Archive

September 5th, 2016

Apple finds out it took the Irish tax game too far

    You want your multinational corporation to be seen as a good corporate citizen. But you also feel obliged to your company's shareholders to keep it from paying a cent more in taxes than it is required to.

    So what's the dividing line beyond which responsible tax management turns into poor citizenship? Well, for the moment it appears to be somewhere between this:

    "Apple set up their sales operations in Europe in such a way that customers were contractually buying products from Apple Sales International in Ireland rather than from the shops that physically sold the products to customers. In this way Apple recorded all sales, and the profits stemming from these sales, directly in Ireland."

    And this:

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September 3rd

Protecting gay teens trumps religious rights

    California's ban on gay-conversion therapy for teens survived a free-speech challenge back in 2014. Now it's survived another challenge claiming that the law targets religiously motivated conduct. The decision is legally correct -- but it's a much closer case than the appeals court acknowledged. And it raises the extremely tricky question of how the state may regulate a psychiatric practice whose foundations are interwoven with religious beliefs.

    The key to the free-speech decision from two years ago was that, California isn't prohibiting speech per se. It's outlawing a particular medical practice that happens to be accomplished in part through talking. Whether it's a good idea or not, state legislatures have the legal authority to prohibit licensed providers from performing ineffective and potentially harmful medical treatments.

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Why Clinton Republicans matter

    Not since Barry Goldwater's 1964 campaign has there been such widespread public disavowal by Republicans of their party's nominee. The Hillary Clinton Republicans will be one of the most important legacies of the 2016 campaigns.             The question is whether they will constitute the forward end of a political realignment, or just a one-time reaction to the unsuitability of Donald Trump for the presidency.

    Reasons for skepticism about long-term change are rooted in the differences between today's polarized politics and the more tempered partisanship surrounding the big-bang elections of 1964 and 1980.

    In 1964, there was a lively liberal wing of the Republican Party. GOP figures such as Jacob Javits, Clifford Case, Edward Brooke and John Lindsay had far more in common philosophically with Lyndon Johnson than they did with Goldwater.

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What the fuss over burkinis is really about

    It was rather obvious that France's highest administrative court, the Council of State, would strike down bans on unrevealing swimwear instituted this summer by French coastal towns. Last Friday, it reversed the first such ban, by the mayor of Villeneuve-Loubet. Though some mayors still don't see why they should cancel their orders, rights activists will soon be on their case, too, and the precedent promises similar outcomes in most of these disputes.

    The underlying problem that spawned the comical burkini bans, however, will not go away. It's that of integration: How well should people of different cultures blend into a society before it stops trying to push them away?

    As the French poet George Brassens once sang, "The good folks don't like it when someone walks a different path than they do." France has a long history of intolerance toward otherness, and it's part of a powerful European tradition that has often led to horrible extremes as well as to ridiculous ones. The success of attempts to dress it up in legal robes has ultimately depended on the uniformity of public sentiment.

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Ten good questions for Hillary Clinton (if she ever has another press conference)

    Like many politicians, Hillary Clinton does not enjoy giving press conferences, and of late she has decided not to bother; the last one she held was in December. But this symptom of her strained relationship with the press is itself becoming a source of displeasure from reporters, and she and her campaign find themselves being asked about it again and again.

    The Clinton campaign protests that she has done hundreds of interviews, which is basically true. An NPR analysis found that while Clinton has indeed done 350 interviews in 2016, most of them were for television or radio (where they're usually shorter), many were with local outlets, and some were with people who weren't actually journalists.

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One of Trump's biggest lies is falling apart. So naturally, he's blaming the media for it.

    The Grand Trumpian Immigration Follies of 2016 are set to take another turn: Donald Trump has now announced that he will give a major speech (does any Trump speech fail to merit that label?) on the issue on Wednesday, in which he is expected to finally clarify his stance on mass deportations. Trump veep candidate Mike Pence promised Sunday that Trump would clarify it.

    But it is more likely that instead of clarifying his stance on mass deportations, Trump will instead try to shift the subject away from them entirely. That's because Trump's big lie about mass deportations -- i.e., that he would carry them out swiftly and humanely, thus Making America Great Again -- is falling apart. And he's now trying to replace that lie by foregrounding another lie.

    Trump previewed his speech at a rally over the weekend, at which he said this:

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Expand the best U.S. program to fight poverty

    One problem with smart economic policy is that few people are willing to go out in the street and protest in favor of the optimal solution. Folks will march for a $15 minimum wage. They'll join campaigns like Fight for $15. They'll engage skeptical friends in fiery debates on Facebook and Twitter.

    But you never see people out there fighting for an increase in the earned-income tax credit, do you? This wonky policy, the brainchild of technocrats and academic economists, has been fighting poverty in the U.S since 1975. Most economists would probably agree that it's one of the most effective, if not the most effective, poverty-fighting tool around. It's also a big, important part of the U.S. social safety net, passing out almost $70 billion a year in benefits to poor and working-class Americans. But its confusing four-letter acronym, its complicated structure and its lack of clear partisan appeal mean that it gets overlooked in favor of flashier ideas.

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Above the law? No, profiling is below it

    More sad tidings for all you “law and order” types, particularly you candidates and elected sorts who think shortcuts to order are what law entails.

    Another court has affirmed what long has been settled: police profiling is unlawful.

    One twist: In this case, the traffic-stop criterion deemed illegal and pernicious isn’t the color of a person’s skin but of his or her license plates.

    A federal appeals court ruled that Kansas police could not stop cars simply because they come from states with legal marijuana: Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C.

    How will Kansas keep order?

    How, indeed, with jail-cell quotas to meet and town budget shortfalls to mend.

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A planet orbiting our nearest star used to be science fiction. Now it's science.

    My 2013 science fiction novel, "Proxima," is about a habitable planet of the star Proxima Centauri, a "red dwarf," small and dim, that is the nearest star of all to our sun. I called my planet Per Ardua (after the motto of the Royal Air Force, "Per Ardua Ad Astra," "through struggle to the stars"). Last week, a team led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé of Queen Mary University of London announced the discovery of a planet, called Proxima b, in this very location.

    Proxima is part of the Alpha Centauri stellar system, around four light years away. Its two principal stars, known as A and B, are like the sun, but Proxima is so dim it's invisible to the naked eye and was not discovered until 1915, by astronomers working in Johannesburg.

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September 2nd

States of Cruelty

    Something terrible has happened to pregnant women in Texas: their mortality rate has doubled in recent years, and is now comparable to rates in places like Russia or Ukraine. Although researchers into this disaster are careful to say that it can’t be attributed to any one cause, the death surge does coincide with the state’s defunding of Planned Parenthood, which led to the closing of many clinics. And all of this should be seen against the general background of Texas policy, which is extremely hostile toward anything that helps low-income residents.

    There’s an important civics lesson here. While many people are focused on national politics, with reason — one sociopath in the White House can ruin your whole day — many crucial decisions are taken at the state and local levels. If the people we elect to these offices are irresponsible, cruel, or both, they can do a lot of damage.

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