Archive

June 25th, 2016

RIP, Jo Cox. May Britain Remember Your Wisdom.

    As I listen to the stormy debates here in the run-up to Thursday’s vote on whether Britain should exit the European Union, my thoughts keep drifting to my friend Jo Cox, a member of Parliament assassinated last week.

    Jo was a leader who fought for genocide victims in Darfur, for survivors of human trafficking, for women’s health, for Syrian refugees and, yes, for remaining in the European Union. She was also a proud mom of two small children: When she was pregnant, she used to sign her emails “Jo (and very large bump).”

    Jo’s dedication to the voiceless may have cost her her life. At least one witness said that the man who stabbed and shot Jo shouted “Britain first!” and when he was asked to say his name at a court hearing he responded, “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”

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Paul Ryan unveils plan to set fire to the American health-care system

    For six years, Republicans in Congress have promised that very, very soon they'd release their plan to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act. Just you wait, they said back in 2010, when we put out our plan America will see how terrific our health-care ideas are. They also said that in 2011 - the plan was coming, hold on! They said that in 2012 - any day now, here it comes! They said that in 2013, and 2014 and 2015 - just give us a few more weeks, and you'll have it! Well, now it's 2016, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Wednesday released something that sort of looks like a "plan" if you just focus on the middle distance and take it in through your peripheral vision.

    If you want to read Ryan's plan, here's an executive summary, and here's the somewhat longer version. It's light on details - such as how much it would cost and how many people would lose their coverage because of it - which isn't all that surprising, given that the more specific you get, the more problematic things become. But it still illustrates the dilemmas Republicans face on this issue and their inability to solve them.

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Lending to the poor didn't cause subprime crisis

    Two of Donald Trump's economic advisers, Lawrence Kudlow and Stephen Moore, have revived an idea about the source of the financial crisis that really should have been put to rest long ago.

    In a column published and rebroadcast by many politically sympathetic sites, they lay the blame for the credit crisis and Great Recession on the Community Reinvestment Act, a 1977 law designed in part to prevent banks from engaging in a racially discriminatory lending practice known as redlining. The reality is, of course, that the CRA wasn't a factor in the crisis.

    What's so wonderful about their article, which is an attempted take down of the Clintons, is that they miss the very obvious ways Bill Clinton's administration did contribute to the financial crisis. But doing that would have been at odds with their anti-regulatory philosophy.

    Here's the heart of the Kudlow and Moore case:

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Intense partisan polarization helps Trump

    Is Donald Trump so spectacularly awful that he can put a dent in America's partisan polarization?

    The U.S. hasn't experienced a genuine presidential landslide in more than three decades, when President Ronald Reagan defeated Democrat Walter Mondale in 1984 by 18 points. In recent years, Barack Obama's 2008 victory over Arizona Sen. John McCain, by 53 to 47 percent, similar to George H.W. Bush's 1988 margin over Michael Dukakis, counts as a cakewalk. By contrast, George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 before eking out a narrow victory in 2004. Bill Clinton was twice elected in the 1990s without ever having won a majority at all.

    Trump won a bit more than 13 million votes in the Republican primary. Mitt Romney, in losing to Obama in 2012, collected almost 61 million votes. So for Trump to equal Romney's showing in a similar general electorate, he'll need an additional 48 million votes.

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How voters' personal suffering overtook reason - and brought us Donald Trump

    On a sleepless night last winter -- insomnia being an intelligent response to the condition of our country -- I turned on the television and found "The Deer Hunter." As I watched the extraordinary first hour --the steel mill and its fiery floor; the homely tavern with its clinking beer bottles and its crooning jukebox; the VFW hall festooned for a wedding with a banner that proclaimed "serving God and country"; the Russian Orthodox church, its onion domes reaching stubbornly for the heavens past a bleak industrial sky; the hunting party in the Allegheny Mountains, in which a crude, even revolting masculinity somehow collides with the sublime -- the elegiac tale suddenly acquired a sharp political point.

    The film is the great cinematic poem to the world of what we have come to call, as a consequence of the current presidential campaign, "the white working class."

    "The whole thing," Christopher Walken says lovingly about his Pennsylvania town on the night before he and his friends are to deploy to Vietnam. "It's right here."

