Archive

February 6th, 2016

Zika is the latest example of how hard it is to be a woman in Latin America

    The mosquito-borne Zika virus has reproductive-age women, families and governments across the Americas nervous, and for good reason. Some 4,000 babies have been born with microcephaly, a condition marked by an abnormally small head and potentially devastating brain damage, very possibly caused by the virus. Zika has been found in more than 20 countries and could infect as many as 4 million people. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned pregnant women in the United States against traveling to affected countries. The threat is so severe that the government of El Salvador told women to postpone pregnancy until 2018.

    Besides the obvious paradox (how exactly are women supposed to prevent pregnancy in a heavily Catholic country when the Church opposes condoms and birth control pills?), the response to the Zika epidemic from Latin American governments is striking: It distills the disregard so many of them have for women, for maternity, and for the complex and deeply personal calculations all women make when becoming mothers or choosing not to -- often at the expense of public health.

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A bipartisan solution for the Affordable Care Act

    Last month, majorities in Congress voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Not surprisingly, President Obama vetoed the repeal bill, and the Republican Congress was unable to override the president's veto.

    As former leaders in Congress, we have a message for both sides in this debate: It's time to give the states a chance.

    This doesn't mean that conservatives and Republicans have to give up the fight to reduce the regulations and taxes in the law. It also doesn't mean that progressives and Democrats have to stop defending protections for the underinsured and uninsured.

    Instead, it's time to look to a provision of the Affordable Care Act - Section 1332 - that can achieve what both sides earnestly wish for: providing more Americans with access to more affordable, flexible, patient-centered health care.

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Trump's master class in spin

    If you think Donald Trump lost the Iowa caucuses, Trump has news: You have it totally wrong.

    Trump likes to describe himself as different from ordinary politicians, guys who have spent their lives debating and running. But Trump's post-Iowa spin was dizzying enough to give a career politician vertigo. Trump's appearance here -- at a news conference beforehand and at a boisterous rally after -- was a master class in spin.

    "Fantastic results," Trump observed. "Unbelievable."

    If there were unaccustomed hints of humility in Trump's concession speech Monday night, if he sounded a tad subdued, all that had evaporated somewhere en route to New Hampshire, replaced by a touch of social media petulance -- not only to the news media but toward voters themselves.

    "The media has not covered my long-shot great finish in Iowa fairly," Trump tweeted at 11:29 a.m. Tuesday. "Brought in record voters and got second highest vote total in history!"

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2 Questions for Bernie Sanders

    When Bernie Sanders won election as mayor of Burlington, Vermont, in 1981, I called his office to see if there was a story there about a socialist elected official. I was interning at The Washington Post (I didn’t mention the intern part!) and spoke at length to some assistant who answered the phone in the mayor’s office.

    I asked about Sanders’ plans, and the aide kept answering with “we” — which I thought a nice glimpse of contagious office socialism. After half an hour, I had enough to check with my editor, so I asked the aide’s name. “Oh,” he said a bit sheepishly, “actually, I’m Bernie Sanders.”

    Sanders’ lack of political airs has helped catapult him forward in the presidential race, overcoming a 50-point deficit to just about tie Hillary Clinton in Iowa. He comes across as winningly uncalculated: Other candidates kiss babies; Sanders seems to fumble for a baby’s “off” switch, so he can tell you more about inequality in America. Most politicos sweet-talk voters; he bellows at them.

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Trump's Woman Problem

    I used to have this poster in my office reflecting the timeless wisdom of a relief pitcher named Larry Andersen. Today he does radio broadcasts for the Philadelphia Phillies. A friend who's a calligrapher made it for me.

    "Hey, you're only young once, but you can be immature forever."

    The poster got lost after we moved, and my wife doesn't miss it. Possibly because it reflects an aspect of my personality she's sometimes uneasy with: the part that helps me do a pretty good Donald Trump impression. The part that reflects my bygone youth in New Jersey, the Insult State.

    The part that makes her laugh until I imitate Trump attacking Hillary Clinton as a woman The Donald would not want to see naked.

