Archive

June 1st, 2016

What Latinos know about America and Trump doesn't

    News from the campaign trail has Latinos across America cringing.

    It happens every time a scene like this splashes across the news: Protesters went plumb loco outside a Donald Trump rally in Albuquerque, N.M. Waving Mexican flags, they lobbed rocks at police, set fires, pushed aside barriers and generally acted like little hooligans.

    The outburst was followed by the inevitable. Cable news talking heads, as they always do, wondered why the protesters were so angry.

    Really? The United States is veering shockingly close to electing as president a man whose version of "making America great again" includes scapegoating some of the very people who helped make the country so incredible -- Latino immigrants.

    That's the problem. That this has to be explained. And, no, this is not an excuse for the riotous behavior of a few.

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A Walk in the Dead Woods

    They appear at random, cinnamon-and-silver-colored pines and firs, the standing dead amid otherwise healthy groves of cloud-snagging trees in the mountains of Southern California. Last week, the Forest Service said there were 40 million of them — that is, 40 million dead trees in this state, almost one for every resident.

    Soon, they will be fuel, for what rangers fear will be a catastrophic wildfire season — “40 million opportunities for fire,” as Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack put it. Or they will be ghosts, gone in that sweep when the Earth broke all records for overheating.

    The collapse of the conifers is blamed in large part on a beetle the size of a grain of rice that has metastasized with climate change. In record warm years — which is to say, nearly every year of the past decade — the trees’ natural defense systems weaken and beetles reproduce in large numbers. The infestation killing forests all over the Western Hemisphere has been called the largest insect outbreak in global history.

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The Liberal Blind Spot

    Classic liberalism exalted tolerance, reflected in a line often (and probably wrongly) attributed to Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

    On university campuses, that is sometimes updated to: “I disapprove of what you say, so shut up.”

    In a column a few weeks ago, I offered “a confession of liberal intolerance,” criticizing my fellow progressives for promoting all kinds of diversity on campuses — except ideological. I argued that universities risk becoming liberal echo chambers and hostile environments for conservatives, and especially for evangelical Christians.

    As I see it, we are hypocritical: We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.

    It’s rare for a column to inspire widespread agreement, but that one led to a consensus: Almost every liberal agreed that I was dead wrong.

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Obama and Hiroshima's moral lessons

    Unless you are a pacifist, you accept that evil acts -- the destruction of other human lives -- can be justified, even necessary, in pursuit of good and urgent ends.

    But unless you are amoral, you also acknowledge the human capacity for self-delusion and selfishness. People are quite capable of justifying the utterly unjustifiable by draping their immoral actions behind sweeping ethical claims.

    And if you are a responsible political leader, you must recognize both sides of this moral equation and still not allow yourself to be paralyzed.

    As a student of Reinhold Niebuhr, the great theologian who was at once a liberal and a realist, President Obama has spent many years pondering this tension. He has sought out occasions on which he could preach about the ironies and uncertainties of human action -- and also our obligation to act in the face of them.

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When Ego Tops Honorable Motives

    In this election cycle we have truly seen more than our fair share of ego. In fact, ego maniac may be more the correct description. I cannot imagine a more prime example than in our current Republican Presidential nominee-in-waiting.

    Indeed it requires a super ego - more than just self-confidence - to even think of offering one's self for service in the job of President of this great nation; however, most have some accomplishments to qualify them to think of themselves as capable of performing at such a level. Not so in the case of the Republican hopefuls way last winter before the reduction to the now anointed one. Some of them had limited experience in government and some absolutely none.

    Most of those governing careers were of questionable success. Surely the one female of a failed political run as well as her experience of near scuttling a well known corporation hardly had anything other than ego to justify her presence in the race. Even the Republican voters soon recognized that truth just as they realized the leading minority male should have stuck to this medical practice.

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Hillary Clinton's protective crouch

        "I don't want any risk of the personal being accessible."

