Archive

April 25th, 2016

Cameron Is Cornered

    It’s said that there’s nothing more vicious than a wild animal that’s cornered. I’d add that there’s nothing more devious than a top corporate or political official caught in a hypocritical scandal.

    Witness the huge menagerie of political critters who’ve recently been backed into a corner by the Panama Papers — a trove of leaked documents revealing billionaires, rich celebrities, corporate chieftains, and seemingly pious public officials who’ve hidden their wealth and dodged their taxes by stashing their cash in foreign tax havens.

    Of course, we’ve known for a while that tax dodging is a common plutocratic scam. But the details from the leaked files of an obscure Panamanian law firm called Mossack Fonseca now gives us names to shame.

    One is David Cameron, the prime minister of Britain. He’s loudly declaimed tax sneaks in public, but — oops — it turns out that his own super-rich father was a Mossack Fonseca client. The Conservative Party leader himself has profited from the stealth wealth he inherited from his dad’s secret stash.

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Box CEO: Why the latest attempt by Congress on cybersecurity is already outdated

    When the news broke that the FBI and the DOJ dropped their case against Apple, successfully cracking open the San Bernardino iPhone without the help of the consumer electronics giant, there was a collective sigh of relief from the technology industry and security experts. Apple avoided a precedent-setting event requiring them to break their own security, and the government was able to unlock a device that may lead to advances in their investigation. But if anyone thought this issue was concluded, they'd be mistaken.

    Recently, draft legislation from Sens. Diane Feinstein and Richard Burr directed at addressing the Apple vs. FBI controversy circulated in the media. The bill would require technology companies to build "backdoors" to the encryption within their products for law enforcement agencies. Feinstein and Burr have taken the the first step in what will no doubt be a contentious and important debate. But instead of doubling down on applying the existing laws and norms we have operated under in the physical world for the past 200 years, we need to redefine them based on the increasingly digital world that we live in today.

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Bernie's Time In The Spotlight Is Almost Over

    Quite a few people make noises about leaving the country if the wrong person gets elected president. I've been making discreet inquiries in the vicinity of Kinsale, County Cork, myself -- from whence my people emigrated after 1880. Picturesque, 18th-century harbor untouched by modern commerce -- the British made sure that the industrial revolution never happened in what's now the Irish Republic -- great walks, terrific restaurants, friendly, talkative people, and regular ferry service from nearby Cork City to Normandy.

    But, alas, no baseball, no Arkansas Razorbacks, and chilly, rainy weather. My wife would get lonely without her small army of girlfriends and their complicated problems to sort. Also, what would become of the dozens of animals that wait expectantly for me to feed them every afternoon? Properly vaccinated cats are welcome in Ireland, but cows?

    Anyway, like the dread specter of President Trump, it's only a fantasy. I'm too old to start a new life in the Old Country. Sufficiently aged to run for president in the current cycle, although younger than Bernie Sanders.

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An unpopularity contest for the ages

    The 2016 presidential election is shaping up as an unpopularity contest of unprecedented proportions.

    Assuming, as now appears most likely, that Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination and that either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz becomes the Republican nominee, the general-election ballot is set to feature a choice between two candidates more negatively viewed than any major-party nominee in the history of polling.

     Trump is, by far, the furthest underwater:  The latest Wall Street Journal-NBC poll puts his net favorability rating at minus-41. A breathtaking 65 percent of registered voters see him negatively, versus 24 percent with a positive view, making him the most unpopular major party presidential candidate ever recorded.   Cruz is at minus-23, with 49 percent viewing him negatively, 26 percent in a positive light.

    To underscore the challenge facing the GOP, neither candidate has been viewed more positively than negatively by voters since the start of the campaign.

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A bill that fails refugees and religion

    South Carolina became a pioneer in providing sanctuary to refugees fleeing religious persecution with the March 1, 1669, Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina protecting the rights of "Jews, heathens, and other dissenters from the purity of Christian religion." This included a Charleston community of Sephardic Jews, who finally found sanctuary after generations of roaming the globe following their expulsion from Spain.

