Archive

February 29th, 2016

Obama could taunt the Senate as Roosevelt did

    President Barack Obama insisted that his post to Scotusblog on Wednesday about his criteria for a Supreme Court nominee was "spoiler free." But he may have been protesting a bit too much. Obama wrote that he sought a justice with "life experience outside the courtroom or the classroom," which possible nominees like Judge Sri Srinivasan of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit arguably lack. Then, later in the day, someone in the administration leaked a highly untraditional candidate, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, who has political life experience and was also a federal district judge for four years.

    It's impossible to know whether Sandoval's name is being floated just to taunt Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who has vowed not to consider any Obama nominee. But if Sandoval were nominated, it wouldn't be the first time a president nominated a justice mostly to send an "Oh, yeah?" message to the Senate.

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No, your coffee capsules aren't killing the planet

    Drowsy German bureaucrats in Hamburg will soon have one less option for a mid-afternoon caffeine jolt, after the city banned single-serve coffee machines such as Nespresso from government buildings. The new regulations have a worthy purpose. They hope to defend the environment, under the assumption that the use and disposal of thousands of tiny coffee capsules or pods leads to "unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation."

    A backlash against coffee pods has been, ahem, brewing for awhile. According to a statistic cited by everyone from the Atlantic magazine to National Public Radio, Green Mountain spit out 8.5 billion of its K-cup coffee pods in 2013 -- enough to circle the Earth 10.5 times. Campaigns, petitions, and high-minded op-eds have attacked such profligacy, turning the humble coffee pod into an environmental bogeyman on par with bottled water.

    But lost amid this fervor is any perspective about how to measure the environmental impact of the stuff we consume. There's a real question whether high-profile product bans -- of water bottles, plastic bags or coffee capsules -- risk causing more damage than they prevent.

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February 28th

Why don't more women hold top jobs in finance?

    Today I'm going to pose a simple question that has been asked any number of times: Why are there so few women in senior positions in finance?

    This question has come my way a lot. People have asked why we don't have more women as guests on the Masters in Business podcast on Bloomberg. We have had Sheila Bair, Liz Ann Sonders, Michelle Meyers and Dambisa Moyo and this weekend is Saru Jayaramen. But there are far more males than female guests, and even though more women are scheduled in the coming months, it's still nowhere close to 50-50.

    That sort of underrepresentation is common in senior positions at financial firms small and large alike. Some of this may be a legacy of what has not only been a male dominated society, but it probably also reflects an industry that is particularly resistant to change. (Disclosure: At my firm, two of the 13 employees are women, though neither is on our investment committee.)

    Why is this so?

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Netanyahu isn't quite right on the constitution

    It isn't often that a sitting prime minister offers a lesson in comparative constitutional law. But Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu did so Monday while defending a bill that would allow three-quarters of the Knesset to expel a member who "supports terrorism by word or deed, or denies the Jewish, democratic character of the state of Israel."

    Netanyahu compared the provision to the American rule that Congress may expel a member by two-thirds vote and to parliamentary rules in Britain and Canada that allow the expulsion of a member of Parliament for misconduct by a simple majority.

    On the surface, the comparison seems reasonable. It shows that even the well-established English-speaking democracies allow for the expulsion of members.

    But Netanyahu neglected to mention the most important difference, namely that the other countries allow expulsion for crimes or other wrongful conduct, while Netanyahu's proposal contemplates expulsion for speech alone.

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Lawmaker says military deleted evidence in intel probe

    The chairman of one of the House committees investigating manipulation of military intelligence on the Islamic State said Thursday that emails and other files needed for the investigation have been deleted.

    Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, made that allegation in his opening remarks at a hearing on worldwide threats. "It is vital that this committee protect and seriously consider the testimony of the many whistleblowers who provide information to us," Nunes said. "For example, we have been made aware that both files and emails have been deleted by personnel at CentCom, and we expect that the Department of Defense will provide these and all other relevant documents to the committee."

    These charges are serious. Central Command has been under investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general since last year when scores of CentCom intelligence analysts complained to the watchdog that their findings were being selectively edited to paint a far rosier picture in 2014 and 2015 about the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State than the facts warranted.

