Archive

January 12th, 2016

Obama challenges gun lobby: Better late than never

    It took allegedly aloof Barack Obama to the brink of his last year in the Oval Office to take executive action to combat the national illness of gun violence. He shed salty tears at the White House the other day in a rare display of personal commitment to one of the major domestic objectives of his presidency.

    The modest proposals he introduced to a roomful of grieving parents from Columbine to Newtown and other loved ones of hundreds of innocent victims of the plague could have come earlier. The president -- many would say naively -- had first tried after the shooting of 20 first-graders at the Sandy Hook School to move Congress to accept a more comprehensive agenda.

    He put perhaps his most persuasive lieutenant, Vice President Joe Biden, in charge of the effort, but it only resulted in a massive and effective pushback from the National Rifle Association and the rest of the gun lobby. This time around, Obama placed his oft-shielded feelings on the line, declaring that "the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they can't hold America hostage."

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Rubio's strategically gloomy detour

    This year's Republican presidential campaign is where hope and optimism go to die. Don't pretend that Donald Trump is an exotic outlier. His spirit haunts a party that can't get enough of gloom and fear.

    Among the GOP candidates, no one started out more optimistic about the United States than Marco Rubio. The Florida senator's campaign slogan still promises "A New American Century." He smiles broadly from the cover of his upbeat 2015 book, "American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone." You can almost hear the cheerful guy in the bright red tie saying, "Yes we can."

    The conservative writer Mitchell Blatt sensed this when he called Rubio "the Republican Barack Obama." He meant it as a compliment. "A Republican Obama," Blatt wrote last fall, "is just what the Grand Old Party needs to face a changing electorate."

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Trump's tribalism, a sign of our times

    With less than a month to go before Iowa caucus goers cast the first actual votes in presidential nomination race, Republican leaders and donors disagree over how to stop the candidacy of Donald Trump -- or whether anyone should even try.

    They may not have much choice. Sure, Trump offers a walking example of how savvy about business doesn't necessarily mean you know much about anything else. He displays a hopelessly erratic temperament, a breathtaking ignorance about public affairs and an unsettling zest for authoritarianism.

    But as damaging as his radical insult-dog rhetoric can be to the Grand Old Party's outreach efforts, he's the closest thing the GOP has to a strong leader these days.

    Nipping at his heels, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz comes off to many as Trump without the charm. The freshman senator made a name for himself early by trampling over traditional Senate courtesies and customs to make himself hated by his colleagues, even in his own party.

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Bill Clinton's in the kitchen, but can he stand the heat?

    Harry Truman famously said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." The advice is now pointedly being ignored by former President Bill Clinton as he begins campaigning for his wife's Democratic presidential nomination, presumably with her approval.

    The decision comes as no surprise, given his continued popularity even after being impeached in 1998 over the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. The lure of becoming the first husband of a U.S. president seems irresistible to the term-limited chief executive, with all manner of speculation on what his role would be if Hillary were elected president.

    Also predictable was the decision of Republican front-running candidate Donald Trump to resurrect Bill's sex scandals in the context of Hillary's emphasis on women's rights. Trump has wasted no time in questioning the appropriateness of Bill actively campaigning for Hillary, given his reputation as an abuser of what in gentler times was called the fair sex.

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Abolish the 'natural born citizen' test

    Donald Trump has us all spun up in a bogus debate over the meaning of what constitutes a "natural born" citizen and whether Canadian-born Ted Cruz is thereby ineligible for the presidency. The conversation we should actually be having is about how stupid and cruel the requirement is in the first place, and how the Constitution should be changed to abolish what is arguably its worst remaining provision.

    Our founding document contains many clauses that may be archaic and irrelevant but are nonetheless inoffensive. The problem with the natural born citizen test is that it is both unnecessary and harmful -- not just a relic but an insult to the nearly 20 million Americans who are citizens by virtue of naturalization.

    "This restriction has become an anachronism that is decidedly un-American," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in offering a constitutional amendment to repeal it more than a decade ago.

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Trump shifts birther gaze to Cruz

    Who says Donald Trump lacks subtlety? The way he's raising "birther" questions about his chief rival for the nomination is worthy of Machiavelli.

    "I'd hate to see something like that get in his way," Trump said of the fact that Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was born in Canada. Trump referred to the fact that the Constitution says "No Person except a natural born Citizen" -- whatever that means -- is eligible to be president.

    "But a lot of people are talking about it," Trump continued, in an interview with Washington Post reporters, "and I know that even some states are looking at it very strongly, the fact that he was born in Canada and he has had a double passport."

    Cruz flatly denied ever having a Canadian passport, telling CNN this is just one of those "silly sideshows" the media love to engage in. But there is no question that he was born in Calgary, Alberta, to an American mother and a Cuban father. And there is no question that he had Canadian citizenship -- before renouncing it in preparation for his presidential run.

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The complicated history of who really 'owns' the occupied land in Oregon

    The Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a 187,757-acre haven for greater sandhill cranes and other native birds in eastern Oregon, is usually a pretty peaceful place. But its calm was shattered Jan. 2 when Ammon Bundy and a group of armed men broke into and occupied a number of federal buildings on the refuge, vowing to fight should the government try to arrest them.

    Their insurrectionary goal appears to be, simply put, to destroy the national system of public lands - our forests, parks and refuges - that was developed in the late 19th century to conserve these special landscapes and the critical natural resources they contain for all Americans. "The best possible outcome," trumpeted Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, who began an armed standoff with law enforcement in Nevada in April 2014 over his continued failure to pay $1 million in fees for grazing on public lands, is that "ranchers that have been kicked out of the area . . . will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control."

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Ryan makes another empty vow to repeal health-care act

    Oh, my.

    Alex Moe of NBCNews tweeted about Speaker Paul Ryan: "asked why do Obamacare repeal bill before offering GOP alternative: 'Just wait' he says with a smile"

    "Just wait"? C'mon, Mr. Speaker.

    Let's recall a Jan. 20, 2011, column by Paul Ryan, then chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, and four other Republicans just after the first House vote to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:

    "We will hold hearings in Washington and around the country. We will invite affected individuals and job creators to share their stories and solutions. We will look to the Constitution and common sense to guide legislation.

    "Replacing this law is a policy and a moral imperative.

    "The committees we lead will tackle these challenges with the seriousness and steadfastness of purpose they deserve.

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North Korea is a joke, and that's the problem

    North Korea sometimes seems less of a place than an idea or an absurdist fantasy. The latest New Yorker depicts Kim Jong Un on its cover as a child playing with toy missiles. What other world leader gets this treatment? What other country is so alien, so downright weird, that it celebrates the anniversary of its independence by creating its own time zone? What other country could prompt U.S. intelligence officials to seriously speculate that a nuclear test was retaliation for disrespecting a state-run all-female pop group? What other country has a state-run all-female pop group?

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Correcting Donald Trump - or anyone else - doesn't work

    The same infographic kept appearing in my Twitter feed again and again around Thanksgiving. The graphic, originally shared by Donald Trump, showed a series of statistics about race and gun deaths in 2015, alongside an image of a dark-skinned man with a handgun.

    Every single one of the statistics in the graphic was false.

    But here's the thing: The people I follow on Twitter weren't endorsing the bogus statistics - quite the opposite. News organizations shared the image along with links to their articles debunking it. Pundits shared the image to poke fun at Trump's credulity. Liberals shared the image along with their concerns that someone who would traffic in such fabrications could become president. (Trump, meanwhile, said the whole thing didn't matter: "All it was was a retweet.")

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