Archive

April 13th, 2016

The Supreme Court justices are the adults in our democracy as the other branches bicker

    Who would have predicted that the last true democrats in Washington might be found on the Supreme Court?

    As partisanship and jockeying for electoral advantage become all-consuming, Congress refuses to do its job, while the White House reaches perilously toward doing Congress's job as well as its own. The Senate majority and minority leaders no longer work together. President Obama and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan long ago gave up on finding common ground.

    When Justice Antonin Scalia died, it seemed a safe bet that the court, too, would fall victim to partisan paralysis.

    Already reviled by the left for Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. FEC, and by the right for not blocking Obamacare, the court instantly rose to the top of the presidential campaign agenda. Candidates boasted of litmus tests for appointing judges that, until recently, no self-respecting politician would have admitted to. The justices found themselves evenly divided and are likely to remain so for a long time - a scenario, if there ever was one, for gridlock and point-scoring.

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Building a Better Father

    As a child I was schooled constantly in how different mothers and fathers were. TV shows spelled it out. So did examples and conversations all around me, including in my own home.

    A mother’s love was supposedly automatic, unconditional. A father’s love was earned. Mothers nurtured, tending to tears. Fathers judged, prompting them.

    And while mothers felt pressure to lavish time and affection on their children, fathers could come and go. As long as they did their part as providers, the rest was negotiable.

    There was some of that psychology and behavior in the veteran political journalist Ron Fournier, who, at 52, is about my age. He grew up in the same culture that I did.

    But almost six years ago, he learned that the social awkwardness of his son, Tyler, wasn’t just that. It was “high-functioning autism,” in the words of a specialist. Tyler, then 12, had Asperger’s.

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Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

    — Ramona drummed harder to show everyone how bad she was. She would not take off her shoes. She was a terrible, wicked girl! Being such a bad, terrible, horrid, wicked girl made her feel good! She brought both heels against the wall at the same time. Thump! Thump! Thump! She was not the least bit sorry for what she was doing. She would never be sorry. Never! Never! Never!

    One of the world’s great inventions, only a little behind the light bulb, was Ramona Quimby, the strong-willed, lovable and exasperating star of “Ramona the Pest” and other books. For decades the Ramona books have been a gateway drug luring young readers into the spellbinding world of books.

    Ramona’s inventor, Beverly Cleary, has sold 85 million copies of her books about Ramona, Henry Huggins, Ralph S. Mouse and other beloved figures. Cleary will turn 100 on Tuesday, so I asked her about her characters, her life and her wisdom.

    Now living in a retirement home in Carmel, California, she immediately disclaimed any grand thoughts about reaching a century.

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Dinklage and Dragons: Will Tyrion Win the “Game of Thrones”?

    I had many questions for Peter Dinklage.

    I wanted to know how he feels about being the first dwarf heartthrob. I was curious why his 4-year-old daughter is named Zelig. I wondered what it was like to elope to Vegas.

    But first, I had to ask about the dragons.

    The “Game of Thrones” star is such a big animal lover that he’s a vegetarian who eats tofu masquerading as meat in the carnivorous, libidinous show.

    So now that the global hit — Season 6 starts in two weeks — has brought his character, the wily and louche “halfman” and “perverse little imp” Tyrion Lannister, into the sun-baked realm of Daenerys Targaryen, was it fun to act with the dragons? Or were they temperamental divas who chewed — or incinerated — the scenery?

    “They’re not real,” he says, looking at me solemnly with his big, droopy blue eyes.

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Snoopy the Destroyer

    Has Snoopy just doomed us to another severe financial crisis? Unfortunately, that’s a real possibility, thanks to a bad judicial ruling that threatens a key part of financial reform.

    Some background: When catastrophe struck the troubled U.S. financial system in September 2008, the proximate cause was the looming collapse of three companies — none of which were banks in the normal sense of the word, that is, institutions that take deposits and lend them out. One of them was, of course, Lehman Bros.; the other two were The Reserve, a money-market fund, and American International Group, or AIG, an insurance company.

    Lehman declared bankruptcy, while The Reserve, which had lost money with Lehman, froze customers’ accounts, and was eventually forced into liquidation. AIG was rescued by an $85 billion credit line from the Federal Reserve; in return, the Fed took 80 percent ownership of the company.

