Archive

July 28th, 2016

Loving America Means Finding Fault With It

    I was sitting on a bus one summer, chatting with a man behind me who’d worked all over the world in the U.S. foreign service. Like many conversations today, ours turned eventually to the many problems with our country.

    That’s when his companion, who’d been silent so far, spoke. If things are so bad, he barked at me, why don’t you leave the country?

    This man espoused a view I find antithetical to true patriotism. It can basically be summed up as “America — Love it or Leave it.”

    There’s a lot that’s great about America, no doubt. But nobody would say we’re flawless — especially not in a summer wracked by mass shootings and police killings. Nobody would say we can’t become better in virtually every respect.

    We’re a rich country, but we’d be better if we reduced poverty until it was no more. We’re a democracy, but we could extend our voting rights, reduce gerrymandering, or take any number of other measures to ensure each of us has a say in our government.

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Look! In the blue fog! It's ... the Donald!

    Donald Trump made a grand entrance on the first night of the Republican National Convention back-lit in a thick blue fog. I expected to hear the theme song from his "The Celebrity Apprentice" program, "For the Love of Money" by the O'Jays. But, no.

    Too bad. It would have been no less appropriate for The Donald than the thick blue fog, which pretty well symbolizes the vagueness of his answers whenever he is asked for specifics about his grand campaign promises.

    Only a day earlier, CBS aired a "60 Minutes" interview in which Lesley Stahl asked whether his promise to "declare war against ISIS" meant that he would send American troops into combat. Trump's long response came nowhere close to delivering a simple yes or no.

    "Look, we have people that hate us," he said. "We have people that want to wipe us out. We're gonna declare war against ISIS. We have to wipe out ISIS. These are people that...."

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Trump and the Sultan

    Turkey is a long way from Cleveland, where the Republicans are holding their presidential convention. But I’d urge you to study the recent failed military coup against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. America is not Turkey — but in terms of personality and political strategy, Erdogan and Donald Trump were separated at birth.

    And the drama playing out in Turkey today is the story of just how off track a once successful country can get when a leader who demonizes all his rivals and dabbles in crazy conspiracy theories comes to believe that he alone is The Man — the only one who can make his country great again — and ensconces himself in power.

    Let’s start with Erdogan, who was prime minister from 2003 to 2014, but then maneuvered himself into the previously symbolic role of president and got all key powers shifted to that position. I confess that when I first heard the news of the July 15 coup attempt, my first instinct was to consult that great foreign policy expert Miss Manners, The Washington Post’s etiquette columnist, because I was asking myself, “What is the right response when bad things happen to bad people?”

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Campaign mops up poorly after Melania Trump speech mess

    Well, Donald Trump can't tell his wife she's fired. Nor should he.

    The evident plagiarism in Melania Trump's speech doesn't reflect poorly on Melania Trump, at least from what we know so far. Its presence, and the handling of it after its predictably swift disclosure, reflects poorly on the Trump campaign.

    It demonstrates, as if more were needed, that this is an operation that is not ready for prime time.

    First, let us assume for the moment that Melania Trump herself did not engage in the jaw-droppingly stupid act of cutting and pasting from Michelle Obama's 2008 convention speech. Candidates, and their surrogates, have speechwriters to produce first drafts, and second ones, and so on. So allow for a permissible amount of self-puffery in Melania Trump's comments to NBC News' Matt Lauer that she wrote the speech with as "little help as possible." Emphasis on the "as possible."

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July 22nd

Trump-Pence marriage is off to a rocky start

    Cleveland -- The marriage of Donald Trump and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is not off to a great start.

    Donald Trump introduced Pence as his running mate as if it were a painful duty, in a series of long digressions about himself that he had to keep dragging back on track, perhaps hoping that if he talked about himself long enough the situation might resolve itself. (Admittedly, this is Donald Trump's approach to everything.) Looking at Mike Pence during his first interview side by side with Donald Trump, you had the sense that he had not yet realized that he would have to tell Donald Trump a different story every night in order to keep his head.

