Does Beto O’Rourke Have Anything Special to Offer?

Beto O’Rourke’s senate run in Texas stirred national excitement and speculation about the young politician’s ability to be America’s “next Obama.” He’s officially throwing his hat in the race for 2020 – but does Beto have anything to offer that other Democratic candidates don’t? More at CNN.

Can O’Rourke raise money like he did last year, and do it quickly and effectively enough to overcome the horde of Democrats seeking the nomination? Does that relatively flimsy resume show him as Beto the Unready, or does it just mean he has fewer past exploits and decisions to defend? It has worked both ways in recent elections at the state and national level… At the moment, he’s the most interesting character onstage. The trick is to stay there.

You don’t need to be a policy wonk to be president, but O’Rourke’s allergy to specifics is worsened by his refusal to give voters any real clue of his guiding ideology. As he put it at his final congressional town hall last year, when asked whether he was a progressive: “I’m not big on labels. I don’t get all fired up about party or classifying or defining people based on a label or a group. I’m for everyone.” Labels like progressive and moderate have limited meaning—especially as White House hopefuls blur the lines between both—but they’re not devoid of meaning. If O’Rourke is not going to get specific, the least he can do is get general.

In truth, no one knows who’s going to catch fire. If O’Rourke is a self-absorbed flake, his campaign will implode before the first votes are cast. If, however, he is as talented and inspirational as his fans say, you might see the race narrow to a face-off between former vice president Joe Biden and O’Rourke — the past vs. future, the insider vs. the outsider, the baby boomer vs. the Gen Xer, etc. If that’s the choice, O’Rourke has a decent chance to win this in a party that is always looking for someone new and exciting.

Does Paul Manafort’s Punishment Fit the Crime?

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Many felt that Manafort, who was indicted by Robert Mueller and found guilty of numerous financial crimes, got off too easy after his first trial and sentencing. His time in prison has now nearly doubled. But is it enough? More at LA Times.

…prison time is not appropriate. Whether you agree with me here has a lot to do with how you’d describe the purpose of prison: If it is merely a site of revenge and retribution, simple infliction of suffering on those who have done wrong, then lockup might seem perfectly fitting for Manafort, Huffman, and other nonviolent offenders. But if, as I suspect most would say, prison is also about deterrence, rehabilitation, and public safety, the case for incarcerating nonviolent offenders begins to unravel.

The mandatory federal sentencing guidelines were imperfect, but in many ways they leveled the playing field. Sentences that vary dramatically from one judge to another are not fair to the people being sentenced and not fair to the public. Similarly situated people, who commit similar crimes, should be sentenced in a similar way. Congress needs to enact sentencing laws that mandate greater consistency — laws that ensure Lady Justice is not peeking through the edge of her blindfold.

The bottom line is that Manafort now will serve five-plus more years behind bars (as explained in the first reader question below), plus whatever results from the new state charges. That’s significant. And it remains a monumental development that the President’s former campaign chair has been convicted of a spate of serious federal felonies. But, ultimately, given what the federal sentence could and should have been: Manafort skated.

Is Admission Into College for Sale?

Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin were among the fifty-odd individuals indicted in a college admissions bribery scandal. The indictment is very serious, involving fraud, bribery, tax violations, and other crimes. But while the charges are exceptional, are college admissions ever fair?

For years, it’s been known that the college-admissions process itself is a kind of scam. In his book “The Price of Admission,” from 2006, the investigative journalist Daniel Golden reveals the ways in which wealthy parents secure their children’s acceptance to prestigious colleges through hefty donations. In one example, he describes how Charles and Seryl Kushner used a two-and-a-half-million-dollar donation to obtain an admission to Harvard for their son, Jared, who is now the President’s son-in-law.

“A fair system to me would produce an outcome in which people who are selected are representative of 18-year-olds overall in the United States,” Ms. Warikoo said, noting that while wealthy students are overrepresented, working class and poor students, black, Latino, Native American and first generation students are underrepresented on most campuses. “We don’t have consensus in the United States about what is a fair system of selection.”

The universities don’t seem to appreciate that they’re risking political backlash. Republicans are already eager to go after the academy for its free-speech follies and high costs. Universities are especially vulnerable since so much of their business model relies on student loans and other federal subsidies. They will have to clean up their own houses or face political intervention that could get uglier than even these fraud indictments.

