Video Commentary: America's new place in the world

As the U.S. midterm election results highlight the nation’s deep political divide, global affairs columnist Peter Apps looks at the dilemma for G20 leaders trying to find the best way to deal with President Donald Trump’s foreign policy.

MORE COMMENTARY ON THE U.S. MIDTERMS

John Lloyd: A message that resonates across the Atlantic

David Andelman: A cautionary tale for Trump

Lincoln Mitchell: Why the Democrats didn’t do better

MORE FROM PETER APPS

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Opinion | What the Hell Happened to Brazil? (Wonkish)

I think I can now take some time off from the U.S. political crisis to talk about events elsewhere. So, as the headline says, what the hell happened to Brazil?

I’m actually not talking about the recent election, in which Brazil’s voters chose someone who appears to be an actual fascist. I’m as horrified as anyone else. However, I have no knowledge whatsoever of Brazilian politics. On the other hand, the backdrop to that election was Brazil’s extraordinary economic crisis of 2015-16: A nation that had been on an upward trajectory, that seemed to have shaken off the legacy of instability, suffered a terrible recession and is experiencing a very slow recovery. And macroeconomics is a subject I’m supposed to know something about.

So what happened? There has been surprisingly little international discussion of the Brazilian experience, even though it was very severe and Brazil is a pretty big economy (GDP at purchasing power parity about 10 times as large as Greece.) Maybe we’re all too distracted by the political crisis in the West — Trump, Brexit, etc. Anyway, I’ve been trying to put together a story of the Brazilian crisis, well aware that I may well be missing important aspects.

Here’s what it looks like to me: Brazil appears to have been hit by a perfect storm of bad luck and bad policy, with three main aspects. First, the global environment deteriorated sharply, with plunging prices for the commodity exports still crucial to the Brazilian economy. Second, domestic private spending also plunged, maybe because of an excessive buildup of debt. Third, policy, instead of fighting the slump, exacerbated it, with fiscal austerity and monetary tightening even as the economy was headed down.

Maybe the first thing to say about Brazil’s crisis is what it wasn’t. Over the past few decades those who follow international macroeconomics have grown more or less accustomed to “sudden stop” crises in which investors abruptly turn on a country they’ve loved not wisely but too well. That was the story of the Mexican crisis of 1994-5, the Asian crises of 1997-9, and, in important ways, the crisis of southern Europe after 2009. It’s also what we seem to be seeing in Turkey and Argentina now.

We know how this story goes: the afflicted country sees its currency depreciate (or, in the case of the euro countries, its interest rates soar). Ordinarily currency depreciation boosts an economy, by making its products more competitive on world markets. But sudden-stop countries have large debts in foreign currency, so the currency depreciation savages balance sheets, causing a severe drop in domestic demand. And policymakers have few good options: raising interest rates to prop up the currency would just hit demand from another direction.

But while you might have assumed that Brazil was a similar case — its 9 percent decline in real GDP per capita is comparable to that of sudden-stop crises of the past — it turns out that it isn’t. Brazil does not, it turns out, have a lot of debt in foreign currency, and currency effects on balance sheets don’t seem to be an important part of the story. What happened instead?

First of all, the global economic environment took a big turn for the worse. Brazil has diversified somewhat into manufactures, but it’s still heavily dependent on commodity exports, whose prices have plunged. As Figure 1 shows, Brazil’s terms of trade — the ratio of export to import prices — took a major hit.

This would have been nasty in any case. But it went along with a sharp fall in domestic consumer spending (Figure 2). Atif Mian and co-authors tell us that this was linked to a rise in household debt over the previous few years — that, Brazil experienced something more like the advanced-country debt deflation of 2008 than a traditional emerging-market crisis.

What really did Brazil’s economy in, however, was the way it responded to these shocks: with fiscal and monetary policy that made things much worse.

On the fiscal side: Brazil has big long-term solvency problems. But these require long-term solutions. What happened instead was that the Roussef government decided to impose sharp spending cuts in the middle of a slump. What were they thinking? Incredibly, it seems that they bought into the doctrine of expansionary austerity.

And on top of that, monetary policy also turned sharply contractionary, with a big rise in interest rates (Figure 3). What was that about?

As best I can figure out, what happened was that the real depreciated mainly because of that terms of trade shock, sending inflation temporarily higher (Figure 4). And the central bank panicked, fixating on the inflation issue at the expense of the real economy. Now that the currency-induced spike is over, inflation is actually low by historical standards, but the damage was done.

It’s a remarkable and depressing story. And this combination of bad luck and bad policy surely played a role in the political disaster that followed.

