Archive

May 13th, 2016

Does more wealth mean less political corruption?

    When it comes to the international pattern of corruption, the beginning of wisdom is to know how little we know. I have been studying the topic for almost 20 years, and progress has involved many steps back as well as forward. Despite tens of thousands of papers written by scholars during that period, virtually the only thing one can say with confidence today is that richer countries, such as the United States, tend to have cleaner government than poorer ones.

    Since the mid-1990s, the nongovernmental organization Transparency International has published an annual "Corruption Perceptions Index," which rates countries on the extent of graft in their public sectors. The World Bank has a similar measure. The ratings are based mostly on polls of international businesspeople and evaluations by risk analysts and other experts. Such indexes tend to match the conventional wisdom about which countries are more - and less - corrupt. In 2015, North Korea and Somalia did "worst," and Denmark "best."

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Democrats should fear Donald Trump

    I know the polls say Donald Trump cannot win. But what if we are looking at the wrong poll question?

    What if Trump's overwhelming negatives don't matter? Or, to put it another way, what if the country's negatives matter more?

    Right now, about 6 in 10 Americans have an unfavorable view of Trump, and only 36 percent view him positively.

    But the country is faring even worse. In the most recent average of polls calculated by RealClearPolitics, 26.9 percent of Americans think the nation is headed in the right direction and 64.9 percent think we are heading down the wrong track.

    So what if even voters who respect Hillary Clinton's competence reject her as the embodiment of business as usual? And what if even voters who do not like Trump's bigotry or bluster care more that he will, in their view, shake things up?

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Conservatives in Congress won't stand for a Caesar

    As the Republican Party reaches an uneasy truce with Donald Trump, ideological conservatives still insist that he is not one of them and that his victory is a defeat for their ideas.

    Such skepticism isn't new for conservatives, especially when it comes to presidents.

    Of the six Republican presidents in the modern era, only two -- Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush -- firmly embraced the conservative movement. The other four -- Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush -- were moderates and on most issues governed from the center.

    Conservative strength flowed elsewhere, from Capitol Hill, just as it does today and will again should the Republicans hold on to their congressional majorities in November. This is the message Paul Ryan sent in his sharp rebuke of Donald Trump, who at this point, Ryan said, doesn't seem to "share our values and our principles on limited government, the proper role of the executive, adherence to the Constitution."

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May 12th

Another crucial moment at Howard

    President Obama's commencement address at Howard University on Saturday rounds out, at least for me, a nine-year journalistic odyssey that began with a photo taken with then-Sen. Barack Obama at a pre-Democratic presidential debate reception on Howard's campus in June 2007. The years in between have been kind to the nation in ways unimaginable at the time of that forum. Because of our 44th president's stewardship, millions of Americans have health-care coverage, job growth has been steady, the auto industry and the economy are on the upswing, our energy resources are stronger and, despite carping from the cheap seats, the country is in a better place in the world.

    Yet Saturday's focus is where it belongs: graduation and the president's speech. Because Howard University presidential visits have usually been momentous.

    Lyndon Baines Johnson gave the keynote address at my commencement in June 1961. Anti-civil-rights violence had recently taken place in Montgomery and Birmingham, Ala.

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How Ryan could recuse himself

    My fellow Republicans, my fellow Americans:

    I stand before you today with a heavy heart, to say that I cannot in good conscience support the man my party appears to have chosen to be its nominee for the presidency.

    As a result, I will be asking Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to release me from the role of serving as convention chairman in Cleveland. I respect the views of the millions of voters in Republican primaries and caucuses who backed     Donald Trump. I applaud his seeming ability to amass the requisite 1,237 delegates. I simply cannot preside over this choice and gavel this nomination into being.

    This is an extraordinary statement, but this is an extraordinary moment. As you know, there were many candidates for the Republican nomination. I agreed with some more than others; I thought some would be stronger choices than others; but I could have supported any of them.

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Don't disrespect the vice presidency

    Will Hillary Clinton pick Sen. Sherrod Brown as her running mate to carry his home state of Ohio or turn to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, flame-thrower of the Democratic left, to energize Bernie Sanders fans? Will Donald Trump tap Sen. Marco Rubio in a bid for Florida?

    Vice-presidential choices matter, but not because of the tactical considerations that insiders like to chatter about. It's still fun to repeat that famous line about the bucket of warm spit. It's just that it's no longer true.

    As a new book by Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis lawyer, makes clear, the vice presidency has taken on a crucial governing dimension over the last 40 years. The last two vice presidents, Joe Biden and Dick Cheney, have been huge players in Washington and around the world. They played no role, however, in delivering their home states of Delaware and Wyoming to Barack Obama and George W. Bush.

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A shameful legacy of drones

    Father Daniel Berrigan died Saturday at 94. The longtime peace activist gained national attention in 1968 when he and eight others, including his brother Philip (also a priest), burned draft records taken from a Selective Service office in Maryland. Decades later, he remains a powerful example of a man who never wavered in his beliefs, standing up time and again for the poor and oppressed. In his last years, Berrigan no longer had the energy to protest as frequently. But if he had been a few generations younger, can there be any doubt that he would have been at forefront of those protesting the expansion of the drone war under President Obama?

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Bribery tangles with politics at Supreme Court

    Spend a million of your Super PAC dollars to elect a governor, and you can expect him to take your calls and set up meetings with state officials. Courtesy of the Supreme Court and its 2010 Citizens United decision, it's all protected by the First Amendment.

    But give the same governor a Rolex before asking for the meetings - and both of you might be convicted of bribery.

    Is there a meaningful difference? That's the question in McDonnell v. U.S., which the court is currently considering. The bribery conviction of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell follows the second pattern - complete with the Rolex.

    That's important because the case pits constitutional principle (the right to support politicians) against common sense (a bribe is a bribe, right?). That conflict casts doubt on the Citizens United principle, which expanded the rights of people and companies to make unlimited (and anonymous) political donations without fear of being prosecuted for corruption. But it also raises the thorny problem of what the court should do about bribery so long as Citizens United is still the law.

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Hillary Clinton is going to be exonerated on the email controversy. It won't matter.

    The latest news on the Hillary Clinton email controversy reinforces everything we've heard so far on this subject:

    Prosecutors and FBI agents investigating Hillary Clinton's use of a personal email server have so far found scant evidence that the leading Democratic presidential candidate intended to break classification rules, though they are still probing the case aggressively with an eye on interviewing Clinton herself, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

    That point about her intending to break classification rules is important, because in order to have broken the law, it isn't enough for Clinton to have had classified information in a place where it was possible for it to be hacked. She would have had to intentionally given classified information to someone without authorization to have it, like Gen. David Petraeus did when he showed classified documents to his mistress (and then lied to the FBI about it, by the way). Despite the enormous manpower and time the Justice Department has devoted to this case, there has never been even a suggestion, let alone any evidence, that Clinton did any such thing.

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Beating Trump won't be as easy as many Democrats think

    Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Tuesday night, turning his sights on Hillary Clinton, who, he says, will be easy to beat. She will not be - at least not for him. But Democrats must avoid making a similar mistake, dismissing Trump based on his historically high negative poll numbers without understanding why people are voting for him.

    Imagine a Trump supporter. The image conjured up might be a loud white man, middle-age or older, probably "poorly educated" (as Trump has put it), perhaps wearing a white tank top or a shirt with something offensive on it, such as: "My other ride is your girlfriend."

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