Archive

January 11th, 2017

How Julian Assange became an enemy of the truth

    You almost have to feel sorry for Julian Assange. Shut in at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London without access to sunlight, the founder of WikiLeaks is reduced to self-parody these days.

    Here is a man dedicated to radical transparency, yet he refuses to go to Sweden despite an arrest warrant in connection with allegations of sexual assault. His organization retweets the president-elect who once called for him to be put to death. He spreads the innuendo that Seth Rich, a Democratic National Committee staffer, was murdered this summer because he was the real source of the emails WikiLeaks published in the run-up to November's election. And now he tells Fox News's Sean Hannity that it's the U.S. media that is deeply dishonest.

    This is the proper context to evaluate Assange's claim, repeated by Donald Trump and his supporters, that Russia was not the source for the e-mails of leading Democrats distributed by WikiLeaks.

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Erasing Obama

    For a soon-to-be nowhere man, he’s everywhere. Sensing “time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” as the poet had it, President Barack Obama is using every hour left in his presidency to ensure that Donald Trump will not erase it all.

    It’s one part vanity project. What president doesn’t want to put a dent in history? One man freed 4 million slaves. Another created national parks and forests that left every American a rich inheritance of public land. A third crushed the Nazis — from a wheelchair, while dying.

    And Obama? He bequeaths the incoming president “the longest economic expansion and monthly job creation in history,” as my colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin noted. Trump, the pumpkin-haired rooster taking credit for the dawn, has already tried to seize a bit of that achievement as his own. Thanks, Obama. But he’s also likely to screw it up, perhaps by a trade war, or a budget-busting tax cut.

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January 10th

Sex offender lockup should trouble court more

    In a major blow to civil liberties, an appeals court has upheld the Minnesota system that civilly commits sex offenders after they've served their prison terms, a confinement from which no one has ever been fully released. The decision, filed Tuesday, used the wrong legal standard, making it too easy for the state to lock people up indefinitely for future dangerousness. Worse, the U.S. Supreme Court might not review the decision, despite its being egregiously wrong, because there is no clear disagreement among the circuit courts.

    The Minnesota Civil Commitment and Treatment of Sex Offenders Act, enacted in 1994, says any county attorney can ask a state district court to determine that a person is "sexually dangerous" or has a "sexually psychopathic personality." If the court agrees that the county attorney has demonstrated this by clear and convincing evidence, the person is committed indefinitely, against his or her will, to a "secure treatment facility."

    There is no regular review to see whether the person should be released. The only way to get out is for the confined person to ask a review board to determine that he or she is no longer dangerous.

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Drunken monkeys and the evolution of boozing

    Nothing rings in the new year like a solution of bubbling, neurotoxic ethanol. Humanity's longstanding relationship with alcohol poses an evolutionary puzzle: Surely natural selection would weed out those of our ancestors with a taste for something that clouds judgment, slows reflexes, dulls the senses and impairs balance. Animals in such a state would likely be the first picked off by predators, if they hadn't already fallen out of a tree.

    And yet humans all over the world drink ethanol in various concoctions, or they enforce strict rules against it -- rules that surely wouldn't exist if there weren't a desire. We've been at it a long time: Archaeologists have found wine and beer stains on 10,000-year-old stone age pottery.

    Scientists are solving the paradox by studying the enzymes our bodies use to digest alcohol. Lots of animals make these enzymes, called alcohol dehydrogenases, and the way these vary from one species to another tells an evolutionary story. Then there's the related question of whether other species imbibe. Preliminary investigations suggest the answer is yes.

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Biggest winners of an Obamacare repeal: The young, healthy and rich

    In one of the latest rounds of government-by-tweet, Donald Trump has once again revealed that he doesn't have a clue about the markets for health care and health insurance.

    "Also, deductibles are so high that it is practically useless," wrote the president-elect on Wednesday about health insurance policies sold on the Obamacare exchanges. He also complained about "poor coverage" and "massive premium increases."

    Let's start with those high deductibles. Apparently Trump is unaware that the man he has tapped to dismantle Obamacare, Rep. Tom Price of George, wants to steer us all into such "high deductible" insurance plans, with routine care paid for by patients from individual tax-free health savings accounts.

