Archive

January 13th, 2016

An LGBT rights fight on the horizon

    Just because there's been surprisingly little thunder against the gays of late doesn't mean no one has been busy conjuring up the lightning that precedes it. And just because the Republican presidential candidates have so far been relatively quiet about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans on the campaign trail doesn't mean they won't turn up the volume if it suits them. Thanks to a collision of the primary calendar and actions coming to a head out in the states, it just might suit them.

    In September, we had to endure a storm over the illegal antics of Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk who said that her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was a matter of acting under "God's authority" - the historic Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage be damned.

    Then, in November, we witnessed the repudiation of an anti-discrimination law that protected LGBT people in Houston. Thanks to a campaign built on lies about transgender people in public bathrooms, a statute that covered 15 "protected characteristics" was repealed with more than 60 percent of the vote.

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America's seismic division on race

    The landscape of the 2016 election is seismic. Deep beneath the surface of our daily lives, three tectonic plates have collided, and a tsunami now pounds us. The names of those plates are income inequality; "overcriminalization and excessive punishment in the U.S. Code," to quote Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan; and demographic transition.

    On the first two, right and left are actually, weirdly enough, experiencing a meeting of the psyches, or something of the sort. But the third issue casts everything in the light of racial questions and makes the strange fact of latent bipartisan agreement almost impossible to see.

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Trump's birther strategy expands

    I am struck, this week, by Donald Trump's triumphant return to his birtherism strategy. He's currently raising the question about Ted Cruz, saying it could be "very precarious" for the party if Cruz is the nominee given his affiliation with Canada.

    Trump enjoys doing this sort of thing and it seems to have brought him solid results so far. Why stop at Cruz?

    Yes, it helps that you can picture Cruz being born in Canada. (Other theories I would entertain about Cruz's birth include: he appeared one morning on a large uninhabited asteroid with a single rose on it; he was born in the middle of a big fire and then a lumberjack came out of the building holding Cruz in his arms totally unharmed and ever since the element of fire has responded to Ted's call; Cruz was not born at all, he just emerged fully formed from the head of someone delivering an impassioned filibuster; Cruz came into being nine months after his father scaled a wall to pick the rampion in Ronald Reagan's garden.)

    But here's a preview of some other stratagems Donald will probably try to narrow the rest of the field.

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The hostile climate for fighting gun violence

    The president of the United States and the mayor of the District of Columbia both used this week to address violence within the sphere of their responsibilities. And they are catching flak for it.

    President Obama's focus was on the weapons that now kill as many people as car accidents and on the need for gun-control measures. He said at the White House on Tuesday: "Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns - 30,000. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents." And he added this grabber: "In 2013 alone, more than 500 people lost their lives to gun accidents - and that includes 30 children younger than 5 years old."

    The next day, D.C.Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) went to the city's Eastern Market Metro station to announce the formation of a task force to combat gun robberies, which last year increased to 1,249, 10 percent more than the 1,112 recorded in 2014. This year isn't off to a good start - 25gun robberies in the first six days of 2016. Robberies without guns numbered 28.

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The Obama Boom

    Do you remember the “Bush boom”? Probably not. Anyway, the administration of George W. Bush began its tenure with a recession, followed by an extended “jobless recovery.” By the summer of 2003, however, the economy began adding jobs again. The pace of job creation wasn’t anything special by historical standards, but conservatives insisted that the job gains after that trough represented a huge triumph, a vindication of the Bush tax cuts.

    So what should we say about the Obama job record? Private-sector employment — the relevant number, as I’ll explain in a minute — hit its low point in February 2010. Since then we’ve gained 14 million jobs, a figure that startled even me, roughly double the number of jobs added during the supposed Bush boom before it turned into the Great Recession. If that was a boom, this expansion, capped by last month’s really good report, outbooms it by a wide margin.

