Archive

July 9th, 2016

After Brexit, he British are now split along the same lines as everyone else

    Boris out. Gove up; Gove down. May saves the day; no, she's too authoritarian. Leadsom comes from behind; no, she's too inexperienced. If you don't know what I'm talking about, then you weren't following the minute-by-minute twists of British politics over the past few days. Having lost its leader and the country's prime minister - David Cameron resigned on June 24, after losing the referendum to keep Britain in the European Union - the ruling Conservative Party must choose a new one. As I watched this baroque process unfold in London, I realized that I just couldn't write about the backstabbing, the personal betrayals, the resentments and jealousies, some of which date back 30 years to student political debates at the Oxford Union.

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A distracted Europe leaves Ukraine vulnerable

    Despite recent setbacks to the ideal of European unity, there is at least one national leader who appears to believe in it as much as the most ardent federalists in Brussels -- Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. He is just the kind of supporter the EU doesn't need.

    Poroshenko on Thursday published an eloquent opinion piece in the European edition of Politico that makes clear his desire: "Brexit or not, crisis or not, war or not, we will go the way of EU integration," he wrote.

    One would think EU leaders would be heartened. After all, even tiny Iceland last year dropped its bid to join the union, and now the U.K. is leaving. Ukraine, one of the biggest countries in Europe, with a population of about 40 million, is still loyal to the ideal that inspired the Euromaidan revolution of 2013-2014.

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Why I can't (and won't) stop writing about Social Security

    People used to call Social Security the "third rail" of politics -- mess with it, you'll get seriously shocked.

    For me, Social Security has become the third rail of column-writing. Show people that the system is spending considerably more cash than it's taking in, as I did last week, and you get zapped by readers, friends and sources.

    So let me try to explain where I think Social Security's problem comes from. Which I couldn't do last week because unlike the people who post comments or send email, I am writing to a relatively small fixed space.

    Despite what some readers seem to think, I wasn't trying to run down Social Security, or blame it -- whatever "blame it" means in this context -- for its current financial problems. All I wanted to do was to inject a dose of reality into the Social Security debate, which seems to revolve around the program's trust fund rather than around the true state of the program's finances.

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July 8th

Hillary, Beyond Email

    Chances are, Hillary Clinton did not grow up dreaming that someday she’d be a woman of whom it could be said that “no reasonable prosecutor” would indict her.

    But think positive: Between the FBI’s 11-month email investigation and the eight congressional Benghazi inquiries, Clinton has now probably been examined more thoroughly than any candidate not up for canonization in the Catholic Church. How many times have you, as a concerned citizen, witnessed a famous politician felled by a terrible revelation and thought, “My God, who knew?” Not likely to be a problem with this one.

    In his big press appearance Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey took the now-familiar prosecutorial path of smearing the target he couldn’t nail. But the bottom line was that Clinton had used less-than-secure private email servers rather than the State Department system, which was the proper procedure, albeit possibly even less less-than-secure. Worse, she did not tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth when she was cornered.

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Voters are making a mess of the world's democracies

    In the U.S., a large if perhaps shrinking share of the population wants to elect as president a reality-television star with no apparent interest in learning anything about governing or the world around him. In Britain, a majority of voters chose to exit the European Union despite experts' warnings of financial chaos and economic damage that so far are being borne out. In these and other democracies, voters are becoming increasingly enamored of protest candidates and populist parties that have no ability or perhaps even intention to live up to their promises.

    Even if you believe that political elites in the U.S., Britain and elsewhere have made a mess of things in recent years (and I do), it's still hard not to entertain the suspicion that maybe voters are a big part of the problem, too. As one political theorist recently wrote, "The basic problem is not that most voters seek to maximize their self-interest, but rather that most voters lack the knowledge necessary to make informed political judgments." Or, "The uncomfortable truth is that the best (perhaps only) way to reduce the political influence of ignorant voters is to deprive them of the vote."

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Ricky Raccoon for president

    It's good tomato weather, hot days, some rain at night, and occasional gusts of wind to blow the bugs off. Congress is in recess, the carpet-chewers have gone home, so the Republic, for now, is safe. A rumor spreads, launched on public radio, that some calamari is actually deep-fried pig parts, so squid sales to liberal-arts grads have plummeted. Meanwhile, jubilation erupts among NASA engineers as little Juno reaches the end of its five-year journey and goes into orbit around Jupiter.

    Back in college days, we literati felt superior to engineers in their high-water pants and half-rim horn-rims and plastic pocket protectors, people who wound up giving the world the little gizmo that is camera, compass, calendar, encyclopedia, weather monitor, newspaper and telephone, and what was our gift to the world? Unintelligible narcissism that called itself "poetry." I have just now asked my iPhone how many times did Rod Carew steal home. Answer: 17. Seven in 1969 alone. I saw him do it once. Talk about competence. He took a big lead off third, raced for home, dove for the plate, safe by inches. Chutzpah, timing, speed, and smarts, right there before your eyes.

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One way we can repair our toxic, partisan politics? National service.

    On a clear summer evening, we squinted into the sun setting over the softball field on our U.S. Army base in Germany. One of my friends, who hailed from a small Pennsylvania town, said: "Look out there, Will, and tell me that isn't cool. There's a good old boy from West Virginia pitching; in center field, we have a black power-lifter from Florida; in right field, there's a Puerto Rican; at first base, an Irish-American from South Boston. I went to West Point, and you went to Princeton. If we were back home, what would be the chances that all of our paths would ever cross?"

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My friend Chris Stevens was a hero

    The last time I saw my friend Chris Stevens was at the Benghazi Airport as his body was being transferred to the plane to begin his last journey back to the United States. The great, honorable, gentle man I welcomed to Benghazi only two days earlier now lay lifeless before me on the same tarmac.

    Chris had arrived in Benghazi on Sept. 10, 2012, for five days of meetings and to inaugurate an American cultural center at an English-language school under my care. A Libyan by birth and lifelong resident of Benghazi, I had for years taught English and facilitated cultural exchanges with the United States and, upon the resumption of diplomatic relations, served as an adviser and cultural interpreter for U.S. officials - especially Chris. I was also the one charged with coordinating his fateful visit to Benghazi.

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Merkel and Juncker vs. Europe's dreamers

    It is increasingly clear that the European Union is about to waste the crisis brought on by Britain's withdrawal vote. The leaders of the nation states have no stomach for any meaningful reform of EU institutions, the bureaucrats in Brussels are forced to take a back seat, and federalist dreamers are unceremoniously shunted aside.

    The influential German weekly, Der Spiegel, recently described the EU's reaction to "Brexit" as a "raging power struggle" between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Merkel, who had doubts about Juncker's appointment in 2014, is portrayed as trying to contain the damage from Brexit, play for time, let things calm down and maintain the EU as an intergovernmental forum rather than a supranational institution. Juncker, backed by European Parliament President Martin Schulz and Germany's Social Democratic Party, the junior partner in the country's ruling coalition, is squarely in the federalist camp seeking to re-establish the union, the magazine suggests.

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It’s Not Just Trump Who’s Confused About Racism

    Donald Trump, you might have heard, recently called Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren “racist” for claiming her Native American heritage.

    I believe the appropriate response to Trump can be expressed by a quote from The Princess Bride‘s Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    But it’s not just Trump who’s confused.

    I’ve seen plenty of white people get upset about people of color referring to themselves as “people of color.” Some even insist that they, as white people, have a color too. It’s kind of a pinkish-peachy color that sometimes tans.

    Well, from one pinkish-peachy person who tans sometimes to another, I have a few things to say.

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