Archive

November 22nd, 2015

Americans see a government of, by and for the rich

    At first glance - and second, and third - Americans look to be marching off in two diametrically opposed directions. On immigration, Democrats and Republicans could not have more contrasting views; cities, which have become distinctly progressive bastions, are enacting a host of liberal ordinances, while the substantial number of states under Republican rule are moving well to the right of the GOP orthodoxy of just five years ago; and the federal government, its power divided between the two parties, has frozen into inaction.

    Most polling tends to confirm this view of the United States as a house divided. But a new survey of our compatriots' beliefs from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), which queried a far larger number of respondents than typical polls, has unearthed one area of remarkable agreement: Across party lines, Americans believe that our economic system is rigged to favor the wealthy and big corporations, and that our political system is, too - so much so that by nearly a 2-to-1 margin (64 percent to 36 percent), Americans believe their "vote does not matter because of the influence that wealthy individuals and big corporations have on the electoral process."

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A Tale of Two Terrors: Paris and New York

    Like most people, I'm thinking of the terrorist trauma in Paris, though with a somewhat different perspective. I was in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, and my thoughts go in this direction: What is the future of cities in which psychopaths have killed crowds of bystanders?

    In New York, the future as we've known it so far has been one of glory and growth. In Paris -- its post-attack future just a few days old -- it's been a quick return to the previous embrace of culture and camaraderie. The people now thronging the cafes and theaters may be exhibiting more an air of resistance than gaiety, but rest assured that the real enjoyment will take over.

    But the aftereffects do not end there. These massacres are not like a wound that eventually heals. They're more like a cancer that can go into remission for a while and then come back. And these cancers can take on different forms, changing the people in different ways.

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Why Justin Trudeau Makes Me Jealous of Canada

    Asked why half the members of his cabinet are women, Justin Trudeau replied with three words that spoke volumes: “Because it’s 2015.”

    The nurturing father of three kids under 10 is a master of effortless statements that spread inclusiveness and tolerance. Four Sikhs will serve in the new cabinet that Trudeau boasts “looks like Canada.” And he calls himself a “proud feminist.”

    Once he became prime minister in early November, a year-old snapshot of Trudeau went viral. It showed him with Scott Brison — another member of Canada’s diverse cabinet — alongside Brison’s husband and their twin daughters. By grinning while holding one of the men’s baby girls aloft, Trudeau expressed solidarity with same-sex parents.

    He’s quickly sweeping away ill will sowed by his predecessor — the arch-conservative Stephen Harper — both at home and abroad. Mindful of current events, Trudeau has beefed up Canada’s role in the global climate talks that will soon begin in Paris. He’s also taking the high road on Syria’s refugee crisis.

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War intrudes on politics

    The major terrorist attacks on Paris have cast a particularly dark shadow over the next American presidential campaign. Both parties suddenly find foreign policy crowding out such domestic flashpoints as immigration reform, income inequality and even the bizarre phenomenon of this season's political outsiders.

    The focus for voters is now more than ever on not just the choice of a national leader but also of a new commander-in-chief, as national security at home and abroad is elevated by this latest international atrocity committed by the Islamic State.

    President Obama's measured response to the threat drew more fire after his defense at the 20-nation summit in Turkey Monday, in which he pushed back against demands, particularly among Republican governors, that America close its doors Syrian refugees, the bulk of whom are Muslims.

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Threat of terror will make Europe more like post-9/11 U.S.

    The theme of latest issue of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo -- which lost 11 staffers to a terrorist attack last January -- is that the French way of life will endure the most recent wave of terror. Europeans' responses to the new normal of a constant terrorist threat won't, unfortunately, be uniformly blasé.

    On Tuesday, a friendly soccer game between Germany and the Netherlands was canceled in Hanover after police received information that someone was planning to detonate a bomb in the stadium. There were people already in the arena, including legendary former Dutch player Ruud Gullit, and they were told to go home.

