Archive

March 25th, 2016

A world-champion bully

    By now, many people who remain haunted by the horrific slaughter of protesters in 1989 in Tiananmen Square have expressed shock and disgust at Donald Trump's outrageous characterization of that tragic event. During the March 10 Republican presidential debate, Trump said that it was "a strong, powerful government that [reacted] with strength. And then they kept down the riot." Though he hastened to add that he wasn't "endorsing" the crackdown, it was too late: In one breath, he both smeared the students' peaceful protest as a "riot" and characterized their murder as an illustration of "strong" leadership.

    Even Trump's most outlandish and crudest previous exclamations did not prepare us for such an astonishing mischaracterization of the Tiananmen massacre, which has become the iconic symbol of China's brutal repression of its people. The Tiananmen demonstrations lasted from April 15 to June 4, 1989. Millions of Chinese citizens participated in many cities, as the protest grew spontaneously. Participants organized peacefully and sought dialogue with senior officials. The social order of Beijing was functioning well. But it all ended with a massacre ordered by Chinese leaders.

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Three candidates, three faces of Republicanism

    As campaign strategists feverishly draw up battle plans for the next round of Republican primaries, and party chieftains discuss solutions to a possible deadlock, voters can be grateful. In contrast with the last several presidential nomination contests, this cycle is giving Republican voters clear and bold choices.

    The three surviving candidates all have strong personalities and distinctive campaign styles. They also offer strikingly different yet coherent world views that draw on the party's history and traditions. Each presents a different face of Republicanism.

    Begin with the front-runner, Donald Trump. Though he is depicted as an interloper -- not a "true" conservative -- his pitch would have sounded familiar to Republicans in an earlier time. Tune out the bluster and bravado, and you'll hear the clarion strains of Fortress America nationalism that defined the party from the late 19th century up through the Great Depression.

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A case that puts religious liberty at risk

    Zubik v. Burwell is the Supreme Court's name for the set of cases more often identified with the Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order that is also a party to the case. I filed an amicus brief in Zubik on behalf of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. I had never before filed a brief in support of the government in a case about the free exercise of religion.

    The facts in this case, which will be argued Wednesday, are complicated. The Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to cover contraception without imposing deductibles or requiring co-payments. But Catholic institutions object to providing contraception, and many conservatives of other faiths object to providing emergency contraception, which they plausibly view as sometimes causing very early abortions.

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Shameless attempts to use the Brussels attacks

    Brussels has been struck by a multi-bomb terrorist attack and there will be legitimate questions in the coming days about the effectiveness of Belgium's police and counter-terrorism operations, as well as airport security in general.

    These events, though, invariably also get used for political purposes to draw conclusions that have no relevance whatsoever. This shameless bandwagon was already starting to roll within hours of the attacks, so here is a brief hall of shame, together with rebuttals that shouldn't be needed, but for some reason are.

    - Fallacy: This argues for Brexit.

    Mike Hookem, spokesman for the United Kingdom Independence Party, lost no time before on the attacks whose conclusion was that Schengen, Europe's passport-free travel zone, was at fault:

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Yes, I love puns. Stop saying it's a disease.

    Lately, I have been receiving not-so-subtle signals from everyone who has ever met me: they have finally discovered what ails me.

    I am an incorrigible punster. "Incorrigible" is one of those words that you never use to describe something that brings the people around you pleasure. Nobody is an "incorrigible" giver of thoughtful gifts, or an "incorrigible" gourmet chef. "Incorrigible" is for punsters and people who make elbow farts.

    I thought puns were a sign of a love of language. I love language, even punctuation. (What happens when you forget punctuation? I'll be ill.) No pun is beneath me.

    But now it turns out they're also a symptom of brain damage.

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Obama's visit will hasten Cuba's freedom

    The historic visit of a sitting U.S. president to Havana -- which should have come a half-century sooner -- will almost surely hasten the day when Cubans are free from the Castro government's suffocating repression.

    President Obama's whirlwind trip is the culmination of his common-sense revamping of U.S. policy toward Cuba. One outdated, counterproductive relic of the Cold War remains -- the economic embargo forbidding most business ties with the island nation -- and the Republican-controlled Congress won't even consider repealing it. But Obama, using his executive powers, has been able to re-establish full diplomatic relations, practically eliminate travel restrictions and substantially weaken the embargo's grip.

    All of which is long overdue. The United States first began to squeeze the Castro government, with the hope of forcing regime change, in 1960. It should be a rule of thumb that if a policy is an utter failure for more than 50 years, it's time to try something else.

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Health Law's Next Goal: Transform Medicine

    When President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, six years ago this week, he addressed the rancor the health-care debate had inspired with a call to resist cynicism. "We are not a nation that does what's easy," he said. "We are a nation that does what is hard. What is necessary. What is right. Here, in this country, we shape our own destiny."

    It hasn't been easy, and there have been challenges along the way, but we have made significant progress. Today, 20 million people have gained coverage because of the health law. Health-care prices have risen at the slowest rate in five decades. And with new protections and benefits, everyone's insurance is higher quality, no matter where it's purchased.

    Today, thanks to the law, families across the country can get preventive care at no extra cost. They no longer have to worry about annual or lifetime caps on coverage. And they no longer have to worry about being denied insurance because they survived cancer or live with a chronic condition.

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The World’s Modern-Day Lepers

    One of the worst things that can happen to a woman or girl around the world is a fistula, an internal injury caused by childbirth (or occasionally by rape) that leaves her incontinent, humiliated and sometimes stinking.

    Victims are the lepers of the 21st century, and although the condition is almost entirely preventable, it is suffered by hundreds of thousands of women worldwide.

    The condition is invisible because it distastefully involves sex, odor and private body parts, and because victims tend to live in impoverished countries and already have three strikes against them: They’re poor, rural and female, and thus voiceless and marginalized.

    They’re the same group that is routinely denied education, denied the right to own property, denied jobs and denied any recourse after being battered, raped or married against their will — and that’s why gender equity worldwide should be a top item on the social justice agenda.

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Trump's sales pitch: His gold-plated glamour

    Why would anyone vote for Donald Trump? One popular theory holds that his supporters are bigots angered by America's changing racial mix. Another is that they're salt-of-the-earth working folks left behind by the loss of manufacturing jobs, alienated from the moneyed ruling class and irritated by the tyranny of political correctness. Or some combination thereof.

    These theories, which contain elements of truth, emphasize Trump's dire assessment of present-day America and his followers' discontent. They focus on negative sentiment. But an important part of the story is Trump's positive allure -- the way the candidate taps into, and projects, the most fundamental outlines of the American Dream.

    Conventional explanations miss the glamour of Trump's message.

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Donald Trump should read up on libel laws

    Donald Trump, you might want to learn something about L.B. Sullivan and the Supreme Court case he inspired.

    Sullivan was a city commissioner in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1960 when The New York Times published a full-page advertisement criticizing "Southern violators" for infringing on the civil rights of student protesters and Martin Luther King Jr. Sullivan brought a libel suit, claiming he had been defamed, and in the lower courts he won.

    Alabama law permitted public officials to recover damages for false statements -- and some of the facts in the ad were incorrect -- that "tend to injure a person ... in his reputation" or "bring [him] into public contempt."

    The Supreme Court reversed. "We consider this case," Justice William Brennan wrote in 1964, "against the background of a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials."

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