Archive

August 19th, 2016

Politics as an Olympian endeavor

    Simone Manuel, Katie Ledecky and Simone Biles will not be eligible to run for president until 2032, although Michael Phelps hits 35 years old in 2020. After watching these Olympians display so many traits we admire -- persistence, discipline, grace, goal orientation, resilience, and inner strength -- perhaps we should consider drafting one of them some day.

    It is both a blessing and a curse that the Summer Olympics happen during the election year. The blessings are obvious. Especially in this campaign, it is a relief to watch a display of American talent that truly brings the country together. It's a nice change of pace to see participants judged by objective standards (with all the caveats that gymnastics scoring invites). It is good to see these men and women achieve because they absolutely earned it.

    And during a campaign in which one of the issues is whether the United States has lost its "greatness," a glance at the Olympic medal board suggests otherwise while a look at the members of Team USA suggests how our diversity is part of our strength.

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Wisdom, Courage and the Economy

    It’s fantasy football time in political punditry, as commentators try to dismiss Hillary Clinton’s dominance in the polls — yes, Clinton Derangement Syndrome is alive and well — by insisting that she would be losing badly if only the GOP had nominated someone else. We will, of course, never know. But one thing we do know is that none of Donald Trump’s actual rivals for the nomination bore any resemblance to their imaginary candidate, a sensible, moderate conservative with good ideas.

    Let’s not forget, for example, what Marco Rubio was doing in the memorized sentence he famously couldn’t stop repeating: namely, insinuating that President Barack Obama is deliberately undermining America. It wasn’t all that different from Donald Trump’s claim that Obama founded ISIS. And let’s also not forget that Jeb Bush, the ultimate establishment candidate, began his campaign with the ludicrous assertion that his policies would double the American economy’s growth rate.

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Trump not the first Republican to court calamity for his party

    Not for more than half a century, since the 1964 landslide debacle of the Barry Goldwater campaign, has the Republican Party faced the prospect of a comparable election defeat and peril to its survival than it does now in the campaign of Donald Trump.

    Three months after Goldwater's resounding defeat, at a Chicago meeting of the Republican National Committee, Rep. Bob Wilson of California, the chairman of the GOP Congressional Campaign Committee, summed the party's need for self-preservation thus: "If I was in hell, with one leg gone and one arm gone and one eye gone, I'd still be thinking: How can I get out of here?"

    One other attendee, Richard Nixon, the defeated 1960 presidential nominee, offered what turned out a personal self-preservation plan. He proposed that all Republicans declare a moratorium on 1968 presidential politicking until after the 1966 congressional elections and instead concentrate on winning Senate and House campaigns.

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Religious liberty is different for the military

   How much leeway should Marines have to express their religious beliefs? According to Congress, religious liberty laws apply with full force to the military. But last week the highest court in the armed forces put some limits on claims by active-duty personnel. Those limits cut against recent trends in Supreme Court jurisprudence -- but they make a lot of sense in a military context, even if they shouldn't necessarily be copied by other courts for civilians.

    The case arose when Lance Corporal Monifa Sterling was charged before a court-martial with six counts of disrespect, disobedience and failing to do her job. The record shows that Sterling's chain of command was frustrated with her poor performance and recalcitrant attitude. But what got her charged was her refusal to take down three identical signs that she hung in the work cubicle she shared with another Marine. The signs read, "No weapon formed against me shall prosper."

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Manners still matter, Mr. Trump

    When you've dug yourself into a hole, as an old saying goes, stop digging. Most people are smart enough to follow that advice. They aren't Donald Trump.

    In the two weeks after their parties' conventions, the Republican presidential nominee has been digging himself into a hole, falling badly behind his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton in the polls -- and he keeps on digging.

    At a rally near Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, for example, he came up with a new piece of nonsense that President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton "founded" the Islamic State, or ISIS, our No. 1 jihadi enemy these days.

    Like a small child who has discovered a new word -- or a salesman who has run out of new things to say -- Trump was too delighted by the phrase to stop repeating it in his rambling rap, at least a half-dozen times. Count 'em.

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Blue corners of Pennsylvania have turned red, but it won't matter

    The lunch group in Monessen, Pennsylvania, is evenly divided between Trump supporters and Trump opponents. But the dark mood across the whole room suggests why this working-class town might end up favoring him in November.

    Monessen, once a steelmaking hub, has steadily lost plants, jobs and population over the decades. Along Donner Avenue, there are more boarded-up buildings than open stores. Mayor Lou Mavrakis points out one that has clearly been inhabited by birds for decades, and not cleaned.

    The mayor assembled a group of locals for lunch at Felicia's Restaurant and Lounge, where they talked about the problems they see at home and abroad. "I'm tired of being a 911 for the world," says Kevin Iacovangelo, who fixes and sells computers.

    This is Westmoreland County. Here and in the adjacent struggling southwestern Pennsylvania counties, Donald Trump hopes to roll up big wins. He campaigned in Monessen early this summer; the last national figure to stump here was John F. Kennedy, for the 1962 midterms.

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Will Trump's D.C. hotel block free speech?

    The whole thing would be laughable, a real thigh- slapper, if the danger weren't so real.

    The Trump Organization, led by arch First Amendment foe Donald Trump, has worked out a traffic arrangement with the District of Columbia government that one free-speech advocacy group, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, fears will allow for the stifling of speech and assembly in proximity to the historic Old Post Office Building, which Trump has leased from the feds for use as a Trump International Hotel.

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What makes America great? Team USA is showing us.

    Through the first week of the Rio Games, it's been moving to see so much of what's lately been generating anxieties at home contribute so powerfully to U.S. preeminence on the international stage. If race, gender, immigration and even our definitions of success are dividing us as citizens and voters, they're uniting us, if only temporarily, as fans of Team USA.

    In the women's gymnastics competition, our national strength comes from diversity.

    Reigning world champion Simone Biles, gold medalist in the individual and team all-around competitions, is African American, as is Gabby Douglas, who won gold medals in those events at the 2012 London Olympics. Laurie Hernandez is Puerto Rican, and the team is rounded out by two white gymnasts, Aly Raisman, who is Jewish, and Madison Kocian.

    This lineup stands out in a political season animated by a dark winner-take-all mentality suggesting that success for one group of Americans can come only at the expense of another.

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Trump loves conspiracy theories. So do his foes.

    When people talk about conspiracy theorists in the 2016 presidential campaign, they usually focus on Donald Trump. It isn't hard to see why: Many candidates have played with conspiracy theories over the years, but Trump is far more flamboyant (most politicians do not insinuate that an opponent's family is linked to the JFK assassination) and far less interested in sounding refined (most do not cite the National Enquirer as a source).

    Yes, Trump and his fans are prone to seeing plots. But he's not the only conspiracist around. Alleged cabals have captured the imagination of Trump's foes, too. Conspiracy chatter isn't an occasional interruption that flares up on the fringes in especially weird election years. It's a regular feature of American politics.

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August 18th

The soft response to terror isn't weakness

    A top Bavarian domestic intelligence official has made tabloid headlines by saying there are "hit squads" and "sleeper cells" among the refugees who have recently arrived in Germany -- something right-wing populists have been maintaining all along. Yet the true "sleeper cells" have been here for decades, and that explains why, as Germany and other European countries step up anti-terror efforts, there is a strong resistance to unnecessary harshness.

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