Archive

April 17th, 2016

Islamist radicals are a threat. But do you need to attack their religion?

    "I think Islam hates us," Donald Trump said last month on CNN. "There's something there that - there's a tremendous hatred there. We have to get to the bottom of it. There's an unbelievable hatred of us."

    Trump's wording here is important, as casual as the Republican presidential front-runner may be at times with language. It's Islam that hates us - not individual Muslims, not a radical fringe, but a whole religion that, to varying degrees, is followed by more than a billion people. And we have to plumb the depths of this vast, billowy entity - "get to the bottom of it," he says - and, presumably, somehow, defeat it.

    In the meantime, Trump has proposed bans on all Muslim arrivals to the United States, the closure of mosques, the surveillance of existing Muslim communities and the use of torture. He has dismissed the plight of hundreds of thousands of refugees. It is for such sweeping statements and gestures that a British activist group satirically bestowed upon him the accolade of "Islamophobe of the Year."

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In the GOP, no room for nice

    On the day that Paul Ryan said he really, truly, honestly did not want to be the Republicans' presidential savior, John Kasich did his best to channel the House speaker. Both undertakings underscored how much trouble the old pro-business, pro-tax-cut conservatism faces.

    A cynic might theorize that since absence makes the heart grow fonder, Ryan's reticence would only make his party hope and pray harder that he would deliver it from catastrophe. But the 46-year-old speaker knows that the 2016 GOP is unlikely to be the vehicle for the neo-Reaganite revival he seeks. He's much better off waiting until 2020.

    Kasich, in the meantime, did what he should have done long ago, casting Donald Trump and Ted Cruz (without naming them) as taking the party down the "path to darkness."

    If you like what Sarah Palin once mocked as "that hopey-changey stuff" (and I do), the Ohio governor's New York speech was a magnificent relief from the horror movie motifs and exclusionary rhetoric that have become the staples of this year's Republican contest.

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How Sanders supporters can revolutionize the Democratic Party

    One of the great ironies of the American political process in the 21st century is the Democratic Party superdelegate. On campaign finance reform and voting rights, the party fights to give regular Americans more of a voice. Yet when it comes to choosing a presidential nominee, it's the Democrats, not the Republicans, who give 712 party insiders roughly the same influence as 5.5 million ordinary voters in Texas, Florida, Ohio and Michigan.

    And for the second contested presidential primary in a row, these superdelegates are playing an important role. Though Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, has been far more successful than many in the establishment thought possible, it will be difficult for him to overcome Hillary Clinton's 200-strong lead among pledged delegates. But Clinton's 400-plus lead among superdelegates takes the task of Sanders winning the nomination from challenging to nigh impossible.

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Bring out the bathroom police

    North Carolina has a lot of Bruce Springsteen fans. A lot of disappointed Springsteen fans, but proud nonetheless that their musical hero canceled a sold-out concert last Sunday in Greensboro rather than pump revenue into a state that is practicing out-and-out discrimination against LGBT Americans. Ringo Starr has dropped a concert scheduled for June 18 in Raleigh for the same reason.

    Yes, the religious zealots are at it again, masquerading their hatred in the name of religion, just like other generations used the Bible to justify slavery. This time they're lining up against gays and lesbians, not blacks. They were wrong then, and they're wrong now.

    It all started when the city of Charlotte joined hundreds of cities across the nation in enacting a city ordinance prohibiting businesses from refusing to offer services to customers, just because they happened to be gay. Homophobes in the state legislature, appalled at any sign of tolerance toward gays in the Tarheel State, rushed into action. Within hours, with no public hearing, they rushed through House Bill 2, which Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law the same night.

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Bank living wills widen the Sanders-Clinton divide

    We found out Wednesday that five of the biggest U.S. banks couldn't explain how they could go bankrupt without taking down the financial system with them.

    No wonder Bernie Sanders wants to break them up! They're just too damned big to fail.

    Or, maybe … No wonder Hillary Clinton thinks that's crazy! Tough-minded regulators are putting the heat on bankers to write realistic "living wills," so why destroy a banking system that's being remade to work safely?

