Archive

April 17th, 2016

What promise will Trump reverse himself on next?

    For every complex problem, H.L. Mencken wrote, there is an answer that is neat, plausible -- and wrong. Donald Trump should write that quote on his forehead -- backwards, so it's the first thing he reads in the mirror every morning.

    The billionaire Republican presidential frontrunner bedazzles his fans with easy-sounding solutions that you probably have heard before, if you hang out in enough saloons.

    But he's been backpedalling so much lately that my biggest question is: What he is going to reverse himself on next?

    Take, for example, his recent thoughts on the supremely important topic of nuclear weapons. Please.

    As if it were not unsettling enough to imagine President Trump in charge of the nation's nuclear defense codes, he said in a late March interview with The New York Times that he was OK with letting Japan and South Korea have nukes, too. Simple, right?

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Two right answers in the fight over bank reform

    New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi are having a debate over breaking up big banks. This is the key financial reform proposal of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, so it's a very topical issue.

    Krugman says that breaking up the banks isn't a priority, and that the Sanders campaign isn't critical:

    "The easy slogan here is 'Break up the big banks'…But were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis, and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?

    "Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions were no. Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on 'shadow banks' like Lehman Brothers that weren't necessarily that big."

    Taibbi thinks otherwise:

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April 16th

Donald Trump is shocked to learn that politics is complicated

    Donald Trump is steaming mad -- at Ted Cruz, at the Republican National Committee, at state Republican parties, and at the entire nomination process. "These are dirty tricksters. This is a dirty trick," he said at a rally yesterday. "And I'll tell you what, the Republican National Committee, they should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this crap to happen."

    What's happening is that even though Trump has a clear lead in votes and delegates, Ted Cruz's campaign is running circles around him behind the scenes. The breaking point came when Cruz got all of Colorado's delegates over the weekend, because his campaign understood and managed the weirdly intricate system of district-level conventions the state party had instituted. And as the Post reports today, Cruz is securing pledges from delegates who will support him on a second ballot at the convention in Cleveland if Trump fails to win outright on the first ballot; Cruz may already have enough to ensure that Trump can't prevail if he doesn't arrive with a majority in hand.

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These Billboards Have Eyes

    OK people, we need to discuss billboards. Yes, we really must.

    At best, these giant corporate placards are problematic — they loom garishly over us, clutter our landscapes, and intrude into our communities with no respect for local aesthetics or preferences. Now, however, billboards are getting a high-tech reboot, allowing advertisers to invade not only our places, but also our privacy.

    Having to see billboards everywhere is bad enough. Far worse, though, is that the modernized, digitalized, computerized structures can see you — and track you.

    Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, having already splattered the country with tens of thousands of billboards, has revealed that it’s partnering with AT&T and other data snoops to erect “smart” billboards that will know and record when you drive or walk past one.

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The Trump Campaign Has Just Hired Its Next Scandal

    Here is an irony of the 2016 election season. The candidate promising voters that he won't be influenced by Washington lobbyists is counting on the influence of a Washington lobbyist to save his presidential campaign.

    Late last month Donald Trump hired Paul Manafort -- who has represented his organization in Washington -- to make sure his delegates at this summer's convention in Cleveland actually end up voting for him. And for this task, Manafort is well qualified. He ran delegate operations for the campaigns of Gerald Ford in 1976 and Bob Dole in 1996.

    But Manafort's real specialty is in the netherworld of international lobbying. Trump has criticized both parties as selling out the U.S. to foreign interests. Now he is counting on a man who has represented many of them.

    Manafort has offered his services to not one but two presidents driven from power through popular revolution -- Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. He has lobbied for Saudi Arabia, a Bahamanian president suspected of narco-trafficking and a former Angolan rebel leader accused of torture.

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The Real Welfare Cheats

    We often hear how damaging welfare dependency is, stifling initiative and corroding the human soul. So I worry about the way we coddle executives in their suites.

    A study to be released Thursday says that for each dollar America’s 50 biggest companies paid in federal taxes between 2008 and 2014, they received $27 back in federal loans, loan guarantees and bailouts.

    Goodness! What will that do to their character? Won’t that sap their initiative?

    The study was compiled by Oxfam America and it comes on top of a mountain of evidence from international agencies and economic journals underscoring the degree to which major companies have rigged the tax code.

    OK, OK, I know you see the words “tax code” and your eyes desperately scan for something else to read! Anything about a sex scandal?

    But hold on: The tax system is rigged against us precisely because taxation is the Least Sexy Topic on Earth. So we doze, and our pockets get picked.

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Terrorism may not always feature the drama of radicalization

    Last month, CNN released video footage of Brahim Abdeslam and his younger brother Salah dancing in a nightclub alongside a blond woman, with whom Brahim, the report claimed, was flirting. "This was life before ISIS," the voice-over to the report says. "It's Feb. 8, 2015. Just months later, Brahim would blow himself up at a Paris cafe; Salah becomes Europe's most wanted man."

    But was it life before ISIS? The automatic assumption in the report is that drinking and flirting are indicative of a secular and thoroughly un-Islamized state of mind - and that wannabe jihadis don't jive or flirt. The report also assumes that something intense and convulsive happened to the Abdeslam brothers in the intervening period between Feb. 8 and Nov. 13, 2015 - though it sheds no light on what that was.

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Republican leadership void foretells chaos ahead

    As speculation mounts on the prospect of an open, contested Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, the absence of old-time party leadership is painfully evident.

    Until not long ago, the party's establishment had a recognized waiting list of leaders lined up for their "turn" to run for the presidency. A candidate's claim to take his crack at reaching the Oval Office was based on his party experience and general good will within the GOP club.

    After Dwight Eisenhower had his two terms, his vice president, Richard Nixon, was up next in 1960. In 1964 it was Barry Goldwater; in 1968 and 1972, Nixon again; in 1976, incumbent Gerald Ford; in 1980 and 1984, Ronald Reagan; in 1988 and 1992, George H.W. Bush; in 1996, Bob Dole.

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Polygamy is the next marriage-rights frontier

    After the Supreme Court's landmark gay marriage decision, can a constitutional right to plural marriage be far behind? It seemed that way in 2013, when a federal district court in Utah followed the Supreme Court ruling by striking down part of the state's bigamy law in a case involving the family featured in the television show "Sister Wives."

    But on Monday a federal appeals court reversed the decision. It said that the case was moot because Utah prosecutors had shelved prosecution of the Sister Wives family and announced a new policy to prosecute polygamists only if they were also suspected of fraud or abuse.

    The decision is a sign that the federal courts would like polygamy prosecutions to go away on their own without having to declare a fundamental constitutional right to marry more than one person.

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Ours will be remembered as the era of plastics

    Historians may soon be looking back at the 20th and early 21st centuries as the time of computers and the Internet, bold ventures into space and the splitting of the atom. But what will scholars in the distant future find worthy of note? If there's anyone around with a penchant for paleontology hundreds of thousands of years from now, a surprise awaits in the stratigraphic layers containing the remains of our time.

    Anyone digging into the earth would find a sudden, explosive increase in a new kind of material - plastic. Once underground, plastic will fossilize well, leaving a distinct signature. And there's plenty of it. Until the 20th century, plastic was virtually nonexistent. Since then, humans have created 5 billion tons. The paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz has calculated that if it were all converted into cling wrap, there would be enough to wrap the globe.

    Until about 20 years ago, Zalasiewicz said, the idea that people could permanently change the planet was considered nonsense. Human beings were too puny and the planet too vast.

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