Archive

December 13th

How Congress can stop its tax procrastination

    While Americans ready their holiday shopping lists, Congress is busy with its own holiday tradition -- preparing a grab bag of corporate giveaways known as "tax extenders." The gifts, which range from the useful to the absurd, have one flaw in common: They're about a year too late.

    With a bit of political will, Congress could get up to date and even save some money.

    There's ample room for debate about whether the government should offer tax breaks to encourage the development of wind and solar energy, or let businesses fully deduct the cost of new equipment. But it's undeniable that the bizarre process by which Congress grants such preferences undermines whatever benefits might be gained.

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Don't let financial advisers off the hook

    Ronald Reagan used to say that the surest way to live forever was to become a federal program. If that's right, the surest way to die is to be studied by Congress. In Washington, becoming the subject of legislative scrutiny virtually guarantees inaction, the disappearance of funding and political support, and ultimate demise.

    That's precisely why congressional Republicans are insisting on the need to "study" further an Obama administration proposal to make financial advisers more accountable. The proposal in question, put forward by the Department of Labor, would target the conflicts of interest that can arise when advisers attempt to steer their clients into high-fee, high-risk investments.

    The Labor Department is attempting to update the fiduciary standard, raising the bar for any advice given by brokers working with retirement investors. If instituted, financial advisers will have to place a client's interests above their own or those of their firm. That doesn't seem like too hard a standard to meet, but not all advisers deliver on it. And to this point, nothing in the law has made them do so.

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Democrats Could Pick Off Some Trump Supporters

    They support activist government. They're not socially conservative. They resent big money in politics. And if you administered a truth serum, they would probably say nice things about Obamacare.

    These are blue-collar supporters of Donald Trump. Democrats would do well to ask themselves, "Why aren't some of them ours?"

    I say "some" because a good chunk of Trump's fans consider the combo platter of liberal social policies incomplete without a side dish of racist ranting. Others are simply so hungry for tough talk that they'll avert their eyes from the nastiness on the plate.

    Hillary Clinton talks tough, too, minus the detritus of Trump's recycled fascism. Those who revere Trump for his theatricality will probably stay with Trump. But it shouldn't be impossible for Clinton to pick off some supporters of the man who's on record praising both her and single-payer health care.

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A soldier's perspective: Why this country has a moral responsibility to accept Syrian refugees

    Like all soldiers deployed to the Iraq War in 2006, I was trained to adhere to the laws of armed conflict. Soldiers must attempt to mitigate these consequences through "due care" for civilians, often by accepting more risk upon themselves: clearing an insurgent compound in a populated area, for instance, with a squad of soldiers instead of dropping a bomb.

    I think of these principles when I hear politicians debate how the U.S. military should respond to the crisis in Syria and whether this country should admit more refugees from that country. Many politicians are pushing for American troops to become more involved in the Syrian civil war while also rejecting that this country has any responsibility to accept Syrians fleeing the war.

    But if Americans are going to continue to support a military intervention in Syria, then we also must accept some risk in mitigating the consequences of war on innocent Syrian bystanders. Otherwise, based on the moral laws of armed conflict, we will be waging an unjust war.

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Why Are Hard Truths So Hard For Conservatives?

    Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

    Along with watching cable news terrorism coverage 24/7, some people appear to think it's your patriotic duty to run around with your hair on fire. It's the American Way.

    Following the latest mass-shooting event in San Bernardino, California, President Obama gave a nationally televised address from the Oval Office. Because last week's killers were a husband-and-wife team of deranged Muslims instead of the stereotypical lone male demento, the White House sought to offer reassurance.

    As is his custom, Obama expressed calm determination.

    "The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it," he vowed. "We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won't depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values or giving into fear. That's what groups like ISIL are hoping for. Instead, we will prevail by being strong and smart, resilient and relentless."

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Where's the indignation for what African Americans do to themselves?

    So where was the march for Tyshawn Lee?

    Where were the demonstrators barring access to stores in Chicago's premiere commercial district on the busiest shopping day of the year? Where was Rev. Jesse Jackson, joining his voice with a thousand other people demanding justice? Where were news media, beaming the images out to the world?

    All that and more happened in the name of Laquan McDonald, the 17-year-old African American shot to death last year by a white police officer who claimed the teenager threatened him with a knife. A dashcam video, the release of which the city stonewalled for over a year, contradicts that story. Far from threatening the police, it shows that McDonald was trying to avoid them.

    So here is yet another example of the kind of out-of-control policing this country countenances in an injustice system that has all but criminalized African-American existence. And yes, it deserves all the outrage, media attention and civil disobedience it has generated.

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December 12th

What Trump's anti-Muslim campaign reveals

    Not only is Donald Trump's call for banning all Muslims from entering the U.S. being widely condemned. It is also a losing campaign strategy, even if it has given him a consistent polling lead so far.

    As Vox's Andrew Prokop reminds us, Trump thrives on media attention. Yes, many inflammatory things he has said find some support among Republican voters. But a lot of pronouncements, whether outrageous or mainstream, could find some support -- and lots of candidates are willing to make them. What moved Trump to the top of the polls and keeps him there is his utter dominance of the information environment. He's the only candidate most Republicans are hearing about.

    Looking just at nightly network news, Trump has received about 33 times as much coverage as Ted Cruz has so far this year. Thus it's more surprising that Cruz is still relatively close in the polls than that Trump leads in them.

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What the Red Cup Controversy Really Says about Christmas in America

    I happened to be visiting the first-ever Starbucks in Seattle a few weeks ago when a mini-controversy erupted: There were no Christmas trees or snowflakes on this season’s holiday Starbucks coffee cups.

    The horror!

    Facebook exploded with comments, as did Twitter. Even Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump bloviated from the campaign trail that “maybe we should boycott Starbucks.” Referring to the Starbucks in his own Trump Tower in New York, the candidate added, “That’s the end of that lease.”

    Conservative pundits immediately deemed the minimalist Starbucks cup design a “war on Christmas.”

    For the life of me, I couldn’t understand what the controversy was about. This was a corporate entity that had decided to use plain red coffee cups instead of ones festooned with holiday icons. Big deal.

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Turning the USA into the OK Corral

    People say this is a do-nothing Congress. That’s unfair.

    Why, the sirens in San Bernardino had hardly gone silent before lawmakers were clamoring about a bill that might address the confluence of mental health problems and potential gun buyers.

    And if that draconian proposal weren’t enough, Republican leaders said they would be forming a committee to study the mass shooting. What profiles in courage.

    There were other proposals too — most of them involving doing something unpleasant to Muslims.

    One thing not proposed, at least not by Republicans, was any form of gun control. Some Democrats suggested that, as a starter, the government could ban people on the terror watch list from buying enough guns and bullets to turn an armored car into steel wool in 30 seconds flat.

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Trump crossed an uncrossable line

    It is happening here.

    With his call for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States," Donald Trump has crossed an uncrossable line of bigotry and xenophobia. The Republican front-runner presents a clearer, more present danger to U.S. interests than the supposedly threatening Muslims he seeks to exclude. He is a one-man recruiting tool for the Islamic State.

    This was not Trump off the cuff, a Trump gaffe, Trump taken out of context, or Trump responding ambiguously to a leading suggestion.

    It was Trump being Trump, which is to say crude, intolerant and ignorant. Yet nothing Trump has said previously comes close to this un-American suggestion.

    And nothing in my experience of U.S. politics has been so sickening, has made me so embarrassed for my country. Who could have imagined that any supposedly mainstream political candidate -- no less the front-runner of a major political party -- would propose anything so extreme?

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