Archive

April 10th, 2016

Corporate America shows its 'Hollywood values'

    Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, R, signed the latest state "religious freedom" bill into law on Tuesday, essentially enabling Mississippians to refuse service to gays and lesbians provided they justify their personal disdain on religious grounds. If the state manages to avoid the fates of Georgia and North Carolina, it will be a testament to how distant Mississippi is from "Hollywood values" -- and corporate values.

    Georgia discovered it had much to lose from embracing a similar law. On March 24, the influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson called on Gov. Nathan Deal, R, to "side with Georgia values and not Hollywood values" by signing a "religious liberty" bill that Georgia legislators had passed.

    That same day, the names of Hollywood stars and potentates including Anne Hathaway and Julianne Moore appeared on a petition opposing the legislation as discriminatory against gay people. It was organized by the nation's largest and best-funded LGBT-rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign. Only days before, the group's president, Chad Griffin, had spoken against the bill at HRC's gala in Los Angeles.

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The Bible Meets the Salamander

    Amid all the truly awful things state legislatures do, one of the rare bright spots has been the naming of official symbols. Who was ever made unhappy by the designation of a state rock?

    Tennessee, alas, is screwing up the record. The governor is currently trying to decide whether to sign legislation that would put the Bible on the list of State Things, alongside the salamander (amphibian), milk (beverage), honeybee (agricultural insect), raccoon (wild animal), several variations on the theme of state tree and flower, and nine — nine! — official state songs. The last of which, adopted in 2011, was “Tennessee.”

    The next question you’re probably asking is why it took nine tries for Tennessee to get a song named “Tennessee,” and the answer is that it actually has two. You have to admit that’s pretty inclusive. On the other hand, picking the Christian holy book as a state symbol seems simultaneously divisive and unnecessary. Not to mention sort of disrespectful to the Bible, which doesn’t usually get included on the same list as the salamander and the smallmouth bass.

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So Little to Ask For: A Home

    One of the people I greatly admire is Khadijah Williams, a young woman who was homeless for much of her childhood.

    Khadijah bounced from home to home, shelter to shelter, from the time she was 6. “I can’t count how many times I’ve been forced to move,” she recalls.

    “Though school was my salvation, my test scores suffered as a result of missing so much school and having no place to study,” she adds. “I stopped trying to make friends because I was so tired of crying about losing friends.”

    Ultimately, Khadijah found a home — because she won a scholarship to Harvard, enabling her to move into a dormitory. Now 25, she’s working for the city government in Washington, D.C., and one of her tasks is helping homeless kids.

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Salman Rushdie: No 'safe space' when defending free speech

    A group of Emory University students recently made news by demanding protection from being put "in pain," as one student chant put it, by slogans like "Accept the Inevitable: Trump 2016" chalked overnight on campus walkways.

    In pain? They could just wait for rain to wash their troubles away.

    That's what Salman Rushdie, a writer who knows a thing or three about being threatened for his ideas, said when I asked him about the Emory uprising.

    Yes, that Salman Rushdie. The Booker Prize-winning, Muslim-raised British Indian novelist and essayist has been living under threats to his life since Iran's late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa in 1989 calling for his assassination.

    Khomeini did not like the way the Prophet Muhammad is depicted in "The Satanic Verses," Rushdie's 1988 novel. After the Ayatollah's death, the fatwa was continued and a bounty for Rushdie's death raised by other Muslim fanatics.

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Operation Paul Ryan

    Exciting news, people: The Republican Party establishment has a secret plan to stop blue-collar voters from supporting Donald Trump. The plan is code-named “Operation Paul Ryan.”

    Good grief.

    The GOP’s old-line clique of congressional bulls, corporate funders, lobbyists, and right-wing think tanks is as confused as goats on astroturf when it comes to grasping a core part of Trump’s appeal.

    Trump’s winning because he’s reaching out to longtime Republican voters who’ve finally realized that it’s the party’s own Wall Street elites who knocked them down economically. And it’s the insider cadre of influence peddlers who’ve shut them out politically.

