Archive

September 24th, 2016

As a source - and a patriot - Edward Snowden deserves a presidential pardon

    President Barack Obama's administration has an unfortunate record of prosecuting whistleblowers, some of whom have been important sources for journalists.

    That's not a legacy any president should want.

    In the waning days of his administration, the president can turn that around, not entirely, but in an important way by pardoning the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and allowing him to return to the United States from his Russian exile without facing charges.

    Obama absolutely should do so. Snowden did an important - and brave - service for the American public and, in fact, the world, when he made it possible for news organizations to reveal widespread government surveillance of citizens. Some of that surveillance broke the law; some, although within the law, was nevertheless outrageous and unacceptable. And, afterward, some of the wrongs were righted through legislative reform.

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An Iowa Republican dumped Trump and his party

    Many Republicans have lamented some aspect of Donald Trump's campaign. The party's 2012 nominee, Mitt Romney, doesn't like that Trump is a "fraud." House Speaker Paul Ryan has objected to Trump's "textbook" racism. Less exalted members of the party have cringed at his bigotry or flimflam or utter lack of principle.

    But almost no Republican office holder or leader has done what veteran Iowa State Senator David Johnson has. In June, he quit the party. No groundswell followed him.

    Trump's emergence, Johnson said, "required somebody in elected office as a Republican to reject the party. He's now the standard-bearer of the party. I can't be a member of a party where the man who leads the party has this abysmal record in this campaign."

    Johnson is hardly alone in finding Trump "a cancer on conservatism," as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry memorably called him before deciding that maybe cancer wasn't so bad after all and endorsed him. But no GOP member of Congress has quit the party of Trump, and state office holders are staying put, as well.

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A vote for Trump is a vote to undo vital progress on climate change

    July and August were the hottest months for the planet since record keeping began. Scientists are confident that 2016 will be the hottest year. Rising sea levels have made flooding commonplace in several major U.S. cities. And meanwhile, one of our leading presidential candidates says climate change is some kind of Chinese hoax.

    Elections have consequences, and this is one of the most fateful: Anyone who takes climate change seriously had better do everything possible to keep Donald Trump out of the White House.

    Believe it or not, there are issues more important than Trump's latest offensive outburst or Hillary Clinton's score on the likability scale. Clinton accepts the scientific consensus on climate change, which is increasingly supported by what we see and feel every day. She would build upon President Obama's efforts to address the issue, which include the historic Paris agreement, seen by many experts as our last best hope to prevent catastrophe.

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2 Ex-Spies and Donald Trump

    When it comes to assessing the presidential race, I prefer to listen to the spies. They tend to be brutally unsentimental, see through the nonsense and cut to the cold, hard bottom line. And right now, two of the world’s foremost former spymasters are sending uncoded messages about what it will mean for America and the Western alliance if Donald Trump is elected president.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce former CIA Director Robert Gates and his longtime nemesis and former KGB agent, President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Putin is voting Trump. Gates is not.

    In an essay in The Wall Street Journal, Gates, who also was defense secretary for George W. Bush and Barack Obama, criticized both Hillary Clinton and Trump for failing to take the threat posed by Putin’s Russia seriously. But Trump, Gates added, has gone places with Putin no would-be American president should: “Mr. Trump’s expressions of admiration for the man and his authoritarian regime are naive and irresponsible.”

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Virginia for the Win: Cracks in the firewall

    Firewalls are supposed to prevent unauthorized access to a computer system.

    Virginia has served as a political firewall for Democrats in recent election cycles, and the Clinton campaign seemed to make a critical update when it added Sen. Tim Kaine to the national ticket.

    But what happens when the firewall develops cracks?

    We may be about to learn the answer.

    A series of polls show the presidential race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump tightening up, with Clinton still holding a narrow national lead but losing ground in key swing states such as Florida and Ohio and in Colorado, Iowa and Nevada.

    The numbers have Democrats worried and Republicans thinking they just might pull this thing off.

    Democrats should be concerned.

    If Trump carries all the states Mitt Romney won in 2012, he would have 206 electoral votes in his column.

