Archive

March 21st, 2016

How the law makes it easier to traffic teenagers

    Can a judicial decision be both tragic and correct? Yes, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit showed yesterday when it upheld the dismissal of claims by underage girls who were victims of sex trafficking facilitated by the website Backpage.com.

    The court acknowledged that the young women had made "a persuasive case" that the company "tailored its website to make sex trafficking easier." Yet it applied the federal Communications Decency Act that essentially shields apps or websites from liability for third-party material published using their platforms. The court concluded that the suit against Backpage couldn't continue.

    The law indeed blocks the suit -- and therein lies the tragedy. The core of the young women's claim was that Backpage intentionally set up its website to enable illegal sex trafficking after Craigslist closed its "adult" advertising in 2010 out of concern that it might be used for exactly that purpose. In particular, the plaintiffs alleged that the website adopted specific design features so that phone numbers could be masked and photos stripped of metadata to make them harder to trace.

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How the Breitbart News debacle explains Donald Trump's success

    For those of you who haven't followed the meltdown of Breitbart News - which has involved multiple resignations, the leak of damning internal strategy discussions, suspensions and reinstatements, and all other manner of inside-baseball journo-gossip - you probably should. The whole thing can help us understand why Donald Trump behaves the way he does. And it suggests that angrily trying to shut him down will only make him more attractive to his followers.

    The two-paragraph version is relatively simple. Michelle Fields, a reporter for Breitbart, claimed she was grabbed by Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, in an overly aggressive way. A reporter for The Washington Post witnessed the altercation and Fields' account was later backed up by video.

    The heads of Breitbart - a website that would fairly be described as "in the tank for" Trump - responded with a (very cautious) statement asking for nothing more than an apology. They did not call for the aide's firing or demand that the Donald himself grovel before the injured reporter.

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Hong Kong's declining port heralds a grim future

    A little more than a decade ago, Hong Kong was the world's busiest port. Giant vessels competed to get into the city's berths, waiting to load and unload containers filled with goods manufactured just over the border in China's factory towns. Back then, Hong Kong still expected that its freewheeling commercial culture could change China for the better. And trading -- accounting for almost 25 percent of the city's economy -- seemed like just the industry to lead the way.

    Now those expectations are colliding with reality. Last week, the local government reported that cargo flowing through Hong Kong dropped by 13.8 percent in 2015, capping a dismal year in which the city's port declined to the world's fifth-busiest, dropping behind one-time also-rans Shanghai and Shenzhen. It's likely to get worse: Last year, Deutsche Bank predicted that the volume of cargo moving through Hong Kong will decline by as much as 50 percent over the next decade.

    That's not just an economic blow. For a city that has long valued its independence and distinctiveness from mainland China, it also threatens something of an identity crisis.

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Escaping the Great White Snapping Turtle

    After the voting Tuesday, several folks I know are talking about leaving the country if and when the Great White Snapping Turtle is elected president and of course Canada is the favored destination - English-language predominant, handsome young progressive prime minister, socialized medicine, nonstop air connections, plus parallel geography of rockbound East, Midwestern prairies, and Western mountain ranges. Well, I'm not up for it. For one thing, I'm lazy. And also there is no South up north -- no New Orleans, no Delta blues, no high lonesome tenor singing "Blue Moon of Kentucky," and no strip-mall evangelists proclaiming that Justin Trudeau is the Antichrist and was born in the Bronx - and so Canadian culture is of limited range. A nation of bookkeepers. It is missing the apocalyptic.

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March 20th

Rubio’s Exit and the GOP’s Spoiled Buffet

    Remember the euphoria with which the race for the Republican presidential nomination began? Such a buffet of political talent! Governors and ex-governors galore!

    By Tuesday those high spirits had deflated to a mewling plea for some indication — any indication — whether the party’s aghast traditionalists would have to make up with Donald Trump, make nice with Ted Cruz or make plans for bedlam at the convention.

    “Clarity” was a wish they kept uttering, a word I kept hearing. It made them sound like fog-enveloped travelers or stuffed-up flu sufferers waiting for the Sudafed to kick in.

