Archive

May 14th, 2016

Loretta Lynch to transgender America: I've got your back

    "As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened," which is why, President Obama said in his 2015 State of the Union address, "we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender" (LGBT). By merely saying the word "transgender," Obama did something no other president had ever done in a State of the Union speech.

    On Monday, the Justice Department went a giant step further. It is suing North Carolina over its blatantly discriminatory "bathroom law" that requires transgender men and women to use the bathroom of their sex at birth. And as incredible and unprecedented as that move is, Attorney General Loretta Lynch's remarks justifying her action were breathtaking. None more than the penultimate paragraph.

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How to shorten airport lines? Get rid of the TSA

    Millions of Americans have learned to dread going to the airport. An unfortunate combination of surging passenger volumes and declining numbers of screeners have led to security lines that can average over an hour in length. Thousands of passengers are missing flights daily. Meanwhile, airports and airlines nationwide are struggling to contain passenger anger. In desperation last week, one leading U.S. airline trade group asked passengers to troll the Transportation Security Administration by tweeting of long lines with the hashtag #ihatethewait.

    While no doubt satisfying, such stunts aren't going to speed up security checks before the upcoming summer travel rush. This problem has been years in the making. To solve it, the government may have to get the TSA out of the screening business altogether.

    The idea is neither new nor outlandish. Canada and most Western European countries employ private contractors to screen passengers. Before the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. did as well. The Federal Aviation Administration set security standards and guidelines but allowed individual airports to choose the companies responsible for doing the actual screening.

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High-frequency lawyers are next step in automation

    Microeconomic theory gets little attention. The public usually only hears about macro, tax or labor economics -- the things that affect day-to-day life. But deep within the stygian recesses of academia, bright mathematical minds are working on the economics of the next century.

    One of these is Yuliy Sannikov, a professor at Princeton. Known throughout his life as a mathematical genius, Sannikov recently won the John Bates Clark Medal, a notable award given each year to a prominent economist under the age of 40. In recent years, that award has been given mostly to empirical researchers, reflecting econ's turn toward data-driven work. Sannikov is among the few who work with pure math and abstract concepts.

    Since 2008, a lot of people have looked very unfavorably on purely mathematical economic theory. But in microeconomics, this kind of theorizing has been quite successful: It has enabled advances in online auctions, organ transplants and a number of other areas. This work is not as glamorous as the research done by people who claim to be able to explain recessions and unemployment, but by keeping a low profile, it is able to stay a lot more grounded in reality.

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GOP's boat ride into darkness

    “The horror. The horror. . .” – closing lines from “Apocalypse Now.”

    I didn’t think of contrasting the Republican Party’s current situation with Francis Ford Coppola’s movie masterpiece until the New York Times editorialized about Donald Trump’s ascendancy and the Republican Party’s “trek into darkness.”

    “Apocalypse Now,” based on Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” is about a mission to take out a commander in Vietnam’s deep jungles who has gone off his nut. GOP tacticians now face the sweaty reality that, unlike in the movie, they botched the mission.

    Talk about brutal reviews:

    “To say Trump is bad for the Republican Party is like saying a flood is bad for your basement” – USA Today.

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Fix Puerto Rico's debt now, or taxpayers will bail Puerto Rico out later

    Here are some facts:

    -- The commonwealth of Puerto Rico cannot pay its debt of more than $70 billion. The government has already defaulted on several payments.

    -- The human cost of the debt crisis is growing, especially for the near-majority of the population that lives in poverty. According to Gov. Alejandro García Padilla, the Puerto Rican government can "barely cover the costs of providing services to special-needs children," let alone gas for police cars and fire trucks, electricity for hospitals, or measures to combat the Zika virus (it doesn't help that many doctors are leaving the island).

    -- Attempts to resolve the immediate crisis by allowing Puerto Rico to restructure its debt have been languishing in Congress; House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wisconsin, introduced draft legislation in March, but it hasn't gone anywhere.

    -- Restructuring has no costs for taxpayers. The burden falls on creditors, who will be paid less than the face value of the bonds they hold.