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Trump's law-and-order approach won't make us safer

    In the past decade, two major movements for criminal justice reform have arisen: the push against mass incarceration and Black Lives Matter's mobilization against police brutality. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has attacked both, arguing that the movements would touch off a new crime epidemic.

    He's wrong. The research we have shows that we know how to fight crime without using more handcuffs and prison cells.

    We didn't always have the evidence we do now. When crime began to spike in the United States in the 1960s, experts were caught flat-footed. Most criminologists thought crime was driven by sociological factors, beyond the influence of the police. They had little to say about how prevention measures short of fundamental economic, educational and social reforms might curb the violence.

    This was hardly a message politicians could take to their voters. So legislators came up with their own, simple prescription: crack down, hard. Our nation declared war on drugs, significantly increased policing and quadrupled incarceration.

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Trump's birtherism isn't dead - it just has a new target

    Where and how did birtherism start? Not, certainly, with Hillary Clinton, no matter what Donald Trump says. For that matter, birtherism did not even originate with the specific false accusation, or calumny, that Barack Obama was not born in Hawaii or had failed to produce a birth certificate. That allegation merely advanced the story line on the overarching calumny that began percolating in 2004 after Obama's keynote address at the Democratic National Convention -- namely that Obama was concealing Muslim origins.

    What is calumny? The use of false accusations to destroy someone's reputation for the sake of securing victory over them. Calumny was long held to be a mortal sin, because it is the most devious form of combat. Honorable combat does not rely on duplicity.

    Where did this calumny against Obama, which led eventually to birtherism, come from?

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September 23rd

Free-trade deals claim some unwilling victims

    When people talk about the benefits and harms from trade, they usually refer to the labor market. That makes sense, since losing a job has a huge impact on a person's life. Even if you can find another job, it takes time and money and causes lots of stress. It disrupts your life, and sometimes you can't find as good a job as the one you had before.

    That's why recent research from economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson, showing that trade with China hurt lots of U.S. workers, made such a splash -- we can all imagine the stress, the fear, the humiliation and the hopelessness of workers whose careers are destroyed in a day, leaving them dependent on welfare or working at a job paying half as much. If Autor et al. are right, the "China shock" of the 2000s hurt more workers than it helped.

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Trump has polished his political skills

    After a six-month hiatus from the campaign trail, listening to a Donald Trump speech, and the audience reactions to it, is a powerful experience. Although his message hasn't changed much, Trump's skill as a candidate and his ability to keep the audience engaged have significantly improved.

    The address he delivered in Laconia, New Hampshire, on Sept. 15 was perhaps the 12th I have attended this year. Journalists who have been following him throughout the campaign have probably heard him hundreds of times, day after day. The long and continuous acquaintance makes it harder to notice any changes. I last heard Trump in March, at a golf club he owns in Florida, and the difference between now and then was striking.

    "This was one of the worst political speeches I have heard," I wrote after one of his appearances in Iowa in January. "Trump rambled for more than an hour without completing a sentence. He went off on unexpected tangents." Members of the audience began milling about, talking to one another, leaving early. Trump's voice grated, changed pitch, went from a whine to a growl when there was no need for it.

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The Republican Party is now institutionally defending Donald Trump's racism

    So it's come to this: The institutional position of the Republican Party in the great birther controversy roiling the 2016 campaign -- a consequential chapter in our political history -- is now essentially that Donald Trump did the nationa service by forcing the first African American president to finally show his papers.

    This new GOP storyline has gotten obscured by the ongoing back-and-forth in the media over various subplots (did Hillary Clinton start birtherism? did Trump really keep feeding this conspiracy after 2011?) that are related to the birther battle.

    Yet it's unmistakably the larger narrative that the Trump campaign and top Republicans -- including the chairman of the Republican National Committee -- are telling right now. The Trump campaign's effort to whitewash his birther history -- in which he fed racist conspiracy theories for years -- is being widely called out as dishonest. And that's good. But Trump's new narrative is actually a lot worse than the rendering of it we've seen in most media accounts suggests, and now the party has institutionally joined in promoting it.

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