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Paul Krugman has been an Opinion columnist since 2000 and is also a Distinguished Professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. He won the 2008 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on international trade and economic geography. @PaulKrugman

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Commentary: A U.S. midterm message that resonates across the Atlantic

One of the major political messages of the U.S. midterm elections has been that rural voters dominate the cities. While the Democrats made enough gains in urban areas to take control of the House of Representatives, Republicans were able to expand their majority in the Senate, where each state gets two senators regardless of population size. In an election where neither side can claim a sweeping victory, President Donald Trump’s party did as well as it did because the small towns and the more sparsely populated rural areas of the United States are still, in the main, Trump country. Meanwhile, Democrat votes pile up in the cities, uselessly, from an electoral point of view.

There’s more to the observation than an urban-rural split, though it may be the most important. There’s the north-south divide, deep among Americans, but not confined to them. Britain too has long had one, between, in its case, northern areas often still suffering the effects of de-industrialization and mine closures, and a wealthy south-east, London embedded within it. So does Italy, with a wealthy, relatively dynamic north and a poor, sluggish, mafia-infested south. Both impact heavily on political choices. These divides depend, not on geography, but on where the wealth has concentrated – usually, over centuries.

The U.S. split is often thought to be a matter of racial history – a legacy from the Civil War that pitted the slave-owners of the South against the more industrialized north. But in the 21st century, it’s become more complex. In a deeply researched piece, the African-American writer Michael Harriot shows that actions (rather than words) often show the south similar to the north in matters of racism. He finds, for example, that blacks in southern states are hired slightly more often than the national average, and that while blacks are more likely than whites to be shot by police nationwide, they are slightly less likely to be shot in the south than in the north.

Where, arguably, the greater difference lies is in education. There the disparity is not racial – a black, Southern student is “more likely to receive an education closer to that of his or her white counterparts than in any other region in the country,” says Harriot – but geographic. Harriot states flatly that “the South has the worst schools. Full stop. Almost every education ranking shows it.”

Educational attainment, everywhere in the world, runs with the grain of the country-city split. That’s not so much because the best universities are always in urban areas – Harvard and Yale are in relatively small cities, as are Oxford and Cambridge in the UK – but their alumni cluster in the big metropolitan centers, push up housing costs, and push out the low-paid workers who service them.  

Education levels, like the city-country divide, have surged into prominence in these populist times. In the United States, college-educated voters are more likely to vote Democrat and recent Democratic presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were educated at elite universities like Georgetown, Oxford and Yale (Clinton) or Columbia and Harvard (Obama.) By contrast, the joint leaders of Italy’s populist government, Matteo Salvini and Luigi di Maio, attended university but never graduated. Nor did Jeremy Corbyn, the populist-left leader of Britain’s Labour Party. Theresa May, the Conservative Prime Minister, went to Oxford. French President Emmanuel Macron passed through ENA, one of France’s elite Grandes Écoles.

This education divide isn’t new. The 1968 U.S. presidential election saw the Republican victor Richard Nixon win smaller cities and the country, but lose most of the large cities. In a caustic comment, the columnist Murray Kempton wrote that “there seems no place larger than Peoria from which [Nixon] has not been beaten back. Richard Nixon is president of every place in this country which does not have a bookstore.”  

Why is this so? In part, the life of the country and of small towns is usually slower and more tradition-based than the cities, where change, especially from recent immigration surges, is constant. In London, Europe’s most ethnically diverse capital, successive waves of immigration – Huguenots (French Protestants), Jews, Irish, later West Indians, Pakistanis, Indians, later still Central European workers and Russian oligarchs – were building a highly diverse city from the 19th century, a movement which accelerated through the 20th into the 21st centuries.

This wasn’t a peaceful process. A fascist movement, the Blackshirts, staged anti-Jewish demonstrations in London’s East End in the 1930s. In 1968, workers from London’s docks marched in support of the Conservative politician Enoch Powell, who had forecast “rivers of blood” to flow from largescale West Indian immigration. In 1985, black youths rioted in the south London district of Brixton after the accidental shooting by police of a black woman.

Yet more recently, the UK capital seems to have become more comfortable with its ethnic jumble. Tending to vote left, it elected, in 2016, the son of a Muslim Pakistani immigrant family, the Labour politician Sadiq Khan, as mayor – a choice much derided by President Trump.

Europe’s city-country and educational splits all impact on elections, but, as in the United States, the issues of immigration, of identity and of relative deprivation now overlay, often exacerbate, the older divides. In Sweden, for example, migrants are blamed for crime and in Germany anti-immigrant riots have cast shadows on what was seen to be – and often still is – relatively trouble-free acceptance of many of the immigrants.

As in the United States, immigration remains a large motor of political turbulence. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s opening of the borders to immigrants caused splits in her center-right coalition, weakening her to the point where she is now likely to face a leadership challenge before she finishes her mandate in 2021.

