Archive

July 1st, 2016

Straight-faced liars of TRAP

    Architects of the anti-abortion restrictions struck down by the Supreme Court this week are about as concerned about women’s health as a Texas football throng is about head injuries between each whistle.

    They want their team to win. They want to march down the field to their goal of burying the foe in the turf.

    In Republican-controlled states, they have sought one goal alone: to put government firmly in charge of a woman’s reproductive decisions, and to take away a legal right from as many women as possible.

    The forces behind what’s known fittingly as TRAP laws are interested in one thing only, and it’s not women’s health at all.

    TRAP – Targeted Regulations on Abortion Providers – has become the method by which anti-choice forces have sought to block abortion because they can’t amend the Constitution.

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Ryan's tax blueprint sure looks a lot like Trump's

    Paul Ryan made a big deal about not endorsing Donald Trump too quickly or agreeing with some of Trump's more colorful opinions. But looking over Ryan's catalog of policy prescriptions, the distance between them is narrowing.

    They would both repeal Obamacare, gut the Dodd-Frank financial reforms and block climate-change regulations. Some differences remain, including over entitlement programs, which Ryan would cut and Trump would not.

    On taxes, though, they are moving ever closer. This was especially apparent on Friday when Ryan unveiled the sixth and last of the blueprints that make up the House Republican agenda and, by implication, its 2017 game plan, assuming the party retains control of the House on Nov. 8.

    Both would reduce individual taxes. Ryan would cut the top rate to 33 percent from 39.6 percent. Trump would bring it down even more, to 25 percent. Ryan would increase the standard deduction and eliminate the alternative minimum tax. So would Trump. Ryan would repeal estate and gift taxes. So would Trump.

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Radical Islam tells a story. We must tell a better one.

    The attacks on 9/11 changed the world the way we knew it. Yet still, we struggle to understand, asking, first "why do they hate us," to later, in ever more urgent voices, "how do we make it stop?"

    The conspicuous fact is that there are no simple explanations or straightforward solutions. If we are going to defeat Islamist terrorism, we need to change the ways that we approach the threat. This means recognizing that the core impulse behind radical Islam is less about hate and more about honor; less a rage against others and more a personal, self-directed shame.

    Terrorism is born of a cocktail of psychological influences that combine in various ways to make someone vulnerable to violent behavior and to radical ideologies. Yet to date, we've paid far too little attention to the commonality of many significant traits among terrorists: a history of having suffered (and frequently inflicted) domestic abuse and bullying; an absent father; an overbearing mother; a patriarchal family that values male honor and machismo; and a lifelong struggle to reconcile the demand for honor (respect) with a history of humiliation.

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Leaving Europe for a Lie

    I have been overcome by gloom since Britain voted to leave the European Union. It’s not just the stupidity of the decision. It’s not merely the lies of the charlatans who led the “Leave” campaign. It’s not only the absence, now so evident, of any “Nextit.” It’s not even the betrayal of British youth. It’s far more: a personal loss. Europa, however flawed, was the dream of my generation. The European Union was an entity, a bloodless noun, yet it had a beating heart.

    Riding a European train, gazing at the lines of swaying poplars, the villages huddled around their church spires, it was often impossible, at least for me, not to look past the tranquility to the blood-seeped soil and the tens of millions who gave their lives in Europe’s collective suicides. Well, as the Germans say, we had the blessing of late birth; and the duty inherent in that blessing was to build a united Europe.

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June 30th

Influence peddling gets First Amendment protection

    Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, whose bribery conviction was unanimously overturned today by the Supreme Court, should thank his lawyers, his lucky stars and the First Amendment -- in reverse order. McDonnell had been convicted by a jury for taking loans and gifts including an inscribed Rolex watch in exchange for calling state officials and setting up meetings for Jonnie Williams, the head of a Virginia company that claimed to have developed a nutritional supplement made from tobacco.

