Archive

May 21st, 2016

Uber Goes Under in Austin

    Pouty, whiney, spoiled-bratism isn’t nice coming from a four-year-old. But it’s altogether grotesque when it comes from billion-dollar corporations like Uber and Lyft.

    The two car-for-hire companies call their service “ridesharing.” But these internet-based brats are takers, not sharers: Much of the fares they charge riders ends up in the pockets of their hedge-fund owners.

    Still, they insist that they’re new-economy, tech-driven geniuses — and that they’re above the fusty old local laws that other transportation companies follow. Uber and Lyft have made it corporate policy to throw hissy fits when cities — from Los Angeles to Atlanta, Houston to Portland — have dared to even propose rules to protect customers and drivers.

    The latest tantrum from the Silicon Valley giants came in Austin, when the city council adopted a few modest, perfectly reasonable rules — like fingerprint-based background checks for drivers.

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Trump: Stonewaller, Shape-Shifter, Liar

    The last few weeks have offered Americans a chilling glimpse of three faces of Donald Trump: the stonewaller, the shape-shifter and the liar.

    Trump the stonewaller has been on display in his refusal to release his tax returns. "It's none of your business," Trump flatly told ABC's George Stephanopoulos when asked about his effective tax rate.

     Stephanopoulos: "Yes or no, do you believe voters have a right to see your tax returns before they make a final decision?"

    Trump: "I don't think they do. But I do say this, I will really gladly give them."

    Sure, he'd be happy to -- except that he isn't. And it is our business. Voters are entitled to know this information about a candidate for president, a person who would help steer the nation's finances. For decades, presidential candidates have routinely made this material available.

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Trump tries to comfort the skittish womenfolk

    In his interview with the Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly on Tuesday night, Donald Trump tried to pull off a win-win straight out of "The Art of the Deal": at once trying to prove that he was a friend of women and that no woman gets the best of him. It's not clear how well he succeeded, but he was able to put an end to his feud with a star newswoman and make nice with a network he will need in the general election.

    The dealmaker was careful to give Kelly something: She got to prove her chops as uber-anchor, hosting her first prime-time special like Barbara Walters lassoing a big player as lead-off batter and peppering him with touchy-feely questions, garnering sky-high ratings.

    Kelly stopped short of asking what kind of tree Trump would choose to be, but she did go beyond his building a wall. Regrets? He has a few but he wouldn't name them. When asked if he'd been hurt emotionally, he told Kelly he'd have to get back to her. That's not likely, though. He said looking backward was "not healthy."

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The new overtime rule is one of Obama's most progressive actions

    The Obama administration's new overtime rule was finalized Tuesday night, and it will go into effect in the nation's workplaces on Dec. 1 of this year. I'll get to the details in a moment, but this update of a vital labor standard is a great advance for working people. I'd go as far as to say that this may be the administration's most significant action on behalf of middle-class paychecks.

    Here are the basics of the final rule:

    -- The new salary threshold is $47,476, or $913 per week, just about double the current weekly threshold of $455.

    To prevent abuse of the overtime law, which maintains that all hourly workers must be paid "time-and-a-half" (1.5 times their base hourly wage) for weekly hours worked beyond 40, employers can't simply make someone exempt by paying them a salary. Salaried workers whose pay is below the OT threshold must also get OT pay. The new threshold represents the 40th percentile pay of full-time, salaried workers in the southern region of the United States. I know: why 40th, why southern, etc.?

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The logic of gun rights puts pistols in pockets

    Much criticism of the gradual expansion of the constitutional right to bear arms by U.S. courts has focused on assault weapons and mass shootings. But gun-rights advocates are conquering another frontier: the regulation of handguns in urban space.

    On Tuesday, a federal district court struck down restrictions on carrying concealed handguns imposed by Washington, D.C. As of Wednesday, if you want to carry a concealed handgun in the nation's capital, that's your right. Maybe they should change the Wizards' name back to the Bullets.