The common element in all of these issues, in all Western countries, is a revolt, greater or lesser in extent, against rapid change, against liberal elites and against a loss of identity – white, in the main, but also of settled communities of past waves of immigrants. Populists, right to signal these concerns, are wrong to claim that answers are simple. But arguments of complexity are, in an impatient time, suspect. Divisions, not only in the United States, presently deepen.

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Opinion | America’s Small-Town Crisis

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From Bill Clinton’s first election through Barack Obama’s second, a Democrat won the western Ohio county that includes Dayton — Montgomery County — in all six presidential elections, including those that the party lost nationally.

But now the county has largely flipped to the Republicans. On Tuesday, Mike DeWine — Ohio’s governor-elect — won Montgomery narrowly, just as Donald Trump had two years ago. And the Dayton area’s drift is part of something much larger: Democrats are getting hammered outside of major metropolitan areas.

That’s the main reason Ohio has gone from being a swing state to a more clearly Republican one. (Trump won it by 8 percentage points in 2016.) It’s the main reason Democrats appear to have lost high-profile races this week in Florida, Georgia and Texas and why they also lost Senate seats in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

It’s a huge problem for the party. Democrats don’t need to win in most rural areas. But they do need to avoid losing by 50 or 60 percentage points, as they now often do in some of the counties near Dayton. And the party needs to win in more small and medium-sized cities and in more counties like Montgomery, which happens to be Ohio’s fifth most populated county.

If the party doesn’t do better in these places, it can still win presidential elections. But it will struggle mightily to retake the Senate, which next year could have as many as 54 Republican members. Without the Senate, ambitious federal legislation — to fight climate change, reduce inequality, expand voting rights and so on — will be impossible. Getting judges confirmed, including to the Supreme Court, will become very difficult.

The Democratic Party simply cannot write off nonmetropolitan America — and try to overwhelm it with a rising urban and suburban coalition.

So how can the party do better? For starters, it needs to try harder.

It should come up with a serious agenda to combat what Matt Stoller of the Open Markets Institute calls the “full-on crisis” in rural America. That crisis, he says, includes expensive health care, bad transportation options, job opportunities wrecked by chain stores, a struggling agriculture economy and, of course, the opioid epidemic. Tom Vilsack, the Democrat and former Iowa governor, has come up with a four-pillar rural strategy that’s based around agriculture, as Michael Tomasky pointed out in a Times Op-Ed this week.

Smaller cities don’t have all of these problems, but they do have many. I’d add one issue to these lists, which bedevils both rural America and smaller cities: educational opportunity. In a mini-essay about Ohio on Twitter yesterday, Alec MacGillis of ProPublica pointed out that the state’s investment in education has actually declined over the past decade.

“Ohio,” MacGillis writes, “has an astonishing array of these small cities and towns — all with handsome old courthouses, coherent downtowns and grand Victorians, and almost all of them in a condition that breaks your heart. And that’s not to mention the truly desperate rural areas of southern [and southeast] Ohio.”

It is possible for Democrats to do better in places like Dayton and in rural areas. On Tuesday night, they got to see a model — in Ohio. Senator Sherrod Brown won re-election with a populist, jobs-focused message that focuses on economic class, not cultural issues. He won Montgomery County by more than 11 percentage points. In Minnesota, Senator Amy Klobuchar, also a Democrat, won re-election by a landslide. In Iowa, Wisconsin and parts of the West, Democrats also figured out how to hold down their rural losses.

Labor unions played a role in many of these wins, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie notes. “Midwestern campaigns capitalized on still-existing labor infrastructure to mobilize union members and bring them back into the Democratic fold,” he writes.

I understand why talk of rural America often frustrates progressives: Rural America — which is, of course, overwhelmingly white — already has outsize political power in this country, thanks to the Senate, the Electoral College and the privileged role that Iowa and New Hampshire play in presidential elections. But life in rural areas and small cities hasn’t exactly been easy in recent years. In virtually every measurable way — incomes, wealth, education, health, longevity — large metropolitan areas have done better.

Democrats should, by all means, continue fighting for the issues that matter to metropolitan America, like civil rights. But there is a clear moral case for devoting more attention to small-town America at the same time. There is also a self-interested political case for Democrats.

Related: Doing better outside of major metropolitan areas would also help the party win more seats in state legislatures — which, as Bryce Covert notes in The Times, is where a lot of policy gets made. Her list includes the minimum wage, paid leave, clean energy, voting rights, criminal justice, gun safety and education.

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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt Facebook

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Thousand Oaks, Midterm Elections, Electronic Cigarettes: Your Friday Briefing

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Good morning.

Here’s what you need to know:

A disdain for the courts

The acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker, said in 2014 that the courts “are supposed to be the inferior branch” of government, and he criticized the Supreme Court’s power to review legislative and executive acts and to declare them unconstitutional.

