Commentary - Archive 2013

December 8, 2013

President Obama this week repeated an earlier call to raise the minimum wage as part of a larger effort to fix persistent problems in the economy. But the president should go further: He should create a federal job guarantee for all citizens.

December 4, 2013

America’s workers would not be subjected to low wage jobs if they were assured of employment at non-poverty wages. Maintenance of full employment with available jobs offering livable wages would accomplish that goal. To get from here to there would require the United States to comply with the terms of an existing law, the Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act of 1978.

December 3, 2013

Three weeks ago, the NC Dream Team, a group of undocumented high-school students, launched a petition and phone campaign directed at N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper, the UNC Board of Governors and the N.C. Community College System to demand in-state tuition.

November 24, 2013

In an effort to keep educational costs in check, America’s cash-strapped states, local school districts and charter schools are hiring less costly novice teachers. I understand that Pittsburgh Public Schools may soon be among them. Superintendent Linda Lane has said she hopes to find new college grads in the two-year Teach for America program to help fill 15 to 30 teaching vacancies next fall.

November 8, 2013

At a time when Americans seem obsessed by the sanctity and immutability of their borders, you have to wonder how the government could essentially lose track of a chunk of American soil. You also have to wonder why we are cutting off new patches of American land again today through another construction project along the Rio Grande: the 18-foot-high border fence with Mexico.

November 7, 2013

Last week, Duke Professor of Public Policy and Political Science Bruce Jentleson held his first Google Hangout with the students of his 21st Century American Foreign Policy online course —a MOOC (Massive Open Online Class) run through the Coursera consortium that kicked off on October 20.

November 6, 2013

Education research clearly documents that investments in early childhood programs are among the smartest investments that states can make.  

November 2, 2013

If an antibiotic would cure your infection, your doctor would probably still warn you about the chance of sun sensitivity before prescribing the pill.

October 31, 2013

A seemingly compassionate bill now before Congress aims to help orphaned children in low-income countries. If you want to understand why it is deeply flawed, you need to know about Pisey.

October 10, 2013

Last week, a small group of extravagantly wealthy Americans shut down our federal government. They weren't lobbyists. They weren't big campaign donors. The millionaires who shuttered our civil institutions didn't have to buy influence from our politicians. The millionaires who shut down Washington are our politicians.

October 1, 2013

Could you raise $650,000 by next summer?

If your answer is “probably not,” you probably won’t be running for the House of Representatives in 2014. Last year, House candidates had to raise an average of $650,000 to finance their campaigns.

They aren’t alone. In the Senate, the average was almost $3 million. The 16 major candidates for the presidency raised an average of $85 million.

September 5, 2013

As we should, our nation will pause for the twelfth time next week to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks and reflect on the heroism and dedication of those who have sacrificed their lives to save the innocent and fight the battles resulting from these attacks.

August 19, 2013

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel repeatedly phoned Egyptian General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi urging a peaceful transition — Sisi refused. President Barack Obama has repeatedly called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave – he’s still there. We’ve said we want the Bahraini monarchy to reform – it hasn’t. Countless American officials have pushed Afghan President Hamid Karzai to get his act together – he hasn’t.

What’s going on? Is the problem one of inherent limits to American power in today’s world? Or the Obama administration misplaying the power it has?

August 6, 2013

The front page of today’s Washington Post print edition was dominated by coverage of the paper’s sale to Jeff Bezos. But a small story squeezed onto the bottom of the page, about the world’s first lab-grown hamburger, also gave some insight into what’s ahead for the legendary paper — and perhaps the rest of the news business.

July 31, 2013

Ninety-five percent joblessness for teen black male dropouts? That estimate, from Northeastern University's Andrew Sum, borders on the fantastic as an indictment of the American labor market.

July 23, 2013

Watching the free-for-all in Washington over immigration reform, it’s easy to conclude that an airtight border has always been our national goal.

After all, the unmistakable message behind the bevy of border-security measures in the immigration bill, which was approved last month by the Senate and now sits in the House, is that a country that can’t prevent foreigners from swarming unchecked across the land border is in serious jeopardy.

July 17, 2013

Could you raise $650,000 by next summer?

If your answer is "probably not," you probably won't be running for the House of Representatives in 2014. Last year, House candidates had to raise an average of $650,000 to finance their campaigns.

July 10, 2013

Oregon’s “Pay It Forward” program may eliminate up-front payment of tuition and fees. But it would not eliminate all student debt, nor necessarily widen access to higher education.