    The reason Price and others like high-deductible policies is simple enough: They lower insurance premiums and give patients a strong financial incentive to consume only the routine care they need and shop around for the best value. But, as Price surely knows, it's not possible to lower deductibles and lower premiums at the same time.

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What's the deal with Trump and Russia?

    Coming from a presidential candidate, Donald Trump's misty-eyed admiration of Russia and its autocratic leader was weird. Coming from a president-elect, it's nothing short of alarming.

    I repeat the questions I asked back in September: What's the deal with Trump and Russia? Does he have financial entanglements with Russian banks, businesses or billionaires that color his views? If not, as he claims, then why won't he release the personal and business tax returns that could put the matter to rest?

    The latest sign of Trump's infatuation is his refusal to accept the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Russian state-sponsored hackers meddled in our election -- a risky and provocative operation that could only have been authorized by Vladimir Putin.

    "It could be somebody else," Trump told reporters on New Year's Eve. "And I also know things that other people don't know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation." The president-elect added that "I know a lot about hacking, and hacking is a very hard thing to prove."

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Ethics Are Not Questionable

    What is so difficult to understand about ethics? True, sometimes a greater good may outweigh another; nevertheless it is still within the realm of doing what is right, as in correct, not political!

    Confirming our worst fears about the Republican Congress, the first action initiated was the elimination of the supposedly independent Office of Congressional Ethics. It was such a bad move that the President-Elect - in a tweet - stepped in to push that one aside. Needless to say if the folks we elected were imbued with more morals such an agency would not be needed; however, there is ample evidence that it is necessary. Let us hope that it will be allowed to function as needed.

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We know Sessions is overstating his record

    Attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions is trying to mislead his Senate colleagues, and the country, into believing he is a champion for civil rights. We are former Justice Department civil rights lawyers who worked on the civil rights cases that Sessions cites as evidence for this claim, so we know: The record isn't Sessions's to burnish. We won't let the nominee misstate his civil rights history to get the job of the nation's chief law enforcement officer.

    In the questionnaire he filed recently with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sessions (R-Ala.) listed four civil rights cases among the 10 most significant that he litigated "personally" as the U.S. attorney for Alabama during the 1980s. Three involved voting rights, while the fourth was a school desegregation case. Following criticism for exaggerating his role, he then claimed that he provided "assistance and guidance" on these cases.

Will Trump let Obama go quietly?

    Will Donald Trump deprive President Obama of what we have come to think of as a normal post-presidency, the relatively serene life of reflection, writing, philanthropy and high-minded speeches to friendly audiences?

    In recent decades, we have become accustomed to the idea of ex-presidents who leave political combat behind. They might occasionally speak out on behalf of their party: Bill Clinton was an effective "explainer in chief" for Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. But with some exceptions (Jimmy Carter on the Middle East comes to mind), they usually avoided trying to influence policy. In their above-the-fray roles, former commanders in chief sometimes improved their standing in the polls. George W. Bush is a prominent example of the less controversy/more affection dynamic.

    But former presidents have not always pulled back from politics. John Quincy Adams had the most unusual post-White House career. Two years after leaving the presidency, he embarked on a nearly 17-year stint in the House of Representatives where he was one of the country's most eloquent agitators against slavery and for Indian rights.

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Virginia's 'Minister of Private Parts' deserves scorn for dreadful transgender bathroom bill

    Apparently, Virginia has its very own Minister of Private Parts.

    His name is Del. Robert G. Marshall, a Republican who represents Prince William County, and the residents of his district keep electing him to keep talking about other people's nether-regions.

    I'm not exaggerating here.

    Marshall's legislative record reads like a conversation between my 10-year-old son and his friends. It's all potty this and p---y that. (Okay, my 10-year-old doesn't say p---y, but the president-elect does.)

    It's hard to believe Marshall is a 72-year-old man. He has devoted much of his public life to people's sexual and reproductive behavior, questioning the intelligence of women who use long-term contraception, arguing that some incest is voluntary, pushing for women to be legally required to have trans-vaginal ultrasounds before abortions, worrying that U.S. troops would catch sexually transmitted diseases if they had to serve alongside gay colleagues, calling porn a public health hazard.

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