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January 12th

Obama challenges gun lobby: Better late than never

    It took allegedly aloof Barack Obama to the brink of his last year in the Oval Office to take executive action to combat the national illness of gun violence. He shed salty tears at the White House the other day in a rare display of personal commitment to one of the major domestic objectives of his presidency.

    The modest proposals he introduced to a roomful of grieving parents from Columbine to Newtown and other loved ones of hundreds of innocent victims of the plague could have come earlier. The president -- many would say naively -- had first tried after the shooting of 20 first-graders at the Sandy Hook School to move Congress to accept a more comprehensive agenda.

    He put perhaps his most persuasive lieutenant, Vice President Joe Biden, in charge of the effort, but it only resulted in a massive and effective pushback from the National Rifle Association and the rest of the gun lobby. This time around, Obama placed his oft-shielded feelings on the line, declaring that "the gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they can't hold America hostage."

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Rubio's strategically gloomy detour

    This year's Republican presidential campaign is where hope and optimism go to die. Don't pretend that Donald Trump is an exotic outlier. His spirit haunts a party that can't get enough of gloom and fear.

    Among the GOP candidates, no one started out more optimistic about the United States than Marco Rubio. The Florida senator's campaign slogan still promises "A New American Century." He smiles broadly from the cover of his upbeat 2015 book, "American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone." You can almost hear the cheerful guy in the bright red tie saying, "Yes we can."

    The conservative writer Mitchell Blatt sensed this when he called Rubio "the Republican Barack Obama." He meant it as a compliment. "A Republican Obama," Blatt wrote last fall, "is just what the Grand Old Party needs to face a changing electorate."

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Trump's tribalism, a sign of our times

    With less than a month to go before Iowa caucus goers cast the first actual votes in presidential nomination race, Republican leaders and donors disagree over how to stop the candidacy of Donald Trump -- or whether anyone should even try.

    They may not have much choice. Sure, Trump offers a walking example of how savvy about business doesn't necessarily mean you know much about anything else. He displays a hopelessly erratic temperament, a breathtaking ignorance about public affairs and an unsettling zest for authoritarianism.

    But as damaging as his radical insult-dog rhetoric can be to the Grand Old Party's outreach efforts, he's the closest thing the GOP has to a strong leader these days.

    Nipping at his heels, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz comes off to many as Trump without the charm. The freshman senator made a name for himself early by trampling over traditional Senate courtesies and customs to make himself hated by his colleagues, even in his own party.

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Bill Clinton's in the kitchen, but can he stand the heat?

    Harry Truman famously said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." The advice is now pointedly being ignored by former President Bill Clinton as he begins campaigning for his wife's Democratic presidential nomination, presumably with her approval.

    The decision comes as no surprise, given his continued popularity even after being impeached in 1998 over the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. The lure of becoming the first husband of a U.S. president seems irresistible to the term-limited chief executive, with all manner of speculation on what his role would be if Hillary were elected president.

    Also predictable was the decision of Republican front-running candidate Donald Trump to resurrect Bill's sex scandals in the context of Hillary's emphasis on women's rights. Trump has wasted no time in questioning the appropriateness of Bill actively campaigning for Hillary, given his reputation as an abuser of what in gentler times was called the fair sex.

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Abolish the 'natural born citizen' test

    Donald Trump has us all spun up in a bogus debate over the meaning of what constitutes a "natural born" citizen and whether Canadian-born Ted Cruz is thereby ineligible for the presidency. The conversation we should actually be having is about how stupid and cruel the requirement is in the first place, and how the Constitution should be changed to abolish what is arguably its worst remaining provision.

    Our founding document contains many clauses that may be archaic and irrelevant but are nonetheless inoffensive. The problem with the natural born citizen test is that it is both unnecessary and harmful -- not just a relic but an insult to the nearly 20 million Americans who are citizens by virtue of naturalization.

    "This restriction has become an anachronism that is decidedly un-American," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in offering a constitutional amendment to repeal it more than a decade ago.

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