Archive

April 23rd, 2016

Trump's rear-view politics

    If Donald Trump's presidential campaign had an official theme song, it would probably be "The Way We Were," or maybe Archie and Edith Bunker's rendition of "Those Were the Days." More than anything else, Trump's campaign rests on nostalgia for a bygone era when America was indisputably "great," immigrants came through Ellis Island (and only in small numbers), and where everybody (and especially women, minorities, and journalists) knew their place. The fact that his campaign slogan says he'll make America great again tells you Trump's gaze is firmly in the rearview mirror.

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Sen. Warren offers a fix for all that federal regulation

    Many conservatives contend that federal regulators have been running wild, especially under President Barack Obama. Objecting to "job-killing regulations," they offer concrete proposals for reform: more cost-benefit analysis, elimination of unjustified mandates, and explicit congressional approval of expensive rules. (Disclosure: From 2009 to 2012, I served as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, whose approval is required for most federal regulations.)

    By contrast, progressives have been pretty quiet. That changed recently, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, delivered an important but widely overlooked speech last month, one offering an unmistakably progressive vision of regulatory reform. Warren sees the problem as one of capture by regulated interests, not overreach by regulation-happy bureaucrats.

    Warren claims that as agencies produce regulations, they are unduly influenced by powerful private groups. Because of corporate influence, "the rulemaking process often becomes the place where strong, clear laws go to die." In her account, federal rulemaking is broken for one reason: industry groups tilt the scales.

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Russian security chief makes Putin seem tame

    General Alexander Bastrykin, who runs the Russian equivalent of the FBI, has provided a rare insight into the thinking of President Vladimir Putin's select circle of siloviki, or security men. His vision, published in the weekly Kommersant Vlast, includes Chinese-style Internet censorship and the elimination of "fake democracy" to ensure that Russia can defend itself.

    The image of Russia as a besieged fortress is almost always part of the silovikis's rhetoric, though they seldom express their views publicly. The lengthy article by Bastrykin, head of the powerful Investigative Committee, goes beyond the usual cautious pronouncements. It openly calls for eliminating the last vestiges of democracy and civil rights:

    "Enough playing at fake democracy and following pseudoliberal values. Democracy, or people's power, is nothing but power wielded in the people's interests. These interests can be attained through the common good, not through the absolute freedom of certain representatives of society to do as they please."

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Republicans worry about 2016 Senate prospects

    There is a second critical contest in the 2016 U.S. elections: the battle for control of the Senate.

    Republicans, pessimistic about their presidential prospects, feel an urgency to hold onto the Senate. They have a 54-to-46 advantage in the chamber now, but more than twice as many of their seats are at stake in this cycle. (Democrats would have to score a net gain of 30 seats to win the majority in the House, almost impossible short of a landslide in the presidential race.)

    Both parties acknowledge that the Senate contest is a toss-up that will be affected by the presidential election. But there are two other, perhaps more important, factors: the outcome of a number of remaining primaries and whether congressional Republicans, especially House Speaker Paul Ryan, can fashion an agenda that, if necessary, strikes a distance from the debates of the presidential race.

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Quoth the Raven

    Once upon a midnight dreary, while I studied social theory,

    The basis of positivism, the why and the wherefore-

    While I sat there, quietly reading, suddenly there came a beating,

    And the sound of someone pounding, pounding at my chamber door.

    "A shutter has come loose," I muttered, "and it's banging on my door -

    Only this and nothing more."

    Back to my theory turning, I read about man's yearning,

    For the common good, prosperity, a rational end to war

    And then again I heard a screech as of a giant bird,

    It sounded like a raven tapping at my door

    And I rose up from my chair and walked barefoot cross the floor;

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Obama is right to urge Britons to stay in the EU

    This week, U.S. President Barack Obama will dive into a nest of vipers as venomous as anything Republicans can offer: Britain's debate over whether to leave the European Union. As far as campaigners for "Brexit" are concerned, he is a most unwelcome guest.

    Yet Obama is right to speak up. The U.S. has an interest in Britain remaining in the EU, and that gives him an obligation to articulate what that interest is. U.K. voters need to hear what he has to say, because proponents of leaving the EU have already involved the U.S. in their campaign.

    When he visits this week, Obama plans to say that the U.S. would prefer to see Britain stay in the EU. That's awkward for the "Out-ers." They argue that Britain should swap Europe for a tighter alliance with its true friends in the Anglosphere, above all the U.S. But if the friends who are supposed to welcome Britain think that's a daft idea, perhaps it also isn't a very good one.

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Obama administration urges states to revisit Iran laws

    After lifting international and federal sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program, the Barack Obama administration is turning its attention to state governments.

    On April 8, the State Department's lead coordinator for Iran nuclear implementation, Stephen Mull, sent letters to the governors of all 50 states as well as some local officials. He asked them to reconsider any laws on the books that called for divesting state funds, such as pensions, from businesses interacting with Iran's economy, or laws that would deny contracts to companies that do business with Iran.

    The State Department has signaled this might be coming. Over the summer, Secretary of State John Kerry told Congress he would be asking states not to interfere with the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which relaxes some economic sanctions.

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No country for old generals

    A handful of Republican activists are waging a long-shot campaign to persuade retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis to run for president and save the GOP from potential electoral disaster this fall.

    On paper, they seem to have a strong argument. GOP front-runners Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are deeply unpopular with broad swaths of the voting public. Retired generals like Mattis, by contrast, convey an aura of competence and courage, inspiring confidence that they will keep the country safe in dangerous times. With no record in elected office, former generals have no political baggage to alienate voters, and they are associated with one of the few American institutions that still enjoys wide public support.

    But there has been no indication that the Republican leadership - or the country at large - is clamoring for a general to step into the race. There is also no sign that the 65-year-old Mattis wants the job or has the patience to enter the polarized and increasingly nasty political arena.

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Is God a pasta monster? That's a legal question

    What's a religion? The question is fundamental to the legal analysis of religious freedom, yet courts avoid addressing it. The Supreme Court has never given a concrete answer. The result: Courts don't claim to be able to define religion, but think they know it when they see it.

    The consequences can be surprising. Ten days ago I wrote about a case in which an appeals court expressed skepticism about whether a religion based on the use of traditional Native American hallucinatory substances was really a religion. And just last week a federal district court rejected a prisoner's religious-liberty claim on the ground that his faith, Pastafarianism, is a parody of religion rather than religion itself.

    The facts of the parody case are entertaining -- but they're also important. As it turns out, the adherents of the parody religion are engaging an important set of claims about religion. Their claims are both theological and constitutional. And they may press the courts to create new law on the topic of religious liberty.

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Deadly cars aren't a profit opportunity

    After a 17-year-old Texas woman became the 10th American killed by exploding Takata airbags last month, it was revealed that while the vehicle had been recalled, it had never been taken in for repair. This is tragic but not surprising: Only about a third of the nearly 29 million recalled Takata airbags have actually been replaced.

    This frustrating trend goes well beyond airbags. A year and a half after recalling a decade-old ignition-switch defect linked to the deaths of 124 people, GM had still repaired only 70 percent of the devices. Despite offering customers gift cards to Starbucks and Bass Pro Shops as inducements, GM did worse than the industry's 75 percent average recall repair rate after 18 months.

    The industry, which faces fines over unrepaired vehicles, has had so little luck convincing consumers to go in for recall repairs made that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers sent a plaint to the major insurance companies asking for "assistance in establishing a new way to provide vehicle owners with information about any open safety recalls that may affect their car or truck."

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