Archive

February 14th, 2016

Stomping on Our Constitutional Rights

    Imagine the outcry by tea party Republicans if state legislators were passing laws banning the use of video cameras in banks to capture images of robbers.

    Yet those very same tea partiers have been passing laws in various states to ban the recording of inhumane, immoral, and disgusting abuses of turkeys, hogs, and other animals by giant factory farm operators like Tyson.

    The only reason the public knows about chickens being stomped to death and pregnant sows being driven insane because they’re caged so tightly they can’t even turn around is that courageous whistleblowers have secretly recorded videos of the intolerable violence inside these animal concentration camps.

    In response to the exposés, however, eight states run by shameless, corporate-hugging Republicans have rushed to protect the worst abusers, making it illegal to release such videos to the media or the public.

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Sanders should beware of a wounded Clinton

    Hillary and Bill Clinton were prepared to lose, but there's a loss and then there's a shellacking. After barely winning Iowa, with its coin-tosses and independent calls for a public recount of the secret ballots, getting trounced by Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire by 20 points suggests tissue-rejection of the Clinton candidacy. It's likely some of those voters weren't even pro-Sanders, just turned off by Clinton. The Republican race is starting to look tame by comparison.

    The rejection went to her character. Among Democrats who say they care most about honesty and trustworthiness, she lost by 86 points. None of Bill's lip-biting brand attached to her: She lost by 65 points among those who want their candidate to care about people like themselves. Then there are the women. Although they were threatened with eternal damnation, a majority of women -- seven in 10 under 45 -- did not vote for the would- be first female president.

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Obama weighs looser rules for Iranian travelers

    The Obama administration's one successful collaboration with Congress on keeping terrorists out of the United States is unraveling, as Republicans allege that the administration is giving Iran special treatment and as the State Department pushes to loosen restrictions for dual- nationality Iranians to visit the United States.

    As soon as President Barack Obama signed the law last December, removing visa waiver privileges for foreign citizens who have visited Iran and other Middle Eastern nations, the Iranians objected and Secretary of State John Kerry assured Tehran that the administration would use its executive authority to ensure the law would not impede "the legitimate business interests of Iran."

    Congress objected to that at the time, but didn't know then that the State Department was also pressing to exempt all dual- nationality Iranians who are outside of Iran, in the hope of encouraging political change inside that country.

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New Hampshire turns races into long slogs

    Delivering a rousing rejection of the established leadership of the two political parties, New Hampshire voters produced a presidential primary result that almost assures protracted battles for both nominations.

    Bernie Sanders, the Democratic socialist from Vermont, scored a huge victory over Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side. Billionaire outsider Donald Trump, a onetime Democrat with no political experience, decisively won the Republican race.

    Clinton, the former secretary of State and spouse of President Bill Clinton, remains the nomination favorite. She has been weakened, however, a fact underscored by a two-and-a-half page memo downplaying the importance of the first four presidential contests that she released after conceding defeat Tuesday night. Any hope of wrapping up the nomination quickly to focus on the general election vanished with her crushing defeat in New Hampshire.

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New Hampshire spanks the elites

    The conservatism that has dominated the Republican Party for decades is in crisis. Capitalism has lost its allure among a large swath of young Americans. And the Clinton and Bush brands are yesterday's products in desperate need of renovation.

    These are, admittedly, large conclusions to draw from one contest in one small New England state. But politicians and Wall Street would be foolish to ignore New Hampshire's shock waves.

    Donald Trump's success combined with Marco Rubio's fade reflects the implosion of any sort of Republican establishment. For decades, party leaders ran a con game with their party's working-class supporters. They gave verbal respect to social and religious conservatism and, throughout President Obama's time in office, channeled every sort of resentment. But they delivered little of concrete benefit to these voters.

    The voters noticed, and along came Trump.