Mr. Whitaker’s record has been under scrutiny since President Trump forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week. The acting chief has disparaged the special counsel investigation of Russian election interference, which he now oversees.

Business ties: Mr. Whitaker served on the board of a company that used his position as a former federal prosecutor to threaten consumers who tried to get their money back.

A final act: Before he was fired, Mr. Sessions ordered drastic limits on the ability of federal law enforcement to overhaul local police departments accused of abuses and civil rights violations.

Second brush with a mass shooting

The Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., where a gunman killed 12 people, was a popular hangout for country music fans, some of whom survived last year’s massacre at a festival in Las Vegas.

The gunman, Ian Long, 28, was found dead at the scene. He was a Marine Corps veteran who had served in Afghanistan, and mental health specialists had suspected he had post-traumatic stress disorder.

The victims: A longtime sheriff’s deputy was among those killed at the bar.

The laws: California has some of the strictest gun control measures in the country. The assailant used a .45-caliber handgun that had been purchased legally.

The industry: The Country Music Association Awards next week will be the second in a row to closely follow a mass shooting. While many entertainers have taken political stands in the last two years, the world of country music is more cautious.

Trump asserts power to block asylum claims

President Trump is expected to announce today which countries will fall under new national security rules that give him broad authority to deny asylum to virtually any migrant.

They are widely expected to affect people from Central America.

With the caravan: Our correspondent is traveling with migrants making their way through Mexico and toward the U.S. border.

The “Dreamers”: A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld a nationwide injunction against the Trump administration’s attempt to revoke deportation protections for some 700,000 people brought into the U.S. illegally as children.

Wondering who won

Georgia and Florida still can’t say for sure who won three top contests on Tuesday.

Officials are still counting absentee, provisional and overseas ballots in the two states’ races for governor as well as in Florida’s Senate contest.

The situation has unleashed hordes of lawyers, talk of recounts and runoffs, and the kind of bickering that brought back memories of the 2000 presidential election.

Turnout: Americans cast ballots on Tuesday at rates not seen in a midterm election in half a century. Here’s what the data tells us (and doesn’t yet).

A changing Congress: A record 34 women were newly elected to the House on Tuesday, beating a previous high set in 1992.

Listen to ‘The Daily’: How the Democrats Flipped the House

Warning of nationalism’s dangers

Dozens of world leaders, including President Trump, will be in France this weekend to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, wants to use the occasion to reinforce European unity and highlight the dangers of nationalism. But the event may highlight his increasing isolation.

Business

A federal judge in Montana blocked construction of the Keystone XL pipeline while the State Department provides a fuller explanation of how the 1,184-mile project would affect the environment.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to ban sales of most flavored e-cigarettes in retail stores and gas stations.

Google said it would end its practice of forced arbitration for claims of sexual harassment or assault.

We’re introducing a Sunday newsletter, “With Interest,” to bring you essential business insights to prep you for the week ahead. Sign up here.

U.S. stocks were mixed on Thursday. Here’s a snapshot of global markets today.

Smarter Living

Tips for a more fulfilling life.

The holiday season is almost here. Be a good gift-giver.

One thing to help the environment: Get active in your community. (And share your ideas here.)

Recipe of the day: End the week with a delicious pasta tossed in a broccoli-walnut pesto.

Noteworthy

Another (ancient) wave of migrants

New DNA findings lend astonishing detail to a story once lost to prehistory: how and when humans spread across the Western Hemisphere.

The week in good news

With the end of daylight saving time in the U.S., we talked to Marvin Schneider, who takes care of some of New York’s grandest public clocks. It’s one of seven stories that inspired us.

Quiz time!

Did you keep up with this week’s news? Test yourself.

Ready for the weekend

At the movies, we review “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” directed by Joel and Ethan Coen; the second installment in J.K. Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts” series; and “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (a.k.a. the one with the dragon tattoo). You can find all of this week’s film reviews here.

On TV, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa is the showrunner of “Riverdale” and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” He’s also “a John Hughes for a darker, more cynical, way more libidinous age.” Read our profile.

An Andy Warhol exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art is the artist’s first full American retrospective in 31 years. Our critic loved it.

A $35 million musical version of “King Kong” that opened on Thursday didn’t go down so well, though. “Aaaaaaaaargh” was one reviewer’s reaction.

We suggest 12 new books and, if you’re in New York City, a slate of cultural events.

Keeping a fluffy, fragile beast alive

A veterinarian said that rabbits, under stress, tended to die quickly. A couple hoped their rabbit — and their new love — would prove more resilient. Read this week’s Modern Love column.

Best of late-night TV

Stephen Colbert criticized Sarah Huckabee Sanders for circulating a misleadingly edited video of Jim Acosta of CNN: “That the White House press secretary is promoting this doctored video is reprehensible, and grounds for dismissal. Or as they call it in the Trump administration, Thursday.”

