Archive

January 3rd, 2016

A valuable lesson in First Amendment protections

    Here's the issue in a real free-speech case just decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: Can someone be refused a teaching certification because of his otherwise protected social or political views? The answer sounds like it should be no, doesn't it?

    Now let me frame the exact same case differently: Should a state have to grant teaching certification to someone who says sex with children should be legalized and that there's no point in trying to mainstream disabled students? It doesn't sound like the answer should be yes, right?

    Behold the beauty, and the challenge, of First Amendment law. Not only are the questions hard, but it's also hard to say what the right questions really are.

    So what did the court do? If you like the common-sense concrete, you'll be pleased to know that the Ninth Circuit decision crafted a new doctrine for student certification cases, and held that the University of Hawaii could block Mark Oyama from becoming a teacher.

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2015: The Year Of The Crybaby

    With a presidential election year coming, it's tempting to call 2015 the Year of the Crybaby. Everybody's a victim. Judging by TV and social media, roughly half the nation believes it's being oppressed by the other half. Everybody's throwing themselves a pity party.

    There's an awful lot of self-dramatization going on.

    Everywhere you look, somebody's getting fitted for a hairshirt.

    I was first moved to this thought by an extraordinary "Voices" letter to my local newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A fellow in Siloam Springs was offended by columnist John Brummett's criticism of "extreme evangelical professed Christians in Iowa."

    Brummett thinks the Iowa GOP primary gives undue attention to people who think "that God forgives everything but liberalism." This infuriated the reader, who proclaimed his constitutionally guaranteed right to oppose "abortion, divorce, gay marriage, etc." regardless of Supreme Court rulings. Should he lose it, "these United States will cease being America."

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Why I refuse to condemn terrorism

    As an American Muslim, I am consistently and aggressively asked -- by media figures, religious leaders, politicians and Internet trolls -- to condemn terrorism to prove my patriotism.

    I emphatically refuse.

    Make no mistake: The terror imposed by those who sympathize with Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State militant group), al-Qaida, Boko Haram, al-Shabab and other groups is just as foreign to me as the terror advanced by mostly white men at the alarming rate of one mass killing every two weeks in this country.

    Therefore, just as I have never been asked to condemn Dylann Storm Roof's attack on parishioners of a historic black church in South Carolina, Robert Dear's attack on a Planned Parenthood facility, the murder of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, or the slaughter of moviegoers in Colorado or Louisiana, I will not be bullied into condemning terror perpetrated by psychopaths who misrepresent and distort Islam for their deranged purposes.

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We already know how to win the war on drugs

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In January 1964, the Beatles first broke onto the Billboard chart with "I Want to Hold Your Hand"; by June, Ringo Starr had collapsed from tonsillitis and pharyngitis. In January, the surgeon general announced that scientists had found conclusive evidence linking smoking to cancer and thus launched our highly successful 50-year public-health fight against tobacco. In August, the North Vietnamese fired on a U.S. naval ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the public phase of the Vietnam War. Alongside an accelerating deployment of conventional troops would come their widespread use of marijuana and heroin.

    By 1971, cigarette ads had been banned from radio and television, the surgeon general had called for regulation of tobacco, and cigarette smoking had begun its long decline. The impact of drug use among troops and returning veterans provoked President Richard M. Nixon to declare a war on drugs.

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January 2nd

Doubling Down On W

    2015 was, of course, the year of Donald Trump, whose rise has inspired horror among establishment Republicans and, let’s face it, glee — call it Trumpenfreude — among many Democrats. But Trumpism has in one way worked to the GOP establishment’s advantage: it has distracted pundits and the press from the hard right turn even conventional Republican candidates have taken, a turn whose radicalism would have seemed implausible not long ago.

    After all, you might have expected the debacle of George W. Bush’s presidency — a debacle not just for the nation, but for the Republican Party, which saw Democrats both take the White House and achieve some major parts of their agenda — to inspire some reconsideration of W-type policies. What we’ve seen instead is a doubling down, a determination to take whatever didn’t work from 2001 to 2008 and do it again, in a more extreme form.

