Archive

July 9th, 2016

Why I refuse to share video of Alton Sterling's death

    Overnight, we learned the name Alton Sterling. Thanks to a graphic video, we've now seen his death at the hands of Baton Rouge police officers in a convenience store parking lot. Taken with a bystander's cellphone, the video shows Sterling being Tasered, thrown on a car and then on the ground, with police officers on top of him. It cuts away as multiple shots are heard, leaving Sterling's lifeless body on the ground.

    Sterling is one of 122 black Americans shot and killed by police so far in 2016, according to a Washington Post database of fatal police shootings. He joins Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford and many others who became hashtags and trending topics on social media soon after their deaths. And like many before him, Sterling's death can now be watched in graphic detail, shared constantly.

    In some ways, the video is helpful. It's the only record the public has seen of Sterling's death -- reportedly, the body cameras worn by the officers involved became dislodged as Sterling was restrained, and it has also been reported that police confiscated the security camera footage recorded by the convenience store.

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NATO can reduce threat of military escalation

    The North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit starting Friday in Warsaw will probably lead to increased -- and unnecessary -- tension between NATO and Russia. Yet it may also yield good results: Acknowledging the increased hostility might make it possible for the two sides to ensure there are fewer dangerous incidents.

    The most imminent threat to NATO countries today has little to do with Russia. Rather, it's instability in the Middle East -- the chaos that has created the refugee crisis and spawned well-funded human-trafficking networks. This threat is killing people right now, in Syria and Iraq but also in the West, in terrorist attacks and in leaky boats on the Aegean Sea. Yet NATO is doing little to counter these threats. As an organization, it is not involved in operations against Islamic State, and though it's dispatched a maritime force to the Aegean, it's not playing a particularly active role there.

    Instead, NATO is finding it easy to leave behind the times when it had to "go out of area or out of business" and concentrate again on its Cold War-era goal of confronting Russia. That will be the central team of the Warsaw summit.

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Georgia doesn't have to endorse the KKK

    The Georgia Supreme Court handed a victory to the Ku Klux Klan in its quest to participate in the state's Adopt-A-Highway program. On a technicality, the court upheld a trial court finding that Georgia's decision to exclude a Klan chapter violated the group's free-speech rights.

    The High Court seemed to want to avoid deciding the core free-speech issue, which is too bad because it's an important one. The best reading of U.S. Supreme Court precedent would have allowed the state to block the Klan from participating. The government should be able to choose its partners when it's essentially selling a state endorsement to civic groups for a fee.

    Georgia's highway project works like similar programs in many other states. The Department of Transportation invites volunteers to remove litter along stretches of state and federal highway. The program is open to organizations, businesses, families, or other civic groups. In exchange for agreeing to adopt a stretch of roadway, the group gets a sign -- approved by the department -- stating that the section is being kept clean by the named group.

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Democrats say Trump is 'not who we are.' They're wrong.

    In their well-coordinated June counterstrike on Donald Trump -- a response to his outrageous call, following the massacre in Orlando, Florida, to ban Muslims from entering the United States -- President Obama and Hillary Clinton described the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, or, at least, his words, as un-American. "That's not the America we want. It doesn't reflect our democratic ideals," Obama argued.

    It's a key component of the message Democrats have seized upon as they fight to retain control of the White House: that Trump stands as something wholly apart in our politics.

    The president's words echoed those of first lady Michelle Obama, who took a similar rhetorical swipe at Trump a week earlier in her commencement speech at City College of New York.

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Consider how Trump would handle a vetting for vice president

    Donald Trump and his team are now vetting possible vice presidential picks, a process that former almost second banana Evan Bayh, D-Ind., described as a colonoscopy using the Hubble telescope. In charge of the vetting is A.B. Culvahouse, a consummate Washington insider who ran the same process for John McCain in 2008. But imagine if Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio had won the nomination and Trump emerged on the vice presidential short list. How would Trump do? Let's take a peek inside the vetting questionnaire which has grown from 16 questions in 1976 to 79 headings and more than 200 specific queries in 2012.

