Archive

May 27th, 2016

In next presidential primary, Democrats must jettison superdelegates

    Bernie Sanders is pushing for concessions from the Democratic Party establishment in return for his promised support for Hillary Clinton once she indisputably nails down the 2016 presidential nomination. One change he wants is an end to the superdelegate category to the party's national convention.

    He certainly isn't going to get it this time around. Hence he argues against the automatic delegate status given high national and state officeholders, members of the Democratic National Committee and certain other party bigwigs. He insists they should support the candidate who has won their state primaries or caucuses.

    Clinton, according to the Bloomberg News count, has 537 superdelegates in her pocket to Sanders' 42. She is leading Sanders by 271 elected delegates, and she is only 78 delegates short of the majority needed for the nomination. As there are 921 delegates left to be allocated, the chance of Sanders winning enough to stop her looks slim to nonexistent.

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In defense of transhumanism

    When I first tried to start a club for the study of transhumanism at Yale, I was astounded by the university's response. The chaplain intervened and vetoed the request. An email to me explained that there were already enough atheist groups on campus, assuming evidently that the words humanist and atheist were synonyms. I found myself awkwardly assuring a series of administrators that transhumanism had nothing to do with trans-students who didn't believe in God. Broadly speaking, it involves the use of futuristic medical technology to lower the incidence of disease, enhance the capacity of the imagination and prolong the human lifespan. "We're into things like cyborgs and genetic engineering," I said.

    Eventually, the chaplain was overruled. For all of the humor and frustration of the process, on some level I could sympathize with the confusion of the administration. Pinning down the meaning of transhumanism is not so simple.

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How to bring back labor without relying on unions

    National anxiety over the decline in middle-class living standards is driving this year's presidential contest like no other issue.

    Donald Trump promises a return of manufacturing jobs as the solution, but he misleads voters into thinking those jobs are coming back, when they aren't; his trade-deal bombast will only make things worse. Polls show his message resonates well with blue-collar voters who believe unions had a lot to do with creating the America he promises to make great again.

    Both Democratic candidates, meanwhile, say they would take steps to bolster unions without acknowledging their negative effects and weaknesses. "I believe when unions are strong, America is strong," Hillary Clinton told the Service Employees International Union convention on Monday, adding that "unions helped build the strongest middle class right here" in the U.S.

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How DIY bio-hackers are changing the conversation around genetic engineering

    CRISPR is a controversial new technology for genetically engineering cells and making those changes heritable. It and other new gene-editing technologies have both raised hopes of speedier biomedical breakthroughs and concerns that they could eventually enable the modification of healthy humans. But what is not generally known is that the use of CRISPR as a research tool has already become so widespread that even community labs have access to it - and this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

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History Must Not Repeat Itself: How the Democrats Could Lose the Presidency

    In 1967, the United States was digging itself deeper into the war in Vietnam.

    The anti-war movement was being forged by the youth, energetic and willing to stand up to establishment values. They were the peace-loving environmentally-friendly hippies, the more radical but fun-loving Yippies, and those who held weekday establishment jobs and resented the structure and rules of an older generation that had survived the economic depression of the 1930s, the war years of the 1940s and early 1950s, and now wanted the “Happy Days” comfort of the 1950s.

    But it was during this decade that the Cold War emerged; the right-wing surfaced and declared anyone with non-establishment views were Communists. The witch hunts of the 17th century colonies had morphed into the fear, panic, and undermining of the Constitution by the demigods of business and government who decided that anyone with liberal views, especially those in the arts and sciences, were anti-American and needed to be condemned.

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Destroying Israel From Within

    Israel has recently been under intense criticism on the world stage. Some of it, like the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” (BDS) campaign, is a campus movement to destroy Israel masquerading as a political critique. But a lot of it is also driven by Israel’s desire to destroy itself — thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s steady elimination of any possibility that Israel will separate itself from the Palestinians in the West Bank.

    Netanyahu is a man who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never crossing it, always teasing you (“I’m coming your way — I’m going to make a decision”), only to remain right where he is, balancing between all his rivals, so that he alone survives. Meanwhile, Israel sinks ever deeper into a de facto binational state controlled by Jewish extremists.

    Soon, this newspaper will have to call Netanyahu what he’s made himself into: “Prime Minister of the State of Israel-Palestine.”

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Presidential race gets harder to predict

    With a bunch of new polls released over the weekend, speculation about how a general election race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump ends is beginning to matter. Just not in the way you would think, based on all the hype.

    We have three ways to predict what will happen, each with strengths and weaknesses. First, there are prediction methods based on the "fundamentals" of the election. Then we have betting markets and polls.

    - Fundamentals

    Political scientists and others have developed models to predict elections based only on what we can know before the candidates are chosen and their campaigns take place. It turns out that roughly four factors matter. The incumbent party's candidate does better when the economy is strong, when presidential approval is high and when the nation is at peace. But the candidate's chances appear to suffer if the incumbent party has already had two or more terms in the White House.

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Maybe those TSA lines would shrink if airlines stopped charging for checked bags

    The airlines could do something today that might ease your wait in airport security checkpoint lines tomorrow: Stop charging fees for checked baggage.

    Up until now, the wrath of air travelers has been focused on the Transportation Security Administration, and not without reason. Government watchdogs have documented several critical lapses at the TSA in recent years, such as undercover operatives managing to make it through checkpoints with illegal weapons and phony bombs and inadequate vetting of aviation employees before issuing them security credentials. Members of Congress have accused the agency of not adequately planning for the crush of travelers this spring, despite ample warning that record numbers of people would be flying.

    But TSA also has a tough job. In recent years, Congress also has cut its budget while the number of air travelers has increased. TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, who took over less than a year ago, has made tightening security a priority. And they're trying to ease the crunch: earlier this month, the TSA announced a 10-point plan to reduce wait times by increasing staff and redeploying officers.

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Law's spirit counts when someone isn't quite fired

    It's complicated to sue for discriminatory firing when you haven't actually been fired. But it's doable. The lesson from the Supreme Court on Monday is that timing matters.

    The justices weighed in on the important question of when the clock starts for plaintiffs who have been "constructively discharged" -- that is, effectively fired because of discriminatory treatment. Seven of the eight justices agreed that if someone quit a job and alleges discrimination was the reason, his claim starts when he quit, not when the discriminatory treatment against him is said to have occurred.

    The decision is a wise one, reflecting a common-sense understanding of this sort of discrimination. It's important because it shows the court is willing to enforce anti-discrimination laws, notwithstanding the literal words of the law. Only Justice Clarence Thomas, the last of the Scalia-style literalists, dissented.

    The facts of the case, Green v. Brennan, were classics of the constructive-discharge genre. Marvin Green, a 35-year veteran of the Post Office, applied to be postmaster of Englewood, Colorado. When he didn't get the job, he sued for racial discrimination.

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Let's not squander the talents of our immigrants

    It is often said that the problem with immigrants is that they're poor and contribute only their cheap labor when they get here.

    But rarely discussed is the fact that the United States does a terrible job of enabling the immigrants who already have post-secondary certifications, college degrees and professional work experience to continue their careers once they've arrived.

    To start, a foreign-trained professional has to make his or her way to this country legally, navigating the red tape of visas and permissions, and, of course, master the English language. Then they must maneuver the thicket of proving their credentials and work experience.

    If you've had to pull copies of your college transcripts in the last few years, you know it couldn't be easier. It's generally a short order on a website and a credit card payment, and you get PDFs within 48 hours.

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