Archive

November 27th, 2015

No girls allowed? The Boy Scouts have a case

    What are the legal prospects for the California girls who want to join the Boy Scouts of America? Five girls, ages 10 to 13, have asked the local council to be admitted as full-fledged Boy Scouts. Should they eventually take their case to court, they won't be able to rely on Title IX, the law that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions, because Congress wrote in an exemption for the Boy Scouts. Structurally, the exemption resembles the one that Congress gave Major League Baseball from antitrust laws: It doesn't really have a principled basis, but reflects some combination of tradition and lobbying power.

    The girls could instead try to use state anti- discrimination laws to demand membership. The Boy Scouts would, however, have a response. They could claim that they're committed to the exclusion of girls as a matter of their core definition, and therefore invoke their constitutional right to associate in a discriminatory fashion.

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NATO confronts Russian base on Turkey's border

    When Turkey shot down a Russian jet Tuesday, NATO was facing its worst fear: a direct confrontation with the Russian military. The problem on NATO's southern border is much bigger than this one incident; the new Russian base near Turkey presents a larger strategic challenge for the alliance that if ignored could lead to ongoing clashes.

    Two days ago, Petr Pavel, the chairman of the NATO military committee and top military adviser to NATO's secretary general, warned me about the long-term implications of the new Russian airbase in Latakia, Syria. The Czech general did not know then that the Russian presence in Syria would cause an international crisis so soon. But he already knew that NATO needed to figure out a comprehensive policy to push back against Russia's new base.

    Pavel said that the base is not just intended to prop up the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

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Leaving the justice out of wealth redistribution

    I'd like to explain how most modern economists think about wealth redistribution. If you discuss welfare, taxes or inequality with an economist, you're bound to run into a concept called the equity-efficiency tradeoff. It's the idea that there's a fundamental tradeoff between the size of the economic pie and the equal distribution of said pie.

    Suppose you're a really rich person. You have $50 billion in wealth, though it fluctuates day to day depending on the financial markets. But even if the markets take a tumble, you will still have enough to buy almost anything you want -- mansions, private jets, super yachts. You can afford to give hundreds of millions to political causes, universities or charities each year without putting a noticeable dent in your net worth.

    Now suppose some hacker comes and steals $10,000 out of one of your brokerage accounts. Unless you have a very careful accountant, you probably won't even notice the theft. The difference it would make in your purchasing power would be negligible. The loss would be no larger than what you probably suffer a hundred times a day from the random movements of the markets.

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Even the first Thanksgiving was political

    Thanksgiving is a political holiday. It honors and mythologizes the comity -- based on a formal treaty - - between two peoples who needed what the other had to offer at a particular point in time.

    Delighted not to be starving, the Puritans of what is now Massachusetts feasted for three days in 1621, and entertained the local Wampanoags as their guests. Neither group was "American" in any recognizable sense, because no such thing existed. What brought them together was not shared identity but shared interests: Trade. Protection from common enemies. Mutually valued exchanges of technology and skills.

    Having sized up a hostile physical and political environment, from rocky soil to angry neighbors, the settlers found the Wampanoags worth cultivating, and opted to give the Indians a seat at the table.

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Don't risk economy by rolling back Wall St. reforms

    A few weeks ago, Democrats and Republicans in Congress came together to pass a two-year budget agreement. The compromise lifts the spending caps imposed by sequestration to allow for meaningful investments in the middle class and keeps our economy moving forward. Congress can build on this progress in coming weeks by passing legislation to keep the government open past Dec. 11, but without the kind of brinkmanship that in recent years has risked real damage to the economy.

    Unfortunately, rather than focusing on the needs of American families, some in Congress are attempting to use this funding process to roll back crucial provisions of the reforms to the financial system we put in place after the financial crisis of 2008. The Obama administration strongly opposes this misguided effort to undermine critical elements of financial reform.

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Black Friday or not, we can still shop like crazy

    Going shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving? That's still OK, I think. But "Black Friday" sure seems to have become unfashionable.