The authors of the plan argue that this is better than student loans because it does not require a predetermined payment, with interest, to a bank, and because payments are based on the ability to pay. There are several flaws with this plan.

June 26, 2013

President Barack Obama has called for a renewed focus on the challenge of addressing climate change, using a speech at Georgetown University on June 25 to provide a broad outline of actions his administration will take in the coming years.

June 17, 2013

The virtues and vices of 1960s liberalism are on striking display in Bancroft-Prize winning historian James Patterson’s The Eve of Destruction: How 1965 Transformed America. And as Patterson deftly shows, the extremes were fused into the presidential administration as well as personal character of Lyndon Baines Johnson.

June 17, 2013

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that merely isolating a DNA sequence does not make it eligible to patent, the question arises, “What will happen to the crucially important data accumulated by an overly broad monopoly?”

The answer to this question has implications for people who may have an inherited risk for breast and ovarian cancer and to the scientists who hope to use that data for life-saving decisions about cancer surgery.

June 17, 2013

In the 1969 Supreme Court ruling Alexander vs. Holmes County Board of Education, a unanimous court ruled that a Mississippi school district "terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools."

The ruling, a mandate for non-compliant segregationists, was supposed to finally reverse the tide of Jim Crow era "separate and unequal" education.

June 6, 2013

The summit between Barack Obama and Xi Jinping is a huge - and challenging - opportunity. Domestic, regional and global factors are making the current situation a strategic inflection point, writes Bruce W. Jentleson.

Having been in Beijing in April for a conference and for the past month in Australia giving a series of lectures and engaging with regional strategists, I have even more of a sense of these intersecting inflection points.

June 4, 2013

The Obama administration deserves praise for its recent strong support for greater investments in early childhood education. With reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind in its current incarnation) stalled in Congress, and the many valid concerns about narrow test-based initiatives that do nothing to address the challenges of children from disadvantaged families, this new direction is a welcome change. In addition, it has the potential be a winner because it should gain the support of both Republicans and Democrats.

May 31, 2013

If you are a parent of one of the 50 million public schoolchildren in the United States, the odds are your child has taken a standardized test within the past few weeks. The odds also suggest that you took such a test yourself once upon a time, though probably not as early or as often as your kids. You and your children have the federal No Child Left Behind Act to thank for the modern ubiquity of standardized testing.

May 29, 2013

Recent news reports make clear that the Republican supermajority in the North Carolina General Assembly is getting many of its worst ideas for how to change our state from the Washington, D.C.-based American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Every citizen needs to know more about ALEC and its stealth efforts to undermine our modern-day democracy.

As a U.S. historian, I am deeply alarmed at the growing power of this secretive body, founded by the longtime right-wing strategist Paul Weyrich in 1973 and bankrolled by some of the largest corporations in America.

May 24, 2013

In his speech at the National Defense University, President Obama made his most impassioned and compelling argument to date about the need to close the prison for wartime detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

But logic and presidential will are not enough to achieve this goal. It will take an intense effort by the administration, cooperation from international partners, bipartisan congressional support and perhaps forceful assertion of presidential prerogatives to get this done in Obama’s second term. It is difficult to see how all these pieces will fall into place.

May 18, 2013

I suspect I'm not the only one who, as contributor to and consumer of foreign policy debates, at times wonders about our value added.

For all the urgent issues of the day, do we lose sight of deeper, more fundamental ones? And to the extent that we do address some, is it so within the bounds of conventional wisdom as to crowd out real wisdom?

We can learn a lot in both regards from the youth of the world. The questions they're asking are inspiring. The answers they're providing are humbling.

May 16, 2013

In a nutshell, there are two important lessons to learn from the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.

May 16, 2013

The Justice Department's subpoena of Associated Press reporters' phone records undoubtedly raises important First Amendment issues. But from the media's coverage of this incident, you would think that there were absolutely no countervailing interests, that the law was clearly on the media's side, and that what the Justice Department did was blatantly unethical and wrong. This just isn't the case.

May 8, 2013

The Department of Defense has requested $170 million to upgrade the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in next year's budget, but no amount of money will repair the government's irrational terrorism detention policy that is collapsing even more quickly than the dilapidated facility in which the hunger striking detainees are housed.

May 7, 2013

I was one of three panelists invited to speak at an American Institute seminar last week. The question we were asked to address was an intriguing one: not are banks “too big to fail,” which has become so common a term that most people recognize its TBTF acronym, but are banks “too big to tolerate.”

April 29, 2013

Last week Nation Multimedia Group hosted a debate between Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong and former finance minister of the Abhisit administration, Korn Chatikavanij. The debate was billed as "competing visions on the nation's future".

