Archive

November 26th, 2015

Health Reform Lives!

    To the right’s dismay, scare tactics — remember death panels? — and spurious legal challenges failed to protect the nation from the scourge of guaranteed health coverage. Still, Obamacare’s opponents insisted that it would implode in a “death spiral” of low enrollment and rising costs.

    But the law’s first two years of full implementation went remarkably well. The number of uninsured Americans dropped sharply, roughly in line with projections, while costs came in well below expectations. Opponents of reform could have reconsidered their position — but that hardly ever happens in modern politics. Instead, they doubled down on their forecasts of doom, and hyped every hint of bad news.

    I mention all of this to give you some perspective on recent developments that mark a break in the string of positive surprises. Yes, Obamacare has hit a few rough patches lately. But they’re much less significant than a lot of the reporting, let alone the right-wing reaction, would have you believe. Health reform is still a huge success story.

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Anti-Muslim Is Anti-American

    There seems to be no bottom to the cesspool of Islamophobic rhetoric coming from Republican candidates.

    The tone of anti-Muslim musings post-Paris attack has become so poisonous that it cannot portend anything positive.

    In the latest, the Republican front-runner said the United States would have “absolutely no choice” but to close some mosques. And, when asked by a reporter, he seemed to suggest he wouldn’t have a problem registering Muslims, which many have condemned, comparing it to the way Jews were once treated. (After heavy bipartisan criticism, he tried to walk back his remarks about the registry.)

    And then Dr. Ben Carson drew a tortured parallel between Syrian refugees, who are mostly Muslim, and “a rabid dog running around your neighborhood.”

    Robert McCaw, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told Al-Jazeera that Carson’s remarks were “unthinkable,” saying, “There is only one thing you do with a rabid dog — and that’s put it down.”

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Donald Trump, Meet a Syrian Refugee Named Heba

    Ben Carson has compared Syrian refugees to rabid dogs. Donald Trump says that he would send them back.

    Who are these Syrian refugee monsters who terrify U.S. politicians?

    Meet Heba, a frightened, desperate 20-year-old woman who dreams of being an artist and has just made a perilous escape from territory controlled by the Islamic State in northern Syria.

    She was detained two months ago with her sister by Islamic State enforcers because her sister’s baby girl had too short a skirt — even though the baby was just 3 months old.

    “That was crazy,” Heba said, shaking her head. “This was an infant!”

    Heba says she and her sister argued that infant girls should have a little leeway in showing skin, and eventually the family was let off with a warning.

November 24th

Let's not defeat ourselves

    The recent terrorist attacks have called forth predictable demands from our nation's politicians, particularly President Obama's opponents, for American leadership in the world. Here's what these politicians don't talk about: the image of our country they themselves create in the way they manage -- or mismanage -- the work of governing.

    For several years now, we have not done ourselves any favors.

    The often chaotic budget and debt-ceiling battles between the president and congressional Republicans (along with a great deal of demagoguery around issues related to immigration, race and Islam) have inspired little confidence among either friends or foes that we can manage even our own affairs.

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Our rhetoric on refugees has been unhelpful

    The political aftermath of the Paris attacks is tracing a trajectory as familiar as it is disappointing. The fundamental question -- how to defeat the Islamic State -- is so resistant to any simple fix that the debate shifts to subsidiary but more easily digestible topics.

    Republican politicians have fanned the flames of public fear and seized the tragic moment for partisan advantage. President Obama properly took them to task for this un-American xenophobia. But once again, as with the president's dismissive attitude toward critics of the Iranian nuclear deal, he failed to recognize the public's understandable anxiety over admitting Syrian refugees.

    The terrorist threat illustrates: The more intractable the problem, the more off-point the Washington discussion. One tactic, tempting but useless, is looking back and pointing fingers over who is responsible for the fill-in-the-blank mess.

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Jeb Bush's war dilemma

    The emergence of foreign policy as a critical consideration in the 2016 presidential election is both an opportunity and a peril for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, as he struggles to revive a campaign begun with high expectations but now apparently on life support.

    The Islamic State has intruded in the American political equation with its Paris terrorist attacks. The presidential primaries are now much more about selecting the next commander-in-chief, elevating the value of leadership experience.

    Although Jeb Bush never served in the military at any level, he ran a large state government for two terms, is the son of one American president who led a successful war in Iraq and the brother of another who invaded Iraq and deposed its leader, though with ultimately disastrous consequences.

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How pols run against Syrian refugees

    America's refugee screening process is so tight -- only about half are accepted after a process that can take two years or more -- that it probably would be easier for the Islamic State to sneak a jihadi terrorist in by rowboat.

    Yet that reality has not stopped some politicians from exploiting fears instead of calming them since the terror attacks in Paris.

    Some even talk about suspending such inconveniences as, say, the Bill of Rights.

    Yes, I'm talking about Donald Trump.

    The billionaire, who has managed to offend his way to frontrunner status in the Republican presidential race, says the United States will have "absolutely no choice" but to close down some mosques where "some bad things are happening."

    What bad things? The Donald does not say. Yet he is not about to let a simple lack of evidence stop him from frightening American voters.

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‘The Statue of Liberty Must Be Crying With Shame’

    As anti-refugee hysteria sweeps many of our political leaders, particularly Republicans, I wonder what they would have told a desperate refugee family fleeing the Middle East. You’ve heard of this family: a carpenter named Joseph, his wife, Mary, and their baby son, Jesus.

    According to the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus’ birth they fled to save Jesus from murderous King Herod (perhaps the 2,000-year-ago equivalent of Bashar Assad of Syria?). Fortunately Joseph, Mary and Jesus found de facto asylum in Egypt — thank goodness House Republicans weren’t in charge when Jesus was a refugee!

    The vote by the House of Representatives effectively to slam the door on Syrian refugees was the crassest kind of political grandstanding, scapegoating some of the world’s most vulnerable people to score political points. As a woman named Maria Radford tweeted me after the vote, “the Statue of Liberty must be crying with shame.”

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Muslims who fight for the West

    On Oct. 19, 2008, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and secretary of state Colin Powell went on NBC's "Meet the Press" to endorse Barack Obama for president. Troubled by accusations that Obama was secretly a Muslim, Powell asked the obvious question: "What if he is?"

    One reason Powell was so bothered by the suggestion that a Muslim could not become president was, he said, because he had recently seen a photograph of a mother leaning on the gravestone of her fallen son at Arlington National Cemetery. The soldier was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, a New Jersey native and Muslim American recipient of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

    Though terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe get far more attention, the fact is that Cpl. Khan's service in the military represents, by far, the vast majority of political violence carried out by Muslims in the West.

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November 23rd

How ISIS Defeats Us

    I don’t know how we win the war against ISIS.

    But I know how we lose it. The last week has been a thorough and demoralizing education in that.

    We lose it with a response to the Paris carnage and a discussion about the path forward that’s driven by partisan grievances and posturing rather than a mature, nuanced attempt to address Americans’ understandable anxiety and acknowledge that we may not be doing the right things or enough of them.

    We lose it if President Barack Obama can’t shake off his annoyance with critics and his disgust with some prominent Republicans’ xenophobic pandering long enough to re-examine his strategy and recognize that many Americans’ doubts about it are warranted and earnest.

    He was at his worst just after the Paris attacks, when he communicated as much irritation with the second-guessing of his stewardship as he did outrage over Paris and determination to destroy the Islamic State, or ISIS.

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