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Tuesday
Sep132016

The Question That Could Define the Presidential Campaign

 Opinion writer/Washington Post

Frank Luntz, the Republican political consultant, is a master of the political epigram. Under his tutelage, the estate tax became the death tax and global warming became climate change. So Luntz, once again going to the heart of the matter, recently put an either-or question to a group of about 50 people: What would you rather see, Donald Trump’s taxes or Hillary Clinton’s emails? Upon that question hinges the election.

Luntz was speaking to an invitation-only gathering in the Hamptons. There was only one acknowledged Trump supporter in the room, yet when Luntz called for a show of hands, most of them went up for Clinton’s emails.

Luntz conducted his mini-survey more than a week ago. Had he done so after Clinton collapsed at the Sept. 11 memorial service in New York, the numbers would have been higher. Here, in a single episode, were the Good Hillary and the Bad Hillary in gripping and worrisome relief. The Good Hillary is the woman who shows up — no matter what. She is dutiful and responsible and determined not to be the woman Trump says she is — too frail for the physical challenges of the presidency. She would rather collapse than not attend the memorial service.

And yet the Bad Hillary is here, too, the one whose opaqueness is so troubling. She was diagnosed with pneumonia on Friday, yet she said nothing about it to her traveling press corps. On Sunday, she was forced to leave the commemoration ceremony and had trouble getting into her SUV. From the video, she seemed to buckle, her legs going wobbly, and she had to be lifted under her arms into the vehicle. The press corps was again not informed of what happened. Clinton was taken to her daughter’s apartment, where, among other things, she was rehydrated. When she emerged about two hours later, she looked fine. She waved to the crowd. “I’m feeling great,” she said. “It’s a beautiful day in New York.”

No! First of all, it was not a beautiful day. It was cloyingly humid. Second, while I am in no position to say she was not “feeling great,” I have had pneumonia myself, and it sure took me a while to get back to normal. Clinton had been diagnosed on Friday. This was Sunday.

Instead of issuing some anodyne statement, Clinton should have said what had happened — and how she actually felt. At the same time, she should have said that she so much wanted to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks that she attended the ceremony against her doctor’s orders. That would have been commendable, even a bit heroic. Instead, she turned the incident into yet another issue about transparency.

The paradox of Trump is that greater transparency will not teach us anything. There is nothing to learn from Trump’s taxes. It is a given that he pays very little, that he has donated next to nothing to charity and that he has reneged on his pledges. He is worth less than he claims, but so what? He is as he appears, a flamboyantly tanned liar who, some dislocated visitor from Mars might conclude, is a pumpkin running for president. The mystery is not Donald Trump. The mystery is the people who support him.

Luntz asked about Clinton’s use of a personal server for her emails. By itself this is mere piffle. Historians of the future will be baffled by what a to-do we’ve made of it and how we’ve allowed an epic liar such as Trump to constantly accuse her of committing a crime. What crime? Is it similar to the one Colin Powell committed when he was secretary of state and used a personal email account for government business? Apparently not. I don’t hear Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of what amounts to the Permanent Special Committee to Harass Hillary Clinton, vowing to go after Powell, as he has Clinton.

In 1978, the public intellectual Susan Sontag published “Illness as Metaphor.” Sontag herself suffered and died from cancer, which is the disease she originally had in mind, but she later expanded her thesis to AIDS, which some considered not simply a disease but (just) retribution for a gay lifestyle. That ugly metaphor still kicks around a bit, but the notion that we somehow earn our diseases causes us to look for the chink in someone’s armor to explain their death — ah, he smoked, ah, he was overweight, etc. In Hillary Clinton’s case, the metaphor is transparency. It could prove politically fatal.

Wednesday
Jun152016

Orlando Shootings Could Change U.S. Gun Laws

BY FREDERIC LEMIEUX

The Orlando mass shooting is different from the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Paris and San Bernardino, California. Different also from the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, or the multiplex movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, or the Virginia Tech mass shooting in Blacksburg, Virginia. 

When Omar Mateen killed at least 49 people and wounded more than 50 others early Sunday at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, the victims were not a random group of people sharing the same physical space. They were all part of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. 

With this, the Orlando massacre could prove to be a turning point in the gun-control debate. Mateen may have cemented an alliance between gun-regulation advocacy groups and the well-organized LGBT social movement. It could catalyze the mobilization of a united front that expands the political and social reach critical for passing meaningful gun regulations. 

