Archive

March 8th, 2016

Where was Mitt Romney's courage nine months ago?

    In just 20 minutes, Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, eviscerated Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2016 nod. The brief against Trump wasn't just the series of one-liners Romney leaked Thursday morning. The searing indictment against the billionaire businessman was based on substance. Pity the statesmanship and truth-telling come nine months too late to potentially stop Trump's march to the GOP nomination.

    Right out of the gate, Romney hit Trump on his economic plans.

    "If Donald Trump's plans were ever implemented, the country would sink into a prolonged recession.

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What's the best path to peace in Libya?

    Believe it or not, the conflict in Libya didn't end with "Benghazi."

    U.N. negotiators have been working to bring the warring factions in the Libyan civil war to the negotiating table. They hope to end the fighting, form a national unity government and provide a clear alternative to the Islamic State. One proposal would establish a temporary government - the Libyan Government of National Accord - in which competing factions would share power.

    But not all power-sharing agreements are created equal. In particular, not all types of power-sharing agreements are equally effective at keeping the peace after a civil war.

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Weird science works in the fight against cancer

    What kinds of research should be included in the $1 billion "moonshot" proposal to cure cancer? Since President Obama announced the idea in his last State of the Union address, Vice President Joe Biden, who is heading the effort, has talked of getting more patients enrolled in clinical trials and finding more efficient ways of sharing data. But what about less obvious steps, such as a recent experiment on zebra fish with green glowing skin tumors?

    When it comes to cancer research, weird is good. Tackling cancer requires unconventional ideas because cancer is an unconventional enemy.

    Cancer is less a disease than a class of diseases. It's a broad description of the mysterious forces that make our own cells turn unpredictably against us. Unlike the quest to eradicate smallpox or to send astronauts to the moon, the effort to cure cancer doesn't have a clear path forward. There is no universal cure or prevention strategy.

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Trump has a point about American decline

    American decline is a popular narrative these days. It's a central feature of Donald Trump's presidential campaign -- you can't "make America great again" unless America isn't-so-great right now. Although Trump often seems disconnected from reality, on this issue he has a point. The United States is in decline. Fortunately, the slide isn't severe, and there's probably time to arrest its progress or prevent it from accelerating.

    When we say a nation is in decline that can mean several things. Historically, it meant a fall in living standards and the level of economic development. When the Roman Empire declined, the population of Rome shrank, roads crumbled and the empire's ships disappeared from the ocean. Eventually the European continent fell back into poverty and violence among regional and city-state powers. The same thing happened to China after the fall of the Han Dynasty, and again after the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

    Nothing of the kind threatens the U.S. today. Yet it is true that the economic well-being of the average American -- defined as median household income -- has fallen since the turn of the century:

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The steep price of a Trump presidency

    I write today to confess error.

    A few months back, pondering the ghastly parlor game of choosing between President Donald Trump and President Ted Cruz, I opted -- reluctantly, disbelievingly -- for Trump, as the lesser of two dangers.

    Yes, the real estate tycoon is a know-nothing, uninterested-in-learning-anything buffoon. Also: a demagogue and a bully whose emotional instability would pose a threat to national security.

    But the Cruz alternative, it seemed to me then, was even worse. Cruz is smarter than Trump, more calculating than Trump (which is saying something)   and way, way more conservative than Trump.

    A Trump presidency, or so I reassured myself, at least offered the prospect of unprincipled deal-making in the service of what is Trump's only guidepost -- promoting the greater glory of Trump. President Cruz would be as absolutist as Sen. Cruz, and therefore, from my point of view, the worse president.

    I was wrong.

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Texas abortion case hinges on 'undue burdens'

    What's an undue burden? That question was at the heart of Wednesday's oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court in the Texas abortion case of Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt.

    In particular, the conversation focused on whether the court needs to do a cost-benefit comparison to determine an undue burden -- and if it does, what statistical evidence is needed to do it properly.

