Archive

May 21st, 2016

The new overtime rule is one of Obama's most progressive actions

    The Obama administration's new overtime rule was finalized Tuesday night, and it will go into effect in the nation's workplaces on Dec. 1 of this year. I'll get to the details in a moment, but this update of a vital labor standard is a great advance for working people. I'd go as far as to say that this may be the administration's most significant action on behalf of middle-class paychecks.

    Here are the basics of the final rule:

    -- The new salary threshold is $47,476, or $913 per week, just about double the current weekly threshold of $455.

    To prevent abuse of the overtime law, which maintains that all hourly workers must be paid "time-and-a-half" (1.5 times their base hourly wage) for weekly hours worked beyond 40, employers can't simply make someone exempt by paying them a salary. Salaried workers whose pay is below the OT threshold must also get OT pay. The new threshold represents the 40th percentile pay of full-time, salaried workers in the southern region of the United States. I know: why 40th, why southern, etc.?

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The logic of gun rights puts pistols in pockets

    Much criticism of the gradual expansion of the constitutional right to bear arms by U.S. courts has focused on assault weapons and mass shootings. But gun-rights advocates are conquering another frontier: the regulation of handguns in urban space.

    On Tuesday, a federal district court struck down restrictions on carrying concealed handguns imposed by Washington, D.C. As of Wednesday, if you want to carry a concealed handgun in the nation's capital, that's your right. Maybe they should change the Wizards' name back to the Bullets.

    Before this decision came down, I described the constitutional jurisprudence that has generated a systematic expansion in the meaning and reach of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The district court's decision fits the paradigm perfectly.

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Subtract One Clinton

    Bill Clinton should go home.

    It’s easy to see why his wife’s campaign is giving him a major role. His political skills are legendary. And he’s the spouse, for heaven’s sake. Presidential candidates always rely on their families to fill out the schedule, show up where they can’t, spread good cheer.

    But we all know this is different. Campaigning in Kentucky — where her husband is more popular than she is — Hillary Clinton told voters that Bill would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy” in her administration. At another stop she promised that if they returned to the White House, “I’ll expect him to go to work ... to get incomes rising.”

    She presented herself as part of a duo that knows “a little bit about how to create jobs. I think my husband did a heck of a job.”

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Six reasons why Trump meeting with Kim Jong Un is a very bad idea

    Donald Trump said in an interview with Reuters this week that he was prepared to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. There is certainly room for more proactive strategic thinking as North Korea rushes towards further nuclear weapons capability, but a presidential summit belongs in the "vey bad idea" category. Here's why.

    1. Kim won't abandon nuclear weapons. This has been obvious to anyone who has negotiated with the North over the past 25 years, but Pyongyang helpfully erased any doubt by conducting four nuclear tests since 2006, and is poised to carry out a fifth in the near future. North Korea changed its constitution in 2012 to enshrine its nuclear weapons status, and the Korean Workers' Party Congress reaffirmed that position last month. No level of real estate negotiating acumen is going to change that.

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Obama's undersold legacy of economic recovery

    Here's the political narrative underpinning the rise of Donald Trump: The American public is fed up with dysfunction in Washington over the last nearly eight years of President Obama. It needs a Galahad somehow to save a nation that has lost its way.

    Trump's very slogan, promising to "Make America Great Again," assumes a condition, however, that flies in the face of economic indicators that dispute the gloom that he and the Republican Party have been crowing about throughout Obama's second term.

    Foremost of these is the steady job growth that has reduced the national unemployment rate to 5 percent -- a level considered by many economists to constitute full employment in practical, achievable terms.

    The progress achieved after what is now known as the Great Recession of 2008 has been little appreciated, especially given the depth of the economic quagmire Obama inherited from his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, who also bequeathed him two unfinished wars.

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How the world feels about LGBT people

    One of the major human rights stories of the past decade in the United States has been the astonishing progress toward equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The advance of marriage equality across the states before the Supreme Court made it the law of the land; the narratives of bullying and suicide that aroused public sympathy; and the swift rise in the visibility of transgender people have been tremendously gratifying and exciting to witness.

