Archive

July 5th, 2016

We’re Better Than That

            More than a century ago, in the first attempts to shape the face of a nation open to people from all nations, the United States banned convicts, prostitutes and Chinese laborers from landing on our shores. Later, “idiots” were added to the list of forbidden immigrants. Alas, it was too early keep Donald Trump at bay.

            But on this upcoming Independence Day, at a time when Trump’s response to our better angels is to go small, mean and tribal, an American ideal is in peril. Not open borders, which is something the United States hasn’t had since 1875, but open minds.

            In committing economic suicide, Britain is trying to close the door and hide from the world. It felt good, no doubt, to tell those overbearing bureaucrats in Brussels to bugger off. We’ll stick with our bangers and mash without any interference from Europe! But the “Brexit” vote was also a drunken swing at those “others” remaking the image of a lost England. To hear the haters tell it, “Polish vermin” and brown-skinned hordes have overwhelmed the little island nation.

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July 4th

An environmental victory (and cautionary tale)

            For once, the news on the environmental front isn't just good, it could be taken as a point of pride.

            This week, scientists announced that the infamous ozone hole over Antarctica is starting to heal. In 1987, the world agreed to phase out chemicals that were destroying a layer of gas in the upper atmosphere that shields the planet from damaging ultraviolet light. This week, in the journal Science, researchers said they're finally starting to detect results. In September, the hole had shrunk by 1.5 million square miles from its peak in 2000.

            There is a sobering side to this story, though: The chemicals responsible for the ozone problem break down in the atmosphere much more quickly than carbon dioxide connected to global warming does. That's why the same MIT atmospheric chemist who announced the ozone improvement also argues that climate change caused by burning fossil fuels is essentially "irreversible." For scientists, optimism and pessimism have to be tempered by the realities of chemistry and reaction rates.

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The dorm room diversity fix

            Last month, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that universities can use race in making admissions decisions. In his majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that "student body diversity" at the modern university was "central to its identity and educational mission."

            He's right. But it's also fair to question how well universities are fulfilling this mission, especially in light of the protests that swept U.S. campuses last year. Over the past 30 years, universities have become vastly more diverse. But students of color continue to denounce them as insensitive, inhospitable and hostile to nonwhites.

            What can we do about that? Most university administrations have responded to the diversity challenge in a predictable way: by hiring administrators. More than 100 institutions now employ "chief diversity officers," who oversee an army of staffers at multicultural centers, counseling offices and so on. Hundreds of schools offer diversity training and other programming, aimed at changing the overall racial climate on campus.

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Stop picking on the TSA. We're just doing our jobs.

            In 2001, I was working as an airport screener. When I woke up on 9/11 and saw the news, I said to myself, "Wow. I hope that didn't happen at my airport."

            I'm now a lead transportation security officer with the Transportation Security Administration. Ever since I've been here, my motto has been: This will never happen again, especially on my watch. I'm a former Marine, and I served in combat. I still have that sense of duty, like I did in Desert Storm.

            This might be surprising to some people who have decided that the TSA is the worst. Only half of Americans surveyed in a 2014 poll said that TSA screening is making air travel safer. Headlines regularly denigrate our agency. ("Why are we spending $7 billion on the TSA?" "TSA, I think we have a problem." "Abolish the TSA.") The TSA is often the butt of jokes, and news of long security lines have been everywhere this summer.

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GOP leaders: Put your country before your party

    He can't do it, Republicans. It's time for you to admit that Donald Trump is incapable of even pretending to be an acceptable candidate for president. The question is which side of history you want to be on.

    Are you going to stand with him as the balloons drop on the last night of the convention, knowing he shares neither your views nor your values? Are you going to work your hearts out this fall to put an unstable bully in charge of our national defense? Is party unity so much more important to you than trifles such as responsibility, duty and honor?

    Leading Republicans should pay attention to what Sen. Mike Lee told a reporter for the conservative Newsmax website: "What I am saying is Donald Trump can still get a vote from a lot of conservatives like me, but I would like some assurances on where he stands. I would like some assurances that he is going to be a vigorous defender of the U.S. Constitution. That he is not going to be an autocrat. That he is not going to be an authoritarian. That he is not somebody who is going to abuse a document that I have sworn an oath to uphold and protect and defend."

