Archive

April 1st, 2016

A beautiful day in Mr. Cruz's (gated) Neighborhood

    The other day a bearded man planted himself in a treetop along a busy Seattle street, forcing police to shut down traffic for hours in both directions, afraid of what he'd do.

    I scanned the headlines later to see what Sen. Ted Cruz recommended we do to protect us from bearded men in the future. Nothing.

    Don't disappoint, Senator. If we don't keep watch on bearded men, one of them might hurt us one day.

    Beard or no, let's just say that if anything happens through Election Day that involves a Muslim militant, Cruz and his rival for the angry white vote, Donald Trump, will not disappoint in insulting human intelligence.

    Their "can you top this" contest will continue: a trail of rhetorical horrors.

    This time it was Cruz saying that we should patrol predominantly Muslim neighborhoods.

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Why Trump is a very un-American strongman

    U.S. politics today presents, to this foreign observer at least, a very un-American spectacle. A country originally built on immigration is awash with popular hatred against immigrants. A candidate of the right rails against free trade and foreigners, while that of the left proclaims his faith in socialism. Xenophobia is rife. Class war seems perilously close to the surface.

    The U.S. has gone through economic slumps and protectionist phases in the past. But the New World has been relatively immune to the political dysfunction, class and ethnic hatreds, and mass craving for authoritarianism that have frequently been manifest in the Old. Today, more than at any other time in its history, the crisis in the U.S. resembles one that we've seen innumerable times in Europe and Russia.

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The trouble with writing about Donald Trump

    This weekend, the mainstream media was all in a tizzy because of Nick Kristof's column arguing "that we in the media screwed up" on Donald Trump.

    As someone who has #headdesked himself repeatedly over Trump's myriad failings as a possible president, I confess that I'm not terribly interested in Kristof telling me to eviscerate Trump's idiotic foreign policy viewsyet again. Rather, I'd suggest a few things in reaction to Kristof's column:

        Kristof is really writing about television rather than all news media;

        Kristof's complaint about reporters not taking Trump seriously seems about six months out of date;

        It's not that the media hasn't fact-checked Trump to death, it's that his supporters remain convinced that Trump is right;

        Trump hasn't really expanded his electoral support all that much, so maybe the media might be doing something right?

        For opinion writers, there's another problem with criticizing Trump: He's too basic.

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Testing Republicans' professed love of guns

    Beneath a photograph of an AR-15 with all the trimmings, an online petition calling for the open carry of firearms at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July (and possibly intended as parody) has acquired more than 40,000 signatures. USA Today reported that the petition is "of unknown origin." Because extreme gun culture excels at self-parody, it's dangerous to assume that the petition was written by a gun-control agitator. But the entire document appears designed to produce conflict within the GOP's trembling walls.

    Like most states, Ohio doesn't restrict the carry of unconcealed, loaded firearms in public. This didn't much matter in the past, since it was universally understood that openly carrying a firearm in public was both bizarre and menacing behavior guaranteed to attract law enforcement. But as avant garde gun culture has grown increasingly assertive, and increasingly protected by Republican politicians, open carry, like every other kind, has become a cause to rally around.

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Surviving a sex scandal in post-Clinton era

    Sounding a lot like Bill Clinton, the beleaguered governor of Alabama, Robert Bentley, called a news conference on Wednesday to say in no uncertain terms that he did not have sex with that woman.

    Accused of having an illicit relationship with an aide, Rebekah Caldwell Mason, he stopped short of wagging his finger. But, in another Clinton parallel, there is readily available evidence that contradicts his denials: Text messages and audio recordings made public by the Alabama Media Group and the governor's just-fired head of law enforcement, Spencer Collier.

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Americans struggle to see themselves as middle class

    As the presidential primary season continues, much has been made of the appeal that candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders hold for the angry, disaffected working class. Everyone seems to agree that this group is in trouble, and needs serious help.

    But which Americans exactly are part of the working class? There is no set definition. You can define class by wealth, but a young worker starting out on Wall Street and earning relatively little is hardly lower-class. You can define it by income, although that will be distorted by local differences in the cost of living, and by age (retirees have little income but usually more wealth). You also can define it by educational status.

    But perhaps the most important definition is in people's minds. Gallup periodically asks people to place themselves in one of five classes -- upper, upper-middle, middle, working and lower.

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A speedy trial with slow sentencing isn't justice

    The Constitution grants people accused of crimes the right to a speedy and public trial. Does that include a right to speedy sentencing after conviction? The Supreme Court takes up that question on Monday in Betterman v. Montana, the case of a defendant who had to wait 14 months in a county jail to be sentenced after pleading guilty. Then the court refused to include that period as time served.

    What's most remarkable about the case is that not only Montana but also the federal government maintain that the speedy-trial right doesn't include sentencing at all. The court has never said so before - although to be fair, it also hasn't said that sentencing is part of the trial either.

    Start with the basic rationale for the right. The origins of the phrase contained in the Sixth Amendment go back to the 17th-century common-law judge and scholar Sir Edward Coke, who wrote in his monumental treatise, "Institutes of the Lawes of England," that the common law courts "have not suffered the prisoner to be long detained, but . . . have given the prisoner full and speedy justice."

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March 30th

'Trumpism': A new blue-collar conservatism

    A pivotal debate has broken out in conservative ranks in the age of Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump. Call it "the Trumpists vs. the anti-Trumpists."

    The anti-Trumpists, including the editors of William F. Buckley's seminal National Review magazine, don't think he's a true conservative. Their free-market approaches differ sharply from Trump on such issues as trade, immigration, outsourcing and the protection of Social Security and Medicare, among other middle-class entitlements.

    Under the headline "Against Trump," the magazine ran a "symposium" of 22 contributions by conservative thinkers in January that challenged Trump's brand of conservatism.

    Trump, in his usual fashion with critics, dismissed the magazine as "a dying paper," a diagnosis that its editors would call wildly exaggerated, even as Trump's primary victories continued to mount.

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Trade, Labor, And Politics

    There’s a lot of things about the 2016 election that nobody saw coming, and one of them is that international trade policy is likely to be a major issue in the presidential campaign. What’s more, the positions of the parties will be the reverse of what you might have expected: Republicans, who claim to stand for free markets, are likely to nominate a crude protectionist, leaving Democrats, with their skepticism about untrammeled markets, as the de facto defenders of relatively open trade.

    But this isn’t as peculiar a development as it seems. Rhetorical claims aside, Republicans have long tended in practice to be more protectionist than Democrats. And there’s a reason for that difference. It’s true that globalization puts downward pressure on the wages of many workers — but progressives can offer a variety of responses to that pressure, whereas on the right, protectionism is all they’ve got.

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Arizona's voting rights fire bell

    It's bad enough that an outrage was perpetrated last week against the voters of Maricopa County, Arizona. It would be far worse if we ignore the warning that the disenfranchisement of thousands of its citizens offers our nation. In November, one of the most contentious campaigns in our history could end in a catastrophe for our democracy.

    A major culprit would be the United States Supreme Court, and specifically the conservative majority that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

    The facts of what happened in Arizona's presidential primary are gradually penetrating the nation's consciousness. In a move rationalized as an attempt to save money, officials of Maricopa County, the state's most populous, cut the number of polling places by 70 percent, from 200 in the last presidential election to 60 this time around.

    Maricopa includes Phoenix, the state's largest city, which happens to have a non-white majority and is a Democratic island in an otherwise Republican county.

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