Quotation of the day

“He knew what he was doing. He had perfect form.”

Teylor Whittler, a survivor of the mass shooting at a California bar, describing the gunman.

The Times, in other words

Here’s an image of today’s front page, and links to our Opinion content and crossword puzzles.

What we’re reading

Randy Archibold, an editor in sports, recommends this piece from Sports Illustrated: “Lady Leadfoot had an affair with Steve McQueen. Lady Leadfoot hung out with Miles Davis. Lady Leadfoot wrote about sports in the 1950s at a time few women did. But more than anything, Lady Leadfoot raced cars, and raced them to victory. The journalist Amy Wallace captures the fascinating, pioneering life of Denise McCluggage.”

Back Story

Recently, a visitor has been paddling around a lake in New York’s Central Park: a brightly colored duck.

The duck, which quickly became a star on social media, is known as a yuānyang (鸳鸯) in China. In English, it’s a Mandarin duck. Why?

The fowl’s vibrant plumage recalls the dress of government bureaucrats centuries ago, called mandarins in the West. The same connection applied to the dialect those officials used. Even mandarin oranges got the linguistic overlay.

But mandarin is not a Chinese word. Its etymology is disputed.

Some say that during the Qing dynasty, visiting Westerners heard people calling government officials of the ruling class “mǎn dàrén” (满大人): Manchu for “big man” or “boss.”

Others say the term comes from “menteri,” Malay for “court councilor” or “minister,” and that the 16th-century Portuguese who used Malaysia as a steppingstone to China wrote it as “mandarin.”

The duck in Central Park has been solo, but in China, its cousins are believed to be lifelong couples. There is a saying: A pair of Mandarin ducks is more enviable than an immortal.

Amy Chang Chien wrote today’s back story. It was first published in our new Chinese-language Morning Briefing. (Sign-up for that here.)

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Opinion | Trump Said He Wants Tougher Gun Laws. Can a New Congress Help Get Them?

This is what it’s come to — there are now Americans who have lived through two gun massacres. Many of the people who were able to flee a California bar where a man shot dozens of people late Wednesday night had also survived an attack last year in which a gunman in a Las Vegas hotel fired down on a music festival, killing 58 people. But at least one of the Las Vegas survivors was among the dead at the bar.

The gunman on Wednesday opened fire in a crowded country-music bar, a popular hangout for local college students. He shot a security guard first and killed at least 12 people, including a sheriff’s deputy who responded to the attack. More than 20 were believed to have been wounded.

The carnage came just 11 days after the fatal shooting of 11 worshipers at synagogue in Pittsburgh, nine months after 17 people were gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Fla., one year after 26 were killed in a shooting spree at a church in Sutherland, Tex., and 13 months after the massacre in Las Vegas.

Americans are watching — and now some are even experiencing — versions of this same horror over and over, hoping that someone will eventually figure out how to break the cycle. Could that hero be President Trump and the House Democrats?

Perhaps.

This latest atrocity took place the day after an election that gave Democrats control of one chamber of Congress. Addressing the new political landscape on Wednesday, both President Trump and the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, emphasized how ready they were to cooperate on matters of shared concern. Ms. Pelosi said Democrats “have a responsibility to seek common ground where we can,” while Mr. Trump expressed enthusiasm for working in “a beautiful bipartisan-type situation.”

If Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Trump are sincere about coming together to fix problems the public cares about, there seems hardly a more pressing place to start than reducing gun violence.

This would not require much of a shift for Democrats. Ms. Pelosi had already planned an early push to tighten background checks for gun purchases — a move favored by a vast majority of Americans, including most National Rifle Association members. Other popular measures previously introduced in Congress, like raising the minimum purchase age to 21 from 18 or banning bump stocks, which convert guns to automatic weapons, could be revisited as well.

For his part, Mr. Trump has been erratic on the subject of gun safety. In February, post-Parkland, he held a memorable meeting with lawmakers at which he voiced support for a “comprehensive” package that included “powerful” background checks. He called for raising the minimum age for purchasing rifles, seemed open to a Democratic plan to ban assault weapons, and slammed Republican lawmakers for being “afraid of the N.R.A.”

When that upset the N.R.A., the president backpedaled. But clearly the impulse to do more lies somewhere inside of him, perhaps waiting for the right political moment to arise.

In Tuesday’s election results, there’s evidence that the moment is now. Dozens of candidates supported by gun-safety groups carried the day in states including Texas, Kansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Virginia. In Georgia’s typically Republican Sixth District, the Democrat, Lucy McBath, whose teenage son was fatally shot in 2012, won on a platform of combating gun violence. Washington State voters approved a ballot initiative aimed at imposing some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. Exit polling found that 60 percent of voters nationwide support tougher gun laws, while opposition hovers in the mid 30s.