As a criminologist, I have reviewed and written many studies on mass shootings, and Orlando stands out because of the convergence of four key characteristics.  First, it is the most deadly mass shooting in U.S. history (the deadliest overall was committed in Norway in 2011, where 77 people were killed). Second, the crime was carried out with assault-type weapons (the AR-15). Third, the shooter, law enforcement authorities say, pledged allegiance to Islamic State during the attack. Fourth, and most crucial, the attack singled out a specific community and appears largely motivated by sexual prejudice, which, by definition, becomes a hate crime. 

These four characteristics have never before combined in any one U.S. mass shooting. The horrific 2015 attack at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, for example, was categorized as a hate crime. But it was not connected to any jihadist ideology. The confessed shooter, Dylan Roof, did not use military-style weapons, and fewer than 10 people were killed. The same components apply to mass shootings that occurred in other religious sites,, such as the 1991 attack on a Buddhist temple in Arizona. 

The mass shooting in Orlando provides a unique opportunity to shift the burden of proof about the necessity for stronger gun-control regulation. First, it is critical to acknowledge that the majority of mass shooters have been marked by mental health issues, social alienation or work disgruntlement. They had a variety of personal motivations, often not aimed at weakening government legitimacy, which is what motivates groups like Islamic State or al Qaeda. The most frequent motivations are revenge or a quest for power. 

Orlando fits the pattern of Islamic State-inspired shootings that seek to spread fear and portray the U.S. government’s counterterrorism strategy as ineffective. In addition, Islamic State has pointed out to possible recruits that they should take advantage of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, which a majority of Americans view as a fundamental constitutional pillar.  

Yet, this right to bear arms could pose a serious national-security vulnerability because it provides violent extremists the same legal protections that American citizens enjoy. The result? The lack of tough gun regulations makes it easier for Islamic State recruits to kill Americans at home or stage mass shootings abroad with assault-type weapons bought legally.

After the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando, the public could press Congress to acknowledge that weak firearm regulation is a serious breach in the protection of the homeland against domestic and foreign aggressors.

After all, this wouldn’t be the first time that U.S national security was used as a reason to restrict constitutional rights. After 9/11, the American people gave up more than a few constitutional rights when the Bush administration, under the USA Patriot Act and various presidential directives, weakened civil liberties for the sake of bolstering U.S. security.

One of the most controversial breaches of fundamental constitutional rights permitted the National Security Agency to turn its signal interception inward and spy on the American people without first obtaining legal warrants.

Public calls to regulate firearms for national-security reasons and possibly save more American lives – despite Second Amendment rights -- should not come as a surprise.

To improve homeland security, the argument goes, U.S. citizens would be better protected if more restrictive background checks were performed and if people were required to prove “good character.” This could include not belonging to any group “prohibited” from owning firearms -- the mentally ill, for example, or criminals or terror suspects (like Mateen). It should also include people deemed high risk for committing violent crime, such as individuals with a police record for threatening the life of another. 

In attacking the Pulse nightclub, a well-known LGBT gathering spot, Mateen took aim at a community with an estimated 9 million members across the United States. For more than 20 years, the LGBT community has mobilized into a powerful social movement that has demonstrated its ability to successfully advocate for a broad range of rights.

In previous mass shootings, because the victims and their families were not linked by any specific bond, such as identity or social-movement involvement, a cohesive mobilization to advocate for stricter gun regulations was often complicated and difficult. 

The unique characteristics of the Orlando mass shooting, however, could influence passage of meaningful gun-control reform in Congress. Something even the tragedy of 20 dead first-graders at Sandy Hook could not bring about. 

The LGBT community was targeted with unprecedented violence in Orlando. This media-savvy community led the 20-year cultural shift in how Americans view gay people and gay marriage, one of the most successful social-justice movements of modern times.

Combining the LBGT community with national- security demands for stricter control of gun sales well could create the momentum needed to propel Congress to act. 

(Frederic Lemieux is program director of the Security & Safety Leadership Master's Program, as well as cybersecurity strategy and information management master's degree and police and security studies bachelor's degree at The George Washington University.)

Monday
May302016

S.C. Leaders Failed Us All Over Past 10 Years

South Carolina’s state government is on life support.

