Archive

February 26th, 2016

A Greener Leap Year

    What if an extra hour somehow slipped into your day?

    Aside from most Arizonans and all Hawaiians, Americans get to ponder this question in early November as Daylight Savings Time gets underway.

    I usually fill this gap with some combination of reading, cooking, and (weather permitting) riding my bicycle on Arlington, Virginia’s trails. The borrowed time feels like a small luxury.

    How about spending a whole extra day with your family, swatting items off your to-do list, or hanging out with friends? This being a leap year, it’s a reasonable question.

    The climate justice movement, however, won’t take this 366th day for granted.

    Those activists are spending those extra 24 hours — and then some — brainstorming how the world might move on from a corporate-controlled and fossil-fueled economy toward a greener and more equitable way of life that does a better job of taking care of human needs.

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Your driver probably has at least one other job

    What is the defining characteristic of gig-economy workers? Probably that driving for Lyft or assembling Ikea furniture via Handy or selling knitted leprechaun outfits for babies on Etsy isn't the main thing they do or the main way they make money.

    I've been looking at three in-depth studies published recently about the much hyped but still mysterious gig or on-demand economy, enabled by Internet connections and ubiquitous smartphones, and this is perhaps the most strikingly consistent finding. On-demand work is something that people who already have jobs or other responsibilities (going to school, taking care of family members) do on the side. For example:

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When gun massacres are chalked up to bad luck

    Writing of the "ethical confusion which overtook American society in the Industrial Age," Samuel Eliot Morison and Henry Steele Commager wrote of deadly social consequences for which no individuals felt in any way responsible:

    "These men were caught in the meshes of a business system which had not yet developed a moral code of its own and to which the old codes were irrelevant. The manufacture and sale of impure foods, dangerous drugs, infected milk, poisonous toys, might produce disease or death, but none of those involved in the process -- retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, advertisers, corporations, directors or stockholders -- realized that they were guilty of murder."

    A similar confusion -- mystery, really -- hovered over a Connecticut courtroom this week, where parents of children massacred in their classrooms wondered how 20 children and six adults could be murdered in their school without anyone being in any way responsible for the deaths.

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Victorious Trump takes a stab at humility

    Welcome, voters, to the new, improved Republican race for the presidency. At one time, there were close to 20 politicians to follow, but post-South Carolina, it's more like the final rounds of "The Apprentice," with many fewer nervous strivers to keep track of and rising interest from viewers.

    Does that help Donald Trump? Conventional wisdom says no, the empty suit won't be able to stand the scrutiny.

    But what if it does help, in the way that everything helps Donald Trump, even the Pope calling him un-Christian and the Bushes coming out to campaign against him?

    After Trump called out former President George W. Bush for his disastrous invasion of Iraq, he was warned that the 43rd commander-in-chief is popular in South Carolina. Trump responded with three words that proved prophetic: "So am I."

    Trump then proceeded to make a few new enemies -- the Vatican, Apple and those who suspect that Trumpcare might be a lot like Obamacare -- but he also got himself under control.

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Two wrong ways to think about China's economy

    Western observers struggle to make sense of what's happening to the Chinese economy. Since China is slowing, dragging down commodity prices and forcing a number of other countries into recession, this in an important problem to puzzle out. But how should we evaluate China's economy? I find that Western writers tend to subscribe -- explicitly or implicitly -- to one of two folk theories of China. Both have serious deficiencies.

    The first of these folk theories is "rebalancing." This is the idea -- promoted by Michael Pettis of Peking University -- that China has been investing too much in infrastructure and factories, and needs to switch to services and to consumption. The theory says that this adjustment is natural and inevitable, but will lead to slower growth.

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Two legacies, two fates

    The Clinton political dynasty is still alive. The Bush dynasty has been routed. Their contrasting fates, to this point at least, tell us much about our two parties, the nature of this year's presidential election, and the dueling legacies themselves.

    The Republican and Democratic contests are very different, beginning with the fact that Hillary Clinton did not have to deal with Donald Trump, who targeted Jeb Bush with a viciousness rarely seen in contemporary politics. For months, the self-contained former Florida governor responded ineffectually to an opponent who flouted all the norms. This only made it easier for Trump to mock him as "low energy" and "weak."