This is not to say that this issue is no longer a core element in the endless red-blue culture war. And the N.R.A., which remains a rich, powerful force in our political system, certainly intends to keep it that way.

But Mr. Trump is the ideal president to tackle the issue. He enjoys the adoration of his party’s culturally conservative base to a degree few politicians even approach. If inclined, he could burn just a small fraction of that capital on promoting some of the common-sense gun measures desired by a majority of the electorate.

Better still, since Mr. Trump has a taste for combat and prides himself on shaking things up, what could be more disruptive than pressuring lawmakers to grow a spine and attack gun violence?

As legacies go, Mr. Trump — and Ms. Pelosi and her colleagues — could do far worse.

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Opinion | The Newest Jim Crow

In the midterms, Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize marijuana, Florida restored the vote to over 1.4 million people with felony convictions, and Louisiana passed a constitutional amendment requiring unanimous jury verdicts in felony trials. These are the latest examples of the astonishing progress that has been made in the last several years on a wide range of criminal justice issues. Since 2010, when I published “The New Jim Crow” — which argued that a system of legal discrimination and segregation had been born again in this country because of the war on drugs and mass incarceration — there have been significant changes to drug policy, sentencing and re-entry, including “ban the box” initiatives aimed at eliminating barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated people.

This progress is unquestionably good news, but there are warning signs blinking brightly. Many of the current reform efforts contain the seeds of the next generation of racial and social control, a system of “e-carceration” that may prove more dangerous and more difficult to challenge than the one we hope to leave behind.

Bail reform is a case in point. Thanks in part to new laws and policies — as well as actions like the mass bailout of inmates in New York City jails that’s underway — the unconscionable practice of cash bail is finally coming to an end. In August, California became the first state to decide to get rid of its cash bail system; last year, New Jersey virtually eliminated the use of money bonds.

But what’s taking the place of cash bail may prove even worse in the long run. In California, a presumption of detention will effectively replace eligibility for immediate release when the new law takes effect in October 2019. And increasingly, computer algorithms are helping to determine who should be caged and who should be set “free.” Freedom — even when it’s granted, it turns out — isn’t really free.

Under new policies in California, New Jersey, New York and beyond, “risk assessment” algorithms recommend to judges whether a person who’s been arrested should be released. These advanced mathematical models — or “weapons of math destruction” as data scientist Cathy O’Neil calls them — appear colorblind on the surface but they are based on factors that are not only highly correlated with race and class, but are also significantly influenced by pervasive bias in the criminal justice system.

As O’Neil explains, “It’s tempting to believe that computers will be neutral and objective, but algorithms are nothing more than opinions embedded in mathematics.”

Challenging these biased algorithms may be more difficult than challenging discrimination by the police, prosecutors and judges. Many algorithms are fiercely guarded corporate secrets. Those that are transparent — you can actually read the code — lack a public audit so it’s impossible to know how much more often they fail for people of color.

Even if you’re lucky enough to be set “free” from a brick-and-mortar jail thanks to a computer algorithm, an expensive monitoring device likely will be shackled to your ankle — a GPS tracking device provided by a private company that may charge you around $300 per month, an involuntary leasing fee. Your permitted zones of movement may make it difficult or impossible to get or keep a job, attend school, care for your kids or visit family members. You’re effectively sentenced to an open-air digital prison, one that may not extend beyond your house, your block or your neighborhood. One false step (or one malfunction of the GPS tracking device) will bring cops to your front door, your workplace, or wherever they find you and snatch you right back to jail.

Who benefits from this? Private corporations. According to a report released last month by the Center for Media Justice, four large corporations — including the GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies — have most of the private contracts to provide electronic monitoring for people on parole in some 30 states, giving them a combined annual revenue of more than $200 million just for e-monitoring. Companies that earned millions on contracts to run or serve prisons have, in an era of prison restructuring, begun to shift their business model to add electronic surveillance and monitoring of the same population. Even if old-fashioned prisons fade away, the profit margins of these companies will widen so long as growing numbers of people find themselves subject to perpetual criminalization, surveillance, monitoring and control.

Who loses? Nearly everyone. A recent analysis by a Brookings Institution fellow found that “efforts to reduce recidivism through intensive supervision are not working.” Reducing the requirements and burdens of community supervision, so that people can more easily hold jobs, care for children and escape the stigma of criminality “would be a good first step toward breaking the vicious incarceration cycle,” the report said.

Many reformers rightly point out that an ankle bracelet is preferable to a prison cell. Yet I find it difficult to call this progress. As I see it, digital prisons are to mass incarceration what Jim Crow was to slavery.