    The document, co-authored by John Locke, was revolutionary. It helped to form the philosophical bedrock that laid the foundation for the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the American tradition of serving as a refuge for the persecuted.

    In the coming days, however, South Carolina could go in a different direction, this time pioneering dangerous and misguided legislation that would create a hostile environment for refugees, pressuring them - and the faith-based groups that help them - to "self-deport" from the state.

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April 24th

How South Carolina could fail refugees and religion

    South Carolina became a pioneer in providing sanctuary to refugees fleeing religious persecution with the March 1, 1669, Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina protecting the rights of "Jews, heathens, and other dissenters from the purity of Christian religion." This included a Charleston community of Sephardic Jews, who finally found sanctuary after generations of roaming the globe following their expulsion from Spain.

    The document, co-authored by John Locke, was revolutionary. It helped to form the philosophical bedrock that laid the foundation for the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the American tradition of serving as a refuge for the persecuted.

    In the coming days, however, South Carolina could go in a different direction, this time pioneering dangerous and misguided legislation that would create a hostile environment for refugees, pressuring them - and the faith-based groups that help them - to "self-deport" from the state.

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What were they thinking in North Carolina?

    Why would a state making big recent strides in improving its economic health want to be on the wrong side of Google, American Airlines, Apple, Bank of America, Deutsche Bank, Duke University, Facebook, Lowes, Marriott, Microsoft, PayPal, the National Basketball Association, Wells Fargo and Bruce Springsteen?

    I didn't get the chance to put that question to the governor of that state, Pat McCrory, R, of North Carolina, when I interviewed him in Raleigh last month to discuss the resurgent Tar Heel economy. Since he took office in 2013, North Carolina has moved past most other states in the accelerating pace of its annual economic performance improvement. That's as measured by a Bloomberg index of economic health based on employment, personal income, home prices, mortgage delinquency, tax revenues and the equity of the state's companies.

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What causes housing in the U.S. to be too expensive

    The U.S. has two big housing affordability problems. They're related -- and solving the first would go some way toward solving the second. But they're not the same, and it's important to understand that.

    The first problem is that some coastal metropolitan areas in the U.S. are generating lots of good jobs but aren't building enough housing to keep up with employment growth. The main barrier to housing construction in these places is local regulation -- zoning ordinances, environmental requirements, even affordable-housing rules. This problem has been getting a lot of attention lately. I've written about it several times over the past year, and it's the subject of new pieces in the past few days from the Economist and the New York Times:

    The second housing affordability problem is less geographically limited, and more chronic: Millions of Americans can't afford even the cheapest housing. Here's Jason DeParle in the New York Review of Books:

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Want to fix education? Just give a kid a tutor

    In 1974, physicist Richard Feynman derided education research as a form of pseudoscience:

    "I found [pseudoscientific] things that even more people believe, such as that we have some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice, you'll see the reading scores keep going down…There's a witch doctor remedy that doesn't work. It ought to be looked into: how do they know that their method should work?"

    Four decades later, social scientists might have found an answer to Feynman's question. That answer is field experiments. By applying education policies carefully, researchers can see the effect of those policies very clearly. In recent years, as concern over U.S. educational performance rose, more and more such experiments have been tried.

    Finally, we're getting some consistent results. Roland Fryer, a Harvard economist who specializes in education and racial issues, has collected the outcomes of 196 policy experiments, and found some consistent lessons.

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The Founding Fathers' mistake: They didn't give us a monarchy.

    Three years ago, I was giving tours of the nation's Capitol. It was a fantastic job that allowed me to become immersed in the nation's history. But there was one part of the tour that always struck me as odd: the fresco painting on the ceiling of the Capitol dome.

    "The Apotheosis of Washington," by Constantino Brumidi, hovers 180 feet above the bustling tour groups in the Capitol rotunda and depicts the afterlife of George Washington. Here, the nation's first president sits in the heavens, surrounded by Roman gods as he prepares to become a deity himself. The " Apotheosis" represents a fascinating facet of the American psyche: the yearning for a national monarchic symbol. Despite the government's foundational republican ideals, Americans still prop up their presidents -- both past and modern -- as icons of central power.

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