Archive

March 20th, 2016

Why China has so much trouble with change

    Economic reforms are much like New Year's diet resolutions: easily announced and easily forgotten. So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that the pronouncements that have emerged from China's National People's Congress -- pledges to slash overcapacity, open up the financial system, accept lower growth -- echo unfulfilled promises from previous Party gatherings.

    Still, China prides itself on being different. The country can seemingly create new industries overnight, and has waged an anti-corruption campaign that reportedly punished 300,000 officials in 2015. Why does a state that holds so much power have so much trouble following through on its reform pledges?

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When it comes to Russia, what's good for the Trump Organization isn't necessarily good for U.S.

    When Donald Trump talks about his desire to have good relations between the U.S. and Russia, it's not a recent attraction. Trump's attempts to expand his business and his brand there date back decades, and this history casts a shadow over his pro-Russian foreign policy. As a presidential candidate, he courts Putin's favor, extending the charm offensive intended to build the Trump real-estate empire.

    "Wouldn't it be nice if actually we could get along with Russia?" Trump asked at a recent Republican presidential debate. It's a line he's used in rallies as well. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have exchanged praise, and Trump said he "would probably get along with him very well."

    Trump's attraction to Russia seems to be mutual. There is a Russian-language website that collects Trump news and offers sales of Trump books and products. There's even a Trump 2016 Russian-language mock campaign site.

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The problem with states' specialty license plates

    North Carolina offers drivers a license plate with the anti-abortion slogan "Choose Life," but for years has refused to offer a pro-choice plate. If you think that sounds like the state is unlawfully choosing between the two viewpoints, you're not alone. In 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said the state had to play fair under the First Amendment and allow both.

    Last week, the appeals court reversed itself -- and not by choice. It was following orders, by applying the U.S. Supreme Court's 2015 decision that upheld a Texas license-plate program in which the state refused to allow a plate featuring a Confederate battle flag.

    The 4th Circuit's decision is technically correct under the Texas precedent. But it shows a serious flaw in the Supreme Court's free-speech jurisprudence.

    The Texas decision featured an unusual five-justice majority of the court's four liberals plus Justice Clarence Thomas. The logic was simple and binary. Either the license-plate program should be considered speech by the person choosing the design or it counted as government speech.

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The people of American Samoa aren't fully American

    The circumstances of the birth of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz put constitutional citizenship into the headlines. Also in the news: A federal judge in Puerto Rico ruled last week that the Supreme Court's gay-marriage decision doesn't follow the flag to the island. What would happen if you mashed the two issues together, mixing birthright citizenship with the Constitution's applicability to U.S. territories?

    The answer to this otherwise random-seeming question is in fact before the Supreme Court right now. At issue is whether it's constitutional for Congress to deny birthright citizenship to people born in American Samoa, which has been a U.S. territory since 1900. In June, a conservative panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the congressional rule, which uniquely applies to American Samoa and no other U.S. territory. Now the Samoan-born plaintiffs are asking the Supreme Court to review the D.C. Circuit's decision -- and asking Congress to change the rules.

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The dawn of the resistance?

    Desperate times call for desperate measures. The organized protest in Chicago that led Donald Trump to cancel a planned rally Friday may someday be remembered as the Dawn of the Resistance.

    Trump has fueled his campaign's rise with the angriest and most divisive political rhetoric this nation has heard since the days of George Wallace. No one should be surprised if some of those Trump has slandered or outraged respond with raised voices.

    The Constitution's guarantee of free speech applies to everyone, Trumpistas and protesters alike. Trump said over the weekend that he wants demonstrators who gatecrash his rallies to be arrested, not just ejected; he vows that "we're pressing charges" against them. Someone should educate him: Peacefully disapproving of a politician and his dangerous ideas is not a crime.

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Ronnie, Nancy and that gay conversion

    As corrections go, this was Page 1 material, at least for the circulation that Hillary Clinton targets.

