Archive

December 4th

Carson fails to impress on foreign policy

    Voters angry with traditional politics have been flocking to the support of Ben Carson, the famous neurosurgeon with the benign grin and temperament who has oozed his way into the affections of millions of Americans as an outsider 2016 Republican presidential candidate.

    He has garnered amazing backing as a sort of nonpolitical Willy Loman, running on a smile and a shoeshine. Without selling himself as the anti-Donald Trump, Carson has benefited from the sharp contrast he presents to Trump's bluster.

    But as foreign policy experience has taken on new significance in the campaign, the good doctor's prescriptions have seemed, under sharper scrutiny, to lack much depth, inviting the view that he has little familiarity with world affairs generally.

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Buy Today, Kill Tomorrow

    Good people can disagree about guns.

    Though I’ve always leaned left in my political views, I believe that Americans have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. I owned a gun for many years myself — at least until my conviction for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program canceled my Second Amendment rights.

    But there’s a problem that warrants immediate attention. You see, current law allows suspected terrorists, including those on the “No Fly List,” to legally purchase weapons.

    That’s right. I can’t legally buy a gun. But suspected terrorists can.

    Adam Gadahn, also known as Azzam al-Amriki, was an American citizen. Born and raised in California, he converted to Islam in 1995 and became a senior advisor to Osama bin Laden. Gadahn became al-Qaeda’s media expert, producing a slick magazine and videos to help the group recruit even more Americans to its cause.

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Blame geopolitics if the world slips toward war

    When George Friedman, founder of the geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor, published a book of predictions for the 21st century in 2009, a lot of it read like comedy. It no longer does: Regardless of whether Friedman got his specific forecasts right, old-fashioned geopolitics is making a comeback in the very countries he named as key players for his vision of the future.

    Friedman's brand of geopolitics can be hard to square with our everyday world. As the publisher of the Russian translation of "The Next 100 Years," I couldn't resist laughing when I read a sentence like "the only physical advantage Russia can have is depth," or "the secret lunar bases will represent the crown jewels of the Japanese military." It was hard to imagine a mid- century world war between two blocs, one dominated by the U.S. and Poland, the other by Turkey and Japan. In 2009, talk of a world war, never mind the specific shape of coalitions fighting it, appeared to belong in dystopian novels or conspiracy theory websites.

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Big Ag Serves Up Wastewater Salads

    Ask anyone who’s lived through California’s drought: Water scarcity is getting scary. And banning long showers isn’t even a drop in the bucket when it comes to finding a solution.

    The biggest water sponge by far is food production, yet agri-giants continue to douse their vast fields like there’s no tomorrow. Do you know how much water today’s industrialized food system sucks up?

    Just one little almond takes 1 gallon. A single walnut? 2 gallons. A head of lettuce? 12. A cluster of grapes clocks in at a whopping 24 gallons.

    Here’s the worst part: Big Oil says not to worry, because it can offer a gusher of H₂O to food producers. Believe it or not, companies are now selling their fracking wastewater to agribusiness for irrigating fruit and vegetable crops.

    This is water that ExxonMobil and other drillers mix with a witch’s brew of some 750 toxic chemicals before power-blasting it into underground rock formations.

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A Big Fat Radioactive Lie

    Not long ago, no billionaire worth his cufflinks would be caught dead without hurling bales of money at our nation’s educational system. They bankrolled charter schools, high-stakes testing, and the splintering of big high schools into smaller academies. Their failure to make American kids learn more scuffed the luster on this enduring philanthropic fad.

    Billionaires have landed, therefore, on a new mission. As Donald Trump might say, they want to make nuclear energy great again.

    “If we are serious about replacing fossil fuels, we are going to need nuclear power,” PayPal co-founder and Facebook mega-investor Peter Thiel crowed in a New York Times op-ed shortly before negotiators from 195 nations gathered in Paris to seal an international climate pact.

    Thiel, who personally invests in nuclear energy, made the self-serving demand that the U.S. government forge a “plan to fund and prototype the new reactors that we badly need.”

