Archive

August 17th, 2016

A crowd-pleaser's theory of Donald Trump's antics

    Think Donald Trump has some grand scheme behind his outbursts? Think his rhetoric is carefully thought out to produce a certain reaction? Think he meticulously plans each call for his followers to take up arms?

    Sorry, no. There is no strategy here, folks.

    Sadly, this is the part of Trump I get too well. I do a lot of public speaking, and when I do, I try to gauge the audience because I love a reaction. Like any entertainer -- and that's what an author tries to be on book tour -- I like to hear laughs or see that the audience is listening intently. I want them rapt and engaged. If I see too many people fiddling with their phones or looking bored, I'll try on the fly to fix it. If the jokes aren't going well, I'll give them a more serious how-to-write-a-novel talk. And vice versa. It's why I rarely prepare remarks.

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A court ruling that could save the planet

    A federal court this week upheld the approach that the government uses to calculate the social cost of carbon when it issues regulations -- and not just the cost imposed on Americans, but on people worldwide. It's technical stuff, but also one of the most important climate change rulings ever.

    The social cost of carbon is meant to capture the economic damage of a ton of carbon emissions. The assumptions that go into the analysis, and the resulting number, matter a lot, because they play a key role in the cost-benefit analysis for countless regulations -- not only the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan, but also fuel economy rules for automobiles and trucks and energy efficiency rules for appliances, including refrigerators, microwave ovens, clothes washers, small motors, and clothes driers. The cost-benefit analysis can in turn help agencies to determine the level of stringency for such regulations, and indeed whether to go forward at all.

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Pieces of Silver

    By now, it’s obvious to everyone with open eyes that Donald Trump is an ignorant, wildly dishonest, erratic, immature, bullying egomaniac. On the other hand, he’s a terrible person. But despite some high-profile defections, most senior figures in the Republican Party — very much including Paul D. Ryan, the speaker of the House, and Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader — are still supporting him, threats of violence and all. Why?

    One answer is that these were never men and women of principle. I know that many in the media are still determined to portray Ryan, in particular, as an honest man serious about policy, but his actual policy proposals have always been transparent con jobs.

    Another answer is that in an era of intense partisanship, the greatest risk facing many Republican politicians isn’t that of losing in the general election; it’s that of losing to an extremist primary challenger. This makes them afraid to cross Trump, whose ugliness channels the true feelings of the party’s base.

    But there’s a third answer, which can be summarized in one number: 34.

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Trump tries to wreck the political system

    Apparently we've reached the part where Donald Trump, not satisfied with having demolished the Republican Party, tries to bring down the rest of the political system as well. No one should be surprised.

    The garbage that comes out of his mouth gets more vile and putrid by the day. On Tuesday, he suggested that fervent defenders of the right to keep and bear arms could take things into their own hands if Hillary Clinton were elected. It was a shocking incitement to political violence.

    "If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks," Trump told a rally in North Carolina. "Although the Second Amendment people -- maybe there is, I don't know."

    We all understood exactly what he was saying. House Speaker Paul Ryan suggested that perhaps he was trying to be funny. Since Trump knows nothing, perhaps Ryan will explain to him that five of our 44 presidents have been shot while in office.

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U.S. special ops in Syria are told, 'Don't get shot'

    U.S. special operations forces in Syria do many things in the war against the Islamic State. They gather intelligence, build relationships with local communities, help spot targets for air strikes and train and advise local forces on the ground. One thing they cannot do, though, is enter into range of the enemy's fire.

    Four U.S. military officials told me that the 300 or so U.S. special operators in Syria are under very strict rules of engagement. Because such rules are highly classified, these sources have requested anonymity.

    But the rules in place, known as "last cover and concealment," are highly restrictive compared to special operations missions in the war on terror before 2014. Those rules of engagement allowed for U.S. special operators to fight alongside the local forces they trained. The rules of engagement for Syria, according to one military officer, amount to: "don't get shot."

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Trump confronts 'common decency'

    If Donald Trump doesn't carry Pennsylvania, his chances of becoming president reach the vanishing point. For now, he's in deep trouble in a place that, demographically, ought to be a Trumpian promised land.

    A poll released Tuesday, by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal and Marist, found Hillary Clinton leading by 11 points in Pennsylvania in a two-way race with Trump, and by nine when Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party's Jill Stein are added to the mix. Key to Clinton's leads in all the recent surveys: the aversion of women to Donald Trump.

    It's not hard to run into such voters, even among Republicans in York County, a GOP redoubt that gave Mitt Romney 60 percent of its votes in 2012 and John McCain 56 percent four years earlier, even as both were losing statewide.

    Susan Byrnes, a York County Commissioner and a moderate Republican who supported John Kasich in the Pennsylvania primary, said her work with veterans over the years explains her horror over Trump's comments about the Khan family and his casual treatment of the matter of earning a Purple Heart.

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This Goodlatte is bitter

    Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairs the House Judiciary Committee. That's a powerful position for a guy who clearly doesn't understand the U.S. Constitution. Late last week, Goodlatte condemned President Obama's commutation of the sentences of 214 inmates, most of them nonviolent drug offenders. From the News Virginian:

    "President Obama's power to commute federal prison sentences is not in doubt. But 6th District Rep. Bob Goodlatte said he is 'deeply concerned' about the size and scope of those commutations - including the 214 approved Wednesday - saying the president's actions are a 'blatant usurpation' of Congress's authority. . . .

    "But citing the Justice Department's own U.S. attorney manual, Goodlatte said commutation of a sentence is 'an extraordinary remedy that is rarely granted.'

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There's trauma on both sides of the police-community relationship

    "We need to do something different."

    That was the consensus among community and civil rights leaders in New Jersey after a grand jury decided in December 2014 to hold no one accountable for the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island the previous summer after he was violently taken into custody by officers with the New York City Police Department. These leaders joined forces to develop a different approach to a long-simmering problem: the often fractious and sometimes deadly relationship between law enforcement and the municipalities it serves.

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August 16th

How to start a nuclear war

    It deserved more attention. But, unfortunately, it got lost amid all the post-convention buzz: the announcement by 50 senior Republican national security officials that they will not vote for Donald Trump because he "lacks the character, values and experience" to be president and because he "would put at risk our nation's national security."

    Without stating the obvious, these GOP elders -- led by former CIA and NSA Chief Michael Hayden -- were talking about the scary thought that Trump might actually be in a position to start a nuclear war.

    But, with all due respect to these national security leaders, they miss the point. The real question is not: Should we trust Donald Trump with the nuclear codes? To which the obvious answer is: "NO!" The real question is: Should we trust ANY president with the nuclear codes? And the answer to that question is also a resounding: "NO!"

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The one thing keeping Trump from becoming president

    I believe I have discovered Donald Trump's problem. While I'm somewhat reluctant to reveal this insight since I find the idea of him becoming president rather unsettling, it wouldn't be right of me to keep it to myself. So here it is, the essence of Trump's predicament and the one thing keeping his party from taking back the White House:

    Donald Trump should not get up in front of people and talk.

    Now it's true that some of Trump's problems have come from things he has done outside the context of the campaign, like the shady business practices (Trump University, casino bankruptcies, etc.) that have diminished his claim to be a great businessman. And sometimes he says things in interviews that get him into trouble.

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