Archive

July 13th, 2016

My heart was heavy after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Dallas broke it.

    If my heart was heavy after the police-involved shootings of African American men in Louisiana and Minnesota, waking up to the news of the slaughter of police officers in Dallas has broken it.

    What was a peaceful protest in Texas's third-largest city was marred by an ambush that reportedly included a madman with a racist vendetta. "He said he was upset about the recent police shootings," Dallas Police Chief David Brown said. "The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers."

    In the end, five police officers were killed and seven others injured. And this nation has forever been scarred at a critical time.

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House loses the chance to air Clinton's misdeeds

    The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had the perfect stage when it brought in FBI Director James Comey on Thursday for a hearing on Hillary Clinton's emails. The panel's Republican members could have pressed him to detail what he had called Clinton's "extreme carelessness" in using a personal communications system to conduct her work as secretary of state. Comey had reams of material to refer to, had they cared to ask.

    Instead, House Republicans chose to browbeat the FBI director for his decision not to indict her. As a result, most of Comey's time was spent defending himself -- in effect, making the case that Clinton's actions were not as bad as House Republicans believed.

    In other words, Republicans overreached once again. Why did they do this, since that general strategy has backfired on them in the past? I'll offer three theories.

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Freedom and democracy are receding around the world

    The economic dangers of Britain's exit from the European Union are probably exaggerated. Britain is in a bit of trouble, since falling real estate prices might spark a recession there. But it seems unlikely that the spillover to the global economy will be severe. British trade policy probably won't change much, and extremists in the U.K. Independence Party, which spearheaded the "leave" campaign, are unlikely to take power. The EU itself is on shaky ground, but that was just as true before "Brexit."

    Brexit's real importance probably comes not from its direct effects, but from its symbolism. It's a sign of a much bigger, broader trend -- a global political regime change. The shift was happening before Brexit, and it will continue after. It's something we should be worried about.

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For too many, the job market isn't working

    For all the encouraging headlines that the strong June jobs report has generated, it also illustrates a major challenge for the U.S. economy: Too many people are still not working or not even trying to find work.

    The malaise can be remedied, if we can find the political will.

    Despite the robust job growth of the past six years, people still aren't participating in the labor force the way they used to. As of June, just 62.7 percent of the population had a job -- up a bit from the previous month, but still almost 5 percentage points below the 2000 peak.

    One explanation is demographic: As the population ages, a larger percentage will naturally be retired. This explains about half of the decline in participation, and will keeping putting downward pressure on participation -- particularly as the baby-boom generation crosses the retirement threshold. The Congressional Budget Office expects the labor-force participation rate to decline another 2 percentage points by 2026.

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Dallas and American 'contradictions'

    Some people on the Internet seem to be confused. "In the aftermath of twelve people being tragically shot for no reason in Dallas," they wonder, "how will Black Lives Matter be able to continue being upset about people getting tragically shot for no reason in other places?"

    "How will the Black Lives Matter movement square its criticism of police with this deadly shooting of five police officers?" It doesn't seem hard. Its agenda is "people don't deserve to be shot for no reason" and that the category of "people who don't deserve to be shot for no reason" explicitly includes black people.

    There's no contradiction here.

    Other people are busy being eloquent with grief and rage, but I can at least make some analogies to help explain why this line of thinking is bad. There is such a thing as constructive criticism.

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Can Americans hold ourselves together as a people?

    Without a doubt, we Americans are in a bad way. The senseless deaths this week in Baton Rouge, La., Falcon Heights, Minn., and now Dallas are devastating beyond comprehension for the victims and their families. Each shooting is also an act in a shared national tragedy. The problems go down to the very roots.

    The question of whether as a country we are headed in the right or wrong direction can no longer be answered simply with reference to policy matters such as the economy, education or foreign relations. Instead we face the fundamental question of whether we, the people, as a single people, are holding together and can hold together.

    What has brought us here? You will be skeptical of my answer but in the years since I published a book called "Talking to Strangers," I have been watching the course we were on and I keep coming back to the same answer. I truly believe that the war on drugs is responsible for the level of violence in our cities, the militarization of the police, a concomitant distortion of policing habits and a process of degradation of inner-city minority communities that is now decades-long.

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A more reassuring U.S. jobs report for June

    By beating headline market expectations in a big way, the employment report for June released Friday provides a reassuring assessment of the U.S. labor market and, more generally, the well-being of consumers. It also was encouraging that the labor participation rate ticked up after a steep two-month decline that took it close to multidecade lows. Unfortunately, wage growth remained below what is needed to underpin a more buoyant economic outlook.

    After a surprisingly weak 38,000 jobs added in for May, the U.S. economy created a robust 287,000 in June. This figure provides a solid signal that the poor performance for May was likely to have been an outlier. The small uptick in the labor participation rate to 62.7 percent in June -- especially after the sharp 0.4 percentage point drop in the previous two months -- also was encouraging. But a third key indicator, wage growth, remained sluggish, with only an 0.1 percent monthly increase (or 2.6 percent year-on-year).

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The great email scandal that wasn't

    Pity poor Republicans. For months now, they've clung to their one and only hope of winning the White House. It had nothing to do with the strength of the economy or the state of the world. Nor did it have anything to do with Donald Trump or his pathetic campaign. It was something entirely different.

    Knowing they couldn't count on Trump to win the White House on his own, Republicans placed all their bets instead on their fervent hope that Hillary Clinton would be indicted for her exclusive use of a personal email server while secretary of state. Pity poor Republicans. That hope evaporated completely this week with FBI Director James Comey's surprise announcement that the FBI would recommend to the Justice Department that no charges be filed against Clinton.

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Britain and Blair painfully revisit the invasion of Iraq

    As if our British brethren aren't experiencing enough angst over leaving the European Union, they're now being confronted with looking back at their leaders' decision 13 years ago to partner with the United States in its invasion of Iraq -- arguably the most ill-advised war either country has ever undertaken.

    A seven-year parliamentary inquiry into the origins and wisdom of invading Iraq to topple the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein has emphatically declared it an immense and avoidable folly.

    The British prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, has publicly accepted "full responsibility" for following the American president at the time, George W. Bush, over the cliff into the quagmire that still haunts both countries.

    Both the report and Blair's candid response stand out in sharp contrast to the behavior of his friend George, who by and large has declined to engage in much reflection about taking his country, and the so-called "coalition of the willing," into that war of choice based on unrealistic expectations, poor planning and faulty intelligence.

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All the Nominee’s Enablers

    A couple of weeks ago Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House, sort of laid out both a health care plan and a tax plan. I say sort of, because there weren’t enough details in either case to do any kind of quantitative analysis. But it was clear that Ryan’s latest proposals had the same general shape as every other proposal he’s released: huge tax cuts for the wealthy combined with savage but smaller cuts in aid to the poor, and the claim that all of this would somehow reduce the budget deficit thanks to unspecified additional measures.

    Given everything else that’s going on, this latest installment of Ryanomics attracted little attention. One group that did notice, however, was Fix the Debt, a nonpartisan deficit-scold group that used to have substantial influence in Washington.

    Indeed, Fix the Debt issued a statement — but not, as you might have expected, condemning Ryan for proposing to make the deficit bigger. No, the statement praised him. “We are concerned that the policies in the plan may not add up,” the organization admitted, but it went on to declare that “we welcome this blueprint.”

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