Archive

April 12th, 2016

The eventful life of a political utility infielder

    The memoir of the late Frank Mankiewicz, "So As I Was Saying," has recently hit the bookstores. In his 90 years he was an avid baseball fan, and in the game's jargon he could have been cast as a utility infielder of the first order.

    Son of Herman Mankiewicz, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of "Citizen Kane," Frank eschewed the Hollywood track in favor of his own CV.

    That included: Army infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge, Los Angeles lawyer, Democratic activist, Peace Corps director in Peru; Sen. Robert Kennedy's press secretary in his ill-fated 1968 presidential campaign. Later he was a newspaper columnist, CEO of NPR and public relations executive.

    In 1972, Frank was chief press and political adviser to Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. As such, he was a central figure in the episode that doomed McGovern's bid -- the forced resignation of vice-presidential nominee Sen. Tom Eagleton of Missouri when it became known that Eagleton had undergone electroshock treatments for mental illness.

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Clintons wrestle with a black generation gap, too

    It's hard to say why former President Bill Clinton went so far off-script to defend his 1994 anticrime law against Black Lives Matter hecklers at a Philadelphia rally for his wife's presidential campaign.

    Did he forget that he, too, renounced his own law, the Violent Crime Control and Prevention Act of 1994, last July at the NAACP convention in the same City of Brotherly Love?

    "I signed a bill that made the problem worse," he told the NAACP about the increased incarceration that President Barack Obama has been trying to undo, "and I want to admit it."

    And last May in a CNN interview, he admitted: "We have too many people in prison. And we wound up spending -- putting so many people in prison that there wasn't enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out that they could live productive lives."

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Why I refuse to send people to jail for failure to pay fines

    Melissa J. showed up in my court last year with four kids in tow. Her children quietly watched from a nearby table while I spoke with her. The charges against her - driving with an invalid license, driving without insurance, not wearing a seat belt, failure to use a child safety seat properly and four failures to appear -- were nothing unusual for municipal court. Nor were her fines of several thousand dollars. But for Melissa, who had a low-paying job and a husband in prison, and who looked as if she hadn't slept in days, that number might as well have been several million.

    As a municipal judge in College Station, Texas, I see 10 to 12 defendants each day who were arrested on fine-only charges: things like public intoxication, shoplifting, disorderly conduct and traffic offenses. Many of these people, like Melissa, have no money to pay their fines, let alone hire a lawyer.

    There's another way, and I've been experimenting with it in my own courtroom.

 

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What motivates women to become suicide bombers

    On a list of history's most notorious assassins, alongside John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald and Gavrilo Princip, the name Thenmozhi Rajaratnam would probably draw mostly blank stares. But in her way, the Tamil Tiger terrorist -- who blew up herself, the Indian leader Rajiv Gandhi and 13 others in May 1991 -- has perhaps had the largest lasting influence.

    Since that terrible day, women are known to have carried out at least 185 suicide attacks, killing 2,130 people and wounding nearly 5,000 others. According to the University of Chicago's Project on Security and Terrorism, a vast majority have been related to five conflicts: the Sri Lankan civil war that ended in 2009; the fight against the Russian military in Chechnya; the insurgency following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and, most recently, the Boko Haram terrorist movement in West Africa.

    This week, the New York Times shed new light on that last struggle, profiling Rahila Amos, 47, a Nigerian Christian who says she was abducted by the Islamist rebels and forced to train for a suicide attack.

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Sometimes a cross is just a cross. Or is it?

    If I tell you a California judge struck down the addition of a Christian cross to the Los Angeles County seal, that probably sounds like a good example of the separation of church and state. If I tell you that the cross was going to be added to an image of the San Gabriel mission to reflect the real-life, cross-topped church, the same decision begins to sound like judicial overreach.

    When it comes to religion, framing is everything -- at least under current law.