Friday
Apr222016

Workplace Skills Keep Ex-offenders Out of Prison

By Bryan Stirling and Cheryl Stanton

Each year, approximately 10,000 people are released from South Carolina prisons. Far too often, however, ex-offenders are released into the same environment from which they came.

StirlingThey return to the same neighborhood and interact with the same acquaintances, lacking theStanton education or skills needed to succeed outside of prison. This can lead to individuals landing back in prison either by violating parole or on new convictions.

This week, April 24-30, is National Re-entry Week where we bring focus to the issues of returning ex-offenders into our communities and to the steps we’ve taken to reduce the rate of people returning to prison. An important part of the release process is preparing individuals to re-enter society and reducing the likelihood that they will return.

Here’s what we know: individuals with criminal records, particularly recently incarcerated individuals, face serious and complex obstacles to successful re-entry.  The long-term impact of a criminal record prevents many people from obtaining employment, housing, higher education and credit.

In South Carolina, nearly 90 percent of offenders are released from prison in five years or less. The state has a choice to make, prepare offenders for successful re-entry or continue the generational cycle of incarceration.

We have chosen to provide inmates with opportunities for education, skills training and work experience as part of a pre-release program, a leading factor in reducing the recidivism rate, which is nearly 25 percent in South Carolina.

Gov. Nikki Haley urged the S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) and the S.C. Department of Employment and Workforce (DEW) to partner and find a solution to reducing this rate.

One effective effort in achieving this is the Work Ready Initiative, which is a partnership between the SCDC and the DEW. The program began in November 2014 as a “One Stop Shop” for employment services within prison walls.

Under this program, DEW provides a full-time employee, laptops and materials to assist qualified returning citizens with work-skills training at the Manning Correctional facility in Columbia. Specific requirements must be met by the participant, including a disciplinary-free record, non-violent offenses for incarceration and a GED or high school diploma, to be eligible to participate in the Work Ready Initiative.

Ninety days prior to release, offenders are taught employment and soft skills for one hour each day. During the last 30 days, offenders work directly with a DEW counselor to become registered in the SC Works system, craft a resume and apply for jobs online. Contacts are made with employers and if employment is not secured prior to release, returning citizens are transitioned to a representative at their local SC Works office for additional services, post release.

The skills they learn through Work Ready Initiative helps the critical skills they’ve acquired through the many work programs, including carpentry, welding and agriculture.

Today, 98 individuals have successfully completed the Work Ready Initiative and are currently employed, while 466 offenders are currently enrolled, learning the skills necessary to find employment after they are released.

SCDC and DEW also are registering returning citizens into the SC Works system. Once they have an account, they can start the process of finding work by searching the job database, uploading their resumes and accessing other services provided to jobseekers.

We provide programs and services, like the Work Ready Initiative, in hopes that our inmates will take advantage of them in order to better their lives after leaving prison.

We are seeing results from these programs with a lower recidivism rate. While the current rate for the entire S.C. prison population is 24.9 percent, the recidivism rate for people involved in the pre-release program is 22.6 percent; in the work program 18 percent; and the prison industry program is 15.3 percent.

SCDC and DEW have a duty to South Carolinians to help individuals become productive members of society and make SC a safer more prosperous place. Education, training, and employment play an integral part in safer communities, lower recidivism, and fewer tax dollars being spent on offenders.  

We are proud of the progress we’ve made and thankful to the businesses who are giving these individuals a chance, but there is still work to be done. Through collaboration, we can change more lives, reduce crime and protect our communities by giving these individuals the opportunity they deserve to succeed as they re-enter our labor force and rejoin our communities.

Bryan Stirling is director of the S.C. Department of Corrections which provides safety for the community and rehabilitation and self-improvement opportunities for inmates. Cheryl Stanton is executive director of the S.C. Department of Employment and workforce which matches people to jobs and provides a bridge for individuals who find themselves out of work for no fault of their own. 

Monday
Apr182016

Reuters: Bill Gates Says U.S. Has Secret Weapon

 

 

This presidential election has the country captivated. As many commentators have pointed out, the primaries are more focused on personalities than policy. While the parties focus on who is going to represent them in the fall, I want to make the case for something that I hope every candidate will agree on in November: America’s unparalleled capacity for innovation. When the United States invests in innovation, it creates companies and jobs at home, makes Americans healthier and safer, and saves lives and fights poverty in the world’s poorest countries. It offers the next president a tremendous opportunity to help people in America and around the world.

