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The Obama Watch

Bob McDonnell’s Revenge

By 4.29.16

Seven years into the Age of Obama, we’ve become used to, and in fact now expect, the application of federal law, or lack thereof, to depend on politics. Particularly when it comes to the president’s debauched Department of Justice.

Can there be any doubt about this? It began almost before the president even took office, with the decision to quash the prosecution of the New Black Panthers in Philadelphia on voter intimidation charges arising from the 2008 election, in a case that was about as open-and-shut as one could get and in fact had been won by the Bush Justice Department. Next came the decision to let the unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation terror-financing case skate.

Political Hay

Trump Does the Pennsylvania Political Polka

By 4.28.16

Strike up the music the band has begun
The Pennsylvania Polka.
Pick out your partner and join in the fun
The Pennsylvania Polka.
It started in Scranton, it's now No. 1
It's bound to entertain you
Everybody has a mania
To do the polka from Pennsylvania

And so go the beginning lyrics to what is perhaps (qualifier intended for fans of other songs) the unofficial hymn to William Penn’s Commonwealth. Way back there when Gerald Ford was president I recall being at a GOP fundraiser in Philadelphia where Ford and former Pennsylvania Governor and then-Ford UN Ambassador William Scranton were the stars. In the middle of the event, the band conveniently struck up the Pennsylvania Polka, which features the line that “It started in Scranton” — the namesake ancestral hometown of Bill Scranton — and the ex-governor jumped to his feet with wife Mary and actually did the polka to the roar of the crowd.

Campus Scenes

Is College Too Pricey? Wait Till It’s Free

By 4.28.16

As he panders for the youth vote, Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders promises free tuition at public colleges and universities because, he says, “a college degree is the new high school diploma.” Rival Hillary Clinton supports President Barack Obama’s plan to make community college tuition-free — that is, publicly funded. Beware, America: Imagine how expensive college tuition will be if Democrats somehow manage to make more of it “free.” As for value, if Sanders has his way, you can expect the college degree to be the new high school diploma.

On the other side of the aisle, GOP presidential hopefuls rarely talk about “college affordability.” The issue is not on front-runner Donald Trump’s main issues pages. Ditto for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. Ohio Gov. John Kasich suggests that one way to make college more affordable is by encouraging “more students to earn college credit while completing their high school courses” to give them a “jump on their college careers” and a break financially. Republicans wisely are pushing personal fiscal responsibility as the main answer to rising tuition and fees.

Sports Arena

Fumbling the Draft With Johnny Manziel

By 4.28.16

Does character count and is it necessary for success?

This is the question on the minds of both primary voters as they head to the polls this spring as well as NFL executives whose teams’ future victories will depend on how well they pick players in this week’s NFL draft.

Almost two years ago to the day, the Cleveland Browns bet their franchise on a talented Heisman Trophy winner by the name of Johnny Manziel. Despite gaudy college statistics, NFL teams passed on Manziel till the Browns selected him with the 22nd pick in the first round. The trepidation over Manziel was mostly because he had enough red flags concerning his character to initiate a bull stampede.


Mob Rule and the Modern Primary

By 4.28.16

During his victory speech following the April 19 New York Republican primary, Donald Trump repeated what has become a common refrain from his campaign of late: that the Republican nominating process is “crooked” and “rigged.” The solution, Trump proposed, is “going back to the old ways: You get votes and you win.”

The idea that “you get votes and you win” coheres with most Americans’ definition of democracy, but the framers of the Constitution, looking back to the origins of democracy in the city-states of ancient Greece, would not have defined it that way. In Greek democracy, as James Madison noted in The Federalist no. 10, assemblies of citizens voted on all political decisions. Such a system was only practical in polities with a compact territory and relatively small population. Larger polities would find direct democracy unworkable, hence citizens had to cede decision-making power to other institutions, which might be more representative (the House of Representatives) or less (the U.S. Senate, especially before the Seventeenth Amendment).