    Before this decision came down, I described the constitutional jurisprudence that has generated a systematic expansion in the meaning and reach of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The district court's decision fits the paradigm perfectly.

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Subtract One Clinton

    Bill Clinton should go home.

    It’s easy to see why his wife’s campaign is giving him a major role. His political skills are legendary. And he’s the spouse, for heaven’s sake. Presidential candidates always rely on their families to fill out the schedule, show up where they can’t, spread good cheer.

    But we all know this is different. Campaigning in Kentucky — where her husband is more popular than she is — Hillary Clinton told voters that Bill would be “in charge of revitalizing the economy” in her administration. At another stop she promised that if they returned to the White House, “I’ll expect him to go to work ... to get incomes rising.”

    She presented herself as part of a duo that knows “a little bit about how to create jobs. I think my husband did a heck of a job.”

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Six reasons why Trump meeting with Kim Jong Un is a very bad idea

    Donald Trump said in an interview with Reuters this week that he was prepared to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. There is certainly room for more proactive strategic thinking as North Korea rushes towards further nuclear weapons capability, but a presidential summit belongs in the "vey bad idea" category. Here's why.

    1. Kim won't abandon nuclear weapons. This has been obvious to anyone who has negotiated with the North over the past 25 years, but Pyongyang helpfully erased any doubt by conducting four nuclear tests since 2006, and is poised to carry out a fifth in the near future. North Korea changed its constitution in 2012 to enshrine its nuclear weapons status, and the Korean Workers' Party Congress reaffirmed that position last month. No level of real estate negotiating acumen is going to change that.

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Obama's undersold legacy of economic recovery

    Here's the political narrative underpinning the rise of Donald Trump: The American public is fed up with dysfunction in Washington over the last nearly eight years of President Obama. It needs a Galahad somehow to save a nation that has lost its way.

    Trump's very slogan, promising to "Make America Great Again," assumes a condition, however, that flies in the face of economic indicators that dispute the gloom that he and the Republican Party have been crowing about throughout Obama's second term.

    Foremost of these is the steady job growth that has reduced the national unemployment rate to 5 percent -- a level considered by many economists to constitute full employment in practical, achievable terms.

    The progress achieved after what is now known as the Great Recession of 2008 has been little appreciated, especially given the depth of the economic quagmire Obama inherited from his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, who also bequeathed him two unfinished wars.

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How the world feels about LGBT people

    One of the major human rights stories of the past decade in the United States has been the astonishing progress toward equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The advance of marriage equality across the states before the Supreme Court made it the law of the land; the narratives of bullying and suicide that aroused public sympathy; and the swift rise in the visibility of transgender people have been tremendously gratifying and exciting to witness.

    But while the United States can be awfully myopic, it's impossible to ignore that this progress hasn't been global. Sexual minorities in Uganda have been attacked with greater frequency since the country passed a law creating a new range of offenses related to sexual orientation, pairing them with correspondingly harsh penalties. Russia criminalized so-called "gay propaganda" as part of widespread government efforts to clamp down on free speech supposedly in defense of traditional Russian culture. And earlier this year, two gay rights activists were killed in Bangladesh.

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Hedge fund bosses make too much? Get used to it

    Hedge funds are back in the headlines, thanks mainly to the release of Institutional Investor's Alpha magazine annual report on the earnings of top hedge fund owners and managers. The Hedge Fund Rich List includes such well-known luminaries as Citadel's Ken Griffin, Bridgewater's Ray Dalio and Renaissance Technologies' Jim Simons. Together, the top 25 are reported to have taken home about $13 billion last year.

    As AQR Capital Management chief Cliff Asness points out, this list isn't a good guide to the fortunes of hedge-fund managers in general, because it selects only the top earners. Since hedge fund returns can vary a lot, and since performance fees are a substantial piece of hedge fund owners' earnings, there will always be some names to fill out an eye-popping Top 10 list.

    But what the list clearly does show is that hedge-fund moguls' earnings are often divorced from the performance of their funds. Kevin Drum of Mother Jones alerted me to a particularly striking example:

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