Archive

April 19th, 2016

Who cares if the 'Panama Papers' were planted?

    Last week, a respected Russia scholar in the U.S. speculated that the Kremlin might be behind the so-called Panama Papers, the big dump of data about offshore accounts that has implicated several countries' officials in shady dealings. And on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin of Russia blamed the U.S. for the leak.

    So far, the Panama Papers have caused the resignation of Iceland's prime minister (whose wife owned some bank debt that the government was trying to restructure) and Spain's industry minister (who had denied, falsely, that he'd had any offshore dealings). There probably will be further fallout: The millions of documents haven't been fully investigated. Still, it's probably safe to say that there will be no resignations, firings or criminal inquiries in Russia.

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Sanders rages against the dying of the light

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders could see his flame fading during the debate with Hillary Clinton on Thursday. If he loses the New York primary on Tuesday he can soldier on, but the gallop that won him eight of the last nine contests is over. You could tie up all the superdelegates in traffic in the Holland Tunnel until the Democratic convention and Sanders still couldn't win the nomination without New York.

    That's probably why Sanders and Clinton rolled out all their old grievances, only louder and more insistently. There was a "no, you didn't, yes, I did" quality to the back and forth. She went after him for his lack of specificity, notably for failing to spell out his plan for breaking up the big banks. He repeatedly questioned her judgment, a big step back from his earlier blunder of saying she wasn't qualified.

    "Let's talk about judgment. And let us talk about the worst foreign policy blunder in the modern history of this country," he said, referring to Iraq. "I led the opposition to that war. Secretary Clinton voted for that."

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In defense of our unfair, messy nomination process

    Watching it unfold from his home state of New York, Donald Trump was aghast when Ted Cruz picked up all of Colorado's 34 delegates at the state's Republican convention last weekend. As his grip on a first-ballot nomination slipped away, Trump lashed out: "The system, folks, is rigged. It's a rigged, disgusting, dirty system." On the other side, Jeff Weaver, Bernie Sanders's campaign manager, vowed to contest Hillary Clinton's nomination at this summer's Democratic convention - presumably because the system of superdelegates, among whom Clinton leads 469 to 31, is also rigged. Even pundits agree: "Why does the Democratic Party even have voting booths?" MSNBC's Joe Scarborough railed this past week, after watching Sanders win Wyoming's caucuses only to receive fewer of that state's delegates (including superdelegates) than Clinton did.

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Clinton uses debate to stay tight with Obama

    Hillary Clinton has stuck close to Barack Obama throughout her presidential campaign, but at the Democratic debate in Brooklyn on Thursday night, she practically dragged a cardboard cutout of the president on stage with her.

    Her performance was par for her course. Strategic: Obama is wildly popular in New York and among Democrats in general, and he has moved slightly above water in national approval polls among voters. Methodical: She follows her plan to the letter, and if it calls for invoking Obama at every opportunity, she's not going to miss that chance.

    Clinton took no risks at this debate, and really hasn't throughout the campaign. Nor has she shown any sign of leaving even an inch between herself and the bulk of her party. If the Democrats ratchet up what they believe is possible on minimum wage, Clinton shifts with them.

    This is positioning guaranteed to frustrate many pundits. But it's also a good way to win a presidential nomination.

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Waiting And Waiting And Waiting

    “In our view, the Court does not comprehend, or is indifferent to, the insidious way in which women can be victims of pay discrimination.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 2007.

    These words were part of Justice Ginsburg's dissenting opinion when the Supreme Court dismissed Lilly Ledbetter's plea saying that the deadline for making the claim had passed. To recap: As she was retiring, Ms. Ledbetter learned from an anonymous note that she had been paid less than men in her same position. For 20 years she had been a supervisor at Goodyear but due to secrecy surrounding pay had no way of knowing that men with less time and experience in the same position--not just comparable work but the same--were being paid more.

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Tiny tweak, big statement about human dignity

    At first glance, HB 16-1396, passed recently by the Democratic-controlled Colorado House, looked like one of those pointless and petty bills -- like Congress’ designating National Tap Dance Day (May 20).

    However, I’ve thought about HB 16-1396 a little more. I now realize it isn’t pointless, it isn’t petty, and it’s not a small matter. It’s as big as we aspire to be.

    Procedurally, the bill is only a tiny tweak to Colorado law. It would remove “illegal alien” from all laws, just as California removed the word “alien” from labor laws.

    From a logistics point of view, it’s no big deal. Now watch opponents make a big deal out of it. Because, of course, we aren’t talking about logistics.

    The bill’s rationale has been expressed often in such phrases as, “Human beings aren’t illegal,” and, “Aliens are from outer space.”

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April 18th

The Pastrami Principle

    A couple of months ago, Jeb Bush (remember him?) posted a photo of his monogrammed handgun to Twitter, with the caption “America.” Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor, responded with a picture of an immense pastrami sandwich, also captioned “America.” Advantage de Blasio, if you ask me.

    Let me now somewhat ruin the joke by talking about the subtext. Bush’s post was an awkward attempt to tap into the common Republican theme that only certain people — white, gun-owning, rural or small-town citizens — embody the true spirit of the nation. It’s a theme most famously espoused by Sarah Palin, who told small-town Southerners that they represented the “real America.” You see the same thing when Ted Cruz sneers at “New York values.”

    De Blasio’s riposte, celebrating a characteristically New York delicacy, was a declaration that we’re also Americans — that everyone counts. And that, surely, is the vision of America that should prevail.

    Which is why it’s disturbing to see Palinesque attempts to delegitimize large groups of voters surfacing among some Democrats.

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The Constitution protects polygamy. Here's why.

    Now that a U.S. appeals court has declined to strike down Utah's bigamy laws, it's reasonable to ask: What does the Constitution, properly interpreted, have to say about the topic?

    Legally speaking, the issue can be split in two. The first question is whether a state may criminalize marriage to more than one person. The second is whether, in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year to require states to recognize same-sex marriage, there now exists a fundamental right to marry more than one person -- and to make states treat plural marriages on equal terms with marriages between two people.

    The first one is easier. Under current laws in many states, if you're already married, then it's a crime to marry another person as well. These laws are part of our legal tradition, and perhaps make some sense if you restrict them to bigamists who marry a second spouse without telling them about the existence of the first.

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Spotify's Swedish lament deserves a hearing

    Sweden is supposedly one of the most innovative countries in Europe, and one of the happiest. And yet the founders of one of Sweden's showcase companies -- Spotify, the world's biggest music streaming service -- are unhappy with the country's business climate and threatening to halt expansion at home. Politicians should worry about that, but not all the solutions proposed are in Sweden's interests.

    A recent policy paper from Bruegel, the Brussels-based think tank, lists Sweden as a European innovation leader, along with Germany, Denmark and Finland. That assessment is based on the European Commission's Innovation Union Scorecard, which takes into account factors such as the availability of a highly educated workforce, investment, infrastructure, government-funded research and innovation. Sweden scores relatively high on all these points.

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Putin tones down his annual reality show

    Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted his annual television call-in show on Thursday. This time, however, his heart didn't seem to be in it. As in the past, some of his statements failed the test of basic fact-checking. and he still sounded like a parody of himself -- recalling Dr. Evil from the "Austin Powers" film series -- but he also also read economic statistics from a piece of paper, while previously he had made a point of demonstrating his impressive memory.

    The session lasted for 3 hours and 41 minutes, short by the standards of the last five events (the longest, in 2013, clocked in at 4:47). Putin showed up in the studio without a watch, seemingly prepared to answer questions from ordinary Russians -- there were more than 3 million, according to the call center -- for as long as necessary.

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