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Natural Gas Becomes a Fracking Mess

    Until late last year, Laura Gideon’s family lived in Porter Ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles. “We didn’t ever want to leave,” Gideon told the Associated Press. It’s “a nice gated community.”

    What uprooted them from one of LA’s wealthiest pockets? They became climate refugees when the nearby Aliso Canyon natural gas storage well sprang a nasty leak.

    Clouds of gas have billowed from the faulty well, which lacked a subsurface shutoff valve, for three and a half months. After inhaling nonstop plumes of methane, benzene, and other toxic chemicals, local residents began to suffer nausea, vomiting, headaches, and nosebleeds. The disaster has also smacked local businesses hard and eroded real estate values.

    Erin Brockovich, the activist and legal researcher made famous by an Academy-award winning film depicting her against-all-odds victory against another California utility, lives only 30 miles away. Now working with a law firm to help the locals file claims, she calls the Aliso Canyon leak a “BP oil spill, just on land” — because of its magnitude, duration, and climate impact.

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Justices turn power-plant case into a charade

    There's no mistaking the message of the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision to stay the Barack Obama administration's Clean Power Plan regulation while it's being challenged before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Before Tuesday, the court had never granted a regulatory stay in such circumstances, where the lower court hasn't ruled and has itself declined to block the regulation while it's considering the case. It's understandable that environmental advocates are upset.

    What's less obvious is why the Supreme Court hasn't done this sort of thing before, and what's wrong with them doing it now, if anything. Evaluating the competing values at stake should help us understand whether the court got it right -- and whether we should expect more such stays in the future.

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Is U.S. 'presidentialist' democracy failing?

    Perplexed by today's turbulent American political scene? Not to worry: A distinguished political scientist wrote an essay 26 years ago that anticipated our predicament with eerie explanatory power. The only downside is that its author specialized in the causes of democratic collapse.

    "The Perils of Presidentialism," by Yale University's Juan J. Linz, compared the Westminster-style parliamentary system with "presidentialist" systems that divide executive and legislative power between separately elected presidents and assemblies. The former, he concluded, were inherently more stable than the latter.

    This was an unlikely argument for an academic in the United States - a presidentialist nation deeply attached to separation of powers as a constitutional principle and equally confident of its political stability.

    Yet Linz, a Spaniard, had closely studied his native country's 20th-century journey from democracy to dictatorship and back again, as well as the chronically unstable presidential systems of Spain's former colonies in Latin America.

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If Assad and Putin win, then Islamic State wins

    The civilians fleeing Aleppo don't prove definitively that, with Russian backing, President Bashar al-Assad will win the Syrian civil war. But it's certainly time to game out that scenario and ask: What would victory look like to Assad? And what will happen to the other regional actors engaged in this fight?

    The decisive element to consider is whether Assad needs to defeat Islamic State to be a winner. If the answer is yes -- and if Assad could do it -- the world would probably breathe a sigh of relief, and accept Assad's victory, despite its extraordinary human costs and egregious violations of human rights.

    But Assad will probably calculate that he doesn't need to beat Islamic State, just contain it so that it doesn't constitute an existential threat to his regime. That would put Islamic State well on its way to becoming a statelet, accepted by its neighbors for lack of will to defeat it. The long-term consequences for the world would be high, but Assad's regime would be substantially better off.

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Count the New Hampshire losers and move on

    Who had it worst in New Hampshire?

 

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

    Might as well start with the obvious one, but her defeat is unlikely to cost her the nomination. It may be similar to George W. Bush's landslide loss to John McCain in New Hampshire in 2000. There was a fuss, but nothing more, as it turned out.

 

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

    The first four presidential contests are mainly about winnowing. Christie was winnowed. It's unfair to blame him for taking his best shot at winning by going after Marco Rubio in Saturday night's debate. That may have weakened Rubio, and led to what many see as chaos in the Republican nomination fight right now, but they might more fairly blame Jeb Bush for directing more than $20 million of negative ads at Rubio.

 

    Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

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