    Magnanimous at a tender time, she had offered praise Nancy Reagan did not earn – of having been a prominent voice in the effort against AIDS.

    No, no, a thousand times no. If Ron and Nancy Reagan took the lead against AIDS, I just heard Ted Cruz call Barack Obama our greatest president.

    The truth: Many, many died because, rather than leading in the face of a health crisis, the Reagans held back among the tut-tut-tutting of the Judgment Chorus. Toward a federal response, for five years they were as interested in promoting myth as medicine.

    The Reagan presidency and the AIDS crisis tracked each other. The first diagnoses on these shores of what was called "gay cancer" occurred in the first year of his presidency.

    It took years for sanity, and science, to prevail.

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Protect Trump's free speech even as he threatens yours

    During a weekend of violence at some of Donald Trump's rallies, I received a flurry of angry emails, all playing the same game of "How would you feel?"

    How would you feel, I was asked in one note, if a group of Ku Klux Klansmen broke up a Bernie Sanders rally?

    That's a round-about way of referring to the violence that erupted at Trump rallies, particularly in Chicago, where the Republican frontrunner's rally was called off after crowds of protesters grew exceptionally large.

    Early announcements that police had called off the event were withdrawn after police denied it. Some protest organizers insisted they were intent on making noise, not shutting down the event, although they joined the cheering after the event was shut down.

    I could argue against false equivalencies here. You may disagree, but I don't see the potpourri of blacks, whites, Hispanics, Arab-Americans and others who gathered to peacefully protest as the moral equivalent of organized Klansmen.

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March 19th

Optimism is the third rail of U.S. politics

    A common diagnosis of Jeb Bush's failed campaign is that the candidate was "out of touch." It's hard to argue otherwise; Bush himself admitted it. "I'm not a grievance candidate," he told NBC's Chuck Todd. Sure enough, Bush soon wasn't a candidate at all.

    There are no more happy warriors on the hustings, eager to lead the richest, most powerful nation on Earth. Well, there's Ohio Gov. John Kasich. "I want you to know I'm going to continue to run a positive campaign and not get down in the gutter and throw mud at anybody," Kasich said after his defeat -- one of 30 out of 30 Republican contests -- in Michigan. "So I think the people are beginning to reward a positive campaign."

    Good luck, Mr. Kasich.

    It has been 22 years since "angry white men" powered the Republican takeover of Congress. Over the decades their anger and alienation have only intensified as their dissatisfaction has spread across the land.

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Let Trump Make Our Trans-Pacific Trade Deal

    What if the United States had had a truly savvy deal maker like Donald Trump negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade accord instead of the wimpy Obama team? I mean, be honest, folks, would you let Barack Obama sell your house? I’ve researched the deal and concluded Trump would have gotten us this:

    He would have begun by saying “a baby could figure out” that since 80 percent of the goods from our 11 TPP partners come into our country duty-free already, and so much of our stuff is still hit with tariffs in their countries, if we eliminate 18,000 tariffs we’ll be able to keep more production at home and sell more abroad. “We’ll export so much we’ll actually get tired of exporting,” Trump would say.

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Kasich, the Boulder Between the GOP and Trump

    Wow, John Kasich.

    The governor of Ohio is not normally a person you’d connect with a “wow.” Maybe a “jeepers.” Or a “huh!” But here he is! The medium-size, crinkly-eyed boulder between the Republican Party and Donald Trump.

    Kasich got more than 40 percent of the vote in Ohio, which might be the only non-Trump-triumphant saga of the night. There was a time, people, when you would really not have been throwing confetti in the air just because a Republican governor who believes “you’ve got to help people that are downtrodden and poor” won the presidential primary in his own state. But we are where we are.

    “I labored in obscurity for so long!” said the triumphant governor, whose most celebrated victory until now was coming in second in New Hampshire with 16 percent of the vote. Now he’s having dreams about a contested convention where delegates flee from the specters of Trump and Ted Cruz into his arms.

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