Archive

May 12th, 2016

Another crucial moment at Howard

    President Obama's commencement address at Howard University on Saturday rounds out, at least for me, a nine-year journalistic odyssey that began with a photo taken with then-Sen. Barack Obama at a pre-Democratic presidential debate reception on Howard's campus in June 2007. The years in between have been kind to the nation in ways unimaginable at the time of that forum. Because of our 44th president's stewardship, millions of Americans have health-care coverage, job growth has been steady, the auto industry and the economy are on the upswing, our energy resources are stronger and, despite carping from the cheap seats, the country is in a better place in the world.

    Yet Saturday's focus is where it belongs: graduation and the president's speech. Because Howard University presidential visits have usually been momentous.

    Lyndon Baines Johnson gave the keynote address at my commencement in June 1961. Anti-civil-rights violence had recently taken place in Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala.

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How Ryan could recuse himself

    My fellow Republicans, my fellow Americans:

    I stand before you today with a heavy heart, to say that I cannot in good conscience support the man my party appears to have chosen to be its nominee for the presidency.

    As a result, I will be asking Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to release me from the role of serving as convention chairman in Cleveland. I respect the views of the millions of voters in Republican primaries and caucuses who backed     Donald Trump. I applaud his seeming ability to amass the requisite 1,237 delegates. I simply cannot preside over this choice and gavel this nomination into being.

    This is an extraordinary statement, but this is an extraordinary moment. As you know, there were many candidates for the Republican nomination. I agreed with some more than others; I thought some would be stronger choices than others; but I could have supported any of them.

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Don't disrespect the vice presidency

    Will Hillary Clinton pick Sen. Sherrod Brown as her running mate to carry his home state of Ohio or turn to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, flame-thrower of the Democratic left, to energize Bernie Sanders fans? Will Donald Trump tap Sen. Marco Rubio in a bid for Florida?

    Vice-presidential choices matter, but not because of the tactical considerations that insiders like to chatter about. It's still fun to repeat that famous line about the bucket of warm spit. It's just that it's no longer true.

    As a new book by Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis lawyer, makes clear, the vice presidency has taken on a crucial governing dimension over the last 40 years. The last two vice presidents, Joe Biden and Dick Cheney, have been huge players in Washington and around the world. They played no role, however, in delivering their home states of Delaware and Wyoming to Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

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A shameful legacy of drones

    Father Daniel Berrigan died Saturday at 94. The longtime peace activist gained national attention in 1968 when he and eight others, including his brother Philip (also a priest), burned draft records taken from a Selective Service office in Maryland. Decades later, he remains a powerful example of a man who never wavered in his beliefs, standing up time and again for the poor and oppressed. In his last years, Berrigan no longer had the energy to protest as frequently. But if he had been a few generations younger, can there be any doubt that he would have been at forefront of those protesting the expansion of the drone war under President Obama?

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Bribery tangles with politics at Supreme Court

    Spend a million of your Super PAC dollars to elect a governor, and you can expect him to take your calls and set up meetings with state officials. Courtesy of the Supreme Court and its 2010 Citizens United decision, it's all protected by the First Amendment.

    But give the same governor a Rolex before asking for the meetings - and both of you might be convicted of bribery.

    Is there a meaningful difference? That's the question in McDonnell v. U.S., which the court is currently considering. The bribery conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell follows the second pattern - complete with the Rolex.

    That's important because the case pits constitutional principle (the right to support politicians) against common sense (a bribe is a bribe, right?). That conflict casts doubt on the Citizens United principle, which expanded the rights of people and companies to make unlimited (and anonymous) political donations without fear of being prosecuted for corruption. But it also raises the thorny problem of what the court should do about bribery so long as Citizens United is still the law.

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Hillary Clinton is going to be exonerated on the email controversy. It won't matter.

    The latest news on the Hillary Clinton email controversy reinforces everything we've heard so far on this subject:

    Prosecutors and FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email server have so far found scant evidence that the leading Democratic presidential candidate intended to break classification rules, though they are still probing the case aggressively with an eye on interviewing Clinton herself, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

    That point about her intending to break classification rules is important, because in order to have broken the law, it isn't enough for Clinton to have had classified information in a place where it was possible for it to be hacked. She would have had to intentionally given classified information to someone without authorization to have it, like Gen. David Petraeus did when he showed classified documents to his mistress (and then lied to the FBI about it, by the way). Despite the enormous manpower and time the Justice Department has devoted to this case, there has never been even a suggestion, let alone any evidence, that Clinton did any such thing.

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Beating Trump won't be as easy as many Democrats think

    Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Tuesday night, turning his sights on Hillary Clinton, who, he says, will be easy to beat. She will not be - at least not for him. But Democrats must avoid making a similar mistake, dismissing Trump based on his historically high negative poll numbers without understanding why people are voting for him.

    Imagine a Trump supporter. The image conjured up might be a loud white man, middle-age or older, probably "poorly educated" (as Trump has put it), perhaps wearing a white tank top or a shirt with something offensive on it, such as: "My other ride is your girlfriend."

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Get ready for U.S. politics to reach new lows

    Americans may need to bring in the kids; the presidential election promises to get ugly, a race to the bottom.

    Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both arouse strong passions, many of them negative. Both play tough.

    She is a policy wonk, but Trump has little interest in a wide-ranging debate on issues. In the Republican primaries, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz all tried at times to challenge him on substance; he brushed them aside with pointed personal rejoinders. It worked remarkably well.

    But a campaign dominated by personal invective and political mudslinging exacerbates polarization and makes governing tougher, say knowledgeable veterans of other campaigns and administrations.

    "If campaigns are not thoughtfully policy-oriented it makes it harder for those who have to govern," says Andrew Card, who was chief of staff to George W. Bush and now is president of Franklin Pierce University.

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Machines will never put humans out of work

    It is now widely accepted that technological advances, especially ones that make machines more like humans -- such as robotization or artificial intelligence -- are putting people out of work and will only destroy more jobs in the future. The wealth will accrue to those who own the machines, not to what's known as the middle class today. There's some good news for humans, though: The evidence of our displacement by machines is sketchy, and we should be able to adjust to the new technological era if we put our minds to it.

    Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology labeled this "the great decoupling": according to them, advances in productivity, mainly driven by the development of digital technology, and the resulting economic growth, no longer cause employment and workers' incomes to rise. "The Second Machine Age is playing out differently than the First Machine Age, continuing the long-term trend of material abundance but not of ever-greater labor demand," McAfee told Harvard Business Review.

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Virginia is finally giving felons like me the right to vote. We deserve it.

    I have never voted. By the time I was 18, I had a felony shoplifting conviction, which meant that I forever lost my right to vote in Virginia. I never had a chance.

    Not that I cared about voting at 18. I started getting into trouble very young -- running away from serious issues at home at age 12, drinking, smoking weed. I had a child at 16 (her father later broke my nose, which ended that relationship), and by the time I was 20, I had three more kids and a new addiction to crack cocaine.

    I didn't think of anyone but me. Besides, I thought voting was just for rich people. They made the decisions. I didn't think I counted.

    When I was in my early 20s, Bill Clinton was running for president, and I wanted to vote for him. I tried to register. That was when I learned that I couldn't vote because of my record.

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