reach a compromise -- and described what the compromise would look like.

    Federal district court judges will sometimes tell the parties that they'd better compromise, or else they might not like the results that will follow. The Supreme Court essentially never does, both because it lacks leverage and because it gets involved in cases with the intention to make new law, not to resolve particular disputes.

    But we're in new territory here. The Supreme Court is trying to figure out how to do its job with eight justices -- a situation that might persist not just through this Supreme Court term, but through the next one as well.

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A tax on Yale's endowment? Good luck

    "It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it!" These words, spoken by Daniel Webster, are among the most famous ever uttered before the Supreme Court. And they may be spoken again if Connecticut passes proposed legislation that would tax Yale University's $25.6 billion endowment.

    Yale isn't especially small, nor is it vulnerable as Dartmouth was in 1818 when Webster spoke of his alma mater. But the Connecticut bill almost certainly violates the holding in the 1819 case of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, which established that the Constitution bars states from changing a university's charter.

    Begin with the Connecticut bill, which points to the difficult question of whether it's fair for some universities to be so much richer than others. I benefited in my education from the tremendous resources of well-off institutions like Harvard and Yale, and I'm writing this in my office at Harvard Law School. I'm hardly objective.

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When the Necessary Is Impossible

    Being back in Iraq after two years’ absence has helped me to put my finger on the central question bedeviling U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East today: What do you do when the necessary is impossible, but the impossible is impossible to ignore — and your key allies are also impossible?

    Crushing the Islamic State, or ISIS, is necessary for stabilizing Iraq and Syria, but it is impossible as long as Shiites and Sunnis there refuse to truly share power, and yet ignoring the ISIS cancer and its ability to metastasize is impossible as well. See: Belgium.

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What Susan Sarandon said about Trump was out of this world

    MSNBC's Chris Hayes interviewed actress Susan Sarandon on Monday and right now I. Can't. Even.

    The surrogate for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, told Hayes, "I don't know. I'm going to see what happens" when he asked whether she would vote for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Not committing to voting for Clinton wasn't terribly shocking. Sarandon had spent a considerable amount of time knocking the former secretary of state's record. But what she said about Trump was out of this world.

    HAYES: Right, but isn't the question always in an election about choices, right. I mean, I think a lot of people think to themselves well if it's Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and I think Bernie Sanders probably would think this…

    SARANDON: I think Bernie probably would encourage people because he doesn't have any ego. I think a lot of people are sorry, I can't bring myself to do that.

    HAYES: How about you personally?

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