Archive

March 13th, 2016

Why Hillary Clinton is unlikely to be indicted

    For those of you salivating -- or trembling -- at the thought of Hillary Clinton being clapped in handcuffs as she prepares to deliver her acceptance speech this summer: deep, cleansing breath. Based on the available facts and the relevant precedents, criminal prosecution of Clinton for mishandling classified information in her emails is extraordinarily unlikely.

    My exasperation with Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state is long-standing and unabated. Lucky for her, political idiocy is not criminal.

    "There are plenty of unattractive facts but not a lot of clear evidence of criminality, and we tend to forget the distinction," American University law professor Stephen Vladeck, an expert on prosecutions involving classified information, told me. "This is really just a political firestorm, not a criminal case."

    Could a clever law student fit the fact pattern into a criminal violation? Sure. Would a responsible federal prosecutor pursue it? Hardly -- absent new evidence, based on my conversations with experts in such prosecutions.

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Why has Bernie Sanders stumbled on race? We all do

    Did Sen. Bernie Sanders really say that white people "don't know what it's like to be poor?" Well, yes, he said it, but he didn't mean it, which only shows how quickly serious presidential debates can turn pretty goofy.

    In context, the Vermont Democrat's "ghetto gaffe," as some headline writes quickly branded it, came during Sunday's Democratic presidential debate in Flint, Mich.

    Responding to a question from CNN's Don Lemon about what "racial blind spots" the candidates had, Sanders said, "When you're white, you don't know what it's like to be living in a ghetto. You don't know what it's like to be poor. You don't know what it's like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car."

    With that, Sanders accidentally landed in the ever-shifting sands of political correctness. That's an etiquette that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump loves to flout but it still means something to liberals, among whom the comment touched off a blizzard of ridicule in social media.

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Understanding The 'Moral Molecule' Of Our Pets

    "People must have renounced, it seems to me, all natural intelligence to dare to advance that animals are but animated machines. ... Such people can never have observed with attention the character of animals, not to have distinguished among them the different voices of need, of suffering, of joy, of pain, of love, of anger, and of all their affections. It would be very strange that they should express so well what they could not feel."

    -- Voltaire

    In the popular imagination, there are dog people and cat people, although one rarely encounters them in real life. Me, I'm leery of anybody who dislikes dogs, although it's necessary to make allowances for people with bad childhood experiences. Cat-haters are almost invariably men. Probably cats are spooked around them.

    But do domestic animals love us back? Most pet owners find it an absurd question. What could be more obvious than a dog's joy at welcoming us home after an absence? Than a cat's curling up and purring in our laps?

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Understanding the 'war on men' in the workplace

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 5.1 million professional drivers of assorted motor vehicles (that's leaving out boats, trains and trolleys) in the U.S. Eighty-nine percent of them are men.

    If and when driving is automated, most of those jobs will probably disappear. And it's not as if wiping out male-dominated occupations is anything new. Manufacturing, in which men currently hold 73 percent of the jobs, employed 13.7 million men in June 1979 and 9 million in February. That's 4.7 million jobs gone over a period during which the male population grew by almost 50 million.Women's manufacturing employment has actually seen a somewhat steeper decline, from 5.8 million to 3.4 million, in part because of the near wipeout of apparel manufacturing in the U.S. And there are other female-dominated industries that have suffered -- travel agencies went from employing 136,200 women in October 2000 to 64,800 in January. But on the whole, changes in the workplace since the 1970s have hit men much harder than women.

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Trump’s America: A Shining Outhouse on a Hill

    When Donald Trump announced he was running for president, I mocked him. “Of the United States?” I asked. (I got a C- in Mockery when I was in college, unfortunately.)

    When he jumped into the lead almost immediately, I laughed. “The higher the climb, the harder the fall,” I said. (I did better in Pithy Quotations.)

    When the early campaigning found him doing well in such disparate states as Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, I fell into denial. “He’ll never, ever be the Republican nominee,” I said. “Republicans are too sensible.”

