Archive

September 20th, 2016

America the Plunderer

    Because he’s being graded on a doofus curve that is unprecedented in presidential politics, Donald Trump said more than a dozen outrageous, scary or untrue things in the past 10 days and got away with all of them. But with at least one statement, marking a profound shift in how the United States would interact with the rest of the world, Trump should be shamed back to his golden throne.

    He wants the United States to become a nation that steals from its enemies. He’s called for war crimes — killing family members of terrorists, torturing suspects. He would further violate the Geneva Conventions by making thieves out of a first-class military.

    “It used to be to the victor belong the spoils,” Trump complained to the compliant Matt Lauer in the now infamous commander-in-chief forum. Oh, for the days when Goths, Vandals and Nazis were free to rape, pillage and plunder. So unfair, as Trump said on an earlier occasion, that we have “all sorts of rules and regulations, so the soldiers are afraid to fight.”

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A basket of deplorables

    It's already earned a permanent slot in the Clintonian political lexicon, right up there with "vast right-wing conspiracy." The newest addition: "basket of deplorables."

    That's the phrase Hillary Clinton famously used to describe Donald Trump supporters at a New York fundraiser last week, trying to answer the question everyone's asking: "Since Donald Trump's so manifestly unqualified to be president, who are these people supporting him?"

    Trump immediately accused her of showing "true contempt for everyday Americans" and argues that calling them "deplorables" alone should disqualify her from the race. (Which, considering the cascade of insults he's spewed forth, is LOL.) While his running mate Mike Pence insists: "Hillary, they are not a basket of anything. They are Americans and they deserve your respect."

    Whatever you think of Trump supporters, Hillary only made two mistakes in calling them "deplorables." First, she shouldn't have done so in the first place. As a candidate, her job is to talk about the issues, not to denigrate anybody else's potential voters.

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Trump's foreign policy is a scary black hole

    Imagine that the first crisis facing the next president would be a seizure by China of the Scarborough Shoal, a coral atoll off the Philippines in the South China Sea.

    How would a President Donald Trump respond? Perhaps he would assemble his new generals to come up with a 30-day plan to attack China. Or maybe he'd say, "They can have him; I hate that guy," confusing the strategically situated potential Chinese Naval base with the morning television host, Joe Scarborough, with whom he has a bitter feud.

    What's remarkable is that seven weeks before election day, so little is known about the Republican presidential nominee's foreign policy. He has given only a couple of perfunctory speeches on the topic and on the stump reverts to cliches and bluster.

    From the end of World War II through the Cold War, a presidential candidate had to persuade voters that he was credible on foreign policy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, foreign affairs became a secondary political issue for three elections. But the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars made it important again.

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Sorry, 'deplorables': Being called racist doesn't mean you're being oppressed

    If you want to insult white folks in 2016, call them racist.

    Apparently, it's akin to being called the n-word, slandered or victimized. Just ask Maine's Republican governor, Paul LePage, Donald Trump or the many conservatives who seem to think that being identified as a racist is worse than actually being one.

    These days, a lot of white people are feeling victimized and discriminated against, even though they're not actually being systemically victimized and discriminated against because of their race. In one breath, they will deny that racism exists, only to cry "reverse racism" in the next breath. To racists, the real meaning of reverse racism is having to treat people of color fairly and with respect - to the point where it just feels uncomfortable.

    The latest example of this dynamic came in the presidential campaign. At a fundraiser Friday, Hillary Clinton said that "half" of Trump's campaign is attracted to his message because of their shared racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia. She called them "irredeemable" and a "basket of deplorables."

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Obama's moral compromises

    From Buenos Aires to Hiroshima, President Barack Obama has spoken of the harm done abroad as a result of his predecessors' foreign policy decisions.

    The most recent instance occurred during his visit last week to tiny Laos, where he reviewed the destruction wrought by U.S. bombing of that country during the wars in Southeast Asia nearly half a century ago. "Countless civilians were killed," he lamented.

    Republican critics in this country have derided these "apology tours," but that's not fair. Obama has generally stuck to passive-voice formulations, as he did in Laos, and avoided explicit apology.

    Still, the moralizing comes through, which raises a question: Just how different is Obama's conduct from that of the past presidents whose judgments he reviews today?

