Archive

December 16th

Beyond Trump: The politics of courage

    If Donald Trump can thrive politically by throwing meat to the American id, what else is possible? How about the opposite?

    Trump's most recent attempt to reclaim poll supremacy -- his call for "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what's going on" -- is not simply reckless and dangerous, but also starkly clarifying. America's bully billionaire, so rich he doesn't have to heed the niceties of political correctness, is channeling old-time American racism, as mean and ugly and self-righteous as it's ever been. Jim Crow is still with us. "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" is still with us.

    Americans -- at least a certain percentage of them -- like their racism straight up, untampered with code language, unmodified by counter-values. Come on! An enemy's an enemy. A scapegoat's a scapegoat. Don't we have the freedom in this country to dehumanize and persecute whomever we want?

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Anti-Muslim sentiment is all over the news. But it is hardly new.

    There's a type of reported story taking shape this week. It's part of the long-running tradition of near-fiction on the state of American equality.

    It involves true but carefully crafted stories which aim to leave readers with a sense of uplift, possibility and national confidence. The stories can be identified quickly because somewhere, up high and out front, they will include a line that says something like this: "I am shocked, appalled and frightened, this month, by the openly anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. This isn't the America I know."

    It has appeared in some form in almost every major publication. It's a concept that has certainly filled some of the endless hours of cable TV commentary and news. It's probably got some kind of trending topic status on social media and an accompanying, almost impossibly clever hashtag. And it's a set of ideas that may well ring true for some individuals.

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A chance to deflate Trump

    Donald Trump may, or at least should, face sharp questioning from two separate quarters in Tuesday night's Republican debate in Las Vegas. His opposing candidates need to target him to salvage their own campaigns, and the CNN moderators need to expose his demagoguery for the sake of the political process's own reputation.

    None of the other 13 declared candidates has been able to gain comparable traction in the major public-opinion polls. As a result, Trump's domination of the Republican Party has brought its establishment, represented by center-right and moderate sentiment, to a near-apoplectic state.

    The fear among these old bulwarks of the Ronald Reagan and senior George Bush administrations is that the ultraconservatism that has increasingly asserted itself in the GOP ranks has found its savior in Trump -- or he has found his political salvation in it.

    While Trump enthusiasts have seized on him as their authentic voice, other party loyalists see him as a certain loser in the 2016 general election, or as a potential third-party spoiler if somehow he is denied the nomination.

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Wishful thinking on Syria

    President Obama recently told reporters in Manila that he cannot "foresee a situation in which we can end the civil war in Syria while Assad remains in power." But according to the president, "it may take some months for the Russians and the Iranians and frankly some members of the Syrian government and ruling elites within the regime to recognize the truths that I just articulated. "Syrian President Bashar Assad himself told Italian state television that the diplomatic process supposedly launched in Vienna to transition away from him is nonsense. According to Syria's barrel-bomber in chief, "nothing can start before defeating the terrorists who occupy parts of Syria." "Terrorist," according to Assad, is anyone opposing him.

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To see the future of electric vehicles, look East

    Nevada is starting to look like the place where the electric car's future will be decided. Last June, Tesla broke ground on a $5 billion battery plant in Sparks, and on Wednesday, Chinese start-up Faraday Future announced that it had chosen a Las Vegas suburb as the site for a new $1 billion plant to make electric vehicles. Faraday hopes to roll out a competitor to Tesla's flagship Model S in 2017.

    But as glitzy as these bets are, the real action is happening in China, where smoggy skies and government subsidies are creating the perfect conditions for electric vehicles to thrive. The proof is in the numbers. According to data released this week by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, sales of electric cars are poised to exceed those in the U.S. for the first time ever. Already, they've grown 290 percent year-on-year to 171,145 vehicles. They're expected to reach 220,000 to 250,000 for the year, whereas the U.S. market is predicted to top out at around 180,000 cars.

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The Lie About College Diversity

    The Supreme Court listened anew last week to arguments about affirmative action in higher education, and we heard yet again about the push by colleges to assemble diverse student bodies.

    That’s a crucial effort.

    It’s also an incomplete and falsely reassuring one.

    Have you spent much time on campuses lately? Leafed through schools’ promotional literature? Listened to their come-ons?

    If so, you’ve probably noticed how often they promise students academic and social experiences customized to their established preferences, tailor-fitted to their predetermined interests, contoured to the particular and peculiar niches they want to inhabit.

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The gun that killed my grandson

    Motives do not matter to the dead. They don't matter much to survivors, either. When my 6-year-old grandson, Noah, was gunned down three years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, along with 19 other first-graders and six educators, we were engulfed in a grief so brutal and so profound that an explanation was the last thing we sought. We just wanted life the way it had been. We wanted Noah back. We still do. Badly.

    Only a month earlier, while visiting from the West Coast, I had gone to the school book fair with the kids. We sat by the big window that the killer would later blow open to force his way in. Noah, his twin sister, his 7-year-old older sister and I read aloud from the books we had bought while waiting for their mom to be done with her three parent-teacher conferences. The kids made jokes, they laughed, they jostled each other. I treasure the picture I took of them on that small wooden bench. There was such love among these three, such complicity. The strongest of bonds.

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Take My Quiz on Religion

    Donald Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from America may be a gift to ISIS recruitment and a grotesque echo of the sentiment behind the Chinese Exclusion Act and the internment of Japanese-Americans. But, like those earlier spasms of exclusion, the Trump proposal has plenty of supporters.

    In one recent poll, more than three-quarters of Republicans said Islam was incompatible with life in the United States. There’s a widespread perception in America that Islam is rooted in misogyny and violence, incorrigible because it is rooted in a holy text that is fundamentally different from others.

    So here’s my quiz on religion. Some questions have more than one correct answer.

     

    1. Which holy scripture declares: “Slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them captive, and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush. But if they repent … then leave them free. Lo! God is forgiving, merciful."

    A. The Quran

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December 15th

An education law that leaves schools behind

    After winning approval in the House and Senate, legislation ending the landmark No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law Thursday by President Obama. Although the new law enjoys broad bipartisan support, it's important for anyone concerned about the quality of our schools to understand how radically it will diminish expectations for our nation's public schools. By the time the law is fully implemented in 2018, most schools will be free from any sort of federal pressure to improve.

    What has changed is the federal government's answer to one fundamental question: Do all schools need to improve, or just the worst ones?

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Women will make units stronger

    Last week, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter directed that all jobs in the U.S. military be opened to women. The announcement provoked strong reactions, but all sides concurred that we cannot let our standards fall or force quotas on our combat units. As an Army officer, a combat veteran and one of the first three women to graduate from U.S. Army Ranger School, I strongly agree.

    The critics worry about strength and stamina, often comparing infantry units to professional sports teams. But just as a successful football team needs a smart quarterback, fast receivers, strong linemen and talented special teams, our war fighters must dominate all aspects of the battle space. At Ranger School, individuals are referred to as either Strong Rangers or Smart Rangers. Some exceptional soldiers are both, but most fit predominantly into one category or the other. I wasn't the strongest Ranger, but I spent almost every morning in the center of the patrol base helping plan the day's mission. Did my intellect make me an asset to the team? I know a few guys who would say it did. As with every team, some members need to be smarter while others need to be stronger. But no one can be a physical liability.

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