Archive

April 11th, 2016

Read the law, judge, to see that marijuana can be a sacrament

    A U.S. appeals court says that the federal law protecting religious liberty doesn't shield a Hawaiian church that uses cannabis in its rituals. That's pretty outrageous.

    The decision's perverse logic relies on a cartoonishly rigid idea of religious obligation. And it suggests that the religious-freedom law only protects mainstream religious groups like the Catholic Church, not smaller denominations.

    The case involves the Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii, founded by Michael Rex "Raging Bear" Mooney, who is also described as the "Medicine Custodian" of the church. The church draws on an eclectic range of Native American traditions. Its sacraments include sweat lodge ceremonies that take place at the full moon and the new moon. Church members use drugs including cannabis in what they describe as a "communion," seeking to achieve mystical union with the divine.

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Panama is the new Switzerland

    Another century, another tax haven. In the 20th century, the very rich used to park their money in secret Swiss bank accounts. How quaint. And how old-fashioned.

    In the 21st century, as we've just learned, Panama is the new Switzerland. That's where many of today's most wealthy prefer to shelter their money, and for the same reasons: to hide their personal fortune and avoid paying taxes. All you need is a shady law firm to grease the skids, and many families worldwide found just what they were looking for in the boutique Panamanian firm of Mossack Fonseca.

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Obama's sly dig at conservative decline

    You have to admire the multi-level trolling by President Barack Obama. Obama speaks Thursday at the University of Chicago law school, where he taught in the 1990s, and give an interview to Fox News. The law school discussion is targeted at Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and his obstruction of Obama's Supreme Court nomination. The interview is an assault on contemporary American conservatism.

    The Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is the proximate cause of Obama's visit. "We are going to continue to make the case to Republicans in the United States Senate that they should fulfill their constitutional responsibility," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said. "The president will certainly make that case."

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Monopolies are no fun and games for economic growth

    A basic lesson of economics is that monopolies are bad news. When there's only one company in a market, it can jack up prices to above their efficient level. That gives a big boost to profits, but results in too few people being able to afford to buy what the company is selling. Most markets are not monopolies, but a similar principle holds for situations where there are only a few companies, called oligopolies. A lack of players stifles competition, raising profits but lowering overall economic output.

    It's therefore natural to ask whether the U.S.'s subpar economic growth is caused by a decrease in competition, and in fact, a bunch of people have been suggesting this explanation lately. In an article entitled "Too much of a good thing?," the Economist cites high rates of profit, record levels of merger activity and increasing industrial concentration as evidence of reduced competition.

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Lawmaker raped as a child can't get his bill passed for sex assault survivors

    For the second year in a row, he put it all out there: the shame, the fear, the self-loathing, the pain, the dark details of his horrific, repeated rape.

    An Army veteran and lawyer, Maryland Del. C.T. Wilson, a Democrat from Charles County, stood before his colleagues in Annapolis, confessed that he "really, really" didn't want to be there and told them why he doesn't sleep much at night. Why he hoped his children would never be boys. Why knows he is "a monster on the inside."

    And for the second year in a row, his fellow lawmakers in the Maryland legislature put all that in a drawer. And closed it.

    "It's usually the case when we tell our stories," Wilson said. "Nobody wants to hear this. And we want to be heard."

    Wilson wants his fellow delegates to understand what the adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse endure. And what recourse they have years and years later. And for two years now, he has sponsored legislation aimed at helping them

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For blacks and Hispanics, a huge drop in the uninsured rate

    Even as the leading GOP presidential candidates continue to pledge to obliterate Obamacare, and even as Congressional Republicans continue to promise an alternative to the law that may never, ever materialize, Gallup finds that the uninsured rate has plummeted yet again, to six points below where it was when Obamacare first took effect.

    Crucially, two of the groups who have experienced the largest drop in the uninsured rate are blacks and Hispanics.