    Obama said the U.S. air campaign in Laos - aimed at North Vietnamese communists who were illegally using the neutral country as a supply route to South Vietnam - not only caused massive collateral damage, it was also "a secret war," whose full scope is not widely known "even now."

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Netanyahu has undermined Israel's security

    During the past two years, a sense of gloom has taken over my country, as pride in Israel's accomplishments and self-confidence grounded in reality have given way to fear-mongering, victimhood and internal quarrels.

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enabled a militant, nationalist minority to carry out a hostile takeover of his party, Likud; to form a majority in his cabinet; and thus to hijack our national agenda in the service of a messianic drive toward, as it's often put, "a single Jewish state, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea." This overarching ambition is bound to culminate in either a single, binational state, which, within a generation, may have a Jewish minority and likely a Bosnia-like civil war, or else an apartheid reality if Palestinian residents are deprived of the right to vote. Both spell doom for the Zionist dream.

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Maybe Clinton should take a bit more time off

    Hillary Clinton will appear in Greensboro, North Carolina, later Thursday, her first event after a couple days' hiatus. She might want to get a doctor's note and take another day, or two, off.

    Less can be more. Once Clinton finally succumbed to matter over mind and took a breather, she inadvertently stumbled on the genuine authenticity that has been so lacking in her campaign. Reporters gradually got over being ticked off that she didn't admit she had pneumonia, given their own penchant for walking around fortified by Z-Packs and Benadryl. Some even betrayed a smidgeon of grudging admiration that she'd powered through. Gritting her teeth and showing up as promised is part of her Best Student in Class essence. On Sept. 11, unable to fake it any longer, she wobbled away from Ground Zero, showing the humanity that her supporters say is there.

    In the few days since, those filling her sensible shoes are doing an excellent job: notably President Barack Obama, out stumping for her to a huge crowd in Philadelphia. Meanwhile, her husband, rusty in 2008, but rested and ready this time, deployed on her behalf his unparalleled arm squeeze and intimate voice that makes people lean in to hear.

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September 19th

A 100-year quest

    I first learned there was an effort to establish a national museum dedicated to preserving African-American history and culture during my first term in Congress after being elected in 1986. My colleague Rep. Mickey Leland, D-Texas, discovered that the most recent legislative efforts had run aground a few years earlier because of an attempt by Rep. Clarence Brown, R-Ohio, and Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, to take the project to Wilberforce, Ohio. Mickey resurrected the idea and asked me to co-sponsor it in 1988.

    I have loved history ever since I was a boy. It started when I was so young. To celebrate Carter G. Woodson's innovation - then called Negro History Week and now called Black History Month - my teachers would ask us to cut out pictures in magazines and newspapers of famous African-Americans, such as Rosa Parks and George Washington Carver. Growing up in Alabama near Tuskegee Institute, reading about Carver and Booker T. Washington, attending Fisk University later with its world-class art collection and Jubilee Singers who had sung for Queen Victoria, I knew the power of legacy. Mickey did not have to ask me twice. I was on board to push the museum bill through.

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Let's not forget that the robots aren't here yet

    One of the most striking ways in which Narendra Modi's government has changed the policy narrative in India is to make manufacturing central to its ambitions. This is an overdue recognition of the fact that India -- whose workforce is overwhelmingly poor and underemployed, and growing at the rate of a million people every month -- needs to create mass factory jobs if it's to prosper.

    Yet a growing chorus of voices has begun attacking this emphasis on manufacturing, arguing that the government shouldn't waste political capital and energy on the reforms needed to build up the sector. According to these pessimists, the politics are too hard and the economics -- at a time when global trade is slowing and robots are supplanting workers everywhere -- don't make sense.

    At best, this criticism is irrelevant -- an argument imported from the developed world, where stoking fears about the future of manufacturing has become a small but thriving industry. At worst, it's dangerous.

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How to negotiate with Putin

    Perhaps the most famous piece of stage direction in Western literature occurs in the third act of Shakespeare's "Winter's Tale": "Exit, pursued by a bear." There's plenty of reason to think that being pursued by a bear, the most iconic image of Russia in international relations, is precisely how the United States must feel at the moment. Seemingly in every direction we turn, Russia is there, chasing our policy choices off the stage of world events. Despite valiant efforts to negotiate with Russia in Ukraine, Crimea, Syria, Iran, missile defense in Europe, NATO membership, and cybersecurity - to name just a few - Moscow and Washington have serious disagreements.

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