Archive

November 22nd, 2015

There's More To Defeating Isis Than Blustery Rhetoric

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." -- Voltaire

    Years before Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden, this column argued that al-Qaida was capable of "theatrical acts of mass murder," but was not a military threat to the United States.

    The phrase infuriated some readers. Back then tough guys talked about fighting "Islamofascism," supposedly a totalitarian ideology linking bitter enemies such as Iran and al-Qaida (but never Saudi Arabia, where the oil and money are, and where almost all the 9/11 conspirators originated) in an alliance to destroy Western Civilization.

    Nobody says that anymore.

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The unanswered question behind wage inequality

    Why are some publicly traded companies continuing to improve their capital returns while others are disappearing? The answer may help explain -- and ultimately help policy makers address -- increasing wage inequality in the U.S.

    In a recent paper, Jason Furman and I highlighted a significant increase in the variation of capital returns across publicly traded companies. In particular, looking at data from McKinsey & Company on invested capital excluding goodwill for public nonfinancial companies in the U.S., the 90th percentile has risen to an astonishing 100 percent, from about 25 percent 25 years ago. During that same period, the number of domestic companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ fell by more than a quarter. (As of September 2015, the number was down to almost half of its peak in 1996.)

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The Islamic State wants you to reject refugees

    Remember how news photos of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy in September put new pressure on the West to welcome more refugees? That was then.

    Last week's attacks in Paris have sparked the opposite response after a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the Paris suicide bombers. A shamefully robust chorus of American politicians is falling over themselves to show how hostile they can be to refugees of a war that America played a major role in creating.

    This is especially true of Republican presidential candidates, as the issue quickly took on a sharply partisan divide. The Democratic candidates want to accept at least the 10,000 Syrian refugees that President Barack Obama has announced plans to accept -- which is far fewer than our European allies are taking in.

    The Republicans? Not so much. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order on Monday to block the settlement of any Syrian refugees from the so-called Islamic State's war in Iraq and Syria.

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The great Democratic divide

    Watching the Democratic primary contest can feel like reading a bad murder mystery. You may encounter some plot twists and surprises, but the end seems obvious. The butler did it. Hillary Clinton will win the nomination.

    On a deeper level, though, the contest is more subtle and more interesting -- more Jane Austen than John Grisham. Indeed, dear reader, the day after the Democratic debate, Austen herself was invoked by Princeton philosopher Cornel West, standing in for Bernie Sanders and jabbing at the woman he called "sister Hillary," with her "lip service" to progressive causes.

    "My question for Hillary Clinton is what I would call the Jane Austen challenge," West said. Austen "talked about 'constancy,'" he noted, making what is surely the first reference in the history of the Iowa caucuses to Fanny Price, the prim heroine of "Mansfield Park."

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Stop Shopping, Start Living

    Imagine if retailers held a nationwide super-spectacular sales day — and no one came.

    I don’t mean customers. Picture sales staff, cashiers, and even managers not showing up to open the doors for the usual frenzy of mass, crass, crazy consumerism.

    Maybe it’s silly — some would say even un-American — to think that stores wouldn’t open to cash in on a hugely promoted retail bonanza.

    Yet here it is: REI, the national purveyor of outdoor gear and sporting goods, says it will no longer participate in the shopping spectacle known as “Black Friday.” This ritual of non-stop door-buster sales now overwhelms Thanksgiving.

    This holiday is meant to be a calm, family-oriented time to get away from all the hubbub of life and reflect on our blessings. Yet in recent years, such national chains as Macy’s and Wal-Mart have led a corporate assault on Thanksgiving with a buy-buy-buy blitz of consumer come-ons.

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Rescued from the Nazis as children, these Jews believe in helping Muslim refugees now

    Our nation of immigrants has been afraid of refugees before.

    Jewish children with no home and, soon, no parents, were not really welcome in the United States during World War II when they were desperate to escape the Nazis.

    "They told the foster mothers not to speak German or Yiddish at all. They wanted us Americanized, they didn't want us to talk to each either," said Herta Baitch, who was just the kind of child refugee that many Americans feared then and fear now.

