Archive

August 15th, 2016

Principle playing second fiddle to politics

    When there's any question whether Paul Ryan, the U.S. House speaker and 2012 Republican vice-presidential candidate, would win his primary in a carefully sculpted Wisconsin district against a neophyte challenger with ties to the tea party and Sarah Palin, you know the political world is upside down.

    The back and forth over whether Ryan would, or wouldn't, endorse his party's nominee, Donald Trump, dominated news coverage for weeks. Ryan, tugging his chin, hemming and hawing, finally did. But then the tables turned with Trump refusing to endorse Ryan while making very nice to his opponent, Paul Nehlen.

    Trump did endorse the speaker, tepidly, a few days ago. Ryan won on Tuesday and will likely win in November, putting one Trump-induced crisis behind the party.

    The Ryan re-election is one of a number of contests in which incumbents are threatened, either by an unexpectedly strong primary challenger or in the general election, or both, to the point where Republicans may lose their majority in the Senate, and possibly even the House.

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Obama’s Worst Mistake

    A crazed gunman’s attack on an Orlando, Florida, club in June, killing 49 people, resulted in blanket news coverage and national trauma.

    Now imagine that such a massacre unfolds more than five times a day, seven days a week, unceasingly for five years, totaling perhaps 470,000 deaths. That is Syria. Yet even as the Syrian and Russian governments commit war crimes, bombing hospitals and starving civilians, President Barack Obama and the world seem to shrug.

    I admire Obama for expanding health care and averting a nuclear crisis with Iran, but allowing Syria’s civil war and suffering to drag on unchallenged has been his worst mistake, casting a shadow over his legacy. It is also a stain on all of us, analogous to the indifference toward Jewish refugees in the 1930s, to the eyes averted from Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s, to Darfur in the 2000s.

    This is a crisis that cries out for U.S. leadership, and Obama hasn’t shown enough.

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Jingoism, the ugly side of Olympic sport

    If the disqualification of a large part of the Russian Olympic team had less to do with politics than with the country's state-sponsored doping system, plenty of people both inside and outside Russia would like to turn the resulting tension into a jingoistic grudge match between Russia and the West.

    Russian state television started on it during the opening ceremony. "In 2001, El Salvador fell into total dependence from the U.S., abolishing the national currency, the colon," commentator Anna Dmitrieva intoned as she watched the Salvadorean team march by, waving flags. "Nor does El Salvador have any precious Olympic medals."

    There was probably nothing political about swimmer Lilly King's open dislike of her Russian competitor Yulia Yefimova: King wants all athletes who have ever been caught using forbidden substances to be banned from the Olympics, and that includes her teammate, runner Justin Gatlin, who, like Yefimova, has served a drug-related disqualification. Yet after King's defiant win, Russians and Americans alike rushed to politicize the conflict.

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August 14th

Should retired generals join the political fray?

    Should retired warriors play politics? Those of us who sat through the bombastic convention speeches by two retired generals with seven stars between them -- Michael Flynn (Republicans) and John Allen (Democrats) -- might be forgiven for thinking: "Absolutely not!"

    But those speakers' histrionics aside, the question has taken on new urgency after Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, publicly urged his colleagues to steer clear of direct partisanship:

    "Publicly, they can speak to their experiences with the issues. Not about those seeking office. Not about who is more suited to be elected. That will be decided by the voters, and they have an obligation to learn about the candidates before casting their vote.

    "But not from us.

    "Because we have a special role in our democracy, and because we will serve whoever is elected."

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Anti-Trump Republicans won't change Clinton

    The recent endorsements of Hillary Clinton by Republican party actors are unlikely to affect how she behaves in office if she is elected. Unless, that is, this support changes the way the Republicans themselves behave.

    To assess how Clinton would act as president, look at the promises she is making as a candidate. Not only do politicians try to keep their pledges. Even when they don't, their promises inform how they think about what they are doing and how to explain it to voters.

    These "promises" are more than about specific policies. They also include cues on how a politician will act in office generally, whom she will listen to and, at some level, who she will be. For example, because Clinton is making a big deal of possibly being the first woman president, rather than playing this down, she'll be expected to "be" a woman in office.