    Bank living wills live at the intersection of arcane banking policy and raw politics. They may be technical, but the candidates' feelings about them expose one of the biggest fault lines between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the Democratic Party. To understand them is to appreciate the continuing impact of the 2008 financial crisis on this year's campaign.

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A 'moral economy' won't fix income inequality

    Democratic socialist presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, will depart soon for the Vatican, where he'll speak at the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, a previously obscure body whose ideological leanings are implied by the invitations it extended to Sanders and two other headliners, the left-wing populist presidents of Bolivia and Ecuador.

    In keeping with Pope Francis's call for a "moral economy," Sanders has said he'll discuss "how we address the massive levels of wealth and income inequality that exist around the world, how we deal with unemployment, how we deal with poverty and how we create an economy that works for all people rather than the few."

    It's a long flight from New York to Italy, so let's hope Sanders uses some of that time to review the relevant data. What he'll discover is a vast reduction in poverty and income inequality worldwide over the past quarter-century.

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What promise will Trump reverse himself on next?

    For every complex problem, H.L. Mencken wrote, there is an answer that is neat, plausible -- and wrong. Donald Trump should write that quote on his forehead -- backwards, so it's the first thing he reads in the mirror every morning.

    The billionaire Republican presidential frontrunner bedazzles his fans with easy-sounding solutions that you probably have heard before, if you hang out in enough saloons.

    But he's been backpedalling so much lately that my biggest question is: What he is going to reverse himself on next?

    Take, for example, his recent thoughts on the supremely important topic of nuclear weapons. Please.

    As if it were not unsettling enough to imagine President Trump in charge of the nation's nuclear defense codes, he said in a late March interview with The New York Times that he was OK with letting Japan and South Korea have nukes, too. Simple, right?

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Two right answers in the fight over bank reform

    New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi are having a debate over breaking up big banks. This is the key financial reform proposal of the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, so it's a very topical issue.

    Krugman says that breaking up the banks isn't a priority, and that the Sanders campaign isn't critical:

    "The easy slogan here is 'Break up the big banks'…But were big banks really at the heart of the financial crisis, and would breaking them up protect us from future crises?

    "Many analysts concluded years ago that the answers to both questions were no. Predatory lending was largely carried out by smaller, non-Wall Street institutions like Countrywide Financial; the crisis itself was centered not on big banks but on 'shadow banks' like Lehman Brothers that weren't necessarily that big."

    Taibbi thinks otherwise:

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April 16th

Donald Trump is shocked to learn that politics is complicated

    Donald Trump is steaming mad -- at Ted Cruz, at the Republican National Committee, at state Republican parties, and at the entire nomination process. "These are dirty tricksters. This is a dirty trick," he said at a rally yesterday. "And I'll tell you what, the Republican National Committee, they should be ashamed of themselves for allowing this crap to happen."

    What's happening is that even though Trump has a clear lead in votes and delegates, Ted Cruz's campaign is running circles around him behind the scenes. The breaking point came when Cruz got all of Colorado's delegates over the weekend, because his campaign understood and managed the weirdly intricate system of district-level conventions the state party had instituted. And as the Post reports today, Cruz is securing pledges from delegates who will support him on a second ballot at the convention in Cleveland if Trump fails to win outright on the first ballot; Cruz may already have enough to ensure that Trump can't prevail if he doesn't arrive with a majority in hand.

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These Billboards Have Eyes

    OK people, we need to discuss billboards. Yes, we really must.

    At best, these giant corporate placards are problematic — they loom garishly over us, clutter our landscapes, and intrude into our communities with no respect for local aesthetics or preferences. Now, however, billboards are getting a high-tech reboot, allowing advertisers to invade not only our places, but also our privacy.

    Having to see billboards everywhere is bad enough. Far worse, though, is that the modernized, digitalized, computerized structures can see you — and track you.

    Clear Channel Outdoor Americas, having already splattered the country with tens of thousands of billboards, has revealed that it’s partnering with AT&T and other data snoops to erect “smart” billboards that will know and record when you drive or walk past one.

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