Archive

July 2nd, 2016

Pity poor Britannia

    It's enlightening to see that Brits can be just as dense as anyone else, especially for us old Anglophiles who venerate the dropped R, the broad A, the lift, the loo, the brolly, the banger, and that ridiculous game in which the pitcher throws a bad pitch and the batter swings a shovel at it and runs the wrong way. Because the Brits produced Shakespeare and Sir Winston and "Pomp and Circumstance" and "I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by," we assumed they would do the right thing and then they go and cut off their nose to spite their face and vote to pull out of the European Union, a real shot in the foot. It's like watching the bishop drop the baby in the baptismal font.

    And will we be next? The Trumpster went around banging his dishpan, whooping it up for ignorance and superstition, and if he triumphs, then there goes Texas. Ted Cruz will restore the old Republic where citizenship can be restricted to the righteous and the cleanly and the Ten Commandments be enacted into law and stoning as a deterrent to heresy. And then goodbye, Kingdom of Vermont and Prince Bernie.

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Paul Ryan’s Hot New Idea: More Rank Corporate Giveaways

    Attention people, there’s big news out of Washington: Paul Ryan, the Republican speaker of the House, has announced that he has an idea!

    This is news because the GOP leadership hasn’t offered a new idea in years.

    Instead, they’ve simply been the party of no, opposing all proposals put forward by Democrats and nixing everything that big majorities of Americans want Congress to act on — like a jobs program to repair our collapsing infrastructure and a raise in the minimum wage to above the poverty level.

    So some were excited when Speaker Ryan called a major press conference to present his idea for fixing the economy.

    But, sheesh.

    It’s a rehash of the same old stale “idea” the GOP has for every issue: Eliminate government protections for consumers, workers, our environment, and so forth, so corporate profiteers can run roughshod over us. That’s the sole idea in the highly hyped, 57-page “economic agenda” that Ryan is peddling like a snake oil salesman.

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Justice Anthony Kennedy turns into a liberal

    Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's vote to reaffirm the validity of affirmative action in higher education admissions and to give bite to abortion rights mark the endpoint of his near-complete transformation into a constitutional liberal.

    Last year's gay marriage decision, which Kennedy wrote, was his high water mark is a creative inventor of new constitutional rights. But Kennedy had expressed skepticism of affirmative action in the past. And while his vote in the 1992 Casey v. Planned Parenthood had blocked Roe v. Wade from being overturned, it weakened Roe's rights-oriented logic. For Kennedy to write the opinion that will become the new affirmative action precedent, and to join the opinion that makes cost-benefit analysis the new measure of whether state laws violate abortion-rights, suggests adherence to a liberal constitutional agenda.

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Blame Booze, Not Judge, In Stanford Sexual Assault Case

    Recently I received a mass email from a law professor in California soliciting money for an effort to have a local judge removed. Judge Aaron Persky had sentenced what the professor called "an elite athlete at Stanford University, to only six months in prison for three counts of sexual assault," offending left-thinking enemies of college sports everywhere.

    By the time professor Michele Dauber's indignant message arrived, the offending elitist, 19-year-old freshman Brock Turner -- who swam the 200- and 500-meter freestyle -- had been banished from the Stanford campus, given a lifetime ban from U.S. swimming events, required to register as a felony sex offender and sent to jail. Not exactly a walk in the park.

    Ah, but a fair-haired, blue-eyed boy: the ideal villain in the never-ending quest for the Perfect Campus Rape tale.

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You Break It, You Own It

    The British vote by a narrow majority to leave the European Union is not the end of the world — but it does show us how we can get there.

    A major European power, a longtime defender of liberal democracy, pluralism and free markets, falls under the sway of a few cynical politicians who see a chance to exploit public fears of immigration to advance their careers. They create a stark binary choice on an incredibly complex issue, of which few people understand the full scope — stay in or quit the EU.

    These politicians assume that the dog will never catch the car and they will have the best of all worlds — opposing something unpopular but not having to deal with the implications of the public actually voting to get rid of it. But they so dumb down the debate with lies, fear-mongering and misdirection, and with only a simple majority required to win, that the leave-the-EU crowd carries the day by a small margin. Presto: the dog catches the car. And, of course, it has no idea now what to do with this car. There is no plan. There is just barking.