    This week 27 U.S. governors and Republican presidential candidates lined up to announce their rejection of Muslim refugees from Syria. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R, even insisted that he would not allow a "3-year-old orphan's" entry.

    Baitch was 7 when she arrived in this country - one of about 1,400 lucky children who made it to the United States at a time when we turned away at least one ship filled with hundreds of Jews running for their lives. For Baitch, 83, hearing the harsh tone of today's conversation about refugees hurts.

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November 21st

Republicans face a Waterloo on immigration

    The attacks in Paris may not determine how Americans vote in 2016. But their effect is already apparent in the Republican primary, threatening to push the party over the edge on immigration.

    It isn't just the spreading desire to bar Syrian refugees from the U.S. Once the anti-immigrant mindset takes hold -- and its grip on the conservative imagination seems ever tightening - - it can become indiscriminate. It takes work, or a reflexive world view, to connect a jihadist terror attack in Paris with the fate of the largely Hispanic undocumented population in the U.S. As potential sleeper cells go, the estimated 11 million are not only abnormally large but spectacularly sleepy: Most have been in the U.S. for a decade or more.

    But for those looking for new rationales for old policies, logical zigzags and curlicues appear as a straight line. Ann Coulter, the professional antagonist who issues bite-sized sour balls with the dull efficiency of a Pez dispenser, saw the writing on the wall as soon as the blood splattered. She took to Twitter in the wake of the attacks to declare that the terrorists had just delivered the presidency to Donald Trump.

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Republicans are closing in on 2016 nominee

    Back in 2009, Bobby Jindal was an impressive young Republican governor with loads of potential. He gave the Republican response that year to Barack Obama's economic recovery speech.

    After that, nearly everything went wrong.

    OK, I exaggerate slightly. He was overwhelmingly re-elected in Louisiana in 2011. But he's terribly unpopular there now,and he never picked up any traction in his bid for his party's 2016 presidential nomination -- a campaign he ended Tuesday

    Debate performances aren't everything when it comes to choosing a party's nominee. But Jindal's flat showing in the "undercard" events were missed opportunities, especially the times when he only had to face has-been moderate George Pataki, non-factor Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum, who may be a serious candidate but has awful debating skills.

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Rejecting Syrian refugees won't make America safer

    On both sides of the Atlantic, last week's terrorist attacks in Paris have made governments already leery about accepting refugees fleeing the Islamic State in Syria downright opposed to it. Poland's new government has said it won't commit to hosting any more asylum seekers, and 23 U.S. governors have announced they'd rather not either -- even if state governments don't have the authority to reject people from any particular country, they could make refugees' lives so difficult that they'll wish they hadn't come.

    So would keeping refugees out actually make anybody safer?

    It's a complicated question, and the answers differ from region to region. Few experts deny that it's possible for terrorists to conceal themselves among large crowds of refugees in some areas - for example, Al-Shabaab has infiltrated the flow of Somalis fleeing conflict into Kenya. But even fewer think that sealing off borders is likely to prevent future attacks either.

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My white neighbor thought I was breaking into my own apartment. Nineteen cops showed up.

    On Sept. 6, I locked myself out of my apartment in Santa Monica, Calif. I was in a rush to get to my weekly soccer game, so I decided to go enjoy the game and deal with the lock afterward.

    A few hours and a visit from a locksmith later, I was inside my apartment and slipping off my shoes when I heard a man's voice and what sounded like a small dog whimpering outside, near my front window. I imagined a loiterer and opened the door to move him along. I was surprised to see a large dog halfway up the staircase to my door. I stepped back inside, closed the door and locked it.

    I heard barking. I approached my front window and loudly asked what was going on. Peering through my blinds, I saw a gun. A man stood at the bottom of the stairs, pointing it at me. I stepped back and heard: "Come outside with your hands up." I thought: This man has a gun and will kill me if I don't come outside. At the same time, I thought: I've heard this line from policemen in movies. Although he didn't identify himself, perhaps he's an officer.

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