Archive

January 3rd, 2016

Martin Shkreli: My Person of the Year

    It’s time — past time, really — to name the person of the year. (TIME Magazine does it. Why not me?)

    There were many worthy candidates in 2015: the Pope, the Donald, and Luke Skywalker, to name just a few. But only one symbolized the spirit of the year.

    I speak, of course, of Martin Shkreli.

    For those of you with short-term memory problems, he’s the weasel/drug honcho who bought the rights to a life-saving drug that had been on the market for years, and immediately raised its $13.50-a-pill price to $750 — a 5,000 percent hike.

    He said he’d use the extra money for research to develop a life-saving drug of his own, but nobody believed him. He was just doing what a long line of drug company executives do — gouge desperately sick people.

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I'm an evangelical preacher. You can't be pro-life and pro-gun.

    In the United States, evangelicals are among the biggest supporters of gun rights. They are the major religious group least likely to support stricter laws. Evangelical Larry Pratt, who directs Gun Owners of America, even argues that all Christians should be armed.

    For most of my adult life, I agreed. I believed that we had a God-given right to defend ourselves. I also believed that the Second Amendment guarantees a right to bear arms, and that anyone should be able to obtain a gun.

    Then, I saw the after-effects of gun violence firsthand. In Pennsylvania, I visited the families of five murdered Amish schoolgirls, as well as the family of the shooter. And I watched as a mass shooting unfolded at the Washington Navy Yard, across from where I lived at the time. These experiences, followed by careful theological and moral reflection, left me convinced that my family of faith is wrong on guns.

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How to end the stock buyback deluge

    "Follow the money," "Deep Throat" famously tells Bob Woodward, hot on the trail of The Post's most celebrated story, in the film "All the President's Men." In more recent decades, following the money has yielded a tale quite as calamitous as Watergate: the evisceration of the American middle class at the hands of the American rich.

    A Pew Research Center study released in December documents this shift. In 1970, middle-income households claimed 62 percent of all personal income, while upper-income households received 29 percent. In 2014, the share going to middle-income households had declined to 43 percent, while that going to the top had soared to 49 percent. (While many on the right insist that the poor are somehow draining the middle class's pocketbooks, that malignant myth is completely belied by Pew's figures.)

    The shift at the very top of the income ladder is the most dramatic. In the early 1970s, as Watergate unfolded, the wealthiest 0.1 percent of U.S. households commanded 3 percent of the nation's personal income. In recent years, their share has risen to 12 percent.

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Hillary copies Donald's tactics

    No controversy in the 2016 presidential campaign has gotten more publicity than Donald Trump's claim that "thousands" of people in New Jersey cheered after watching the Twin Towers collapse across the Hudson River in Manhattan in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

    A host of news organizations checked and could find no visual evidence anywhere that it was true. Professional fact-checking groups reached the same conclusion, and Trump was roundly castigated for continuing to trumpet the allegation as fact, presumably to drum up anti-Muslim sentiment to support his subsequent call for barring further entry of Muslims into the United States.

    Among the critics was the Democratic frontrunner for her party's presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton. Yet in her most recent debate with her two competitors, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, she borrowed a page from the Trump campaign playbook. She charged that the Islamic State, also known a ISIS or ISIL, was airing video on social media of Trump's allegation as a tool for recruiting Muslim terrorists.

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Enstrictly Speaking, 2016 Could Be a Trailrazer

    My 9-year-old daughter hunkers down for hours with the Warriors books. She’s on her fifth run through the dozens of tomes in this series that our local libraries keep handy about clans of cats who want nothing to do with people. Poring over them does wonders for my daughter’s vocabulary, but I could do without the occasional hissing and other feline habits she’s acquired.

    Meanwhile, my 8-year-old son is hooked on Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants graphic novels. Those books chronicle the adventures of two potty-talking boys, often joined by their trance-prone principal cavorting around in a cape and skivvies. Somehow, he’s reading above grade level anyway.

    Becoming avid readers made my bookworms interested in the mechanics of language. The other day, we talked about neologisms — words that don’t yet exist but ought to, since they’re instantly clear.