    Among blacks, the uninsured rate has dropped 9.5 percentage points, and among Hispanics, it has dropped 10.4 points. So here's a question: Could this be playing some kind of role in the argument between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over the future of Obamacare -- and, by extension, in the broader argument between Clinton and Sanders over how successful the Obama years have been, and what should come next?

    The question of how to achieve universal health care has been central to that broader argument. Sanders tweeted Thursday that Obamacare has fallen well short of what needs to be accomplished:

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Devil’s in the details, if we could find any

    "Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it."

    Donald Trump in 40 words or fewer.

    Understand, now: Those words aren't from The Donald. They're from The Joker, lines cackled by the crooked-faced one in the 2008 Batman installment, "The Dark Knight."

    We imagine Trump in his darkened Trump Tower screening room back then, pondering how one day he'd run the world, hearing the line and saying, "Damn. Wish I'd said that."

    "I don't know what to do" would have been a heap better than what Trump told Chris Matthews when asked about how he'd handle women who had abortions if, as Trump said he'd prefer, abortion were illegal.

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Wisconsin loss hurts Trump more than Clinton

    The big wins for Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz in Wisconsin on Tuesday demonstrated why Hillary Clinton has an unbeatable lead on the Democratic side, and Cruz has a solid shot at heading the Republican ticket.

    The demographics of Wisconsin were bad for Clinton and Donald Trump, the delegate leaders. And although they're still counting votes, Cruz's margin of victory is likely to be only a little larger than Sanders'.

    On the Democratic side, it's strictly a matter of proportional representation. So by getting about 56 percent of the vote, Sanders will wind up with about 56 percent of Wisconsin's delegates. For Republicans, Wisconsin is a winner-take-most state, and it appears that Cruz will win either 36 or 39 of the 42 delegates, a huge haul.

    And more winner-take-most and winner-take-all states are coming for Republicans. Some of them appear to be likely Trump states. Cruz has now consolidated most of the anti-Trump vote, meaning that he may wind up being competitive in some states where he hasn't done well in polls so far. (John Kasich got around 15 percent in Wisconsin.)

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U.S. is scrambling to keep Saudis in the fold

    U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will soon head to Saudi Arabia to discuss ways to increase cooperation in the war against the Islamic State. But there's little indication he will be able to restore a vital relationship that's become riven with distrust in the last year, which would require him to reassure the Saudis on the very nature of the U.S. commitment to the kingdom and the region.

    Carter is slated to meet on April 20 in Riyadh with Mohammed Bin Salman al Saud, the 30-year-old deputy crown prince and defense minister who is widely believed to be in contention to succeed his father, King Salman. Carter's visit will come one day ahead of President Barack Obama's stop there for a leaders' summit between the U.S. and the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, a follow-on to their meeting at Camp David last May.

    At a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Tuesday, Carter said he wanted to ramp up the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. "We've got to get these guys beaten and as soon as possible," he said. "We're looking for opportunities to do more."

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April 10th

Corporate America shows its 'Hollywood values'

    Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, R, signed the latest state "religious freedom" bill into law on Tuesday, essentially enabling Mississippians to refuse service to gays and lesbians provided they justify their personal disdain on religious grounds. If the state manages to avoid the fates of Georgia and North Carolina, it will be a testament to how distant Mississippi is from "Hollywood values" -- and corporate values.

    Georgia discovered it had much to lose from embracing a similar law. On March 24, the influential conservative blogger Erick Erickson called on Gov. Nathan Deal, R, to "side with Georgia values and not Hollywood values" by signing a "religious liberty" bill that Georgia legislators had passed.

    That same day, the names of Hollywood stars and potentates including Anne Hathaway and Julianne Moore appeared on a petition opposing the legislation as discriminatory against gay people. It was organized by the nation's largest and best-funded LGBT-rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign. Only days before, the group's president, Chad Griffin, had spoken against the bill at HRC's gala in Los Angeles.

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