Archive

January 19th, 2016

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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Forget debates, if we want real answers

    Everyone seems to agree that Thursday's Republican presidential debate was slashing and angry; the candidates barely said anything of substance. If we are going to avoid the same sort of nonsense when the actual Democratic and Republican nominees duel in the fall, we will need to make major changes in the format. I would rather eliminate the presidential debates entirely, given that they are neither debates nor presidential. Given that abolition isn't an option, however, I have a radical suggestion for improving their quality: Give the candidates the questions in advance.

    Seriously.

    Give both sides the questions some 48 hours before the debate, and do not allow follow-up questions except by the consent of the candidate. In addition, I would award each candidate a total of, say, 45 minutes for all answers, and let him or her decide how much time to spend on each.

    You're wondering how so counterintuitive a proposition could possibly be a good idea. Let me offer three reasons.

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With Trump or Cruz, kiss Republican Party good-bye

    Many Republican leaders agree: Take a good look at today's Republican Party. Because if either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz become the nominee, the Republican Party won't exist anymore. And that's not good for the Republican Party, the country, or the Democratic Party, either.

    This battle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party is not new. There have long been reactionary forces, e.g. Barry Goldwater, who tried to drag the Republican Party so far to the right it lost touch with the vast majority of American voters. But until today, they were never successful. Saner voices prevailed.

    I experienced this first hand. My first political job was as chief of staff to California State Senator Peter Behr, a Nelson Rockefeller Republican. One of the most respected politicians in the state, Behr's most determined political enemies were not Democrats, but far right-wing Republicans, who believed he was too willing to compromise.

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What are 'New York values' exactly?

    I am a New Yorker in both of the senses of the descriptor. I was born in Rochester, on Lake Ontario in Western New York -- a Snow Belt city second only to Buffalo. (When I lived in California, I used to actually miss the stuff.) I now live in New York City as I have for nearly a decade -- the New York of New York, the town so nice they named it twice, all that. I've seen more minor league baseball games in cities like Utica, Auburn, and Watertown than I have Mets or Yankees games, but now I take the subway to Citi Field. I've lived or worked in Chinatown, Little Italy, the Garment District, the Upper East Side, Midtown, and the Upper West Side.

    Ted Cruz is not a New Yorker. He was born in Canada, as we have been reminded regularly for the past week or so. He lived there while a young child, moving to Texas before attending college at Princeton and Harvard. Then, he worked in Washington for a few years before moving back to Texas and beginning his political career. The closest Cruz got to living in New York was probably when he was attending Princeton, which is in New Jersey. Maybe he traveled to New York on occasion from Cambridge when he was at Harvard, but he never lived here.

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Trump digs up the Clintons' family baggage

    Hillary Clinton romped through the first three Democratic presidential debates: a clear front- runner with the wind at her back. The going could get a lot rougher in the fourth forum on Sunday, the last before primary voting actually begins. She's taken a lot of incoming recently and not just from Enemy No. 1, Donald Trump, but from inside her tent, too.

    For starters, Vice President Joseph Biden gave Bernie Sanders, Clinton's only real rival among Democrats, a big Biden shoulder rub.

    In a CNN interview on Monday, he said Sanders was doing a "heck of a job," particularly on the Democrats' signature issue of income inequality, which was "relatively new for Hillary to talk about."

    Biden laid it on thick: "Bernie is speaking to a yearning that is deep and real. And he has credibility on it," he added. "Hillary's focus has been other things up to now."

    He later tried to clarify by saying her focus was, of course, on "foreign policy" as secretary of state, but still, that hurts.

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Trump adopts Nixon's winning strategy in Virginia

    Trumpism arrives at Liberty University on January 18, when Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump delivers the first convocation of the New Year to the student body. The GOP frontrunner's main rival, Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas, used the same forum last year to formally enter the Republican contest.

    The students need to be prepared. Why? Trump's appearance will underscore the reason he could be the Republicans' next Richard Nixon.

    In 1967, Democrats were certain Richard Nixon would not win the GOP nomination, much less the presidency. But sure-loser Nixon did both by building a coalition he called the "silent majority."

    For eight years, a Democratic president reigned as the nation underwent the greatest changes to its electorate since the Civil War. Voters grew unhappy with a war strategy deemed hesitant and hopelessly unable to defeat our North Vietnamese enemy.

    Nixon's campaign proved long on exploiting doubts, short on solutions. But voters were hungry for change.

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The politics that we deserve

    President Obama billed his final State of the Union address as a departure from the norm - a broad look at the future, not the usual legislative to-do list. In a subtle but significant way, however, it resembled his previous addresses: Yet again, Obama argued that someone or other "deserved" something good from Washington.

    This time around, "our kids and our grandkids" deserve "the jobs we'll create, the money we'll save, the planet we'll preserve" by supporting clean energy. Last year, the "American people" deserved criminal justice reform. In 2014, "the Syrian people" deserved "a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear."

    Republicans deploy "deserve" too. Announcing his candidacy for president, Jeb Bush said "America deserves better" than another Democrat. In Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's 2014 State of the State speech, "every child" deserved "a chance to have a great education."

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Republicans debate who will play the alpha

    The most primal scene in American politics is a debate stage, where candidates wrestle in rhetorical mud for dominance. Of course, when the candidates are auditioning for the presidency, their aggression is sublimated, their rapiers metaphorical. (When political attacks merge with the physical kind, the combatants are no longer in a democratic republic as Americans understand the term.)

    Among the innovations Donald Trump has brought to the Republican Party -- along with an infusion of reality TV culture, a cult of personality and a refurbished authoritarianism -- is a cruder brand of machismo than presidential-level politics has generally been willing to indulge.

    Not that machismo in the service of personal or partisan advantage is anything new. William McKinley's 1896 campaign literature described him as "one of the best examples of courageous, persevering, vigorous manhood that the nation has ever produced."

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