Archive

May 8th, 2016

Republicans can drag democracy down with them

    Donald Trump's pending presidential nomination has confirmed what many have argued for years: The Republican Party is not well.

    The party's heightened political obstruction and ideological extremism during the presidency of Barack Obama undermined governing norms and political standards. Now Republican voters have gone the distance, choosing a presidential candidate who functions as a performative and rhetorical riot, smashing to bits rudimentary expectations of competence, coherence and civility.

    As Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver, wrote at Vox, "This represents the most colossal failure of an American political party in modern history."

    Which raises an uncomfortable question. If one of the parties in a two-party democracy is a "colossal failure," how secure can that democracy be? Is Trump's rise an instance of democracy letting off steam or evidence of systemic failure?

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Police can ignore protesters, but not municipal insurance companies

    In 2010, the police department in Rutledge, Tennessee, was riven by scandal. The police chief, a 12-year department veteran, had been charged with assault and was under investigation by state authorities. But that wasn't what Mayor Danny Turley cited when he fired the top cop that year. Turley "had no choice," he said - his "hands were tied" - because the city could have lost its liability insurance if the chief kept his job. That would have left Rutledge responsible for paying out on future lawsuits, potentially crippling its small budget. So the insurance company got its way, and a police officer got early retirement.

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Judges are thinking more about excessive force

    The Black Lives Matter movement may be starting to affect the thinking of federal judges, if a Texas case is any indication.

    Wednesday, a George W. Bush appointee wrote a dissent that started this way: "Wayne Pratt received the death penalty at the hands of three police officers for the misdemeanor crime of failing to stop and give information."

    The opinion was a dissent because the two other judges on the appellate panel thought the officers who killed Pratt during an arrest were entitled to immunity from being sued. So it's not as if the social protest movement has yet won a complete victory. But the Republican appointee's language was noteworthy and her opinion deserves analysis.

    The facts of Pratt's case, decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, are complicated, even according to the lawyers representing his mother. By Erony Pratt's account, which the court assumed to be true for purposes of a motion to dismiss her case, officers from the Harris County, Texas, sheriff's department came upon Pratt after a minor traffic accident.

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Don't step into the Trump trap

    Donald Trump has set a big, fat trap for Hillary Clinton, and so far she has stepped right into it. He turned his attacks against women against her. She is, he argued, playing the "woman card." And Clinton anted up, offering her supporters the chance to buy a "woman card." From now until Nov. 8, Trump will surely continue to insult women. If Clinton routinely responds to those attacks, Trump will turn her into the "women's candidate," and she will lose. She is already perilously close to being that candidate.

    Let's be honest. Polling shows that Trump has a problem with women, but it also shows that Clinton has a problem with men. Thanks to Bernie Sanders's pushing and prodding over the course of the primary, Clinton's vision has expanded, but we all know its core: She is a battle-tested warrior for women and children.

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Covering Donald Trump as a cultural figure made it easier to take him seriously

    Donald Trump's ascendancy has prompted a lot of soul-searching among establishment figures and institutions who failed to predict or stop him, among them pundits who insisted publicly and repeatedly that there was no way he could possibly become the Republican Party's nominee, much less the president of the United States. So given that Trump's victory in the Indiana Republican primary last night virtually assures the former outcome, I figured I might as well revisit my own coverage of Trump over the course of his campaign to see whether I owe you all any serious mea culpas.

    I first wrote about Trump last June in a piece headlined "Why Donald Trump is running for president now - and why it's great to have him." I still think the analysis in that piece, that Trump was finally acting on his long-stated political ambitions because the fragmentation of the television landscape meant he had less to lose from entering politics than at any previous point in his entertainment or real estate careers, holds true.

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Clinton can outflank Trump on middle-class taxes

    Many commentators say Hillary Clinton is about to make a sharp pivot to the center. But she never drifted far from the center-left to begin with, even with Bernie Sanders snapping at her sensible heels.

    Her task now is to give disappointed Sanders supporters, disillusioned independents and #NeverTrump Republicans a reason not to stay home in November.

    One way Clinton can do this is through stronger advocacy of tax policies that increase middle-class incomes, whether these changes are aimed at millennials feeling the after-Bern, union workers suffering from manufacturing's decline, or suburban homeowners who haven't seen a pay raise since her husband was president. Putting more money in middle-class pockets will, in turn, boost demand for goods and services and lead to faster economic growth, more job creation and higher tax revenue.

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Blame the voters

    As night follows day, recriminations flowed in the Republican camp after Donald Trump laid claim to the GOP presidential nomination.

    To hear many tell it, Jeb Bush is at fault for taking Trump too lightly. Or Ted Cruz, for failing to broaden his appeal after winning Wisconsin. Or "the establishment" generally, because - well, because everything is its fault.

    Fine. But there hasn't been nearly enough blaming of the people most responsible for The Donald's rise: his voters.

    They are perpetually - indulgently - described as "angry," or "frustrated," or "fed up," and no doubt they are. But exactly how reasonable are those feelings, and how rational a response to them is a vote for Trump?

    The answers, respectively, are "only somewhat" and "not at all."

    Yes, the country faces perplexing challenges, which Washington seems unable or unwilling to resolve. I would never tell denizens of a distressed factory town to shut up and count their blessings.

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A monster the media created

    On Wednesday, May 4, less than 24 hours after Donald Trump won the Indiana GOP primary and became the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, "NBC Nightly News" did not just report the news, they let Trump take over their newscast. NBC originated its broadcast from Trump Tower in Manhattan. And for a full eight minutes at the top of the show, anchor Lester Holt interviewed Trump live from his office -- with no opportunity to respond provided to Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or any political commentator.

    That same morning Trump had appeared live and unfiltered -- by phone -- on NBC, ABC, Fox News and MSNBC. Not even the president would enjoy that kind of coverage. But, in a way, it was the fitting end to Trump's primary campaign: the national media, in effect, placing the presidential crown on the head of the candidate they created in the first place. Having succeeded in making him the GOP nominee, the media are now determined to make him the next president of the United States.

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Women journalists are under fire and fighting back

    Five years have passed since CBS "60 Minutes" correspondent Lara Logan was sexually assaulted by a mob of crazed men--and rescued by a small group of brave Egyptian women -- in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the fall of Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship.

    The widespread coverage given to that attack brought a new focus to a growing problem that had been looming in the shadows for years: sexual assault against journalists.

    In the first four months after Logan's attack, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists interviewed more than four dozen journalists who had undergone sexual violence. The offenses ranged in severity from gang-rape to aggressive groping by multiple attackers.

    Unfortunately, the usual conflict between safety and press freedom on such assignments is complicated by the double-bind in which many female journalists find themselves: They want the dangers of sexual violence to be acknowledged, but they don't want that knowledge to give their editors cold feet about sending women on dangerous assignments.

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May 7th

Migrants, not Jews, increasingly the focus of European hatred

    The record influx of Muslim refugees last year coincided with a sharp decline in the number of violent anti-Semitic incidents in major European countries, many of which bore the brunt of the refugee crisis.

    The wave of so-called new anti-Semitism of recent years largely stemmed from anti-Israeli rather than racist beliefs, and had often been linked to the persistence of such attitudes among the growing Muslim population. Yet data from the 2015 report on global anti-Semitism, published on Wednesday by Tel Aviv University's Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, clearly show that as the refugees started coming in by the tens of thousands per day starting about a year ago, Europe became a safer place to be Jewish.

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