Archive

May 18th, 2016

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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History is repeating the election of 1816

    We've been here before.

    A two-term incumbent, once unpopular but looking better and better to his critics as his time runs out, is about to leave office. He has brought a controversial end to an unpopular war. His secretary of state, who is not particularly well-liked, is nevertheless nominated to succeed him, even though critics say that the candidate will just continue a political dynasty and has been cozying up to bankers who care only about profits. The opposition, fractured by dissent, finds itself unable to run a serious convention, and winds up fielding a weak but wealthy candidate who hails from New York.

    Welcome to 1816. Two hundred years ago, the nation faced an election with striking similarities to the present moment. The scholar in me cannot fail to point out both the parallels and the lessons to be learned.

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How the psychology of public bathrooms explains the 'bathroom bills'

    Sigmund Freud didn't think much of American public restrooms. During his 1909 visit to the United States, he grumbled that they lacked the refinement of European conveniences -- when he could find one at all. Writing to a German friend years later, Freud's lasting bitterness was obvious: "Is it not sad that we are materially dependent on these savages?"

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My mea culpa on Trump is different

    Political scientists are going to be busy for years figuring out what happened in the 2016 Republican presidential race. But I'll try to deliver a nutshell version of what I think happened and how I, like many others, got it so wrong.

    The "party chooses" idea in political science basically makes two claims about the nomination process: That party actors will converge on a single candidate, and that they will exert sufficient influence over voters in primaries and caucuses to push this candidate to victory. In my view, the first part worked out normally this year, but the second part was a total flop.

    Marco Rubio was the party's candidate for the 2016 cycle. This was increasingly obvious from late fall 2015 on, and he wound up -- before his campaign fell apart -- with a clear lead in endorsements at various levels.

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Trump's tax dodge is about releasing his returns

    Donald Trump, who has called one opponent "Lyin' Ted" and another "Crooked Hillary," has gotten away with more falsehoods and fabrications than any politician in memory. He's at it again.

    The subject is his tax returns. First he said he'd release them, as every Republican and Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominee has done since 1980. Then this week he told the Associated Press he probably wouldn't, at least not before an IRS audit was complete (which may or may not be before the November election). Then on Wednesday night, he told Fox News that he'd release them after all, but didn't say when.

    An IRS audit wouldn't prevent him from releasing his returns; certainly he could release earlier years.

    Until he does, people have a right to conclude that the real reason for his reticence is that he doesn't want voters to know what the documents might reveal. That he's not as rich as he says he is? That he's used legal loopholes to shrink his tax bill? That he's stingy when it comes to charity?

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Trump won't tell Republicans he's one of them

    In the days leading up to Donald Trump's much-ballyhooed courtesy call to Capitol Hill on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, seemed like a groom wanting his presumptive bride to change before he does.

    "This is the party of Lincoln, of Reagan, of Jack Kemp," he said on CNN, letting it be known that the presumptive nominee still had a lot of explaining to do before he could get an endorsement from the top Republican elected official. "What a lot of Republicans want to see is that we have a standard bearer that bears our standards."

    Not even a glimmer of such clarity emerged on Thursday. The joint statement that followed the meeting was carefully worded to give the appearance of cordiality but also made clear that the standard bearer's standards remain a work in progress.

    "While we were honest about our few differences, we recognize that there are also many important areas of common ground," Trump and Ryan said. They will keep talking and are confident "there's a great opportunity to unify our party and win this fall."

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Republicans could help elect Clinton

    Moderate Republicans will have the last word in this dramatic presidential election year. The GOP establishment and its favored candidates view these voters as illegitimate, which is why they lost the primary to Donald Trump. Now moderates are poised to play similarly decisive roles in the general election - by helping to elect Democrat Hillary Clinton - and in the battle for the party's future that will follow it.

    Moderates stand out starkly among the groups that make up the Republican base, for two reasons: They are disproportionately college graduates in a white, working-class party, and they are socially liberal. They have been alienated from a party that won't accept and move on from the revolution that has occurred in American social and sexual mores.

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