    As expected, the oral argument reinforced the sense that the outcome of the case depends on Justice Anthony Kennedy. The four liberal justices made it pretty clear that the Texas law, which requires abortion clinics to operate more like hospitals, should be struck down. The three conservatives, sorely missing the support of Justice Antonin Scalia, will surely vote to uphold it, although Justice Clarence Thomas kept silent on Wednesday. What matters, therefore, is how Kennedy is thinking about the undue-burden problem.

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Mistake to take Trump for granted

    Which one of these statements is true? "Donald Trump is a racist, bigot, misogynist, buffoon and con artist who should never be seriously considered as a candidate for president?" Or: "Donald Trump is a serious candidate for president who could defy the odds and actually be elected 45th president of the United States?"

    Which one of these statements is true? The answer, of course, is that they're both true. And therein lies both the fascination and the danger in this year's presidential election. It's true that we've never seen a more personally disgusting candidate for president. But it's also true, as members of his own party learned too late, that those Democrats who belittle his political appeal are making a big political mistake.

    We all heard cocky Democrats chortling out loud on Super Tuesday, as The Donald chalked up another string of primary victories, making a total of 10 so far: "Oh, boy, we can't wait. Donald Trump's our dream opponent. Democrats will flock to the polls to vote against him. He'll be the best get-out-the-vote motivator Democrats could ever want."

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Mandatory legroom on your next flight? Awful idea

    Airline passengers are being packed into planes "like sardines," says Sen. Chuck Schumer. So he wants the Federal Aviation Administration to set minimum seat-size guidelines. The point, Schumer suggested, is to right an injustice: "It's just plain unfair that a person gets charged for extra inches that were once standard." In other words: Everyone could soon get a government-mandated upgrade.

    It's a crowd-pleasing proposal that might also have some safety benefits. But like so many alleged giveaways for today's harried travelers, this one won't come free.

    Over the past decade, airlines have become profitable partly by packing more fliers onto each plane. Although that hasn't always been comfortable for the passengers, it works in their interest by enabling carriers to offer more affordable flights than ever. Reconfiguring cabins will threaten that model and impose new costs that will be passed onto customers, who might soon be wishing for less legroom.

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Donald Trump's wild unpredictability is exactly what Republican voters want

    As Donald Trump was insisting during a speech in Maine Thursday that Mitt Romney would have "dropped to his knees" to win the real estate mogul's endorsement in 2012, Austin Barbour tweeted this bit of praise of the former Massachusetts governor.

    @MittRomney was superb today. Rational, collected, smart, forward looking and clear with his contrast on Trump.

    Barbour, a Mississippi-based Republican political consultant and card-carrying member of the GOP establishment, was referencing Romney's speech in Utah in which he sought to systematically discredit Trump's candidacy. And Barbour is right. Romney was "rational" and "smart" in his speech. He succinctly made the case that Trump is a) not a real conservative and b) would cost the party dearly if he was the nominee against Hillary Clinton in the fall campaign.

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A GOP trapped by Trump

    The Republican Party is on the verge of being taken over by an egomaniac who appeals to the nation's darkest impulses. Yet Donald Trump's foes are splintered, tactically but also philosophically.

    It doesn't help that each of his three serious challengers is a flawed alternative. None is sufficiently dominant to force the others aside.

    Sen. Ted Cruz has the most legitimate claim as a Trump-slayer. He's now beaten him in four contests. Yet Cruz is so disliked by so many party leaders that they have refused to rally behind him. Indeed, many in the GOP view Cruz as being nearly as vulnerable to Hillary Clinton as Trump is. She took a large step toward securing the Democratic nomination with her seven victories over Bernie Sanders on Super Tuesday.

    The Republican establishment plainly prefers Sen. Marco Rubio, but voters have not gone along. Rubio did manage to win the Minnesota caucuses. But he ran third in eight of the other 10 states that voted Tuesday and has lost 14 times since the nomination battle began.

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