Archive

June 6th, 2016

The licenses that get in the way of new jobs

    I've met too many people who want to work but aren't given a shot. Often, that's because licensing and certification requirements create obstacles to joining skilled professions where no or lower barriers should exist.

    A couple of years ago, my office identified a clear example in Delaware's barber and cosmetology industries, which used to require either paying for 1,500 hours of instruction or spending 3,000 hours as an apprentice to earn a license - the equivalent of about a year of schooling or two years as an apprentice. That wasn't necessary to succeed in these fields, and the rules kept some good people out of these professions because it was either too expensive or took too long to become qualified. To address those issues, we came up with a third option that allows people to combine on-the-job experience with a shorter school program.

    Meanwhile, research across the country has suggested that there is a lack of access to work in certain legal and health services that don't require a law or medical degree, such as providing defense in eviction cases and basic primary-care services, because of overly burdensome licensing laws.

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No one is quite sure what causes big recessions

    There is an important, but quiet debate in the economics profession about what leads to big recessions: wealth or debt.

    Almost everyone agrees, at this point, that the Great Recession of 2007-09 was caused by the financial system. But that leaves the question of what, exactly, happens in a financial system that leads an economy to crash. Formal economic models of financial shocks are not very realistic. They usually assume the harm comes from disruption to the banking system, which acts like a supply bottleneck that chokes off economic activity. But the Great Recession and similar episodes look very much like demand shocks, with low inflation and lots of spare capacity.

    So economists are asking what kind of financial disasters have the biggest impact on demand. Roughly, the two answers are wealth effects and debt overhangs. The wealth-effects school holds that when asset bubbles pop, people suddenly feel poorer. This causes them to cut spending, which sends demand crashing. The debt-overhang school believes that people have sudden shifts in their willingness to take on debt -- when they go into balance-sheet repair mode, they stop spending.

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Past time for U.S military to open its doors to Sikhs

    On Veterans Day last year, twenty-seven retired U.S. generals, 105 members of Congress, and 15 senators signed a letter demanding that the Pentagon lift the ban prohibiting American Sikhs from serving in the military. But the ban persists.

    Their arguments, like all the other arguments in favor of lifting the ban, are based on the American ideals of inclusion, diversity, and religious tolerance. While I am in favor of diversity, inclusion, and religious tolerance, I would like to make the argument from another perspective - that of concern about the credibility of the American narrative. It is in the strategic and pragmatic best interests of the United States to allow observant Sikhs to serve in the military while bearded and turbaned.

    Sikhs served in the U.S. military from WW1 until 1981 when new regulations requiring uniformity of facial hair and headgear forced them to decide between violating their faith or serving their country - a very un-American choice to have to make.

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From the Dalai Lama, a pipe dream for Europe's refugees

    The Dalai Lama is one of the most admired people in the world; he is also the world's most famous refugee. That makes his recent comments to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -- that Germany has too many Muslim refugees -- both surprising and controversial; perhaps more so than they should be.

    Taken out of context, the Dalai Lama's words in the interview with the German daily seem to fit right in with messages from the anti-immigrant Alternative fuer Deutschland party. "There are now too many," he said. "Europe, for example Germany, cannot be an Arab land. Germany is Germany."

    It's as important, though, that he said two other things. One essentially signifies approval of Chancellor Angela Merkel's initial urge to accept the escapees from the Syrian war: "If we look into the face of each individual refugee, especially the children and the women, we will feel their suffering. A person who is doing somewhat better has the responsibility to help them."

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Cell phones, cancer and the anatomy of a health scare

    The latest study supposedly linking cell-phone radiation to cancer was meant to serve the public good. But its effect on the public has been bad. The $25 million government-funded experiment produced confusion and scary headlines, but little in the way of useful information -- beyond perhaps an indication of where the science publicity machine is broken.

    This wasn't necessarily a case of bad science. The researchers, from the National Toxicology Program, subjected one group of rats to high doses of radiation of a frequency similar to that emitted by cell phones. Following accepted protocol, they compared the radiation-exposed rats to a control group. The pathologists looking for cancer didn't know which animals came from which group.