      -- Email from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to aide Huma Abedin, November 2010, contained in State Department inspector general's report on Clinton's private email use.

    This is not a smoking gun -- yet it explains so much.

    Actually it is the opposite of a smoking gun because Clinton in this email expresses willingness to obtain a "separate address or device" in order to fix the problem they were confronting: messages from her private account ending up in State Department spam.

    If only that had happened. How many months of ugly headlines, how much political harm could Clinton have avoided if she had taken the clunky, inconvenient route of the second BlackBerry and the official email?

     But the accretions, the scar tissue built up over years of politically motivated attacks and endless investigations, reinforced Clinton's instinct for the protective crouch.

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May 29th

Immigration isn't that bad for native workers

    Does immigration cost native workers their jobs or drive down their wages? This is one of the most contentious issues in economic policy right now. Fortunately, a lot of academic economists are doing some very smart, careful and thorough empirical work to figure out the effects of immigration on local labor markets.

    Various surveys and meta-analyses all reach one overwhelming conclusion: Immigration has at most only a small harmful effect on the native-born. If this were biology or astrophysics, that would be that -- the media would accept the scientific consensus, until new research came along and overturned it. But this is economics, and so politics and ideology inevitably get in the way. There will always be people who are in favor of immigration restriction, and they will always have reason to question what would otherwise be a well-accepted consensus.

    To some, this means that true consensus is impossible. Russ Roberts, host of the popular podcast EconTalk, sounds a pessimistic note in a recent interview:

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Presidential campaign pivots to personal conduct

    While the contest for the presidency should focus on the candidates' qualifications to run the world's most powerful nation, the current one instead is getting bogged down on personal behavior and trustworthiness.

    Donald Trump's business record finally has come under sharper scrutiny from the news media. Simultaneously, Hillary Clinton's handling of classified material while heading the State Department is under ever deeper investigation by the government.

    Not surprisingly, Trump, Clinton and their strategists have largely joined the pivot away from substantive policy discussions, effectively shunting the public's attention to the question of which of them is least qualified and least trustworthy.

    Sleuths at The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Politico and other newsrooms are reporting at considerable length on Trump's involvement in Trump University, his real-estate trade school facing litigation from disgruntled former students. Reporters are checking into other Trump business enterprises, as well as into his alleged charitable donations to veterans groups and the like.

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Trump can't get past the door in Rust Belt homes

    Donald Trump has a personal problem with voters that transcends policy differences, partisan affiliations and political concerns: They don't want him in their homes and aren't eager to have their kids exposed to him.

    These are among the findings of an online poll of working-class voters in the Rust Belt. When asked which likely general election candidate would be a good role model for their children, these voters said they preferred Hillary Clinton, 39 percent to 14 percent. By a margin of more than three to two they said they would rather have her in their homes over Trump, according to the Purple Slice survey conducted by Purple Strategies for Bloomberg Politics.

    The poll surveyed 803 voters in households with earnings between $30,000 and $75,000 in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin. The Trump camp has predicted that he would do better than other Republican candidates with this demographic -- sometimes referred to as Reagan Democrats, though that's probably outdated.

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The proof behind Sanders's policies

    Mainstream U.S. economists have criticized Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders's proposals as unworkable, but these economists betray the status quo bias of their economic models and professional experience. It's been decades since the United States had a progressive economic strategy, and mainstream economists have forgotten what one can deliver. In fact, Sanders's recipes are supported by overwhelming evidence - notably from countries that already follow the policies he advocates. On health care, growth and income inequality, Sanders wins the policy debate hands down.

    On health care, Sanders's proposal for a single-payer system has been roundly attacked as too expensive. His campaign (for which I briefly served as a foreign policy adviser) is told that his plan will raise taxes and burst the budget. But this attack misses the whole point of his health proposals. While health spending by the government would go up in the Sanders health plan, private insurance payments would disappear, generating huge net savings for the American people.

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