Archive

April 10th, 2016

A convention coup endangers Republican party

    There are three plausible outcomes awaiting the Republican Party at its July convention in Cleveland. Each scenario offers a unique, unhappy-family style of misery to its members.

 

    - Trump Wins

    This still seems to me, as of April 6, the most likely outcome. To date, Trump has acquired 743 delegates, Texas Sen. Cruz has won 517 delegates and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who appears to be playing a different sport on a distant field, has 143.

    The American system of elections is not immutable. It has changed considerably over the years. Sometimes the changes are huge -- as when constituents began directly electing their U.S. senators or when women gained the vote. Sometimes, they're relatively small, as when Nebraska changed its formula for apportioning the state's electoral votes.

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Why low-skilled immigrants are good for the working class

    Usually, when I talk about immigration, it's the high-skilled variety I'm referring to -- people with college degrees or professional skills. When most Americans think about immigrants, however, they focus on the manual laborers -- many of them without documentation -- who come to the U.S. from Latin America to build houses, landscape lawns or pick vegetables instead of starting the next Google.

    This kind of immigration is somewhat out of favor, since these folks compete with low-skilled locals for manual labor jobs. Even though the effect of the competition is small, it isn't zero, and in the current political climate everyone wants to do everything they can to protect the working class.

    But this opposition is probably misplaced. New research shows that low-skilled immigrants may do a lot more for the native-born working class than we thought.

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Sanders is losing the pillow fight with Clinton

    The 19th century had the Lincoln-Douglas debates. The 20th century brought Kennedy-Nixon. And now we have just experienced a forensic masterpiece to define our times: the Clinton-Sanders Debate Debate.

    This particular rhetorical showdown was not a back-and-forth about issues, appropriately enough, but an argument about whether to debate -- and when, and where. It began Jan. 30, when the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign challenged Hillary Clinton to debate him in Brooklyn on April 14.

    Clinton suggested the Democrats instead debate in Pennsylvania, on Long Island or in Upstate New York. Sanders accused Clinton of ducking.

    Clinton proposed a New York debate on the evening of April 4 -- but the Sanders campaign rejected the idea as "ludicrous" because the NCAA basketball championship would be later that night and Syracuse might be playing.

    Clinton proposed they debate on ABC's "Good Morning America" on April 15, but Sanders rejected that, too.

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April 9th

Older people are powering the on-demand economy

    Much ink and many pixels have been spilled over the past few years about the rise of the gig economy, sharing economy, on-demand economy, 1099 economy, freelancer economy or whatever you prefer to call it. Some of the claims about its growth have been overstated.

    But this data, from economists Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger's new paper on "The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015," is for real. After barely changing between 1995 and 2005, the share of U.S. workers in alternative work arrangements jumped from 10.1 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent in 2015. (This was first reported last month in the Wall Street Journal.)

    That's a pretty big leap. As Katz and Krueger write, "All of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements."

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Jury room racism is protected, but it shouldn't be

    Law and tradition say that a jury verdict shouldn't be overturned on the basis of something jurors say in their deliberations, no matter how ignorant or offensive.

    But what if there's strong evidence that the jury deliberations were racially biased? Does the defendant's right to a fair trial supersede the tradition of letting the verdict stand? The Supreme Court has agreed to hear this fascinating question in a sexual assault case where one juror, a former cop, told the others that Mexican men "do whatever they want" with women.

    Odds are that the court will decide that the sanctity of the jury room trumps racial fairness - but it's far from clear that would be the right result.

    Most traditions are invented. What's fascinating about the tradition of refusing to consider post-trial stories by jurors of their own misconduct is that we know exactly when it was invented, and by whom. The year was 1785 and the inventor was Lord Mansfield, generally considered the greatest common law judge in English legal history, who loved to make up efficient new rules.

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Impossible Missions

    I just read a book that Barack Obama and Donald Trump would both enjoy.

    It argues that the last two decades of U.S. foreign policy were an aberration — an era when America became so overwhelmingly more powerful than any rival that it got geopolitically drunk and decided that it didn’t just want to be a cop on the beat protecting our nation but also a social worker, architect and carpenter doing nation-building abroad.

