Archive

December 11th

Calling on Batman to explain our dark world

    Batman used to carry a gun. It's true. Back in the 1930s, not only did he carry a gun, but he killed bad guys with it. The very first official "Batman" comic featured the Caped Crusader firing a machine gun. But the public grew uneasy. So the editors adopted a new rule: no guns for Batman. Bob Kane, the character's co-creator, would later explain that his editors worried "that mothers would object to letting their kids see and read about such shootings."

    That tale from a simpler age comes to mind this week as, once more, we cringe at the ease with which carnage can be inflicted by a determined shooter. We've long passed the point when parents can shield their children from seeing and reading about horrific violence, whether or not inflicted by guns. And reports about violence -- especially terrorism -- frighten them.

    A lot.

    If children are scared, what do we tell them?

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December 9th

The long-term fight against terrorism

    "A cancer that has no immediate cure" was not the most soothing metaphor President Obama could have chosen, but it was the most honest. He has no idea how to prevent another terrorist attack like the one in San Bernardino -- and neither does anyone else, including his Republican critics.

    The president used that somber phrase in his Oval Office address Sunday to describe what "many Americans are asking." The answer was implicit: Yes, that is indeed what we face, and the cure for the disease will take time.

    The specific actions Obama demanded from Congress are no-brainers. Yes, individuals on terrorism watch lists should be prohibited from buying guns. Yes, the sale of military-style assault rifles should be banned. Yes, there should be better screening of foreigners who enter the country without a visa.

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Ryan's non-answer to the Trumpians

    Two events last week are exceptionally helpful to understanding the state of the Republican Party. They seem to point in opposite directions. In fact, they reinforce each other.

    The first is the CNN/ORC Poll released on Friday that showed Donald Trump as the overwhelming leader for the Republican presidential nomination. Trump had 36 percent among Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas ran a distant second at 16 percent, Ben Carson was at 14 percent, and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida took 12 percent.

    The importance of the poll is that it brought home dramatically what other surveys have pointed to over the last several months: Trump, the billionaire, is the GOP's working-class hero.

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Why the New York Times' gun control op-ed can (and should) matter

    There is a way of thinking - one that tends to comfort the comfortable and leave the afflicted in extended misery.

    It's a way of dividing every vexing, complicated, long-running but slow-moving matter of public debate into one of three categories, then getting about the more ordinary business of one's day.

    First, there are ideas and proposals championed by the powerful that generally have a relatively easy path from idea to law. Second, there are issues that have somehow, some way managed to reach the critical mass necessary for change. Usually that's because the economic or reputation-related costs have, in that order of importance, simply grown too large.

    Then, there are those matters that are beyond practical political reach. Suffering, death, danger and maltreatment aside, a policy solution to these problems simply has no real path, no viability at all.

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Time to face our peculiar national problem

    In response to the latest mass killings in Southern California, President Obama once again deplored a type of crime that seems increasingly peculiar to American society. "The one thing we do know," he said, "is we have a pattern now of mass shootings in the country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world."

    The reason certainly is no secret. It's the ready availability of guns of all varieties openly purchased or traded in an open society, in which the gun-rights lobby successfully wards off most governmental attempts to bring sensible controls to the mayhem market.

    In what sounded like another note of futility, Obama lamented: "Those same people who we don't allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm, and there's nothing we can do to stop them."

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The Not-So-Bad Economy

    According to the economist Kevin O’Rourke, who has been doing a running comparison between the Great Depression that began in 1929 and the Great Recession that began almost eight years ago, the world has just passed a sad landmark. While the initial slump this time around wasn’t nearly as bad as the collapse from 1929 to 1933, the recovery has been much weaker — and at this point world industrial production is doing worse than it did at the same point in the 1930s. A remarkable achievement!

    But the bad news is unevenly distributed. In particular, Europe has done very badly, while America has done relatively well. True, U.S. performance looks good only if you grade on a curve. Still, unemployment has been cut in half, and the Federal Reserve is getting ready to raise interest rates at a time when its counterpart, the European Central Bank, is still desperately seeking ways to boost spending.

    Now, I believe that the Fed is making a mistake. But the fact that hiking rates is even halfway defensible is a sign that the U.S. economy isn’t doing too badly. So what did we do right?

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GOP advice: To top Trump, tap into Trumpism

    Establishment Republicans have a problem. Donald Trump isn't going away.

    After five months and going strong as the party's front-runner for president, the Grand Old Party's elites have figured out that the billionaire real estate mogul and television star really could win the GOP nomination.

    Why not? He's defied all of the conventional wisdom so far.

    In a seven-page confidential memo, the National Republican Senatorial Committee offers poll-tested advice to you, if you're a GOP candidate, on how to get your campaign's message out, even when voters and reporters are eager to hear you sound like Trump -- for better or worse.

    The central theme of the memo, which comes from NRSC executive director Ward Baker, boils down to tap into Trumpism without mimicking Trump.

    That makes sense. Republicans are in a delicate situation. They desperately want the bonanza in TV ratings and support from the party's base that Trump brings to the party. They just don't want Trump.

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Coming of age in terrorist times

    "Mommy, what did the news used to be about before it was about terrorism?"

    That was my younger daughter, snuggling in bed a few weeks after 9/11. She was then 4, and, granted, there was probably more consumption of news in our home than was healthy.

    Fourteen years later, that toddler is a college freshman, too cool to snuggle and too far away even if she were so inclined. But her question remains sadly relevant.

    "It's really scary to grow up in a time when mass killings happen this often," she texted Wednesday afternoon, as the latest active shooting situation was still unfolding.

    And, knowing her mom, "Are you gonna write about it?"

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What I saw in the faces of refugees

    "I saw death behind me, and life in front of me," said Safae, a Syrian mother of two young sons, as she told me the story of her family's escape from the Islamic State. They had fled in the night across the Syrian-Turkish border and had arrived, finally, in Greece.

    Looking at her two beautiful boys, I was reminded of my own grown sons. How similar our families were; face to face, it was so easy to imagine myself in her shoes, worn as they were after her dangerous trek.

    After wrapping filming for the fifth season of "Homeland" in Berlin - living in a fictional world of chaos, violence and confusion - I went to the island of Lesbos to spend time with folks from the International Rescue Committee (IRC). I joined them there to support people like Safae and her family, who have faced the realities of terrorism and war that I have only imagined on screen.

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Weak gun laws failed to protect my mom

    The six-paragraph newspaper article about her was headlined, simply, "Shot in Head." It began: "Gay Chamlee is listed in serious condition at Floyd Medical Center after being shot in the head Tuesday afternoon. Her husband is charged with the shooting."

    Sometimes I imagine what she was like before - big blue eyes shining, long hair blowing behind her as she drove too fast, like any teenager. I've only known her the way she is now - bloated from her medication, face sunken where her right eye should be, a large scar running over her head. That she has no sense of smell and has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old aren't visible, but I can see these things when I look at her. My mother has been this way ever since she was shot in 1985 by a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun, more commonly known as a "38-special." According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, American women are 11 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries. Yet gun laws in this country remain severely lax.

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