Archive

April 16th, 2016

The Trump Campaign Has Just Hired Its Next Scandal

    Here is an irony of the 2016 election season. The candidate promising voters that he won't be influenced by Washington lobbyists is counting on the influence of a Washington lobbyist to save his presidential campaign.

    Late last month Donald Trump hired Paul Manafort -- who has represented his organization in Washington -- to make sure his delegates at this summer's convention in Cleveland actually end up voting for him. And for this task, Manafort is well qualified. He ran delegate operations for the campaigns of Gerald Ford in 1976 and Bob Dole in 1996.

    But Manafort's real specialty is in the netherworld of international lobbying. Trump has criticized both parties as selling out the U.S. to foreign interests. Now he is counting on a man who has represented many of them.

    Manafort has offered his services to not one but two presidents driven from power through popular revolution -- Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. He has lobbied for Saudi Arabia, a Bahamanian president suspected of narco-trafficking and a former Angolan rebel leader accused of torture.

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The Real Welfare Cheats

    We often hear how damaging welfare dependency is, stifling initiative and corroding the human soul. So I worry about the way we coddle executives in their suites.

    A study to be released Thursday says that for each dollar America’s 50 biggest companies paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2014, they received $27 back in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

    Goodness! What will that do to their character? Won’t that sap their initiative?

    The study was compiled by Oxfam America and it comes on top of a mountain of evidence from international agencies and economic journals underscoring the degree to which major companies have rigged the tax code.

    OK, OK, I know you see the words “tax code” and your eyes desperately scan for something else to read! Anything about a sex scandal?

    But hold on: The tax system is rigged against us precisely because taxation is the Least Sexy Topic on Earth. So we doze, and our pockets get picked.

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Terrorism may not always feature the drama of radicalization

    Last month, CNN released video footage of Brahim Abdeslam and his younger brother Salah dancing in a nightclub alongside a blond woman, with whom Brahim, the report claimed, was flirting. "This was life before ISIS," the voice-over to the report says. "It's Feb. 8, 2015. Just months later, Brahim would blow himself up at a Paris cafe; Salah becomes Europe's most wanted man."

    But was it life before ISIS? The automatic assumption in the report is that drinking and flirting are indicative of a secular and thoroughly un-Islamized state of mind - and that wannabe jihadis don't jive or flirt. The report also assumes that something intense and convulsive happened to the Abdeslam brothers in the intervening period between Feb. 8 and Nov. 13, 2015 - though it sheds no light on what that was.

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Republican leadership void foretells chaos ahead

    As speculation mounts on the prospect of an open, contested Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, the absence of old-time party leadership is painfully evident.

    Until not long ago, the party's establishment had a recognized waiting list of leaders lined up for their "turn" to run for the presidency. A candidate's claim to take his crack at reaching the Oval Office was based on his party experience and general good will within the GOP club.

    After Dwight Eisenhower had his two terms, his vice president, Richard Nixon, was up next in 1960. In 1964 it was Barry Goldwater; in 1968 and 1972, Nixon again; in 1976, incumbent Gerald Ford; in 1980 and 1984, Ronald Reagan; in 1988 and 1992, George H.W. Bush; in 1996, Bob Dole.

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Polygamy is the next marriage-rights frontier

    After the Supreme Court's landmark gay marriage decision, can a constitutional right to plural marriage be far behind? It seemed that way in 2013, when a federal district court in Utah followed the Supreme Court ruling by striking down part of the state's bigamy law in a case involving the family featured in the television show "Sister Wives."

    But on Monday a federal appeals court reversed the decision. It said that the case was moot because Utah prosecutors had shelved prosecution of the Sister Wives family and announced a new policy to prosecute polygamists only if they were also suspected of fraud or abuse.

    The decision is a sign that the federal courts would like polygamy prosecutions to go away on their own without having to declare a fundamental constitutional right to marry more than one person.

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Ours will be remembered as the era of plastics

    Historians may soon be looking back at the 20th and early 21st centuries as the time of computers and the Internet, bold ventures into space and the splitting of the atom. But what will scholars in the distant future find worthy of note? If there's anyone around with a penchant for paleontology hundreds of thousands of years from now, a surprise awaits in the stratigraphic layers containing the remains of our time.

    Anyone digging into the earth would find a sudden, explosive increase in a new kind of material - plastic. Once underground, plastic will fossilize well, leaving a distinct signature. And there's plenty of it. Until the 20th century, plastic was virtually nonexistent. Since then, humans have created 5 billion tons. The paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz has calculated that if it were all converted into cling wrap, there would be enough to wrap the globe.

    Until about 20 years ago, Zalasiewicz said, the idea that people could permanently change the planet was considered nonsense. Human beings were too puny and the planet too vast.

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Most Racism Is Mundane

    This spring, the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus has been the site of several heinous acts of racism: An Asian student was spat on and a black student received a note with obscenities and racial slurs slipped under her door.

    The university is, of course, taking it seriously. Zero-tolerance policies for the N-word and assaults like spitting are the norm these days.

    But what’s the relationship between these outrageous incidents and the subtler varieties of racism — the sort that often goes unrecognized, or gets dismissed as some people being “too sensitive” or “politically correct?”

    That racism is rarely dealt with, because doing so would ruffle too many feathers.

    I’ve had a front row seat to learn about the environment for students of color on campus. As a white woman assistant teaching a class on race, I got a crash course in the subject. But it’s possible to see it everywhere.

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Every candidate should release full tax returns

    Politicians like to bet that reporters and their pesky questions will go away. Too often, they're right. Thus, the drumbeat of demands for Donald Trump's tax returns faded after he waved it all away with claims that a pending audit prevented the transparency he would otherwise be delighted to provide.

    With Trump's demurral, so, too, subsided requests for a fuller accounting from the other remaining presidential candidates. Aside from Hillary Clinton, they have been unprecedentedly parsimonious with tax information.

     A confluence of events presents an opportunity to refocus attention on the missing returns. First, Tax Day is upon us, the traditional time for the incumbent president and vice president to release their tax returns -- a voluntary act but one that has been practiced by every president since Harry Truman, with the exception of Gerald Ford.

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Dictators don't stabilize the Middle East. They just create more terrorists.

    Lately, I've noticed an increased number of American politicians suggesting that the Arab Spring was a disaster and that the region needs strongmen to stabilize it. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, famously insisted that the Middle East was safer when Saddam Hussein and Moamar Gadhafi were in power. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said the current chaos stems from the toppling of dictators. Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders argued on "Meet the Press" that while our ultimate goal is democracy, the region would be more stable under dictators.

    But when I worked on Middle East policy at the State Department, I saw just how destabilizing dictators in the region are. I worked on Egypt and human rights as a human rights-focused country desk officer from 2010 to 2012. There, I saw the brutal tactics of President Hosni Mubarak's government destabilize the country.

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Compromise is a losing battle for Supreme Court

    The briefs are in -- and the Supreme Court's extraordinary effort to bring about a compromise in a contraceptive care case looks like a bust. Instead of finding a mutually agreeable solution, religious groups and the federal government appear to have only hardened their positions.

    In simultaneous filings late Tuesday night, each side took the opportunity to strengthen their arguments over how religious organizations go about seeking an exemption to the mandate for providing employees contraceptive care under the Affordable Care Act.

    The U.S. solicitor general basically said that the government was already doing what the Supreme Court was asking, which implies unwillingness to do more. The Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups said they would accept the court's proposed compromise -- as long as several conditions were added, which would transform the proposed solution to something the government won't accept.

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