Archive

January 23rd, 2017

Trump's election is disappointing for feminism. But it's not the final word.

    Of the thousands of letters I received in the course of my public thrashing before the Senate Judiciary committee during the October 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, one in particular stands out. A seventh grader shared with me her frustration with the whole mess - indeed, with politics in general. Her class had voted on whether to believe my allegations that Thomas had sexually harassed me, or his denials. She voted for me, and wanted me to win. I lost that vote in her class - as I had, of course, with the Senate's decision to confirm Thomas.

    Men always side with men, my young letter-writer concluded. But, she also reminded me, life goes on. I was faced with the Senate's apparent dismissal of my sexual harassment claim, calls for my job by state officials and death and rape threats from strangers. To add to the open opposition, pundits concluded that the hearing was a meaningless flash - predicted that women would fear coming forward with similar complaints after witnessing the Senate's dismissive treatment of the issue.

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This watchdog doesn't bark at Republicans

    Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who has primary oversight responsibilities in the U.S. House, styles himself a zealous believer in executive-branch accountability and an advocate of state- and local-government authority.

    Except when it's politically inconvenient, apparently. The Utah Republican led ferocious congressional investigations of alleged abuses by federal officials during the administrations of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now that Donald Trump is about to take over, he seems to have lost his zeal.

    Chaffetz is chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which used its almost-unlimited investigative jurisdiction to probe Clinton's use of a private e-mail server while at the State Department, says he has no interest in going on "fishing expeditions" to examine the incoming administration of President Donald Trump. This from the man who announced plans to keep the e-mail probe alive in 2017, even after Clinton's electoral defeat and the closing of the matter by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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The Obamas were a master class in dignity and civility. Did we learn what they taught?

    This is when grace leaves the White House.

    Without talking about politics or policy, without getting into race or class, red or blue, the Obamas set a remarkable standard for personal decency and civility during their years as our first family.

    The Obamas came in making history, changing America on day one. They were the first African-American occupants of the country's most famous address, a home slaves helped to build.

    Few families have faced such scrutiny. Would they be too black? Would they be too white? How on Earth would they satisfy a nation of people who cry with joy at the sight of their faces and want them dead because of the color of their skin?

    Their eight years in the White House were a master class in dignity and tolerance.

    And it's easy to forget that now.

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January 22nd

'Slants' is offensive -- and deserves a trademark

    Should the federal government have the authority to deny legal protection to trademarks and service marks it finds offensive? The debate is one that the U.S. Supreme Court has avoided for decades. But this week, in a case called Lee v. Tam, the justices finally heard argument on the question. Let's hope they come out in favor of the First Amendment.

    Lee v. Tam involves the Slants, a dance-rock band from the Portland, Oregon, area. All the members are Asian-American. In 2011, the group filed an application to register its name as a mark. The application was denied on the ground that "Slants" would be offensive to large numbers of Asian-Americans. The Trademark Trial and Appeal Board upheld the refusal, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit reversed the decision.

    The judges did not dispute that the mark was offensive. Instead, they ruled that the prohibition on federal registration of disparaging marks violates the First Amendment. Trademarks are a form of expressive speech, the panel wrote, and the government cannot penalize speech because it happens to dislike the message. In an interesting twist, both sides agreed that the Supreme Court should decide the issue.

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Republicans are losing the argument over Obamacare repeal. Can that save it?

    I continue to believe that repeal of large chunks of the Affordable Care Act remains likely to happen within the next few weeks or months. But that doesn't mean Republicans are winning the public argument over it. Indeed, the most likely outcome at this point is that Republicans end up forging ahead with repeal even though the politics of it have shifted against them.

    A number of new data points Thursday suggest that this is what is in the process of taking place. First, The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis reports that congressional Republicans are shying away from holding town hall meetings, possibly because they fear that public blowback from constituents worried over repeal will create precisely the sort of bad optics that hit Democrats amid the Tea Party summer of 2009:

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One way for Obama to secure his legacy: Make sure his library helps the South Side

    Last week, I stood with thousands of other Chicagoans in a darkened room in the city's McCormick Place convention center, feeling solemn and uncertain as President Obama bade farewell to the nation. Urging Americans to resist cynicism, Obama called on the country to instead turn toward political actions big and small. "If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing."