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Another Trump adviser with deep ties to Russia

    This week Donald Trump released a new roster of economic advisers, including a businessman with extensive investments in Russia who tried to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow. It's the latest in a long list of relationships that give Trump a financial stake in warm U.S.-Russian relations.

    Businessman and investor Howard Lorber already donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory fund, has been named as one of Trump's "best friends" and even appeared once on "The Apprentice." He is also president and chief executive of the Vector Group, a holding company that has various business interests in Russia. In 1996, Lorber brought Trump to Moscow to look for opportunities for Trump to lend his famous name to development projects there.

    "Howard has major investments in Russia," Trump told Russian politician Alexander Ivanovich Lebed after his trip to Moscow with Lorber, according to a 1997 profile of Trump in the New Yorker. "See, they don't know you," Trump told Lorber. "With all that investment, they don't know you. Trump they know."

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Why #NeverTrump movement is also #NeverGaryJohnson

    This should be a great moment for libertarians, the GOP's quirky little cousin. After all, the Republican Party went off the rails and nominated a protectionist demagogue who can't stay out of trouble. Only a handful of Republicans are likely to defect and vote for Hillary Clinton. So many conservatives are looking for alternatives.

    You may have heard of these lost souls in the last few months, huddled together under the #NeverTrump umbrella. At first they wanted Mitt Romney to run as the true conservative, but that didn't go anywhere. A few had hoped freshman senator Ben Sasse would take up the cause. That didn't go anywhere either. Now the Never Trumpers are supporting a senior House staffer to carry their banner in November. This campaign is being waged after they tried and failed to enlist David French, a National Review writer and reservist military officer.

    So what about the two former Republican governors, Gary Johnson and William Weld, nominated by a party that espouses limited government and fiscal responsibility? Why can't the Never Trumpers go Libertarian?

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Why Ted Cruz is not shaking in his boots

    Republicans are talking about support for a primary challenge to Ted Cruz when he runs for re-election in 2018. I suspect the Texas senator is not shaking in his boots.

    Why not? After all, Republican party actors remain sharply split over him. A small number of movement conservatives consider him a hero, and his presidential run drew considerable support from Republican state legislators and from some party-aligned interest groups. But most everybody else -- especially those who have worked with him in Washington -- still appear vehemently opposed to him.

    Some Republicans may really believe Cruz's defiant "vote your conscience" stance at the convention in Cleveland will matter to Texas voters almost two years from now, and enough so to make them vote against him. Mostly, the Republicans are just using his speech, which they saw as grandstanding, as an excuse to organize against him.

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Trump's fairy tale about the fall of Detroit

    Donald Trump all but claims the economic policies of President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton caused Detroit's 2013 bankruptcy. In a Monday speech in the Motor City, the Republican nominee said he'd cut taxes, eliminate regulations and negotiate more advantageous trade deals to revive Detroit and help other struggling cities.

    But Trump got both the diagnosis and the prescriptions wrong. Even the United Auto Workers, the union that has seen its ranks decimated because of industry job cuts and foreign competition, seems to agree: It organized protests outside the hall where Trump spoke.

    "Detroit" can mean the U.S. auto industry or it can mean the city. Trump conflated the two in his address, even if he barely mentioned automaking. "The city of Detroit is the living, breathing example of my opponent's failed economic agenda," he said, after reeling off statistics on the city's high rates of poverty, crime and unemployment.

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Trump’s Ambiguous Wink Wink to ‘Second Amendment People’

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin got assassinated.

    His right-wing opponents just kept delegitimizing him as a “traitor” and “a Nazi” for wanting to make peace with the Palestinians and give back part of the Land of Israel. Of course, all is fair in politics, right? And they had God on their side, right? They weren’t actually telling anyone to assassinate Rabin. That would be horrible.

    But there are always people down the line who don’t hear the caveats. They just hear the big message: The man is illegitimate, the man is a threat to the nation, the man is the equivalent of a Nazi war criminal. Well, you know what we do with people like that, don’t you? We kill them.

    And that’s what the Jewish extremist Yigal Amir did to Rabin. Why not? He thought he had permission from a whole segment of Israel’s political class.

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