Of course, America’s capacity for innovation is nothing new. We have been inventing for more than two centuries: think of Benjamin Franklin, Margaret Knight, Thomas Edison. By the end of World War II, the United States led the world in automobiles, aerospace, electronics, medicine, and other areas. Nor is the formula for success complicated: Government funding for our world-class research institutions produces the new technologies that American entrepreneurs take to market.

What is new is that more countries than ever are competing for global leadership, and they know the value of innovation. Since 2000, South Korea’s research and development spending (measured as a percentage of GDP) has gone up 90 percent. China’s has doubled. The United States’ has essentially flatlined. It’s great that the rest of the world is committing more, but if the United States is going to maintain its leading role, it needs to up its game.

I have seen first-hand the impact that this type of research can have. I was lucky enough to be a student when computers came along in the 1960s. At first they were very expensive, so it was hard to get access to them. But the microchip revolution, made possible by U.S. government research, completely changed that. Among other things it enabled Microsoft, the company I co-founded, to write software that made computers an invaluable tool for productivity. Later, the Internet — another product of federal research — changed the game again. It is no accident that today most of the top tech companies are still based in the United States, and their advances will have a massive impact in every area of human activity.

My favorite example is health. America’s investment in this area creates high-paying jobs at universities, biotech companies, and government labs. It leads to new treatments for disease, such as cancer therapies. It helps contain deadly epidemics like Ebola and Zika. And it saves lives in poor countries. Since 1990, the fraction of children who die before age 5 has fallen by more than half. I think that’s the greatest statistic of all time, and the United States deserves a lot of credit for making it happen.

The next few years could bring even more progress. With a little luck we could eradicate polio, a goal that is within reach because of vaccines developed by U.S. scientists. (Polio would be the second disease ever eradicated, after smallpox in 1979 — in which the United States also played an irreplaceable role.) There is also exciting progress on malaria: The number of deaths dropped more than 40 percent from 2000 to 2012, thanks in part to America’s support for breakthrough tools like drugs and bed nets. But to make the most of these opportunities, we need to invest more in basic health research and specific areas like vaccines.

Energy is another great example. American-funded research defines the state of the art in energy production. Early advances in wind and solar technology were developed with federal money. And this research offers a strong return on investment. Between 1978 and 2000, the Department of Energy spent $17.5 billion (in today’s dollars) on research on efficiency and fossil fuels, yielding $41 billion in economic benefits. Yet, until this year, the DOE’s research budget hasn’t seen a real increase since the Reagan administration.

If we step up these investments, we can create new jobs in the energy sector and develop the technologies that will power the world — while also fighting climate change, promoting energy independence, and providing affordable energy for the 1.3 billion poor people who don’t have it today. Some of the more promising areas include making fuel from solar energy, much the way plants do; making nuclear energy safer and more affordable; capture and storing carbon; and creating new ways to store energy that let us make the most of renewables.

There’s a lot of momentum right now on clean energy research. Last year, the leaders of 20 countries, including the United States, committed to double federal investments in this area. Complementing that crucial effort, I helped launch the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group of private investors who will back promising clean-energy companies. The next president will have a chance to accelerate this momentum.

Investing in R&D isn’t about the government picking winners and losers. The markets will do that. It’s about doing what we know works: making limited and targeted investments to lay a foundation for America’s entrepreneurs. This approach has been fundamental to U.S. leadership for decades, and it will become only more important in the years ahead.

By the end of this summer, the political parties will have chosen their leaders and will start looking ahead to the November election. The nominees will lay out their vision for America and their agenda for achieving it. These visions will probably have more differences than similarities. But I hope we can all agree that, no matter how you see America’s future, there will always be an essential role for innovation.

Sunday
Apr102016

Slate: Haley Comments on "Bathroom Law" Brilliant

Lee Bright, a conservative Republican in the South Carolina state Senate, recently introduced a North Carolina-style law that would prohibit trans people from using public bathrooms that align with their gender identity. You might expect such legislation to glide to an easy victory in North Carolina’s ostensibly less cultured neighbor. But instead, Gov. Nikki Haley, also a Republican, quickly dismissed the bill, insisting that it was unnecessary.