    But last week, the scientists released partial, unpublished results in a rush, suggesting some public health urgency. They claimed to have identified a link between the radiation and a type of brain cancer called a glioma as well as a non-malignant growth called a schwannoma. Adding fuel to their health scare, they offered up sound bites such as "breakthrough" and "game changer."

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June 5th

How to how to fix the apathy problem in schools

    Any discussion about the problems in American education -- and what is to blame for these problems - will likely include one or all of the usual suspects: inadequate and unequal funding, a lack of resources, underpaid and overworked teachers, over-testing, poverty and heavy-handed legislation.

    As a teacher and the mother of four public-school-educated children, I can tell you that all of these things have negatively impacted our schools. All of these things are problems.

    But there is another problem, one that is plaguing many of America's classrooms and jeopardizing the future of our children, yet it is rarely addressed - at least not as it should be. That problem is apathy. In classrooms all over the country, the teacher cares more about her students' grades, learning and futures than they do.

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Conflicts of interest? President Trump would have quite a few

    If Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, wins the general election in November, he would still be allowed to oversee operations and collect income from the more than 500 businesses he's listed in a personal financial disclosure form filed with the Federal Election Commission.

    Some of these operations appear to be substantial (such as 401 North Wabash Venture, which Trump used to develop a hotel and condominium project in Chicago; Trump National Doral, one of his Florida golf courses; and a handful of entities related to the skyscraper he owns at 40 Wall Street in New York). Some go back to Trump's earliest days in real estate when he worked for his father, Fred, and involve partnerships set up with his siblings (such as the East 61st Street Company, Reg Tru Equities and Park Briar Associates). Some don't really look like businesses (membership on the board of the Police Athletic League); some are whimsical (a carousel he operates for New York City); some seem to describe the current political moment (Trump Follies LLC).

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Green energy won't bring about oil's doom

    For hydrocarbon doomsayers, there's good news and bad news. In 2015, there were record investments in renewable energy, and record capacity was added, much of it in emerging economies. Yet despite the huge investment, the global share of fossil fuels is not shrinking very fast. Renewables such as wind, solar and geothermal still account for a tiny share of energy production, and there are factors that may inhibit their growth in the next few years.

    REN21, the international renewable energy association backed by the United Nations Environment Program, has summarized impressive developments in the sector in 2015. Total investment in renewable power and fuels reached $285.9 billion, an all-time record, and renewable power capacity, including hydropower, increased by 148 gigawatts -- another record -- to 1.8 terawatts. For the sixth consecutive year, investment in new renewable capacity was higher than in hydrocarbon-burning power plants.

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If Donald Trump loses, will the GOP change its ways? Don't bet on it.

    If you're a liberal, the idea of a Donald Trump presidency is utterly horrific, and there's just no question that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be infinitely preferable. But what if you're a conservative who finds Trump abhorrent? It's far more complicated, even if you're not one of those who has quieted your doubts and hopped aboard the Trump bandwagon. Now that Trump is the Republican Party's presumptive nominee, what exactly is the outcome you're hoping for? And if Trump does lose, what happens to your party then?

    In the rapidly depleting ranks of the Never Trump movement, these are difficult questions to address. But Bret Stephens, deputy editorial page editor for the Wall Street Journal, went further than most are willing to Sunday during an appearance on "Fareed Zakaria GPS":

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You may hate the 'Star Wars' prequels - but they predicted our current political era

    Cool people dislike the "Star Wars" "prequels" - Episodes 1, 2, and 3. The dialogue is wooden, the actors are stiff, and there's far less energy and wit than in the beloved original trilogy. But if you're looking for a quick guide to current political struggles - both in the United States and all over the world - you should give the prequels another chance.

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, paralyzing political divisions threatened democratic governments. Disputes over free trade, and the free movement of people and goods, were a big reason. Stymied by polarization and endless debates, the Senate proved unable to resolve those disputes.

    As a result, nationalist sentiments intensified, leading to movements for separation from centralized institutions. People craved a strong leader who would introduce order - and simultaneously combat growing terrorist threats.

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