Archive

July 16th, 2016

Obama’s Racial Straits

    I have many qualms about Barack Obama’s presidency. I worry that he exhausted too much political capital too soon on Obamacare. That he overcorrected for his predecessor’s foreign debacle. That he wore his disdain for Congress too conspicuously.

    But I cry foul at the complaint that he has significantly aggravated racial animosity and widened the racial divide in this country. It’s a simplistic read of what’s happening, and it lays too much blame on the doorstep of a man who has sought — imperfectly on some occasions, expertly on others — to speak for all Americans.

    That complaint trailed him to Dallas, where he appeared on Tuesday at a memorial for the five police officers killed by a sniper last week. He was there not just to eulogize them — which he did, magnificently — but to try to steady a nation reeling from their deaths and the ones just beforehand of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota.

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'Us vs. them'? Look around and know it isn't so

    Oh, Dallas. Oh, boy.

    Once more you are in the spotlight in the worst possible way – and you are impressing the hell out of us.

    Book-ended days of infamy? Yes, but, compare.

    In one, 1963, death in Dealey Plaza was presaged by character assassination -- in the Dallas newspapers and in mobs of right-wing goons.

    Dallas in 2016 is a much more progressive city, with a model, proactive police force. All the heart-warming community statements and comings-together since a madman felled caring cops have affirmed it.

    Be proud, Dallas. Be proud.

    Forgive me for thinking this horrible event is going to result in more good than the many events that cause us to bury our heads in our hands. People are going to coalesce around the good guys on both sides of what some want to construct into a race war.

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Let vets get health care in civilian hospitals

    I disagree with pretty much everything Donald Trump has ever said. But in calling for veterans to have more options on their doctors and hospitals, he's got a point. Imagine, for example, the outrage if military veterans were able to receive subsidized health care at the clinic or hospital of their choosing, but were then forced into a separate system of run-down, inconveniently located facilities. If the next administration rejects proposals to reform the Veterans Health Administration and instead perpetuates the current system, the effect will be the same.

    Providing health care to veterans is a moral imperative and a substantial challenge. The VHA is massive, with roughly 300,000 employees, 20,000 physicians, 1,600 facilities, almost 6 million patients, and a $60 billion annual budget. The system is plagued by deep problems, including a failure to provide the kind of facilities vets need in the places where they're needed, according to a congressionally mandated independent assessment.

    Now the Commission on Care, formed to figure out how to do better, has recommended the right pathway forward.

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Slogging on the economic road back to normal

    In light of the big rise in the June payrolls, I wanted to offer some broader context about the economy. Understanding the swings of data might change the way you perceive the financial markets.

    First, the setup:

    It would be an understatement to say there was lots nervousness after the credit crisis and Great Recession of 2007-2009. The wounds may have been self-inflicted, but they were deep and painful. How quickly the economy would recover from the combination of huge debt expansion, the wave of foreclosures and spiking unemployment was a major unknown.

    After the recession ended, many economists were looking at this the wrong way. They should have been focusing on the pile up of debt. Instead, they assumed this was an ordinary recovery from a recession, and that the deep plunge in the economy would be followed by a rapid snapback. That didn't happen, and that has led to much angst as the recovery proceeded fitfully and at a pace well below that of average recoveries in the postwar era.

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It's fine for Supreme Court justices to speak out

    Doesn't everyone have an outspoken Jewish grandmother? That was my thought on reading the indignant commentary on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's unflattering assessment of Donald Trump in an interview with the New York Times.

    To put the point more seriously, there's nothing wrong with a sitting Supreme Court justice expressing her personal political views when they don't implicate any case that's currently before the court.

    Justices aren't priests -- and the myth that they are is bad for democracy and constitutional law. If a justice chooses to open up, the skies won't fall. The 83-year-old Ginsburg's rigorous ethical reputation will remain intact. And the legitimacy of the court will not be harmed.

    Don't let the black robes fool you. Nothing in the Constitution - which, by the way, also says nothing about robes -- demands that the justices be nonpartisan, or even pretend to be.

