Archive

April 16th, 2016

Republican leadership void foretells chaos ahead

    As speculation mounts on the prospect of an open, contested Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, the absence of old-time party leadership is painfully evident.

    Until not long ago, the party's establishment had a recognized waiting list of leaders lined up for their "turn" to run for the presidency. A candidate's claim to take his crack at reaching the Oval Office was based on his party experience and general good will within the GOP club.

    After Dwight Eisenhower had his two terms, his vice president, Richard Nixon, was up next in 1960. In 1964 it was Barry Goldwater; in 1968 and 1972, Nixon again; in 1976, incumbent Gerald Ford; in 1980 and 1984, Ronald Reagan; in 1988 and 1992, George H.W. Bush; in 1996, Bob Dole.

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Polygamy is the next marriage-rights frontier

    After the Supreme Court's landmark gay marriage decision, can a constitutional right to plural marriage be far behind? It seemed that way in 2013, when a federal district court in Utah followed the Supreme Court ruling by striking down part of the state's bigamy law in a case involving the family featured in the television show "Sister Wives."

    But on Monday a federal appeals court reversed the decision. It said that the case was moot because Utah prosecutors had shelved prosecution of the Sister Wives family and announced a new policy to prosecute polygamists only if they were also suspected of fraud or abuse.

    The decision is a sign that the federal courts would like polygamy prosecutions to go away on their own without having to declare a fundamental constitutional right to marry more than one person.

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Ours will be remembered as the era of plastics

    Historians may soon be looking back at the 20th and early 21st centuries as the time of computers and the Internet, bold ventures into space and the splitting of the atom. But what will scholars in the distant future find worthy of note? If there's anyone around with a penchant for paleontology hundreds of thousands of years from now, a surprise awaits in the stratigraphic layers containing the remains of our time.

    Anyone digging into the earth would find a sudden, explosive increase in a new kind of material - plastic. Once underground, plastic will fossilize well, leaving a distinct signature. And there's plenty of it. Until the 20th century, plastic was virtually nonexistent. Since then, humans have created 5 billion tons. The paleontologist Jan Zalasiewicz has calculated that if it were all converted into cling wrap, there would be enough to wrap the globe.

    Until about 20 years ago, Zalasiewicz said, the idea that people could permanently change the planet was considered nonsense. Human beings were too puny and the planet too vast.

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Most Racism Is Mundane

    This spring, the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus has been the site of several heinous acts of racism: An Asian student was spat on and a black student received a note with obscenities and racial slurs slipped under her door.

    The university is, of course, taking it seriously. Zero-tolerance policies for the N-word and assaults like spitting are the norm these days.

    But what’s the relationship between these outrageous incidents and the subtler varieties of racism — the sort that often goes unrecognized, or gets dismissed as some people being “too sensitive” or “politically correct?”

    That racism is rarely dealt with, because doing so would ruffle too many feathers.

    I’ve had a front row seat to learn about the environment for students of color on campus. As a white woman assistant teaching a class on race, I got a crash course in the subject. But it’s possible to see it everywhere.

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Every candidate should release full tax returns

    Politicians like to bet that reporters and their pesky questions will go away. Too often, they're right. Thus, the drumbeat of demands for Donald Trump's tax returns faded after he waved it all away with claims that a pending audit prevented the transparency he would otherwise be delighted to provide.

    With Trump's demurral, so, too, subsided requests for a fuller accounting from the other remaining presidential candidates. Aside from Hillary Clinton, they have been unprecedentedly parsimonious with tax information.

     A confluence of events presents an opportunity to refocus attention on the missing returns. First, Tax Day is upon us, the traditional time for the incumbent president and vice president to release their tax returns -- a voluntary act but one that has been practiced by every president since Harry Truman, with the exception of Gerald Ford.

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Dictators don't stabilize the Middle East. They just create more terrorists.

    Lately, I've noticed an increased number of American politicians suggesting that the Arab Spring was a disaster and that the region needs strongmen to stabilize it. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, famously insisted that the Middle East was safer when Saddam Hussein and Moamar Gadhafi were in power. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said the current chaos stems from the toppling of dictators. Even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders argued on "Meet the Press" that while our ultimate goal is democracy, the region would be more stable under dictators.

    But when I worked on Middle East policy at the State Department, I saw just how destabilizing dictators in the region are. I worked on Egypt and human rights as a human rights-focused country desk officer from 2010 to 2012. There, I saw the brutal tactics of President Hosni Mubarak's government destabilize the country.

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Compromise is a losing battle for Supreme Court

    The briefs are in -- and the Supreme Court's extraordinary effort to bring about a compromise in a contraceptive care case looks like a bust. Instead of finding a mutually agreeable solution, religious groups and the federal government appear to have only hardened their positions.

    In simultaneous filings late Tuesday night, each side took the opportunity to strengthen their arguments over how religious organizations go about seeking an exemption to the mandate for providing employees contraceptive care under the Affordable Care Act.

    The U.S. solicitor general basically said that the government was already doing what the Supreme Court was asking, which implies unwillingness to do more. The Little Sisters of the Poor and other religious groups said they would accept the court's proposed compromise -- as long as several conditions were added, which would transform the proposed solution to something the government won't accept.

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Clintons wrestle with a black generation gap, too

    It's hard to say why former President Bill Clinton went so far off-script to defend his 1994 anticrime law against Black Lives Matter hecklers at a Philadelphia rally for his wife's presidential campaign.

    Did he forget that he, too, renounced his own law, the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, last July at the NAACP convention in the same City of Brotherly Love?

    "I signed a bill that made the problem worse," he told the NAACP about the increased incarceration that President Barack Obama has been trying to undo, "and I want to admit it."

    And last May in a CNN interview, he admitted: "We have too many people in prison. And we wound up spending -- putting so many people in prison that there wasn't enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out that they could live productive lives."

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Clinton Can Only Be Defeated At Ballot Box, Not By Bogus 'Scandals'

    Watching Bill Clinton bickering with Black Lives Matter activists in Philadelphia recently, I had several conflicting, and not entirely praiseworthy responses. One was that the longer an American political campaign continues, the dumber and uglier it gets.

    Another was, why bother? People holding up signs saying "Hillary is a Murderer" aren't there for dialogue. The charge is so absurd it's self-refuting. Certainly nobody in the audience was buying.

    That woman who shouted that Bill Clinton should be charged with crimes against humanity? He probably should have let it go. Bickering over a 1994 crime bill has little political salience in 2016, particularly since Hillary's opponent, the sainted Bernie Sanders, actually voted for the damn thing. She didn't.

    Instead, Clinton briefly lost his cool. The next day, he said he "almost" wanted to apologize, which strikes me as slicing the bologna awfully thin, even for him.

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The political center is shifting to the left

    The traditional center-left is in retreat in Europe, and to a somewhat lesser extent in the U.S. This could be seen as a failure of the centrist-socialist establishment, though it might make sense to see it from a different perspective: An attractive, modern alternative has presented itself.

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