Archive

January 16th, 2016

The Age of Protest

    If you go to The Guardian’s website these days you can find a section that is just labeled “Protest.” So now, with your morning coffee, you can get your news, weather, sports — and protests. I found stories there headlined, “Five Fresh Ideas for the Street Art Agitator in 2016,” “Muslim Woman Ejected From Donald Trump Rally After Silent Protest” and, appropriately, “We Are Living in an Age of Protest.”

    We sure are. This week alone Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany faced huge protests after her justice minister declared that Arab immigrants — let in under Merkel’s liberal refugee policy — were largely responsible for the mass sexual assaults on women in Cologne on New Year’s Eve and used social networks to coordinate their attacks. President Barack Obama actually cried — that was his unique protest — while trying to channel his outrage, and many other people’s, into fixing our nation’s crazy gun laws.

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Some questions before Iowa and New Hampshire vote

    We're only three weeks from the Iowa caucuses and four from the New Hampshire primary, but even at this late date there are more plausible scenarios on the Republican side than can fit into one column. Voters in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Concord and Manchester are now being bombarded with advertising, candidate visits and phone calls.

    Here's what to watch over the next month, concentrating on the known unknowns -- the crucial points we can see from here, but can't tell which way they will turn.

 

    - Now through Jan. 31

    Watch the polls for Iowa and New Hampshire. But look at the polling averages (such as HuffPollster and Real Clear Politics); with lots of surveys out there, we're going to hear plenty of noise.

    The polls in Iowa have been stable for the last few weeks. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz holds a slim lead over billionaire Donald Trump. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is well back in third place. The rest of the field is under 10 percent and showing no signs of moving up.

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Obama's campaign poetry and presidential prose

    "You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose," the late Mario Cuomo was fond of saying.

    Rarely has that contrast been as vivid as with President Barack Obama as he prepares to deliver his final State of the Union address Tuesday night. In recent years there have been few soaring moments of Obama rhetoric, but lots of government prose.

    It makes a striking contrast from the politician who burst onto the national scene as an orator, starting with a memorable keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic convention.

    "The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states -- red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats," proclaimed the young legislator from Illinois, then a candidate for the Senate. "We worship an awesome God in the blue states, and we don't like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and, yes, we've got some gay friends in the red states."

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Protesting nude in Portland should be protected

    The First Amendment protects your right to burn the flag in protest. What about getting naked to draw attention to your cause? An Oregon man is intent on finding out -- and so far, the courts have ruled against him. His case deserves attention because of the light it sheds on a core question of free speech.

    According to the Portland Oregonian, as linked to by the appellate litigation blog How Appealing blog, Matthew Mglej took off all his clothes one day in May 2014, played the violin as God made him, then sat down amid posters he'd made and waited for the Portland police to arrest him. They did, for violating a city ordinance that prohibits self-exposure in public. But, perhaps hoping to make Mglej go away, prosecutors later dropped the case.

    Mglej wasn't prepared to give up, though, and he has sued the city for arresting him in violation of what he says were his First Amendment rights. He told the court he was inspired by the case of a man who was cleared for violating the same ordinance in 2012 when he took off all his clothes at an airport checkpoint to demonstrate his frustration with Transportation Security Administration procedures.

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Liberals, stop climate-change hectoring

    Good news for climate advocates: Researchers have new clues about what's stopping the public from caring more about global warming.

    Bad news for climate advocates: They're part of the problem.

    The December issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology focuses on how to encourage "pro-environmental behavior." In example after example, researchers show how governments, politicians and companies have framed climate change and its solutions in ways that seem intuitive but often fail -- and can even make things worse.

    In one paper, researchers at the University of Tennessee and Florida State University examined the best way to encourage people touse less energy at home. They found that trumpeting the environmental benefits of energy efficiency can change people's behavior -- but only for liberals.For everyone else, stressing economic benefits produced better results.Saving the planet may not be as persuasive as climate advocates hoped.