April 24, 2013

Discussion of the Boston bombing case is now into full 20-20 hindsight mode trying to figure out why we did not prevent Tamerlan Tsarnaev from executing the attack when the government had been alerted to his potential radicalization two years ago. There are probably important policy lessons to be learned from this incident -- but it is far too easy for politicians and commentators to lay blame on keystone cops who shirked their responsibilities and bureaucrats who refused to share information with each other.

April 22, 2013

Some politicians and pundits are agitating for the captured Boston Marathon bomber to be declared an enemy combatant, sent to Guantanamo, and tried in a military commission. But the only legal, pragmatic, and effective way to handle this situation is to conduct a lengthy interrogation of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and then prosecute him in United States federal court.

April 22, 2013

Virtually every college with a dormitory gives its students the chance to play sports. Doing so enriches the educational experience by teaching important life lessons. And it’s smart marketing to boot, because a lot of students want to play sports in college. So I doubt if many colleges will emulate a decision by Spelman that was surely driven by serious financial strain.

April 18, 2013

Words can’t describe the events that transpired on Monday afternoon in Boston. What began as a beautiful, jovial, and exciting day, quickly transformed into chaos, confusion, and utter horror. While I will never understand or know what it was like to be there when those first two explosions occurred, the atrocious nature and closeness of this event impacted me in a way that I know at least 26,000 other people share.  I was one of the runners.

April 18, 2013

British Web engineer Simon Holliday operates a word association website. The site gives you a word and asks you to type in the first thing that comes to mind. The statistics for the word "immigrant" are revealing. The most common user entry is "illegal." The second is "Mexican."

This probably comes as no surprise to anyone paying attention to current debates over immigration policy. What might come as a surprise is that these words are rapidly losing their relevance.

April 17, 2013

While the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon has brought concerns about terrorism back to the forefront of national attention, it is worth remembering that terrorism inside the United States is exceedingly rare. Over the past 40 years, just over 3 people on average have been killed by acts of terrorism per year (remove 9/11, and the average is 1.4 deaths per year).

April 11, 2013

Everyone agrees that we don't want criminals to get guns. And in the debate over gun control, the vast majority of the public also agrees that requiring background checks for all gun transactions -- even private sales at gun shows or between acquaintances -- would achieve this end.

The National Rifle Association and its allies oppose this idea because they believe a federal background check requirement will lead to gun registration. This, they argue, is a violation of the privacy of gun owners and could one day help the government confiscate all guns.

April 10, 2013

North Carolina needs a strong public education system. Without one we will be wasting our most precious resource: our people.

April 10, 2013

Immigration reform legislation -- once it emerges -- is likely to be complex with dozens of hot button issues that will receive most of the attention. Close scrutiny should be addressed, however, to an obscure border security issue -- the biometric exit system -- that will not stir the emotions of many, but could cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

March 19, 2013

Since I posted about the myths promulgated by critics of the Iraq war, it is only fair that I follow-up and demonstrate that I do know that (a) war supporters did not have a monopoly on truth either and (b) there are plenty of worthy debates about Iraq that could inform current policy challenges.

March 19, 2013

Here on the 10-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, I wonder how long it will be before we can discuss the war free from the contamination of myths. It may be sooner than many myth-purveyors expect.

March 16, 2013

The TSA just can’t win. For years, it has been ridiculed and criticized for spending time and energy at screening checkpoints on low risk threats like grannies with walkers or children in diapers.

Yet TSA’s announcement this month that it will permit passengers to carry small pocket knives on flights – a step designed to enable screeners to focus on more serious threats that could bring down an airplane – has been met with withering criticism.

March 12, 2013

When you cut through the bluster and controversies surrounding the Bradley Manning/Wikileaks case, it raises a difficult unresolved question that has great significance for our democracy:  How can the government be held accountable for its national security policies (and mistakes) in a world where there are far too many secrets, and those who disclose those secrets to the press are violating the law?

March 11, 2013

A bipartisan Senate proposal on immigration reform has drawn praise, including from President Obama. But a key feature of the proposal -- how to handle the 11 million foreigners living in the country illegally -- has provoked a familiar objection: Why grant U.S. citizenship, that most precious of rights, to those who broke the law to get here?

We believe there is a simpler, fairer and more efficient solution that won't get bogged down in the "path to citizenship" debate. Rather, it will unlock the enormous potential of North America's labor pool:

March 9, 2013

A Chinese oil company last week bought a small but significant player in the Canadian oil sands, the third largest deposit of accessible oil in the world and source of more than a quarter of U.S. oil imports.

