Archive

February 19th, 2016

George W. Bush is a mixed blessing for Jeb

    Jeb Bush has had a brother problem from the start of his campaign. Asked about the 43rd president, George W. Bush, Jeb has always hemmed and hawed. He said, "I love my brother ... but I'm my own man." He noted that information on weapons of mass destruction from the intelligence community turned out "not to be accurate" and riffed that "there were mistakes made in Iraq, for sure." He said that looking back, "anybody would have made different decisions."

    Despite their vast understatement, misuse of the passive voice, and blame-shifting, Jeb's answers tamped down the issue. It helped that there were bigger fish to fry, as Jeb plunged in the polls. The fickle focus of the race moved on.

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Best Supreme Court pick for Obama would be boring

    The death of Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday creates a major challenge for President Barack Obama in the run-up to the 2016 election. Obama has said he will nominate a replacement to the U.S. Supreme Court, even though Senate Republican leaders have made it clear they prefer the seat remain vacant for now. Should the president go along, and not nominate anyone, liberals will be enraged at his passivity.

    If Obama does nominate a justice quickly, should he pick a liberal whose rejection will galvanize Democratic voters to turn out for the party's nominee in November, in hopes of a second chance? Or should he pick a moderate who has an outside chance of actually being confirmed, creating the possibility of a liberal balance on the court even if a Republican wins in November?

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Apple's `Error 53' could upend a lucrative business

    Imagine if Ford remotely disabled the engine on your new F-150 pickup because you chose to have the door locks fixed at a corner garage rather than a dealership. Sound absurd? Not if you're Apple.

    Since 2014, the world's most profitable smartphone company has -- without warning -- permanently disabled some iPhones that had their home buttons replaced by repair shops in the course of fixing a shattered screen. Phones that underwent the same repair at Apple service centers, meanwhile, have continued working just fine.

    The message seems clear, at least to the multibillion- dollar independent repair industry: Your phone is yours until you decide to get it fixed. Then it's Apple's.

    Apple says it was merely trying to keep the iPhones "secure," and that "Error 53" -- the code that pops up after the company bricks a unit -- is meant to ensure that nobody messes with the phone's fingerprint sensor. Whatever the intent, the company now finds itself amid a PR and legal debacle that could upend the lucrative business of servicing gadgets worldwide.

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A love story, Neanderthal-style

    Scientists are showing Neanderthals some love. This is new, and required them to overcome some unscientific prejudices. It was only a few years ago that many anthropologists insisted that Neanderthals can't possibly have contributed to human ancestry because they were too ugly to appeal sexually to their modern human contemporaries.

    Wrong. DNA evidence showed six years ago that many ancestors of modern humans made love with Neanderthals. Scientists now know in some detail how sex with Homo neanderthalensis contributed to the gene pool of today's Homo sapiens.

    Yet our Pleistocene cousins still have an image problem and scientists deserve much of the blame, said John Hawks, a University of Wisconsin anthropologist who has been one of their leading defenders in blog posts dubbed the Neanderthal Anti Defamation Files. Not only were they complicit in the ugliness frameup, they also had deemed Neanderthals stupid. That doesn't look smart now.

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A brokered convention isn't what you think it is

    It's time to take seriously the possibility that Republicans could arrive at their presidential nominating convention this summer without having chosen a candidate. If that happens, the crucial disputes at the gathering in Cleveland will be about rules and procedures, not platforms and policies. The power brokers won't be big-name senators but rather influential state officials and interest groups.

    This was brought home with the death this past weekend of Drew Lewis, a central figure in the last contested convention. That was in 1976, when Ronald Reagan faced off against President Gerald Ford.

    It's an instructive model for what could happen starting this July 18 if billionaire Donald Trump, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and a mainstream Republican divide up the delegates and no one has a majority.

    Lewis, who was 84, is usually remembered as Reagan's transportation secretary when, in 1981, the government successfully broke a strike by the union representing air traffic controllers. But in 1976 he was a pivotal player in denying Reagan the Republican nomination in an intense struggle decided by a few votes.