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A valuable lesson in First Amendment protections

    Here's the issue in a real free-speech case just decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: Can someone be refused a teaching certification because of his otherwise protected social or political views? The answer sounds like it should be no, doesn't it?

    Now let me frame the exact same case differently: Should a state have to grant teaching certification to someone who says sex with children should be legalized and that there's no point in trying to mainstream disabled students? It doesn't sound like the answer should be yes, right?

    Behold the beauty, and the challenge, of First Amendment law. Not only are the questions hard, but it's also hard to say what the right questions really are.

    So what did the court do? If you like the common-sense concrete, you'll be pleased to know that the Ninth Circuit decision crafted a new doctrine for student certification cases, and held that the University of Hawaii could block Mark Oyama from becoming a teacher.

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2015: The Year Of The Crybaby

    With a presidential election year coming, it's tempting to call 2015 the Year of the Crybaby. Everybody's a victim. Judging by TV and social media, roughly half the nation believes it's being oppressed by the other half. Everybody's throwing themselves a pity party.

    There's an awful lot of self-dramatization going on.

    Everywhere you look, somebody's getting fitted for a hairshirt.

    I was first moved to this thought by an extraordinary "Voices" letter to my local newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A fellow in Siloam Springs was offended by columnist John Brummett's criticism of "extreme evangelical professed Christians in Iowa."

    Brummett thinks the Iowa GOP primary gives undue attention to people who think "that God forgives everything but liberalism." This infuriated the reader, who proclaimed his constitutionally guaranteed right to oppose "abortion, divorce, gay marriage, etc." regardless of Supreme Court rulings. Should he lose it, "these United States will cease being America."

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Why I refuse to condemn terrorism

    As an American Muslim, I am consistently and aggressively asked -- by media figures, religious leaders, politicians and Internet trolls -- to condemn terrorism to prove my patriotism.

    I emphatically refuse.

    Make no mistake: The terror imposed by those who sympathize with Daesh (an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State militant group), al-Qaida, Boko Haram, al-Shabab and other groups is just as foreign to me as the terror advanced by mostly white men at the alarming rate of one mass killing every two weeks in this country.

    Therefore, just as I have never been asked to condemn Dylann Storm Roof's attack on parishioners of a historic black church in South Carolina, Robert Dear's attack on a Planned Parenthood facility, the murder of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, or the slaughter of moviegoers in Colorado or Louisiana, I will not be bullied into condemning terror perpetrated by psychopaths who misrepresent and distort Islam for their deranged purposes.

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We already know how to win the war on drugs

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. In January 1964, the Beatles first broke onto the Billboard chart with "I Want to Hold Your Hand"; by June, Ringo Starr had collapsed from tonsillitis and pharyngitis. In January, the surgeon general announced that scientists had found conclusive evidence linking smoking to cancer and thus launched our highly successful 50-year public-health fight against tobacco. In August, the North Vietnamese fired on a U.S. naval ship in the Gulf of Tonkin, which led to the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the public phase of the Vietnam War. Alongside an accelerating deployment of conventional troops would come their widespread use of marijuana and heroin.

    By 1971, cigarette ads had been banned from radio and television, the surgeon general had called for regulation of tobacco, and cigarette smoking had begun its long decline. The impact of drug use among troops and returning veterans provoked President Richard M. Nixon to declare a war on drugs.

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January 2nd

Doubling Down On W

    2015 was, of course, the year of Donald Trump, whose rise has inspired horror among establishment Republicans and, let’s face it, glee — call it Trumpenfreude — among many Democrats. But Trumpism has in one way worked to the GOP establishment’s advantage: it has distracted pundits and the press from the hard right turn even conventional Republican candidates have taken, a turn whose radicalism would have seemed implausible not long ago.

    After all, you might have expected the debacle of George W. Bush’s presidency — a debacle not just for the nation, but for the Republican Party, which saw Democrats both take the White House and achieve some major parts of their agenda — to inspire some reconsideration of W-type policies. What we’ve seen instead is a doubling down, a determination to take whatever didn’t work from 2001 to 2008 and do it again, in a more extreme form.

    Start with the example that’s easiest to quantify, tax cuts.

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