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Democrats Must Also Address Illegal Immigration

    As respectable Republicans panic over Donald Trump's storm of insults against Hispanics, Democrats may be tempted to sit back and watch the other party estrange millions of potential voters. But they do so at their own peril.

    Democrats already have the luxury of being far less offensive, whatever position they take on immigration. But they must take a position, and that position must draw a line between legal and illegal. To do so, they can't flinch when advocates of open borders unleash unpleasant accusations against any Democrat who attempts to honor that line.

    Fear of uncontrolled immigration is not limited to crazed right-wing white folk. Blacks have long felt themselves unfairly replaced by immigrants. As poet Toni Morrison wrote, "whatever the ethnicity or nationality of the immigrant, his nemesis is understood to be African American." The evidence remains anecdotal, but many blacks have expressed support for Trump over this issue.

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The governor of Texas is up to something

    Yes, they do things bigger in Texas. Greg Abbott, the first-term Republican governor, not only supports a new U.S. constitutional convention, but has nine -- nine! -- proposed amendments he'd like such a gathering to endorse.

    Putting aside what a bad idea a convention would be, or the wisdom of rolling back the federal government designed by Madison and Hamilton and the rest of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, I still have one question: What is Abbott up to?

    Maybe he's running for re-election. Abbott isn't up until 2018, but that means he's just two years away from the primary in a state with plenty of Republicans who have little loyalty to party leaders. Not only that, with oil prices in the dumps, there may be a chance of a local recession, even if the U.S. economy does fine. There's not much a Texas governor can do about the world oil market, but he can pander to tea party types and remind conservatives he's no Republican in Name Only.

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I despise lotteries, but I bought four Powerball tickets anyway

    The Powerball - all $1.3 billion of this week's jackpot - is evil.

    Lotteries prey on the poor and the elderly. They're rigged, hyped and glorified. The winners almost always end up as losers.

    But I bought four tickets over the weekend. I'm weak. So let the dreaming begin:

    The Lego Death Star? Done, boys. I'll even throw in the Millennium Falcon.

    A Ford F-150 crew cab truck with a hardtop bed cover? Done, husband. How about we lift that baby and throw some 42-inchers on it, too?

    See, our household's Powerball fantasies are pretty modest.

    We'd keep our jobs, pay off the mortgage and the minivan, and be conservative about the next steps, such as establishing a foundation to cure childhood cancer or creating the most comprehensive shelter and job-training program for homeless residents any city has ever seen.

    So we should totally win.

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A fair world doesn't have to be an inefficient one

    One common criticism of economics is that it focuses too much on efficiency, and not enough on things like equality, fairness and the welfare of future generations. In the extreme version of the criticism, the focus on efficiency is a deliberate plot to keep resources in the hands of the wealthy.

    The economic definition of efficiency -- also called Pareto efficiency, after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto -- is easy to understand. Basically, it's just the same thing as gross domestic product. The more things we produce -- including goods like TVs and cars, but also services like insurance and back massages -- the fewer resources we are wasting. Perfect efficiency -- called Pareto optimality -- is a situation in which the economy is so efficient that it's impossible to give one person more without taking something away from someone else. In other words, perfect efficiency is a world where there really is no free lunch.

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The Obama Boom

    Do you remember the “Bush boom”? Probably not. Anyway, the administration of George W. Bush began its tenure with a recession, followed by an extended “jobless recovery.” By the summer of 2003, however, the economy began adding jobs again. The pace of job creation wasn’t anything special by historical standards, but conservatives insisted that the job gains after that trough represented a huge triumph, a vindication of the Bush tax cuts.

    So what should we say about the Obama job record? Private-sector employment — the relevant number, as I’ll explain in a minute — hit its low point in February 2010. Since then we’ve gained 14 million jobs, a figure that startled even me, roughly double the number of jobs added during the supposed Bush boom before it turned into the Great Recession. If that was a boom, this expansion, capped by last month’s really good report, outbooms it by a wide margin.

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