Archive

July 16th, 2016

How to embrace nationalism responsibly

    It is clear after the Brexit vote and Donald Trump's victory in the Republican presidential primaries that electorates are revolting against the relatively open economic policies that have been the norm in the United States and Britain since World War II. If further evidence is needed, one need only look to the inability of Congress to pass legislation on immigration reform and the observation that the last four candidates left standing in the U.S. presidential contest all oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

    Populist opposition to international integration is also on the rise in much of continental Europe and has always been the norm in much of Latin America.

    The question now is: What should be the guiding principles of international economic policy? How should the case be made by those of us who believe that the vastly better performance of the global system after World War II than between World War I and World War II was largely due to more enlightened economic policies?

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Britain has a new snooper-in-chief

    Boring, competent, and highly cautious, Theresa May, Britain's home secretary and as of Wednesday its prime minister, is sometimes favorably compared to Germany's Angela Merkel. Indeed, the two share a political style oriented toward efficiency and away from ideology, toward getting results and away from the spotlight. But that's where the comparisons end.

    Take intelligence policy. Whereas Merkel grew up under the suffocating eye of the East German secret police, May will enter No. 10 Downing St. on Wednesday after six years ensconced in the British national security apparatus. May has championed intelligence legislation -- the Investigatory Powers Bill -- that Privacy International, an advocacy group, calls the "most draconian surveillance law in the democratic world." And when she opens the door to No. 10, she'll bring it with her.

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Ireland celebrates a misleading growth spurt

    Who said euro-area economies aren't growing fast enough? Ireland has reported a 26.3 percent increase in its real gross domestic product for 2015. No Western country has posted such a rate of expansion in this century, though small but oil-rich Azerbaijan grew 34.5 percent in 2006, when oil prices rocketed. Unfortunately, Ireland's freak growth has less tangible causes. It is a result of tax shenanigans and a clear indication that GDP increases shouldn't be considered the ultimate measure of policy success.

    "When statistics go bad," the Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman commented on the release by Ireland's Central Statistics Office. Indeed, Ireland is going to jump in the per-capita GDP rankings -- the measure of nations' relative wealth -- but few people in Ireland would have noticed that last year made them wealthier by more than a quarter. And yet the growth number -- calculated in accordance with the European standard -- is going to have some real consequences, as Finance Minister Michael Noonan said in a glowing statement on Tuesday.

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A History of White Delusion

    In 1962, 85 percent of white Americans told Gallup that black children had as good a chance as white kids of getting a good education. The next year, in another Gallup survey, almost half of whites said that blacks had just as good a chance as whites of getting a job.

    In retrospect, we can see that these white beliefs were delusional, and in other survey questions whites blithely acknowledged racist attitudes. In 1963, 45 percent said that they would object if a family member invited a black person home to dinner.

    This complacency among us white Americans has been a historical constant. Even in the last decade, almost two-thirds of white Americans have said that blacks are treated fairly by the police, and 4 out of 5 whites have said that black children have the same chance as white kids of getting a good education. In short, the history of white Americans’ attitudes toward race has always been one of self-deception.

    Just as in 1963, when many well-meaning whites glanced about and couldn’t see a problem, many well-meaning whites look around today, see a black president, and declare problem solved.

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I thought I had found proof that Donald Trump gives to charity. But it wasn't that Donald Trump.

    For weeks, The Washington Post has been trying to prove Donald Trump right about something: The presumptive Republican nominee's claim that he has given millions of dollars to charity, directly out of his own pocket.

    But proof has been hard to find. Public records show no gifts from Trump to his own namesake charity, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, since 2008. A canvass of 200-plus charities, all of them with connections to the mogul, turned up just one small gift of less than $10,000 between 2009 and this May (when Trump, under pressure, made good on a $1 million pledge he had made to help veterans).

    Then: a tip. DonorSearch, a professional search firm, had turned up a record that "Donald Trump" had given to the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation, which supports a cancer center in Buffalo, New York.

    The tip was right.

    But the Trump was wrong.

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Will racial tensions tarnish Obama's legacy?

    It's been a long time since we've seen Republican lawmakers as concerned about bad race relations as they have been in recent days, especially when they can blame the whole mess on the nation's first black president.

    After all, "Blame Obama First" has been the unofficial motto of Capitol Hill Republicans since President Barack Obama's first election.

    So, after the killing of five white Dallas police officers by an apparently deranged black gunman who, according to police, wanted to kill white cops, some of those Grand Old Party pols didn't have to look far for someone to pin it on.

    "(T)he constant instigation by prominent leaders, including our president," said Rep. Roger Williams of Texas in a statement, "have contributed to the modern day hostility we are witnessing between the police and those they serve."

    "Instigation?" Is he talking about the president's promises to make sure the rights of victims in controversial police killings are protected? What a scandal.

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Free speech protects even ignorant tour guides

    My first paid job at age 14 was giving tours of historic Cambridge, Massachusetts. I did a lot of research and studied hard, but I still remember the moment, mid-tour, when I forgot the year an old wall was built. Then it dawned on me: my clients didn't know, either. They were completely dependent on me and had no way to check.

    The incident dramatizes a constitutional problem that haunts all efforts to license historic tour guides. Right now the problem is on display in Charleston, South Carolina, a place with a lot of history. A federal judge has to decide whether the city is violating tour guides' free-speech rights by requiring them to pass a 200-question written test, plus a follow-up oral exam, to get a license that would allow them to give tours.

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Why women are winning at the politics game

    Now that two of the world's five biggest economies -- Germany and Britain -- are headed by women, and the biggest one of all, the U.S., has a woman front-runner in its presidential election, the glass ceiling in politics can probably be declared broken, and it's time to consider what kind of change this brings to the world.

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Focus on police shootings misses larger story

    A new study shows that blacks and Hispanics in the U.S. are more than twice as likely as whites to "experience some form of force in interactions with police," but no more likely to experience the most "extreme use of force -- officer-involved shootings." That finding can be important to de-escalating the kind of violence that culminated with the tragedy in Dallas last week.

    Roland G. Fryer, a Harvard economist, says his anger about the killings of blacks by police drove him to look into the data. The resulting paper, unsurprisingly, showed that blacks and Hispanics have more violent interactions with police: being grabbed, pushed into a wall or onto the ground, having a gun pointed at them. The study looked at more than 1,000 shootings in 10 major police departments, and found that even after correcting for various circumstances of the encounters -- such as the crime rate in the areas where they occurred -- the race effect remains. And non-whites are likely to be subjected to force even when they are compliant with police requests.

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When weapons of war come home to crime scenes

    Given the horror of the murder of the five police officers in Dallas last Thursday, it may seem absurd or distasteful to ask whether it was a good idea to kill the sniper with a bomb mounted on a robot. Surely anything that stopped the carnage was justified in the moment, and the police seem to have had no clear shot at the sniper.

    But the issue is more complicated, and it deserves to be considered carefully. There's a legal difference between targeting a crime suspect and targeting a wartime enemy. There's also a difference between using a weapon that can be aimed and using one that puts bystanders at greater risk. And a precedent set under emergency conditions can easily expand in future cases. The step from the robot bomb to a drone strike is barely even incremental: morally and technologically, they're basically the same.

    Bombs and missiles aren't new. There are reasons they are hardly ever used for domestic law enforcement in the U.S. Those reasons have to do with precision, scale, and the difference between apprehending criminals and fighting wars.

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