Archive

June 20th, 2016

Repeal Islam's scarlet-letter sex laws

    The massacre of partygoers at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, took me back to the late summer of 2005, when an African American woman, wearing a tight headscarf over her staff uniform, stormed out of the kitchen and into a conference room at an Atlanta Holiday Inn, shouting: "You're all going to burn in hell!"

    I froze. Around me were about 50 brave souls from Al-Fatiha, a gay American Muslim organization, many of them young men secretly at the organization's annual conference while their parents attended a meeting of the conservative Islamic Society of North America. That weekend, I prayed shoulder to shoulder with them - a gay man leading us in prayer, a transgender Muslim beside me.

    I'm a straight Muslim feminist, but, like my friends at Al-Fatiha, I'm a criminal, too, in the view of many Islamic clerics today. My crime under conservative sharia law: giving birth to a baby boy 13 years ago while single.

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How the EU pushed Britain to leave

    So Britain might actually do it. With a week to go before the referendum on June 23, recent polls say the campaign to quit the European Union is ahead. The government and its allies in the Stay campaign are alarmed.

    Why is this happening?

    The excellence of the Leave campaign certainly isn't the reason. Advocates of Brexit made a weak case, unable to say what leaving the EU would mean for the country's future trade arrangements or which parts of EU law would be re-adopted and which discarded. It wasn't because these issues can't be debated in advance -- they can -- but because Leave advocates are divided among themselves on what leaving the EU ought to mean.

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Why Donald Trump's media dominance is actually hurting him

    Journalists have begun a debate amongst themselves and with their audiences about the best way to cover Donald Trump, and there's an assumption running through that debate that I want to challenge. Many seem to believe that the kind of unvarnished coverage Trump has received, particularly on cable news, is a great and undeserved favor the media have done him.

    But is that really true? Might it be that the most compelling case against Donald Trump is Donald Trump himself?

    Let's start with this. It's fair to say that in the last couple of days, Trump's reaction to the Orlando massacre got lots of media attention, and President Obama's reaction to Trump's reaction got even more. Hillary Clinton's reaction got relatively less attention. But a new CBS poll released today showed that when people were asked whether they approved of how the three responded, the differences were striking. If we take the net approval (percentage approving minus percentage disapproving), Obama came out at plus 10 (44-34), Clinton was at plus 2 (36-34), and Trump was at minus 26 (25-51).

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June 19th

How Trump gets away with a policy-free campaign

    It was quite possibly the understatement of the year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a Bloomberg Politics podcast last week, said Donald Trump "doesn't know a lot about the issues."

    Trump isn't a blank slate, exactly. He wants to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and build a wall to keep Mexicans out. He wants less open trade. And while he opposes gun control, he'd ban gun sales to anyone on a terrorism watch list.

    But Trump's thinking on a host of other issues -- the details on taxes, federal budgets, deficits and debt, income inequality, the cost of child care, charter versus public schools, housing, student debt and many other things supposedly on voters' minds this year -- isn't clear.

    Does it matter? Where is it written that a presidential nominee has to have a passel of policy proposals to get elected? Nowhere, say several presidential historians.

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Unless Hawaii is your idea of hell, ignore the NRA's hysteria over regulation

    Speaking in 2013, a few weeks after children were slaughtered in their classrooms in Newtown, Connecticut, and just after President Barack Obama's second inauguration, National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre laid out the frightening challenge that Obama's presidency posed to gun owners.

    "He wants to put every private, personal transaction under the thumb of the federal government, and he wants to keep all those names in a massive federal registry," LaPierre said. "There are only two reasons for that federal list of gun owners -- to tax them or take them."

    Just seven months away from the end of his second term, Obama still has not proposed, much less implemented, a federal gun registry. But LaPierre is in the gun business, not the honesty business. A diabolical slippery slope that begins with criminal background checks and snowballs from there into gun registration, confiscation and, finally, totalitarian tyranny is one of LaPierre's favorite tropes. And in honor of the election calendar, the dangerous peaks of Mount Obama are rapidly transforming into the slippery slopes of Mount Hillary.

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Trump's new favorite slogan was invented for Nazi sympathizers

    Donald Trump greeted Twitter on Flag Day with two words in all caps: "AMERICA FIRST!"

    He has made this slogan a theme for his campaign, and he has begun using it to contrast himself with President Obama, whose criticism of Trump's rhetoric on Tuesday was answered with a Trump statement promising, "When I am president, it will always be America first."

    He wasn't quite promising "America über alles," but it comes close. "America First" was the motto of Nazi-friendly Americans in the 1930s, and Trump has more than just a catchphrase in common with them.

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The Trump effect: Cable news viewership and profits surge in 2015

    Back in 2012, Jack Shafer, then a media critic with Reuters, wrote, "The cable news audience has peaked." Thanks to the Internet and other factors, wrote Shafer, audience for the main cable outlets -- CNN, Fox News, MSNBC -- had started dipping. "Bill O'Reilly? Peaked. Chris Matthews? Peaked. Anderson Cooper? Peaked. Democratic Party outrage over what Fox News said about the president? Peaked."

    If ever there a phenomenon that would shatter Shafer's predictions, it was Donald Trump's presidential campaign -- the one-man ratings machine that boosted audiences for a string of Republican presidential debates on cable TV outlets last year, not to mention an untold number of interviews, both on the phone and in person.

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I watched my dad work, and I learned about life

    Much of what I know about my father as a man, I got from observing him at work. In our house, Father's Day was special, not because it was a day for our father but because it was a day for all fathers: a red-letter-day for his menswear store when business picked up (second only to Christmas,) when mother was called to work the cash register and I, even as a young boy, was called to man the broom, the stockroom and the tailor shop. The store, located in Canton, Ohio, was called Mr. Ted's and was tucked into a strip mall that was in walking distance of cornfields and catered to those who made their living with their hands. The store was named not for me but for my father. That we shared names was itself a breach of faith - my grandfather, a rabbi, could not have approved.

The self-driving Trump is in a race with no pit crew

    Hillary Clinton delivered a substantive and somewhat bipartisan speech on Monday about the massacre in Orlando, Florida. She offered a number of specific-sounding prescriptions and recalled George W. Bush's respect for the Muslim community.

    Donald Trump? He started by bragging about himself and hinting that President Barack Obama might be part of a plot against the U.S. Then he delivered a speech so full of flat-out falsehoods that the New York Times and The Washington Post adopted, as the Washington Examiner's Byron York noted, a "new tone in straight-news general election reporting."

    The Post's news story referred to "a speech laden with falsehoods and exaggeration," while the Times said it was "rife with the sort of misstatements and exaggerations that have typified his campaign." Neither newspaper relied on attributions like "some contend" or "many believe."

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The reaction when an Orthodox Jewish congregation went to a gay bar to mourn

    When our synagogue heard about the horrific tragedy that took place at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it was at the same time that we were celebrating our festival of Shavuot, which celebrates God's giving of the Torah.

    As Orthodox Jews, we don't travel or use the Internet on the Sabbath or on holidays, such as Shavuot. But on Sunday night, as we heard the news, I announced from the pulpit that as soon as the holiday ended at 9:17 p.m. Monday, we would travel from our synagogue in Washington to a gay bar as an act of solidarity.

    We just wanted to share the message that we were all in tremendous pain and that our lives were not going on as normal. Even though the holiday is a joyous occasion, I felt tears in my eyes as I recited our sacred prayers.

    I had not been to a bar in more than 20 years. And I had never been to a gay bar. Someone in the congregation told me about a bar called the Fireplace, so I announced that as our destination. Afterward, I found out it was predominantly frequented by gay African Americans.

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