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Union Busting Spreads to Ohio


Yesterday, the Ohio Senate voted to deny public employee unions their right to collectively bargain. This union-busting campaign is reopening debates that we have not had in many years in this country and represent a huge over-reach by Republicans who won in November for a variety of reasons, but not because they pledged to bring us back to the Coolidge era. If I were one of the newly elected GOP members of the state legislature, or of the U.S. Congress, I would be very concerned. At a time when most people are concerned about jobs, and most observers agree the November elections were a referendum on the economy, the GOP is attacking working people, not the fat cats on Wall Street who got us into this mess. There is no incumbent so vulnerable as a first-term incumbent, and no state in the Union that is more of a bell-weather than Ohio. Republicans were given a chance to lead that state to improve the economy.

Benedict & The Jews


The headline at the Times - “Pope Exonerates Jews” – was not exactly on the mark. Pope Benedict does something more important than “exonerate” the Jews for the death of Jesus: That exoneration was affirmed at the Second Vatican Council in its seminal document Nostra Aetate in the 1960s. Benedict argues, in excerpts of his forthcoming book, Jesus of Nazareth – Part II, not only that the charge of deicide was always misplaced, but that such misplacement cast centuries of Christians in the role the centurions played at the Crucifixion, seeking a scapegoat to avoid looking to their own guilt.

Demographics Are Not Destiny


Nate Silver has a very interesting post, with funky charts, illustrating the fact that many of the demographic designations we use to parse elections don't work nearly was well as people think.
I think he overstates one point however. He notes that Hispanics care about many issues other than immigration, and that's true and means that neither party has a 100 percent hold on the group. For example, Hispanics are less pro-choice than most Democrats and more pro-social justice than most Republicans. But, when one party is hellbent on deporting you or your cousins, it seems to me Hispanics will see that issue in existential terms, not in terms of one policy preference over another. And, once an issue is seen as extistential, well, it burns deeply into one's attitudes and those attitudes can keep going for more than a generation.

Supreme Court Rules for Westboro Church


By an 8-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that awarded damages to the family of a marine at whose funeral the Rev. Fred Phelps and his Westboro Church parishioners carried signs that read "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God For Dead Soldiers." The ruling is a fine one.
To be clear, everything about Rev. Phelps and his parishioners is loathesome. In their twisted minds, the death of a soldier is the result of America's tolerance for gays, a punishment from God no less, and a cause to overlook the standards of common decency. Their attitudes are barbaric, their protests a mockery of Christianity, their signs equal parts stupidity and hate. But, that was not the issue before the Court. The issue was whether or not their signs and their speech and their protests are protected by the First Amendment. They are.

Ruth Marcus Asks: Where's Obama?


Ruth Marcus criticizes President Obama this morning in the Washington Post for his failure to engage in political debates with greater clarity and speed.
Marcus is on to something, but not as much as she thinks. For example, I wish the President had been a bit more forceful in shaping the health care debate, one of the examples she cites, but I have to admit: He got it passed.
And, regarding the President's alleged slowness in responding to the upheavels in the Mideast, I do not share Marcus's concern but, instead, say "Amen." After eight years of George W. Bush's "Ready! Shoot! Aim!" foreign policy, Obama's more calculated responses strike me as someone who recognizes the wisdom of the old adage, "First, do no harm."
Call me an Augustinian, but the capacity to imagine how our intentions can go awry seems to me to be a fine character trait in a U.S. President.

Haley Barbour: Colorful Liar


I love the way the mainstream media often refers to Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour as "colorful" which, I suppose, means "quotable." But, sometimes, Barbour usues color and quotes to stoke resentment. His comment to the washington Post that people are driving up to pharmacy windows in BMWs saying they cannot afford their co-pay is a perfect example. The Washington Post did a little useful fact-checking to demonstrate that in this case, "colorful" meant "lying."

Silk On Huckabee on Obama Growing Up in Kenya


Mark Silk looks at Mike Huckabee's comments asserting that President Obama's experience growing up in Kenya is partly responsible for the fact that his worldview is so skewed. Huckabee said the President viewed the Brits differently from most past presidents because of his supposed childhood in Kenya. Of course, President Obama did not grow up in Kenya at all and only visited the country of his father's birth as a young man.
Silk sees Huckabee's rant as part of a broader ability to give dog whistles to the kookie right. But, there is a less remote explanation for Huckabee's comments. Dinesh D'Souza, a thoroughly nice guy by the way, wrote a cover story for Forbes last year suggesting that Obama had certain anti-colonial ways of thinking because of his Kenyan roots, via the American academy. I did not agree with D'Souza's piece, but it was far less coarse than Huckabee's condensed version of the claim.

Congressman Beats Super-Computer


Mark Twain famously wrote: "Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself."
Well, Congressman Rush Holt of New Jersey is no idiot. He beat Watson, the super-computer in a round of jeopardy.
More tellingly, Holt tried to make Chris Matthews grasp his point that computers will never have certain human capabilities, that computers cannot develop wisdom, that they cannot appreciate nuances we humans grasp, that they cannot assess the different weight to be afforded competing interests, etc., a point that Matthews had trouble with. The video is below.
Here is another way to make the point that Holt was making. A computer cannot make a period at the end of a sentence; It can only make a dot. A computer cannot know that the period is related to the capital letter at the beginning of the sentence or, in the case of e.e. cummings, that it is not so related.

What To Do About Libya?


The crisis in Libya may have found its inspiration in the non-violent protests in Tunisia and Egypt, but it is now clear that non-violent protests will not dislodge this dictator, that Moammar Gaddafi intends to use, and is already using, all the violence at his command to retain power, that the United States completely lacks the kind of long-standing ties with senior military officials that might permit us to influence the stance of the Army, and that the opposition to Gaddafi is even less organized than the opposition to Mubarak. It is against these grim facts that those Libyans who are seeking to overthrow Gaddafi have now called for U.S. and other foreign military assistance to help them achieve their freedom.

What can and should the U.S. do?


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April 22-May 5, 2016


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