    Start off with a few of the biggies. Any issues with marital infidelity or avoiding the draft in your past? From there, the questions only get more difficult. On the vetting murder boards is a plagiarism question, probably the result of then-presidential candidate Joe Biden's misappropriation in 1987 of a speech by British politician Neil Kinnock. Those few paragraphs of unattributed spoken word seem quaint in comparison to the 20 pages cut and pasted from another author's book and featured as original Trump genius at his eponymous institute.

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Britain and Blair painfully revisit the invasion of Iraq

   As if our British brethren aren't experiencing enough angst over leaving the European Union, they're now being confronted with looking back at their leaders' decision 13 years ago to partner with the United States in its invasion of Iraq -- arguably the most ill-advised war either country has ever undertaken.

    A seven-year parliamentary inquiry into the origins and wisdom of invading Iraq to topple the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein has emphatically declared it an immense and avoidable folly.

    The British prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, has publicly accepted "full responsibility" for following the American president at the time, George W. Bush, over the cliff into the quagmire that still haunts both countries.

    Both the report and Blair's candid response stand out in sharp contrast to the behavior of his friend George, who by and large has declined to engage in much reflection about taking his country, and the so-called "coalition of the willing," into that war of choice based on unrealistic expectations, poor planning and faulty intelligence.

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Brexit casts doubt on the wisdom of crowds

    During the next couple months, the various candidates to replace British Prime Minister David Cameron will debate what to do now that voters have decided to leave the European Union. They should keep in mind that doing exactly what the voters said might not be the wisest -- or even the most democratic -- approach.

    Direct democracy, in which voters decide specific issues en masse, is actually rather unusual. Typically, they leave such decisions to elected officials, such as a president or legislature, whom they provide with the time and resources needed to make well-informed choices.

    As it happens, there may be a very good reason that government has historically developed this way: Smaller groups can actually make better decisions, particularly on complex issues. As researchers from Berlin's Max Planck Institute for Human Development note in a recent paper, the wisdom of crowds works well only on questions that individuals can answer relatively easily.

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After Brexit, he British are now split along the same lines as everyone else

    Boris out. Gove up; Gove down. May saves the day; no, she's too authoritarian. Leadsom comes from behind; no, she's too inexperienced. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you weren't following the minute-by-minute twists of British politics over the past few days. Having lost its leader and the country's prime minister - David Cameron resigned on June 24, after losing the referendum to keep Britain in the European Union - the ruling Conservative Party must choose a new one. As I watched this baroque process unfold in London, I realized that I just couldn't write about the backstabbing, the personal betrayals, the resentments and jealousies, some of which date back 30 years to student political debates at the Oxford Union.

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A distracted Europe leaves Ukraine vulnerable

    Despite recent setbacks to the ideal of European unity, there is at least one national leader who appears to believe in it as much as the most ardent federalists in Brussels -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He is just the kind of supporter the EU doesn't need.

    Poroshenko on Thursday published an eloquent opinion piece in the European edition of Politico that makes clear his desire: "Brexit or not, crisis or not, war or not, we will go the way of EU integration," he wrote.

    One would think EU leaders would be heartened. After all, even tiny Iceland last year dropped its bid to join the union, and now the U.K. is leaving. Ukraine, one of the biggest countries in Europe, with a population of about 40 million, is still loyal to the ideal that inspired the Euromaidan revolution of 2013-2014.

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Why I can't (and won't) stop writing about Social Security

    People used to call Social Security the "third rail" of politics -- mess with it, you'll get seriously shocked.

    For me, Social Security has become the third rail of column-writing. Show people that the system is spending considerably more cash than it's taking in, as I did last week, and you get zapped by readers, friends and sources.

    So let me try to explain where I think Social Security's problem comes from. Which I couldn't do last week because unlike the people who post comments or send email, I am writing to a relatively small fixed space.

    Despite what some readers seem to think, I wasn't trying to run down Social Security, or blame it -- whatever "blame it" means in this context -- for its current financial problems. All I wanted to do was to inject a dose of reality into the Social Security debate, which seems to revolve around the program's trust fund rather than around the true state of the program's finances.

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