Archive

January 10th, 2016

How Trump made TV his best precinct captain

    Remember how Republican Sen. Marco Rubio called mainstream media "the ultimate super PAC" for Hillary Clinton and other Democrats? If so, his opponent Donald Trump's favorite precinct captain must be television.

    In the first major poll of the new year released by NBC News and Survey Monkey, Trump maintains his lead among the Grand Old Party's contenders with 35 percent support, way ahead Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in second place with 18 percent and 13 percent for Rubio in third.

    Regardless of what happens after actual votes are cast, Trump's surprising success was the past year's biggest political story. We know he has struck a chord with white men, in particular, who have a high school diploma or less and have been buffeted the most by economic changes since the 1950s.

    But if the issues really mattered above all else, Republicans have had plenty of alternative candidates who, unlike Trump, can discuss major issues in terms that sound better informed than a second grader.

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Guns, Tears and Republicans

    President Barack Obama shed tears Tuesday as he called for new gun safety measures, and some critics perceived weakness or wimpishness. Really? On the contrary, we should all be in tears that 225,000 Americans have already died of gun violence in his seven years in office.

    The shame is not a president weeping a bit, but that he has not been able to prevent roughly as many people dying from guns in America on his watch as have been killed in the Syrian civil war (where estimates range from fewer than 200,000 to more than 300,000). Yes, the U.S. gun toll includes suicides and, yes, Syria is a smaller country, but it’s worth a cry that a “peaceful” America during Obama’s tenure has lost roughly as many lives to gunfire as Syria has in civil war.

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Germany's 'Russians' are wary of new arrivals

    A wave of sexual assaults and robberies in Cologne on New Year's Eve, apparently committed by gangs of young men described as "Middle-Eastern" or "North African," has intensified tensions over the arrival of 1.1 million asylum seekers in Germany in 2015. Some of the alarm about the influx of new arrivals, mostly from predominantly Muslim lands, is being expressed by people who themselves are immigrants or children of immigrants.

    In 2014, 20.3 percent of the German population had an immigration background "in the strict sense," according to Destatis, the official statistics agency. In other words, they either immigrated themselves or were still living with their immigrant parents. Although there is a perception that Turks and Poles account for the biggest immigrant groups in Germany, the plurality of those meeting this definition are Russian-speaking people from the former Soviet Union, mainly Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan:

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Germany now has North Africa's sex crime troubles

    Germany is reeling from the news, hidden for several days because of its political sensitivity, that as many as 90 women were sexually assaulted by a crowd of young men of Middle Eastern appearance outside Cologne's majestic Cathedral on New Year's Eve. This is, as the local police chief put it, a "whole new dimension of crime" for Germans to confront. No woman in North Africa, however, would be the least bit shocked.

    There is a lot we still don't know about the Cologne attacks, including whether they were organized ahead of time on social media and whether the actual culprits were refugees, petty criminals who have been plying the area around Cologne's train station for years, or both. All the police have said is that the complaints were made, in one case of rape, and that the men were aged 18 to 35, many of them drunk and of "Arab or North African" origin.

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For U.S. Catholic bishops, now is the time to speak up on gun violence

    When it comes to American politics, the Catholic Church has been unafraid to take bold stands. Over the years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has weighed in on a wide range of policies, from highly publicized denouncements of same-sex marriage to less well-known statements on human trafficking and food stamps.

    The bishops have condemned the use of nuclear weapons, called for an end to the death penalty and urged Congress to address the nation's dysfunctional immigration system. For decades, the Catholic Church has been the most consistent voice in opposition to legalized abortion, and, in recent years, much of the hierarchy's political advocacy has centered around issues of religious liberty.

    And yet, when it comes to the epidemic of gun violence afflicting American society, the Catholic Church has been, for some time now, largely quiet. This needs to change.

    Over the last 50 years, at least 1.5 million Americans have lost their lives to guns. More Americans have been killed by firearms on U.S. soil since 2000 than died during combat in World War II.

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Cornering the Anger Market

    Let’s talk for a minute about Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

    Both of them were in New York this week. Sanders made a speech about Wall Street to a large and boisterous crowd. They cheered his idea of taxing financial transactions and using the money to make public college tuition free. They booed Wall Street executive bonuses, and loudly joined in to finish some of Sanders’ sentences. (“Congress does not regulate Wall Street ... WALL STREET REGULATES CONGRESS!”)

    “Second-biggest crowds, in all fairness,” said Trump at a meeting Wednesday with The Times editorial board. He added, of course, that his were way, way, way bigger.

    Both men’s campaigns are about outrage. Sanders wants the country to rise up against the special privileges that keep making the richest 1 percent richer. Trump rocketed to the top of the polls by railing about illegal immigration. The saddest thing about this presidential race so far is that the Trump approach has gotten way more attention.

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Coca-Cola put Crimea on the map, then took it off

    It's tough these days to be a multinational consumer goods company doing business in both Ukraine and Russia. Coca-Cola felt it over the New Year's holidays: Because of a marketing agency's indiscretion, it is now forced to wiggle out of answering whether it considers Crimea to be Russian or Ukrainian.

    On Dec. 30, a seemingly routine post was published on Coca-Cola's official pages on the social network Vkontakte, which is more popular in Russia than Facebook. It contained a Christmas card featuring a map of Russia that, at a casual glance, was not noteworthy but was high offensive to a Russian patriot.

    The map didn't show three regions: Kaliningrad, the enclave that used to be East Prussia, once part of Germany; the Kuril islands, seized by the Soviet Union from Japan in 1945 and still contested; or Crimea, annexed in 2014 by President Vladimir Putin from Ukraine.

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Can courts stop Obama's gun rules? It's unlikely

    Gun-rights advocates are already suggesting that they'll go to court to challenge President Barack Obama's newly announced executive action on background checks. But what exactly, is the challenge going to be? And will it work?

    The highlight of Obama's action is to "clarify" the law that says checks are only necessary for sales by people "engaged in the business of selling guns." As many as 40 percent of gun sales are currently unregulated because they're in theory not made by dealers engaged in the business.

    The most likely path for the Second Amendment activists will be to argue that the administration's clarified definition is too narrow, interfering with nonbusiness sales. Such a claim won't be simple to get before the courts. And when it does get there, it will be difficult for it to succeed -- but not impossible.

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Why the jury will not hear everything the public does about Bill Cosby

    In the public eye, Bill Cosby's goose is pretty much cooked. As a legal matter, however, his conviction on sexual-assault charges stemming from an incident in 2004 will likely rest on whether the trial judge decides to admit what is known as "prior bad acts" evidence. This question, now being heavily mooted in the press and on legal blogs, is a tricky one.

    The "prior bad acts" in question are of two forms: Cosby's own testimony, in a deposition unsealed last fall, that he obtained quaaludes to facilitate sex acts with women, and the accusations of several dozen women that what Andrea Constand, a former Temple University employee, claims the entertainer did to her, he also did to them. Most of us by now believe that there's fire behind the smoke, and that Cosby, a man the world once revered, is a deeply troubled or perhaps deeply evil human being.

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Up With Extremism

    From its very inception, Donald Trump’s campaign for president has been life imitating Twitter. His candidacy is built on Twitter bursts and insults that touch hot buttons, momentarily salve anxieties and put a fist through the face of political correctness, but without any credible programs for implementation.

    Where Trump has been a true innovator is in his willingness to rhetorically combine positions from the isolationist right, the far right, the center right and the center left. If I were running for president, I’d approach politics in the same way: not as a liberal, a conservative, a libertarian or a centrist.

    I’d run as an extremist.

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