Archive

July 16th, 2016

It's fine for Supreme Court justices to speak out

    Doesn't everyone have an outspoken Jewish grandmother? That was my thought on reading the indignant commentary on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's unflattering assessment of Donald Trump in an interview with the New York Times.

    To put the point more seriously, there's nothing wrong with a sitting Supreme Court justice expressing her personal political views when they don't implicate any case that's currently before the court.

    Justices aren't priests -- and the myth that they are is bad for democracy and constitutional law. If a justice chooses to open up, the skies won't fall. The 83-year-old Ginsburg's rigorous ethical reputation will remain intact. And the legitimacy of the court will not be harmed.

    Don't let the black robes fool you. Nothing in the Constitution - which, by the way, also says nothing about robes -- demands that the justices be nonpartisan, or even pretend to be.

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Limiting pay for play in college sports

    The odds have gone up that the Supreme Court will consider whether rules governing amateur participation in U.S. college sports violate antitrust law. The central issue is whether student-athletes should be compensated for their efforts.

    The National Collegiate Athletic Association, or NCAA, was the defendant in the original lawsuit, and had already asked the justices to review the compromise decision issued by a federal appeals court in 2015. Now the plaintiffs' lawyers have agreed, filing a brief that argues the Supreme Court should take on the case.

    Agreement from both sides is no guarantee the court will listen. But it's relatively unusual -- and worth understanding if you care about the future of college sports.

    The backdrop for the current state of play is the decision issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in September. The opinion can be seen as a classic Solomon-style effort to give something to each side.

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July 15th

Face it, Facebook: You're in the news business

    You've heard of the accidental tourist. And now we have the reluctant news media.

    I'm talking about Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, among others. With the advent of live streaming options - Facebook Live and Periscope, primarily - their already huge influence in the news universe has taken another stunning leap.

    When Diamond Reynolds logged on to Facebook after her boyfriend, Philandro Castile, was shot by a police officer Wednesday in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, her first words as she started recording were "Stay with me." Millions did.

    On the strength of that live video, Minnesota's governor brought in the U.S. Justice Department to investigate what might otherwise have gone unquestioned as a justified police action.

    I call that news.

    But Facebook doesn't see itself that way, even though two thirds of its 1.6 billion users get news there - and even though they all now can be citizen journalists with live-broadcast cameras in their pockets.

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General Flynn outlines an all-out war on terror

    A theme of President Barack Obama's counterterrorism policy has been a relentless narrowing of focus. Under his watch the U.S. has not been at war with terror or radical Islam. It has been in discrete conflicts with al-Qaida's core leadership and its affiliate in Yemen and the Islamic State. And while Obama's war has waxed and waned, he has never explained its disparate parts as a whole the way his predecessor did.

    Michael Flynn, who served as Obama's second Defense Intelligence Agency director, takes the opposite view. "Field of Fight," a new book Flynn co-wrote with historian Michael Ledeen, argues that America is up against a global alliance between radical jihadis and anti-American nation states like Russia, Cuba and North Korea. They say this war will last at least a generation. And they say it will require outside ground forces to go after al-Qaida and the Islamic State as well as a sustained information campaign to discredit the ideology of radical Islam.

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Celebrities are our new first responders

    In 2006, when actor-activist Martin Sheen was approached by Democratic officials and encouraged to run for office in his home state of Ohio, he politely demurred. "I'm just not qualified," he said. "You're mistaking celebrity for credibility."

    Ten years later, whenever ugly events summon headlines about "our divided nation," our celebrity class thrusts itself headfirst and wholeheartedly into the debate. They conflate celebrity for credibility. They conflate activism with typing (or is it with self-promotion?) And trapped in a rudderless, flopping shipwreck of a summer - seeking guidance from the beautiful people if we can't have it from the ones we elected - we conflate it, too.

    Nation, let us turn to LeBron James, who tweeted, "We are all hurting tonight. More violence is not the answer," after the killings of five police officers in Dallas. The well-intentioned, if self-evident, comment was liked or retweeted more than 100,000 times.

