Archive

  • Could the Ferguson Conflict Produce Actual Reform on The Limits of Policing?

    Flickr/Elvert Barnes
    Every once in a while, a dramatic news story can actually produce real reform. More often the momentum peters out once the story disappears from the news (remember how Sandy Hook meant we were going to get real gun control?), but it can happen. And now, after the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missiouri, turned to a chaotic nightmare of police oppression, we may have an opportunity to examine, and hopefully reverse, a troubling policy trend of recent years. The focus has now largely turned from an old familiar story (cops kill unarmed black kid) to a relatively unfamiliar one, about the militarization of the police. The images of officers dressed up like RoboCop, driving around in armored assault vehicles, positioning snipers to aim rifles at protesters, and firing tear gas and rubber bullets at Americans standing with their hands up saying "Don't shoot!" has lots of Americans asking how things got this way. This issue offers the rarest of all things, an...
  • Education Alone Is Not the Answer to Income Inequality and Slow Recovery

    Chris Ison/PA Wire via AP Images
    O ur economy is now five years into an economic recovery, yet the wages of most Americans are flat. For the entire period between 1979 and 2013, median worker wages rose by just 7.9 percent while the economy’s growth and productivity rose 64.9 percent. The top one percent has made off with nearly all of the economy’s gains since 2000. I s there nothing that can be done to improve this picture? To hear a lot of economists tell the story, the remedy is mostly education. It’s true that better-educated people command higher earnings. But it’s also the case that the relative premium paid to college graduates has been declining in recent years. If everyone in America got a PhD, the job market would not be transformed. Mainly, we’d have a lot of frustrated, over-educated people. The current period of widening inequality, after all, is one during which more and more Americans have been going to college. Conversely, the era of broadly distributed prosperity in the three decades after World War...
  • Trying to Learn From Criticism, Even When It's Misguided or Rude

    This gentleman has a quibble. (Flickr/Craig Sunter)
    Writing about politics for a living is a terrific job, the best I've ever had. But one of the things that comes with the territory is that because you put your work in front of the public, anyone is free to criticize that work, which sometimes includes not just saying "I disagree with you about this," but also saying, "You're scum and I hope you die." As a man I'm generally spared the rape and death threats that women writers endure, and on the whole the criticism I get doesn't bother me too much. It may not be particularly pleasant to be told you're a fool, regardless of who's doing the telling, but I developed a pretty thick skin for that kind of thing a long time ago. The question that's concerning me at the moment, though, is how one should handle a wave of criticism when you think that there might be glimmers of merit in it, even if you're convinced that 99 percent of it is crap. In the last week or so I've been on the receiving end of two such waves (mostly on Twitter), and I'm...
  • Why It's So Idiotic to Complain When the President Takes a Vacation

    History's greatest American, attending to matters of state. (White House photo)
    There are a lot of stupid ways people attack presidents from the other party, but there can't be that many as stupid as the complaint that he takes too many vacations. Since Obama is now on Martha's Vineyard, despite the fact that there are things going on in the world, the volume of these complaints has grown, like the inevitable rise of the tide. Conservatives are in full on mockery mode (did you know he plays golf!!!), and the press is getting into the act as well. For instance, the Washington Post 's Dana Milbank took on the vacation issue in a piece colorfully titled "Obama Vacations As the World Burns," explaining that "Even presidents need down time, and Obama can handle his commander-in-chief duties wherever he is. But his decision to proceed with his getaway just 36 hours after announcing the military action in Iraq risks fueling the impression that he is detached as the world burns." That pretty much sums up the problem with how the press discusses this issue. There's no...
  • Robin Williams and the Weight of Being Famous

    Flickr/Ron Henry
    As you've no doubt heard by now, Robin Williams reportedly committed suicide yesterday at his home in California. It's a horrible tragedy whenever someone's life has become so painful that they decide that death is preferable to life. I couldn't help but think of a brief interaction I had with Williams about twenty years ago, one that now seems even more poignant. It was in a small bookstore in San Francisco, where I was living at the time. I was browsing with my then-girlfriend, when I spotted Williams at the other end of the store, maybe twenty feet away. I went up to my girlfriend and whispered, "Hey, look who's over there." She turned to look, and the movement of her head must have caught his eye, because he glanced up, to find us both staring at him. At that point a look of profound sadness came over his face, and I felt horribly guilty —here he was, just trying to enjoy a moment as a human being and not a Famous Person, and we stole the moment from him by gawking. It was one of...
  • Enough With 'Raising Awareness' Already

