Archive

June 5th, 2016

Conflicts of interest? President Trump would have quite a few

    If Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, wins the general election in November, he would still be allowed to oversee operations and collect income from the more than 500 businesses he's listed in a personal financial disclosure form filed with the Federal Election Commission.

    Some of these operations appear to be substantial (such as 401 North Wabash Venture, which Trump used to develop a hotel and condominium project in Chicago; Trump National Doral, one of his Florida golf courses; and a handful of entities related to the skyscraper he owns at 40 Wall Street in New York). Some go back to Trump's earliest days in real estate when he worked for his father, Fred, and involve partnerships set up with his siblings (such as the East 61st Street Company, Reg Tru Equities and Park Briar Associates). Some don't really look like businesses (membership on the board of the Police Athletic League); some are whimsical (a carousel he operates for New York City); some seem to describe the current political moment (Trump Follies LLC).

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Green energy won't bring about oil's doom

    For hydrocarbon doomsayers, there's good news and bad news. In 2015, there were record investments in renewable energy, and record capacity was added, much of it in emerging economies. Yet despite the huge investment, the global share of fossil fuels is not shrinking very fast. Renewables such as wind, solar and geothermal still account for a tiny share of energy production, and there are factors that may inhibit their growth in the next few years.

    REN21, the international renewable energy association backed by the United Nations Environment Program, has summarized impressive developments in the sector in 2015. Total investment in renewable power and fuels reached $285.9 billion, an all-time record, and renewable power capacity, including hydropower, increased by 148 gigawatts -- another record -- to 1.8 terawatts. For the sixth consecutive year, investment in new renewable capacity was higher than in hydrocarbon-burning power plants.

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If Donald Trump loses, will the GOP change its ways? Don't bet on it.

    If you're a liberal, the idea of a Donald Trump presidency is utterly horrific, and there's just no question that a Hillary Clinton presidency would be infinitely preferable. But what if you're a conservative who finds Trump abhorrent? It's far more complicated, even if you're not one of those who has quieted your doubts and hopped aboard the Trump bandwagon. Now that Trump is the Republican Party's presumptive nominee, what exactly is the outcome you're hoping for? And if Trump does lose, what happens to your party then?

    In the rapidly depleting ranks of the Never Trump movement, these are difficult questions to address. But Bret Stephens, deputy editorial page editor for the Wall Street Journal, went further than most are willing to Sunday during an appearance on "Fareed Zakaria GPS":

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You may hate the 'Star Wars' prequels - but they predicted our current political era

    Cool people dislike the "Star Wars" "prequels" - Episodes 1, 2, and 3. The dialogue is wooden, the actors are stiff, and there's far less energy and wit than in the beloved original trilogy. But if you're looking for a quick guide to current political struggles - both in the United States and all over the world - you should give the prequels another chance.

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, paralyzing political divisions threatened democratic governments. Disputes over free trade, and the free movement of people and goods, were a big reason. Stymied by polarization and endless debates, the Senate proved unable to resolve those disputes.

    As a result, nationalist sentiments intensified, leading to movements for separation from centralized institutions. People craved a strong leader who would introduce order - and simultaneously combat growing terrorist threats.

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Democracy, the death penalty and the Supreme Court

    One Louisiana county accounts for half the state's death sentences - even though it has just 5 percent of the state's population and 5 percent of its homicides.

    On Tuesday, Justice Stephen Breyer cited this fact about Caddo Parish, Louisiana, in a dissenting U.S. Supreme Court opinion arguing that the death penalty is unconstitutional. The "arbitrary" factor of geography, Breyer proposed, is a reason to think that the death sentence is cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

    Is Breyer right? Last June, in a case called Glossip v. Gross, Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, arguing that the death penalty was unconstitutional under all circumstances. In that opinion he also expressed concern that the accident of geography affects who gets a death sentence.

    Tuesday's opinion, also joined by Ginsburg, was a dissent from the court's refusal to hear a capital case coming out of Caddo Parish. The opinion expands on the geography rationale in particular.