    Bush was also entitled to a certain bitterness as he watched Marco Rubio, his ambitious and impatient protege, seize his natural base in the party: voters who loathe both Trump and Ted Cruz. Rubio's definition of loyalty did not include yielding to his one-time mentor.

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Trump, Sanders misunderstand three megatrends

    To hear Donald Trump tell it, the biggest problems with the U.S. economy can be stopped at the border, where immigrants and cheap foreign goods threaten American livelihoods. Or to hear Bernie Sanders tell it, the source of the middle-class's affliction is a powerful Wall Street and K Street oligarchy.

    Actually, the forces holding back the economy are internal and structural, the result of historical trends more than venality (I'm talking to you, Bernie), or stupidity (you too, Donald). So they require different solutions from the ones the candidates are pushing.

    Perhaps the biggest challenge is that the U.S. labor force is shrinking. Of the richest 38 nations, only the U.S. and two others (Denmark and Norway) have seen declining rates of labor-force participation, which counts the employed and those looking for work.

    The unemployment rate has plummeted to 4.9 percent from 10 percent in 2009, but that's largely because people are abandoning the workforce. In 2015, the participation rate fell to its lowest point in almost 40 years. It ticked up in the last few months, but by a barely perceptible amount.

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Trump's glitzy style is attracting evangelical voters

    Donald Trump seems the unlikeliest Republican candidate for evangelical voters, with his three marriages, his ownership of casinos and beauty pageants, and his belated opposition to their core issues of abortion and marriage.

    Yet he captured the votes of 33 percent of evangelicals in South Carolina Saturday-a big factor in his win, since evangelicals made up a whopping 72 percent of Republican primary voters there.

    Sen. Ted Cruz seems to be the quintessential evangelical candidate: a pastor's son who can strut a campaign rally stage like it's a revival and who pledged to inspire millions of supposedly apathetic evangelicals to vote for a resurgent Christian America.

    Cruz amassed the endorsements of more over 300 pastors and other religious leaders in South Carolina. Glenn Beck, one of Cruz's most high-profile supporters, told voters at a South Carolina rally that the Texas senator was "raised for this hour" by the "hand of divine providence." Cruz was supposed to be a messianic figure to save Christian America from its downward secularist spiral.

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Trump is the product of a failed system

    Donald Trump's shocking transformation from reality-show host to Republican presidential front-runner is not some random and bizarre twist of fate. It grows from the failure of our political system to adapt to demographic change, economic disruption and a reorganizing world.

    Trump's victory Saturday in the South Carolina primary appears to have cleared away the cobwebs of denial. However improbable, outlandish or frightening it may be, Trump has a very good chance of becoming the nominee. He can still be beaten, but the debilitated Republican establishment does not seem up to the task; poor Jeb Bush bowed out after winning less than 8 percent of the vote.

    Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz essentially tied for second place, 10 points behind Trump's winning 32.5 percent. Since John Kasich and Ben Carson turned out to be non-factors, the Republican race is left with three leading candidates -- none of whom offers viable solutions. Trump is a wrecking ball, Cruz is a conservative ideologue and Rubio tries to be all things to all people.

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Sanders is blowing it by refusing to attack Clinton over her scandals

    Conservatives have always argued that the left believes in unilateral disarmament, but now we have proof: Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., faces a primary opponent whose use of a private email server is under investigation by the FBI, but he refuses to attack her on the issue.

    His failure to do so cost him victory in Iowa. It cost him victory in Nevada. And ultimately, it could cost him the Democratic nomination.

    In the one state where Sanders has won - New Hampshire - exit polls showed 34 percent of Democratic voters said that honesty was the most important factor in their decision about whom to support. These voters chose Sanders by a stunning margin of 92 percent to 6 percent, helping put him over the top in the Granite State. By contrast, Clinton won by a wide margin among those who said the ability to win in November was the most important factor. But these voters made up just 12 percent of the electorate, not enough to make up for Clinton's gaping honesty gap.

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