Archive

July 1st, 2016

Leaving Europe for a Lie

    I have been overcome by gloom since Britain voted to leave the European Union. It’s not just the stupidity of the decision. It’s not merely the lies of the charlatans who led the “Leave” campaign. It’s not only the absence, now so evident, of any “Nextit.” It’s not even the betrayal of British youth. It’s far more: a personal loss. Europa, however flawed, was the dream of my generation. The European Union was an entity, a bloodless noun, yet it had a beating heart.

    Riding a European train, gazing at the lines of swaying poplars, the villages huddled around their church spires, it was often impossible, at least for me, not to look past the tranquility to the blood-seeped soil and the tens of millions who gave their lives in Europe’s collective suicides. Well, as the Germans say, we had the blessing of late birth; and the duty inherent in that blessing was to build a united Europe.

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June 30th

Influence peddling gets First Amendment protection

    Former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, whose bribery conviction was unanimously overturned today by the Supreme Court, should thank his lawyers, his lucky stars and the First Amendment -- in reverse order. McDonnell had been convicted by a jury for taking loans and gifts including an inscribed Rolex watch in exchange for calling state officials and setting up meetings for Jonnie Williams, the head of a Virginia company that claimed to have developed a nutritional supplement made from tobacco.

    The court held that the governor's efforts didn't count as "official acts" as the federal bribery law required. But behind the decision was a deep worry, reflected at oral argument, that if the calls and meetings could be treated as criminal, then the entire structure of campaign finance in the U.S., protected by the First Amendment, might be made subject to criminal liability.

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In court filing, Trump leans on legal protections he's vowed to undo

    It's a good thing that Donald Trump's plan to loosen existing legal protections for those who badmouth public figures hasn't yet taken effect. Because the presumptive Republican presidential nominee took advantage of those protections today in a legal filing in a defamation suit filed against Trump and his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, by a cable news pundit. (Trump's presidential campaign is also listed as a defendant).

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Donald Trump's claims about radical jihadists are very wrong

    What do we mean when we talk about "homegrown extremism" or "radicalization" in the United States? Donald Trump claims that the threat of "radical Islam" is imported by immigrants from abroad, from regions where there is a history of terrorism against us and our allies. He refers to " thousands upon thousands of people" entering the United States, "many of whom have the same thought process" as the Orlando, Florida, shooter. He asserts that they are forming "large pockets" of people who want to "slaughter us."

    Actually, we don't know the motivations of the Orlando shooter, and we probably never will. We certainly do not know what thought processes immigrants might bring with them as they travel from the "many more Muslim countries" Trump mentioned earlier this week (the short list - in addition to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria - would include Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Niger and Nigeria). Many of these potential immigrants might be fleeing jihadist violence in their home countries.

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Culturally constructed ignorance wins the day

    I spend much of my time shrugging off breathless news events. Ebola (now Zika), employment reports, Federal Reserve rate changes, government shutdowns, peak earnings and so on. Much of what passes for earth-shaking news turns out to be, with the benefit of hindsight, something in between idle gossip and fear-mongering. The genuine, not well-anticipated, actual market-moving news -- such as the U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union -- is a relatively rare thing.

    However, there is a disconcerting trend that has gained strength: agnotology. It's a term worth knowing, since it is going global. The word was coined by Stanford University professor Robert N. Proctor, who described it as "culturally constructed ignorance, created by special interest groups to create confusion and suppress the truth in a societally important issue." It is especially useful to sow seeds of doubt in complex scientific issues by publicizing inaccurate or misleading data.

    Culturally constructed ignorance played a major role in the Brexit vote, as we shall see after a bit of explanation.

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A cost-benefit test defeats Texas abortion limits

    Today the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right to abortion -- and laid down a new framework for how courts should evaluate future legislation limiting it. For the first time, the court expressly held that laws limiting access to abortion must be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis, to see if health benefits to women outweigh the costs in making abortion less available. The cost-benefit scheme gives greater precision to the undue-burden test established in the landmark 1992 case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood. But it also raises the difficult question of how, exactly, costs and benefits should be determined if and when other states pass laws that limit abortion access while purporting to protect women's health.

    The decision went 5-3, with Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the court's four liberals and the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer. That's significant for two reasons. First, the case would have come out the same way even if Justice Antonin Scalia were still alive or Judge Merrick Garland had been confirmed. Kennedy was the swing vote, and he voted to uphold the legacy of the Casey decision he co-authored.

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White Savior, Rape and Romance?

    The movie “Free State of Jones” certainly doesn’t lack in ambition — it sprawls so that it feels like several films stitched together — but I still found it woefully lacking.

    The story itself is quite interesting. It’s about Newton Knight, a white man in Mississippi during and after the Civil War, who organizes and mounts a somewhat successful rebellion against the Confederacy. He falls in love with a mixed-race slave named Rachel, and they establish a small community of racially ambiguous relatives that a 2003 book of the same title calls “white Negroes.”

    It is easy to see why this story would appeal to Hollywood executives. It has a bit of everything, with eerie echoes of modern issues.

    It comes in the wake of “12 Years a Slave,” at a time when slave narratives are en vogue, only this story emphasizes white heroism and centers on the ally instead of the enslaved.

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Learning from Britain's unnecessary crisis

    Elites are in trouble. High levels of immigration are destabilizing our democracies. Politicians who put their short-term political interests over their countries' needs reap the whirlwind -- for themselves but, more importantly, for their nations.

    Citizens who live in the economically ailing peripheries of wealthy nations are in revolt against well-off and cosmopolitan metropolitan areas. Older voters lock in decisions that young voters reject. Traditional political parties on the left and right are being torn asunder.

     One of the few good things about Britain's vote to leave the European Union is the rich curriculum of lessons it offers leaders and electorates in other democracies.

     History is unlikely to be kind to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Last week's referendum was not the product of broad popular demand. Cameron called it to solve a short-term political problem and get through an election. His Conservative Party was split on Europe and feared hemorrhaging votes to the right-wing, anti-Europe, anti-immigrant UK Independence Party.

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White Savior, Rape and Romance?

    The movie “Free State of Jones” certainly doesn’t lack in ambition — it sprawls so that it feels like several films stitched together — but I still found it woefully lacking.

    The story itself is quite interesting. It’s about Newton Knight, a white man in Mississippi during and after the Civil War, who organizes and mounts a somewhat successful rebellion against the Confederacy. He falls in love with a mixed-race slave named Rachel, and they establish a small community of racially ambiguous relatives that a 2003 book of the same title calls “white Negroes.”

    It is easy to see why this story would appeal to Hollywood executives. It has a bit of everything, with eerie echoes of modern issues.

    It comes in the wake of “12 Years a Slave,” at a time when slave narratives are en vogue, only this story emphasizes white heroism and centers on the ally instead of the enslaved.

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June 29th

Trump and the CIA (Christians in Action)

    "We don't know anything about Hillary in terms of religion," said Donald Trump, while speaking to a group of Christian leaders in New York. "Now, she's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no - there's nothing out there." Trump, of course, is dead wrong about that, just as he is about so many other things on which he opines. There's plenty "out there" about Hillary Clinton's faith.

    She is on the record about her role as a church youth-group member and Sunday school teacher, and how her faith and teachings on forgiveness helped her endure disclosures of her husband's affairs. She even allowed things to get out of hand in a 2007 New York Times interview, when she responded to such questions as "How do you feed [your] personal relationship with God?," "Do you believe that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened?," and "Do you believe on the salvation issue . . . that belief in Christ is needed for going to heaven?"

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