Archive

February 27th, 2016

A solution to confirmation gridlock?

    The judicial wars threaten to engulf us in ceaseless cycles of partisan warfare and recriminations. Herewith, two modest (read: unlikely) proposals to try to mitigate the damage, one involving the chief justice, the other the president.

    To begin with, though, a stipulation and a sense of the stakes involved.

    The stipulation is that no one in this almost 30 Years War -- Robert Bork was nominated in 1987 -- comes with clean hands. The situational ethics of the capital are never more evident than when it comes to confirmation battles.

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February 26th

Britain is fracturing Europe in pursuit of ghosts

    The European Union is a strange beast, a 28-sided push-me-pull-you that Britons never loved, but needed. They still do, perhaps more than ever. Yet it is very possible that Britain will vote to leave on June 23, in pursuit of a fantasy.

    Britain, for example, would gain little of the freedom that euro-skeptics dream of -- Britain is far more European than they choose to think. The infamous "nanny state" would survive Brexit as surely as the proverbial cockroach in a nuclear explosion.

    Equally, it is delusional to think that Britain can live in isolation from the rest of the EU -- the requirements of trade and the single market mean it will be regulated from Brussels with or without its consent. And it is just as delusional to think Britain would outlive a Brexit -- Scotland would in all probability leave Britain's union to stay with Europe's.

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Onward for Trump the Christian soldier

    You can't win the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina without religious voters. According to exit polling, "born-again or evangelical Christian" voters accounted for 72 percent of the GOP primary electorate last Saturday. In his thumping victory in the state, billionaire Donald Trump carried a 33 percent plurality of them.

    As Bloomberg View columnist Leonid Bershidsky reported, Trump did not fare especially well among conservative religious voters seeking someone who reflects their values. Indeed for the 37 percent of voters who told exit pollsters that "shares my values" was the most important quality they sought in a candidate, Trump finished last in the field.

    Unfortunately for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who are both competing for their votes, many conservative evangelical Christians have concluded that they don't need someone who shares their values. They can tolerate, even embrace, a candidate who is profane, greedy, vain, shifty and thrice-married with a loud history of sexual conquest. (Winner of the South Carolina primary in 2012? Newt Gingrich. Hmm.)

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'American Girls' wants to protect teenagers. Instead, it scapegoats girls.

    Nancy Jo Sales's "American Girls" is the latest entrant in a genre of literature and non-fiction that might best be described as Girls In Crisis. The category includes everything from "Go Ask Alice," Beatrice Sparks's 1971 facsimile of the diary of a teenage girl descending into drug addiction; to the 1994 book "Reviving Ophelia," which drew on author Dr. Mary Pipher's therapy practice; to critiques of specific communities like "Little Girls In Pretty Boxes," Joan Ryan's 1995 investigation of abuses in figure skating and gymnastics.

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A Greener Leap Year

    What if an extra hour somehow slipped into your day?

    Aside from most Arizonans and all Hawaiians, Americans get to ponder this question in early November as Daylight Savings Time gets underway.

    I usually fill this gap with some combination of reading, cooking, and (weather permitting) riding my bicycle on Arlington, Virginia’s trails. The borrowed time feels like a small luxury.

    How about spending a whole extra day with your family, swatting items off your to-do list, or hanging out with friends? This being a leap year, it’s a reasonable question.

    The climate justice movement, however, won’t take this 366th day for granted.

    Those activists are spending those extra 24 hours — and then some — brainstorming how the world might move on from a corporate-controlled and fossil-fueled economy toward a greener and more equitable way of life that does a better job of taking care of human needs.

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Your driver probably has at least one other job

    What is the defining characteristic of gig-economy workers? Probably that driving for Lyft or assembling Ikea furniture via Handy or selling knitted leprechaun outfits for babies on Etsy isn't the main thing they do or the main way they make money.

    I've been looking at three in-depth studies published recently about the much hyped but still mysterious gig or on-demand economy, enabled by Internet connections and ubiquitous smartphones, and this is perhaps the most strikingly consistent finding. On-demand work is something that people who already have jobs or other responsibilities (going to school, taking care of family members) do on the side. For example:

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When gun massacres are chalked up to bad luck

    Writing of the "ethical confusion which overtook American society in the Industrial Age," Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager wrote of deadly social consequences for which no individuals felt in any way responsible:

    "These men were caught in the meshes of a business system which had not yet developed a moral code of its own and to which the old codes were irrelevant. The manufacture and sale of impure foods, dangerous drugs, infected milk, poisonous toys, might produce disease or death, but none of those involved in the process -- retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, advertisers, corporations, directors or stockholders -- realized that they were guilty of murder."

    A similar confusion -- mystery, really -- hovered over a Connecticut courtroom this week, where parents of children massacred in their classrooms wondered how 20 children and six adults could be murdered in their school without anyone being in any way responsible for the deaths.

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Victorious Trump takes a stab at humility

    Welcome, voters, to the new, improved Republican race for the presidency. At one time, there were close to 20 politicians to follow, but post-South Carolina, it's more like the final rounds of "The Apprentice," with many fewer nervous strivers to keep track of and rising interest from viewers.

    Does that help Donald Trump? Conventional wisdom says no, the empty suit won't be able to stand the scrutiny.

    But what if it does help, in the way that everything helps Donald Trump, even the Pope calling him un-Christian and the Bushes coming out to campaign against him?

    After Trump called out former President George W. Bush for his disastrous invasion of Iraq, he was warned that the 43rd commander-in-chief is popular in South Carolina. Trump responded with three words that proved prophetic: "So am I."

    Trump then proceeded to make a few new enemies -- the Vatican, Apple and those who suspect that Trumpcare might be a lot like Obamacare -- but he also got himself under control.

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Two wrong ways to think about China's economy

    Western observers struggle to make sense of what's happening to the Chinese economy. Since China is slowing, dragging down commodity prices and forcing a number of other countries into recession, this in an important problem to puzzle out. But how should we evaluate China's economy? I find that Western writers tend to subscribe -- explicitly or implicitly -- to one of two folk theories of China. Both have serious deficiencies.

    The first of these folk theories is "rebalancing." This is the idea -- promoted by Michael Pettis of Peking University -- that China has been investing too much in infrastructure and factories, and needs to switch to services and to consumption. The theory says that this adjustment is natural and inevitable, but will lead to slower growth.

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Two legacies, two fates

    The Clinton political dynasty is still alive. The Bush dynasty has been routed. Their contrasting fates, to this point at least, tell us much about our two parties, the nature of this year's presidential election, and the dueling legacies themselves.

    The Republican and Democratic contests are very different, beginning with the fact that Hillary Clinton did not have to deal with Donald Trump, who targeted Jeb Bush with a viciousness rarely seen in contemporary politics. For months, the self-contained former Florida governor responded ineffectually to an opponent who flouted all the norms. This only made it easier for Trump to mock him as "low energy" and "weak."

    Bush was also entitled to a certain bitterness as he watched Marco Rubio, his ambitious and impatient protege, seize his natural base in the party: voters who loathe both Trump and Ted Cruz. Rubio's definition of loyalty did not include yielding to his one-time mentor.

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