Archive

May 16th, 2016

Harvard's clueless illiberalism

    Touring early America, Alexis de Tocqueville marveled at the people's propensity to form associations for every purpose under the sun: "religious, moral, grave, futile, very general and very particular, immense and very small . . . to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes."

    Associational proliferation buttressed individual freedom, Tocqueville believed. As he explained, private groups are nimbler at orchestrating cultural and social life - "maintain[ing] and renew[ing] the circulation of sentiments and ideas" - than government could ever be.

    States "exercise an insupportable tyranny, even without wishing to, for a government knows only how to dictate precise rules; it imposes the sentiments and the ideas that it favors, and it is always hard to distinguish its counsels from its orders," he wrote.

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Former military police officer: A girl I remember in Iraq

    From Thomas E. Ricks' Best Defense blog:

    They called me in late one night because she spit on a male guard. I reported to the combat surgical hospital and found her hand cuffed to a hospital bed because they couldn't stop her from thrashing. She was a new detainee and couldn't be more than fifteen years old. She glared at me for a while and then went to sleep, tossing and turning despite her injuries. Sometimes she awoke saying "alam, alam," the Arabic word for pain, over and over again.

    Reportedly, she and her sister shot at a convoy from their house. The convoy returned fire, slicing up her arm and leg so severely the doctors eventually used external bone stabilizers to keep the fragments of her shattered limbs together. Her sister was presumed dead.

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Donald Trump is terrible. Good thing there's this 'nominee' guy!

    Donald Trump is a problem.

    He has a 65 percent unfavorable rating. He is prone to firing off unexpectedly at the mouth. He either doesn't understand or actively wants to destroy the credit of the United States. If you're a senator running for reelection and his name shows up at the top of the ticket, you might as well tie an albatross around your neck and head out to sea.

    So what to do? Speaking Trump's name gives him power. He is like Voldemort in that regard. (Also, he is immortal and cannot die as long as his Towers survive. His buildings are his horcruxes and contain fragments of his soul.)

    The trick is not to speak his name.

    But fortunately for senators in tough, competitive seats, there is another option. You don't have to endorse Trump. You can just support the Nominee of the Party.

    These are not the same thing at all! They are quite different. The Nominee is everything Trump isn't.

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Choice facing Republicans: Party or country?

    On Tuesday, May 10, anchoring CNN coverage of the West Virginia primary, host Don Lemon asked his panel of pundits, yours truly included: "How could anyone vote for somebody just because they happen to have an 'R' or 'D' after their name?"

    Good question. That's the question every Republican has to answer today. And it's playing out in primetime. One by one, loyal, lifelong, and leading Republicans are being forced to ask themselves what has never been in question before: Will they support their party's presidential nominee this year or not?

    Ironically, we all remember, it's the very first question of the very first presidential debate of the primary, on Fox News, August 7, 2015, when all Republican candidates were asked to raise their hand if they were "unwilling to pledge their support to the eventual nominee of the party." Only Donald Trump raised his hand. But now that Trump's the nominee, all but two of the other candidates on stage, Ben Carson and Chris Christie, have broken the pledge. At least so far.

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China is building up its soft power in Europe

    If there's one thing on which Europeans agree with Donald Trump, it's that the U.S. is gradually losing to China. The Middle Kingdom is working hard to improve its image in Europe and investing lots of money along the way. The queen of England may think Chinese officials are "very rude," but outside Buckingham Palace they are winning influence and friends.

    In 2015, a Pew Global Research survey found that a majority of people in major European countries believe China is going to replace the U.S. as the global superpower or that it has already done so.

    The same study showed that in Germany and France, more people consider China, rather than the U.S., to be the world's leading economy. That was before China's recent economic troubles began, but those probably won't affect public perceptions greatly: China's size and the prevalence of Made-in-China goods in European stores -- where U.S. ones are hard to find -- will continue feeding this somewhat premature perception.

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Why won't Trump release his tax returns? Here are a few possible reasons.

    Donald Trump does not expect to release his tax returns before the November election, the Associate Press informs us today. He told the AP that he doesn't believe voters are interested, adding: "There's nothing to learn from them."

    Define "nothing."

    In an interview with me, Joseph Thorndike, the director of the Tax History Project, identified the problem here. It's the juxtaposition of Trump's blithe insistence that there is nothing to be learned from his tax returns -- and his refusal to release them -- with the revelations about just how complicated those returns are.

    Trump himself helpfully demonstrated the complexity of his returns for the world to see, tweeting a photo of himself signing his tax return.

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Why Trump seems invulnerable to the flip-flop charge

    Let's get this out of the way: Razzie-winning actor and presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump lies. A lot. He lies about little things, such as whether lots of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after the World Trade Center collapsed. He lies about big things, such as how the global economy works. He lies about political things, such as whether House Speaker Paul Ryan or Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have recently called him.

    Trump's relationship with the truth is like his relationship with his hairstylist: a long, drawn-out, complex negotiation, stacked upon layers of resentment and coloring, surrounded by lots of hot air.

    Trump is such a teller of falsehoods that I fear it will drive The Washington Post's fact checker, Glenn Kessler, around the bend. As Kessler writes:

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What has happened to our election?

    "When a man's fancy gets astride on his reason,

    when imagination is at cuffs with the senses,

    and common understanding as well as common

    sense is kicked out of doors, the first proselyte he makes is himself."

    --Jonathan Swift, "A Tale of a Tub," 1704

    For a man with a satirical turn of mind, presidential election years can be trying. Apparently your humble, obedient servant here isn't angry enough to participate fully in the festivities. This is interesting, because I've rarely been mistaken for Mr. Sunshine. I'd be a total failure as a game show host.

    Everywhere you turn, people are shaking their fists in each other's faces. On television and online, that is. Most days, it'd be a good idea to don a crash helmet before opening Facebook. And the summer bickering season has hardly begun. These are mostly Republicans and Democrats fighting among themselves. The main event has yet to come.

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May 15th

Here's what Sanders still thinks he can win

    Bernie Sanders is still telling supporters he can win the Democratic presidential nomination, but his practical goal is slighter: to win concessions on the party platform and nominating rules for future elections.

    Sanders, according to people close to him, realizes he's not likely to be the nominee. He wants to leave a mark on the party and agenda without causing general-election problems for Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee. He's not interested, they say, in weighing in on her selection of a running mate.

    Sanders won the West Virginia primary on Tuesday, may do well in Oregon on May 17 and is running competitively in California, which has its primary on June 7. But Clinton, already close to commitments from the majority of delegates, will be favored on June 7 in New Mexico and New Jersey, and will wrap up the contest soon.

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Trump's ideas about the deficit sound inflationary

    Donald Trump is difficult to take seriously on policy matters, because he's kind of a random idea generator -- he just throws out a lot of different policy plans, many of them contradictory. This is a great defense against criticism from policy wonks -- as soon as we criticize one of his proposals, he just offers up the exact opposite. For example, he's advocated reducing the federal debt, spending more and cutting taxes (or possibly not).

    So while we can't evaluate Trump on the strength of his proposals -- since he will just do a 180 next week -- it's still interesting when Trump tosses out economic ideas that are rarely suggested in American politics. This gives us an excuse to talk about interesting things that we otherwise probably would ignore.

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