Archive

September 6th, 2016

The Duplicity of Donald Trump

    Donald Trump is the internet troll of presidential politics. When he’s securely removed from the objects of his scorn, he’s tough as nails; when he’s in their presence, he quivers like a bowl of Jell-O.

    Such is the way of a bully.

    Furthermore, when he is surrounded by supporters who cheer his base nature, he amplifies the enmity. When the applause of hostility is out of earshot, he tones down his vitriol to a whimper.

    He is not only a bully, it seems to me, but also something of a coward, who lacks the force of his convictions — or who lacks basic convictions at all. He seems to be simply playing to the audience, whatever that audience may be. He’s amenable to the mood of any particular room.

    This is the most frightening type of man, whose basic character is vile but not inviolable, who springs from darkness and bends toward anything that casts light, even if that light is, as the internet loves to say, a dumpster fire.

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Taking Back Our Finance System

    Instead of griping about the greedheads of Wall Street and the rip-off financial system they’ve hung around our necks, why don’t we Take On Wall Street?

    That’s both the name and the feisty attitude of a nationwide campaign that a coalition of grassroots groups has launched to do just that. The coalition, spearheaded by the Communication Workers of America, points out that there’s nothing natural or sacred about today’s money-grubbing financial complex.

    Far from sacrosanct, the system of finance that now rules over us has been designed by and for Wall Street speculators, money managers, and big bank flim flammers. So — big surprise — rather than serving our common good, the corrupt system is routinely serving their uncommon greed at everyone else’s expense.

    The Take On Wall Street campaign has the guts and gumption to say: Enough!

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Pence keeps parallel campaign under the radar

    On a recent Saturday afternoon in the dog days of August, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence came to Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, a state the Republican presidential ticket has almost no chance of winning.

    The vice-presidential nominee went through the standard conservative applause lines -- gun rights, law and order, and judges who will protect the right to life. He then ticked off the bill of particulars against Hillary Clinton -- Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, asking "hardworking Americans" to pay for big government programs. Pence is blessedly bland -- what you get after pressing "1" for English. He happily intones his usual line, "We do well to remember a simple truth, one that I was raised on, and that is that there will always be more in America that unites us than will ever divide us."

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Pariahs for Trump

    To read newspapers like this one, you might think that almost nobody has endorsed Donald Trump. Ah, but maybe that’s because The New York Times is, as Trump puts it, “totally dishonest,” “failing” and “a disgusting fraud.”

    In truth, Trump has actually attracted a broad range of endorsements that perhaps haven’t received adequate attention.

    For example, from terrorists.

    “I ask Allah to deliver America to Trump,” a supporter of the Islamic State declared recently in an Arabic-language posting. Foreign Affairs quotes jihadis explaining that Trump would say and do such crazy things that he would end up helping extremist groups.

    “He must be smoking bad hashish to say such crazy things,” one jihadi added. Supporters of ISIS say they hope Trump would cause the United States to self-destruct, and that is why, as one put it, “Trump’s arrival in the White House must be a priority for jihadis at any cost!”

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My Email Exchange With The Russian Stooges

    Let's see now: One presidential candidate's campaign director resigns after being outed as a Russian stooge, allegedly accepting millions in cash under the table. The other candidate meets with a Nobel Prize-winning economist who once donated to her husband's charity -- dedicated to providing HIV/AIDS medication to millions of Third World victims.

    Quick now, which of these two situations registers higher on the news media's scandal meter? Which candidate has portentous "questions" to answer about troubling appearances?

    Look, it's all about the horse race and the ratings. But things are getting ridiculous. Trump's right: He could say he'd been an All-Star third baseman for the Yankees or shoot somebody dead on national TV, and the next item on the evening news would involve Hillary Clinton's damn emails. Has the press ever given such scrutiny to any other politician's communications?

    Wouldn't you love to see Gen. Colin Powell's emails from the time of his infamous 2003 United Nations speech about Saddam Hussein's phantom "weapons of mass destruction"?

