Archive

December 18th

Education on Islam probably can't solve landlord dispute

    You might think Donald Trump could use a crash course in Islam, but there's no way to make him take it. A Massachusetts judge, however, faced with a convicted defendant who demonstrated anti-Muslim views, ordered her to take a class on Islam as part of her probation. Now the commonwealth's Supreme Judicial Court will have to decide whether the sentence was an unconstitutional infringement of religious liberty or a common-sense, measure-for-measure matter of justice.

    The facts grow out of that most brutal of human interactions, the landlord-tenant dispute. They also have an intriguing cultural background, which turns out to be relevant to the constitutional issues in the case. Daisy Obi, the landlord-turned-criminal, is a 73-year-old Nigerian immigrant who serves as pastor of the Adonai Bible Center in Somerville, Massachusetts. She owns a multifamily house of the kind common in multicultural Somerville, and rented out an apartment in it to Gihan Suliman, her husband and five children. Suliman is a lab supervisor and Harvard student who also happens to be Muslim.

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Downsizing the News Staff; Downsizing Quality and Credibility

    For more than a decade, advertising, circulation, and news quality in both print and electronic media have been in a downward spiral. That spiral has twin intertwining roots.

    The first root is the rise of social media. The complacent and stodgy print media were slow to catch onto the concept and rise of social media and its influence upon a generation that conducts its life by a fusion of smart phones to ears. When owners figured out they needed to have a digital presence, they first gave away content in a desperate bid to keep readers, and then began to charge for it to those who didn’t have subscriptions.

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Cutting carbon may require downsizing

    The good news from Paris is pretty good: Rich and poor countries now agree to emit less carbon dioxide, and have pledged initial targets for reducing those emissions. Here's the bad news: The gap between the pledged targets and what's needed is so big that closing it might not be possible with better technology alone.

    If that's the case, then maybe -- just maybe -- achieving the goals just agreed to with such fanfare will require Western countries to produce fewer emissions in part by consuming a lot less stuff. That's a conversation that hasn't truly started, and one that politicians, probably for good reason, don't seem eager to begin.

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Cruz can't become Republicans' safe choice

    Ted Cruz's surge is picking up momentum rapidly. He has pulled into the lead in Iowa polling, and is now a clear second to Donald Trump in national surveys.

    Cruz still has several obstacles before he can get close to the presidential nomination, and FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten reminds us that even as we're getting close to the primaries and caucuses, polls are not very predictive.

    Yet polls can still be self-fulfilling if party actors take them seriously. If these influential Republicans -- politicians, campaign and governing professionals, formal party officials and staff, donors and activists, and party-aligned interest groups and the partisan press -- believe that the nomination is now down to a fight between Cruz and Trump, then they may find themselves jumping on the Cruz bandwagon.

    Just how bad would that be for the Republican Party?

    Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine and Matt Yglesias at the Vox website both say: Not so bad, really.

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Who will be crowned king of the trolls?

    Charles Barkley calls Twitter “a place where fools go to feel important.”

    He’s talking about you, Donald.

    You’ve built a fool’s paradise, constructed in planks of 140 words or less. Like many who find that kind of fame salutary, your ambitions are destined to go no further than that.

    It is somehow newsworthy that Donald Trump has stirred roughly 11 percent of our citizens into a frothy lather (support from 28 percent of Republicans polled, with Republicans representing about 40 percent of us).

    The only way this is of any electoral significance is in the media’s absurd horse-race fixation with polls. With what Trump has been saying, more likely that Charles Barkley will ascend to the White House, and I mean by a lot.

    True: Trump has more people on his side nationwide than his Republican competitors. Ted Cruz? A whopping 7 percent of Americans in general. Ben Carson and Marco Rubio? Maybe 6 percent apiece. What dazzling phenomena they are.

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Climate Change Issue Needs a Churchill

    "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Those were Winston Churchill's words of battle-weary comfort when World War II started decisively shifting in the Allies' favor.

    They could also be applied to the climate accord just reached in Paris -- 196 countries all agreeing to cut or limit greenhouse gas emissions. The long slog to slow global warming and avoid its worst environmental, economic and security consequences is hard and often thankless political work.

    Republicans running for president are obviously not keen on picking up that shovel. They treat the issue as not a problem, a problem for others to solve or unsolvable. Ted Cruz: "Climate change is not science. It's religion." Donald Trump: "I don't believe in climate change." Ben Carson at least concedes its existence but says that there is "no overwhelming science" that humans are involved.

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Time doesn't heal wounds from Bush v. Gore

    Saturday marked the 15th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial decision in Bush v. Gore, which put a stop to the recount in Florida, and thereby handed George W. Bush the 2000 presidential election. The case excited considerable scholarly argument, along with a partisan rancor that continues to this day. Looking back, however, it's hard to imagine an outcome that would have left the losing side satisfied -- whichever side it happened to be.

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New Hampshire will weed the Republican field

    The New Hampshire presidential primary vote usually breaks late. This time, not unusually, it will break a few candidates.

    Eight weeks before the Feb. 9 primary, Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Chris Christie and probably Marco Rubio are in a wide- open contest to be the non-right wing, non-Donald Trump Republican contender. Two or three of them may be dead after the vote. Among Democrats, if Bernie Sanders, a senator from Vermont, loses to Hillary Clinton in his neighboring state, he's probably toast. If he wins, the contest will go on for a while.

    The earlier caucuses in Iowa -- in which Ted Cruz has surged ahead of Donald Trump in the polls -- could eliminate two or three of the right-wing also-rans. But on the mainstream conservative side, the task of culling falls to New Hampshire, which prides itself as the place that picks presidents. In the past 10 primaries, 15 of the 20 victors went on to win their party's nomination.

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Terrorism is the universal enemy

    A 12-year-old girl is beaten at school in New York, is called "ISIS" and nearly has her hijab torn off by her classmates. A 16-year-old Somali American dies in a fall from a six-story building in Seattle that his family and the Muslim community in the city suspect was the result of foul play. Rocks are thrown through the windows of a Muslim family's home in Plano, Texas. A shop owner in Queens, New York, is attacked at his business by a man shouting, "I'll kill Muslims." This is only a small sampling of the recent violence and hate crimes against Muslims,which have reached record highs.

    These days, sermons at mosques in the United States, rather than focusing on community and religion, conclude with advice about how Muslims can protect themselves from attack. The fear that any non-Muslim American feels about his or her safety in the face of terrorism is felt tenfold by Muslim Americans. I am 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, a Rhodes scholar and student at Harvard Medical School. I am not used to feeling so afraid for my body.

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Gun rights are different from your travel rights

    What if the National Rifle Association is right that the no-fly list shouldn't be used for denying people guns, as President Barack Obama has urged and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, D, has said he will do? If you're a liberal, the very idea may seem absurd -- but in fact an important constitutional issue is at stake.

    The problem isn't that gun-sales restrictions are unlawful in themselves. It's that the no-fly list is a black box full of errors, featuring limited opportunity for redress. Whether you like it or not, gun possession is a constitutional right under the Second Amendment -- unlike flying. That means we need to decide whether the government can restrict that right based on a determination of dangerousness that occurs with a very unusual form of due process.

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