Haley’s phrasing here—equal parts garbled and canny—deserves close attention. She provides a master class in shrewd deflection, declaring her opposition to a trans bathroom bill without ever saying the words transgender or bathroom. Instead, Haley dances around the issue, explaining that “we’re not hearing any issues of religious liberty violations or anything else.”  When a reporter presses the governor on whether “anything else” meant religious liberty or a “transgender bathroom issue,” she responds, “Either.”

“These are not instances that …” Haley continues, tiptoeing toward specificity before switching course. “Y’all haven’t reported on anything. I haven’t heard anything that’s come to my office. So when I look at South Carolina, we look at our situations, we’re not hearing of anybody’s religious liberties that are being violated, and we’re, again, not hearing any citizens that feel like they are being violated in terms of freedoms.”

You can criticize Haley for her evasions and elisions here, but at bottom, her wording is pretty brilliant. “We’re not hearing any citizens that feel like they are being violated” is a marvelously broad, even abstract, way of criticizing the bathroom predator myth without discussing it directly. Haley neatly dismisses the bathroom issue without invoking all the buzzwords that make it controversial in the first place. Yes, it would be nice if Haley explicitly endorsed trans rights. But given her political limitations—and the tribulations of her northerly neighbor—she did a wonderful job leading her state away from the dark path of discrimination. 

Mark Joseph Stern is a writer for Slate. He covers the law and LGBTQ issues.

Thursday
Feb182016

The Stakes in S.C. Primary

EDITORIAL: The stakes in South Carolina

Donald Trump is a lot like Barack Obama. Both have moved through the nation's politics under false colors. Mr. Obama promised hope and change, talking as if he understood and cherished the values, customs and culture of America. Once elected, he revealed that he appreciates none of it, and has governed as if he were an…

Tuesday
Feb162016

Win or Lose, Sanders Ushering in New Political Age in U.S.

How can we interpret the incredible success of the “socialist” candidate Bernie Sanders in the US primaries? The Vermont senator is now ahead of Hillary Clinton among Democratic-leaning voters below the age of 50, and it’s only thanks to the older generation that Clinton has managed to stay ahead in the polls.

Because he is facing the Clinton machine, as well as the conservatism of mainstream media, Sanders might not win the race. But it has now been demonstrated that another Sanders – possibly younger and less white – could one day soon win the US presidential elections and change the face of the country. In many respects, we are witnessing the end of the politico-ideological cycle opened by the victory of Ronald Reagan at the 1980 elections.

Let’s glance back for an instant. From the 1930s until the 1970s, the US were at the forefront of an ambitious set of policies aiming to reduce social inequalities. Partly to avoid any resemblance with Old Europe, seen then as extremely unequal and contrary to the American democratic spirit, in the inter-war years the country invented a highly progressive income and estate tax and set up levels of fiscal progressiveness never used on our side of the Atlantic. From 1930 to 1980 – for half a century – the rate for the highest US income (over $1m per year) was on average 82%, with peaks of 91% from the 1940s to 1960s (from Roosevelt to Kennedy), and still as high as 70% during Reagan’s election in 1980.

This policy in no way affected the strong growth of the post-war American economy, doubtless because there is not much point in paying super-managers $10m when $1m will do. The estate tax, which was equally progressive with rates applicable to the largest fortunes in the range of 70% to 80% for decades (the rate has almost never exceeded 30% to 40% in Germany or France), greatly reduced the concentration of American capital, without the destruction and wars which Europe had to face.

A mythical capitalism

In the 1930s, long before European countries followed through, the US also set up a federal minimum wage. In the late 1960s it was worth $10 an hour (in 2016 dollars), by far the highest of its time. 

All this was carried through almost without unemployment, since both the level of productivity and the education system allowed it. This is also the time when the US finally put an end to the undemocratic legal racial discrimination still in place in the south, and launched new social policies.

All this change sparked a muscular opposition, particularly among the financial elites and the reactionary fringe of the white electorate. Humiliated in Vietnam, 1970s America was further concerned that the losers of the second world war (Germany and Japan in the lead) were catching up at top speed. The US also suffered from the oil crisis, inflation and under-indexation of tax schedules. Surfing the waves of all these frustrations, Reagan was elected in 1980 on a program aiming to restore a mythical capitalism said to have existed in the past. 

