Archive

January 2nd, 2016

Terrorists with assault weapons rewrite the script

    Over the last 15 years, Americans have become accustomed to distinguishing domestic mass shootings from Islamic terrorism -- the difference between Columbine and the Sept. 11 attacks, if you will. In 2015, that conceptual division broke down with the massacre in San Bernardino, California. It wasn't the first domestic act of terrorism inspired by Islam -- Army Major Nidal Hasan's attack on Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon bombing both featured American Muslim terrorists. But San Bernardino was the first time the two paradigms were literally indistinguishable. It's as if the terrorists finally said, "Who needs airplanes when assault weapons are readily available?"

    Why does the 2015 breakdown of the Columbine-9/11 distinction matter? The answer has everything to do with whether Americans ultimately decide to accept or reject the contemporary realities of terrorism.

    Until now, the responses to the two kinds of attacks have diverged radically.

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Judge rules drinking tea, shopping at a gardening store is probable cause for a SWAT raid on your home

    In April 2012, a Kansas SWAT team raided the home of Robert and Addie Harte, their 7-year-old daughter and their 13-year-old son. The couple, both former CIA analysts, awoke to pounding at the door. When Robert Harte answered, SWAT agents flooded the home. He was told to lie on the floor. When Addie Harte came out to see what was going on, she saw her husband on his stomach as SWAT cop stood over him with a gun. The family was then held at gunpoint for more than two hours while the police searched their home. Though they claimed to be looking for evidence of a major marijuana growing operation, they later stated that they knew within about 20 minutes that they wouldn't find any such operation. So they switched to search for evidence of "personal use." They found no evidence of any criminal activity.

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Billionaires got few dividends in presidential race

    Throughout 2015, we kept hearing warnings that wealthy individuals would dominate the presidential election, and perhaps even influence the outcome, all because of court-made changes in campaign-finance law that allowed unlimited contributions and spending.

    So why did Big Money in politics end up to be a big bust in 2015?

    Super PACs -- political action committees that can accept unlimited amounts from just about anyone but can't coordinate with the candidate -- have been spending money, yet have little to show for it.

    Other dark-money sources -- essentially nonprofit social- welfare groups that don't have to disclose their donors -- had financed fewer than 20 percent of the television advertisements that ran through Dec. 9, according to a recent study. And almost all of those ads were for Marco Rubio.

    The overall picture could change, of course, as the primary contests approach or once the general-election campaign begins next summer.

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Democrats see chance to reclaim Senate majority

    In 2014, Democrats, the majority party in the Senate, had to defend most of the seats up for election, more than a few in unfriendly territory. That year, Republicans took back control of the chamber, picking up nine seats.

    Democrats are counting on a similar scenario unfolding to their advantage next year: Republicans currently have a 54-46 advantage, but of the 34 seats up in 2016, only 10 are held by Democrats.

    Any outcome depends on unpredictable events over the next 10 months: the presidential race, whether the stronger candidate wins selective primaries; the effectiveness of some challengers, and changing economic or national security issues.

    With that critical caveat, Democrats say there's at least an even chance they will score a net gain of four or five seats. Republicans acknowledge they may lose a couple seats, but believe they will maintain control. This is almost a mirror reflection of the analysis two years ago.

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A Handful of Christmas Miracles

    Christmas, a time of hope in the murk of early winter, is the best occasion to bring some good news onstage. Here are some snippets of qualified joy:

    Jimmy Carter holds off cancer: He’s 91. A few months ago, he was given a diagnosis of melanoma that had spread from his liver to his brain. But recently, the former president announced that his latest brain scan showed no sign of the disease. Carter is being treated with a drug that uses the immune system to battle cancer cells — another bright light, if the cost can be made affordable.

    No matter what you think of his presidency, Carter has been a force for global good since he left the White House, with energy that Jeb Bush should bottle.