    But Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Missouri weren’t at all certain to bring relief, not even with Marco Rubio’s devastating loss to Trump in Florida and suspension of his campaign. It was a mesmerizing development, given how long many Republican leaders and pundits clung to their forecasts of his eventual transcendence, which was like Godot: right around the bend, coming at any minute, just a matter of waiting, waiting, waiting …

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Eating in the Dark

    I’m sick of writing about labeling genetically engineered foods.

    I’m sick of it because there’s really one thing to say, and I’ve said it before: Americans have a right to know how their food is produced. Period.

    The fact is that most processed food in the supermarket is genetically engineered. That means it includes ingredients that have genes from other species inserted in their DNA. Nearly every single American has eaten genetically engineered foods, but many of us don’t know it.

    Does it matter? That’s up to each individual.

    Just like it’s up to you whether you care if your food is kosher, gluten-free, low-carb, or anything else. You can decide whether it’s worth it to you to buy cage-free eggs or not, because the eggs are labeled. That doesn’t take freedom away from someone else who wishes to make a different choice than you.

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Clinton has won; Trump, not yet

    It's about the delegates now. By that measure, Tuesday was a great night for Hillary Clinton, and a mixed one for Donald Trump.

    On the Democratic side, it's pretty straightforward. Clinton wound up winning a squeaker in Illinois and leads narrowly in Missouri, but solid wins in North Carolina and Ohio and a blowout in Florida expanded her already unbeatable lead in delegates.

    For his part, Trump won Florida and all 99 of its delegates. He also won in North Carolina, a proportional allocation state, and in Illinois, where the winner takes most delegates. The statewide count was close in Missouri between Trump and Ted Cruz.

    But John Kasich won in Ohio, taking all 66 delegates, and will presumably stay in the race. Some people think his continued presence hurts Trump: That is, he'll pick up some more delegates, doing well in states where Cruz can't, and therefore help prevent Trump from wrapping up the 1,237 delegates he needs for a majority at the convention. But I lean toward the view that Trump is better off if his opposition is split between the Ohio governor and the Texas senator.

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‘Big Government’ Looks Great When There Is None

    After hearing Republican presidential candidates denounce big government and burdensome regulation, I’d like to invite them to spend the night here in the midst of the civil war in South Sudan.

    You hear gunfire, competing with yowls of hyenas, and you don’t curse taxes. Rather, you yearn for a government that might install telephones, hire a 911 operator and dispatch the police.

    From afar, one sees the United States differently. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz seem to think that America’s Achilles’ heels are immigration and an activist government. But from the perspective of a war zone, these look more like national strengths.

    Indeed, take what Trump is clamoring for: weaker government, less regulation, a more homogeneous society. In some sense, you find the ultimate extension of all that right here.

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An American Mussolini

    As you probably heard, Donald Trump canceled a rally in Chicago after scuffles broke out between Trump supporters and opponents around the arena where the candidate was supposed to speak.

    True to form, Trump blamed everybody but himself for this debacle. He eventually decided that Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was somehow at fault — and even threatened to send protesters of his own to disrupt rallies for Sanders.

    What was newsworthy was that Trump himself canceled the event. He normally revels in the clashes between protesters and supporters that erupt at his rallies.

    These confrontations have become routine, with the real estate mogul usually egging on his supporters to “rough up” interlopers. He’s cheered on supporters who’ve shoved, kicked, and punched protesters — even people who’ve simply stood silently at Trump’s rallies.

    Throughout it, he’s had the gall to claim that he deserves credit for keeping the events as calm as possible.

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Why China has so much trouble with change

    Economic reforms are much like New Year's diet resolutions: easily announced and easily forgotten. So perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that the pronouncements that have emerged from China's National People's Congress -- pledges to slash overcapacity, open up the financial system, accept lower growth -- echo unfulfilled promises from previous Party gatherings.

    Still, China prides itself on being different. The country can seemingly create new industries overnight, and has waged an anti-corruption campaign that reportedly punished 300,000 officials in 2015. Why does a state that holds so much power have so much trouble following through on its reform pledges?

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