If you asked slaves if they would rather live with their families and raise their own children, albeit subject to “whites only signs,” legal discrimination and Jim Crow segregation, they’d almost certainly say: I’ll take Jim Crow. By the same token, if you ask prisoners whether they’d rather live with their families and raise their children, albeit with nearly constant digital surveillance and monitoring, they’d almost certainly say: I’ll take the electronic monitor. I would too. But hopefully we can now see that Jim Crow was a less restrictive form of racial and social control, not a real alternative to racial caste systems. Similarly, if the goal is to end mass incarceration and mass criminalization, digital prisons are not an answer. They’re just another way of posing the question.

Some insist that e-carceration is “a step in the right direction.” But where are we going with this? A growing number of scholars and activists predict that “e-gentrification” is where we’re headed as entire communities become trapped in digital prisons that keep them locked out of neighborhoods where jobs and opportunity can be found.

If that scenario sounds far-fetched, keep in mind that mass incarceration itself was unimaginable just 40 years ago and that it was born partly out of well-intentioned reforms — chief among them mandatory sentencing laws that liberal proponents predicted would reduce racial disparities in sentencing. While those laws may have looked good on paper, they were passed within a political climate that was overwhelmingly hostile and punitive toward poor people and people of color, resulting in a prison-building boom, an increase in racial and class disparities in sentencing, and a quintupling of the incarcerated population.

Fortunately, a growing number of advocates are organizing to ensure that important reforms, such as ending cash bail, are not replaced with systems that view poor people and people of color as little more than commodities to be bought, sold, evaluated and managed for profit. In July, more than 100 civil rights, faith, labor, legal and data science groups released a shared statement of concerns regarding the use of pretrial risk assessment instruments; numerous bail reform groups, such as Chicago Community Bond Fund, actively oppose the expansion of e-carceration.

If our goal is not a better system of mass criminalization, but instead the creation of safe, caring, thriving communities, then we ought to be heavily investing in quality schools, job creation, drug treatment and mental health care in the least advantaged communities rather than pouring billions into their high-tech management and control. Fifty years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned that “when machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” We failed to heed his warning back then. Will we make a different choice today?

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Michelle Alexander became a New York Times columnist in 2018. She is a civil rights lawyer and advocate, legal scholar and author of “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” 

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Opinion | Don’t Lease Our Treasured Parklands

To the Editor:

Re “Trump Fracking Boom Imperils Landscape of American West” (front page, Oct. 28):

Our national parks are protected for all of us, forever. Yet what legacy is this administration leaving for our children and grandchildren when it threatens our treasured lands with industrial oil and gas development?

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke must not lease first and ask questions later. This administration should reclaim tools to meet our energy needs without sacrificing our heritage.

Smart planning helped preserve the $294 million tourism economy near Arches and Canyonlands while allowing development to continue where appropriate, when business owners and community members, Park Service leaders and conservationists, tribes and other stakeholders helped shape a plan. When the administration listens only to industry, the rest of us lose.

Secretary Zinke still has time to pivot to conservation, but the clock is ticking, and the future of our irreplaceable parks and public lands remains in the balance.

Theresa Pierno
Washington
The writer is president and chief executive of the National Parks Conservation Association.

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Opinion | What the Working Class Is Still Trying to Tell Us

I was ready for massive Democratic turnout for the election on Tuesday. But I was surprised how massive the Republican turnout was in response.

The Republicans who flooded to the polls weren’t college-educated suburbanites. Those people voted for Democrats this year.

They weren’t tax-cut fanatics. Half of the Republican members of the House Ways and Means Committee either left Congress, ran for other offices or were defeated.

They weren’t even small-government Republicans. The same red states that elected conservatives to office also — in Nebraska, Idaho and Utah — approved ballot initiatives to expand Medicaid. The same red states that elected conservatives also approved initiatives — in Arkansas and Missouri — to raise the minimum wage.

These were high-school-educated, working-class Republicans.

A lot of us pundits said Donald Trump should run a positive campaign bragging about all the economic growth. But Trump ran another American carnage campaign. That’s because American life still feels like carnage to many.

This is still a country in which nearly 20 percent of prime-age American men are not working full time. This is still a country in which only 37 percent of adults expect children to be better off financially than they are. This is still a country in which millions of new jobs are through “alternative work arrangements” like contracting or consulting — meaning no steady salary, no predictable hours and no security.

Working-class voters tried to send a message in 2016, and they are still trying to send it. The crucial question is whether America’s leaders will listen and respond.

One way to start doing that is to read Oren Cass’s absolutely brilliant new book, “The Once and Future Worker.” The first part of the book is about how we in the educated class have screwed up labor markets in ways that devalued work and made it harder for people in the working class to find a satisfying job.

Part of the problem is misplaced priorities. For the last several decades, American economic policy has been pinioned on one goal: expanding G.D.P. We measure G.D.P. We talk incessantly about economic growth. Between 1975 and 2015, American G.D.P. increased threefold. But what good is that growth if it means that a thick slice of America is discarded for efficiency reasons?

