Archive

July 16th, 2016

Dallas tests candidates' presidential mettle

    In a misguided effort to be fair, the headline in the Sunday New York Times, "Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Struggle to Be Unifying Voice for Nation," made it seem as if the two candidates were equally unsuited to the task. This is dead wrong.

    Trump and Clinton have some of the highest unfavorable ratings of any would-be presidential nominees in modern history. Yet if you need evidence that bad candidates are not all alike, take a look at the way they grappled with the outburst of racial tension and violence -- the great unsolved problem of our time.

    The Republican standard-bearer, Trump, has inflamed the country's racial divide. Since he tested the power of racial politics by supporting the birther movement and found it potent, he hasn't stopped blowing the dog whistle.

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When weapons of war come home to crime scenes

    Given the horror of the murder of the five police officers in Dallas last Thursday, it may seem absurd or distasteful to ask whether it was a good idea to kill the sniper with a bomb mounted on a robot. Surely anything that stopped the carnage was justified in the moment, and the police seem to have had no clear shot at the sniper.

    But the issue is more complicated, and it deserves to be considered carefully. There's a legal difference between targeting a crime suspect and targeting a wartime enemy. There's also a difference between using a weapon that can be aimed and using one that puts bystanders at greater risk. And a precedent set under emergency conditions can easily expand in future cases. The step from the robot bomb to a drone strike is barely even incremental: morally and technologically, they're basically the same.

    Bombs and missiles aren't new. There are reasons they are hardly ever used for domestic law enforcement in the U.S. Those reasons have to do with precision, scale, and the difference between apprehending criminals and fighting wars.

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The (GOP) Party’s Over

    This column has argued for a while now that there is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy. At least a one-party autocracy can order things to get done.

    A one-party democracy — that is, a two-party system where only one party is interested in governing and the other is in constant blocking mode, which has characterized America in recent years — is much worse. It can’t do anything big, hard or important.

    We can survive a few years of such deadlock in Washington, but we sure can’t take another four or eight years without real decay setting in, and that explains what I’m rooting for in this fall’s elections: I hope Hillary Clinton wins all 50 states and the Democrats take the presidency, the House, the Senate and, effectively, the Supreme Court.

    That is the best thing that could happen to America, at least for the next two years — that Donald Trump is not just defeated, but is crushed at the polls. That would have multiple advantages for our country.

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Courts blur line between violent speech and crime

    Create a pro-Islamic State music video and post it on a known IS website and you could find yourself convicted of a crime, material support for terrorism. But according to a federal appellate decision issued last week, a music video featuring guns and violence can't be considered in criminal sentencing or else it would violate your free-speech rights.

    What's the difference between cultural advocacy of terror and cultural glorification of violence? The legal answer lies in the arcana of material support for terrorism as interpreted by the Supreme Court. But the deeper answer lies in our fractured thinking about the First Amendment. When it comes to contemporary gun violence, we distinguish action from artistic ideas. But when it comes to terrorism, we blur the differences -- for better or worse.

    Start with Friday's opinion issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. It involved a Puerto Rican singer named Neftalí Alvarez-Núñez who was caught with a machine pistol and a bottle of Percocet. He was convicted on gun and drug charges.

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The tough sell on remaking Trump

    Donald Trump's new strategist, Paul Manafort, is trying to soften his candidate's harsh image, but recent events in cities across the country are making that exceedingly difficult: the conflicts between police departments and those protesting their treatment of black men.

    Trump is known for cheering on those in the crowd at his rallies who resort to violence, even offering to pay legal fees they may incur in the process. Cheering on that kind of behavior obviously is not what the country needs right now from the presumptive presidential nominee of a major party.

    It's especially hard to defend in light of the report from Dallas Police Chief David Brown that the black man who shot and killed five police officers said he wanted to kill white officers.

    At a time the nation's president and its presumptive Democratic nominee are calling for a coming together of all Americans, Trump's racial comments about blacks, Mexicans and Muslims throughout his campaign have already badly marked him as a serial societal divider.

