Archive

September 23rd, 2016

New security at museums and monuments is bad for visitors, worse for U.S.

    Starting in November, Arlington National Cemetery will be phasing in "enhanced security measures," including mandatory screening of everyone who walks into the facility.

    Cemetery officials announced the new security plan on Sept. 12, a day after the 15th anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks in the nation's history. Back then, President George W. Bush urged us "to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat." A decade and a half later, we're instead building fear of that threat into our lives.

    As a tour guide, I'm a bit jaded by this quest for security. Every year brings a new closure, a new checkpoint, a little less freedom than the year before. Every change makes tour guides' jobs a little more difficult -- which is fine -- and the visitors' experience at some of the capital's most popular places a little less meaningful -- which is not.

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Garland shouldn't get hopes up for confirmation

    If Hillary Clinton wins in November, will the lame-duck Republican Senate confirm Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court? Last week, Clinton said she would look for diversity and wouldn't feel bound to renominate Garland, which in theory should give Republican senators more reason to confirm Garland, before Clinton can nominate a more liberal candidate.

    Yet a careful analysis of Republican senators' incentives in the case of a Democratic win in November points the other way. If Republicans lose the presidency, the party will enter an intense period of self-reflection and disarray. And if they also lose the Senate, the disarray will be greater still.

    Under those conditions, it seems most likely that Republican senators wouldn't want the final act of their majority session to be acquiescence to the judicial candidate nominated by President Barack Obama. Instead, looking to future primary challenges, they'll have reason to reject Garland by denying him a vote -- even if that may lead to a more liberal Supreme Court in the long run.

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Fed meeting shouldn't obscure BOJ's moment

    This week, much attention will focus on the Open Market Committee of the U.S. Federal Reserve, the most powerful central bank in the world, whose actions have global impact. Yet the most informative, and intriguing, policy decision could take place in Tokyo. And the outcome will not only tell us more about Japan's daunting challenges, but could also signal more clearly what lies ahead for other central banks that continue to operate within an unbalanced macro-economic policy mix.

    It is now widely recognized that, for most of the period since the global financial crisis, an enormous and excessive burden has been placed on central banks. Long used to playing a complimentary, albeit critical role, in policies, and mostly behind the scenes, they have taken such a dominant and visible role that they have become "the only game in town." In the process, these monetary institutions became increasingly committed to experimental measures, from negative interest rates in Europe and Japan, to outsize involvement in financial markets in many countries as the banks deployed their balance sheets for large-scale asset purchases.

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Could the erosion of trust in government be at an end?

    One of my running themes in recent years has been Americans' erosion of trust in authority and what that means for the body politic: its effect on perceptions of the Supreme Court, the rise of conspiracy theories, the emergence of a post-truth political era and the overall decay of American democracy. The polling data, particularly from Gallup, is pretty clear about the trend lines. Compared to 20 or 50 years ago, the only government or nongovernmental institution that has seen an unambiguous increase in trust has been the military.

    In the post-9/11 era (with a brief exception after the 2008 crisis), the only direction in which trust in institutions has gone has been down. So Monday's new numbers from Gallup are interesting:

    "Americans express as much or slightly more confidence in each of the three branches of the federal government than they did in 2014 and 2015, when their confidence fell to record or near-record lows. Public confidence in the judicial branch has recovered to 61% after slipping to 53% in 2015. Meanwhile, since 2014, confidence in the executive branch has climbed eight percentage points to 51%, and confidence in the legislative branch has improved seven points to 35%."

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Vote As If It Matters

    Does it make sense to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president? Sure, as long as you believe two things. First, you have to believe that it makes no difference at all whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump moves into the White House — because one of them will. Second, you have to believe that America will be better off in the long run if we eliminate environmental regulation, abolish the income tax, do away with public schools, and dismantle Social Security and Medicare — which is what the Libertarian platform calls for.

    But do 29 percent of Americans between 18 and 34 believe these things? I doubt it. Yet that, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll, is the share of millennial voters who say that they would vote for Johnson if the election took place now. And the preponderance of young Americans who say they’ll back Johnson or Jill Stein, the Green Party nominee, appear to be citizens who would support Clinton in a two-way race; including the minor party candidates cuts her margin among young voters from 21 points to just 5.