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Limiting pay for play in college sports

    The odds have gone up that the Supreme Court will consider whether rules governing amateur participation in U.S. college sports violate antitrust law. The central issue is whether student-athletes should be compensated for their efforts.

    The National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, was the defendant in the original lawsuit, and had already asked the justices to review the compromise decision issued by a federal appeals court in 2015. Now the plaintiffs' lawyers have agreed, filing a brief that argues the Supreme Court should take on the case.

    Agreement from both sides is no guarantee the court will listen. But it's relatively unusual -- and worth understanding if you care about the future of college sports.

    The backdrop for the current state of play is the decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in September. The opinion can be seen as a classic Solomon-style effort to give something to each side.

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July 15th

Face it, Facebook: You're in the news business

    You've heard of the accidental tourist. And now we have the reluctant news media.

    I'm talking about Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, among others. With the advent of live streaming options - Facebook Live and Periscope, primarily - their already huge influence in the news universe has taken another stunning leap.

    When Diamond Reynolds logged on to Facebook after her boyfriend, Philandro Castile, was shot by a police officer Wednesday in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, her first words as she started recording were "Stay with me." Millions did.

    On the strength of that live video, Minnesota's governor brought in the U.S. Justice Department to investigate what might otherwise have gone unquestioned as a justified police action.

    I call that news.

    But Facebook doesn't see itself that way, even though two thirds of its 1.6 billion users get news there - and even though they all now can be citizen journalists with live-broadcast cameras in their pockets.

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General Flynn outlines an all-out war on terror

    A theme of President Barack Obama's counterterrorism policy has been a relentless narrowing of focus. Under his watch the U.S. has not been at war with terror or radical Islam. It has been in discrete conflicts with al-Qaida's core leadership and its affiliate in Yemen and the Islamic State. And while Obama's war has waxed and waned, he has never explained its disparate parts as a whole the way his predecessor did.

    Michael Flynn, who served as Obama's second Defense Intelligence Agency director, takes the opposite view. "Field of Fight," a new book Flynn co-wrote with historian Michael Ledeen, argues that America is up against a global alliance between radical jihadis and anti-American nation states like Russia, Cuba and North Korea. They say this war will last at least a generation. And they say it will require outside ground forces to go after al-Qaida and the Islamic State as well as a sustained information campaign to discredit the ideology of radical Islam.

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Celebrities are our new first responders

    In 2006, when actor-activist Martin Sheen was approached by Democratic officials and encouraged to run for office in his home state of Ohio, he politely demurred. "I'm just not qualified," he said. "You're mistaking celebrity for credibility."

    Ten years later, whenever ugly events summon headlines about "our divided nation," our celebrity class thrusts itself headfirst and wholeheartedly into the debate. They conflate celebrity for credibility. They conflate activism with typing (or is it with self-promotion?) And trapped in a rudderless, flopping shipwreck of a summer - seeking guidance from the beautiful people if we can't have it from the ones we elected - we conflate it, too.

    Nation, let us turn to LeBron James, who tweeted, "We are all hurting tonight. More violence is not the answer," after the killings of five police officers in Dallas. The well-intentioned, if self-evident, comment was liked or retweeted more than 100,000 times.

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Trump is making a real mess of his campaign

    You can love Donald Trump. You can hate him. But what you cannot dispute is that the way he has run his campaign since sealing the Republican nomination two months ago has been absolutely disastrous.

    Campaigns are complicated things. No one gets every piece of them right. Some candidates are great at big rallies. Some are good only at small events. Some are terrific TV communicators but bad on the stump. Some delegate well, and others don't. Some never waver from a message, while others can't seem to find one with a 10-foot pole. It's a high-wire balancing act every day with tens of millions of people watching.

    But there are basic blocking and tackling elements of any campaign that are less complex - and absolutely necessary to do if you want to win. The most basic of all? If your opponent is having a bad day or a bad week, let them have it. Just get out of the way.

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