    But while the United States can be awfully myopic, it's impossible to ignore that this progress hasn't been global. Sexual minorities in Uganda have been attacked with greater frequency since the country passed a law creating a new range of offenses related to sexual orientation, pairing them with correspondingly harsh penalties. Russia criminalized so-called "gay propaganda" as part of widespread government efforts to clamp down on free speech supposedly in defense of traditional Russian culture. And earlier this year, two gay rights activists were killed in Bangladesh.

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Hedge fund bosses make too much? Get used to it

    Hedge funds are back in the headlines, thanks mainly to the release of Institutional Investor's Alpha magazine annual report on the earnings of top hedge fund owners and managers. The Hedge Fund Rich List includes such well-known luminaries as Citadel's Ken Griffin, Bridgewater's Ray Dalio and Renaissance Technologies' Jim Simons. Together, the top 25 are reported to have taken home about $13 billion last year.

    As AQR Capital Management chief Cliff Asness points out, this list isn't a good guide to the fortunes of hedge-fund managers in general, because it selects only the top earners. Since hedge fund returns can vary a lot, and since performance fees are a substantial piece of hedge fund owners' earnings, there will always be some names to fill out an eye-popping Top 10 list.

    But what the list clearly does show is that hedge-fund moguls' earnings are often divorced from the performance of their funds. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones alerted me to a particularly striking example:

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Grappling with science that makes us squirm

    Science has a way of making people uncomfortable. Sometimes that's because it seems likely to produce agents of harm; think of nuclear weapons research. Sometimes, though, for reasons less obvious, it just feels weird.

    That's what happened nearly 20 years ago when scientists cloned a sheep named Dolly, and again last week when word got out that a group of biologists held a closed meeting at Harvard to talk about using laboratory chemicals to create a complete set of human DNA - a human genome. Both ideas freaked people out because they called into question the imagined boundaries between the living and the non-living, the natural and the artificial.

    Critics questioned what should be done with a set of artificial human DNA, and even broached the notion that someone might try to recreate Einstein. Similar concerns came up after Dolly.

    The ethical issues surrounding synthetic human DNA are similar to those raised by cloning. The cloned sheep wasn't made of artificial parts but violated what many people were taught about the facts of life, since it came from an udder cell instead of the union of egg and sperm.

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Dumping patients because they haven't seen the doctor enough

    As the mother of three children under age 6, I don't always make my health a priority. It's been years since I saw a doctor for anything other than pregnancy, my crow's feet have multiplied due to my squinting to see the TV in the evenings, and I've canceled my dental appointment at least three times this year. But I always assumed that my doctors would be there for me if I ever needed them. However, I recently stumbled upon an unadvertised policy among some health-care clinics that requires patients to be seen by their primary-care doctor at least once a year in order to remain under their care.

    I was informed by my doctor that since I had not visited his office in the past year, he could not make an appointment to see me for any health concerns until I re-established myself as his patient, a process that would take at least six months because of overbooking. I had been a patient of this clinic for nearly five years and had never been informed of this condition, but they insisted that it was their policy. I phoned the only other clinic in my town and received the same response: It would be several months before I could be seen by any doctor.

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May 20th

Donald, Save Your Golf Greens, and the Planet

    MEMO TO: DONALD TRUMP

    FROM: TOM FRIEDMAN

    SUBJECT: GOLF COURSES 

    Dear Donald,

    It’s been a while since we talked on the practice tee at Doral. (Nice course you built.) I am only going to do this once, but I am going to offer you some free advice — and it’s about all the things you love most: yourself, your kids, winning, money and golf. Have I got a deal for you ...

    You see, Donald, I was looking at all the golf courses you own. Some of them are real gems, like Doral, Turnberry, Doonbeg, Palm Beach, Aberdeenshire. But you know what else I noticed? How many of them are on or near coastlines. And do you know what’s going to happen to those golf courses, Donald, if the climate scientists are even half right? They’re going to go from oceanfront property to ocean-floor property. Because ice melt and sea level rise are going to threaten all of them. Here’s a July 21, 2015, story from Weather.com:

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