Archive

April 24th, 2016

I used to be a flight attendant. Dealing with passengers' racism is part of the job.

    It was during the boarding process on a flight from Fort Lauderdale to JFK in the fall of 2009. I had long since learned the key to a pleasant flight was to greet everyone as they boarded, so I stood in the front galley and said my hellos.

    Suddenly a middle-aged white woman leaned uncomfortably close to me and whispered, "There is man, four people behind me, in a green shirt, who is very suspicious."

    I whispered back, "OK. What's he doing?"

    "You'll see," she said, wide-eyed.

    I thought two things: This woman is probably racist. And I need to take her seriously.

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How powerful should our juries be?

    In 1986, Leroy Reed faced criminal charges he didn't understand. A mentally disabled ex-convict from Milwaukee, Reed was charged with illegally possessing a firearm after his parole office discovered that he had purchased a .22-caliber pistol to go with a mail-order private detective course. While it was obvious to everyone on the jury that he had committed a crime, it was less obvious that he should go back to prison for it. Did he know that what he was doing was wrong? Would a harsh sentence, such as reincarceration, be just?

    After hours of dramatic argument captured on film by PBS's "Frontline," the jury decided to find Reed not guilty. These citizens were practicing "jury nullification," a contentious aspect of our legal system whereby jurors can decide to ignore the law and not convict a person obviously guilty of a crime. Acting as a sort of community conscience, juries can decide that applying the letter of the law to a particular case would not be justified -- but it's not clear how much say a jury should have in deciding which laws to enforce.

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Google should stop fighting antitrust charges

    The European Commission looks poised to accuse Google of breaking competition rules with the contracts it offers mobile phone makers that use its Android operating system. Europe's competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, indicated as much in a speech on Monday. Just as with an earlier antitrust decision on Google, the bureaucrats are wrong: It's preposterous to accuse Google of stifling innovation. Yet Google shouldn't fight them: It's perfectly able to compete without trying to negotiate an unfair advantage.

    The commission started its investigation a year ago. Its gripe with Google is that the search giant is twisting phone manufacturers' arms to preinstall a package of basic apps, including e-mail and a suite of cloud-based office programs, and make Google the default search engine. Vestager said in her speech that Google's actions may be hurting other innovators:

    "Our concern is that, by requiring phone makers and operators to preload a set of Google apps, rather than letting them decide for themselves which apps to load, Google might have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers."

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As a trans man in North Carolina, I always felt safe - until this new law passed

    When I started college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro two years ago, I did the kinds of things a lot of guys did. I made friends, joined a fraternity and started taking classes in business and accounting. I had a great time.

    North Carolina's new bill could change all that.

    The measure requires all state residents to use bathrooms that match the gender they were assigned at birth. And it strips away local protections that prohibit discrimination against LGTBQ people in housing, employment and public accommodations.

    This affects me because I'm trans. I started hormone replacement therapy at 18. My face, body and voice all changed substantially in the summer between high school and college. When I started at UNC, my peers were not aware that I was a transgender man until I or one of my close friends told them.

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A history lesson on racism sparks a framework for change

    While teaching U.S. history at a public charter high school in the District, Julian Hipkins III noticed that students tended to assume that "race" was as old as mankind. "Almost like it was natural, a given," as he put it.

    So, using specialized lessons, Hipkins helped the students explore the invention of race and the reasons for it, as laid out in colonial law. Especially the Virginia slave codes enacted between 1640 and 1705.

    Question: How did wealthy landowners thwart the efforts of enslaved Africans and European indentured servants to join forces in a common struggle for economic justice?

    Answer: Divide and conquer through the invention of race. Make the white servants feel superior to black slaves by virtue of skin color; manipulate poor whites into thinking that any perceived gains by blacks had come at their expense.

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When 'something' drifts to profiling

    "If you see something, say something," the Department of Homeland Security tells us.

    Problem is, a lot of folks probably need a little coaching on what "something" is.

    "Something" is not someone on an airplane who made a phone call in Arabic.

    College student Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, 26, was booted off his Southwest Airlines flight in California last week because a woman sitting nearby was freaked out hearing him speak Arabic when he made a quick call to his uncle before takeoff.

    That is speaking another language. It is not terrorism.

    "Something" is also not a student who made a clock and tried to show it to his science teacher.

    Ninth-grader Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was interrogated, handcuffed and arrested at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, for bringing his homemade digital clock to school last fall - teachers thought it might be a bomb.

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Watch the budget deficit, not the debt

    I'm often asked: What level of government debt can the U.S. sustain? The answer is that it can handle a lot more. What's much more important is its longer-term ability to reduce the federal budget deficit -- and eventually run a surplus.

    Before I explain, let's define some terms. Debt refers to the value of all securities issued by the Treasury and held by the public (including the Federal Reserve). I'll define the deficit to be the difference between government revenue and expenditures, other than interest on the debt (this is sometimes called the primary deficit). I'm not ignoring interest on the debt -- I'm just treating it separately.

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April 23rd

New York, New York: If they can make it there

    Earlier in the 2016 presidential campaign, the New York primary was considered likely to identify the nominee in one or both major party contests. Native New Yorker Donald Trump and former New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, a transplant from Illinois by way of Arkansas, were the clear frontrunners through March.

    Bumps in the road thereafter, however, including losses for each in Wisconsin early this month, slowed their course. Trump committed a series of gaffes over women, abortion, foreign policy and staff turmoil. His chief rival, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, began to close the gap in earned Republican delegates as the beneficiary of a stop-Trump campaign.

    Meanwhile, Clinton was losing in seven of eight state primaries to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, maintaining a wide lead in Democratic delegates but inviting more doubts about her likeability and trustworthiness. Sanders energetically played on these public perceptions, contrasting her reliance on big-donor Wall Street interests with his own unprecedented success with small individual givers.

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Trump's rear-view politics

    If Donald Trump's presidential campaign had an official theme song, it would probably be "The Way We Were," or maybe Archie and Edith Bunker's rendition of "Those Were the Days." More than anything else, Trump's campaign rests on nostalgia for a bygone era when America was indisputably "great," immigrants came through Ellis Island (and only in small numbers), and where everybody (and especially women, minorities, and journalists) knew their place. The fact that his campaign slogan says he'll make America great again tells you Trump's gaze is firmly in the rearview mirror.

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Sen. Warren offers a fix for all that federal regulation

    Many conservatives contend that federal regulators have been running wild, especially under President Barack Obama. Objecting to "job-killing regulations," they offer concrete proposals for reform: more cost-benefit analysis, elimination of unjustified mandates, and explicit congressional approval of expensive rules. (Disclosure: From 2009 to 2012, I served as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, whose approval is required for most federal regulations.)

    By contrast, progressives have been pretty quiet. That changed recently, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, delivered an important but widely overlooked speech last month, one offering an unmistakably progressive vision of regulatory reform. Warren sees the problem as one of capture by regulated interests, not overreach by regulation-happy bureaucrats.

    Warren claims that as agencies produce regulations, they are unduly influenced by powerful private groups. Because of corporate influence, "the rulemaking process often becomes the place where strong, clear laws go to die." In her account, federal rulemaking is broken for one reason: industry groups tilt the scales.

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