Archive

June 22nd, 2016

Would checks and balances stop Trump? Don't bet on it.

    Will the Republican Party that made Donald Trump its nominee protect us from Trump when he is president? Even as they call him a "textbook" racist and acknowledge his scant regard for the rule of law, Republican leaders assure voters that the U.S. system of checks and balances will contain their candidate's authoritarian impulses. Congress and the judicial system will keep Trump under control.

    History and recent events suggest that is a risky proposition. Inflamed popular passions and overreaching presidents have at times not been checked. Presidents have ignored Supreme Court rulings, and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and 1918, Jim Crow, the mistreatment of German Americans during World War I and of U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, and the investigations of Sen. Joseph McCarthy all showed how a frightened, angry or simply bigoted majority could deprive individuals of their rights despite the Constitution's checks and balances. That those rights were eventually restored is no cause for satisfaction: The damage done was permanent.

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White House: Even Donald Trump won't want to tear up the Iran deal

    Despite Donald Trump's repeated claims that he will "dismantle" the Iran nuclear deal if he becomes president, a top White House aide expressed confidence on Thursday that the next commander-in-chief, including the presumptive Republican nominee, would preserve the deal in order to prevent a potential military conflict in the Middle East.

    "The way in which the Iran deal is structured creates enormous disincentives for an incoming president to tear it up," Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser, told a crowd at the Atlantic Council in response to a question by Foreign Policy. "To decide that one of the very first things I'm going to do is precipitate a crisis in the Middle East that leads to potential nuclear proliferation or another war - it just doesn't seem like a very wise thing to do."

    The remarks come at a perilous moment for the nuclear deal struck by world powers last year that exchanges strict curbs on Iran's nuclear program for the lifting of punishing economic sanctions.

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June 21st

In Trump, echoes of Nixon

    Donald Trump's recent declaration of war against The Washington Post is reminiscent of another angry thin-skinned Republican who launched a nasty crusade against the media: Richard Nixon.

    Trump's Nixonian echo is hard to miss. Both men relished vendettas against the media and political establishments: Nixon viewed the press as "the enemy"; Trump calls it "scum." And both professed to champion America's "silent majority," invoking an angry faux-populism to blame racial minorities for legitimate economic grievances.

    Like Trump, Nixon's battles with the press began long before his march to the White House. He, too, obsessively sought to manipulate the news coverage he desperately craved and wasn't afraid to use intimidation if he thought it would help. Nixon's conduct in office presents a chilling example of what a President Trump could do.

    Nixon's sense of grievance was genuine, going back to his narrow defeat in 1960 by John F. Kennedy and his self-pitying vow two years later that "you won't have Nixon to kick around anymore."

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Trump's relentless assault on the truth

    Donald Trump must be the biggest liar in the history of American politics, and that's saying something.

    Trump lies the way other people breathe. We're used to politicians who stretch the truth, who waffle or dissemble, who emphasize some facts while omitting others. But I can't think of any other political figure who so brazenly tells lie after lie, spraying audiences with such a fusillade of untruths that it is almost impossible to keep track. Perhaps he hopes the media and the nation will become numb to his constant lying. We must not.

    Trump lies when citing specifics. He claimed that the shooter in the Orlando massacre was an Afghan; the killer, Omar Mateen, was an American citizen born in Queens. He claimed that a "tremendous flow of Syrian refugees" has been entering the country; the total between 2012 and 2015 was around 2,000, barely a trickle. He claimed that "we have no idea" who those refugees are; they undergo up to two years of careful vetting before being admitted.

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Trump gets it wrong about Muslim non-assimilation

    Donald Trump says Muslim immigrants are unwilling or unable to integrate into American society. "For some reason, there's no real assimilation," he said this week. "I won't say nonexistent, but it gets to be pretty close. And I'm talking about second and third generation."

    Scholars say there are no data to support such a sweeping statement. Authoritative evidence is hard to come by because the U.S. Census Bureau is barred from asking about religious affiliation, but other surveys fill in some of the blanks.

    They tell us that Muslims arrive in the U.S. with higher education and income levels than other immigrant groups and are assimilating at about the same pace (and faster than Muslim immigrants in Europe). That doesn't always leave them better off, however.

