Archive

November 21st, 2015

A Holiday Treat From Congress

    In honor of the coming vacation travel season, the Senate is working on a bill that would loosen the requirement that pilots take medical examinations.

    Yes! I know that’s been on your mind a lot, people. Next week, as you gather around the Thanksgiving table, be sure to express your gratitude to Congress. If you hear a small plane buzzing overhead, drink a toast to the future, when the folks in America’s cockpits may no longer be burdened with repressive, old-fashioned health monitoring.

    Pop quiz: Which of the following aviation issues would you like to see your elected representatives resolve by the end of 2015?

    — Ban those laser lights that stupid kids keep flashing in pilots’ eyes.

    — Do something about all the damned drones flying around airports.

    — End the passenger peril of being squashed by a reclining seat.

    — Ease pilot health exams! Ease pilot health exams!

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What would Obama's critics do?

    As Paris mourns its dead, critics of President Obama's caution in the fight against the Islamic State are full of sound and fury. But those who throw around such words as "weak" and "feckless" should tell us if they support the logical alternative: Sending in tens of thousands of U.S. troops.

    Clearly our nation has ample military strength to crush the murderous terrorists in Iraq and Syria. But what would be the cost in American lives? And would such action make us safer? Or would it likely have the opposite effect, guaranteeing more terrorism and strife?

    Obama sounded defensive Monday as he faced reporters in Antalya, Turkey, where he was attending a G-20 summit that ended up being dominated by the Paris attacks. All weekend, commentators had mocked his recent declaration that the Islamic State was "contained." There was little anyone could have done, the president argued, to prevent something like Friday's rampage.

    "If you have a handful of people who don't mind dying, they can kill a lot of people," Obama said, stating the tragically obvious.

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What Obama's immigration lawsuit is really about

    When a federal court of appeals struck down a key part of President Barack Obama's immigration reform last week, it wasn't just a blow to the administration's goal of assuring the parents of U.S. citizens that neither they nor their children will be deported. It was a challenge to the way federal agencies operate -- one that could change how future administrations make policy.

    The central issue in the case has nothing to do with the separation of powers, or with the widespread objection that Obama has "bypassed Congress." The only question is this: When do executive agencies have to give the public an opportunity to comment on their policies before those policies go into effect?

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The world is scary as hell. Love anyway.

    I have a confession: I'm afraid.

    I live in Iraq with my family working at the headwaters of the Syrian and Iraqi refugee crisis, moving among Sunni jihadist sniper fire, suicide bombers, sleeper cells and Iranian-backed militia. I've received death threats, had mobs incited against me, and had friends kidnapped and killed by Sunnis and Shia, Arabs and Kurds. And I'm afraid.

    Even on the ground here in Iraq, I hear the zero-sum conversation in the U.S. right now: "Be wise, close the borders, protect our own" on the one hand, or "be loving, welcome refugees, stop being afraid" on the other. If you're not afraid, you're either braver than me or significantly less informed.

    Terrorism, kidnappings and beheadings are not political talking points for us. I often think first about my American colleagues and what might happen to us and our families if we are captured or killed. Will someone care for my wife, Jessica, and our kids? Will I care for my colleagues' families if they don't make it home alive?

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November 20th

More red states open doors to Obamacare

    We had more significant hints last week that the Medicaid expansion under Obamacare will eventually be universal.

    First, Democrat John Bel Edwards appears to be the solid favorite to defeat Republican David Vitter in a special election for governor of Louisiana on Nov. 21. Edwards favors the Medicaid expansion.

    Second, incoming Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, a tea party stalwart who ran against Obamacare, is talking about negotiating a deal with the federal government over changing Medicaid expansion, rather than simply ending it.

    And a surprising one: Alabama, with a solidly Republican state government, is reportedly reconsidering its opposition to the expansion.

    None of these results are certain yet. But they follow the general pattern. States with Democrats in charge accept the program. States with Republicans in charge have mixed records of adopting it. But once a state goes along with Medicaid expansion, it doesn't go back on it even if a strongly conservative Republican is elected governor.