    It would be a lie to say that they had anything like a natural, easy chemistry together. They have the easy, natural rapport of Lando Calrissian and Darth Vader just when the deal has started to turn. Donald Trump and Mike Pence sitting next to each other doing an interview is like that episode of "Law & Order: SVU" where the stepfather is a suspect and Olivia Benson can't get him out of the interview.

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Who is David Clarke Jr.? And why are so many Republicans excited about this Democrat?

    There are two broad schools of thought on political critics, or rather two that can be described here using largely polite terms.

    The first comes by way of the American founding father Benjamin Franklin: "Critics are our friends, they show us our faults." The second is exemplified by the thoughts of Plutarch, the Greek historian and essayist: "It is a thing of no great difficulty to raise objections against another man's oration, it is a very easy matter; but to produce a better in its place is a work extremely troublesome." And it's into one of these two boxes that the words of David Clarke Jr., Sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, will fall for many Republican National Convention viewers tonight.

    Technically a Democrat, Clarke took the stage during prime time hours. Why? Well, it probably has about as much to do with who Clarke is as it does what Clarke will say.

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U.S.-Turkey tension over cleric explodes after coup

    Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has accused a Muslim cleric in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains of plotting last weekend's attempted military coup, and some Turkish officials accuse the U.S. of playing a role.

    The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, denies he was involved, and the State Department denies the U.S. was. Even so, the failed coup and subsequent accusations turn a minor irritant in U.S.-Turkey relations into a crisis.

    Erdogan has been pressing the Obama administration for more than two years to extradite Gulen to face prosecution in Turkey and curb his supporters' political influence and network of private schools. Last year, Erdogan hired Robert Amsterdam, a well-known attorney, to make the case in public against Gulen's network.

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Turkey's judicial purge threatens the rule of law

    In the wake of Friday's coup attempt, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan can hardly be blamed for purging the military. But firing 2,745 judges without any investigation or demonstrated connection to the coup is another matter. The action threatens the rule of law in Turkey. And the way it was done signals some of the methods Erdogan can be expected to use in the weeks and months ahead.

    Turkey is a constitutional democracy. If it sounds strange to you that the head of state could just fire judicial officials, your legal instincts are correct. Erdogan lacks that constitutional power -- and technically, he didn't exercise it.

    The firing of the judges, which was reported on Saturday, just hours after the coup was put down, was the work of an entity called the High Council of Judges and Prosecutors. (The Turkish acronym is HSYK). The council is the entity with the constitutional responsibility for supervising and disciplining members of the legal system in Turkey.

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'Open carry's' theater of the absurd

    “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” – Hosea 8-7.

    Recent events remind me of the only lasting memory remaining from having poked my head inside a long-ago gun show at the Astrodome:

    Metal detectors were at the entrance

    Yes, even a gathering of gun nuts didn’t want nuts with guns joining the day’s congregation.

    I use that example to illustrate why people who denounce gun control need to define their terms. After all, stationing metal detectors outside of a gun show clearly is gun control.

    But what about our freedoms?

    Welcome this week to a national nightmare.

    The Trump convention? That’s not exactly what I had in mind.  Ah, but coincidentally, what I have in mind is in fact happening in Cleveland, in one of several states, Ohio, that has embraced the insanity of open-carry.

    We are seeing heavily armed individuals roaming the convention grounds, people with no badge and no business lugging around killing machines.

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Making mug shots public is a cost of democracy

    A federal appeals court has ruled that the public has no right to see arrestees' mug shots, reversing a ruling that has been in place for 20 years. The case pits the individual's interest in privacy against the public's interest in getting all the information it can about an arrest, which is the quintessential public government act. My heart says the court got it right. But my head says that in a functioning democracy, government actions need to be open to scrutiny, even at the cost of permanent embarrassment to some of the government's targets.

    The case was decided by all the members of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, sitting to reconsider their own precedent. In 1996, the court interpreted the Freedom of Information Act to require disclosure of booking photos. The ruling applied to all federal arrests in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee, the court's jurisdiction. Because FOIA is a law that affects the federal government only, the court's ruling didn't apply to local or state police.

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