Archive

March 26th, 2016

The west's Islamophobia is only helping the Islamic State

    The promise of the "global war on terror" was that "it was better to fight them there than here." That promise brought mass violence to Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Yemen and Somalia -- in the name of peace in the West.

    That formula has clearly failed. Tuesday's bombings in Brussels come on the heels of similar incidents in Grand-Bassam, Ivory Coast; Maiduguri, Nigeria; Istanbul; Beirut; Paris; and Bamako, Mali, all in the last six months. Rather than containing violence, the war on terror turned the whole world into a battlefield.

    We should not be surprised. Violence inflicted abroad always comes home in some form. Last year, the U.S. military dropped 22,110 bombs on Iraq and Syria. The Pentagon says these bombs "likely" killed only six civilians, along with "at least" 25,000 Islamic State fighters. The true number of civilian deaths, though, is likely to be in the thousands as well.

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How Republicans licensed their brand to Trump

    Republicans act shocked that their party might as well be one of Donald Trump's hotels with his name plastered on it. He is almost certain to win the Arizona primary on Tuesday, and barring a miracle or a coup at the convention, he will be the Republican presidential nominee. Many millions have been spent by the anti-Trump forces, to no avail. A prominent mainstream member of the party recently told me that donors met secretly in a restaurant to plot their next move, but the only decision they have made was how they would like their steak done.

    No one should be surprised. It takes a big tent to house both Trump -- the non-Golden Rule billionaire with New York values and five children by three wives -- and Billy Graham, but that's what the Republicans built. The party of Main Street hung out a welcome sign to resentful white southerners, tea partyers, home schoolers, anti-tax, anti-spend fiscal conservatives, evangelicals and militiamen; those who embrace creationism and reject science, and anyone with a grudge, not to mention isolationists and hawks. To those who long to deport undocumented immigrants, love automatic weapons and believe global warming is an Al Gore hoax, the party said "come on in."

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The Republicans’ Sin of Endorsement

    How can things get worse for Republicans? Jeb Bush turned out to be a terrible candidate. Marco Rubio turned out to be an annoying twit. Donald Trump is a nightmare. Something had to be done, and so the solid, steady moderate elite decided the best strategy was to rally around ... Ted Cruz.

    Welcome to worse.

    They were terrified of Trump, whose short list of foreign policy advisers includes a 2009 college graduate with a résumé that boasts he once took part in a Model United Nations. Far better plan to nominate Cruz, whose list includes a guy who wrote an opinion piece suggesting President Barack Obama is a Muslim, and a woman who thinks Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s judgment about communists in the federal government was “spot on.”

    They thought Trump would be such an unpopular nominee that the party would face a historic disaster in November. Obviously, the way to improve chances was to support the most actively disliked Republican politician in America.

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Waging war on the dead at Harvard

    Last week, a university governing board declared that the time-honored seal of Harvard Law School must be retired because it is tied to that of a slave- holding family that funded the school's first professorship more than 200 years ago.

    With that decision, Harvard is about to slide down what lawyers like to call the "slippery slope," which could produce a wave of both comic and dangerous results. I say this having steeped myself in the university's archives over the past decade, focusing on issues of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other expressions of prejudice. I fear that if the university is bent on expunging all major remnants of what is today seen as morally repugnant, nothing will be left of Harvard as we know it. House names, professorships, busts and portraits will have to be removed, for if Harvard has been home to many great minds, it has also been home to many closed ones - like other American institutions. If this is followed to its logical conclusion, Harvard will undergo nothing short of total self-renunciation. Consider this much-abbreviated litany of offenses:

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Terrorists, Bathtubs and Snakes

    Are terrorists more of a threat than slippery bathtubs?

    President Barack Obama, er, slipped into hot water when The Atlantic reported that he frequently suggests to his staff that fear of terrorism is overblown, with Americans more likely to die from falls in tubs than from attacks by terrorists.