The sale of Nexen Inc. to the Chinese National Offshore Oil Co. for $15.1 billion was the largest Chinese overseas acquisition ever, and continues a patient, strategic Chinese campaign to secure energy assets in North America.

March 1, 2013

The bet, as of last weekend, was that it would take effect. According to the latest poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre from February 13-18, 49 per cent of the respondents were in favour of Congress taking action to delay the automatic spending cuts, while 40 per cent would let the sequester go into effect. In the same poll, 49 per cent blamed the Republicans in Congress for the inaction, while 31 per cent blamed President Obama.

February 28, 2013

If you’ve been following the recent debate over the president’s proposal to require universal background checks for gun transactions, you’re familiar with the “40 percent” statistic. Proponents assert that up to 40 percent of gun sales do not involve a federally licensed dealer and therefore are exempt from the current federal requirement for a background check of buyers. Opponents have been attacking this statistic, saying it’s far too high.

February 12, 2013

Is anyone else alarmed over the reckless changes to our unemployment insurance system being rushed through in Raleigh? As a historian of the 20th-century United States, I'm stunned at both the radical-right content of the changes approved and the refusal of the new supermajority in the N.C. General Assembly to allow public hearings and debate.

February 11, 2013

Each year, hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians are branded as criminals for committing offenses as minor as fishing without a license or driving with an expired license tag. They lose wages while they spend time in court. Employers lose out when their employees miss work.

And citizens lose as the result of millions of taxpayer dollars spent to usher these and other minor offenses through an already overburdened court system.

February 6, 2013

The US National Institutes of Health has warned that research is at a “crucial juncture”. Bioethicists are fretting. Scientists are anxious. And all because an article in Science last month raised doubts about the privacy of volunteers who hand over their genetic data.

January 28, 2013

Health and education continue to be India's Achilles heel. Only through improving these services for the bulk of the population will it be able to get rid of mass poverty. India has the largest concentration of poor people in the world. The 12th Five-Year Plan figures show poverty declining from 45 per cent of the national population in 1993-94 to 37 per cent in 2004-05, at 0.8 percent per year, slower than the rate of population growth.

January 24, 2013

When the N.C. General Assembly convenes Wednesday, a few state lawmakers are probably going to introduce a bill that would slash income taxes for wealthy North Carolinians, scrap tax credits for low- and middle-income families and raise sales taxes on things like groceries and gas.

The same bill has already been introduced in two other states I once called home.

January 20, 2013

When David Steinberg founded the nation’s first gun-control lobby — the long-forgotten National Committee for a Responsible Firearms Policy — he was spurred by more than the shooting of an unarmed teen in his northern Virginia neighborhood.

It seemed crazy to him that everyday Americans could buy lethal weapons, no questions asked, when he and his fellow World War II soldiers had been required to go through extensive firearms training first.

January 10, 2013

In the coming weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court may land the final blow to what's left of race-based affirmative action in higher education. If the type of questioning raised during case hearings in October are an indicator, the Court may rule that the University of Texas at Austin's admissions policies violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, and that the plaintiff, 22-year old Abigail Fisher, was a victim of what affirmative action opponents long have framed as "reverse discrimination."

January 9, 2013

In August of 2009, Sarah Palin claimed that the health legislation being crafted by Democrats at the time would create a “death panel,” in which government bureaucrats would decide whether disabled and elderly patients are “worthy of healthcare.”  Despite being debunked by fact-checkers and mainstream media outlets, this myth has persisted, with almost half of Americans stating recently that they believe the Affordable Care Act (ACA) creates such a panel.

January 8, 2013

The massacre of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., has revived interest in gun regulation—a topic that was almost entirely ignored during the presidential campaign. During President Obama’s first term, there were several other mass shootings, but the only Congressional action was a new law to permit tourists to carry guns in national parks. Now Vice President Biden has been asked to develop a plan that includes new regulations.

January 4, 2013

Whenever America suffers a mass public shooting—seven times in 2012 alone—
I think about my dad and our months of wrenching conversations after the Columbine High School massacre more than a decade ago.

January 3, 2013

The most important thing Republicans need to understand about U.S. foreign policy today is that Republicans are out of power and Barack Obama is in power.

January 1, 2013

Now that the election is over, the United States has a rare opportunity to do away with one of its most pointless and ineffective foreign policies – the embargo of Cuba – that is as obsolete as the “cool” 1950s and 1960s sedans still running on the streets of Havana.