    The pool is small: Of the U.S.'s 2.75 million Muslims, about 1.7 million are first-generation immigrants and another 412,000 are second-generation. According to a Pew Research Center survey, they recycle, use social media, follow sports teams and play video games as much as the general public.

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The Trump Disaster Chronicle

    It’s natural to wonder how our next president would respond, on a human level, to a disaster like Orlando. The candidates have been pretty clear on policy, but how would he/she relate to a community, and country, in pain?

    We ought to have some clues, since both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were New Yorkers when the World Trade Center towers came down on Sept. 11.

    Clinton was a U.S. senator at the time, so her script was pretty clear. She comforted the afflicted, joined hands with political adversaries for a show of unity, fought to get aid for the city and the survivors.

    We obviously wouldn’t have expected all that from Trump, who was a private citizen. But a very rich, important one — he must have done a lot for the city and survivors, right? He once boasted to The Times’ Mark Leibovich that as president, he’d be great at reaching out in a crisis. Empathy, he said, “will be one of the strongest things about Trump.”

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The sweet sounds of common sense on the internet

    Video-sharing services were handed an important victory Thursday by an appeals court, which held that they can't be held liable when users post videos with songs copyrighted before 1972. The decision, a model of judicial common sense, closed a loophole in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

    The court has recognized that, in that law, Congress intended to create a workable compromise that would allow internet-based sharing services to exist, while still offering a modicum of protection to copyright holders.

    The case started with a lawsuit against the video-sharing service Vimeo by copyright holders of pre-1972 music. When you post a video to Vimeo, the site apparently monitors whether it's your video or one you've pirated. But it doesn't check out the soundtrack to see if you've used music that's under copyright.

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The FBI was right not to arrest Omar Mateen before the shooting

    The massacre at an Orlando LGBT club has predictably provoked the same reaction as past terror attacks: recriminations that authorities should have done more to stop it in advance, accompanied by demands for new police powers to prevent future ones. Blame-assigners immediately pointed to the FBI's investigation of the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen. "The FBI closed this file because the Obama administration treats radical Islamic threats as common crimes," GOP Sen. Lindsey O. Graham argued on Fox News. "If we kept the file open and we saw what he was up to, I think we could have stopped it." Others cited core fundamental rights, demanding they be eroded. "Due process is what's killing us right now," proclaimed Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin about the FBI's inability to act more aggressively against Mateen.

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The amazing artificial intelligence we were promised is coming, finally

    We have been hearing predictions for decades of a takeover of the world by artificial intelligence. In 1957, Herbert A. Simon predicted that within 10 years a digital computer would be the world's chess champion. That didn't happen until 1996. And despite Marvin Minsky's 1970 prediction that "in from three to eight years we will have a machine with the general intelligence of an average human being," we still consider that a feat of science fiction.

    The pioneers of artificial intelligence were surely off on the timing, but they weren't wrong; AI is coming. It is going to be in our TV sets and driving our cars; it will be our friend and personal assistant; it will take the role of our doctor. There have been more advances in AI over the past three years than there were in the previous three decades.

    Even technology leaders such as Apple have been caught off guard by the rapid evolution of machine learning, the technology that powers AI. At its recent Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple opened up its AI systems so that independent developers could help it create technologies that rival what Google and Amazon have already built. Apple is way behind.

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Principles take a back seat to power, connections and money

    There have not been two more prominent conservative activists over the past quarter century than Grover Norquist, the anti-tax and anti-government advocate, and Ralph Reed, a leading strategist for the religious right.

    Both profess to put principles first. Norquist, best known for demanding that Republican office seekers sign an anti-tax pledge, says he wants to slash government "to the size where I can drag it in the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." He also is a self-identified champion of "outreach to the Muslim community."

    Reed, who runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition, says values and morals should be central to politics and that the U.S. needs to be "guided by an internal moral compass." Today, both are strong supporters of Donald Trump.

    Trump has shown little interest in cutting the size of government. He has run an anti-Muslim campaign and is at best a newcomer to faith politics; not too long ago he was pro-choice on abortion and didn't object to late-term abortions.

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