Archive

January 17th, 2016

Outrage in Oregon

    The armed men occupying an isolated federal building in a remote Oregon bird sanctuary say they won’t leave until the federal government stops its “tyranny.” Yet it’s not clear what that tyranny is, exactly.

    One of the group’s leaders is Ammon Bundy, who, along with his brother, participated in their father Cliven’s fight against the federal Bureau of Land Management in 2014, when the government tried to move the elder Bundy’s cattle off protected land. Their tense standoff with federal authorities became a cause célèbre among many movement conservatives.

    That protest took on a life of its own, with anti-government activists around the country converging on the Bundy farm in Nevada to show their support. In the end, the feds gave up and walked away.

    It was initially less clear what the younger Bundy wants, besides snacks and Facebook donations. He’s since told reporters that he essentially wants two things.

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Our Toxic Failure

    Now that it’s already been phased out, the world can agree that a chemical used in Teflon — the famous coating on nonstick pots and pans — was toxic.

    A recent New York Times Magazine article told the story of the heroic victims who paid with their health and the lawyer who represented them. Together they ensured that a study was done to link this chemical, called PFOA, to the health problems it caused.

    PFOA is thought to be linked to several cancers, as well as thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, and more. It’s also probably in your blood.

    This chemical is just one in a class of fluorine-based chemicals with slippery, nonstick properties. They’re often used in waterproof or stain-resistant items — even in Oral B’s Glide dental floss.

    Chew on that for a moment. Oral B puts this chemical in a product designed to go straight into your mouth.

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Obama's vision requires crushing Republicans

    President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address consisted of a clear vision and an equally plain, if less explicitly identified, path to reach it. Obama envisions a future powered by democratic pluralism, green energy and a redistribution of power from business owners and the wealthy to workers and the middle class.

    How will we reach that future? His answer: By crushing the reactionary party obstructing the way.

    Much will be made of Obama's direct rebuttals of Sen. Ted Cruz and billionaire Donald Trump, who received presidential attention for their respective views on carpet-bombing and Muslims. (Or carpet-bombing Muslims.) But the two presidential candidates got only a fraction of the attention that Obama showered on their party. Virtually every paragraph was constructed as a contradiction of Republican dogma, Republican policy, Republican politics or Republican attitude.

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Obama fights the furies

    The most venomous part of the Republican Party has seized control of the national dialogue. This forced President Obama to use his final State of the Union message on Tuesday to battle against intolerance, anger, pessimism and despair.

    Even more tellingly, the Republican designated to reply to him, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, effectively joined hands with a man she otherwise criticized. She implored her party to reject "the siren call of the angriest voices." For one moment, at least, Obama had realized his dream: A part of red America came together with his blue America to share responsibility for the nation's frustrations.

    Yet the limits of this cease-fire were brought home with a speed facilitated by the technology of instant communication: Haley had barely issued her plea against rage when Twitter was engulfed by it -- directed her way by voices at the right end of her party, particularly from enthusiasts for Donald Trump. The siren call struck back.

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Mexican drug war reporting: Hazardous to press freedom

    There's a lot that is worth criticizing about actor Sean Penn's rambling Rolling Stone article about his friendly meeting with cutthroat fugitive drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

    But if Guzman's desire to be in the movies led to the recapture of this hemisphere's biggest trafficker of heroin, cocaine and other illicit commodities, justice has been served.

    That, at least, is how Mexican authorities are spinning the story, hoping everyone will stop asking how Guzman escaped their custody in the first place -- twice.

    Penn's interview led police to the drug lord's hiding place, an unnamed official told Associated Press after the magazine published Penn's story Saturday.

    If so, that could make a nice twist for the biographical movie that Guzman has been hoping someone will make about his life. But unfortunately it also sounds like the sort of narrative that Mexican officials would say in order to save face.