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Hasty death penalty review raises more doubt in Alabama

    Everyone who follows the vicissitudes of the death penalty knows Alabama's sentencing process is seriously flawed. Jaded as I am, I was still shocked to read about the case of Doyle Lee Hamm, who lost his post-conviction quest for review when the judge adopted verbatim an 89-page opinion proposed by the state prosecutor -- one business day after receiving it.

    There's no doubt that this apparent judicial contempt for the deliberative process is morally outrageous, especially when a man's life is at stake. But does it violate due process? That's the question that Hamm's lawyer has asked the Supreme Court to consider. And as it turns out, the answer is far from easy. An appeals court has already said no. And it seems highly unlikely that the justices would agree to take it up. In a perfect world, the Supreme Court would find a way to avoid the legal issue while still making the court write a new opinion.

    Hamm isn't denying that he committed the 1987 murder for which he was convicted. He's challenging the death sentence, primarily on the ground that his trial lawyer was so ineffective that he was denied his right to counsel under the Sixth Amendment.

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Donald Trump's problems are making it too easy for Democrats to ignore their own

    If you're a liberal Democrat, you could be forgiven for feeling pretty smug these days. Though the convention is still to come, Hillary Clinton, the standard bearer of establishment Democrats, is virtually assured of getting the nomination. She seeks to follow eight years of a Democratic president, and 16 years out of the past 24. With presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump beset by a hostile media and a skeptical-at-best GOP leadership - owing to his own inflammatory and erratic behavior - the safe bet is to assume at least another four years of a liberal Democrat in office.

    And yet look below the surface, and you'll find that liberal Democrats face existential problems - none more glaring than a fundamental question of identity. The question that must preoccupy the party if, as expected, it earns a third consecutive presidential term is simple but uneasily answered: What do liberal Democrats stand for?

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Trump's attacks on freedom of religion

    Donald Trump apparently wants to institute something akin to Jim Crow discrimination against Muslims, including those who are citizens of the United States. Is this what the Republican Party wants as well?

    What's your opinion about legalized religious bigotry, House Speaker Paul Ryan? How about you, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell? Do Republican quislings agree with the man they have endorsed for president? They should never again speak of the hallowed traditions of the Party of Lincoln, because those ideals are being spat upon by the presumptive nominee. The GOP is now the Party of Trump.

    On Sunday, "Face the Nation" host John Dickerson reminded Trump that last year he had raised the idea of "profiling" for Muslims and asked him to elaborate. Trump's response: "Well, I think profiling is something that we're going to have to start thinking about as a country. Other countries do it," he said, naming Israel, and "we have to start using common sense."

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Trump's misfires send Republicans scurrying

    The four measures to tighten gun laws that got shot down in the Senate on Monday provided further evidence that Donald Trump can't even get right with his supporters, much less enemies in his own party.

    In the wake of the June 12 massacre in an Orlando night club, the presumptive Republican nominee took on one of his most important allies, the National Rifle Association, inadvertently, with two completely opposite positions: Flanking the powerful lobby on the left, he advocated barring those on the terrorist watch list from buying guns -- one of the measures that failed to pass on Monday that is anathema to the NRA. And coming at them from the right, a place that is hard to get to without falling off the face of the Earth, he suggested that the club-goers would have been better off had they been armed, too, and able to shoot the terrorist "right smack between the eyes."

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Trump's campaign? What campaign?

    Donald Trump's firing of his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, sounds like a big deal, until you realize how little of a Trump campaign there is to manage.

    Late Monday, hours after presumptive Republican presidential nominee Trump let his campaign manager go, new campaign filings revealed that Trump ended May with less than $1.3 million in the bank.

    That might sound like a nice piece of change until you learn that Hillary Clinton, his presumptive Democratic opponent, raised more than $28 million in May and started June with $42 million in cash.

    Even Trump's fellow Republican Ben Carson reported $1.8 million -- $500,000 more than Trump -- in his campaign fund in May, even though he stopped campaigning in March.

    Overall, Team Trump -- his presidential campaign, the Republican National Committee and Trump's allied super PAC Great America PAC -- went into June with $21.7 million in cash. That compares to $103.4 million in cash on hand held by Team Clinton, which includes her campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Priorities USA super PAC.

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