Archive

June 21st, 2016

Principles take a back seat to power, connections and money

    There have not been two more prominent conservative activists over the past quarter century than Grover Norquist, the anti-tax and anti-government advocate, and Ralph Reed, a leading strategist for the religious right.

    Both profess to put principles first. Norquist, best known for demanding that Republican office seekers sign an anti-tax pledge, says he wants to slash government "to the size where I can drag it in the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." He also is a self-identified champion of "outreach to the Muslim community."

    Reed, who runs the Faith and Freedom Coalition, says values and morals should be central to politics and that the U.S. needs to be "guided by an internal moral compass." Today, both are strong supporters of Donald Trump.

    Trump has shown little interest in cutting the size of government. He has run an anti-Muslim campaign and is at best a newcomer to faith politics; not too long ago he was pro-choice on abortion and didn't object to late-term abortions.

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Marco Rubio's ongoing Senate nightmare

    Marco Rubio never claimed to enjoy serving in the Senate. Indeed, quite the opposite. (Some sample quotes: "I'm not missing votes because I'm on vacation. I'm running for president so that the votes they take in the Senate are actually meaningful again." - Rubio, on CNN.

    "Do we just stand around and do nothing?" - Rubio, on the Senate floor in 2011.

    Why would you ever ask to be returned to this awful place? And now he appears to be changing his mind, possibly gearing up to run for another term. I can only imagine the nightmares he must have about the first day of his next term . . .

    Rubio arrives at his office in the Russell building to discover that someone has changed the nameplate on the door to LITTLE MARCO. He shuts his eyes and takes a deep breath. Sweat is already beading on his forehead.

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Hate crimes often make it harder to hate

    The shocking murder of British parliament member Jo Cox and the Orlando shootings were both hate crimes that defy political labels, whatever the professed motives of the killers. Nobody can predict what will set off a deranged killer and it would be deplorable to tar legitimate political campaigns because a killer identified with one cause or another.

    But it's impossible to deny that these killings have the power to affect both the vote on Britain's proposed exit from the EU and the U.S. presidential election. Violence is not just morally repugnant, it is uncomfortable. In most societies, people default to safety and order.

    On May 6, 2002, Volkert van der Graaf, an animal rights activist, shot Pim Fortuyn, the leader of a Dutch populist, anti-immigrant party competing in that year's parliamentary election, scheduled for May 15. The campaigns fell silent in shock: The Netherlands had a tradition of consensual politics, and violence wasn't part of the political culture. Yet the election was not canceled (as the Brexit vote shouldn't be, either: re-arguing the issue at some later date wouldn't do anyone any good).

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Gay marriage movement offers clues about the prospects for gun reform

    Just three days after President Barack Obama reminisced that "one of the most special moments" of his presidency came when the White House was awash in rainbow colors following last year's marriage-equality ruling, he stood in the White House briefing room and sought to console a nation reeling from the slaughter of at least 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

    If the validation of same-sex marriage was a high point, this was no doubt one of the lowest. In contrast to the advancement of gay and transgender rights, which has been among the standout successes of the progressive agenda during the Obama years, the failure to pass gun-safety measures that could prevent more mass shootings has been among the greatest disappointments.

    But it wasn't all that long ago that same-sex marriage seemed just as hopeless a cause as meaningful gun laws seem now. And the reason many Americans - including Obama - changed their minds about gay marriage may be the same reason people eventually change their minds about guns.

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Five myths about video games

    For decades, video games have mystified people who don't play them. The New York Times Magazine grappled in 1974 with the emergence of the arcade game - calling it "the space age pinball machine" - in Manhattan bars. What was this new coin-operated amusement? If not a kind of pinball, was it some sort of newfangled jukebox? Electronic foosball? How much money was it making? Was it addictive? Could it help sick people? Train air-traffic controllers? More than 40 years later, many of these questions are still with us. And some durable myths remain extremely difficult to dispel.

 

    1. Pong was the first video game.

    Despite numerous debunkings, the idea that Pong was first persists. A headline in Vanity Fair illustrates this common misconception: "The Origins of the First Arcade Video Game: Atari's Pong."

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Dump Trump Republicans hatch a new strategy

    The "dump Trump" rumbling continues, as "dozens" of Republican delegates attempt to organize a real effort to defeat the presumptive Republican nominee at the national convention in Cleveland in July, and other party actors consider their best option under the rules.

    According to the Washington Post, "dozens of Republican delegates are hatching a new plan to block Donald Trump," though it wasn't clear exactly how. The core of any effort would have to involve establishing rules for the convention that would allow delegates allocated to Trump to vote against him on the first ballot, despite tentative rules that bind them to vote for him.

    There's no indication that Trump is really in trouble, though we still have no reliable whip counts of his genuine support on the convention Rules Committee or at the full convention.

    Still, even if there are enough potential Dump Trumpers to win a vote, they would still need to be willing to do it.

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Coal isn't dying because there's a war on it

    I never cease to be amazed how people with an agenda massage facts, or omit them, to support their cause. I was reminded of this recently when I read a report from the American Action Forum that says that just five year ago, the market value of the four biggest coal companies was more than $35 billion. Since then, that has plunged 99 percent and some of the biggest producers have filed for bankruptcy.

    What is to blame for this stunning loss? The report sums it up in word: regulation. The "War on Coal," the report says, has imposed "$312 billion in costs and more than 30 million paperwork burden hours" on the industry.

    Such a nice, neat explanation. But there's more to it than regulation designed mainly to limit how much pollution the industry spews into the air. Let's take a closer look at what factors might be behind the demise of the coal companies:

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As a trans Muslim, I used to feel vulnerable all the time

    Two days before Omar Mateen opened fire in Orlando's Pulse nightclub, I was leading Friday prayers for a dozen LGBTQ Muslims at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference.

    In my sermon, I spoke about Surah al-Asr, a chapter in the Koran that says we must have faith, do good in the world, support one another in upholding the truth and have patience. These verses have another implicit message: We can't do this alone. We need one another.

    I had no idea how soon we would be reminded of this truth.

    I converted to Islam at 14, and I've been a devout follower for three decades. But when I realized I was transgender in the 1990s, I began to struggle with my faith. I was told that my new identity made me a bad Muslim.

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June 20th

Arab sympathy over the Orlando massacre may seem hypocritical, but it's a start

    Shortly after Sunday's Orlando nightclub massacre which left 49 people dead and many injured, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Nabil al-Araby, issued a statement condemning the attack. Al-Azhar, the world's leading Sunni institution of Islamic scholarship, also issued a statement to this effect, and emphasized that the unlawful killing of any human being is strictly forbidden in Islamic scripture. Both peak bodies called for international cooperation to fight terrorism, and Al-Azhar expressed concerns for the incendiary use of the massacre to further malign Muslims living in the West. The Arab League and Al-Azhar were joined, with similar reprisals, by Afghanistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Turkey among others.

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A Week for All Time

    They will remember, a century from now, who stood up to the tyrant Donald Trump and who found it expedient to throw out the most basic American values — the “Vichy Republicans,” as historian Ken Burns called them in his Stanford commencement speech.

    The shrug from Mitch McConnell, the twisted explanation of Paul Ryan, who said Trump is a racist and a xenophobe, but he’s ours — party before country. As well, the duck-and-hide Republicans, so quick to whip out their pocket copy of the Constitution, now nowhere to be seen when the foundation of that same document is under assault by the man carrying their banner.

    They will remember, in classrooms and seminars, those who wrote Trump off as entertainment, a freak show and ratings spike, before he tried to muzzle a free press, and came for you — using a page from another tyrant, Vladimir Putin, admired by the homegrown monster.

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