The Economy Hub
With Michael Hiltzik
Vladimir Putin brings the Cold War back to McDonald's

McDonald's long has been the great commercial bellwether of Russian-American relations.

The company stepped proudly into that role in 1990, when it opened its first restaurant in Moscow's Pushkin Square and created an immediate sensation. There was worldwide coverage of the event, during which what was then the world's biggest McDonald's served a record 30,000 meals in a day.

Now the glow has worn off. As bilateral relations have cooled, many of the 435 McDonald's restaurants in the country have become targets of national and regional officials. The company says officially that nine have been closed -- including the landmark Pushkin Square location -- but acknowledges that "more than 200 inspections have been initiated." An earlier tally placed the closings at 12, but some may have been reopened. And there are scattered reports of shutdowns in far-flung regions of the country.

Reports in the Russian press say that some locations have been subjected to steep fines of as much as 500,000...

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How racism underlies voter ID laws: the academics weigh in

Are voting laws requiring photo IDs inherently racially discriminatory, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg maintained in her blistering dissent Saturday morning?  

A team of politician scientists from Appalachian State, Texas Tech and the University of Florida took on that question for an article just published in Political Research Quarterly (h/t: Justin Levitt). Their conclusion is that the claims of proponents that they're just upholding the principle of ballot integrity can be discounted; the photo ID laws aim to disenfranchise Democratic voters; they cite findings that the raised cost of voting imposed by photo ID requires "falls overwhelmingly on minorities." In other words, the answer is yes.

The researchers are William D. Hicks of Appalachian, Seth C. McKee of Texas Tech, and Mitchell D. Sellers and Daniel A. Smith of Florida. They observe that voter ID laws in general and photo ID laws specifically surged in 2006 and later, when the electorate became highly polarized...

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To Govs. Jindal, Perry: A travel ban won't save lives, but Medicaid will

For Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas, two Republican governors thinking about running for president, the Ebola virus has been a heaven-sent opportunity. It has allowed them to swank around as protectors of public health, distracting their audiences from policies they've implemented that really are threats to public health.

Jindal and Perry have both panned the Obama administration's handling of Ebola. Jindal has been especially snarky. "We have reached the 'I'm so mad' stage of the president's crisis management plan," he said the other day. He and Perry have both called for a ban on flights into the U.S. from Ebola-stricken African countries. "This is just common sense," Jindal said. "Why in the world wouldn't we do this?"

Leaving aside that there are no flights into the U.S. from Ebola-stricken countries -- Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian national who is to date the only person to die of Ebola in the United States, entered on a flight from Brussels -- there are many...

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Justice Ginsburg sees what motivates Texas' voter ID law: racism

As one might expect, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had no difficulty putting her finger on the point of Texas' voter ID law: it's openly racist. 

Ginsburg's colleagues voted 6-3 to allow the Texas law to remain in effect for the upcoming election. But as she observed in a scathing dissent issued Saturday, the measure may prevent more than 600,000 registered voters, or 4.5% of the total, from voting in person for lack of accepted identification. "A sharply disproportionate percentage of those voters are African-American or Hispanic," she wrote.

The law's intent is "purposely discriminatory," Ginsburg concluded. Citing the U.S. District Court ruling that declared the Texas law unconstitutional, she observed that since 2000, Texas has become a majority-minority state. That gave its Legislature and governor "an evident motive to 'gain partisan advantage by suppressing'" the votes of blacks and Latinos.

Is there any better testament to the bankruptcy of Republican political...

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On fiscal policy, USC professor's viewpoint is moral and farsighted

"The left sees me as a Wall Street Journal Satanist, and the right as a stealth Marxian bent on destroying free enterprise," Edward D. Kleinbard was saying.

The USC law professor was referring to the reactions elicited by his recent op-ed in the New York Times, in which he asserted that the solution to economic inequality in the U.S. was not to make the tax system more progressive — it's already "the most progressive in the developed world," he wrote — but to make it bigger.

As he explained when we met last week at USC's Gould School of Law, where he has taught tax law since 2009, that would render the entire fiscal system more progressive, because it would fund more spending. Government spending is always progressive, benefiting middle- and lower-income people more than the wealthy. So: If you want to reduce inequality, expanding government is more effective than merely increasing the relative burden on the rich.

One can see why left and right alike felt that their shibboleths were...

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After Ebola ebbs, will the world again leave Africa to die?

The problem with crisis-oriented assistance programs in the Third World is that crises, no matter how urgent they are, eventually fade.

Too often, when the crisis disappears, so too do the armies of aid workers and buckets of money deployed by the developed world to address them. That has been the history of developmental assistance in Africa, where shameful economic and health conditions have festered for decades, relieved now and then by a turbocharged response to an emergency that catches the developed world's eye.

There's reason to fear that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa will follow the same pattern. The explosion of disease and death finally captured global attention late this summer, possibly because the threat of the virus' spread beyond Africa became inescapable. 

Even so, the global response was inexcusably laggard. At the end of August, Medecins Sans Frontieres, the French health organization known in English as Doctors Without Borders, labeled the response "slow and...

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