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Five myths about class in the United States

            The 2016 election is about class. "For the first time in a generation, the working class is front and center in an election cycle," one MarketWatch writer proclaimed. Commentators fret that Hillary Clinton has "lost" the working class and that Donald Trump has risen to prominence on the backs of "white trash." (Never mind that Trump voters are, on average, wealthier than Clinton's constituency.) Bernie Sanders even claimed he was a child of the working class. This demonstrates just how fuzzy this category is - though Sanders advocates for the working class, he has spent his career in politics, not manual or wage labor. There are lots of other misconceptions about class in America, too. Here, we debunk five.

 

            Myth No. 1

            The working class is white and male.

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Feminists treat men badly. It's bad for feminism.

            Feminist male-bashing has come to sound like a cliche - a misogynist caricature. Feminism, its loudest proponents vow, is about fighting for equality. The man-hating label is either a smear or a misunderstanding.

            Yet a lot of feminist rhetoric today does cross the line from attacks on sexism into attacks on men, with a strong focus on personal behavior: the way they talk, the way they approach relationships, even the way they sit on public transit. Male faults are stated as sweeping condemnations; objecting to such generalizations is taken as a sign of complicity. Meanwhile, similar indictments of women would be considered grossly misogynistic.

            This gender antagonism does nothing to advance the unfinished business of equality. If anything, the fixation on men behaving badly is a distraction from more fundamental issues, such as changes in the workplace to promote work-life balance. What's more, male-bashing not only sours many men - and quite a few women - on feminism. It often drives them into Internet subcultures where critiques of feminism mix with hostility toward women.

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Despair made voters opt for Brexit, even if they didn't think it would help

            It is a basic principle of economics that human beings choose things that benefit them. But last week, as the results of Britain's referendum on membership in the European Union came in, it quickly became clear that this principle was being overturned. Not only had Britain as a whole voted for a course of action that would almost certainly make it collectively worse off, but individual regions had also voted against their apparent interests.

            Regions such as Wales and Cornwall, relatively cut off from the prosperity of London and the Southeast, had voted strongly to leave, even though they receive more money from E.U. development funds than any other parts of Britain. Wales, for example, was due to receive nearly $3.2 billion between 2014 and 2020. Equally odd was the finding - spotted by researchers prior to the referendum - that regions that are most dependent on trade with the E.U. are also those that are most keen to leave.

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Democrats and Republicans tested by fringes

            Republicans and Democrats share a challenge: staving off the fanatics.

            For the Republicans -- leaving aside Donald Trump for the moment -- the test comes from the right-wing House Freedom Caucus threat to impeach Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen. The charges against this official, who is respected by Republicans and Democrats alike, are flimsy. Congress has not impeached an executive branch official in 140 years.

            Among Democrats, supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders are waging a campaign aimed at intimidating Hillary Clinton into abandoning any consideration of Tim Kaine as her running mate by depicting the Virginia senator as an unreconstructed right-winger. Kaine, a former mayor of Richmond and governor, once was believed by some Democrats to be too liberal to win statewide. He opposes capital punishment, supports same-sex marriages, argues for a more equitable tax system and insists that the United States can only send forces to fight abroad if war is declared.

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Choice of running mate speaks volumes about a candidate

            As Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton ponder their options for running mates, the only question that should matter is this: Is person the most qualified to assume the presidency if fate so dictates. But it's a yardstick that historically has been honored in the breach.

            For many years, the roster of U.S. vice presidents was strewn with little-knowns such as Daniel Tompkins, George Dallas and Henry Wilson. Only when a veep became president through death of the incumbent did he become a household name.

            The most effective veeps in the modern era -- Walter Mondale under President Jimmy Carter, Dick Cheney under George W. Bush and Joe Biden under Barack Obama -- have all been given substantial governing roles in the administrations in which they've served. For the most part, they've shared the political philosophy of their presidents and have enjoyed personal compatibility with them.

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