The Great American Saloon Series

Let’s Free the Antique Alcohol Market

By 4.28.16

It seems like every month, I get an email or two from strangers asking me the same question. They read something like this: “Hi. My elderly father died, and when I was cleaning out his house to get it ready for sale, I found some very old looking bottles. Some of them are not open. Are they worth anything?”

Unfortunately, my response never is especially encouraging. There is, I inform them, no licit secondhand market for alcoholic beverages, for the most part. So, I cannot tell you what a bottle of Old Fitzgerald Bourbon from 1970 or a six-pack of Thomas Hardy Ale from 1995 would sell for. Sure, if you had a large and opulent collection of antique beverages, you might be able to get it assessed and sold by an auction house. But even for those lucky souls, it is a painstaking and time-consuming process.

California Watch

Is Jerry Brown California’s Savior?

By 4.28.16


It may be news to many of us living here, but California — according to a recent Newsweek issue — apparently no longer faces intractable budgetary, debt, infrastructure, business, tax, poverty, and regulatory problems. The state has been “saved” and its savior is none other than its third-term governor, Jerry Brown.

The magazine’s cover story, “How Jerry Brown Quietly Saved California,” recounts the governor’s political career against the backdrop of the current presidential race. The writer interviews an analyst who laments that the 78-year-old governor isn’t 10 years younger. Then Brown would be poised to take California’s miracle to the nation. (And you were lamenting a Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton presidency…)

Another Perspective

Trump’s Huge Losing Victory on Tuesday

By 4.27.16

On Tuesday late night, I tuned in to Fox News Channel during a commercial break on both CNN and MSNBC to affirm my worst fears. It was Sean Hannity’s time slot. I knew he would be basking in the embers of the latest exhibit in Donald Trump’s suicide mission for the GOP in November. I caught Hannity just as he was interviewing Laura Ingraham, second in championing Trump among conservative women, behind only Ann Coulter. I listened for about 30 seconds, which was all I could take. Hannity and Ingraham marveled at the massive swath of surging new voters allegedly mobilized by their Donald. I hurried back to CNN for more astute analysis from, of all people, David Axelrod and Van Jones, whose communist backgrounds I’ve detailed here for years.

Yes, folks, such are the signs of the times.

Political Hay

Trump Thumps the Ruling Class

By 4.27.16

“What have you been smoking?” said a partner in a New York law firm to me in early January after I asserted in front of a room full of Upper East Side liberals that “Trump would win the nomination.” Others hooted me for holding that “closeted Trump supporters” exist in the disaffected corners of American life and that Trump would enjoy a reverse Bradley effect.

Last Christmas I ran into Newt Gingrich after Mass in Washington, D.C., and for the heck of it said to him, “So what job do you want in the Trump administration?” He looked at me with utter disbelief. Now I see him on TV bemoaning the slowness with which pundits grasped the Trump phenomenon. He was one of them.


Google the Word Stupidity

By 4.27.16

Last week the European Union declared war on Google — one of the most successful American companies of all time. Instead of the U.S. Government rushing to the rescue of this Silicon Valley‎ legend, the Obama administration piled on.

No wonder our economy isn’t growing.

Here’s the story in a flash. Europe can’t compete with Google so instead it will fight with lawsuits and harassment. ‎Brussels has accused Google of antitrust violations because it installs into the popular Android smart phone software apps that favor Google features, such as Google Maps over competitor products.

“Our concern,” complains Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s anti-trust chief, “is that by requiring phone makers and operators to preload a set of Google apps, Google may have cut off one of the main ways that new apps can reach customers.” That’s ridiculous because it was largely Google technology that made apps work on smart phones in the first place.

The EU wants to force Google to offer its competitors’ products on the Android phone. Next thing you know, McDonald’s ‎is going to be slapped with an antitrust complaint for not offering Wendy’s fries.