Archive

January 13th, 2016

Trump's birther strategy expands

    I am struck, this week, by Donald Trump's triumphant return to his birtherism strategy. He's currently raising the question about Ted Cruz, saying it could be "very precarious" for the party if Cruz is the nominee given his affiliation with Canada.

    Trump enjoys doing this sort of thing and it seems to have brought him solid results so far. Why stop at Cruz?

    Yes, it helps that you can picture Cruz being born in Canada. (Other theories I would entertain about Cruz's birth include: he appeared one morning on a large uninhabited asteroid with a single rose on it; he was born in the middle of a big fire and then a lumberjack came out of the building holding Cruz in his arms totally unharmed and ever since the element of fire has responded to Ted's call; Cruz was not born at all, he just emerged fully formed from the head of someone delivering an impassioned filibuster; Cruz came into being nine months after his father scaled a wall to pick the rampion in Ronald Reagan's garden.)

    But here's a preview of some other stratagems Donald will probably try to narrow the rest of the field.

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The hostile climate for fighting gun violence

    The president of the United States and the mayor of the District of Columbia both used this week to address violence within the sphere of their responsibilities. And they are catching flak for it.

    President Obama's focus was on the weapons that now kill as many people as car accidents and on the need for gun-control measures. He said at the White House on Tuesday: "Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns - 30,000. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents." And he added this grabber: "In 2013 alone, more than 500 people lost their lives to gun accidents - and that includes 30 children younger than 5 years old."

    The next day, D.C.Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) went to the city's Eastern Market Metro station to announce the formation of a task force to combat gun robberies, which last year increased to 1,249, 10 percent more than the 1,112 recorded in 2014. This year isn't off to a good start - 25gun robberies in the first six days of 2016. Robberies without guns numbered 28.

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The Obama Boom

    Do you remember the “Bush boom”? Probably not. Anyway, the administration of George W. Bush began its tenure with a recession, followed by an extended “jobless recovery.” By the summer of 2003, however, the economy began adding jobs again. The pace of job creation wasn’t anything special by historical standards, but conservatives insisted that the job gains after that trough represented a huge triumph, a vindication of the Bush tax cuts.

    So what should we say about the Obama job record? Private-sector employment — the relevant number, as I’ll explain in a minute — hit its low point in February 2010. Since then we’ve gained 14 million jobs, a figure that startled even me, roughly double the number of jobs added during the supposed Bush boom before it turned into the Great Recession. If that was a boom, this expansion, capped by last month’s really good report, outbooms it by a wide margin.

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January 12th

Obama challenges gun lobby: Better late than never

    It took allegedly aloof Barack Obama to the brink of his last year in the Oval Office to take executive action to combat the national illness of gun violence. He shed salty tears at the White House the other day in a rare display of personal commitment to one of the major domestic objectives of his presidency.

    The modest proposals he introduced to a roomful of grieving parents from Columbine to Newtown and other loved ones of hundreds of innocent victims of the plague could have come earlier. The president -- many would say naively -- had first tried after the shooting of 20 first-graders at the Sandy Hook School to move Congress to accept a more comprehensive agenda.

    He put perhaps his most persuasive lieutenant, Vice President Joe Biden, in charge of the effort, but it only resulted in a massive and effective pushback from the National Rifle Association and the rest of the gun lobby. This time around, Obama placed his oft-shielded feelings on the line, declaring that "the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they can't hold America hostage."

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Rubio's strategically gloomy detour

    This year's Republican presidential campaign is where hope and optimism go to die. Don't pretend that Donald Trump is an exotic outlier. His spirit haunts a party that can't get enough of gloom and fear.

    Among the GOP candidates, no one started out more optimistic about the United States than Marco Rubio. The Florida senator's campaign slogan still promises "A New American Century." He smiles broadly from the cover of his upbeat 2015 book, "American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone." You can almost hear the cheerful guy in the bright red tie saying, "Yes we can."

    The conservative writer Mitchell Blatt sensed this when he called Rubio "the Republican Barack Obama." He meant it as a compliment. "A Republican Obama," Blatt wrote last fall, "is just what the Grand Old Party needs to face a changing electorate."

