Archive

April 24th, 2016

Ruling shouldn't hinge on immigrants' legal status

    The much-awaited immigration case challenging President Barack Obama's right to waive deportation for unauthorized immigrants was argued before the Supreme Court Monday. It looks as though the administration may have a path to win -- even if only on technicalities.

    The argument was dramatic. Justice Sonia Sotomayor took on the Texas solicitor general in an extended colloquy that made her seem almost like an advocate for immigrants rather than a justice. And U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said the administration was prepared to forget about granting official legal status to undocumented immigrants as long as they were protected from deportation -- a step that could nullify most objections to Obama's executive order.

    The two possible swing voters, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, started out being hard on Verrilli. But later in the argument, they hinted that they might be willing to find a legal mechanism to overturn the judgment of the appeals court that blocked the administration's plan.

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Out of Africa, Part II

    I am visiting Ndiamaguene village in the far northwest of Senegal. If I were giving you directions I’d tell you that it’s the last stop after the last stop — it’s the village after the highway ends, after the paved road ends, after the gravel road ends and after the desert track ends. Turn left at the last baobab tree.

    It’s worth the trek, though, if you’re looking for the headwaters of the immigration flood now flowing from Africa to Europe via Libya. It starts here.

    It begins with a trickle of migrants from a thousand little villages and towns across West Africa like Ndiamaguene, a five-hour drive from the capital, Dakar. I visited with a team working on the documentary “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the connection between climate change and human migration, which will appear this fall on the National Geographic Channel. The day we came, April 14, it was 113 degrees — far above the historical average for the day, a crazy level of extreme weather.

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No Way to Elect a President

    With Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s victories in New York, we’re one furious contest closer to the end of this spectacle. But we’ve known for a while now where we’re headed, and it isn’t anyplace good.

     American voters are displeased with the candidates they’ve been given. They’re disengaged from the process that winnows the field.

    And that process disregards the political center, erodes common ground and leaves us with a government that can’t build the necessary consensus for, let alone implement, sensible action in regard to taxes, to infrastructure, to immigration, to guns, to just about anything.

    Make America great again? We need to start by making it functional.

    This election has certainly been extraordinary for its characters, but it’s equally remarkable for its context, one of profound, paralyzing sourness.

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I used to be a flight attendant. Dealing with passengers' racism is part of the job.

    It was during the boarding process on a flight from Fort Lauderdale to JFK in the fall of 2009. I had long since learned the key to a pleasant flight was to greet everyone as they boarded, so I stood in the front galley and said my hellos.

    Suddenly a middle-aged white woman leaned uncomfortably close to me and whispered, "There is man, four people behind me, in a green shirt, who is very suspicious."

    I whispered back, "OK. What's he doing?"

    "You'll see," she said, wide-eyed.

    I thought two things: This woman is probably racist. And I need to take her seriously.

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How powerful should our juries be?

    In 1986, Leroy Reed faced criminal charges he didn't understand. A mentally disabled ex-convict from Milwaukee, Reed was charged with illegally possessing a firearm after his parole office discovered that he had purchased a .22-caliber pistol to go with a mail-order private detective course. While it was obvious to everyone on the jury that he had committed a crime, it was less obvious that he should go back to prison for it. Did he know that what he was doing was wrong? Would a harsh sentence, such as reincarceration, be just?

    After hours of dramatic argument captured on film by PBS's "Frontline," the jury decided to find Reed not guilty. These citizens were practicing "jury nullification," a contentious aspect of our legal system whereby jurors can decide to ignore the law and not convict a person obviously guilty of a crime. Acting as a sort of community conscience, juries can decide that applying the letter of the law to a particular case would not be justified -- but it's not clear how much say a jury should have in deciding which laws to enforce.

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Google should stop fighting antitrust charges

    The European Commission looks poised to accuse Google of breaking competition rules with the contracts it offers mobile phone makers that use its Android operating system. Europe's competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, indicated as much in a speech on Monday. Just as with an earlier antitrust decision on Google, the bureaucrats are wrong: It's preposterous to accuse Google of stifling innovation. Yet Google shouldn't fight them: It's perfectly able to compete without trying to negotiate an unfair advantage.

    The commission started its investigation a year ago. Its gripe with Google is that the search giant is twisting phone manufacturers' arms to preinstall a package of basic apps, including e-mail and a suite of cloud-based office programs, and make Google the default search engine. Vestager said in her speech that Google's actions may be hurting other innovators:

    "Our concern is that, by requiring phone makers and operators to preload a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers."

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As a trans man in North Carolina, I always felt safe - until this new law passed

    When I started college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro two years ago, I did the kinds of things a lot of guys did. I made friends, joined a fraternity and started taking classes in business and accounting. I had a great time.

    North Carolina's new bill could change all that.

    The measure requires all state residents to use bathrooms that match the gender they were assigned at birth. And it strips away local protections that prohibit discrimination against LGTBQ people in housing, employment and public accommodations.

    This affects me because I'm trans. I started hormone replacement therapy at 18. My face, body and voice all changed substantially in the summer between high school and college. When I started at UNC, my peers were not aware that I was a transgender man until I or one of my close friends told them.

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A history lesson on racism sparks a framework for change

    While teaching U.S. history at a public charter high school in the District, Julian Hipkins III noticed that students tended to assume that "race" was as old as mankind. "Almost like it was natural, a given," as he put it.

    So, using specialized lessons, Hipkins helped the students explore the invention of race and the reasons for it, as laid out in colonial law. Especially the Virginia slave codes enacted between 1640 and 1705.

    Question: How did wealthy landowners thwart the efforts of enslaved Africans and European indentured servants to join forces in a common struggle for economic justice?

    Answer: Divide and conquer through the invention of race. Make the white servants feel superior to black slaves by virtue of skin color; manipulate poor whites into thinking that any perceived gains by blacks had come at their expense.

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When 'something' drifts to profiling

    "If you see something, say something," the Department of Homeland Security tells us.

    Problem is, a lot of folks probably need a little coaching on what "something" is.

    "Something" is not someone on an airplane who made a phone call in Arabic.

    College student Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, 26, was booted off his Southwest Airlines flight in California last week because a woman sitting nearby was freaked out hearing him speak Arabic when he made a quick call to his uncle before takeoff.

    That is speaking another language. It is not terrorism.

    "Something" is also not a student who made a clock and tried to show it to his science teacher.

    Ninth-grader Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was interrogated, handcuffed and arrested at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, for bringing his homemade digital clock to school last fall - teachers thought it might be a bomb.

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Watch the budget deficit, not the debt

    I'm often asked: What level of government debt can the U.S. sustain? The answer is that it can handle a lot more. What's much more important is its longer-term ability to reduce the federal budget deficit -- and eventually run a surplus.

    Before I explain, let's define some terms. Debt refers to the value of all securities issued by the Treasury and held by the public (including the Federal Reserve). I'll define the deficit to be the difference between government revenue and expenditures, other than interest on the debt (this is sometimes called the primary deficit). I'm not ignoring interest on the debt -- I'm just treating it separately.

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