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Shopping Doesn't Have to Be a Drag

    First there was "Black Friday." Then there was "Cyber Monday." The holiday shopping markers plod through the calendar like a procession of Groundhog Days. The big difference is that Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog sometimes offers surprise. Will he see his shadow this year or bite his handler?

    The latest retailing news predictably relates the change in consumers' shopping habits -- the move from bricks-and-mortar stores to online merchants. The convenience of online buying and an aversion to crowds are the usual explanations, and they no doubt play a part.

    But there's another reason for the change in shopping habits. It's the change in selling habits. The mall-ification of America has made shopping a bore.

    From 1970 to 2009, retail space in America grew by 54 percent. Almost all that new square footage went into malls populated by chain stores featuring the same layout, the same signage, the same merchandise made in the same low-wage countries. Once inside a chain outlet, shoppers can't easily tell whether they're in Columbus, Ohio, or Birmingham, Alabama.

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Republicans' new, twisted climate logic

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., published a twisted op-ed over the weekend in The Post arguing that "Obama thinks it's okay to push a power plan that threatens working families for the benefit of, at best, a carbon rounding error." How does he know President Barack Obama's plan will be so insignificant? In part because he and other Republicans are determined to make it ineffective. In other words, Republicans oppose Obama's climate plan because it won't work, and it won't work because Republicans oppose Obama's climate plan.

    Here's the illogic behind McConnell's argument: The amount of carbon dioxide that Obama's Clean Power Plan would remove from the atmosphere is relatively small in the context of global climate change. In isolation, it would do relatively little to prevent dangerous global climate change. Therefore, the GOP Congress will fight it.

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Putin’s Great Syrian Adventure

    When President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced he was setting up an air base in the middle of Syria to take on the Islamic State, also called ISIS, and bolster President Bashar Assad, more than a few analysts and politicians praised his forceful, game-changing, strategic brilliance, suggesting that Putin was crazy like a fox. Some of us thought he was just crazy.

    Well, two months later, let’s do the math: So far, Putin’s Syrian adventure has resulted in a Russian civilian airliner carrying 224 people being blown up, apparently by pro-Islamic State militants in Sinai. Turkey shot down a Russian bomber after it strayed into Turkish territory. And then Syrian rebels killed one of the pilots as he parachuted to earth and one of the Russian marines sent to rescue him. Many of the anti-Assad rebels in that area are ethnic Turkmens, with strong cultural ties to Turkey; Turkey was not amused by Putin bombing Turkmen villages inside Syria, because it weakens Turkey’s ability to shape Syria’s future.

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Political roots of Donald Trump run deep

    Donald Trump is unique. But he's not without antecedents, and it's not hard to locate his performance in some well-worn grooves of American politics.

    Substitute the word "segregation" for "immigration" in Trump's rhetoric, for instance, and it recalls the bitter bite of Alabama's George Wallace, whose presidential campaigns in the 1960s leveraged white backlash more viciously than even Trump dares.

    Yet Trump's no Wallace. His extravagant business success, and public indulgence of luxury and "class," is a long way from Wallace's hardscrabble solidarity with the (white) working man. Often as not, Trump explains in so many words that he'll succeed at a given task because his riches prove he's already a spectacular success. "I'm rich," he reminds his audiences, as an all-purpose validation of incorruptibility or competence, and a sly suggestion that he knows how to hit the big boys where it hurts because he's one of them.

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In 'poisoned environment,' growing our own terrorists

    You bet it was political. Moments after it happened, we were all certain.

    That was in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh’s fertilizer bomb made rubble of the Oklahoma City federal building, killing 168.

    You bet it was political as well last week when a wide-eyed, white-bearded Obama-hater was charged with the deaths of three and the wounding of many, outside a Planned Parenthood clinic lin Colorado Springs.

    You bet. And without question you can credit political discourse that has run so far off course as to be in the craggy ruts and roots where killers like McVeigh and Eric Rudolph would hide.

    You may remember Rudolph, the “pro-life” terrorist who set off bombs at Atlanta’s Olympic Park and at a women’s clinic in Alabama. He is among a growing list of players in a home-grown holy war – physicians slain, clinics firebombed and vandalized.

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