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The self-proclaimed winners of Iowa

    The only thing missing from Marco Rubio's victory speech Monday night was the victory: In Iowa's Republican caucus, Rubio finished not first, not second, but third. Was he expecting a bronze medal?

    Overall, it was a long evening that offered too many declarations of triumph -- I counted four -- and too little clarity about what either party ultimately wants in a presidential nominee. The war between insiders and outsiders rages on, and there is no reason to believe it will end anytime soon.

    "So this is the moment they said would never happen," Rubio began, ignoring the fact that every recent poll said his third-place finish would almost surely happen. He went on to give a hopey-changey speech that was strikingly similar to one Barack Obama gave eight years ago, also in Iowa, the difference being that Obama really won. Rubio made an obligatory dig at the president but instead should have sent him a royalty check.

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The word Republicans and Democrats want to own

    Rigged. No word more appropriately describes the 2016 presidential election. I don't mean that the election is being fixed by ballot-box stuffing, or that politicians are buying votes by handing out "walking-around money."

    I'm talking about how the word "rigged" keeps popping up everywhere, as if speech writers had a lexicographic central casting. Politicians use it to make the case for their candidacies. Voters use it to explain why they're hopping mad. Liberal movements use it as their raison d'etre. Conservatives use it to mock the liberal "elites" and government in Washington. Everything, it seems, is rigged -- from banks to tax codes and criminal prosecutions.

    Elizabeth Warren put the word into political play in 2012, in a passionate speech at the Democratic National Convention: "People feel like the system is rigged against them, and here is the painful part, they're right. The system is rigged." The worst offenders: oil subsidies, low tax rates paid by billionaires, and Wall Street CEOs who, after the 2008 financial crisis, "still strut around Congress, no shame, demanding favors."

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Social Media: Destroyer or Creator?

    Over the last few years we’ve been treated to a number of “Facebook revolutions,” from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street to the squares of Istanbul, Kiev and Hong Kong, all fueled by social media. But once the smoke cleared, most of these revolutions failed to build any sustainable new political order, in part because as so many voices got amplified, consensus-building became impossible.

    Question: Does it turn out that social media is better at breaking things than at making things?

    Last month an important voice answered this question with a big “yes.” That voice was Wael Ghonim, the Egyptian Google employee whose anonymous Facebook page helped to launch the Tahrir Square revolution in early 2011 that toppled President Hosni Mubarak — but then failed to give birth to a true democratic alternative.

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Protecting children versus protecting privacy

    Can Wisconsin make a sex offender who's completed his sentence wear a GPS monitor on his ankle for the rest of his life? Reversing a lower court judgment last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit said the answer is yes. The opinion, by the influential Judge Richard Posner, presents itself as an exercise in cost-benefit analysis and legal common sense. But the decision is wrong nonetheless, because the right to privacy can't be balanced away by statistics.

    In the 1990s, Michael Belleau was convicted two separate times for sexually assaulting children. When his term for the second conviction ended in 2005, he wasn't released. Instead, the state had him civilly committed as a danger to others because of a propensity to abuse children. (This practice may seem like an illegal extension of a defendant's criminal sentence, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that post- sentence civil regulation of sex offenders is constitutional, because it's for prevention and not punishment.)

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The Sanders Sensation

    When I crossed paths with a Democratic campaign consultant in Austin last March, I suggested he come to the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers hall to hear Bernie Sanders speak. The Vermont senator, I added, was pondering a presidential run.

    “You gotta be kiddin’ me,” he snorted. “Bernie Sanders? Let me tell ya,’ his chances are slim and none, and Slim don’t live in Bernie’s precinct. First of all, no one south of Greenwich Village ever heard of him. Second, who’s gonna vote for some old senator from a tiny state of Birkenstock wearers damn near in Canada?”

    He was a no-show, but we didn’t have room for him anyway. The hall was designed to seat 200 — but nearly 500 Texans showed up that night to hear the undiluted populist message of this senator “no one ever heard of.”

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