Similarly, for the last several decades American, welfare policy has focused on consumption — giving money to the poor so they can consume more. Yet we have not successfully helped poor people produce more so that they can take control of their own lives. We now spend more than $20,000 a year in means-tested government spending per person in poverty. And yet the average poverty rate for 2000 to 2015 was higher than it was for 1970 to 1985.

“What if people’s ability to produce matters more than how much they can consume?” Cass asks.

The bulk of his book is a series of ideas for how we can reform labor markets.

For example, Cass supports academic tracking. Right now, we have a one-size-fits-all education system. Everybody should go to college. The problem is that roughly one-fifth of our students fail to graduate high school in four years; roughly one-fifth take no further schooling after high school; roughly one-fifth drop out of college; roughly one-fifth get a job that doesn’t require the degree they just earned; and roughly one-fifth actually navigate the path the system is built around — from school to career.

We build a broken system and then ask people to try to fit into the system instead of tailoring a system around people’s actual needs.

Cass suggests that we instead do what nearly every other affluent nation does: Let students, starting in high school, decide whether they want to be on an apprenticeship track or an academic track. Vocational and technical schools are ubiquitous across the developed world, and yet that model is mostly rejected here.

Cass also supports worker co-ops. Today, we have an old, adversarial labor union model that is inappropriate for the gig economy and uninteresting to most private-sector workers. But co-ops, drawing on more successful models used in several European nations, could represent workers in negotiations, train and retrain workers as they moved from firm to firm and build a safety net for periods of unemployment. Shopping for a worker co-op would be more like buying a gym membership. Each co-op would be a community and service provider to address a range of each worker’s needs.

Cass has many other proposals — wage subsidies, immigration reforms. But he’s really trying to put work, and the dignity of work, at the center of our culture and concern. In the 1970s and 1980s, he points out, the Emmy Award-winning TV shows were about blue-collar families: “All in the Family,” “Taxi,” “Cheers,” “The Wonder Years.” Now the Emmy-winning shows are mostly about white-collar adults working in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston, New York and Washington.

We in the college-educated sliver have built a culture, an economy and a political system that are all about ourselves. It’s time to pass labor market reforms that will make life decent for everybody.

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David Brooks has been a columnist with The Times since 2003. He is the author of “The Road to Character” and the forthcoming book “The Committed Life: When You Give Yourself Away.”

 

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U.S. pot firm Harvest eyes listing at $1.5 billion valuation: sources

TORONTO (Reuters) – U.S. cannabis retailer Harvest Enterprises Inc is set to raise $230 million (C$303 million) in a deal that would value the company at about $1.5 billion when it goes public in Toronto as early as next week, people familiar with the situation told Reuters on Thursday.

The Tempe, Arizona-based company had initially targeted $50 million through the offer, but increased the deal value to $230 million in response to strong demand, the people said. The offer, which is set to be priced at $6.55 per subscription receipt, is expected to close as early as this week. A subscription receipt can be exchanged for shares when the company goes public.

An external spokesman for the company declined to comment on the details of the offering. The sources declined to be identified as the information is not public.

Harvest plans to list on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE) through a reverse takeover (RTO).

“The level of interest is high,” the company’s chief executive, Steven White, a former lawyer who helped found Harvest in 2011, told Reuters.

While federal illegality currently casts a shadow over the U.S. market, “everybody understands that the U.S. market is going to be the biggest market globally in the foreseeable future,” he added.

The United States is expected to account for over three-quarters of global legal cannabis sales over the next three years, according to Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics.

A raft of U.S-based cannabis retailers and producers have opted to go public in Canada to fund their rapid growth as access to capital remains tight for the industry in the United States.

Harvest’s competitors, including Medmen Enterprises (MMEN.CD), Green Thumb Industries (GTII.CD) and Curaleaf Holdings (CURA.CD), have all listed on the CSE this year through reverse takeovers.

An RTO allows a company to go public by rolling into a listed shell corporation, which typically has a faster timeline than a traditional initial public offering.

Harvest expects to have about 16 stores open by the end of 2018 and 50 by 2019, from nine now, according to a confidential investor presentation document reviewed by Reuters.

Harvest projects earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $226 million on revenue of $559 million in 2020, the presentation showed. Its valuation multiple, at about 6.7 times the projected 2020 EBITDA, is lower than some of its peers.

Curaleaf’s offering last month valued it at $4 billion, or 12.4 times its projected 2020 EBITDA.

Cannabis stocks received an added boost this week on voter approvals of medical cannabis in Missouri and Utah and recreational marijuana in Michigan, and on the firing of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a staunch opponent of federal legalization.

Eight Capital, GMP Securities and Canaccord Genuity are the lead banks advising Harvest.

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