Archive

June 17th, 2016

Puerto Rico is really a colony, justices affirm

    Last week the Supreme Court insulted Puerto Rico by saying its people aren't sovereign. This week the court added injury to the insult, denying Puerto Rico access to federal bankruptcy laws that would have created a path to recovery for its struggling utilities.

    The decision on Monday passed the ball to Congress to change the law or arrange a bailout. At the same time, it underscored the outrageousness of Puerto Rico's distinct legal status as a quasi-colony: the Commonwealth will have to lobby a Congress in which its residents, U.S. citizens all, have no representation.

    The underlying legal situation always posed a high hurdle for Puerto Rico, which in 2014 passed a Recovery Act to enable municipalities and utilities associated with the Commonwealth to declare bankruptcy. A federal district court and then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit both struck down the Puerto Rico law as invalid under the federal bankruptcy code.

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The Scope of the Orlando Carnage

    These locations are never random. These targets aren’t accidental. They’re the very vocabulary in which assailants like the Orlando gunman speak, and he chose a place where there’s drinking. And dancing. And where LGBT people congregate, feeling a sense of welcome, of belonging.

    That last detail is in the foreground of the deadliest mass shooting in American history — and rightly so.

    But let’s be clear: This was no more an attack just on LGBT people than the bloodshed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris was an attack solely on satirists.

    Both were attacks on freedom itself. Both took aim at societies that, at their best, integrate and celebrate diverse points of view, diverse systems of belief, diverse ways to love. And to speak of either massacre more narrowly than that is to miss the greater message, the more pervasive danger and the truest stakes.

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Lessons of Hiroshima and Orlando

    I want to talk today about the horrific human tragedy of Orlando. But first I want to talk about Hiroshima — or, more precisely, the profound speech that President Barack Obama gave there May 27 that got lost in all the campaign noise here.

    Hiroshima, Obama suggested, represents a world in which for the first time ever a country possessed the power to kill all of us — and if it had to be any country, I am glad it was America. But today, he said, we’re entering a world where small groups — maybe even soon a single super-empowered person — will be able to kill all of us; therefore we’d better start thinking about the moral implications of where technology is taking us.

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Islamic State is just an umbrella brand for hate

    Islamic State may have nothing to do with any of the recent high-profile terror attacks for which it has claimed credit. No matter: It's such a strong brand that it's firmly associated with the atrocities in the minds of those who rarely read past the headlines. More importantly, they bear the IS stamp in the minds of those who are tempted to blow something up or go out and shoot some strangers; a modern brand, created for a world of ready anger and short attention spans.

    Islamic State's claims of responsibility rarely come with anything other than a scant level of detail available to anyone who has read a few accounts of the attack on the internet. While crediting itself with the Paris attacks of November, 2015, Islamic State said:

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Gay bars were supposed to be safe spaces. But they often weren't.

    Since at least the 1940s, gay establishments such as Pulse have served as a safer sanctuary and haven for LGBT people. Entering these places meant a respite from the closet. There, those who had been shunned by family, friends, communities, employers, landlords or the state could make temporary residence. For some, it was more of a home than they had ever known.

    Even the very real risk of raids, harassment and exploitation did not deter queer people from patronizing these places. Access to them could be a matter of life and death; the effects of depression and anxieties waiting in the outside world were too much to bear for some people shut out by their families or towns. Gay bars and clubs helped combat isolation. They forged community.

    These gay establishments have always been political. Their mere existence is an act of defiance. They represent the claimed spaces of people who often live outside the margins of mainstream society. Perhaps the best known of these is the Stonewall Inn; the 1969 police raid at that New York City bar helped spark massive social and political gay mobilization.

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Even Republicans agree: Trump failed his first leadership test miserably

    Donald Trump responded to the Orlando shooting with a massive display of what he likes to call "strength." That simply has to work, right? After all, people are frightened, so they'll gravitate towards whichever candidate more persuasively promises to smash the enemy -- both without and within -- while ignoring the flouting of American values embedded in the details, right? That's Trump's explicit bet.

    But Politico reports Tuesday morning that even Republicans think that Trump's response to the shooting is profoundly problematic. What's important about this report, though, is that Republicans say that his response was worrisome both in terms of the substance and in terms of the politics.

    Republicans tell Politico that Trump failed what is known as the "desk test," i.e., whether his behavior inspires voters to confidently picture Trump in the Oval Office during a time of crisis. Others worry that Trump's post-Orlando behavior raises doubts about whether he understands the president's role. And on the substance, the blowback was even worse:

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Does it matter that Donald Trump has banned The Washington Post? Not in the way you'd think

    Does Donald Trump believe in the well-established role of the press in American democracy? It certainly doesn't look that way. In recent months, his staff has roughed up a reporter and thrown another one out of a press event, and he has insulted journalists and blasted unfavorable news coverage.

    Yet, he has benefitted from oodles (that's the technical term) of free exposure in the media. And he obviously craves media attention - in much the same way an addict craves his fix.

    Now, the latest chapter. Calling The Washington Post phony and dishonest, Trump has revoked the press credentials that allow Post reporters access to his campaign rallies.

    This gives The Post unwanted membership in a growing club of banned news organizations, including Politico, BuzzFeed, the Des Moines Register and the Huffington Post.

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June 16th

Stretching justice to defend the death penalty

    A judge shouldn't be allowed to vote in a case involving a capital sentence when he was formerly the prosecutor who sought the death penalty in the same case. That sounds obvious, and the Supreme Court said so on Thursday.

    But three justices dissented, suggesting that the answer might not have been obvious after all. The dissents show how deeply divided the court really is over the death penalty - and how far the conservative justices are prepared to go in its defense.

    The facts of the case go back to 1984, when Terence Williams, who had just turned 18, participated in the beating and murder of Amos Norwood, 56, in Philadelphia. The prosecutor in Williams's case wanted to seek the death penalty, and asked approval from the Philadelphia district attorney, Ronald Castille. Castille approved in 1986, writing on the letter of request, "Approved to proceed on the death penalty."

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Assault weapons must be banned

    The only reasonable response to the massacre in Orlando is to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons. All else, I'm afraid, is just noise.

    If this ensconces me in an ideological corner, I'm fine with that. If it insults the Constitution, so be it -- any other response would do far greater harm to our freedoms. Or we could argue for a while and then do nothing. We've tried that course of action many times, and it doesn't work.

    An Islamic State sympathizer was able to go into a gun store days or weeks ago and buy both a pistol and an AR-15-style semiautomatic assault rifle, which he used to kill 49 men and women at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Had he been armed with the pistol alone, he still would have killed people -- but not so many. Keeping military-grade combat weapons out of the hands of maniacs should not be a controversial idea.

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Why I light candles after tragedy

    "We want policy change, not prayers." Immediately following the violence in Orlando, my friends' social media posts made their priorities clear. They were unimpressed with the deluge of social media piety following the latest mass shooting.

    As a gay man, I heard their plea: They saw prayer-themed hashtags and photos as nothing more than unwanted folderol.

    But as a Christian, following the horrific news Sunday morning, I did what people of faith do best: I lit candles. A few others sent out tweets, we showed up in Washington's Dupont Circle and we lit more candles.

    Our ordinary religious rituals are a spiritual emergency preparedness plan of sorts. We practice the fire drills so that when the panic of actual smoke and flame overtake us, we will hopefully remember where the exit is - or at least which direction to crawl.

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