    Chancellor Angela Merkel and some cabinet ministers who were also supposed to attend the game -- to show that, despite the Paris attacks, they were not afraid -- were on their way to the stadium when the police got the tip-off, so they were diverted to a safe place. No bomb has been found so far; a package police did find on a train going to the stadium turned out to be a dummy.

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They’ve Got the Red Cup Blues

    ‘Tis the season to bicker about Starbucks coffee cups.

    Nothing gets you in the holiday spirit like a chill in the air, Christmas songs in every store, and anger about a phony “War on Christmas.” Clearly, love for one another, world peace, and the Christian faith itself all ride on whether a chain that sells overpriced coffee prints an appropriate design on its red cups.

    Honestly, this griping over coffee cups couldn’t be any less in the Christmas spirit than the Grinch himself.

    If you’re living under a rock and haven’t heard yet, Starbucks released a simple red cup as its holiday design this year, with nothing on it besides the company’s green and white logo. A few Christians got steamed because the cups don’t display the reindeer or snowmen they did in previous years.

    Because reindeer and snowmen are sacred religious symbols, of course.

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There's More To Defeating Isis Than Blustery Rhetoric

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." -- Voltaire

    Years before Navy Seals killed Osama bin Laden, this column argued that al-Qaida was capable of "theatrical acts of mass murder," but was not a military threat to the United States.

    The phrase infuriated some readers. Back then tough guys talked about fighting "Islamofascism," supposedly a totalitarian ideology linking bitter enemies such as Iran and al-Qaida (but never Saudi Arabia, where the oil and money are, and where almost all the 9/11 conspirators originated) in an alliance to destroy Western Civilization.

    Nobody says that anymore.

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The unanswered question behind wage inequality

    Why are some publicly traded companies continuing to improve their capital returns while others are disappearing? The answer may help explain -- and ultimately help policy makers address -- increasing wage inequality in the U.S.

    In a recent paper, Jason Furman and I highlighted a significant increase in the variation of capital returns across publicly traded companies. In particular, looking at data from McKinsey & Company on invested capital excluding goodwill for public nonfinancial companies in the U.S., the 90th percentile has risen to an astonishing 100 percent, from about 25 percent 25 years ago. During that same period, the number of domestic companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ fell by more than a quarter. (As of September 2015, the number was down to almost half of its peak in 1996.)

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The Islamic State wants you to reject refugees

    Remember how news photos of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy in September put new pressure on the West to welcome more refugees? That was then.

    Last week's attacks in Paris have sparked the opposite response after a Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the Paris suicide bombers. A shamefully robust chorus of American politicians is falling over themselves to show how hostile they can be to refugees of a war that America played a major role in creating.

    This is especially true of Republican presidential candidates, as the issue quickly took on a sharply partisan divide. The Democratic candidates want to accept at least the 10,000 Syrian refugees that President Barack Obama has announced plans to accept -- which is far fewer than our European allies are taking in.

    The Republicans? Not so much. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order on Monday to block the settlement of any Syrian refugees from the so-called Islamic State's war in Iraq and Syria.

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The great Democratic divide

    Watching the Democratic primary contest can feel like reading a bad murder mystery. You may encounter some plot twists and surprises, but the end seems obvious. The butler did it. Hillary Clinton will win the nomination.

    On a deeper level, though, the contest is more subtle and more interesting -- more Jane Austen than John Grisham. Indeed, dear reader, the day after the Democratic debate, Austen herself was invoked by Princeton philosopher Cornel West, standing in for Bernie Sanders and jabbing at the woman he called "sister Hillary," with her "lip service" to progressive causes.

    "My question for Hillary Clinton is what I would call the Jane Austen challenge," West said. Austen "talked about 'constancy,'" he noted, making what is surely the first reference in the history of the Iowa caucuses to Fanny Price, the prim heroine of "Mansfield Park."

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