    Start with the example that’s easiest to quantify, tax cuts.

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Trump is right about Bill Clinton

    Donald Trump is crude and vulgar. He's every -ist in the book: racist, sexist, narcissist, for starters. His dis about Hillary Clinton getting "schlonged" in the 2008 campaign and the accompanying tirade about her "disgusting" bathroom break were weird and juvenile. But he has a point about Clinton playing the "woman's card," and about the male behavior that's more concerning: her husband's.

    Was there a sexist undertone to Trump's "schlonged" comment? I guess, since we know which Democratic candidate does and doesn't have one. Still, as sexism goes, this feels awfully mild.

     "I think he has to answer for what he says, and I assume that others will make the larger point about his language," Clinton told The Des Moines Register. "It's not the first time he's demonstrated a penchant for sexism."

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The Juicy Subplots of 2016

    In American politics, one narrative — one question — eclipses all others: Who will become the 45th president?

    But there are dramas within that drama. There’s also suspense aplenty beyond center stage, and much of it does not involve Donald Trump, a third-party candidacy or the specter of a brokered Republican convention. This column, in the spirit of the holidays, will be a Trump-free zone.

    Some of the following subplots could greatly influence the outcome of the presidential contest while others have big implications for the sway and the health of the Republican and Democratic parties.

    They’re just a glimmer of what 2016 has in store.

    Barack Obama Unbound. He’s zipping down the road with Jerry Seinfeld. He’s unzipping his lip with Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio. He’s intensifying his fight against climate change.

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The GOP will be changed forever

    History will remember 2015 as the year when The Republican Party As We Knew It was destroyed by Donald Trump. An entity called the GOP will survive -- but can never be the same.

    Am I overstating Trump's impact, given that not a single vote has been cast? Hardly. I'm not sure it's possible to exaggerate how the Trump phenomenon has torn the party apart, revealing a chasm between establishment and base that is far too wide to bridge with stale Reagan-era rhetoric. Can you picture the Trump legions meekly falling in line behind Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio? I can't either.

    Trump didn't blow up the party on his own. He had help from a field of presidential contenders that was touted as deep and talented but proved shallow and wanting. Bush raised shock-and-awe money but turns out to lack his father's and brother's skill at performing on the national stage; he seems to want to be crowned, not elected. Rubio is like the teacher's pet who speaks eloquently in class but doesn't do his homework. Chris Christie was slow off the mark, perhaps having been stuck in traffic on the George Washington Bridge.

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'Natural disaster' with human prints on it

    If Tornado Alley were a battlefield, historically this time of year the cannons would be silenced. Not so this December. All hell has broken loose. The weather map has been a work by Jackson Pollock: all splatters.

    It’s impossible to cite a cause for such weirdness across a swath of the Midwest and Dixie, including killer tornadoes in North Texas. The staggering nature of the storms, however, fits into what climatologists say:

    The more heat in the air and oceans, the stronger the storms. Embodying that right now is the strongest El Nino in 50 years.

    Sadly and tellingly, this is immaterial to most red-state lawmakers. They are sworn to plug their ears and hum real loud when science speaks.

    That doesn’t just apply to evidence that far-off glaciers are dwindling rapidly. It doesn’t just apply to sea-level rise. Heck, that’s the coasts’ problem.

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Misleading minorities on climate

    For months now, the National Black Chamber of Commerce has been warning communities of color that the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan will cause job losses and generate higher energy bills.

    In fact, the opposite is true.

    The Environmental Protection Agency's first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants will create clean-energy jobs, improve public health, bring greater reliability to our electric power grid, bolster our national security, demonstrate the United States' resolve to combat climate change and maybe even reduce our utility bills.

    By limiting the emission of carbon dioxide, the Clean Power Plan also will slow a main driver of extreme weather, which has inflicted widespread economic damage and human misery, including death.

    That's what the National Black Chamber of Commerce neglects to mention.

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