    The timing was awkward, coming right before the Brussels bombings, but Obama is roughly right on his facts: 464 people drowned in the U.S. in tubs, sometimes after falls, in 2013, while 17 were killed here by terrorists in 2014 (the most recent years for which I could get figures). Of course, that’s not an argument for relaxing vigilance, for at some point terrorists will graduate from explosives to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons that could be far more devastating than even 9/11. But it is an argument for addressing global challenges a little more rationally.

    The basic problem is this: The human brain evolved so that we systematically misjudge risks and how to respond to them.

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U.S. Congress is forgotten, but it isn't gone

    Remember that first branch of American government?

    With all the attention to the presidential race and the partisan fight over President Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, Congress seems an afterthought.

    The legislative branch isn't a pretty picture. In the House, the right-wing caucus is stymying Speaker Paul Ryan's plan to pass a budget. In the Senate, where the only priority of Republicans is to retain their imperiled majority, lawmakers are scrambling to come up with small measures to put on the April and May schedule.

    Yet a few substantive items might be enacted, such as parts of a bipartisan reform of the criminal justice system. And both sides will try to posture for maximum political advantage in the November elections.

    Moreover, Congress is teeing up big stuff for a certain post-election lame-duck session, possibly including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Garland nomination.

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So, President Obama gets only three years?

    Thank you, Merrick Garland. Your stalled appointment to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama gives me another outrage to write about besides Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

    This grateful pundit salutes you, although unfortunately the stubborn refusal of Republican leaders to grant you a proper hearing -- and up-or-down confirmation vote -- in the Senate comes straight out of the Trump school of single-finger social graces.

    Judge Garland, 63, who grew up in the Chicago area and serves on the District of Columbia Circuit of the U. S. Court of Appeals, comes highly recommended by experts from both parties, including three of the 11 Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    "I believe he is not only a fine nominee, but is as good as Republicans can expect from this administration," said Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah about Garland in 1995, after President Bill Clinton nominated Garland for his current seat. "In fact, I would place him at the top of the list."

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Patent law is holding back scientific advancement

    One of the biggest stories in science right now is the fight over the Crispr patents. Crispr is a gene editing technique that promises to allow previously unthinkable feats of bio-engineering. It was discovered in stages, like most scientific breakthroughs, by multiple teams working at various universities and research institutes around the world. The final, key advancements were made more-or-less simultaneously by two teams of researchers -- one based in California and led by Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier, the other based at the Broad Institute in Massachusetts and headed by Feng Zhang.

    The two teams will probably split the inevitable Nobel Prize. But they are now engaged in a bitter dispute over the patents. The California team filed for a patent first, but the Massachusetts team was the first to be actually granted the patent, since it filed a fast-track application. Crispr will probably create industries worth many billions of dollars, so lawyers are now preparing for an epic battle.

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Trump is not listening

    Republican elected officials, take note. Donald Trump is not malleable.

    How do we know this? There is the fact, of course, that people have been pressing him since the fall to name his foreign policy advisers and on Wednesday he admitted that he consults primarily with himself. "I'm speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I've said a lot of things," he said. "My primary consultant is myself, and I have a good instinct for this stuff."

    But even more important, we know that he is not malleable and will not take advice because we've seen a specific case of it acted out in relation to the most important issue put on the table by Trump in this campaign: civil order.

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Outrage And Scandal Is A Media Construct

    Some days I wonder if I'm qualified to express opinions about American politics anymore. See, I'm not particularly angry, and I also doubt that voters in general are any more worked up than usual. Voter outrage is mainly a media trope. Even at Donald Trump rallies, there's a whole lot of sheer entertainment and play-acting.

    Not that make-believe outrage can't have actual, even deadly, results. But does anybody really believe Mexico will pay for Trump's imaginary wall? Not really, but it makes people feel daring to play "let's pretend."

    Sure, it's a presidential election year, and people do get excited. However, people also work themselves into temporary frenzies over the NCAA basketball tournament, but everybody shows up for work after their team loses. Thankfully, for most Americans, politics is a lot more like sports than civil war.

    Back during Bill Clinton's first term, I often suspected that what was really bugging the Rush Limbaugh listeners was that they spent so much time stuck in traffic.

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