Archive

February 29th, 2016

Why we can now declare the end of 'Christian America'

    Political elections are as much about those doing the electing as it is about those eventually elected. If each vote represents what a voter believes and hopes for, then the person elected is really a magnification of the desires voters happen to have.

    This is why national elections are so fascinating. Every four years, Americans collectively paint and present to the world a picture that communicates their aspirations and fears. It is a picture that enables us to see the character of a nation.

    When I first moved from Canada to the United States 30 years ago, I was told repeatedly that America is a Christian nation. It isn't simply that America has many self-professing Christians living within its borders. The identity of America as a whole, its history and its destiny, are somehow tied to Christianity.

    Political leaders feel the need to appear Christian, say Christian-sounding things, show up at Christian institutions, and end their speeches with "God bless America!" American money proclaims "In God we trust." What could be more Christian than that?

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Trump is the GOP's Frankenstein monster. Now he's strong enough to destroy the party.

    When the plague descended on Thebes, Oedipus sent his brother-in-law to the Delphic oracle to discover the cause. Little did he realize that the crime for which Thebes was being punished was his own. Today's Republican Party is our Oedipus. A plague has descended on the party in the form of the most successful demagogue-charlatan in the history of U.S. politics. The party searches desperately for the cause and the remedy without realizing that, like Oedipus, it is the party itself that brought on this plague. The party's own political crimes are being punished in a bit of cosmic justice fit for a Greek tragedy.

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The useful side of Trump

    If the durability of Donald Trump's presidential candidacy has taken the political world by surprise, the sources of his electoral strength are no mystery. And the support he's winning reflects a crisis not only for the Republican and conservative coalitions, but also for the political system as a whole.

    Let it be said that Trump is not (yet) winning support from anything close to a majority of Americans. On the contrary, polling shows that a significant majority of Americans are anti-Trump. His unfavorable ratings have reached or approached 60 percent in many surveys.

    But as the results from Tuesday's Nevada caucuses confirmed again, Trump has built a large constituency inside the Republican Party based on a set of positions that marry two streams of thought not typically brought together by liberal or conservative politicians.

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Terrorism or genocide? We should be fighting both.

    The international norm of Responsibility to Protect -- R2P for short -- was devised to protect populations from atrocities, to reinforce that every state has the obligation to protect its citizens, and to guide the international community in helping them do so. In 2005, more than 150 United Nations member states formally endorsed by consensus the principles of the R2P and limited the focus of potential humanitarian intervention to four mass-atrocity crimes: genocide, major war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

    The past several years have shown that states do not have a monopoly on carrying out mass atrocities: Non-state actors and terrorist groups like the Islamic State, Boko Haram in West Africa and al-Shabab in the Horn of Africa region have also been perpetrators of heinous violence. However, R2P's focus on the responsibilities and actions of states limits the international community's ability to respond to these crimes. To fulfill the purpose it was meant for, the international responsibility to protect must evolve to also address populations that are suffering the brunt of terroristic, genocidal non-state actors.

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Rubio can't afford his truce with 'nice' Trump

    Sen. Marco Rubio is terrified of Donald Trump.

    How else to explain his failure to take on the Republican front-runner? He says he wants to be positive and unite the party with his vision for the country.

    "I didn't run for office to tear up other Republicans," the Florida senator said on NBC's "Today" show Wednesday morning, after he came in a distant second to the Donald in the Nevada caucuses on Tuesday.

    He seems to believe he has a non-aggression pact with the billionaire. And Trump's pretty much left him alone -- though he has unkindly drawn attention to the senator's perspiration -- indicating that he'll be nice to Rubio as long as Rubio is nice to him. Rubio wants to keep it that way.

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Obama could taunt the Senate as Roosevelt did

    President Barack Obama insisted that his post to Scotusblog on Wednesday about his criteria for a Supreme Court nominee was "spoiler free." But he may have been protesting a bit too much. Obama wrote that he sought a justice with "life experience outside the courtroom or the classroom," which possible nominees like Judge Sri Srinivasan of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit arguably lack. Then, later in the day, someone in the administration leaked a highly untraditional candidate, Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada, who has political life experience and was also a federal district judge for four years.

