Archive

January 19th, 2016

Unleash U.S. air power in Afghanistan

    President Obama's desire to avoid large new ground commitments in the Middle East is, in many respects, understandable, given the experiences of some 15 years of war. At present, however, the modest number of U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan operate with one hand tied behind their backs - at a time when Afghan forces, though fighting hard, are struggling. That should be changed. We should unleash our airpower in support of our Afghan partners in the same way that we support our Iraqi and Syrian partners against extremists.

    At present, U.S. and NATO airpower in Afghanistan is used only to attack validated al-Qaida targets, to counter specific individuals or groups who have attacked coalition forces previously and to respond directly to attacks on coalition forces. According to leaders on the ground, U.S. and NATO forces are otherwise not allowed to attack Taliban targets. The situation appears to be in flux in regard to Islamic State elements, but through 2015, they too could be targeted only under narrow circumstances.

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State and federal law can help stop peeping drones

    In October, a Kentucky judge dismissed criminal charges against a man who had shot down a drone flying over his property. Now the drone's owner has brought a federal civil suit against the shooter, William Merideth, arguing that the Federal Aviation Administration is in charge of all airspace and that it allows drones to fly over private property.

    All this amounts to a legal mess. The law, both state and federal, is still pretty unclear about where you can fly a drone, and what you as a citizen may do if a drone -- probably with a camera on board -- is hovering above your home.

    What's needed is a comprehensive legal regime that integrates state and federal jurisdictions. I want to propose the outlines of such a legal model, distinguishing what should belong to the feds and what should be within the realm of the states.

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Shame on Carly Fiorina

    Carly Fiorina has dwindled to near irrelevance in the Republican primary field, as illustrated by her demotion to the undercard debate. But Fiorina, piping up from the kiddie table Thursday, said something so calculatedly outrageous that it demands response: "Unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband."

    This reference to Hillary Clinton was no gaffe. It was in Fiorina's opening statement, in response to a question about the economy. In a campaign that has, so far, been blessedly free of sexism toward the Democratic front-runner, this was the most retro-, sexist remark yet, at least where Clinton is concerned.

     Shame on Fiorina.

    I wrote recently that it was fair game for Donald Trump to raise the subject of Bill Clinton's conduct toward women, when Hillary Clinton had both dispatched her husband as surrogate in chief and attacked Trump's undisputed "penchant for sexism."

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Sanders' run is no fairy tale

    If you thought the political landscape couldn't be more unsettled, think again. In the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders is surging. Hillary Clinton now faces not a coronation, not a cakewalk, but a contest -- one she could lose.

    Has there ever been a worse election to be an establishment candidate? Certainly not in my lifetime. When a pitchfork-populist billionaire is leading one party's race and a self-described socialist is rapidly gaining ground in the other, I think it's safe to say we're somewhere we haven't been before.

    For much of the past year, Clinton led Sanders in national polls by more than 20 points. Now, according to the Real Clear Politics average, her lead has shrunk to less than nine points -- and the most recent survey, a CBS/New York Times poll released this week, showed just a seven-point gap.

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Obama's not bluffing on closing Gitmo

    President Barack Obama is determined to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and if he decides to do so without Congress, there may be little his opponents can do to stop him.

    Since his State of the Union address on Tuesday, when Obama reiterated that he will "keep working" to shut down the prison, the administration has sped up the effort significantly. Ten prisoners were transferred this week. Ninety-three prisoners remain, 34 of whom have already been cleared for release. On Thursday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said he had sent a detailed, written plan to Obama laying out how to move the remaining prisoners to the United States. The White House is to submit that plan to Congress soon.

    That strategy directly challenges existing laws that not only prevent Obama from moving Guantanamo prisoners to U.S. soil, but also bar the Pentagon from spending congressionally appropriated funds to do so. Obama, in a series of signing statements, has consistently rejected the validity of those laws, arguing they infringe upon the executive's powers.

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Obama offers a reality check

    In President Obama's final State of the Union address to Congress, he decided to counter with some calm talk the fear tactics of Donald Trump and the other Republicans striving to replace him.

    For nearly an hour, he argued that both the economic and national security calamities they were citing amounted to "political hot air." Domestically, he noted the halving of the nation's unemployment rate and the federal deficit, and he insisted that American military supremacy remained unchallenged abroad.

    He argued that "it's not even close" that America "is the most powerful nation on Earth, period," and that the threat of the Islamic State and its terrorism was not comparable to "the dangers of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union posed an existential threat."

    Such reassurances are not likely to quell fears being fed by Trump and the others on the home front. But at least they are an effort to combat the wave of manufactured panic by the master of exaggeration and deceit who is the current frontrunner for the Republican nomination, and his copycats.

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Money hasn't saved Jeb, but it still warps politics

    It is easy to dismiss as overblown the concern about the outsize role of ultra-rich donors in the American political scene. Exhibit 1: Jeb Bush. Bush's $100 million in super PAC fundraising was supposed to be part of a shock-and-awe campaign that would scare away competitors and give him a smooth path to the Republican presidential nomination. Well, it hasn't worked out that way. Bush has been polling toward the bottom in the Republican race despite the war chest, and Donald Trump, who has spent little on his campaign despite his billionaire status, has been on top.

    "Hurrah for Citizens United," Politico's Jack Shafer wrote in one representative piece. He asserted that worries about the 2010 Supreme Court ruling have been proved wrong. "Expectations that big money would float the best-financed candidate directly to the White House have yet to materialize this campaign season."

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Let China Win

    When officials in China announced in 2013 that they would open an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to primarily fund big construction projects across the Pacific, they launched a slow-motion freak-out in Washington. As they went around the world inviting governments to join, Obama administration officials pressured their allies in Asia, Europe and elsewhere not to. The AIIB, headquartered in Beijing, would allow China to expand its influence throughout Asia, the White House fretted. "We are wary about a trend toward constant accommodation of China," one Barack Obama aide complained to the Financial Times after Britain joined 56 other nations in signing up to fund power plants, roads, telecommunications infrastructure and other ventures. It was a rare public critique of a U.S. ally.

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January 18th

Is Vast Inequality Necessary?

    How rich do we need the rich to be?

    That’s not an idle question. It is, arguably, what U.S. politics are substantively about. Liberals want to raise taxes on high incomes and use the proceeds to strengthen the social safety net; conservatives want to do the reverse, claiming that tax-the-rich policies hurt everyone by reducing the incentives to create wealth.

    Now, recent experience has not been kind to the conservative position. President Barack Obama pushed through a substantial rise in top tax rates, and his health care reform was the biggest expansion of the welfare state since LBJ. Conservatives confidently predicted disaster, just as they did when Bill Clinton raised taxes on the top 1 percent. Instead, Obama has ended up presiding over the best job growth since the 1990s. Is there, however, a longer-term case in favor of vast inequality?

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I'm handy. So why did my husband become Mr. Fix-It?

    On the wall in our living room hangs a painting my husband, Steve, and I brought home from Ireland six months ago. It's a picture of flowers and the ocean and would be lovely to look at if the picture hanger didn't show above the top. I could ask Steve to fix it, but I'm afraid of becoming a cliche, the nagging wife. And the truth is, I once would have fixed it myself.

    Before we married, I kept a tool kit, drill and ladder in a storage closet. The contents of the kit might have been a bit jumbled, but I always had my tools at the ready. I don't remember what I bought the drill for, but I used it to install new curtain rods, drilling fresh holes.

    After we married, my small tool collection merged with Steve's large one and disappeared into the garage. "They didn't just walk off on their own," my mother used to say when we couldn't find our shoes. That's how I feel about my tools.

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