Archive

August 26th, 2016

What exactly is it that we're all so polarized over?

    The political history of the U.S. from the late 1830s through the 1850s is one long tragedy. President after president struggled to hold together an increasingly polarized nation. None served more than one term, two died in office -- and by 1860 the country was falling apart.

    We hear a lot these days that we're in a new age of polarization, with measures of partisanship showing a divide greater than at any time since the Civil War. But there's a striking difference: It's pretty clear what the polarization of the 1830s through 1850s was about. Nowadays that's much harder to figure out.

    All this is on my mind because I've just spent several days driving up and down Interstate 95 listening to Lillian Cunningham's "Presidential" podcast. Cunningham is a reporter and editor at the Washington Post, and since the beginning of the year she has been offering up weekly 30- to 45-minute examinations of the presidents, in chronological order (she's currently on Harry Truman). I highly recommend them.

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Trump’s Hollow ‘Regrets’

    Donald Trump is the candidate who is so rigid in his perverted self-righteousness that he doesn’t “like to have to ask for forgiveness.” He says he has never even sought forgiveness from God, the divine author and inspiration of his favorite book, from which he struggled to name a favorite verse.

    But Trump actually expressed some “regret” last week, saying:

    “Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that. And believe it or not, I regret it. And I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”

    Precisely what does Trump regret?

    Does he regret his comments on Megyn Kelly and the issue of blood coming out of her “wherever”? Does he regret retweeting messages calling her a bimbo?

    Does he regret attacking a Gold Star family?

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The Water Next Time

    A disaster area is no place for political theater. The governor of flood-ravaged Louisiana asked President Barack Obama to postpone a personal visit while relief efforts were still underway. (Meanwhile, by all accounts, the substantive federal response has been infinitely superior to the Bush administration’s response to Katrina.) He made the same request to Donald Trump, declaring, reasonably, that while aid would be welcome, a visit for the sake of a photo op would not.

    Sure enough, the GOP candidate flew in, shook some hands, signed some autographs, and was filmed taking boxes of Play-Doh out of a truck. If he wrote a check, neither his campaign nor anyone else has mentioned it. Heckuva job, Donnie!

    But boorish, self-centered behavior is the least of it. By far the bigger issue is that even as Trump made a ham-handed (and cheapskate) effort to exploit Louisiana’s latest disaster for political gain, he continued to stake out a policy position that will make such disasters increasingly frequent.

    Let’s back up for a minute and talk about the real meaning of the Louisiana floods.

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The secret to Trump: He's really a Russian oligarch

    During the course of a long career, Paul Manafort, the ousted boss of the Donald Trump campaign, has helped oligarchs and crooks of all kinds come to power. He worked for Ferdinand Marcos and Jonas Savimbi; in Ukraine, he helped transform an ex-convict, Viktor Yanukovych, into a corrupt president who fired on demonstrators and eventually fled the country. Given all of that, recent reports that Yanukovych's party allotted Manafort $12 million in off-the-books cash should hardly have come as a surprise.

    Now he's been pushed aside by the differently sinister figure of Stephen Bannon. But before Manafort fades from view, it's worth looking at what his affiliation with Trump tells us about both of them. Quite a lot has already been written, including by me, on the multiple connections between Vladimir Putin's Russia and the Trump campaign. But the deeper point has not really been driven home: The real problem with Trump isn't that he is sympathetic to Russian oligarchs, it's that he is a Russian oligarch, albeit one who happens to be American.

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Remove the hidden penalty for quitting college

    As the academic year opens at colleges across the country, one important group of students will be underrepresented in classrooms: returning adults. The missing students may have both the abilities and the motivation to pursue degrees. But many are shut out of higher education because of debt owed to schools they attended years, even decades, earlier.

    This debt is as pernicious as the student loan debt that's the focus of our national conversation, but it's largely unknown. It is disproportionately held by low-income, first-generation college students, who are already less likely to complete school; only 11 percent of these students earn a bachelor's degree within six years, according to a 2008 Pell Institute study. These students leave school - and then the schools, with government encouragement, stand in the way when they try to go back.