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Trump is making a real mess of his campaign

    You can love Donald Trump. You can hate him. But what you cannot dispute is that the way he has run his campaign since sealing the Republican nomination two months ago has been absolutely disastrous.

    Campaigns are complicated things. No one gets every piece of them right. Some candidates are great at big rallies. Some are good only at small events. Some are terrific TV communicators but bad on the stump. Some delegate well, and others don't. Some never waver from a message, while others can't seem to find one with a 10-foot pole. It's a high-wire balancing act every day with tens of millions of people watching.

    But there are basic blocking and tackling elements of any campaign that are less complex - and absolutely necessary to do if you want to win. The most basic of all? If your opponent is having a bad day or a bad week, let them have it. Just get out of the way.

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Oldest and youngest may determine 2016 election

    Years ago, the conservative activist Grover Norquist was the guest speaker in a class I teach at the University of Pennsylvania.

    "Older people are the base of the Democratic Party," he told the class of predominantly liberal Ivy League students. "Do you know what they do every day? Die."

    Ironically, Norquist's argument, that Democrats were on the short end of the generational political divide, is no longer valid. U.S. senior citizens are reliably Republican, while young voters, in the Barack Obama era, have flocked to Democrats.

    The shift raises a few important questions for the 2016 presidential race: Can Hillary Clinton approach the level of enthusiasm that Obama achieved with young voters? And can Donald Trump persuade older voters that he's not a big risk?

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In an era of Black Lives Matter protests, history offers a powerful lesson

    A black man tackled and killed outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A black man shot dead at a traffic stop for a broken taillight in Minnesota. Five police officers killed in Dallas by a black man seeking to slay "white people, especially white officers."

    The conjunction of tragedies the past week reminded us, as we approach the second anniversary of Eric Garner's strangulation in New York and Michael Brown's fatal shooting in Ferguson, that the ideals of both racial justice and racial harmony in America remain violently out-of-reach.

    In the aftermath of the unrest, it has become common to draw parallels to the bloodshed, the political upheaval, and the sense of social rupture of 1968, the year Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated and dozens were killed when race riots broke out across the nation (not to mention the thousands who died fighting in Vietnam.)

    "What's happening now is terrible," tweeted the Atlantic's James Fallows, but 1968 was "incomparably worse."

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If 'all lives matter,' show that you mean it

    I have never been entirely comfortable with the name that the Black Lives Matter movement chose for itself.

    I get their point. The group's founders didn't mean to imply that other people's lives don't matter. Their hashtag #BlackLivesMatter aims to protest how black lives didn't seem to matter in a growing list of scandalous police killings.

    But right-wingers easily pushed back, dismissing the movement with the retort, "All lives matter."

    I used the term "right-wingers," not conservatives, because true conservatives deplore abuses of state power against individuals. It is the grumpy right-wingers who want those black protesters and their uppity liberal allies to shut up and go away.

    To them, "All lives matter" isn't a slogan or a movement. It is a dismissal. It is an attempt to end dialogue before it has begun.

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Gun violence intrudes again

    The slaughter of Dallas police protecting peaceful protesters has put the national tragedy of gun violence in sharper and more ironic relief than ever before.

    Dallas Police Chief David Brown reported that one of the shooters said, before being killed himself, that he was out to wipe out as many white police as he could. The statement should remove doubt about the motivation there, and by inference in the current escalation of racial tensions in cities across the country.

    President Obama, speaking from a NATO conference in Warsaw, went the core of the epidemic, saying the brutal incident was "a vicious, calculated and despicable attack on law enforcement." He noted that "when people are armed with powerful weapons, unfortunately it makes attacks like these more deadly and more tragic. And in the days ahead, we're going to have to consider those realities as well."

    That observation suggested he may be ready now to push for reinstatement of the ban on semi-automatic assault weapons that was allowed by Congress to lapse in 2004, and to continue the effort to curtail sale of rapid-firing ammunition.

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