    This choice of words was a clear nod to the president's much-discussed origin story as a community organizer. But as he looks beyond the White House and toward his legacy, Obama would do well to listen to some community organizers in his very own back yard. On the South Side of Chicago, residents are demanding that the forthcoming Obama Presidential Center enter into a community benefits agreement, ensuring that the library and museum will strengthen and support those who call the surrounding area home, rather than displacing them.

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Joe Biden, endangered species

    Last year, when Joe Biden spoke at Davos, he gave an incisive and passionate address reminding the CEOs and leaders in the audience of their responsibilities to the have-nots of the world. It was powerful stuff and at the conclusion of his remarks, my dear partner, Carla, leapt to her feet to give him a standing ovation. I stood beside her and then, scanning the room, realized we were the only ones standing.

    This year, when Joe Biden was introduced for his valedictory speech as vice president of the United States, half the audience stood. The applause was resounding. It was clear that the packed plenary audience would miss the plainspoken, passionate son of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Watching him deliver the speech, it was also clear Biden would miss audiences like this one.

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How Republican-style health-care reform quickly becomes a tax cut for the richest of the rich

    The election of Donald Trump with a Republican-majority Congress is proving once again that conservative economic policy largely reduces to cutting taxes, mostly for the rich.

    But wait a second, aren't they also wading into health-care reform?

    They are, and it proves my point. While much attention is reasonably focused on how they're all repeal with no replace - and how that's likely to reverse the coverage gains we've seen and undermine insurance markets - there's something else going on here. And that is - you guessed it - a big tax cut for the rich.

    Unless your job description includes denying the facts around the Affordable Care Act, you probably know that it has provided health insurance coverage to 20 million people, lowering the uninsured rate to an all-time low of 9.1 percent, from 16 percent before the reform was enacted. What you might not know is that most of the revenue the ACA raised flows from some very rich waters.

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Donald Trump's new reality show: Beat the press

    Donald Trump loves to pick a fight. In fact, he can't resist. In just the last two weeks, he's picked a fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meryl Streep, CNN and Rep. John Lewis. And now he's itching to pick a fight with the White House Press Corps.

    This should come as no surprise. After all, waging war on the media was the centerpiece of his campaign. He banned the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and others from his campaign rallies. At every event, he pointed to the "dishonest" reporters in the crowd. He even singled out certain reporters by name -- forcing some news organizations to hire security guards for their journalists.

    Any idea that Trump might pursue a more positive working relationship with the press disappeared at his first post-election news conference when Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Vice-President-elect Mike Pence and then Trump himself blasted CNN and Buzzfeed for their accounts of the supplemental intelligence briefing provided to Trump and President Obama by the CIA and FBI. Even reporting that the briefing took place, Trump charged, was "fake news," which, of course, it wasn't.

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Donald Trump has assembled the worst Cabinet in American history

    Any time a new administration comes into office, there will be some complaining about the new president's Cabinet picks. But we're seeing something extraordinary happening now. Donald Trump's Cabinet brings with it a combination of ethical problems, inexperience, hostility to the missions of the departments its members are being called to lead, and plain old ignorance that is simply unprecedented.

    This is shaping up to be nothing less than the worst Cabinet in American history.

    As just one colorful example, let's look at this report in Thursday's New York Times about Rick Perry, who will be secretary of energy. The change from the leadership under Barack Obama is already striking: the current secretary, Ernest Moniz, is a respected nuclear physicist who also came to the job with significant experience managing scientific institutions, and he'll be succeeded by someone who advocated eliminating the department, although in his defense Perry couldn't quite remember that it was the one he wanted to get rid of (that famous "Oops" moment). But it's even worse than that:

    ---

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