Archive

June 5th, 2016

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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Libertarians could hurt somebody's campaign, but whose?

    Gary Johnson and Bill Weld may be the Ralph Naders of 2016, though it's not clear whether the casualty would be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

    Johnson and Weld, former Republican governors, were tapped last weekend as the Libertarian candidates for president and vice president. This party has never received even 1 percent of the vote in a presidential election.

    But never have the two presumptive major party nominees been so unpopular. Thus the Johnson-Weld ticket hopes to get the highest third-party vote since Ross Perot captured 19 percent running as an independent in 1992.

    They wouldn't necessarily need big numbers to make a big impact. Nader, running as the Green Party candidate, received less than 3 percent of the total vote in 2000. But he probably cost Democrat Al Gore the election by taking ballots Gore needed to capture decisive electoral votes in the excruciatingly tight contest in Florida.

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Demise of local news may be ruining Congress

    For several senators up for re-election this year, a significant problem is that no one in their home states knows who they are. This is a consequence, as The Washington Post's Paul Kane points out, of the collapse of local newspapers:

    "Overall, there are more reporters covering Congress than ever, except they increasingly write for inside Washington publications whose readers are lawmakers, lobbyists and Wall Street investors. A Pew Research Center study released earlier this year found that at least 21 states do not have a single dedicated reporter covering Congress."

    It isn't clear yet what that means for elections, although it's not going to bother most people if incumbents have less of an advantage than they once had.

    What's important is the potential impact on Congress.

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June 4th

The Ghosts of Old Sex Scandals

    We are now being forced to relive the decades-old sex scandals of Bill Clinton, as Donald Trump tries desperately to shield and inoculate himself from well-earned charges of misogyny.

    I say, if we must go there, let’s go all the way. Let’s do this dirty laundry, as Kelly Rowland, former Destiny’s Child member, once crooned.

    First, multiple women have accused Clinton of things ranging from sexual misconduct to rape. Paula Jones famously brought a sexual harassment case against Clinton. The case was dismissed, but on appeal, faced with the prospect of having to testify under oath, Clinton settled the case out of court.

    Clinton has maintained that he had inappropriate sexual relationships with only two women: Gennifer Flowers, a model and actress, and Monica Lewinsky, a White House intern.

    Clinton was impeached on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with his affair with Lewinsky.

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Alabama judge loves states' rights till he doesn't

    Alabama's erstwhile chief justice, Roy Moore -- twice suspended, now under investigation for flouting the commands of the federal courts -- is suing the Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission ... in federal court. There might be a greater example of chutzpah in the history of judicial proceedings, but I can't think of it.

    The man who claims that the Alabama state courts have the authority to interpret the Constitution for themselves, ignoring the supremacy of the federal courts, is going over the heads of his judicial colleagues and challenging Alabama's judicial ethics process in the alien federal system.

    To make matters even more astonishing, Moore is a two-time loser in his one-man war against the judicial authority of the federal courts. In 2003, he was removed from the elected post of state chief justice after refusing to obey a federal district court order to remove a 5,200-pound granite statue of the 10 Commandments that he had unilaterally ordered to the erected in front of the state supreme court building.

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No, Sanders voters aren't more conservative than Clinton voters

    Are Bernie Sanders supporters more ideologically liberal than Hillary Clinton supporters? The conventional wisdom - that of course they are - was challenged last week when political scientists Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels wrote about some surprising findings in the New York Times.

    Achen and Bartels analyzed 2016 American National Election Study (ANES) pilot survey data to figure out Sanders supporters' attitudes on social welfare issues like the minimum wage and health care spending. According to their data, respondents who prefer Sanders held roughly the same positions as - or were more conservative than - Clinton voters, overall.

    How can that be? According to DW-NOMINATE scores, Sen. Sanders had a more liberal Congressional roll call voting record than Clinton did as a senator. Sanders's campaign has been dedicated to a very liberal - even moderately socialist - redistribution of wealth: a higher minimum wage, a "Medicare for all" federal healthcare plan and economic inequality reduced by redistributing income from the rich to everyone else.

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