    Then Super Tuesday happened and Trump basically wiped the floor with his opponents, who finally paused their fights with each other to join in a pathetic mass spitball attack on Trump. They were joined by the ghostly reappearance of Mitt Romney, who as usual was a day late and a dollar short.

    So I give up. I’m now convinced that Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for the presidency. Yes, of the United States.

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Trump's donations aside, these are tough times for veterans groups

    Donald Trump claimed it took only an hour to raise $6 million for veterans. "We set up the website. I called some friends," he said. And, just like that, 20 veterans' groups were told to expect "a lot of money."

    Indeed, if all you'd read about veterans groups in the past few weeks was coverage of Trump's fundraiser, or Wounded Warrior Project's reportedly big spending, you might think the nonprofit sector serving veterans was flush with cash and maybe even undeserving of your support.

    But those stories obscure two trends that are working against veterans groups: The needs of the veterans population are increasing at the same time that the base of support for veterans services is shrinking. And it's because of those trends that veterans nonprofits are evolving in ways that open them up to criticism.

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Toxic Teflon

    Teflon, you might have heard, may cause cancer.

    The culprit was a toxic, now retired compound called PFOA. Also known as C8, the chemical became the subject of a major lawsuit accusing DuPont — the manufacturer of the popular nonstick coating — of sickening thousands of Americans.

    Yet Teflon is still on the market, The Intercept reports, with a secret new active ingredient.

    To find out what it was, scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency sampled river water downstream from a North Carolina chemical plant that previously manufactured the lethal ingredient C8.

    That’s right: The pollution of waterways with factory waste is such a given that the river was the EPA’s go-to location to find industrial chemicals.

    Yikes.

    In 2016, don’t we have a better way of disposing of toxic waste? Don’t we have the sense to say that manufacturing plants shouldn’t be allowed to dump industrial waste into rivers?

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There Are No Words Left for the GOP Charade

    Help! We political wordsmiths are in urgent need of assistance from lexicologists.

    The Republican presidential primary has gone so far out, so beyond accepted boundaries of civic and civil behavior, that we’ve run out of words to describe the extreme weirdness. Words like bizarre, loopy, grotesque, burlesque, and freak show just don’t do justice to it.

    From the days of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, American politics has never been an endeavor for the delicate — it’s closer to a demolition derby than to a game of badminton. But still, the slur-fest and hate-mongering of the campaigns being run by Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Daffy, Sleepy, Dopey, Curly, and Moe are extraordinarily excremental.

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The delegate quirk that enabled Trump's rise

    Much has been made about Donald Trump winning primaries in different regions of the country. But after 23 states and Puerto Rico have held nominating contests, Trump has yet to win 50 percent in any of them. It's rare for a candidate to go this deep into a primary season without having cleared that mark and still go on to be the nominee. His success highlights an important quirk in Republican Party rules: A candidate can clinch the nomination without ever persuading a majority of voters in any given state.

    For some perspective: In 2012, Gov. Mitt Romney squeaked out a majority in the fifth state to vote, Nevada. In 2008, Sen. John McCain did not win a majority in the first eight states, but then won three majorities in the 21 Super Tuesday states. In 1996, Sen. Bob Dole ran through ten states before winning majorities in three of the next nine. On the Democratic side, nominees who emerged from crowded fields in 1976, 1988, 1992, and 2004 all won a statewide majority within the first dozen states.

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The dark side of 'friends' at the Supreme Court

    Filing a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court sounds like an act of spontaneous intellectual generosity meant to help the justices see all sides of a case. Or maybe an exercise in lobbying by interest groups.

    Actually, it's neither. A new article by two law professors shows that an organized business they dub the "amicus machine" generates hundreds of amicus curiae briefs, planned and coordinated by the specialized guild of lawyers who argue before the court.

    Surprisingly, the authors think the machine is a good thing. They say it weakens the excessive influence of the solicitor general, helps the court's law clerks find good cases and helps the justices announce broad rules of law.

    I don't agree that these benefits - if they're benefits at all -- outweigh the costs. The amicus machine is part of a system that pushes the justices to the sidelines and lets law clerks, past and present, take over the court's jurisprudence.

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