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China's dubious land grab in the South china Sea

    China's claim of jurisdiction over pretty much the entire South China Sea boils down to this: Dudes, we're back. That is, after a century of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers and 67 years of rebuilding since the Communists took power, the country is ready to reassert dominion over a body of water that has been in its sphere of influence for millennia.

    As J. Bruce Jacobs of the American Enterprise Institute explained two years ago, there are a lot of questions about how much control, if any, China was ever able to assert in past centuries over an expanse of water that stretches 1,000 miles south of its southernmost coastline. But it's definitely capable of asserting control now, so that's what it's been doing -- mainly, by building artificial islands atop reefs in the Spratly Islands and harassing fishermen from the Philippines and Vietnam.

    Such behavior is not unprecedented for an aspiring great power. As has been pointed out by others, the U.S. behaved similarly in the Caribbean and a few other seas in the late 19th and early 20th century.

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The most progressive Democratic platform ever

    Last weekend, as the nation reeled from the violence in Minneapolis, New Orleans and Dallas, the Democratic Platform Committee met in Orlando to debate the party's pledges for the future. Once again, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. and his delegates, despite some setbacks, made progress in trying to transform the party's agenda. Where Sanders has succeeded and where he has been frustrated provide a clear map of how far the people's movements he represents have gotten, and how far they have to go.

    Sanders' most notable impact has been in driving elements of an expanded economic bill of rights into the platform. On education, Democrats committed to tuition-free education at in-state public colleges and universities for all those making under $125,000 a year. Sanders praised the Clinton shift as a "very bold initiative," even if it didn't embrace his call for making college free for all.

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Whitewater was no close call for prosecutors

    As a matter of historical fact, it may be correct, as The Washington Post reported Sunday, that Whitewater prosecutors now say they came "close" to filing charges against then-first lady Hillary Clinton back in the 1990s. As a matter of legal and factual analysis, from one who observed this investigation at every step: Never . . . a . . . close . . . call . . . at . . . all.

    Putting aside significant ethical questions about the propriety of prosecutors casually reminiscing, decades later, about the potential guilt of subjects who were never charged, the facts speak for themselves. While independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr and his staff may have secretly hoped for and ruminated about the possibility of bringing a criminal case against Clinton, they never even presented an indictment to the many grand juries they used.

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Republicans may never get past immigration

    Donald Trump has run the most anti-immigrant presidential campaign in modern memory. Hillary Clinton has run the most pro-immigrant campaign. After November, something's gotta give.

    If Trump wins, of course, all bets are off. Neither a wall running the length of the southern border nor a mass deportation of undocumented immigrants is likely. Yet both are possible. Beyond that, who can tell? Trump's policies are deployed as performance enhancers, not blueprints for governing.

    Clinton, on the other hand, has promised to introduce immigration reform in her first 100 days in office. "Reform" is a malleable concept. But it consists of three basic elements: investment in increased border security in the Southwest (or at least in security theater, since actual security is at an all-time high); a path to legalization or citizenship for undocumented immigrants with many years of U.S. residence; and a liberalized visa process for U.S. companies recruiting foreigners. That's the guts of the bipartisan Gang of Eight plan, which was passed by the Senate in 2013 and subsequently buried by the House.

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What racial injustice looks like in America's economy

    I cannot begin to speak to the many wrenching and challenging emotions and issues raised by the escalation of racial violence and killings. I was deeply moved by the feeling and despair in this reaction to the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile from Lezley McSpadden (the mother of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri, two years ago). But I know I'm an outsider looking in.

    One option is to wait for the news cycle to revert back to "normal," and return to my usual policy analysis. That has some appeal, as doing otherwise would feel a bit like standing outside of a burning house filled with people showing interesting graphs to bystanders.

    Another option is to briefly document some of the systemic racial injustice embedded in the economy. It would be ridiculously reductionist to argue that these data are the same problem that we've seen highlighted so vividly in recent years. But these persistent, unequal trends are very much in the mix and, at a time when we need to think deeply about institutional prejudices in all corners of society, they are worth a look.

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