Archive

May 19th, 2016

Five myths about transgender issues

    Over the past few years, transgender issues have moved into the spotlight in a big way. Caitlin Jenner came out on prime-time TV. Laverne Cox was featured on the cover of Time. The White House appointed its first openly trans employee. These cultural changes, though, have led to an ugly backlash. States including North Carolina and Kansas have passed or are considering legislation that limits the rights of transgender people. And the political debates around these issues have perpetuated many myths.

 

1. Transgender people pose a threat in public bathrooms.

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Why Iran hard-liners hate foreign investment

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is making a lot of people in Washington even madder than usual. He's been encouraging European banks and companies to invest in Iran -- which certainly is weird, given the history between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic.

    As the former George W. Bush administration official Elliott Abrams put it on Thursday: "There is simply no defensible reason for an American official, much less our top diplomat, to concern himself with how much investment and profit Iran can eke out of the nuclear deal."

    Except that there is. Increasing foreign trade and investment for Iran was part of the mix in the 12-year negotiation over Iran's nuclear fuel program, from start to finish. It was resisted by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and other hard-line factions in the Tehran regime because they feared foreign influence that could undermine their control. So it's at least defensible to ask western treaty opponents why, if they think foreign investment would help the Revolutionary Guard conduct its military adventures, the Revolutionary Guard doesn't want it.

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The disturbing thing that happens when you tell people they have different DNA

    The first real interview I ever did was in 1999 in Dubrovnik, Croatia, the white-stone city perched on the Adriatic Sea that is now famous as King's Landing in the TV series "Game of Thrones." But less than 10 years before, that beautiful city had been the site of a siege, in a war that turned the former Yugoslavia against itself.

    I had stepped into a Serbian Orthodox Church, cool and dark against the bright sun outside. The church's caretaker, an older man with a massive white mustache, told me how the city had descended into chaos during the conflict, which pitted mostly Catholic Croats against mostly Orthodox Serbs and Muslim Bosniaks in the early 1990s. Former friends and neighbors spurned one another until there was no place in the community where the Orthodox caretaker and his Catholic wife were accepted, he said, with tears falling. The church was still damaged from the bombings.

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Trump just boasted that he pays as little in taxes as possible. Here's why.

    With the battle continuing to rage over Donald Trump's ongoing suggestion that he may not release his tax returns before the November election, this exchange with ABC News's George Stephanopoulous, which took place Friday, provides a glimpse into what Trump really thinks about all this:

    TRUMP: I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.

    STEPHANOPOULOS: What is your tax rate?

    TRUMP: It's none of your business. You'll see it when I release. But I fight very hard to pay as little tax as possible.

    Trump's claim that his tax rate is "none of your business" is generating buzz Friday. But the more important quote is his boast that he "fights very hard to pay as little tax as possible." He deliberately repeated this, as if to make sure we would not miss it.

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How psychologists used doctored Obama photos to get white people to support conservative politics

    American politics always has surprises, but things have been especially unpredictable since President Obama took office. First, few observers were prepared for the tea party movement, which ousted several veteran GOP lawmakers, replaced them with more radically conservative newcomers, and helped the Republican Party win control of the House of Representatives in 2010.

    "That left a lot of analysts slack-jawed, wondering: what was this latent force that drove the emergence of this movement?" said Robb Willer, a sociologist at Stanford University.

    Then, of course, there was Donald Trump.

    Willer speculates that one thing connecting these two political earthquakes might be white voters' unconscious racial biases. In a series of psychological experiments between 2011 and 2015, he showed how hostility toward people with darker skin and perceived racial threats can influence white support for the tea party. He and his colleagues published a draft of a paper on their findings online last week -- some of the most direct evidence of the importance of race to the conservative resurgence during Obama's presidency.

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May 18th

Anti-Muslim bigotry aids Islamist terrorists

    Almost 15 years after the 9/11 attacks, and five years since the killing of the chief architect of those attacks, the United States and the world face a resurgent threat from terrorism. This stark reality should inform the national debate as we prepare to elect our next commander in chief.

    As states across the Middle East have collapsed into civil war, Islamist extremist groups such as the Islamic State have exploited the upheaval to seize vast swaths of territory, which they have used to rally recruits, impose totalitarian rule over the people trapped in these areas and plot attacks against the rest of the world.

    Few responsibilities that our next president inherits will be more urgent, important or complex than thwarting these terrorist plans, reversing the conditions that have enabled their rise and combating the broader Islamist extremist ideology that animates them.

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Spoilers are the sincerest form of flattery

    During the runup to the release of the second "Star Wars" trilogy, fan sites were thick with snippets that ran more or less like this: "Tatooine67 was in a bar and heard these sfx guys talking about this scene were Yoda is sitting in front of a window and there's other Jedis there too." From similarly vague clues, uberfans would assemble their best guesses about characters and plot. To the outsider, it was all pretty silly, but the filmmakers didn't seem to mind. All the speculation just added to the hype.

    That bit of cultural history comes to mind in the wake of HBO's effort to get YouTube to take down videos by FrikiDoctor, also known as the "Spanish Spoiler," who runs a channel that this season has disclosed details of "Game of Thrones" plot lines days before each episode aired. Nobody contests the right of fans to post plot spoilers after a program has aired, or to speculate about what might happen in next week's episode. But FrikiDoctor, although he termed his videos "predictions," had the details right. In other words, he must have had an inside source.

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Is it time for a shorter workweek?

    Throughout the past year, we have heard paid leave debated in statehouses and on the campaign trail. I am all in favor of paid leave. It would enable more people - especially those in lower-paying jobs - to take time off to deal with a serious illness or the care of another family member, including a newborn child.

    But we shouldn't stop with paid leave. We should also consider shortening the standard workweek. Such a step would be gender-neutral and would not discriminate between the very different kinds of time pressures faced by adults. It might even help to create more jobs.

    The standard workweek is 40 hours - eight hours a day for five days a week. It's been that way for a long time. Back in 1900, the typical factory worker spent 53 hours on the job, one-third more hours than we spend today. The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938 and set maximum hours at 40 per week. Amazingly, more than three-quarters of a century after passage of the FLSA, there has been no further decline in the standard workweek. Not only has the legal standard remained unchanged, but also 40 hours has become the social and cultural norm .

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How a lack of paid leave is making wealth inequality worse

    The United States is famously exceptional in its failure to guarantee paid family leave to new parents. What is less well-known is that this failure contributes to the growing problem of income inequality, widening the gap in well-being between the haves and the have-nots.

    In 21st-century America, paid leave is available to most upper-level employees, especially professionals and managers, when they become parents or need to care for a seriously ill family member. However, the nation's burgeoning ranks of low-wage workers typically have no access whatsoever to any kind of paid leave. Instead, they are repeatedly forced to choose between earning a day's pay and providing vital care to their families. When they choose the latter, they fall even further behind.

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Stop saying businesses can't afford paid family leave

    Opponents of a national paid family and medical leave program often argue that paid leave is simply too expensive, too burdensome for employers and that it will kill jobs. But these are the same claims that have been used for more than a hundred years, whenever the conversation has turned to improving labor safety standards . The same talking points that were once used to oppose the installation of water sprinklers after the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire - which killed 146 workers.

    Today, a new and ironic chapter has been added to this antiquated tale of woe: Opponents claim that paid family and medical leave would hold back the very working women it is intended to help. After all, critics contend, there is international research indicating that maternity leave makes women less likely to return to work and more likely to experience employment discrimination.

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