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When opposites converge over domestic violence

    It's not often that the Supreme Court's most liberal and most conservative members are the only two justices dissenting from an opinion joined by the rest. But that happened in Monday's fascinating decision holding that a misdemeanor conviction for "reckless" domestic assault is enough to ban someone from owning a gun. The court's majority was happy to interpret domestic violence expansively. For very different but overlapping reasons, Justices Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor disagreed.

    The case involved a federal law that makes it a felony to possess a gun if you've been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence. Ordinarily, the federal ban on gun possession only kicks in if you have committed a state or federal felony. For reasons having to do with the dangers of a gun in a home where domestic violence has occurred, this law extends the ban to misdemeanor convictions. QuickTake Guns in America

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The Supreme Court's Texas abortion ruling reignites a battle over facts

    Monday's decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt finally answered a question almost 15 years in the making: How do you know if a law unduly burdens a woman's right to choose abortion? Before answering this question, Hellerstedt addressed the constitutionality of two parts of Texas's abortion law. One provision required doctors performing abortions in the state to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, and a second regulation mandated that abortion clinics comply with the regulations applied to ambulatory surgical centers. In a 5 to 3 decision, the court struck down both measures. Most obviously, the decision matters because clinics in Texas will stay open, and the constitutionality of similar laws on the books in other states is now far from a sure thing. But Hellerstedt also makes a difference because it sends the clearest message in decades about where abortion jurisprudence is going: toward a battle over facts.

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July 1st

The Orlando shooter Googled my name. I wish he had reached out to me.

    A few days ago, a colleague from the college where I teach and serve as president called to let me know the FBI had just paid a visit. They wanted to inform me that the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, had been Googling me on his computer and iPhone. They were concerned that he may have had malevolent intent, given that the Islamic State had called for my death twice in the last year, presumably due to my strong condemnation of the utterly anti-Islamic nature of their "state" in a sermon that went viral in the Middle East.

    After some deliberation, I thought of another explanation for Mateen searching for me: Perhaps he had been conflicted about what he was contemplating and wanted to seek advice. I may be guilty of wishful thinking, but I would like to believe that in his heart he knew something was not right. We cannot determine what motivated this young man - who had a wife and a child - to infamously propel himself into American history by means of one of our bloodiest massacres. But my sense, given what we've learned about him since then, is that it cannot be reduced to a simple equation.

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The risk of a constitutional crisis in Britain

    The phrase "constitutional crisis" looms large over the aftermath of Britain's vote to leave the European Union. The possibility of such a crisis has already been invoked in connection with what would happen if the Scottish Parliament refuses to approve Britain's withdrawal from the EU; what might happen if Britain's main Parliament should ignore the results of the Brexit referendum; and the possible consequences of taking seriously the popular petition calling for a second vote on the basis of a new "rule" requiring a 60 percent approval and 75 percent turnout on EU-related matters.

    All this talk raises an inevitable question: What, exactly, is a constitutional crisis? And equally fascinating, what would a constitutional crisis look like in the country that initiated the modern idea of the national constitution and yet still lacks a written one?

    There is no official definition of a constitutional crisis -- that in itself is a telling fact. In order to trigger one, a country usually has to be facing a situation in which its constitutional principles offer no clear, definitive answer to a pressing problem of governance.

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Never mind the confusing polls, Clinton is ahead

    Looking at reliable recent polls, you could come away with two contradictory conclusions: Donald Trump is cratering, allowing Hillary Clinton to run away with the presidential race. Or Trump has survived an awful month and is surprisingly competitive.

    I'm going presume to tell you what the state of play really is by looking at multiple surveys and extrapolating a bit.

    Clinton, though she remains an unpopular candidate, has an advantage of about 7 points, though it's slightly less when third- and fourth-party candidates are included. State surveys that show Trump running almost even in battleground states are exaggerated. More worrisome for Republicans are the internal dynamics of these findings that suggest deep trouble for the presumptive nominee and perhaps the party.

    Start with gold standard polls. Any list of best pollsters, from the data guru Nate Silver to political practitioners, would include Ann Selzer, the Bloomberg Politics pollster, Peter Hart and Bill McInturff, who conduct the Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, and Gary Langer, who does surveys for ABC News/Washington Post survey.

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