    As it turns out, the story of the cross and the LA County seal is more complicated than either of these simple summaries. The judge had the unenviable task of choosing among various possible narratives to reach a conclusion that's defensible under existing constitutional doctrine, though by no means certainly correct. And that should tell you something about the strangeness of the Supreme Court's doctrine in the area of public religious symbols -- and the desirability of reform.

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MetLife ruling puts financial system at risk

    A U.S. district judge in Washington may have poked a big hole in reforms aimed at protecting millions of Americans from the next financial crisis. It's a troubling development, and one that the government must do what it can to reverse.

    At issue is the part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act that gave the Federal Reserve oversight of all financial institutions whose collapse could seriously hurt the U.S. economy -- be they banks, insurers, whatever. The law says this broad set of so-called systemically important institutions needs added scrutiny. They do. The near-demise of insurer American International Group almost brought down the U.S. banking system, thanks to losses on derivatives positions that a fragmented regulatory system overlooked.

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Is porn immoral? That doesn't matter: It's a public health crisis.

    Last month, the Republican-led Utah House of Representatives became the first legislative body in the United States to pass a resolution declaring pornography "a public health hazard leading to a broad spectrum of individual and public health impacts and societal harms." The liberal backlash criticized the measure as an antiquated bit of conservative moralizing, with the Daily Beast calling it "hypocritical" and "short-sighted." "The science just isn't there," wrote Rewire, an online journal dedicated to dispelling "falsehoods and misinformation."

    The thing is, no matter what you think of pornography (whether it's harmful or harmless fantasy) the science is there. After 40 years of peer-reviewed research, scholars can say with confidence that porn is an industrial product that shapes how we think about gender, sexuality, relationships, intimacy, sexual violence and gender equality - for the worse. By taking a health-focused view of porn and recognizing its radiating impact not only on consumers but also on society at large, Utah's resolution simply reflects the latest research.

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I was a closeted Christian in the Pentagon

    The distance from my church to my office at the Pentagon was just over five miles. But for most of my time in government, it might as well have been 5,000.

    On Sunday mornings, I prayed for peace. "Jesus was a homeless refugee from the Middle East," my minister reminded us once before announcing our Advent offering. I contributed to the collection basket and asked God to help the Syrians fleeing from their homes in the land of the Bible.

    And when services were done, I went back to planning for war. As deputy assistant secretary of defense for Middle East policy, my responsibilities included evaluating troop deployments and missile strikes in the very places where biblical scripture is set.

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I got an early tip about a priest's sexual abuse. And I sat on it.

    I always knew that watching "Spotlight" was going to be difficult for me, so I kept putting it off. Finally, with my wife out of town last week, I sprawled on the family-room floor with my two big dogs and steeled myself to view the Oscar-winning film about the investigation of sexual abuse in Boston's Catholic Church. I was glad Patricia was away. I didn't want her to see my tears.

    As the next two hours crawled by, I was consumed by three emotions: admiration for the Boston Globe's investigative team, pride in the journalism profession I have labored in for more than four decades - and guilt.

    One day in the 1970s, I fielded a phone call in the newsroom of the Providence Journal. The caller was a local woman with a story that seemed inconceivable: Her 10-year-old son had been repeatedly molested by a Roman Catholic priest.

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Five myths about trade

    Expanded trade with China over the past 15 years has cost the United States at least 2 million jobs. Cracking down on trade with China, by taxing the cheap consumer goods it ships to our store shelves, could cost millions of additional jobs. That both of these things can be true is the conundrum of trade, the breakout issue of the 2016 presidential election. Democrats have long debated globalization and its consequences in their primary campaigns, particularly in the Rust Belt, a tradition Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are continuing. But Republicans, led by Donald Trump, are suddenly bashing trade, too. On both sides, the issue has become a leading scapegoat for lost jobs and stagnating working-class wages, and rejiggering "bad" deals has become a common promise to restore middle-class prosperity. Many of the campaign promises, though, rest on myths. Here are the most egregious of them.

 

    1. America is "losing" in bad trade deals, particularly with China.

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