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The Paris Attacks and What Must Change

    Many French people referred to the January attacks on the offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and other sites as their 9/11. As awful as that time was, it was not a 9/11. Seventeen people died that day. The Sept. 11, 2001, assaults on New York and Washington left nearly 3,000 dead, having demolished two skyscraping towers, part of the Pentagon and, in the process, four large jetliners full of passengers.

    What happened in Paris on Friday was still not on the scale of 9/11, though getting closer. And it was more terrifying than our 9/11 in one very important way.

    The terrorists behind 9/11 focused on national landmarks. France's 11/13 horror was a coordinated assault on a variety of "soft targets," places ordinary Parisians and tourists patronized for fun and relaxation.

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Republican insiders imagine the unthinkable

    Republican regulars, veterans of conventional politics, are pondering the unthinkable: What if neither Donald Trump nor Ben Carson fades? Which would be a stronger candidate? Would either govern if he won?

    Neither outcome would be welcome to more established Republicans and most still doubt it will occur, especially with a heightened emphasis on national security after the terror attacks in Paris.

    In conversations with 10 of these insiders, most before the Paris outrage, they gave the odds of a victory by Carson or Trump at around 30 percent, less than probable, better than a long shot. As of Tuesday, they have better chances of winning at least one of the initial nominating contests, Carson in Iowa and Trump in New Hampshire.

    Both are outsiders who've never run for political office and are playing to the right wing. Yet they couldn't be more different. Trump, 69, is a bombastic real estate and entertainment billionaire with a malleable political philosophy who has stirred some racial animosities.

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Paris reminds us we need an adult in charge

    We're all Parisians now, so we should all be adults. Let's bid adieu to the adolescent desire to replace our disappointing elected officials with ingénues.

    That means dropping the pretense that an entertaining businessman like Donald Trump could transfer his putative deal-making skills to the world stage. It means recognizing that governing isn't brain surgery. As good a doctor as Ben Carson was, his skills don't translate either.

    Amusement is the most charitable way to explain how two utter neophytes have led the Republican polls for months, in the company of a few other newbies who break through with the right soundbite every so often. Carly Fiorina couldn't run Hewlett-Packard, except into the ground. Because she can go toe-to-toe with Trump in trading insults doesn't make her presidential timber.

    Not that the establishment candidates have any miracle solutions, domestic or foreign. But at least some of them have talked about the issues (the senators) or actually governed (the governors).

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Holocaust Museum sees a U.S. duty to Syrian refugees

    As the U.S. debates the security implications of accepting refugees from the Syrian crisis, Americans should remember our history - both good and bad - of dealing with Jewish refugees during World War II, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said Tuesday.

    There are some unfortunate similarities between the American reaction then and now, said Cameron Hudson, the director of the museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. The U.S., separated from the crisis by an ocean, can close its doors in a way that Europe cannot.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Tuesday that he would lead an effort to force a "pause" in admitting Syrian refugees, following the disclosure that one attacker in Paris may have used a fake Syrian passport to enter Europe. Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have proposed litmus tests for Syrians based on religion, tests President Barack Obama said ran counter to American values.

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Germans' refugee response puts U.S. to shame

    The political controversy over the proposed resettlement of 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. next year imperils the superpower's claim to global moral leadership. Unlike their counterparts in some European nations, the more compassionate politicians in the U.S. appear powerless to do more for people fleeing war and terror.

    Syria is the biggest source of refugees: According to the United Nations, more than 4 million people have fled and more than 7 million are displaced internally. The U.S. took in 69,933 refugees in fiscal year 2015, which ended in September; only about 1,800 were Syrians.

    These numbers are for the U.S. resettlement program, which plucks people from UN-monitored refugee camps. Usually, the most vulnerable are selected -- women, children, people targeted for political persecution or those with life-threatening diseases. A few Syrians may be trickling into the U.S. on their own as asylum-seekers, but those numbers probably are tiny: You can't cross the Atlantic on a leaky raft.

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