The culmination of this new program was the tax reform of 1986, which ended half a century of a progressive tax system and lowered the rate applicable to the highest incomes to 28%.

Democrats never truly challenged this choice in the Clinton (1992-2000) and Obama (2008-2016) years, which stabilized the taxation rate at around 40% (two times lower than the average level for the period 1930 to 1980). This triggered an explosion of inequality coupled with incredibly high salaries for those who could get them, as well as a stagnation of revenues for most of America – all of which was accompanied by low growth (at a level still somewhat higher than Europe, mind you, as the old world was mired in other problems).

A progressive agenda

Reagan also decided to freeze the federal minimum wage level, which from 1980 was slowly but surely eroded by inflation (little more than $7 an hour in 2016, against nearly $11 in 1969). Again, this new political-ideological regime was barely mitigated by the Clinton and Obama years. 

Sanders’ success today shows that much of America is tired of rising inequality and these so-called political changes, and intends to revive both a progressive agenda and the American tradition of egalitarianism. Hillary Clinton, who fought to the left of Barack Obama in 2008 on topics such as health insurance, appears today as if she is defending the status quo, just another heiress of the Reagan-Clinton-Obama political regime.

Sanders makes clear he wants to restore progressive taxation and a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). To this he adds free healthcare and higher education in a country where inequality in access to education has reached unprecedented heights, highlighting a gulf standing between the lives of most Americans, and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system.

Meanwhile, the Republican party sinks into a hyper-nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam discourse (even though Islam isn’t a great religious force in the country), and a limitless glorification of the fortune amassed by rich white people. The judges appointed under Reagan and Bush have lifted any legal limitation on the influence of private money in politics, which greatly complicates the task of candidates like Sanders. 

However, new forms of political mobilization and crowdfunding can prevail and push America into a new political cycle. We are far from gloomy prophecies about the end of history.

Thomas Piketty is professor of economics at the Paris School of Economics. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Capital in the Twenty-First CenturyThis piece was first published in Le Monde on 14 Febrary 2016

Sunday
Feb142016

What Happened at S.C. GOP Debate?

By Jeb Lund/The Guardian

What the hell happened on Saturday night?

The umpteenth (or penultiumpteenth) Republican Debate was an ecstasy of noise in which everything was indistinguishable. We are long past you-can’t-do-that-on-television. We are long past manufactured controversy. We are fully into clown slapfight.

You should be forgiven if you can remember almost nothing of this evening, or if you do but cannot make heads or tails of your own memories. 

If Jack Donaghy were real, he’d brand Saturday’s debate the Third Kind of Noise: the first two kinds of noise are meant to turn your brain off, and the third is uncategorizable by a rational mind.

First, the white noise of coddling campaign nonsense would have slipped out of your mind as insubstantially as it entered, be it Ben Carson’s encomia about the constitution, or John Kasich’s performative appeals to political civility that were all about maintaining a brand. Even the Marco Machine whirring up into speech at the speed of an auctioneer would not have made an impression, because there’s no longer any sense in pretending that he’s thinking on his feet with greater authenticity than a Xerox machine with legs. 

Second, the repetitive (and often manufactured) controversies are also meant to denude your brain – to get you to a point where angry static is as soothing as the tide. And there were a lot of repetitive arguments that would’ve washed over viewers like so many peaceful waves, between Trump defending his use of eminent domain, Kasich defending Ohio’s Medicaid expansion and Cruz and Rubio battering each other on amnesty. The policies themselves don’t matter as much as the Sturm und Drang: either you are finally convinced that the other guy is a cretin after your guy has yelled enough, or you just stop caring about all the loud men yelling and no longer run the risk of suspecting that your guy might be a cretin, too. 

But this debate veered fully into absurdity somewhere around the third time that Donald Trump told the actual truth about things that actually happened in actual history and was booed by the audience for his trouble. After stating that the Bush administration lied to the American people in order to drum up support for the war in Iraq, failed to keep us safe on 9/11 and passed up opportunities to assassinate bin Laden before the 9/11 attacks, the sheer mutual antagonism between the candidates and a furious audience caused something between Trump and Bush to come thoroughly unglued. Then, they simply began arguing like two people with mutual antipathy towards one another rather than politicians.

