Archive

May 28th, 2016

Trump would crush winners of the U.S. economy

    Donald Trump says it all the time: "We don't win anymore." If you got all your economic news from the presumed Republican nominee, you'd think U.S. businesses hadn't added any new jobs or accomplished anything worthwhile since sometime in the Johnson administration. Americans nowadays, he keeps suggesting, are total losers.

    While Trump's rhetoric denigrates the achievements of U.S. companies and their millions of employees, his specific proposals are worse. They reveal a vision of the good economy as static, uninnovative and controlled from the White House. President Trump's America is, despite the rhetoric, an economy with no place for winners.

    Start with the candidate's pettiest proposal: his not-so-veiled threat to unleash antitrust regulators against Amazon to punish CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns The Washington Post, for the newspaper's negative coverage of his campaign. To serve his personal agenda, Trump would rewrite U.S. antitrust doctrine. Forget protecting consumers from cartels; he would instead protect businesses from competition. And he would side with foreign governments against an American winner.

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May 27th

Donald Trump and other crises of democracy

    David Runciman is professor of politics at Cambridge University. His books include "The Confidence Trap," a brief, lively history of crises faced by democratic nations, and how those nations handled the challenges. The rise of Donald Trump, and continuing turmoil throughout Europe, have raised anew questions about democracy's vulnerabilities and resilience. Over the course of several days in late April and early May, I interviewed Runciman, via e-mail, about the current perils.

    Wilkinson: The democratic "confidence trap" that you describe is more an attitude than a philosophy, a prevailing sense of, "Oh well, this particular problem looks quite serious but we always muddle through, so why panic?"

    We only have two real political parties in the U.S., and one is about to nominate Donald Trump for president. Is this a confidence trap -- a case of Republican voters assuming that democracy can bear more strain than it can reasonably be expected to carry?

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Transhumanists are searching for a dystopian future

    For its proponents, transhumanism - the idea of using technology to redesign humans beyond our biology - is just common sense. Who doesn't want to live a healthier, happier and wealthier life? And wouldn't it be great to live such an "enhanced" life indefinitely?

    For nearly as long as we have written record, humans have rebelled at the limits of the human condition, but with the development of modern science and technology we have become increasingly able to overcome what once seemed like absolute limits.

    Advances in fields such as genetics, synthetic biology, neuropsychology, robotics, artificial intelligence and nanotechnology are putting us on the verge of even more radical breakthroughs, allowing us to imagine that we can ultimately rebuild completely the flawed human product that evolution has bequeathed us.

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The Clarence Thomas dissent that broke my heart

    As law professors go, I'm pretty sympathetic to Clarence Thomas's constitutional jurisprudence. It's not that I agree with him, which I almost never do. But I think he genuinely tries to apply originalism using historical methods. And when it comes to the law of race, where again I disagree with Thomas, I respect his effort to give voice to a distinctive form of conservative black nationalism that insists on color blindness because it's better for blacks.

    What's more, I respect what I've seen of Thomas personally. I've never forgotten seeing him greet by name the members of the maintenance staff at the Supreme Court who polish the miles of brass on the court's many staircases. Once I asked him about it, and he said he sometimes felt he had more in common with them than with the other justices. I didn't think it was a line then, and I don't think so now.

    But today I confess to feeling a bit upset about Thomas's solo dissent in Foster v. Chatman on Monday, a decision that reversed the capital conviction of a black man from Georgia because the prosecution used its peremptory challenges to strike all the black members of the jury pool.

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Technology won't undermine human dignity. Fear of change will.

    "What ideas, if embraced, would pose the greatest threat to the welfare of humanity?" When the editors of Foreign Policy magazine posed this question to a group of prominent policy intellectuals in 2004, neoconservative thinker Francis Fukuyama chose transhumanism as the world's most dangerous idea.

    In his response to the question, Fukuyama described transhumanism as "a strange liberation movement" that wants "nothing less than to liberate the human race from its biological constraints." He isn't alone in his alarm. This year, from the left of the political spectrum, Marcy Darnovsky from the Center for Genetics and Society warned that with the development of new effective gene-editing techniques "we could see the emergence of genetic haves and have-nots, with new forms of inequality and discrimination."

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Soon we'll use science to make people more moral

    Sometimes, people do terrible things because they have a tragic misunderstanding of what it means to be good. Sometimes we do regrettable things because we aren't strong enough to be as good as we would like. Fortunately, emerging neuroscience suggests that we will soon be able to both fix those with broken moral compasses and tune up our own internal morality.

    Social neuroscience is revealing that much of our capacity for virtue is set at birth. Qualities like self-control, empathy, deliberation and fairness are substantially genetically and neurologically determined. For instance, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and the likelihood of ending up in the criminal justice system have all been linked to the genes that regulate the neurochemical dopamine. Self-control has been linked to having a larger, more active and better-connected prefrontal cortex, which is able to control the more impulsive parts of the brain.

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In next presidential primary, Democrats must jettison superdelegates

    Bernie Sanders is pushing for concessions from the Democratic Party establishment in return for his promised support for Hillary Clinton once she indisputably nails down the 2016 presidential nomination. One change he wants is an end to the superdelegate category to the party's national convention.

    He certainly isn't going to get it this time around. Hence he argues against the automatic delegate status given high national and state officeholders, members of the Democratic National Committee and certain other party bigwigs. He insists they should support the candidate who has won their state primaries or caucuses.

    Clinton, according to the Bloomberg News count, has 537 superdelegates in her pocket to Sanders' 42. She is leading Sanders by 271 elected delegates, and she is only 78 delegates short of the majority needed for the nomination. As there are 921 delegates left to be allocated, the chance of Sanders winning enough to stop her looks slim to nonexistent.

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In defense of transhumanism

    When I first tried to start a club for the study of transhumanism at Yale, I was astounded by the university's response. The chaplain intervened and vetoed the request. An email to me explained that there were already enough atheist groups on campus, assuming evidently that the words humanist and atheist were synonyms. I found myself awkwardly assuring a series of administrators that transhumanism had nothing to do with trans-students who didn't believe in God. Broadly speaking, it involves the use of futuristic medical technology to lower the incidence of disease, enhance the capacity of the imagination and prolong the human lifespan. "We're into things like cyborgs and genetic engineering," I said.

    Eventually, the chaplain was overruled. For all of the humor and frustration of the process, on some level I could sympathize with the confusion of the administration. Pinning down the meaning of transhumanism is not so simple.

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How to bring back labor without relying on unions

    National anxiety over the decline in middle-class living standards is driving this year's presidential contest like no other issue.

    Donald Trump promises a return of manufacturing jobs as the solution, but he misleads voters into thinking those jobs are coming back, when they aren't; his trade-deal bombast will only make things worse. Polls show his message resonates well with blue-collar voters who believe unions had a lot to do with creating the America he promises to make great again.

    Both Democratic candidates, meanwhile, say they would take steps to bolster unions without acknowledging their negative effects and weaknesses. "I believe when unions are strong, America is strong," Hillary Clinton told the Service Employees International Union convention on Monday, adding that "unions helped build the strongest middle class right here" in the U.S.

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How DIY bio-hackers are changing the conversation around genetic engineering

    CRISPR is a controversial new technology for genetically engineering cells and making those changes heritable. It and other new gene-editing technologies have both raised hopes of speedier biomedical breakthroughs and concerns that they could eventually enable the modification of healthy humans. But what is not generally known is that the use of CRISPR as a research tool has already become so widespread that even community labs have access to it - and this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

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