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No wonder they wanted to keep 'others' out

    Lyndon Johnson's aides were in a celebrating mood the day in 1965 when he signed the Voting Rights Act. They were surprised, then, when Johnson interjected this sobering advisory: “It’s also the day we gave the South to the Republicans for the rest of our lifetimes."

    Civil rights legislation indeed would serve to drive southern Democrats out of the party.

    Georgia Sen. Richard Russell had predicted this in a phone chat with Johnson, who replied, “If that’s the price to pay for this bill, then I will gladly pay it.”

    Oh, the Democrats paid. Five decades later, it’s payback time.

    Donald Trump, the wizard of the Republican id, can’t stop inflaming and alienating people of color. A too-homogeneous party that after 2012 lectured itself in the mirror about being more inclusive has done just the opposite.

    The Democrats continue to be more like the rest of the country in its many hues. The GOP continues to model itself after the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

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Living past 100 isn't for everybody

    Children and teenagers in the world's developed countries have a more than 50 percent chance of living past 100. By the early 2100s, in other words, "being a centenarian will no longer be a rarity. In fact, it will be the norm."

    That's from Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott's book, "The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity," which has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention this summer for its thoughtfully optimistic take on careers and lives in a world full of old people.

    Gratton and Scott's core idea is that we'll have to move on from the three-stage life of education, career and retirement to four- and five-stage trajectories with multiple (if often related) careers of differing intensities, with time off for recharging and retraining in between, before finally easing into retirement in our late 80s.

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John McLaughlin's last 'Bye-bye'

    Back in the early 1990s, when our son was 4 years old and accustomed to seeing his dad on a certain Washington-based public television talk show, he'd annoy us by skipping through the house singing, "Bye-bye! Bye-bye...!"

    John McLaughlin, creator-host of "The McLaughlin Group," was delighted to hear that news. "Watch out, Clarence," he said in his professorial bellow. "I'm subverting a new generation."

    "Father John," as some of us regulars on his news-panel sometimes called him backstage, has uttered his last "bye-bye." The former Roman Catholic priest, who became an aide to President Richard Nixon and later pioneered a pugilistic style of political punditry, died on Tuesday (Aug. 18) at his home in Washington. He was 89.

    I was fortunate enough to be part of the "Group" for 28 of its 34 years on the air. McLaughlin invited me to join the panel, he told me later, on the recommendation of another visionary broadcaster, William McCarter, the Chicago public TV and radio chief who brought the show to PBS in 1982. McCarter died in 2011.

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August 25th

This Land Is My Land (and Yours, Too!)

    Not to boast, but that image is me enjoying a pristine alpine lake I own in the California Sierras. It’s property so valuable that Bill Gates could never buy it. Yet it’s mine.

    But wait! Don’t stalk off — it’s also yours! It’s part of America’s extraordinary, but now threatened, heritage of public lands. These lands are being starved of funds to sustain them and are the target of an ideological battle, with the new Republican Party platform arguing that certain federal lands should be handed over to the states. Which lands aren’t specified.

    This objective is sad, because America was the first country in the world to take its most stunning scenic places and turn them into a shared space belonging to all — an element of what Wallace Stegner called America’s “best idea.”

    It was 100 years ago, in August 1916, that the United States established the National Park Service, after earlier moving to protect lands like Yellowstone and Yosemite. As a result, our nation’s most valuable assets are owned not by private equity tycoons but by you and me.

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It's up to China to save Asia's depleted oceans

    Overfishing and pollution have so depleted China's own fishery resources that in some places -- including the East China Sea -- there are virtually "no fish" left, according to reports in Chinese state media last week.

    That's a frightening prospect for an increasingly hungry country: China accounted for 35 percent of the world's seafood consumption in 2015. Seeking catches further afield -- including in Indonesian waters -- isn't really a solution; fish stocks in the disputed South China Sea have themselves fallen by as much as 95 percent from 1950s levels. If China doesn't want the rest of Asia's fisheries to suffer the same fate as its own, it's going to have to think much more ambitiously about how to create a sustainable food supply for the region.

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