    Awareness: raised. (Flickr/charlie)
    And now, for your morning dose of curmudgeonly griping, I ask: Can we do away with "raising awareness" already? I suppose because I don't spend as much time on Facebook as many people, I just found out today about the "ice bucket challenge," wherein you challenge people to either pour a bucket of ice over their heads or donate to charity. It apparently started among people looking to raise awareness about ALS, and of course money. Here's a bit of explanation from Think Progress : The rules are simple: Players have 24 hours to either to pour a bucket of ice cold water over their head on camera or contribute money to the charity of their choice. After they’ve made their decision, they appoint three more people to do the same. The “ice bucket challenge” has taken social media by storm and shed light on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a genetic disorder also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Martha Stewart, Lance Bass, Matt Lauer and other notable stars have taken part in the challenge...
  • Thoughtful, Prudent and Faltering: The Paradox of Obama

    Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
    (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama meets with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2014. N ew York Times columnist Tom Friedman's extended interview with President Obama shed some light on how Obama can be well-informed, thoughtful, prudent—yet still be seen as faltering as a foreign policy president. If you compare Obama with George W. Bush (OK — a low bar), Obama wins, hands down. Unlike Bush, Obama inhabits the reality-based foreign policy space, with no apologies. Unlike Bush, he has no messianic zealots among his advisers. He gives the kind of well-considered responses that suggest a president who carefully engages with truly difficult policy conundrums. Yet at the end of the day, he often comes across as vacillating and indecisive—an impression that can be fatal in his dealings with allies, adversaries, and, of course, any electorate. In the case of Iraq and ISIL's murderous assault on religious minorities and rivals, not to...
  • If Having a Foreign Policy Doctrine Is So Important, Why Won't Hillary Clinton Spell Hers Out?

    Official State Department Photo
    J effrey Golberg has an interview with Hillary Clinton which is being billed as a rebuke of, or maybe a distancing from, her old boss, Barack Obama. While you'll probably think that an overstatement when you read the transcript, she does express a desire for a foreign policy "doctrine" of her own, even if she doesn't actually deliver it. While there are a few unsettling things in the interview (her comments on Israel could have come from Bibi Netanyahu himself), the doctrine question is worth paying attention to. As I've argued before , President Obama doesn't have a foreign policy doctrine, and that's by design. He explicitly rejected the idea that it was necessary to have some kind of bumper-sticker-ready idea guiding all his foreign policy decisions, a single phrase or sentence that sums up everything he'd be doing in foreign affairs. Even though doctrines don't have a particularly good track record of late, in this interview, Clinton says that a doctrine is necessary (though she...
  • The New York Times Finally Comes Around on "Torture"

    An enhanced interrogation chair from the Inquisition. (Flickr/Anguskirk)
    The New York Times has finally decided, only a decade or so too late, that it will now use the word "torture" to describe the torture techniques used during the Bush years by the United States government on prisoners believed to be connected to terrorism. While we should certainly be glad that they've finally come around, the statement by Executive Editor Dean Baquet explaining their decision shows just how wrongheaded the editors' thinking this issue has been all along. You should read the whole thing (it's pretty brief), but here are some particularly troubling parts: When the first revelations emerged a decade ago, the situation was murky. The details about what the Central Intelligence Agency did in its interrogation rooms were vague. The word "torture" had a specialized legal meaning as well as a plain-English one. While the methods set off a national debate, the Justice Department insisted that the techniques did not rise to the legal definition of "torture." The Times described...
  • The Inevitability of Republican Reactions

    This is never going to be Barack Obama and John Boehner. It just isn't. (Flickr/RayMorris1)
    Ron Fournier of the National Journal has become (to liberal bloggers anyway) the embodiment of multiple sins of the Washington press corps. Most notably, there's the High Broderism, in which the blame for every problem is apportioned in precisely equal measure to both parties, and the embrace of the Green Lantern theory of the presidency , in which anything can be accomplished, including winning over a recalcitrant opposition, by a simple act of will from the Oval Office. The latter's most comical manifestation is Fournier's frequent pleas for President Obama to "lead," with the content of said "leadership" almost always left undetailed (though one suspects it might involve giving a great speech, after which Republicans would decide to come together with Democrats to solve the nation's problems). Though lately I've been trying to limit my pundit-bashing to once or twice a month, I couldn't overlook this passage in Fournier's latest column expressing his dismay that Obama might take...

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