Archive

January 20th, 2016

Donald Trump’s Existential Pickle

    If your very candidacy and identity rest on your supposed talent for victory, can you survive a defeat?

    Can you continue to call yourself a winner if you’ve been a loser — and if “loser” is your favorite way of closing the book on someone, your final word, the workhorse in your brimming lexicon of slurs, exiting your mouth so reflexively that it’s essentially your exhalation, your carbon dioxide: “loser,” “loser,” “loser.”

    Donald Trump has a problem that the other candidates for the Republican nomination don’t. He’s put an obstacle in his path that they haven’t. He doesn’t merely assert dominance. He claims something close to omnipotence. (Remember that laughable physician’s report?)

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Hillary and Bernie, Punching

    There’s a Democratic debate Sunday night! The party honchos scheduled it in the middle of a three-day weekend, obviously in a bid to ensure maximum attention. The American public, perky from eight straight hours of football playoffs, will totally be in the mood for a serious policy dialogue.

    So far, the Democratic encounters have been mildly informative but not riveting. We don’t wait expectantly for Bernie Sanders to snap, “You already had your chance, Hillary, and you blew it,” the way Chris Christie did to Marco Rubio in the Republican debate Thursday. But tensions are mounting.

    Clinton and Sanders had generally been taking the high road. This is in part because they have a basic level of respect for each other. (It’s very likely that they respect Martin O’Malley, too, although no one’s keeping track.)

    Also, there was a widespread feeling that the outcome was preordained. You cannot believe how gracious that can make people.

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Giving Obama His Due

    I still hold onto a couple of magazine covers and newspaper front pages, despite their preservation in the digital afterlife, marking the moment when a nation that had embraced African-American slavery chose a black man to be its president.

    Barack Obama’s election in 2008 swept “away the last racial barrier in American politics with ease,” The New York Times reported. The New Yorker, with its cover of a glowing Lincoln Memorial, heralded “the resurgence of America’s ability to astonish and inspire.” They sensed “the beginning of a new era.”

    You couldn’t help thinking of these trumpets of hope while watching the graying head of the president on Tuesday night. As he walked to the exit, he turned to soak in the scene of his final State of the Union address. “Let me take one more look at this thing,” he said.

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January 19th

Sean Penn meets God

    Ever since reading Sean Penn's article for Rolling Stone about his meeting with El Chapo, I have been unable to get his writing style out of my head. It was like he was being held at knife point by a band of drunk thesauruses.

    Fortunately, Sean Penn had other people he wanted to meet and write about for free, and was generous enough to let me run the following.

    - - -

    "In the end it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln, probably

    - - -

    What's the point of this? Two words: God. I'm meeting Him - anytime now. I'm meeting the Man Upstairs.

    It could be a paragraph away. It could be 80. It's the journey, not the destination, as Nietzsche so famously said. I've read Nietzsche. It is important that I tell you this.

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The odds of a Kasich miracle

    Two facts stand out about the constituency that has rallied to Donald Trump. His supporters are angry, and they come overwhelmingly from the less affluent reaches of the Republican Party. Ohio Gov. John Kasich is betting on the aspirations of these voters over their anger, and it's just possible he's onto something his opponents are missing.

     For the angry vote, there is a lot of competition. The main dynamic of last Thursday's Republican debate was the clawing and jabbing between Sen. Ted Cruz and Trump. Cruz channels exasperation as well as Trump does and is the more consistent conservative.

    Sen. Marco Rubio has benched his trademark optimism for now to compete directly with Cruz and Trump for the ballots of the enraged. The upside: Rubio is currently positioned as the only Republican other than Trump and Cruz who could come in at least third in Iowa on Feb. 1 and then finish at least second in New Hampshire on Feb. 9. There are a lot of furious GOP voters to go around.

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Obama's divide? Share that blame

    Considering the stubbornness of his opposition, I thought President Barack Obama was being quite generous in to express "regrets" over his role in Washington's dysfunction.

    "It's one of the few regrets of my presidency," he said, "that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better."

    He shouldn't be too hard on himself, in my view. When it comes to stirring "rancor and suspicion," he had plenty of assistance from his stubbornly resistant conservative adversaries.

    I am not one to complain, as many Obama supporters do, that the nation's first black president has had a rougher road than any previous president. Who can forget the blizzard of allegations, myths and rumors that were showered on Bill and Hillary Clinton during his presidency?

    Expect more of the same if his wife is nominated for the presidency this year, as expected.

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Donald Trump digs in

    Having trailed Ted Cruz by as much as 10 points in recent Iowa polling, Donald Trump decided to play No More Mr. Nice Guy with the Texas senator in the sixth GOP televised debate in South Carolina on the Fox Business Network.

    Their early lovefest ended when the brash Texan assaulted Trump's "New York values," attempting to tap into the regional dislike of the Big Apple. "I can frame it another way," Cruz said. "Not a lot of conservatives come out of Manhattan. I'm just saying."

    The Manhattan billionaire thereupon deftly reminded the audience of the city's rousing reply to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as an inspirational, patriotic episode in the nation's history.

    "I saw something that no place on Earth could have handled more beautifully, more humanely than New York," he declared, in full indignation. "That was a very insulting statement that Ted made."

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Who had the worst week in Washington? Rand Paul

    Sen. Rand Paul found out Monday night that he wasn't going to be on the main stage for Thursday's Republican presidential debate in North Charleston, South Carolina.

    He didn't take it so well.

    "An artificial designation as being in the second tier is something we can't accept," the senator from Kentucky said in a CNN interview. "I won't participate in anything that's not the first tier."

    That meant that Paul took a walk on the undercard debate, which aired three hours before the main debate Thursday.

    But he didn't go quietly. In fact, Paul spent the whole week making a spectacle of himself as he pouted and whined his way through TV and radio interviews - casting himself as aggrieved by members of the media.

    Paul hit his high/low in a radio interview Thursday in which he said that "99 percent of our supporters are calling in and saying, for the media, that's where you can go" - as he stuck up his middle finger.

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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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