Archive

August 13th, 2016

Thanks, Trump: The Muslim community benefits from an unexpected spotlight

    I, an American Muslim, want to thank Donald Trump.

    I am not one of his supporters. No way, never. He might even think I am one of his many nemeses: Born in Baghdad and brought to this country by my parents in 1964 as they fled the persecution of a military dictatorship, I believe that Islam's place is America. In America, Muslims can practice their religion more freely than any other country in the world, including Muslim countries.

    I am both Muslim and American. I don't have to choose one or the other. Yet many Americans don't understand that.

    It's only starting to make sense to many of my fellow citizens - and for that growing clarity, I have Trump to thank.

    We all agree that we live in dangerous times. Terrorism and xenophobia are fires that exponentially fuel each other. As Americans, we live in the nightmares of what has been happening since 9/11 and what can happen. As American Muslims, we add another layer of fear with the thought of deportation for immigrants and internment camps for the native-born.

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In Congress: the Zika Games

    For the purposes of this discussion, let’s think of Congress as a fetid pool of ideologues.

    In frosty February, many weeks before mosquito season, President Obama foresaw an emergency and acted on it. He requested $1.9 billion in funds to combat a disease seen as threatening Americans. Time was on our side.

    Came spring’s thaw, and summer, and, well . . .

    It is now mid-August, and Congress has patty-caked the time away as Zika cases paint a splatter portrait in red, a swarm approaching America from the tropics.

    The problem is that while Republican leaders agreed to budget something -- about half of what Obama requested, $1.1 billion -- they attached riders that they knew Democrats, and the president, would not accept.

    Then they left on summer vacation.

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Growth and fairness are not trade-offs

    Issues of inequality, fairness, middle-class living standards and job creation have been central to the U.S. presidential campaign. Rightly so. For many years, the incomes of all groups tended to move together. Indeed, as a graduate student in the late 1970s, I was taught that it was a "stylized fact" that the shares of U.S. total income going to profits and to wages, and to the rich and to the poor, were constant. All of this has changed. It is totally appropriate that widening inequality and the associated stalling of middle-class living standards should become an urgent political issue.

    What is unfortunate is that many, in their eagerness to focus on fairness, neglect the single most important determinant of almost every aspect of economic performance - the rate of growth of total income, as reflected in the gross domestic product. Because those emphasizing strategies that center on business tax-cutting and deregulation, and that favor the wealthy, have placed the most emphasis on growth over the past 35 years, the objective of increasing growth has been discredited in the minds of too many progressives.

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Clinton's establishment insurgency

    Hillary Clinton's campaign is not exactly the same thing as Hillary Clinton. The woman herself is a paragon of the establishment, a fixture of the last quarter century of American politics, an insider, familiar both as a political personality and as an experienced purveyor of political goods and services.

    The campaign is that and something more.

    The election of 2008 is viewed as an American watershed, the year the emerging majority of nonwhites first elected one of its own to the presidency. That's basically true. But the context matters. The incumbent party had made such a mess of things that the out-group, led by the most out-candidate in American history, suddenly had an inside track, aided by a financial collapse perfectly timed to benefit the outsider.

    It could have been a fluke. David Dinkins was elected the first black mayor of New York City in 1989. But Dinkins's tenure was widely perceived as a failure. He lost his bid for re-election. New York, unlike the U.S., already has a nonwhite majority. Yet it hasn't elected a nonwhite mayor since Dinkins -- a hiatus of 27 years and counting.

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Clinton's email server did not lead to an Iranian scientist's death

    Despite what you might read on Donald Trump's twitter feed, the Iranian execution of a nuclear scientist who defected to the United States and then changed his mind was not caused by Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server. The scientist outed himself; it wasn't Clinton's fault.

    The Iranian government announced Sunday it had executed Shahram Amiri, a nuclear scientist who spent about 14 months in the United States in 2009 and 2010. Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., noted on Sunday's Face the Nation that Amiri's case had been discussed by top Clinton State Department officials on emails that passed through her private server.