    It's impossible to know whether Sandoval's name is being floated just to taunt Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who has vowed not to consider any Obama nominee. But if Sandoval were nominated, it wouldn't be the first time a president nominated a justice mostly to send an "Oh, yeah?" message to the Senate.

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No, your coffee capsules aren't killing the planet

    Drowsy German bureaucrats in Hamburg will soon have one less option for a mid-afternoon caffeine jolt, after the city banned single-serve coffee machines such as Nespresso from government buildings. The new regulations have a worthy purpose. They hope to defend the environment, under the assumption that the use and disposal of thousands of tiny coffee capsules or pods leads to "unnecessary resource consumption and waste generation."

    A backlash against coffee pods has been, ahem, brewing for awhile. According to a statistic cited by everyone from the Atlantic magazine to National Public Radio, Green Mountain spit out 8.5 billion of its K-cup coffee pods in 2013 -- enough to circle the Earth 10.5 times. Campaigns, petitions, and high-minded op-eds have attacked such profligacy, turning the humble coffee pod into an environmental bogeyman on par with bottled water.

    But lost amid this fervor is any perspective about how to measure the environmental impact of the stuff we consume. There's a real question whether high-profile product bans -- of water bottles, plastic bags or coffee capsules -- risk causing more damage than they prevent.

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February 28th

Why don't more women hold top jobs in finance?

    Today I'm going to pose a simple question that has been asked any number of times: Why are there so few women in senior positions in finance?

    This question has come my way a lot. People have asked why we don't have more women as guests on the Masters in Business podcast on Bloomberg. We have had Sheila Bair, Liz Ann Sonders, Michelle Meyers and Dambisa Moyo and this weekend is Saru Jayaramen. But there are far more males than female guests, and even though more women are scheduled in the coming months, it's still nowhere close to 50-50.

    That sort of underrepresentation is common in senior positions at financial firms small and large alike. Some of this may be a legacy of what has not only been a male dominated society, but it probably also reflects an industry that is particularly resistant to change. (Disclosure: At my firm, two of the 13 employees are women, though neither is on our investment committee.)

    Why is this so?

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Netanyahu isn't quite right on the constitution

    It isn't often that a sitting prime minister offers a lesson in comparative constitutional law. But Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu did so Monday while defending a bill that would allow three-quarters of the Knesset to expel a member who "supports terrorism by word or deed, or denies the Jewish, democratic character of the state of Israel."

    Netanyahu compared the provision to the American rule that Congress may expel a member by two-thirds vote and to parliamentary rules in Britain and Canada that allow the expulsion of a member of Parliament for misconduct by a simple majority.

    On the surface, the comparison seems reasonable. It shows that even the well-established English-speaking democracies allow for the expulsion of members.

    But Netanyahu neglected to mention the most important difference, namely that the other countries allow expulsion for crimes or other wrongful conduct, while Netanyahu's proposal contemplates expulsion for speech alone.

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Lawmaker says military deleted evidence in intel probe

    The chairman of one of the House committees investigating manipulation of military intelligence on the Islamic State said Thursday that emails and other files needed for the investigation have been deleted.

    Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, made that allegation in his opening remarks at a hearing on worldwide threats. "It is vital that this committee protect and seriously consider the testimony of the many whistleblowers who provide information to us," Nunes said. "For example, we have been made aware that both files and emails have been deleted by personnel at CentCom, and we expect that the Department of Defense will provide these and all other relevant documents to the committee."

    These charges are serious. Central Command has been under investigation by the Pentagon's inspector general since last year when scores of CentCom intelligence analysts complained to the watchdog that their findings were being selectively edited to paint a far rosier picture in 2014 and 2015 about the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State than the facts warranted.

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