    The party power powers are insisting that The Donald is winning only because he’s drawing voters who are ignorant, racist, xenophobic, and sexist. Some of them certainly are. But he’s also drawing huge numbers of disaffected Republicans who are mainly opposed to the party’s own power players.

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Ohio Proves It: Rehabilitation Works

    You might not guess it from the Republican governor or GOP-dominated legislature, but Ohio is proving itself the most progressive state in the union when it comes to youth prison reform.

    The Buckeye State has shifted away from punishing kids who get ensnared in the juvenile justice system to rehabilitating them, and it’s saved money doing so.

    “What we’ve done in the past is treat the children who are incarcerated like mini adults,” explained Linda Janes, the deputy director of Ohio’s Department of Youth Services. “We know better now through research and through all kinds of evidence that that’s a mistake. Children have to be treated like children.”

    That conclusion is good for youth offenders and good for society.

    Guards in the Ohio juvenile system are now called “youth specialists,” and school uniforms have replaced prison khakis. Offenders spend their days in a school setting and earn their high school diplomas.

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Obama's wobbly legal victory on immigration

    The administration of President Barack Obama just won a big legal victory for its decision to let some children of illegal immigrants remain in the country. On the surface, that might seem to augur well for the administration's efforts to ease other immigration restrictions in the face of Congressional opposition.

    Don't count on it. The federal court decision that backed Obama was based on precarious legal reasoning that's vulnerable to reversal by the Supreme Court.

    On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down Arizona's refusal of driver's licenses to dreamers, people brought here illegally as children. But the decision didn't rule on whether the president has the power to make immigration policy, focusing instead on the relationship between Arizona and the federal government. That leaves a lot of bigger legal questions unanswered.

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Frozen post-Soviet conflicts often don't stay that way

    Armenia and Azerbaijan have announced a truce after three days of fierce fighting in the secessionist region of Nagorno-Karabakh, but the flare-up is proof that the post-Soviet frozen conflicts are not really frozen. At any moment, they can be ignited by the realignment of international alliances and loyalties, and people will start dying again.

    There are four post-Soviet frozen conflicts. Three smolder around the Black Sea: Transnistria, a separatist region of Moldova, the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and, since last year, eastern Ukraine. The first two started in the early 1990s, the third one in 2014, as Russia attempted to destabilize an anti-Moscow government in Kiev. The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, a territory disputed by Armenia and Azerbaijan, is the oldest.

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Detouring the Trump and Clinton steamrollers

    The Wisconsin primaries in both parties put holds on the expectations of presidential frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump -- especially the latter, whose bubble has been significantly deflated.

    Trump's supposedly inevitable Republican nomination plunged into a ditch in the Badger State with his 13-point loss to Sen. Ted Cruz. Yet it hardly signaled a joyous embrace of the Texas conservative extremist by the party establishment.

    What it did demonstrate was the wisdom of 2012 party nominee Mitt Romney in counseling fellow Republicans to join an anybody-but-Trump strategy, which got a huge boost from the celebrity tycoon's own loose and errant tongue.

    Trump's comment about punishing women for having abortions illegally, along with his smears of Cruz's wife, Heidi, and his campaign manager's arrest on a charge of battery against a female reporter, made him about as popular among the female persuasion as Jack the Ripper.

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Cruz and Sanders raise campaign stakes in Wisconsin

    Wisconsin gave a boost to the Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz insurgencies Tuesday, protracting the Democratic presidential race and lessening already shaky odds that Donald Trump can win the Republican nomination before this summer's convention in Cleveland.

    Sanders, the Vermont Democrat, handily defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a state where both made big efforts, though she still remains a strong favorite to win the nomination. Cruz scored a must-win over Trump, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich coming in a distant third. The results add to a sense among some Republican leaders that the Trump quest may have stalled.

    Cruz only mildly chipped away at the front runner's commanding delegate lead. Still, Trump's defeat will compound Republican discomfort with his candidacy,which has been fueled by his recent rants about foreign policy and offensive comments about women. No major presidential candidate in modern history has had the astronomical unfavorable ratings among voters that Trump suffers.

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