Archive

August 14th, 2016

Trump's fairy tale about the fall of Detroit

    Donald Trump all but claims the economic policies of President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton caused Detroit's 2013 bankruptcy. In a Monday speech in the Motor City, the Republican nominee said he'd cut taxes, eliminate regulations and negotiate more advantageous trade deals to revive Detroit and help other struggling cities.

    But Trump got both the diagnosis and the prescriptions wrong. Even the United Auto Workers, the union that has seen its ranks decimated because of industry job cuts and foreign competition, seems to agree: It organized protests outside the hall where Trump spoke.

    "Detroit" can mean the U.S. auto industry or it can mean the city. Trump conflated the two in his address, even if he barely mentioned automaking. "The city of Detroit is the living, breathing example of my opponent's failed economic agenda," he said, after reeling off statistics on the city's high rates of poverty, crime and unemployment.

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Trump’s Ambiguous Wink Wink to ‘Second Amendment People’

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin got assassinated.

    His right-wing opponents just kept delegitimizing him as a “traitor” and “a Nazi” for wanting to make peace with the Palestinians and give back part of the Land of Israel. Of course, all is fair in politics, right? And they had God on their side, right? They weren’t actually telling anyone to assassinate Rabin. That would be horrible.

    But there are always people down the line who don’t hear the caveats. They just hear the big message: The man is illegitimate, the man is a threat to the nation, the man is the equivalent of a Nazi war criminal. Well, you know what we do with people like that, don’t you? We kill them.

    And that’s what the Jewish extremist Yigal Amir did to Rabin. Why not? He thought he had permission from a whole segment of Israel’s political class.

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Trump can't freeze new rules, and that's good

    Regulatory reform was a big part of Donald Trump's major economic address yesterday, which offered three proposals to reduce excessive regulation. The problem is serious. The proposals aren't.

    First, Trump calls for a temporary moratorium on all federal regulations. For starters, that would be unlawful. Congress has required executive agencies to issue regulations involving air pollution, food safety, consumer protection, and highway safety. The president is not allowed to ignore those requirements. (Disclosure: I was administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2009 to 2012.)

    A moratorium is also a terrible idea. Some regulations are necessary to respond to emergencies, such as outbreaks of infectious diseases, oil spills, unsafe drinking water, dangerous working conditions, and national security challenges at airports and elsewhere.

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The Olympics Make a Grown Man Cry

    Somewhere between the Zika stories, the doping stories and the stories about what a fetid, toxic swamp Rio really is, I got the message: I was supposed to feel cynical about these Olympics, the way we feel cynical about pretty much everything these days.

    I was supposed to marvel at our talent for making messes, cutting corners, evading responsibility, procrastinating. Rio was a testament to that, both as the host of the games and as a sublime, wretched theater of humanity. All the promises we fail to keep, all the plans that go awry: They were and would be on vivid display. I was supposed to shake my head in disgust. Sigh in frustration.

    Instead I cried, and I mean good tears. It was Monday morning, and I was telling someone what he’d missed on Sunday night: how American swimmer Michael Phelps defied age and his own stabs at self-destruction to swim toward yet another gold, in a men’s relay.

    How American gymnast Simone Biles, in the team qualifying round, responded to the gaudy expectations for her not by crumbling but by meeting, even surpassing, every one of them.

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Italy does Iran's dirty work by arresting a dissident

    Since the beginning of his presidency, Barack Obama has expressed his wish for Iran to join the community of nations. Taken in the abstract, this is not objectionable. If Iran changes its behavior, Western countries should try to meet it half way, so the theory goes.

    But when understood in the particular, it is dangerous statecraft. Consider the recent fate of Mehdi Khosravi, an Iranian opposition figure who received refugee status in 2009 from the U.K. On Saturday, Khosravi was arrested by Italian police in Lecco at the request of a court in Tehran.

    If Iran was a normal nation, this would not be controversial. Countries fulfill extradition requests all the time. But Iran is more like Russia under Vladimir Putin, which also uses the extradition process to target its political opponents. Ask William Browder, the American investor whose lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in prison as he was investigating the theft of tax revenue. Last year, the Russians issued a "red notice" with Interpol for Browder's arrest.

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How the Pentagon became Walmart

    When my mother came for lunch at the Pentagon, I shepherded her through the visitor's entrance, maneuvered her onto the escalator, and had just ushered her past the chocolate shop when she stopped short. I stopped too, letting an army of crisply uniformed officers and shirt-sleeved civilians flow past us down the corridor. Taking in the Pentagon's florist shop, the banks, the nail salon, and the food court, my mother finally looked back at me. "So the heart of American military power is a shopping mall?"

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Hillary Clinton may be headed for a blowout. But can she bring other Democrats with her?

    If you go to a Donald Trump rally in the next week or two, chances are you won't hear something you heard at earlier Trump rallies: the candidate discussing, at much more length than anyone could possibly be interested in, just how great he's doing in the polls. However, you might hear him mention that the polls are all rigged against him, because since the conventions, those polls have taken a dramatic turn in Hillary Clinton's favor. In fact, we've reached a point where it no longer looks like a "bounce" but like a lasting shift in Clinton's favor. That raises the possibility that we could be headed for a genuine blowout in November. What would that mean for Congress and for a potential Clinton presidency?

    Before we go on, let me be clear that I'm not claiming that what the polls say right now allows us to predict exactly what will happen on Election Day. There will most likely be movements up and down between now and then. The race could tighten considerably. Clinton's lead could grow even bigger. Trump could pull ahead and win. All those scenarios are possible.

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China isn't threatening to overturn the world order

    A bit of China-bashing is inevitable in any U.S. election year. Over the past month, though, after China roundly dismissed an arbitration ruling that rejected its claims in the South China Sea, a chorus of voices has angrily denounced the country as an international outlaw. Western pundits have likened China's reaction to imperial Japan's decision to quit the League of Nations, which eventually led to war in Asia, or even to Hitler's trampling of the global order.

    This is pure, unwarranted hyperbole. And it's no more helpful than eruptions from Chinese right-wingers, who see the ruling as part of a conspiracy to hem in their country's rise. If the West wants to change China's attitude, it also needs to reexamine its own.

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August 13th

How employers broke unions by creating a culture of fear

    Why are there no labor unions in America? This is, of course, an overstatement - millions of Americans still belong to unions. But the size of the unionized workforce has declined every year for 40 years. And even at its mid-20th-century peak, it was lower than in most European countries.

    Many explanations for low union density turn on the distinctiveness of American culture. Americans are deemed individualists, with self-interest trumping any sense of the common good. They are driven wild with consumer longings, willing to do anything for low prices. They are entrepreneurial, identifying with their employers and always dreaming of upward mobility or striking it rich rather than claiming solidarity via working-class identity.

    One might question whether this is really an apt description of American culture. But to the degree that it is accurate, it may have grown out of our history of employer intransigence and hostility to labor.

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Brace yourself for an even uglier campaign

    It may be hard to imagine, but I fear this election campaign is going to get worse - maybe a lot worse - before it gets better. By the time it's done, the whole nation may feel like it needs a shower.

    I base this depressing prediction on three assumptions: Polls showing the Obama coalition coming together behind Hillary Clinton are correct; Donald Trump does not want to be embarrassed as a massive loser; and the Republican Party cares more about keeping its majority in the House than about Trump's tender feelings. Any of these premises can be wrong, but I think they're sound.

    The logical result is not pretty. Those who believed this campaign hit rock-bottom long ago should keep in mind one of Sen. John McCain's favorite sayings: "It's always darkest before it's totally black."

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