    The court held that the governor's efforts didn't count as "official acts" as the federal bribery law required. But behind the decision was a deep worry, reflected at oral argument, that if the calls and meetings could be treated as criminal, then the entire structure of campaign finance in the U.S., protected by the First Amendment, might be made subject to criminal liability.

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In court filing, Trump leans on legal protections he's vowed to undo

    It's a good thing that Donald Trump's plan to loosen existing legal protections for those who badmouth public figures hasn't yet taken effect. Because the presumptive Republican presidential nominee took advantage of those protections today in a legal filing in a defamation suit filed against Trump and his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, by a cable news pundit. (Trump's presidential campaign is also listed as a defendant).

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Donald Trump's claims about radical jihadists are very wrong

    What do we mean when we talk about "homegrown extremism" or "radicalization" in the United States? Donald Trump claims that the threat of "radical Islam" is imported by immigrants from abroad, from regions where there is a history of terrorism against us and our allies. He refers to " thousands upon thousands of people" entering the United States, "many of whom have the same thought process" as the Orlando, Florida, shooter. He asserts that they are forming "large pockets" of people who want to "slaughter us."

    Actually, we don't know the motivations of the Orlando shooter, and we probably never will. We certainly do not know what thought processes immigrants might bring with them as they travel from the "many more Muslim countries" Trump mentioned earlier this week (the short list - in addition to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria - would include Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Niger and Nigeria). Many of these potential immigrants might be fleeing jihadist violence in their home countries.

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Culturally constructed ignorance wins the day

    I spend much of my time shrugging off breathless news events. Ebola (now Zika), employment reports, Federal Reserve rate changes, government shutdowns, peak earnings and so on. Much of what passes for earth-shaking news turns out to be, with the benefit of hindsight, something in between idle gossip and fear-mongering. The genuine, not well-anticipated, actual market-moving news -- such as the U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union -- is a relatively rare thing.

    However, there is a disconcerting trend that has gained strength: agnotology. It's a term worth knowing, since it is going global. The word was coined by Stanford University professor Robert N. Proctor, who described it as "culturally constructed ignorance, created by special interest groups to create confusion and suppress the truth in a societally important issue." It is especially useful to sow seeds of doubt in complex scientific issues by publicizing inaccurate or misleading data.

    Culturally constructed ignorance played a major role in the Brexit vote, as we shall see after a bit of explanation.

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A cost-benefit test defeats Texas abortion limits

    Today the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right to abortion -- and laid down a new framework for how courts should evaluate future legislation limiting it. For the first time, the court expressly held that laws limiting access to abortion must be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis, to see if health benefits to women outweigh the costs in making abortion less available. The cost-benefit scheme gives greater precision to the undue-burden test established in the landmark 1992 case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood. But it also raises the difficult question of how, exactly, costs and benefits should be determined if and when other states pass laws that limit abortion access while purporting to protect women's health.

    The decision went 5-3, with Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the court's four liberals and the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer. That's significant for two reasons. First, the case would have come out the same way even if Justice Antonin Scalia were still alive or Judge Merrick Garland had been confirmed. Kennedy was the swing vote, and he voted to uphold the legacy of the Casey decision he co-authored.

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White Savior, Rape and Romance?

    The movie “Free State of Jones” certainly doesn’t lack in ambition — it sprawls so that it feels like several films stitched together — but I still found it woefully lacking.

    The story itself is quite interesting. It’s about Newton Knight, a white man in Mississippi during and after the Civil War, who organizes and mounts a somewhat successful rebellion against the Confederacy. He falls in love with a mixed-race slave named Rachel, and they establish a small community of racially ambiguous relatives that a 2003 book of the same title calls “white Negroes.”

    It is easy to see why this story would appeal to Hollywood executives. It has a bit of everything, with eerie echoes of modern issues.

    It comes in the wake of “12 Years a Slave,” at a time when slave narratives are en vogue, only this story emphasizes white heroism and centers on the ally instead of the enslaved.

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