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Trump's tribalism, a sign of our times

    With less than a month to go before Iowa caucus goers cast the first actual votes in presidential nomination race, Republican leaders and donors disagree over how to stop the candidacy of Donald Trump -- or whether anyone should even try.

    They may not have much choice. Sure, Trump offers a walking example of how savvy about business doesn't necessarily mean you know much about anything else. He displays a hopelessly erratic temperament, a breathtaking ignorance about public affairs and an unsettling zest for authoritarianism.

    But as damaging as his radical insult-dog rhetoric can be to the Grand Old Party's outreach efforts, he's the closest thing the GOP has to a strong leader these days.

    Nipping at his heels, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz comes off to many as Trump without the charm. The freshman senator made a name for himself early by trampling over traditional Senate courtesies and customs to make himself hated by his colleagues, even in his own party.

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Bill Clinton's in the kitchen, but can he stand the heat?

    Harry Truman famously said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." The advice is now pointedly being ignored by former President Bill Clinton as he begins campaigning for his wife's Democratic presidential nomination, presumably with her approval.

    The decision comes as no surprise, given his continued popularity even after being impeached in 1998 over the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. The lure of becoming the first husband of a U.S. president seems irresistible to the term-limited chief executive, with all manner of speculation on what his role would be if Hillary were elected president.

    Also predictable was the decision of Republican front-running candidate Donald Trump to resurrect Bill's sex scandals in the context of Hillary's emphasis on women's rights. Trump has wasted no time in questioning the appropriateness of Bill actively campaigning for Hillary, given his reputation as an abuser of what in gentler times was called the fair sex.

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Abolish the 'natural born citizen' test

    Donald Trump has us all spun up in a bogus debate over the meaning of what constitutes a "natural born" citizen and whether Canadian-born Ted Cruz is thereby ineligible for the presidency. The conversation we should actually be having is about how stupid and cruel the requirement is in the first place, and how the Constitution should be changed to abolish what is arguably its worst remaining provision.

    Our founding document contains many clauses that may be archaic and irrelevant but are nonetheless inoffensive. The problem with the natural born citizen test is that it is both unnecessary and harmful -- not just a relic but an insult to the nearly 20 million Americans who are citizens by virtue of naturalization.

    "This restriction has become an anachronism that is decidedly un-American," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in offering a constitutional amendment to repeal it more than a decade ago.

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Trump shifts birther gaze to Cruz

    Who says Donald Trump lacks subtlety? The way he's raising "birther" questions about his chief rival for the nomination is worthy of Machiavelli.

    "I'd hate to see something like that get in his way," Trump said of the fact that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was born in Canada. Trump referred to the fact that the Constitution says "No Person except a natural born Citizen" -- whatever that means -- is eligible to be president.

    "But a lot of people are talking about it," Trump continued, in an interview with Washington Post reporters, "and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport."

    Cruz flatly denied ever having a Canadian passport, telling CNN this is just one of those "silly sideshows" the media love to engage in. But there is no question that he was born in Calgary, Alberta, to an American mother and a Cuban father. And there is no question that he had Canadian citizenship -- before renouncing it in preparation for his presidential run.

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The complicated history of who really 'owns' the occupied land in Oregon

    The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a 187,757-acre haven for greater sandhill cranes and other native birds in eastern Oregon, is usually a pretty peaceful place. But its calm was shattered Jan. 2 when Ammon Bundy and a group of armed men broke into and occupied a number of federal buildings on the refuge, vowing to fight should the government try to arrest them.

    Their insurrectionary goal appears to be, simply put, to destroy the national system of public lands - our forests, parks and refuges - that was developed in the late 19th century to conserve these special landscapes and the critical natural resources they contain for all Americans. "The best possible outcome," trumpeted Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, who began an armed standoff with law enforcement in Nevada in April 2014 over his continued failure to pay $1 million in fees for grazing on public lands, is that "ranchers that have been kicked out of the area . . . will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control."

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