Archive

April 29th, 2016

Out of Africa, Part III

    You can learn everything you need to know about the main challenges facing Africa today by talking to just two people in Senegal: the rapper and the weatherman. They’ve never met, but I could imagine them doing an amazing duet one day — words and weather predictions — on the future of Africa.

    The rapper, Babacar Niang, known simply as Matador, the 40-year-old voice of the voiceless and one of the pioneers of African rap, emerged from the oft-flooded Thiaroye slum of Dakar to become the godfather of the underground hip-hop scene here. I attended his concert at a cultural center a few nights ago. I confess it was my first hip-hop concert, and it took a little getting used to. The guy behind me had a big can of bug repellent that he would spray and light the plume, creating a makeshift flamethrower, which he used to express his approval of key lyrics — and heat up the back of my neck.

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More U.S. gun regulation is inevitable

    Campaigning for her mother in Maryland last week, Chelsea Clinton said the Supreme Court could issue a "definitive" ruling on gun control in the near future. Clinton didn't define "definitive," let alone "gun control." But with a vacancy on the court following the death of Antonin Scalia, it seems more than plausible that Clinton the Younger was referring to overturning the landmark decision in District of Columbia v. Heller.

    Scalia was the author of Heller, the 2008 ruling that established an individual right to gun possession. Scalia's death -- despite the still uncertain prospects of replacing him -- has raised a question about Heller's durability.

    Heller was decided by a 5-4 majority. The dissent, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, was not meek. Stevens basically accused Scalia of throwing out two centuries of legal precedent and reading Scalia's own preferences into the Second Amendment. Scalia, he wrote, all but dismissed the amendment's highly inconvenient preamble placing gun rights within the context of a "well-regulated militia."

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Learning to love (or maybe tolerate) big government

    In December, Gallup asked 824 U.S. adults this question: "In your opinion, which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future -- big business, big labor or big government?"

    Sixty-nine percent responded "big government." That was down from 72 percent in 2013, but otherwise higher than at any other time Gallup has asked.

    What exactly has big government done to these people?

    Well, according to political scientists Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, it has improved their lives dramatically. Over the course of the 20th century, Hacker and Pierson write in their new book "American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper," government investment, regulation and other interventions made Americans vastly better-educated, longer-lived and richer. Government action played a similar -- and sometimes even bigger -- role in virtually every other advanced nation. Write Hacker and Pierson:

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Trump, Cruz and the exchange rate for 'mean'

    Ever since his rise from political obscurity in Texas, observers have used words for Ted Cruz like “smart” and “shrewd.”

    Watching him on the campaign trail, I’m thinking, “Not so much.”

    Here’s how smart Ted Cruz is. His “New York values” snideness in the pre-Iowa debate, which helped him win a whole eight delegates there, won him exactly zero delegates in New York. Indeed, in one precinct he got fewer votes than Ben Carson, now in a witness protection program somewhere.

    We hear such words as “shrewd” and “smart” for how Donald Trump has handled all that daddy money of his. Watching him on the campaign trail, I’m thinking, “Not so much.”

    Someone who is going to spend a whole bunch of that money on becoming president would do a better job of building bridges, instead of walling off people, races, classes -- you know, people he would be elected to serve in that very unlikely event that he were chosen.

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Treat a Muslim better, hurt the Islamic State

    It is intuitively appealing to connect the number of fighters a country sends to the Islamic State with poverty and inequality. The more desperate and economically downtrodden people are, the more likely it is that they'll join a terrorist group, right? Wrong, recent research indicates: It's much more likely that the reasons for the Islamic State's recruitment success are cultural.

    The terror militia has between 25,000 and 30,000 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. Disproportionate numbers of these radicals hail from Muslim nations: Tunisia alone is responsible for 6,000 of them, according to the Soufan Group.

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It's not about sentencing; police need arrests

    In preparing for a White House conference this week, I've reviewed the recent data on the fight against crime. And it's depressing. For example, the share of violent crimes in the U.S. for which arrests are made is shockingly low -- less than half in 2014, the FBI reports. For burglaries, the share was only 14 percent.

    That, in turn, points to the great flaw in how we've gone about fighting crime: We've relied too much on longer prison sentences for those convicted. A wide variety of other evidence suggests that lengthy prison sentences do remarkably little to prevent crime and may well create more recidivism, a point highlighted by the Brennan Center for Justice (on whose advisory board I serve), by the White House Council of Economic Advisers and in a recent op-ed by Jason Furman and Douglas Holtz-Eakin.

    A better approach involves not only expanding education and employment opportunities, to provide better alternatives to crime, but also increasing the odds that a criminal will be captured.

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How to be presidential, the Donald Trump way

    If in the early hours of a Saturday morning, there's a traffic jam in your neighborhood, it won't be because it's the opening day of the county fair. These days, it's more likely to be Donald Trump.

    In Waterbury, Connecticut, this weekend, three days before the state primary, people began lining up at 4 a.m.; the doors opened at 7 for a rally scheduled for 10. The adults being led to the overflow room were as disappointed as the children finding out that that they'd been awoken early for politics, not a carousel and cotton candy.

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Coal Country Is Desperate For Donald Trump

    Grundy, Virginia, looks as if it fell into a crevice and got stuck. The seat of Buchanan County, Grundy snakes for miles between high Appalachian mountain walls that restrict its width in places to little more than a stone's throw. To beat recurring floods from the Levisa Fork River, and to wedge a Wal-Mart into a struggling downtown, the Army Corps of Engineers blasted 2.4 million cubic yards of rock off a mountain face. The entire project cost around $200 million, and left the town, population 1,100, without a core.

    It didn't stop the walls from closing in. Like the coal industry on which it is utterly dependent, Grundy is shrinking. The population of Buchanan County has been declining. Schools consolidate as children grow scarce. In February 2006, the county unemployment rate was 5.2 percent. A decade later it's more than 12 percent, making in-migration even more improbable than ever in this remote and inaccessible hollow.

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Candidates look past the Northeast

    Voters in five Northeastern states--Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware and Maryland--go to the polls in presidential primaries today (Tuesday), with frontrunners Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump Clinton favored to win in most or all of them.

    If so, Clinton will move to the brink of nomination, on the expectation assumption that she will corral a heavy majority of superdelegates from the ranks of her party's establishment, who will go to the July convention in Philadelphia with a free hand to vote as they choose.

    According to the Associated Press, she now has 513 such delegates pledged to her, to only 38 for rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and a total of 1,941, with 2,383 needed for nomination. At stake in the five states are 384 delegates, including 189 from Pennsylvania and 95 from Maryland, where Clinton is running particularly well in the latest polls.

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Clash of the Injured Titans

    If trends hold and the parties’ front-runners become the parties’ nominees, November is going to be an epic election: a hobbled titan (Hillary Clinton) versus a mortally wounded one (the real estate developer).

    The upcoming contests only buttress the possibility that those two will be the last man and woman standing.

    As of Sunday, The Huffington Post’s Pollster average of polls had the real estate developer leading Ted Cruz by almost 30 percentage points in Connecticut, 19 points in Pennsylvania and 20 points in Maryland. All three states vote on Tuesday. The real estate developer is leading in Rhode Island and Delaware as well — states that also vote on Tuesday — but those states don’t have the same volume of polling to make the results as reliable.

    That same site had Clinton leading Sen. Bernie Sanders by 26 points in Maryland, 15 points in Pennsylvania and six points in Connecticut. She, too, was leading in Rhode Island and Delaware.

    We seem to be watching the prequel to a foregone conclusion.

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