Archive

July 18th, 2016

Putting behind our inordinate fear of inflation

    Why do we care so much about preventing inflation?

    When I put this query to baby boomers, they tell me that if I had lived through the inflation of the 1970s and early 1980s, I would understand. But this was also a time of slow growth, deep recessions and terrible asset returns. Inflation was hardly the only problem the U.S. economy was facing. So why does it stand out so strongly in our collective memory?

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It's not just police shootings that spark protests. It's the denial of justice.

    Another summer, and police killing black men -- both armed and unarmed -- has made the headlines again. This time, it's Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. Add those incidents to the horrific shooting of 12 police officers in Dallas, and it's clear we're seeing an escalating crisis.

    And that crisis is reflected by the outrage in the streets. From Los Angeles to Detroit to Birmingham to New York, places where they have been no recent police shootings, protesters demand action, and some Americans ask: Why?

    It's not the killings alone. It's the denial of justice, over and over, that follows.

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Food debate shows Congress is bad at regulating

    In recent years, Republicans have argued that Congress is a more responsible policymaker than the executive branch. But when it comes to regulation, Congress is often much worse, and for just one reason: Executive agencies almost always focus on both costs and benefits, and Congress usually doesn't.

    As a case in point, consider the Senate's recent vote, by a margin of 63-30, in favor of a new law to require national labels for foods containing genetically modified organisms. The House is expected to pass the bill in the near future. However popular it might be, the coming law would almost certainly fail the minimal requirements that American presidents -- from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama -- have imposed on federal regulators before they can finalize similar rules.

    Since 1981, federal agencies have been required to do two things: quantify the costs and benefits of regulatory requirements, and demonstrate that the benefits justify the costs. Congress did neither -- which is typical.

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Britain may prove even easier to buy off than ever before

    In fact, I get the logic. Theresa May's first set of appointments -- Liam Fox will become minister for international trade, David Davis will run the exit negotiations, and Boris Johnson will be foreign secretary -- make a lot of sense. She has put hard-line Brexit proponents in charge of negotiating Britain's retreat from European politics. It will be impossible, from now on, for anyone to argue that voters were cheated. If these three men can't manage the United Kingdom's divorce proceedings, then nobody can.

    At the same time, May has deftly eliminated an obvious source of internal disharmony. Like Barack Obama appointing Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, she has given her potentially most damaging critic a huge task that will prevent him from writing nasty articles in the Daily Telegraph. Johnson, bored and sidelined, would have had plenty of time to think up jokes about her and her government; now he'll be on a plane to Timbuktu instead.

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World War II goes on for Poland and Ukraine

    World War II isn't quite over in what historian Timothy Snyder called the Bloodlands. The nationalist government in Poland is eager to confront Ukraine about an ethnic cleansing episode in 1943, and the Ukrainian authorities, whose own nationalism is a sometimes violent reaction to Russian aggression, are torn between glorifying the perpetrators of those crimes and apologizing to the Poles, their closest allies in Europe.

    In the Volhynian massacre, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), the military wing of Stepan Bandera's Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, killed up to 100,000 Poles mainly in the Volhynia, or Volyn region that is part of today's western Ukraine but was part of Poland before World War II. The reasons the Ukrainian nationalists did this were twofold. Between the two world wars, Poland had oppressed Ukrainians living in the area, forcibly converting them to Catholicism and generally treating them as second-class citizens. And in 1943, many Volhynian Poles sympathized with the Red Army, which had turned the tide against Nazi Germany's onslaught, and cooperated with Moscow-backed guerrilla units.

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Why Utah's Planned Parenthood ban couldn't stand

    A federal appeals court has ordered Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, R, to reinstate contracts with the state's Planned Parenthood chapter. Herbert had unilaterally suspended the funds after the release last summer of misleading videos that purported to show unrelated Planned Parenthood officers discussing the sale of fetal tissue. The court said Herbert had likely violated the Utah chapter's free association rights and the right to abortion itself.

    The decision, reversing a federal district court judge based in Utah, is a useful reminder of why regional appeals courts are so valuable. And it also serves as a primer for the important judicial doctrine known as unconstitutional conditions, which prohibits the government from making the provision of a benefit conditional on that non-exercise of basic constitutional rights such as those found in the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

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They Were Never Close To Indicting Hillary

    Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear: specifically to September 1992, when Attorney General William P. Barr, top-ranking FBI officials, and -- believe it or not -- a Treasury Department functionary who actually sold "Presidential Bitch" T-shirts with Hillary Clinton's likeness from her government office, pressured the U.S. Attorney in Little Rock to open an investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton's Whitewater investment.

    The Arkansas prosecutor was Charles "Chuck" Banks, a Republican appointed by President Reagan, and recently nominated to a Federal judgeship by President George H.W. Bush. It was definitely in Banks' interest to see Bush re-elected.

    The problem was that Banks knew all about Madison Guaranty S&L and its screwball proprietor, Jim McDougal. His office had unsuccessfully prosecuted the Clintons' Whitewater partner for bank fraud. He knew perfectly well that McDougal had deceived them about their investment, just as he'd fooled everybody in a frantic fiscal juggling act trying to save his doomed thrift.

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July 17th

Millennials need a new bubble in the housing market

    To understand the slow-motion trends in single-family housing, start by looking at the oil market: It took years of oil priced around $100 a barrel to spur the investments that drove higher production, leading to the current supply-driven glut and prices closer to $50 a barrel. The levers of supply and demand worked, but they worked slowly -- as is happening in the housing market.

    Every year since 2009 we've been running a housing deficit: More housing for sale has been absorbed than built. With a glut of housing left over from the housing bubble and the great recession, it's logical that construction of new supply was subdued for a few years. But vacant inventory for sale normalized in 2012, and currently stands at a 12-year low. So why aren't builders building more? The pace of construction remains far below the rate of household creation.

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There's a reason black Americans say racism persists: The cops

    "Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?" Zora Neale Hurston defiantly crowed in 1928. She sounds almost denialist today, even though no one could even begin to call Hurston - who dedicated her life to chronicling black America in all of its richness and who wrote these words during a time when lynching was both tolerated and common -- insufficiently black or co-opted by any establishment, white or otherwise.

    Nowadays, some might wonder why more African Americans don't process racism the way she did: In a recent Pew poll, 41 percent of white Americans thought race was discussed too much these days, vs. 22 percent of black Americans.

    But when social media brings us video of the shooting deaths, by police, of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile within days of each other, the answer is staring us in the face. More than anything else, the reason black Americans say racism persists is this: the cops. (It's a tough message to hear so soon after five police officers were unconscionably killed in Dallas. Still, it's true.)

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The Problem with ‘Blue Lives Matter’

    We’re not long into summer, but already we’re long on tragedy. Police shootings of black men in Minnesota, Louisiana, and beyond. A mass shooting of police officers in Dallas.

    Yet this surplus of tragedy seems to have created some confusion. So let’s clear things up.

    There’s a difference between cops killing unarmed black people and the horrific murder of cops that just occurred in Dallas.

    I don’t wish to diminish the losses in Dallas, or the loss suffered any time a cop is killed. That’s a tragedy beyond words. But it’s still different from the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and so many other black men and women who’ve lost their lives at the hands of the police.

    Here’s how.

    The cops who killed Sterling and Castile were employed to protect the public. Sterling and Castile, in other words, paid the salaries of their own killers with their tax dollars. The murderer in Dallas, on the other hand, was no public servant.

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