    So I’d like to make a plea to young Americans: your vote matters, so please take it seriously.

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Trump, Grand Wizard of Birtherism

    So, on Friday the Grand Wizard of Birtherism against President Barack Obama admitted that birtherism was bunk, not by apologizing for his prominent role in the racist campaign — no, that would have been too right — but by suggesting that he deserved credit for dousing the flames he’d fanned.

    This man is so low he’s subterranean.

    Donald Trump said Friday: “Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy.”

    That was a lie. There is no evidence Hillary Clinton and her campaign either started or took part in the efforts to question the location of Barack Obama’s birth.

    He continued: “I finished it.”

    That was also a lie. Well after it had been established that the president was born in this country, Trump continued to traffic in speculation to the contrary, all the way up to and including this year.

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September 22nd

The stories this museum will tell

    Lewis Fraction never imagined that his death would help inspire work toward a museum on the Mall.

    "Brother" Fraction and I were mentors in a church youth program when he died 20 years ago, just shy of his 60th birthday, leaving behind a wife and four grown children. While at his home to comfort his family and remember his life, I was struck by the stories told by the elders gathered there.

    Stories about the myriad joys of youth - the courtship rituals, old dance steps, swooning over Sam Cooke. Stories about all-black, one-room, ramshackle schoolhouses and the nurturing but stern teachers who presided over them. Some described never seeing a whole piece of chalk or a new textbook - just broken bits and beaten-up books handed down from white schools. There were stories about countless indignities, major and minor, and the psychological wounds they inflicted.

    Magnificent stories. Awful stories. Profound stories.

    As we drove home that evening, I asked my wife, "Why don't we have a museum to tell all of those stories?"

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Spiro Agnew's ghost

    Spiro Agnew is remembered for pleading no contest to tax evasion charges related to bribery and resigning as Richard Nixon's vice president. But his signal political achievement was igniting a campaign that endured for more than four decades painting the mainstream media as biased, liberal and elitist.

    Anti-media sentiment had long been bubbling on the right when Agnew targeted what were then the Big Three television networks for representing "a concentration of power over American public opinion unknown in history."

    "The American people would rightly not tolerate this kind of concentration of power in government," Agnew declared in a 1969 speech in Des Moines. "Is it not fair and relevant to question its concentration in the hands of a tiny and closed fraternity of privileged men, elected by no one, and enjoying a monopoly sanctioned and licensed by government?"

    Agnew was unrelenting. With help from William Safire and Pat Buchanan, gifted Nixon speechwriters (and, later, columnists), he coined many memorable phrases, including the alliterative "nattering nabobs of negativism."

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Trump starts sweeping out his barn

    As Donald Trump heads into the last seven weeks of the presidential campaign, he is trying to clean up the various lies, exaggerations, insults and bigotries that have fueled his White House bid from the start.

    His latest effort is his very tardy attempt to get off the table his wholly unfounded claim that Barack Obama was not a native-born American, and hence illegally elected president in 2008, long after Obama produced the official certificate verifying his birth in Hawaii..

    Almost laughably, Trump treated his admission of gross error as merely a minor matter of no consequence, as if he were correcting a misspelling. He declared he had chosen not to continue the smear, perhaps in the vain hope of boosting his dismal support among African-American voters.

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Trump quits 'birtherism,' but not lying

    News Flash: Donald Trump now believes that President Barack Obama was born in the country of which he is president.

    That news may be a relief to the president, although I doubt that he was losing much sleep over it.

    After a night of oddly competing statements from Trump and his own campaign team, the Republican presidential nominee's announced three things at his new Washington, D.C., hotel.

    Two of those things were false. "Hillary Clinton and her campaign of 2008 started the birther controversy," he declared on Friday morning. "I finished it. I finished it."

    No, there's no evidence that his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton or her campaign had anything to do with starting birtherism, as PolitiFact found in 2015.

    But the bizarre "birther" movement was fading in 2011 when Trump, the TV star and real estate developer, gave it new life through his well-developed capacity for self-promotion.

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