Archive

June 2nd, 2016

Finding better ideas to rebuild the American economy

    The just-published book "Concrete Economics," by University of California-Berkeley professors Brad DeLong and Stephen S. Cohen, needs an expanded sequel -- 900 pages long, with charts, data, theory and an exhaustive list of historical case studies. That book would become the Bible of the New Industrialist movement that is just beginning to grope its way out of the ashes of the neoliberal free-market consensus. Perhaps that tome will get written. But DeLong and Cohen couldn't wait to write it, because we need new ideas now, and they decided they had to put a sketch of those new ideas into people's heads very quickly. And I agree with their decision.

    If you're at all concerned about economic policy, this is a book you need to read. It will take you only a couple of hours, and the time will be well spent.

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Porn isn't a public health hazard

    Is pornography a public-health crisis? Of course not. While it is not surprising to see the Utah legislature unanimously declare it one - the anti-pornography movement has been quietly building momentum for a state-by-state takeover for some time - what remains shocking is the perceived legitimacy of anti-porn activists, despite the profound unreliability and inconsistency of their hyperbolic claims about porn's harms to society.

    How has a movement based on such shaky theoretical ground succeeded in a massive campaign to convince the public that sexually explicit media is responsible for an epidemic of sexualized violence against women and children; the rise of a zombie army of emotionally robbed and sexually desensitized men; and the explosion of an underworld of prostitutes trafficked directly from porn sets to street corners across the nation?

    This is not real. This is what a sex panic looks like.

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Trump's vice president can't be his CEO

    Turns out maybe Donald Trump doesn't want to be president after all.

    Oh, he wants to run for president. Almost certainly wants to win. Probably wants to be inaugurated.

    But doing the actual job? That's something else. At least according to Paul Manafort, Trump's strategist and campaign chairman, in an interview with HuffPost's Howard Fineman:

    "The vice presidential pick will also be part of the process of proving he's ready for the White House, Manafort said.

    "'He needs an experienced person to do the part of the job he doesn't want to do. He seems himself more as the chairman of the board, than even the CEO, let alone the COO.'"

    Not the CEO? As the Atlantic's Yoni Applebaum noted: "The Constitution says, 'The executive Power shall be vested in a President.' CEO is literally the job description."

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Want to end corruption? Crack down on tax havens

    It is a sign of progress that a Nigerian leader was able to come to London and, with a straight face, publicly accuse Western countries of promoting corruption on a global scale.

    "African countries have all too often been the victims of international corruption planned and executed from abroad using our own resources," Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said in a May 12 speech at a London anti-corruption summit in which he took aim at tax havens backed by rich countries. "Every dollar siphoned through dirty deals and corruption to offshore tax havens makes the livelihood and survival of the average African more precarious."

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'Parking while black' is not probable cause

    Can the police detain and search you on the suspicion that your car might be parked illegally? A federal appeals court has said yes, upholding a felon-in-possession conviction for a man who was searched after Milwaukee police surrounded the parked car he was sitting in and handcuffed its four occupants -- because the car was parked within 15 feet of a crosswalk. The outraged dissenting judge said that the defendant had been stopped for "parking while black," and insisted that the holding went beyond anything the Supreme Court ever authorized.

    The decision, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, offers a Rashomon-like model of diverging perceptions. To read the majority opinion by Judge Frank Easterbrook, a Reagan appointee, you would think that the events were pretty unremarkable. In his telling, the case began when police "saw a car stopped within 15 feet of a crosswalk, which is unlawful" in Milwaukee unless the car is loading or unloading. One police car drew up beside the parked car and another behind. "Shining lights through the car's windows (it was after sunset), police saw a passenger in the backseat trying to hide a firearm."

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June 1st

Delusions of Competence

    In general, you shouldn’t pay much attention to polls at this point, especially with Republicans unifying around Donald Trump while Bernie Sanders hasn’t conceded the inevitable. Still, I was struck by several recent polls showing Trump favored over Hillary Clinton on the question of who can best manage the economy.

    This is pretty remarkable given the incoherence and wild irresponsibility of Trump’s policy pronouncements. Granted, most voters probably don’t know anything about that, in part thanks to substance-free news coverage. But if voters don’t know anything about Trump’s policies, why their favorable impression of his economic management skills?

    The answer, I suspect, is that voters see Trump as a hugely successful businessman, and they believe that business success translates into economic expertise. They are, however, probably wrong about the first, and definitely wrong about the second: Even genuinely brilliant businesspeople are often clueless about economic policy.

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The police killed my brother. No one went to jail. This is how I've found justice.

    My heart broke on Monday for the family of Freddie Gray. Edward Nero, one of the six officers facing charges related to Gray's death, was acquitted. For me, it was another example of law enforcement facing no consequences after taking someone's life. It took me back to Sept. 14, 2013, when I lost my brother, Jonathan, after an encounter with police.

    My mom came to my apartment at 6:30 a.m. the day it happened. I knew right away something was wrong. When she told me what happened, I was shocked. This can't be true, I thought. Shot 10 times by a police officer? This can't be right.

    Coming from a family of sheriff's deputies and police officers, we were taught from an early age that members of law enforcement are to be respected, not challenged. Jonathan would never threaten or attack a police officer. He wasn't a criminal. He was a college student. He had no criminal record.

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The True Cost of War

    A recent study by the Rand Corp. concludes that the U.S. military is unable to provide adequate therapy sessions for thousands of soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The February study of 40,000 cases, the largest ever, found that only a third of troops with PTSD received the minimum number of therapy sessions needed after being diagnosed. As a veteran, I am appalled.

    Though my war experience was 70 years ago, it haunts me to this day. I can still remember the sound that froze my blood. The stomach- churning whistle of a field artillery round, like a thousand shrieking pigs, increasing in a ghastly crescendo until it finally explodes - and bodies fly in every direction.

    Anyone who has served in ground combat knows that sound. It's our worst nightmare. You never know where the incoming projectile is going to hit. You're either dead or you've managed to squeak out alive one more time, deeply shaken. It happens nonstop, any hour of the day or night. It seeps into your bones.

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Why Hillary Clinton does for fun

    (We may never get to see the transcript of the chat going on among the Hillary Clinton team right now, but I can only assume that were it leaked, it would go something like this.)

 

    IN CHAT: Hillary, Redacted, Redacted

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Trump is only a sign of our times

    Sit through any tech conference these days, and the gap between scientific optimism and our current political pessimism is extraordinary to behold. There are speeches on gene silencing, which promises breakthroughs in the treatment of dementia; on plant-based beef substitutes, which could reduce the bovine boost to global warming; on computers that will screen your skin for cancer and your refrigerator for dwindling milk. But voters across the Western world aren't celebrating these excitements. To the contrary, they are furious.

    We have been here before, of course. On Carnival Day in 1497, the Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola piled the trappings of Renaissance progress - heretical books, provocative paintings, imported baubles symbolizing globalization - into a towering heap in Florence's central piazza and set fire to the lot. Recalling that first Bonfire of the Vanities in their new book, "Age of Discovery," Oxford thinkers Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna note its weirdly 21st century irony. Savonarola denounced modernity. And yet, like Donald Trump or the Islamic State, he also exploited it, spreading mass propaganda via the new communications technology of the printing press.

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