Archive

August 26th, 2016

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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How to rescue Obamacare

    According to an old bit of folk wisdom, if one person says you are drunk, you can wave him off. If two people tell you, go home.

    When UnitedHealth Group announced a few months back that it was going to stop selling individual health insurance in most Obamacare exchanges, informed observers were not alarmed. They noted that nearly all exchange customers still had at least two, and most had three or more, insurers competing for their business.

    Now with Aetna's announcement that it will stop selling insurance in 11 of the 15 states where it has been active and will abandon previously announced expansions in five others, Obamacare supporters are worried. And with good reason. If too many insurers jump the Obamacare ship, customers will be left adrift.

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Executing the getaway driver is a bad precedent

    Texas is poised to execute Jeffery Lee Wood next week, even though he was sitting in the car 20 years ago when his friend went into a convenience store and fatally shot the clerk. Under existing precedent, sentencing an accomplice to the death penalty is sometimes constitutional. But it shouldn't be -- at least when the accomplice doesn't intend for the crime to occur, as was almost certainly the case for Wood.

    The U.S. Supreme Court made its two crucial decisions on the execution of accomplices some 30 years ago -- and they are now ripe for being revisited. The first, Enmund v. Florida, came in 1982. It was a close, 5-4 decision, with centrist Justice Byron White writing for a coalition of liberal justices.

    The court struck down the death penalty for Earl Enmund, a getaway driver who had been in the car when his colleagues committed two murders in the course of a robbery. Under Florida law, he had been an accomplice, which subjected him to the same penalty as the murderers themselves.

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Clinton could have cut her tax bill in half under Trump's plan

    Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton could have cut her 2015 federal tax bill roughly in half -- lopping about $1.7 million from what she owed -- under the plan offered by Republican rival Donald Trump.

    Trump has pledged the biggest overhaul of the U.S. tax code since the 1980s, proposing cuts for individuals and businesses. His plan to slash tax rates on individuals' business income to 15 percent -- from a current top rate of 39.6 percent -- would have benefited Clinton and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, according to accountants and tax specialists who reviewed the couple's 2015 return.

    By contrast, the Clintons would have paid at least $224,000 more in taxes under Hillary Clinton's proposals, which include a 4 percent surtax for the highest earners and a cap on the tax benefit they derive from such deductions as home-mortgage interest.

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