    It was all done with the best of intentions and, in some cases, did save precious lives. But none of the efforts achieved the kind of self-sustaining democratizing order we wanted, which is why neither this president nor the next wants to be doing any more of that — if they can at all avoid it.

    But can they?

    The book is called “Mission Failure: America and the World in the Post-Cold War Era,”  by Johns Hopkins foreign policy professor Michael Mandelbaum, and it’s going to be one of the most talked about foreign policy books of the year.

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Iceland gets the first jolt from Panama leak

    The biggest data dump in the history of investigative journalism, the so-called Panama Papers, is having serious political consequences in one of the world's smallest countries. The leaders of Russia, China, Ukraine and other large nations will survive the exposure of their sometimes tenuous links to offshore accounts, but the political future of Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson of Iceland is in question.

    Gunnlaugsson's alleged transgression is, essentially, that he hid a conflict of interest. The leader of the center-right Progressive Party came to power in 2013 on promises to end Iceland's stifling capital controls, imposed in November 2008 after the country's three biggest banks -- Landsbanki, Kaupthing and Glitnir -- collapsed under $85 billion in debt. The controls, and the decision not to bail out the banks, probably saved Iceland: It couldn't afford to deal with financial disaster on that scale, and its citizens would have been hard put to survive the kind of currency devaluation that would have been necessary without a barrier to capital flight.

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How a $15 minimum wage went from 'extreme' to enacted

    What once was considered "pie in the sky" is slowly becoming law. In New York, state legislators just agreed to raise the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, with the full effect beginning in New York City by December 2018.California just passed a compromise raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. New Jersey and the Districtare planning to move similar laws. After New York and California, nearly 1 in 5 (18 percent)in the U.S. workforce will be on the path to $15 an hour.

    How did this reform go from being scorned as "extreme" to being enacted? Consensus politicians don't champion it. Pundits and chattering heads tend to ignore it. Many liberal economists deride it as too radical. The idea moved only because workers and allies organized and demanded the change.

    Three years ago, fast-food workers walked off the job in what began the "fight for $15 and a union." With the federal government as the largest low-wage employer, federal contract workers demonstrated repeatedly outside the Pentagon, Congress and the White House, demanding executive action under the banner of a"Good Jobs Nation."

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Here is what the 'Panama Papers' tell us about the President of Ukraine

    Reports based on the Panama Papers - a collection of leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm - suggest that the president of Ukraine attempted to use an offshore company for a pre-sale restructuring of his business. Our initial analysis suggests, though, that there is no direct evidence of major wrongdoing. The incident will, however, accelerate the public debate in Ukraine about its outdated corporate governance laws, potential conflicts of interests and political accountability among officials in the highest offices.

    What happened?

    On Sunday, a number of media outlets published analysis of leaked documents referred to as the "Panama Papers" that implicate multiple international leaders in using offshore companies to manage their assets. The president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, is among the names listed. Unlike the president of Russia, who is alleged to be connected to a $2 billion dollar network of assets siphoned off the Russian banks, or the prime minister of Iceland, who is suggested to have concealed a major conflict of interest, the transgressions of the president of Ukraine appear to be more of a technical nature.

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Donald Trump Won’t Leave Us Alone

    In recent days I’ve read that Donald Trump is finally done and I’ve read that these reports of his death are greatly exaggerated. I’ve had smart people tell me confidently that a loss in Wisconsin would almost surely prevent him from winning the Republican presidential nomination and I’ve had equally smart people tell me with equal confidence that it wouldn’t.

    How and when does Trump end?

    In terms of politics, it’s a fascinating question, all the more so after Ted Cruz’s victory in the Badger State.

    In all other senses, it’s a foolish one.

    Trump doesn’t end. Whether he’s the nominee or not, moves into the White House or consoles himself at Mar-a-Lago, he’ll never shut up and never slink off — not after the convention, not after Election Day, no matter how resounding his defeat, no matter how grotesque his path there.

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