    Alexander Hamilton lives, for now: This founding father is the rage on Broadway, with a smash musical. The man behind our financial system, the immigrant son of a single mother, Hamilton was killed in a duel. His handsome visage covers the $10 bill.

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December 29th, 2015

A Handful of Christmas Miracles

    Christmas, a time of hope in the murk of early winter, is the best occasion to bring some good news onstage. Here are some snippets of qualified joy:

    Jimmy Carter holds off cancer: He’s 91. A few months ago, he was given a diagnosis of melanoma that had spread from his liver to his brain. But recently, the former president announced that his latest brain scan showed no sign of the disease. Carter is being treated with a drug that uses the immune system to battle cancer cells — another bright light, if the cost can be made affordable.

    No matter what you think of his presidency, Carter has been a force for global good since he left the White House, with energy that Jeb Bush should bottle.

    Alexander Hamilton lives, for now: This founding father is the rage on Broadway, with a smash musical. The man behind our financial system, the immigrant son of a single mother, Hamilton was killed in a duel. His handsome visage covers the $10 bill.

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New Year's Dreams Meet Fear

    No, it isn't fear of terrorists on my mind as we begin a new year. It is what we do to ourselves! Apparently we don't need an outside group to damage us. We are letting greed prevail. It is greed in the personal lives of so many. It is greed in businesses and, worse yet, greed in government. In my mind greed is the generator of corruption be it for power or money--or are they so co-mingled as to be inseparable?

    At this writing we are in the midst of our giving season when the best impulses of so many are at a high point but all too often it does not last throughout the year. Even those well intended givers often do not sustain their good impulses throughout the year. More awful are the thieves who only take away, never having had good impulses in this giving season or any other time.

    Many of the rich assuage their conscience with giving out a few what for them are pittances here and there but they do not change their behavior otherwise in their day to day living.

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Google, Ford will disrupt Detroit together

 

    With the auto industry on the verge of its self-driving future, insiders and car enthusiasts have been gearing up for a clash of the titans, pitting the lumbering giants of Detroit against the nimble disruptors of Silicon Valley. But a new blockbuster deal between Ford and Google to co-produce autonomous vehicles is the strongest sign yet that the much-anticipated day of reckoning may never come.

    When Google first started developing and testing its self- driving car technology, it used modified production vehicles -- mostly Toyota Prius and Lexus RX hybrids -- to test its laser- based sensing system. But the technology remained something of an oddity, a "science experiment" in the minds of auto industry professionals, until May 2014, when Google revealed its first self-driving prototype. With no human controls of any kind, Google's "toaster" demonstrated the search-engine giant's immense ambition: to disrupt traditional auto ownership with an entirely new mobility paradigm that owes nothing to the century of automotive evolution.

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Time for collaboration on gun studies

    Twenty years ago, one of us was director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, supporting research to build an evidence base to advance the science of gun-violence prevention. The other of us was a Republican representative from Arkansas determined to dismantle that effort because conservatives had concluded that it was aimed at gun control and not gun violence.

    Ultimately, the House of Representatives voted to insert language into the CDC's appropriations bill that succeeded in prompting the CDC to bring gun-violence research to a halt. The law stated that no CDC funds "may be used to advocate or promote gun control." One of us subsequently was fired because of his commitment to gun-violence prevention research. The other saw the CDC's abandonment of its commitment to this research as a successful effort to protect the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

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December 28th

Bernie Sanders' lessons for capitalists

    There is an irony to the presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders: The senator from Vermont is often cast as exotic because he calls himself a "democratic socialist." Yet the most important issue in politics throughout the Western democracies is whether the economic and social world that social democrats built can survive the coming decades.

    Let's deal first with the tyranny of labels. "Socialist" has long been an unacceptable word in the United States, yet our country once had a vibrant socialist movement, whose history has been well recounted by John Nichols and James Weinstein. Socialists had a major impact on the mainstream conversation. Reforming liberals, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, co-opted many of their best ideas, and it's one reason they were marginalized.

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