    By this I mainly mean the practice of encouraging turkey- sated shoppers to stampede into stores in search of deals. This used to happen around 6 a.m. on Friday. In 2011, several big U.S. retailers moved their opening times to midnight; in 2012, Wal-Mart crossed the Rubicon and opened its stores at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.

    These Thanksgiving intrusions aren't over. According to TheBlackFriday.com, Wal-Mart will open its stores at 6 p.m. this Thursday, as will Target, Kohl's, Macy's and Sears. J.C. Penney will open at 3 p.m., Old Navy at 4, Best Buy at 5. But after last year's Thanksgiving weekend retail sales fell 11 percent from the year before while overall holiday sales rose, some retailers have been reconsidering.

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Anti-Semitism that can't be ignored

    Ordinarily I'd ignore the anti-Semitism. Not this week.

    Invective goes with the columnist territory. To judge by commenters, emailers and tweeters, I am ugly and fat, a dried-up old hag, a leftist moonbat and spiteful Obama-hater.

    Also, and I gather this is supposed to be another insult, a Jew.

    I woke up Saturday morning -- I was going to synagogue to say "kaddish," the mourner's prayer, for my father, who died this summer -- to this lovely tweet:

    "Oh, what a diverse panel, two Jews and a shabbos goy," the tweeter, who shall go unnamed, wrote about my scheduled appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" with Atlantic Media's Ron Brownstein and Republican strategist Karl Rove.

    (The Rove reference, by the way, refers to a gentile helper who performs certain tasks during the Sabbath. My tweeter meant it in a derogatory way, as an enabler of Jews and Jewish causes.)

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A lesson from Abraham Lincoln

    When you think about it, Thanksgiving Day is a paradoxical holiday for a country such as the United States.

    Gratitude is nearly the opposite of grievance. Yet, despite the many reasons we may have to feel the former, our political institutions were consciously designed to protect, even encourage, the expression of the latter.

    The right to take a day off each November to count our blessings, between mouthfuls of turkey and stuffing, isn't actually in the Constitution; but our right to "petition the government for a redress of grievances" is.

    Of course, this right, exercised peacefully and with civility, is essential to freedom and self-government. When grievances multiply, and when groups begin to define themselves by them, however, division and instability grow. When politicians inflame and exploit mutually exclusive grievances for their own advantage, the system can begin to break down.

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Worried about surviving Thanksgiving? Try these three foolproof strategies

    Conventional wisdom states that there are only two ways to get through Thanksgiving: with your politeness intact, or with your integrity intact. (The third way is not to go to your family Thanksgiving at all.)

    But there's another way.

    I have found one foolproof strategy that will get you through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and beyond. (PLUG: I discuss this in my book, which you can buy right here if you are strapped for holiday gifts!) It is simple: any time you are faced with a conversation-dominating person whose political opinions you do not share, you find the one thing you agree with in what the person has just said to you, and you keep repeating it until the interaction is over.

    Let me illustrate. Let us say that you have a Loud Uncle Dave. Dave has quietly enjoyed an entire bottle of red wine before coming to the dinner table, and now he is wearing his MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat rakishly tilted over one eye. You only see Dave at holidays, where he starts every sentence with, "You know what Rush [Limbaugh, but they are on a first-name basis somehow] says about this?"

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Why ending free travel won't make Europe safe

    If the first casualty of war is the truth, maybe the second is common sense. It's become common to declare that Europe's borderless travel zone must go if security is to be restored after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Before abandoning part of the European Union's most popular achievement -- freedom of movement -- let's think it through.

    The argument goes roughly like this: Because borderless travel, established in stages through the 1990s and 2000s, never secured Europe's external frontier and intelligence sharing, and because the European Union is too feckless to make that happen now, the best recourse is to resurrect national borders and put the maintenance of security back into the hands of national governments.

    Three pieces of evidence are generally provided. First, the Paris attacks were planned in Belgium, a divided state with an ineffectual intelligence service that allowed the Brussels district of Molenbeek to become a safe zone for Europe's jihadists. Belgium's failures thus became the problems of its neighbors, too.

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