From there, the madness spread through the debate: a great circle of abuse spun around fast enough to fling all sense away. Rubio hates Cruz who hates Trump who hates Bush who hates Trump who hates Cruz who hates Rubio.

The crosstalk overwhelmed all comers and CBS moderator John Dickerson lost all control (apart from Carson and Kasich, whose brand-management plans forbade them from joining in). Eventually Dickerson asked Carson a question just to silence the bickering, forcing the candidates to stand there with the pained/patient expressions that adults have at weddings when the ring bearers give a reading as Carson slowly answered.

In any other circumstance outside of a reality TV show, this debate would be considered a catastrophe for all involved. It was stupid; every last one of those men should go home and be berated by someone they love.

That said, the most depressing of all possible acknowledgements is that it probably doesn’t matter what a mess this was. 

Donald Trump has made his political bones so far by being a bully and a liar. Ted Cruz is a bully and a liar. Jeb Bush is petty and a liar, but he lies with establishment gentility, so we should say that he prevaricates. Marco Rubio is whatever punchcard of antagonistic hogwash was fed into his slot from his days as a Florida political protege. Ben Carson, well ... Let’s not wake him. He looks so peaceful.

This fiasco of a debate won’t change a thing about how these candidates act, and deciding not to cast a vote for this behavior would mean resigning from the current Republican Party, unless you want to vote for Kasich or feel like sending Ben Carson to live in a city paved with constitutions.

It’s hard to tell which is sadder: that millions of people are stuck with these jerks; or that millions of people want to be. Even wrestling with the question for a few seconds makes you want to tune it all out – and, one assumes, plenty of voters already have.

Friday
Jan292016

Six Responses to Bernie Sanders Skeptics

Six Responses to Bernie Skeptics:

By Robert Reich (see Video at His Site)

1. “He’d never beat Trump or Cruz in a general election.”

Wrong. According to the latest polls, Bernie is the strongest Democratic candidate in the general election, defeating both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in hypothetical matchups. (The latest RealClear Politics averages of all polls shows Bernie beating Trump by a larger margin than Hillary beats Trump, and Bernie beating Cruz while Hillary loses to Cruz.) 

2. “He couldn’t get any of his ideas implemented because Congress would reject them.”

If both house of Congress remain in Republican hands, no Democrat will be able to get much legislation through Congress, and will have to rely instead on executive orders and regulations. But there’s a higher likelihood of kicking Republicans out if Bernie’s “political revolution” continues to surge around America, bringing with it millions of young people and other voters, and keeping them politically engaged. 

3. “America would never elect a socialist.” 

P-l-e-a-s-e. America’s most successful and beloved government programs are social insurance – Social Security and Medicare. A highway is a shared social expenditure, as is the military and public parks and schools. The problem is we now have excessive socialism for the rich (bailouts of Wall Street, subsidies for Big Ag and Big Pharma, monopolization by cable companies and giant health insurers, giant tax-deductible CEO pay packages) – all of which Bernie wants to end or prevent. 

4. “His single-payer healthcare proposal would cost so much it would require raising taxes on the middle class.”

This is a duplicitous argument. Single-payer systems in other rich nations have proven cheaper than private for-profit health insurers because they don’t spend huge sums on advertising, marketing, executive pay, and billing. So even if the Sanders single-payer plan did require some higher taxes, Americans would come out way ahead because they’d save far more than that on health insurance.

5. “His plan for paying for college with a tax on Wall Street trades would mean colleges would run by government rules.

Baloney. Three-quarters of college students today already attend public universities financed largely by state governments, and they’re not run by government rules. The real problem is too many young people still can’t afford a college education. The move toward free public higher education that began in the 1950s with the G.I. Bill and extended into the 1960s came to an abrupt stop in the 1980s. We must restart it. 

6. “He’s too old.”

Untrue. He’s in great health. Have you seen how agile and forceful he is as he campaigns around the country? These days, 70s are the new 60s. (He’s younger than four of the nine Supreme Court justices.) In any event, the issue isn’t age; it’s having the right values. FDR was paralyzed.” In any event, the issue isn’t age; it’s having the right values. was paralyzed, and JFK had Addison’s Crohn’s diseases, but they were great presidents because they fought adamantly for social and economic justice.

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