    "I'm not going to comment on what he may or may not have done for the United States government, but in the emails that were on Hillary Clinton's private server, there were conversations among her senior advisors about this gentleman," Cotton said. "That goes to show just how reckless and careless her decision was to put that kind of highly classified information on a private server."

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Business, labor don't have to be enemies

    In the United States, the image of a powerful union connotes rapacious groups of workers, jockeying to get perks and salaries beyond what they rightfully deserve. In this zero-sum world, union gains - if unsubstantiated by productivity growth - become public losses. So why should we think that strong unions are ever a good idea?

    In reality, stronger and more involved unions could help the United States develop better public policy. Elsewhere in the world, unions enjoy much higher levels of support from the public - in many countries, they cover most workers and play a crucial role in forging public policies. Paradoxically, they do this in conjunction with equally strong employers' associations.

    In Nordic countries, centralized associations covering business and labor have the legal right and responsibility to negotiate employment policy. Some policies are created through collective wage bargains, which then pertain to everyone. Others are developed by tripartite committees that include representatives of the major associations, which create binding policies governing issues such as family leave, active labor-market programs and part-time work.

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Trump’s Troubles in the Black Belt

    There has been much talk this election about the fundamental transformation of voters in the Rust Belt and what that portends for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

    But there is another belt also worth keeping an eye on for its remarkable electoral transformation: The Black Belt, a series of counties with large black populations, which stretches from the Deep South to the mid-Atlantic. (Florida is not a Black Belt state.)

    An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday found that a measly 1 percent of registered black voters overall support Trump.

    That’s extremely problematic in states with high numbers of black voters. The more black voters Clinton gets, the fewer white ones she needs.

    The northernmost of these states have voted Democratic in recent elections — Maryland since 1992; Virginia since 2008. North Carolina even flipped in 2008. But now, with Trump as the GOP standard-bearer, the Black Belt states in the Deep South also look shaky.

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Time to Borrow

    The campaign still has three ugly months to go, but the odds — 83 percent odds, according to the New York Times’ model — are that it will end with the election of a sane, sensible president. So what should she do to boost America’s economy, which is doing better than most of the world but is still falling far short of where it should be?

    There are, of course, many ways our economic policy could be improved. But the most important thing we need is sharply increased public investment in everything from energy to transportation to wastewater treatment.

    How should we pay for this investment? We shouldn’t — not now, or any time soon. Right now there is an overwhelming case for more government borrowing.

    Let me walk through this case, then address some of the usual objections.

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August 11th

Yay, Olympics - but also ewwwww!

    "This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things," is the unofficial motto of 2016.

    I can list on the fingers of one Ramsay Bolton-mangled hand all the good things that have happened in 2016, and most of them involve musicals about Founding Fathers winning meaningless awards. The election is going so badly that I have had to buy a whole thesaurus full of synonyms for "garbage fire." Both Prince and David Bowie took one look at this year and decided it was time to head back to the astral plane, leaving us to struggle alone. Compared with 2016, even 2015 has begun to look appealing, even though I can still vividly remember all the reasons I broke up with it and they are largely still valid.

    But soon we will have the Olympics. Katie Ledecky, who is human sunshine but swims like the Leviathan, will be there. Michael Phelps will still be there, amazingly. The tear-jerking commercials have already started. I watched with excitement as we assembled the gymnastics team. Finally, I thought, we can have a nice, inspiring thing.

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Lawyers can be zealous without becoming nasty

    The American Bar Association is considering adding a rule to its canon of ethics that would prohibit lawyers from discriminating in the course of their jobs. The proposal seems innocuous and probably overdue -- but it has encountered a surprising degree of opposition. So it seems reasonable to ask: Why is this even a thing? How can anyone in good conscience think that barring discrimination by lawyers is a bad idea?

    The answer is that the legal profession is the last bastion of unfettered, unapologetic nastiness, proudly flying the flag of zealous client representation. In some ways, that's good. The adversarial system calls for a degree of confrontation and aggression that would be inappropriate in almost any other professional context. Yet it should be possible to craft rules to carve out certain kinds of nastiness -- including discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, or other invidious motives.

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