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Trump dispels a GOP fantasy

    "Surely this time," the establishment chorus cries with joy, "Donald Trump has gone too far!"

     Sorry, but I wouldn't bet on it.

    What Trump did at Saturday night's debate was ruder than any of his prior insults, profanities or remarks about women. He corrected the historical record about the 9/11 attacks, demolishing the fairy-tale version that has become a central tenet of Republican dogma. It's true, and you can look it up: George W. Bush was president when the World Trade Center towers fell.

    Trump went too far, of course, as he always does. He sought to actually blame the attacks on negligence by Bush and his administration. As I've argued in the past, terrorist atrocities should be blamed on the terrorists, not on the officials who try and sometimes fail to thwart them.

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February 18th

How America Was Lost

    Once upon a time, the death of a Supreme Court justice wouldn’t have brought America to the edge of constitutional crisis. But that was a different country, with a very different Republican Party. In today’s America, with today’s GOP, the passing of Antonin Scalia has opened the doors to chaos.

    In principle, losing a justice should cause at most a mild disturbance in the national scene. After all, the court is supposed to be above politics. So when a vacancy appears, the president should simply nominate, and the Senate approve, someone highly qualified and respected by all.

    In reality, of course, things were never that pure. Justices have always had known political leanings, and the process of nomination and approval has often been contentious. Still, there was nothing like the situation we face now, in which Republicans have more or less unanimously declared that President Barack Obama has no right even to nominate a replacement for Scalia — and no, the fact that Obama will leave soon doesn’t make it OK. (Justice Anthony Kennedy was appointed during Ronald Reagan’s last year in office).

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How government can get smart

    For the first time since the modern budget process was initiated more than 40 years ago, the Republican chairs of the Senate and House Budget committees announced that they would not invite the president's budget director to testify.

    What seems like an act of disrespect for President Obama (something Republicans have reveled in for seven years) may also have reflected frustration that the chairmen, Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, felt when their own leadership often went around them in negotiations on last year's big budget accord. House Speaker Paul Ryan, a champion of decorum and regular order, is reportedly unhappy over the snubbing of Shaun Donovan, Obama's budget chief.

     In any event, Republicans probably wouldn't mind if Obama's new budget were widely ignored. Then, they would not be forced to admit that many of the values that underlie it -- the desire for social programs that promote work, the need to use evidence in deciding which programs to fund -- are values they extol.

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What that Cruz-Rubio 'He doesn't speak Spanish' thing was about

    There is a dark period in American history. It's one to which some Americans seem eager to return. It's one when people were barred, shamed or even punished for speaking languages other than English. That was especially true outside the home.

    Speaking a foreign language or limited English was very widely believed to be an indicator of suspect national loyalty, limited intelligence or ability. Speaking a foreign language simply was not regarded as a useful skill.

    And there were a whole range of dominant but nonetheless inaccurate theories about the way that children and adults actually acquire a second or third language that claimed an English-only lifestyle was best. Schools, businesses and all sorts of institutions in the Southwest and West barred kids from speaking Spanish and encouraged their parents to do the same at home.

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The Obama-Sanders divide

    In the fevered atmosphere of an election for president, attention naturally drifts away from the one who's still there. So it is with President Obama. The day after the New Hampshire primary, Obama returned to the scene of his political education -- and the launching pad for his own campaign nine sobering years ago.

    In Springfield, Illinois, Obama lamented the "poisonous political climate" and mourned that "the tone of our politics hasn't gotten better since I was inaugurated; in fact, it has gotten worse."

    His message, mostly, got buried -- bumped off the front pages and evening news by the aftershocks of New Hampshire. Some of the coverage correctly understood the president as criticizing Donald Trump, as when he denounced politics that "reward the most extreme voices or the most divisive language or who is best at launching schoolyard taunts."

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