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Greater Than the Sum of Our Parks

    It’s the 100th anniversary of our national parks and in 2016, to date, I’ve visited Death Valley, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Yosemite, King’s Canyon, the Grand Tetons, and Yellowstone.

    The price tag for admission? $80.

    That’s the cost of an annual pass to all of America’s national parks. And it admits everyone in your vehicle when you visit, not just one person.

    To put that in context, that’s less than it costs one person to visit Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom for just one day.

    Driving away from Yellowstone after five days of watching moose, elk, bison, a black bear, and even wolves, I turned the radio to NPR and listened to a segment on the anniversary of the parks. They were broadcasting from Yellowstone.

    “Are our parks being loved to death?” they asked.

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September 5th

How geographic equality benefits the whole economy

    The high cost of housing in cities such as New York and San Francisco has a bright side for the larger U.S. economy: As people who would like to live in these highly desirable but dauntingly expensive areas are priced out, they choose instead to settle in upwardly mobile communities that benefit from the new talent and wealth.

    That's because geographic equality matters. An environment in which high-value economic activity happens in just a handful of cities would make the country worse off, and ultimately starve those cities of what they need to thrive -- talent and ideas.

    One critique of this geographic equality argument is that big cities, and large states more generally, already pay more than their fair share to society. They contribute a larger share of federal taxes than they receive, and they're underrepresented in the U.S. Senate relative to their population -- California has the same number of senators as Wyoming despite have a population many times larger.

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Finland's experiment with basic income is too timid

    Finland's flirtation with an unconditional, universal basic income has entered a decisive stage: Draft legislation for a pilot project has been presented for public discussion, which will run until Sept. 9. It's clear that what the Nordic nation wants to try is neither overly ambitious nor particularly useful.

    Paying every citizen of a country the same amount of money in lieu of most or all social benefits is a tempting idea. Leftists like it because, theoretically, it eliminates abject poverty. Techie utopians see it as a solution to the displacement of humans by machines. Intellectuals appreciate state support for creative endeavors with an unclear commercial potential. Libertarians see an opportunity to shrink government: The enormous social services apparatus could be eliminated and legislation vastly simplified. Academic experiments, however, have been too piecemeal and small-scale, so it's hard for most people to imagine how basic income would work.

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Don't take your right to vote for granted. Immigrants like me wait years to have the chance.

    "How old do citizens have to be to vote for president?" the immigration officer asked during the civics portion of my U.S. citizenship test.

    Easy, I thought. I answered confidently: "Eighteen."

    Wrong. I had two more chances.

    "Um, at least eighteen?"

    Wrong again. I had one more chance. I started to panic. What else could it be? I had memorized all the dates (1776, 1787, 1803, 1812) and numbers (27 amendments, 435 voting members in the House) that could trip me up. I needed to answer six of 10 civics questions correctly, and I wasn't too worried -- until this point.

    "Eighteen," I repeated. The officer noted that was my first answer. "I know," I said. "I just don't know what else it could be."

    The correct answer was "18 and older."

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China's 'little green boats' have Japan on alert

    In early August, Japan's Coast Guard witnessed an unconventional Chinese assault on its territorial waters. According to Japanese officials I met with last week, at least 300 Chinese "fishing vessels" began incursions into the exclusive economic zone around the uninhabited Senkaku Islands, disputed territory administered by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan as well.

    Japan has seen similar probing activities for years. But in August, the Chinese escalated. There were far more boats than before, and the Chinese sent armed coast guard vessels to accompany these "fishermen."

    This may sound fairly benign compared to the shooting wars in Ukraine and Syria. But for Japan, the matter could not be more serious. Its military assesses that many of these sailors are really Chinese irregular militias, similar to the non-uniformed "little green men" that Russia has sent to eastern Ukraine to stir up separatist sentiment. Call them "little green boats."

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