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How to rid the world of genocide

    No one thought it was going to be easy. Ending mass atrocities once and for all had been high on the global rhetorical agenda for decades. "Never again," we all said, and meant it: "No more Holocausts!" "No more Cambodias!" But when it came to effective international action, the world was a consensus-free zone. And among those who paid the price were the 800,000 men, women and children massacred in Rwanda in 1994, and the 8,000 men and boys slaughtered in Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.

    Throughout the 1990s, there was plenty of enthusiasm in the Global North (at least in principle) for sending in the Marines to exercise the "right of humanitarian intervention." But countries across the Global South - with long memories of imperial civilizing missions, and determined to protect their hard-won sovereignty - utterly refused to acknowledge any such "right," however conscience-shocking the atrocities might be.

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How humanitarian intervention makes protecting the innocent more difficult

    The Responsibility to Protect, or R2P, is an emerging norm in international law. Although the idea can be amorphous, over time the norm has developed into a respectable -- and worthwhile -- endeavor. Yet its effectiveness remains hindered by its history, and its history is often re-invoked when the norm is put to the test.

    The Responsibility to Protect is the idea that states and the international community have a responsibility to build up the institutions that can promote and protect human rights, and when a state is manifestly failing in this responsibility, it is the duty of the international community, acting through the United Nations, to assist that state in fulfilling its obligations. But if the state rebuffs all efforts, as a last resort the international community is authorized to deploy military assets to protect the rights of those within the state. The norm itself is clear, but to understand where it came from, one must also understand its predecessor: humanitarian intervention.

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Homeland Security is spilling a lot of secrets

    The Department of Homeland Security suffered over 100 "spills" of classified information last year, 40 percent of which came from one office, according to a leaked internal document I obtained. Officials and lawmakers told me that until the Department imposes stricter policies and sounder practices to better protect sensitive intelligence, the vulnerabilities there could be exploited. Not only does this raise the threat that hostile actors could get their hands on classified information, it may lead to other U.S. agencies keeping DHS out of the loop on major security issues.

    A spill is not the same as an unauthorized disclosure of classified information. A Homeland Security official explained that spills often include "the accidental, inadvertent, or intentional introduction of classified information into an unclassified information technology system, or higher-level classified information into a lower-level classified information technology system, to include non-government systems."

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Help Russia's human rights activists

    This year marks the 25th anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the rebirth of Russia. One of the most remarkable features of that rebirth was the rapid creation, after 70 years of Soviet repression and atomization, of Russia's vast, vibrant and effective civil society. The history of the human rights movement in Russia is also the story of my life, because I was a dissident in the Soviet era and today proudly chair the Moscow Helsinki Group, the oldest human rights organization working in Russia.

    In the 1990s, our country was poor, and rights groups could find hardly any funding in Russia. We were fortunate to have Western donors who supported our work. Even as Russia got back on its feet, thanks largely to a dramatic rise in oil prices, it still wasn't easy to find financial assistance in Russia for human rights work. There were many reasons for this, not least of which was that potential donors did not want to risk the Kremlin's wrath by supporting potentially sensitive causes. And let's face it, human rights work can be sensitive.

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Don't Bury Our Cities in Megatowers

    Many longtime residents of San Francisco, Miami and other hot U.S. cities complain of "Manhattanization" when developers put up 20- or 30-story apartment complexes. In Portland, Oregon, they're debating the wisdom of 40 stories.

    They should try 100 stories on for size -- or not, if they value the amenities of urban life. That's the height of a megatower proposed for downtown Seattle. It was "downsized" from 102 stories after aviation authorities warned the tower could interfere with air traffic.

    Tall buildings don't normally shock New Yorkers, but many Gothamites are appalled by the growing scourge of "billionaire's row" on West 57th Street. This is a forest of freakishly high sticks casting shadows on Central Park.

    In the sedate residential enclave of Sutton Place to the east, a developer wants to drop an oblong almost as tall as the Empire State Building smack in the middle of narrow 58th Street. Glomming onto the neighborhood's reputation for quiet elegance, the developer is perversely calling his monstrosity Sutton 58.

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