Archive

October 30th, 2015

Cities Losing People, Not Brains

    The population of New Orleans fell 7.3 percent after Hurricane Katrina, but guess what. NOLA now has 40,000 more college graduates than before the disaster.

    From 2000 to 2013, Detroit lost over 160,000 residents but amazingly added nearly 167,000 college graduates.

    It's an urban myth that population loss and brain drain go hand in hand. On the contrary, of the 100 largest American metropolitan areas that lost population in this time period, every one gained in the percentage of college-educated residents. Such findings are contained in a report from the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank that studies urban issues.

    In some, cities with major population losses actually saw their college-educated head count rise to exceed the national average. "Buffalo and Cleveland went from less educated than America to more educated than America," Aaron Renn, a senior fellow at the institute, told me.

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Can this revolution last?

    Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign is different. He has refused to establish a super PAC. He shuns personal attacks. And, not incidentally, he proclaims himself a democratic socialist.

    But there's one further way in which his campaign fundamentally differs not just from those of the other candidates but also from any in many years: While striving to win votes, it also has to morph into an enduring left-wing movement.

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Air goes out of Jeb Bush balloon

    Once again, the media got it wrong. That big blimp circling out of control over Pennsylvania farmland this week? It wasn't an Army experiment from Aberdeen Proving Ground, after all. It was the Jeb Bush campaign, leaking air as it made one final, desperate pass over a key battleground state before crashing and burning -- just as Jeb himself would do a couple of hours later on the debate stage in Boulder, Colorado.

    But Bush wasn't the only loser in the latest GOP dust-up. Oddly enough, there were two big losers, before we even got to the candidates.

    The first big loser was the American people. Consider: This is only the end of October. Yet we've already suffered through four presidential debates, three by Republican candidates and one by Democrats -- for an election that's still 13 months away!

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A dancing Washington cop offers a tremendous lesson in policing

    Twice this week, the nation was moved by the way a white cop confronted a black teenaged girl and her mobile phone. For very different reasons.

    In South Carolina, the teen was texting in math class and wouldn't put her phone away. Teens and their phones, right?

    But the campus officer who came to the class responded in the worst possible way, yanking, slamming and dragging the girl across the classroom. It was a violent 11 seconds of video that made millions of people gasp and, thankfully, got the cop fired.

    Sadly, in this time of a national awakening to stunning incidents of Bad Cop brutality - from ruthless arrests caught on camera to fatal shootings - this has become what we expect to see.

    But many of this country's 780,000 sworn police officers know how to do their jobs the right way.

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Why Ukrainians backed a 'Star Wars' emperor

    Less than two years after Ukraine's "revolution of dignity," local elections on Sunday handed power in the south and east to former supporters of the ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych,. The vote also created sizable ultranationalist factions in a number of local legislatures, including in the capital. The election proved voters' growing mistrust of the political class, which was only partially reshaped by the revolution, and revealed a disappointed nation that still is divided along an east-west line.

    The vote was an important milestone for Ukraine. President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to decentralize the country by giving cities and communities more political and budgetary powers. Ukraine is scrapping its system of regional governors appointed from Kiev and giving authority to local legislatures, an attempt to shift from a Soviet-style supercentralized state to a European nation managed from the bottom up. It's a good idea. But unless oligarchs and corrupt local bosses are kept out, the country risks getting a version of medieval feudal disunity instead of European self-government. The elections made that risk palpable.

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Sentenced to Be Crucified

    Any day now, our Saudi Arabian allies may behead and crucify a young man named Ali al-Nimr.

    His appeals following his court sentence for this grisly execution have been exhausted, so guards may lead al-Nimr to a public square and hack off his head with a sword as onlookers jeer. Then, following Saudi protocol for crucifixion, they would hang his body on a cross as a warning to others.

    Al-Nimr’s offense? He was arrested at age 17 for participating in anti-government protests. The government has said he attacked police officers and rioted, but the only known evidence is a confession apparently extracted under torture that left him a bloody mess.

    “When I visited my son for the first time I didn’t recognize him,” his mother, Nusra al-Ahmed, told The Guardian. “I didn’t know whether this really was my son Ali or not.”

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Two areas where work of Congress is incomplete

    What year is this?

    Pardon my confusion, but a glimmer of intelligent life in Washington has me questioning whether it's 2015. The source of this bewilderment is that the U.S. Congress has managed to accomplish a few things:

    -- A budget deal was reached, and a damaging government shutdown was averted. The deal entails a modest increase in spending of $80 billion over two years.

    -- Washington seems to have resolved its debt ceiling issues through the spring of 2017.

    -- A "voluntary" government default has been avoided.

    -- The House voted to reopen the Export-Import Bank, 313 to 118; the Senate will likely approve it as well.

    -- Spending caps on Medicare increases were negotiated and approved.

    -- Partisan gridlock has been broken -- at least for now.

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No, Journalists Don't Have Dramatic License

    Here's a controversial opinion: fiction doesn't belong in newspapers unless clearly labeled as such. Anonymous sources are tricky enough, but journalists simply have no business contriving dramatized scenes with dialogue and characters -- describing their innermost thoughts and feelings with no attribution whatsoever. To do so is inherently deceptive.

    Which brings us to the curious Case of the Redhead and the Vice President -- specifically New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and Joe Biden. Now, for partly subjective reasons, I've always responded favorably to Biden. In accent and demeanor, he resembles my late father -- not a flawless but a big-hearted, fundamentally decent man with a disarming smile and a touch of what the Irish call "blarney" about him.

    Or maybe more than a touch, given the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the term: "talk that is not true but that is nice and somewhat funny and that may be used to trick you."

    And maybe not so nice, sometimes. You be the judge.

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Trying a Fossil Fiend

    Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders wants the Justice Department to investigate and potentially prosecute ExxonMobil for corporate fraud.

    The Vermont senator is alarmed by reports that the energy giant spread doubt about climate change despite knowing since 1977 that global warming was both underway and fueled by its own operations. Bankrolling a disinformation campaign helped stymie climate action and “may have caused public harm,” Sanders said in a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

    A tobacco-style case against the whole oil and gas industry on racketeering charges may sound unlikely, but prospects are growing. And all heavily compensated executives who run fossil-fuel companies should heed the federal trial of a de-throned coal king in Charleston, West Virginia.

    Prosecutors accuse Don Blankenship of conspiring to violate health and safety laws and to cover up that wrongdoing. The former Massey Energy CEO was also indicted for lying to shareholders and financial regulators about his company’s safety practices after an explosion killed 29 men at its Upper Big Branch coal mine in 2010.

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Iraq war remains politically fateful, 12 years on

    A dozen years after the invasion of Iraq, it continues to cast a shadow over the 2016 presidential campaigns in both major parties. Republican and Democratic candidates alike who took opposing positions on it in 2003 can anticipate partisan demands that they hash over again the controversial adventure whose ramifications remain at the core of American foreign policy.

    In the GOP, establishment candidate Jeb Bush, whose brother as president launched the war based on the mistaken contention that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, has a quandary. Is it wise to use his family members and name to rescue a campaign stalled in the polls?

    Earlier this week, amid announced staff cutbacks, his campaign recruited the two former President Bushes for a two-day strategy and fund-raising meeting in Houston to assess how to snap out of the doldrums. The hope is that George W. Bush's war of choice in Iraq will somehow recede in memory.

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