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Young Americans would gain from seeing the world

    At a total estimated cost of $1.5 trillion, the F-35 fighter plane is the most expensive weapons system in history. Acquisition costs alone for F-35s totaled more than $8 billion in fiscal 2015, and that's expected to almost double in the years ahead. Unfortunately, the plane doesn't really work yet, despite over a decade of spending, and there are rumbling questions over whether it ever will work. Such are the perils of the military-industrial complex.

    What else could we spend $8 billion on that would yield greater benefits for the U.S.? The government could mail some checks to poor people, repair the roads or plow the money into next-generation battery research. All of those would be good uses of the money. But I also thought of a new, highly speculative idea for an $8 billion program that might do the U.S. a world of good.

    I suggest we give every young American a trip overseas.

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Enough with Bernie Sanders

    This is the place where a policy-oriented Washington commentator like myself is supposed to offer Bernie Sanders supporters some sort of olive branch. For example, I could point out that he has highlighted some real issues. I am angry about money in politics, too. I believe that income inequality is a problem, too. I think the safety net needs strengthening, too. In other words, I am supposed to indicate that I get why Sanders has a movement.

    But the truth is that Sanders does not deserve a movement, and his losing campaign does not deserve unusual deference and concessions. His tale about American oligarchy is simplistic, his policy proposals are shallow, his rejection of political reality is absurd, his self-righteousness and stubbornness are unbecoming. And, yes, he has lost. Here are some simple points worth repeating:

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Just like Agnew, Trump blames the press - and the public keeps buying it

    It all goes back to Spiro Agnew and his memorable diss of journalists, whom he called "nattering nabobs of negativism."

    Richard Nixon's vice president, in uttering those words more than 45 years ago, kicked off a culture war in which politicians encouraged the public to blame the press for all the troubles afflicting the nation. (In the Nixon/Agnew era, those troubles included governmental corruption and coverup, and would lead to the president's resignation.) There's never been a cease-fire in that culture war.

    Donald Trump fired the latest blast on Tuesday. At a news conference about his fundraising on behalf of veterans groups, he blamed reporters for not being sufficiently grateful for his charitable work. Instead, they kept asking pesky questions about exactly how and when - and whether - Trump had done as he claimed. As it turned out, he and his campaign had misrepresented some of what happened.

    He complained that instead of saying "Thank you very much, Mr. Trump," the press had the gall to criticize him.

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What juries should know before deciding on death sentence

    How much should a jury know before it sentences a prisoner to death? The Supreme Court clarified its rules on that question on Tuesday, striking down the sentencing of an Arizona defendant because his jury wasn't clearly told that he could be imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole as an alternative to a capital sentence. Two justices dissented - and you can probably guess which ones those were.

    The court's basic rule goes back to the 1994 case of Simmons v. South Carolina. In that case, the court held that if the prosecution argues that a person should be executed because he'd be dangerous in the future, then the jury should be told that he could also be sentenced to life behind bars without becoming eligible for parole.

    In Tuesday's case, an Arizona judge found a clever way around that rule. The prosecution was trying to convince the jury to execute Shawn Patrick Lynch for a 2001 murder, arguing that Lynch would be a public menace otherwise. Lynch's lawyers wanted the jury to be told that it could sentence him to spend the rest of his life in prison without coming up for parole.

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Bashful Trump lets us in on his generosity

    For someone who claims he can change the world overnight -- stop wars, illegal immigration, Muslims and trade deals -- Donald Trump has been as slow as sludge in accounting for the money he bragged about raising for veterans in January.

    Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, admitted on May 20 that he didn't have an "exact number" of what was taken in, nor could he say what veterans' groups would be getting what.

    Last week, Trump finally released a $1 million personal donation he had pledged four months ago, at a fundraiser in Des Moines, Iowa, organized as counter-programming to a debate of Republican candidates moderated by Fox's Megyn Kelly that he had decided to boycott in a fit of pique. When asked by a Washington Post reporter whether he had made good on the promise only because he was taking so much flak, Trump said, "You know, you're a nasty guy."

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