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It Should Not Be Necessary

    While I admire, respect and salute the brave women who have publicly admitted abortions in their lives, I strongly believe it is an absolute shame that such should be necessary for women to receive health care justice. So far as I am concerned this is a matter that never should have gotten out of the doctor's office any more than any other personal health issue.

    It was a private matter until the "holier than thou" decided to make it their personal crusade to demand the rest of the world agree with them. I appreciate that it has always been more sensitive than other health issues because this nation can't allow anything having to do with sex be treated as just another part of life. How much healthier it would be to accept reproduction as a normal natural part of life to be treated as any other bodily function, albeit one involving two people.

    Instead, by action and default we teach our children that it is to be snickered at, learned incorrectly in slang terms from other equally un/misinformed ignorant contemporaries. All because we fail to be as open and honest about this part of life as we are other daily activities.

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Cruz may have a serious problem over the question of his birth

    When Arizona Sen. John McCain, R, was running for president in 2008, his campaign experienced turbulence over an issue currently vexing the campaign of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: the phrase in the Constitution stipulating that the president must be a "natural born citizen."

    There are conflicting legal views (naturally) about what that means. Law professor Gabriel Chin of the University of California at Davis wrote a paper arguing that McCain's birth outside U.S. borders, in the Canal Zone, made him ineligible for the presidency. Billionaire Donald Trump, a birther's birther, is now making a similar claim about Cruz, who was born in Canada and held Canadian citizenship for most of his life.

    I asked Trevor Potter, a former Federal Elections Commission chairman who was the general counsel of McCain's presidential campaign, about that campaign's research into McCain's eligibility, and what it might tell us about Cruz's situation. McCain is no champion of Cruz. But Potter studied the issue carefully. Bottom line: It's dicier than you might think.

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Consent education can't solve everyone's problems with college sex

    This weekend, the New York Times published a long and interesting piece by Jessica Bennett about the many ways colleges and universities are trying to teach their students about sexual consent.

    Much of what's intriguing about the article is Bennett's description of the patchwork of approaches and programs colleges have developed, which, as Bennett notes, replicates the varying ways colleges have tried to handle sexual assault allegations through their disciplinary systems. But there's one line in the piece that gets at a larger issue Bennett glosses over, and that discussions about consent education often avoid: a lack of sex education and sexual experience.

    Bennett quotes the website of an advocacy campaign called #BetterSexTalk, which notes, "A crash-course in sexual respect during college orientation will never atone for years of inadequate sex ed." And as much as sex education is critically important, it's not the sole factor that will determine whether students have sexual relationships that are not just legal but good. Consent education works only when you know what you actually want to consent to.

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Border Boondoggle

    Good fences, wrote Robert Frost, make good neighbors.

    But an 18-foot high, 2,000-mile wall? That’s another story. It just antagonizes your neighbor — and shows your own fear and weakness.

    Yet this is what self-described conservatives running for president propose to build to stop migrants from coming across our country’s southern border. Simple, right? Just fence ’em out!

    Haven’t we already tried this?

    In 2006, Congress mandated the construction of a wall along the 1,954 miles of our border with Mexico. A decade later, guess how many miles have been completed? About 650. It turns out that erecting a monstrous wall isn’t so simple after all.

    First, it’s ridiculously expensive — about $10 billion just for the materials to build from the tip of Texas to the Pacific, not counting labor costs and maintenance.

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A Wife’s Wrenching Decision

    How much should you sacrifice to save your husband’s life?

    And how much hardship do you inflict on your son to rescue your husband?

    Those are the questions Jano Begum faced. Jano, 22, and her husband, Robi Alom, 30, are among the more than 1 million Muslims who belong to the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, subjected to an ethnic cleansing that a Yale study suggests may amount to genocide.

    I’ve written several times over the years about the brutalization of the Rohingya, but I know that for some readers it seems obscure and remote. Why worry about a distant people when there are so many crises in our own backyard? But put yourself in Jano’s situation, as she sits in a hut in a concentration camp here, and think how far you would go to save your spouse.

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