Archive

December 25th

The price of neglecting North Korea

    With so many foreign policy challenges to address - including the threat of terrorist attacks, the tenuous security situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, a revanchist Russia and an expansionist China - the Obama administration has paid only limited attention to North Korea's expanding nuclear and missile capabilities. This could prove a costly and dangerous mistake.

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Reducing Ivy League inequality

    As winter approaches in Hanover, New Hampshire, the admissions season at Dartmouth College is in full swing. By the start of the new year, the college's admissions office will receive roughly 20,000 applications from talented scholars vying to join the Class of 2020. By spring, Dartmouth's incoming class will be a diverse community of students with different intellectual passions, native languages, religions and political leanings. However, like its counterparts at other Ivy League institutions, this class will fail to be diverse in at least one important respect: socioeconomic status. Surprisingly, this lack of economic diversity arises from a well- intentioned policy - need-blind admissions - acting in combination with noninclusive recruiting networks.

    According to recent data, almost 60 percent of the Dartmouth student body comes from households in the top 6 percent of the national income distribution (those earning at least $200,000 a year), while about 11 percent is drawn from the bottom 40 percent (earning less than $50,000). That is, for every six Dartmouth students from the wealthiest U.S. households, there is one from a low-income household.

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We the 'politically correct' people

    In the wake of Tuesday's Republican debate, here is the question keeping me up nights: When we take barbarism into the very heart of our culture, how can we cure ourselves?

    A few weeks ago, in an interview on Fox News, Donald Trump said this about the Islamic State: "We're fighting a very politically correct war. . . . You have to take out their families." There are two ideas here: that political realism requires the intentional and gleeful violation of centuries-old laws of war, and that only political correctness prevents us from saying so. During Tuesday night's debate, the moderators and all of the candidates except for Sen. Rand Paul (Kentucky) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush appeared to accept Trump's dual propositions, and only Paul objected on grounds of principle.

    Strangely enough, we are watching an America much like the young republic. I am thinking of the republic that charted a violent and, in essence, genocidal course against Native Americans.

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The case of the disintegrating GOP

    It is no longer possible to think of "the Republican Party" as a coherent political force. It is nothing of the sort -- and the Donald Trump insurgency should be seen as a symptom of the party's disintegration, not the cause.

    I realize this may seem an odd assessment of a party that controls both houses of Congress, 32 governorships and two-thirds of state legislative chambers. The desire to win and hold power is one thing the party's hopelessly disparate factions agree on; staunch and sometimes blind opposition to President Obama and the Democrats is another. After those, it's hard to think of much else.

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‘The Big Short,’ Housing Bubbles and Retold Lies

    In May 2009, Congress created a special commission to examine the causes of the financial crisis. The idea was to emulate the celebrated Pecora Commission of the 1930s, which used careful historical analysis to help craft regulations that gave the United States two generations of financial stability.

    But some members of the new commission had a different goal. George Santayana famously remarked that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What he didn’t point out was that some people want to repeat the past — and that such people have an interest in making sure that we don’t remember what happened, or that we remember it wrong.

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December 24th

What’s the Matter With Iowa?

    One of the great things about the American political system is the amount of time it gives us to think about corn.

    Oh, sure, there’s national security and taxes, but you’d be talking about them even if we were living in a monarchy. Corn only comes up in the weeks immediately before the Iowa caucuses. The issue is our federal ethanol program, which requires gasoline to be laced with biofuel, usually corn-based.

    Quick quiz: How do you personally feel about ethanol?

    A) If it’s good for the farmers, it’s good for the country.

    B) Look, I’ve already got the trade pact and Glass-Steagall on my plate. There’s a limit.

    C) How come the corn growers get all the fun? Why can’t we have the first voting in my state so I get some attention for a change?

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For Many, Faith Comes at a High Price

    As we celebrate the holidays, let’s remember that this is one of those savage epochs when some families must choose between their faith and their lives. It is an echo of when Nero burned Christians alive, or when self-described Christians unleashed pogroms against Jews.

    Partly because of allergies about religion, the international response has been utterly ineffective. Liberals are sometimes reluctant to champion Christians who are persecuted for their faith. And conservatives are too quick to champion only Christians, neglecting other religious minorities — such as the Yazidis — who suffer even worse fates. One result of this “God gulf” is that the Western response to atrocities against religious oppression is pathetically inadequate.

    The Islamic State in October released a video that is a stomach-wrenching glimpse of the worst kind of religious repression. Three Syrian Christian men, one a doctor, are made to kneel in the desert in orange jumpsuits and state their religion. Behind each is an executioner who then uses a handgun to fire a bullet into the back of each Christian’s head.

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Being Smart About Your Child’s Brain

    Probably no one tracks concussions among young athletes in the United States more closely than Dawn Comstock, and in many ways, she’s encouraged by what she sees.

    It’s now less common for a player whose head has collided violently with a ball, a wall, the ground or another player to return to competition right away. It’s now more common for him or her to get medical attention.

    But Comstock, an epidemiologist at the Colorado School of Public Health, is frustrated by stubborn gaps between truly safe behavior and the status quo. She told me that more than half of the high schools with football teams don’t have a full-time athletic trainer, so there’s no immediately available person with the specific mission of preventing and treating injuries.

    There are also sports other than football — and trauma other than concussions — that don’t attract nearly the vigilance they should, she added. Above all, there’s an enduringly strange, dangerous relationship between parents and sports, specifically between parents and coaches.

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The Donald and the Decider

    Almost six months have passed since Donald Trump overtook Jeb Bush in polls of Republican voters. At the time, most pundits dismissed the Trump phenomenon as a blip, predicting that voters would soon return to more conventional candidates. Instead, however, his lead just kept widening. Even more striking, the triumvirate of trash-talk — Trump, Ben Carson, and Ted Cruz — now commands the support of roughly 60 percent of the primary electorate.

    But how can this be happening? After all, the antiestablishment candidates now dominating the field, aside from being deeply ignorant about policy, have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error. Why don’t Republican voters seem to care?

    Well, part of the answer has to be that the party taught them not to care. Bluster and belligerence as substitutes for analysis, disdain for any kind of measured response, dismissal of inconvenient facts reported by the “liberal media” didn’t suddenly arrive on the Republican scene last summer. On the contrary, they have long been key elements of the party brand. So how are voters supposed to know where to draw the line?

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The Year’s Biggest Social Justice Stories

    I have always been interested in social justice, and it has always been an integral part of this column. But from the time, nearly three years ago, that I first spoke with Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, I knew that the tenor of the column was forever altered. I am still haunted by the ache in her voice on that first phone call, by the first time I interviewed her in person and saw how the grief draped over her body, and bent it.

    Since then, there have been too many stories like Trayvon’s, and this year the pace seemed to quicken. I covered so much pain that I nearly lost myself in it. Maybe I’m getting too close. So, to round up this year in social justice I asked other people who operate in that area to give me their top stories. Here are the results.

     

    Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard professor and scholar of African-American literature:

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