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Faith's 2016 political mysteries

    The 2016 election is transforming the religious landscape of American politics.

    It's hard to imagine a Democratic presidential candidate receiving a mid-campaign invitation to speak at the Vatican.

    But on Friday, Bernie Sanders put out word that on April 15 he'll attend a gathering of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Both Sanders and Hillary Clinton, his front-running rival, have regularly praised Pope Francis.

    And on the day of Sanders' announcement, Francis released "The Joy of Love." The groundbreaking document signaled what can fairly be called a more liberal attitude toward sexuality and the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics.

    The pope didn't change church doctrine on gay marriage but was offering another sign that he's pushing the church away from cultural warfare and toward a focus on poverty, economic injustice, immigration and the plight of refugees.

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April 12th

Hillary and Bernie’s New York Moment

    Democratic presidential campaign news: Hillary Clinton just visited the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders announced he is going to the Vatican, where he hopes to meet with the pope.

    Have you noticed how Sanders, former mayor of Burlington, Vermont, is the glamour candidate while Clinton, former first lady, senator from New York and secretary of state, seems to follow an itinerary fit for a county commissioner? Welcome to the New York primary.

    Yes! It’s New York’s turn! Everyone here is very excited — it’s been a quarter century since anybody paid attention to us during a big election year. Even then it was only for about two minutes, when we had a minor role in ending the presidential prospects of Jerry Brown. But on April 19, New York voters will crown, um — the candidates who get to go on to Pennsylvania.

    Actually, it’s a bigger deal than that. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have to win their home state. If John Kasich can do it, it’s the least you can expect.

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The eventful life of a political utility infielder

    The memoir of the late Frank Mankiewicz, "So As I Was Saying," has recently hit the bookstores. In his 90 years he was an avid baseball fan, and in the game's jargon he could have been cast as a utility infielder of the first order.

    Son of Herman Mankiewicz, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of "Citizen Kane," Frank eschewed the Hollywood track in favor of his own CV.

    That included: Army infantryman in the Battle of the Bulge, Los Angeles lawyer, Democratic activist, Peace Corps director in Peru; Sen. Robert Kennedy's press secretary in his ill-fated 1968 presidential campaign. Later he was a newspaper columnist, CEO of NPR and public relations executive.

    In 1972, Frank was chief press and political adviser to Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. As such, he was a central figure in the episode that doomed McGovern's bid -- the forced resignation of vice-presidential nominee Sen. Tom Eagleton of Missouri when it became known that Eagleton had undergone electroshock treatments for mental illness.

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Clintons wrestle with a black generation gap, too

    It's hard to say why former President Bill Clinton went so far off-script to defend his 1994 anticrime law against Black Lives Matter hecklers at a Philadelphia rally for his wife's presidential campaign.

    Did he forget that he, too, renounced his own law, the Violent Crime Control and Prevention Act of 1994, last July at the NAACP convention in the same City of Brotherly Love?

    "I signed a bill that made the problem worse," he told the NAACP about the increased incarceration that President Barack Obama has been trying to undo, "and I want to admit it."

    And last May in a CNN interview, he admitted: "We have too many people in prison. And we wound up spending -- putting so many people in prison that there wasn't enough money left to educate them, train them for new jobs and increase the chances when they came out that they could live productive lives."

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Why I refuse to send people to jail for failure to pay fines

    Melissa J. showed up in my court last year with four kids in tow. Her children quietly watched from a nearby table while I spoke with her. The charges against her - driving with an invalid license, driving without insurance, not wearing a seat belt, failure to use a child safety seat properly and four failures to appear -- were nothing unusual for municipal court. Nor were her fines of several thousand dollars. But for Melissa, who had a low-paying job and a husband in prison, and who looked as if she hadn't slept in days, that number might as well have been several million.

    As a municipal judge in College Station, Texas, I see 10 to 12 defendants each day who were arrested on fine-only charges: things like public intoxication, shoplifting, disorderly conduct and traffic offenses. Many of these people, like Melissa, have no money to pay their fines, let alone hire a lawyer.

    There's another way, and I've been experimenting with it in my own courtroom.

 

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