Has the U.S. Recognized Israeli Sovereignty in the Golan?

While the U.S. State Department once called the Golan Heights “Israeli-Occupied,” the language has been altered to say “Israeli-Controlled.” The Golan Heights were captured by Israel from Syria in 1967. Does the State Department’s change of tune indicate a change of policy?

The Golan is one of many examples where Israel is held to a double standard and is unfairly forced to keep in limbo pieces of its territory linked solely to accidents of history. Just as Jerusalem was divided for years and the UN once sought to turn it into a corpus separatum, a special-status independent city, so the Golan is held hostage under the notion that an increasingly authoritarian Syrian regime will one day change.

As it turned out, the Israeli people were right about holding on to the Golan. If Trump is looking for another opportunity to highlight the idiocy of the foreign-policy establishment’s obsessions, he can do no better than once again choose to recognize Middle East realpolitik, rather than to hold on to destructive fantasies about the Golan.

Not that anyone in Trump or Netanyahu land cares, but for the US to recognize Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights would be a direct contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which the United States co-authored, and Israel accepted… Like it or not, the Golan Heights are Syrian territory. Israel cannot give them up now given its legitimate security concerns. But to recognize Israel’s annexation of territory that is not its own is to play with fire for partisan political purposes. No Arab state will accept it.

Is Israel’s Economy In Trouble?

Israel’s economy has flourished in the past decade with a high-tech sector renowned throughout the world. But is continued prosperity a sure thing? Here are three takes on how Israel can ensure another ten years of growth:

Housing prices remain high; financial inequality, though shrunken, is still a problem; and the education system is failing to deliver the skilled workers the country needs to ensure the continued success of its high-tech-led economy… The next government, economists say, must set out long-term policies, including making sure the currency doesn’t continue to appreciate — in order to keep exports competitive — increasing spending on infrastructure and education, and drastically cutting back on bureaucracy.

Israel’s self-imposed austerity policy was adopted partly due to the heavy cost of maintaining the occupation: the Second Intifada, for instance, brought with it Israel’s longest ever economic crisis… Addressing imbalanced development requires heavy government involvement. Heavy government involvement requires larger budgets. Larger budgets mean either a political settlement with the Palestinians, which will allow lower military budgets, or increased tax revenues…

The country’s reputation as a tech powerhouse is deserved. It has a thriving innovation sector, a high concentration of startups and a penchant for producing technology valued around the world. At the same time, the vast majority of Israelis are not involved in the tech industry and don’t directly enjoy its benefits. If Israel wants to keep its lead, its business and labor experts agree, it needs to quicken its pace and broaden its talent pool…

Arab Israelis and Charedi women have something vital to contribute to the country’s innovation economy, and the high-tech sector needs them as much as they need it.

Is the GOP’s “Cradle Act” Good for Families?

The Cradle Act is a GOP-backed initiative to give working parents (both mothers and fathers) paid leave. While this sounds like a viable piece of bipartisan legislation, Democrats don’t like that the bill cannibalizes parents’ social security to pay for the maternity or paternity leave. More at CBS News.

If there is one area where Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree, it is on supporting new parents and young families. There are existing proposals from the Left and Right, but politics is the art of the possible, and this concept deserves an open-minded review on its merits. Congress should seriously consider this bill before the 2020 presidential campaign is in full swing and bipartisan legislating grinds to a crawl.

They’ve been draping their proposal in all sorts of uplifting words about the virtues of family leave — the bonding of mothers, fathers and offspring, the long-term benefits for children and so on. But they’ve concealed the chief drawbacks of their plan, which are the same features that make it palatable to a GOP constituency: It would undermine Social Security, force seniors to work longer, and carry hidden costs that wouldn’t be evident until it’s too late.

it’s not paid leave at all. It’s another version of unpaid leave that working parents in the United States would have to fund themselves… The United States is the only industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave to working parents, and Republicans and Democratic voters overwhelmingly support the creation of such a program. The problem is that no one seems to agree on how to pay for it, and Republicans don’t want to make businesses chip in.

Today’s Hot Issues

Does Beto O’Rourke Have Anything Special to Offer? Does Paul Manafort’s Punishment Fit the Crime? Is Admission Into College for Sale? Has the U.S. Recognized Israeli Sovereignty in the Golan? Is Israel’s Economy In Trouble? Is the GOP’s “Cradle Act” Good for Families?