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May 13th

History as farce at the Alabama supreme court

    When Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore ordered his state's probate judges in January to ignore a Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, he put himself in jeopardy of losing his job - for the second time. Now Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Commission has filed formal charges against him for his defiance.

    Moore should lose his job. But as he's shown before, that's a setback he can overcome. Last time he was removed from office, he ran for governor before settling for re-election as chief justice. Who knows? This time he might even win the governorship.

    Moore's shenanigans go back to 2003, when, in his first term as elected chief justice, he commissioned a granite statue of the Ten Commandments to be placed in front of the Alabama Judicial Building where the state Supreme Court is housed. The monument violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, a federal district court held. But when the court ordered Moore to have the statue removed, he refused.

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An economist explains the cost of loyalty to Trump

    You're a Republican elected official, former official or behind-the-scenes operator. You think Donald Trump is a potential disaster for the party and the nation. So what do you do?

    You could simply exit, throwing your support behind likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or rallying around a third-party candidate.

    You could exercise your voice, although the options there are limited now that Trump has the nomination in the bag. One possibility is to endorse Trump publicly in hopes that you can influence his behavior behind the scenes. Another is to refuse to endorse him without endorsing anybody else -- a choice that falls just short of an exit.

    Either of these variants may seem somewhat pointless unless you consider the workings of party loyalty. Actively abandoning the GOP might bring long-term consequences -- such as exclusion from future party deliberations -- that behind-the-scenes nudging or even passive abandonment would not.

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5 powerful forces are driving income inequality

    Income inequality is driven by both political and economic forces and it waxes and wanes over time. In my new book, "Global Inequality: A New Approach for the Age of Globalization," I introduce the concept of Kuznets waves to describe this rise and fall. The name comes from the famous American economist Simon Kuznets, who in the 1950s and 1960s argued that as societies underwent the Industrial Revolution they become more unequal, with labor moving from agriculture to industry. This is followed by a period of declining income inequality as highly educated labor becomes more plentiful and social transfers increase. So it seemed that the rich countries were destined to become more egalitarian and stay that way.

    But Kuznets' theory ran into trouble in the past three decades as inequality rose in almost all developed countries, with the technology revolution playing the role of the Industrial Revolution and labor moving from well-paying manufacturing to less-remunerative services. Thus the broad forces pushing up U.S. inequality remain dominant. There are five specific forces to consider:

    - The increasing share of national income that accrues to owners of capital;

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Why Paul Ryan might not be able to avoid a down-ballot disaster

    In an op-ed for The Post back in March, Republican strategist Whit Ayres neatly spelled out the annihilation that could befall his party's chances of retaking the White House if Donald Trump were to become its presidential nominee. " Demographic trends make clear that a Republican nominee who hopes to win a majority of the popular vote in 2016 must gain either 30 percent of the nonwhite vote or 65 percent of the white vote," Ayres wrote. He added, "Trump doesn't stand a chance of doing either one."

    But one other thing Ayres wrote in his opinion piece caught my attention. "A Trump nomination would . . . seriously threaten Republican majorities in Congress," he pointed out. In theory, I get it. Folks go into the voting booth to vote for president and then just keep voting for the president's party in down-ballot races. Also, gerrymandering and incumbent advantage make ousting a majority, particularly in the House, seemingly impossible. Still, there are times when voters split their tickets. That is, they vote for the president of one party and then vote for House and Senate candidates of another party.

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When it comes to politics, corruption is subtler than you think

    In the now infamous case of Citizens United v. FEC , the Supreme Court corrected a 20-year-old mistake that, if allowed to continue, threatened to consume the First Amendment. The mistake was made in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce in 1990, when the Supreme Court upheld a Michigan restriction on corporate spending to independently run ads supporting or opposing a candidates for state office.

    In Austin , the court endorsed a stunningly broad theory of corruption. In the words of Justice Thurgood Marshall, corruption was expanded to include "the corrosive and distorting effects of immense aggregations of wealth that are accumulated with the help of the corporate form and that have little or no correlation to the public's support for the corporation's political ideas."

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