Archive

April 16th, 2016

Dictators don't stabilize the Middle East. They just create more terrorists.

    Lately, I've noticed an increased number of American politicians suggesting that the Arab Spring was a disaster and that the region needs strongmen to stabilize it. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, famously insisted that the Middle East was safer when Saddam Hussein and Moamar Gadhafi were in power. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said the current chaos stems from the toppling of dictators. Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders argued on "Meet the Press" that while our ultimate goal is democracy, the region would be more stable under dictators.

    But when I worked on Middle East policy at the State Department, I saw just how destabilizing dictators in the region are. I worked on Egypt and human rights as a human rights-focused country desk officer from 2010 to 2012. There, I saw the brutal tactics of President Hosni Mubarak's government destabilize the country.

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Compromise is a losing battle for Supreme Court

    The briefs are in -- and the Supreme Court's extraordinary effort to bring about a compromise in a contraceptive care case looks like a bust. Instead of finding a mutually agreeable solution, religious groups and the federal government appear to have only hardened their positions.

    In simultaneous filings late Tuesday night, each side took the opportunity to strengthen their arguments over how religious organizations go about seeking an exemption to the mandate for providing employees contraceptive care under the Affordable Care Act.

    The U.S. solicitor general basically said that the government was already doing what the Supreme Court was asking, which implies unwillingness to do more. The Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups said they would accept the court's proposed compromise -- as long as several conditions were added, which would transform the proposed solution to something the government won't accept.

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Clintons wrestle with a black generation gap, too

    It's hard to say why former President Bill Clinton went so far off-script to defend his 1994 anticrime law against Black Lives Matter hecklers at a Philadelphia rally for his wife's presidential campaign.

    Did he forget that he, too, renounced his own law, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, last July at the NAACP convention in the same City of Brotherly Love?

    "I signed a bill that made the problem worse," he told the NAACP about the increased incarceration that President Barack Obama has been trying to undo, "and I want to admit it."

    And last May in a CNN interview, he admitted: "We have too many people in prison. And we wound up spending -- putting so many people in prison that there wasn't enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out that they could live productive lives."

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Clinton Can Only Be Defeated At Ballot Box, Not By Bogus 'Scandals'

    Watching Bill Clinton bickering with Black Lives Matter activists in Philadelphia recently, I had several conflicting, and not entirely praiseworthy responses. One was that the longer an American political campaign continues, the dumber and uglier it gets.

    Another was, why bother? People holding up signs saying "Hillary is a Murderer" aren't there for dialogue. The charge is so absurd it's self-refuting. Certainly nobody in the audience was buying.

    That woman who shouted that Bill Clinton should be charged with crimes against humanity? He probably should have let it go. Bickering over a 1994 crime bill has little political salience in 2016, particularly since Hillary's opponent, the sainted Bernie Sanders, actually voted for the damn thing. She didn't.

    Instead, Clinton briefly lost his cool. The next day, he said he "almost" wanted to apologize, which strikes me as slicing the bologna awfully thin, even for him.

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The political center is shifting to the left

    The traditional center-left is in retreat in Europe, and to a somewhat lesser extent in the U.S. This could be seen as a failure of the centrist-socialist establishment, though it might make sense to see it from a different perspective: An attractive, modern alternative has presented itself.

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April 15th

Sanders can't say no to hottest ticket in town

    "In New York, you can be a new man." So goes a line from the runaway Broadway hit "Hamilton," which is sold out through January. Tickets, if you can find them, go for as much as $2,000. So how did Bernie Sanders, Man of the People, score two seats in the orchestra for $334 on Friday night?

    By being a new man; how else? Landing in the section reserved for dignitaries, Sanders and his wife were surely in elbow-rubbing range of those for whom the game is favorably rigged -- hazardous company for a populist. Being old, curmudgeonly and incorruptible is what's won Sanders eight of the last nine contests. He can't step out of character now, even for a few blissful hours in the orchestra.

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Rivals should join forces to stump Trump

    Donald Trump is getting some unlikely assistance from his opponents in his uphill effort to win a majority of Republican presidential delegates. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich remain too busy battling each other to unite in opposition to the front-runner.

    Cruz and Kasich have the same goal: to prevent Trump from getting close to the 1,237 delegates he needs for the nomination. Yet in remaining contests in New York, California, New Jersey and elsewhere, the battle between the two of them sets back that effort.

    Instead they could be colluding -- that's perfectly legal -- effectively dividing up some states, playing to their respective strengths.

    Take New York, which has its primary next Tuesday with 95 delegates at stake. Under the Republican rules, if Trump wins over 50 percent of the statewide vote he gets all 11 at-large delegates. Additionally, majorities in any of the 27 congressional districts would give him all three of that district's delegates.

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Republicans to Wealthy: We just can't quit you

    Any marginally aware citizen is familiar with what I like to call the Four Pillars of Conservatism: low taxes, small government, strong defense, and traditional values. The simplicity and clarity of these ideas allows any Republican anywhere to move into politics with a ready-made ideological program, and as long as they stay abstract, it's reasonably popular. It's only when you start to get into specifics that the agenda becomes problematic.

    The trick is that if you're proposing something unpopular, to speak about it in the most abstract terms possible. "Low taxes" sounds great, because who wouldn't like to pay less in taxes? The trouble is that what Republicans actually want is to cut taxes for the wealthy. They're perfectly happy to cut taxes for other people if the opportunity presents itself, but the value of tax cuts for the wealthy is an absolutely foundational belief.

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Out of Africa

    It’s  Monday and that means it’s moving day in Agadez, the northern Niger desert crossroad that is the main launching pad for migrants out of West Africa. Fleeing devastated agriculture, overpopulation and unemployment, migrants from a dozen countries gather here in caravans every Monday night and make a mad dash through the Sahara to Libya, hoping to eventually hop across the Mediterranean to Europe.

    This caravan’s assembly is quite a scene to witness. Although it is evening, it’s still 105 degrees, and there is little more than a crescent moon to illuminate the night. Then, all of a sudden, the desert comes alive.

    Using the WhatsApp messaging service on their cellphones, the local smugglers, who are tied in with networks of traffickers extending across West Africa, start coordinating the surreptitious loading of migrants from safe houses and basements across the city. They’ve been gathering all week from Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Chad, Guinea, Cameroon, Mali and other towns in Niger.

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Kindness has not proven to be a winning strategy for John Kasich

    John Kasich has run his presidential campaign on the premise that he is the gentler, reasoned choice. He's the candidate who hugs voters. He's the one who calls for tolerance and softer rhetoric. And Tuesday, he laid out in sharp terms the choices before Republican voters: a descent into darkness with Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, or a sunnier path with him.

    "A political strategy based on exploiting Americans instead of lifting them up inevitably leads to divisions, paranoia, isolation and promises that can never, ever be fulfilled," Kasich said. "I say to you that this path to darkness is the antithesis of all that America has meant for 240 years."

    But Kasich's lighter approach has earned him little more than the distinction of the last so-called establishment Republican left to challenge Trump and Cruz. Kindness has not proven to be a winning strategy.

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