Archive

December 18th

Hope From Paris

    Did the Paris climate accord save civilization? Maybe. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but it’s actually the best climate news we’ve had in a very long time. This agreement could still follow the path of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which seemed like a big deal but ended up being completely ineffectual. But there have been important changes in the world since then, which may finally have created the preconditions for action on global warming before it’s too late.

    Until very recently there were two huge roadblocks in the way of any kind of global deal on climate: China’s soaring consumption of coal, and the implacable opposition of America’s Republican Party. The first seemed to mean that global greenhouse emissions would rise inexorably no matter what wealthy countries did, while the second meant that the biggest of those wealthy countries was unable to make credible promises, and hence unable to lead.

    But there have been important changes on both fronts.

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First Time at A Gun Show

    I was in San Antonio on Saturday for the college graduation of a nephew when one of my brothers, the one who’s a gun collector, invited me to a local gun show. As he put it, “If you’re gonna write about it, you need to see it.” I jumped at the chance.

    As we drove to the Austin Highway Gun Show, we dove headfirst into our gun debate.

    He seemed determined to convince me of the futility of many of the national gun control measures now being debated and how they would do little to block criminals from acquiring weapons or mass killers from using weapons.

    I was determined to convince him that some new measures were needed to at least put a dent in this country’s abominable gun death numbers.

    Indeed, as the Los Angeles Times has noted:

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December 16th

Trump and the moderate majority

    Among the many maddening aspects of Donald Trump's domination of American political discourse are the twin challenges he poses to clear thinking. You can overstate his significance and the power of the forces he is unleashing. You can understate them, too.

     We have heard the words "Trump leads in the polls" for so long you'd think he has taken the entire country by storm. In fact, Trump is not broadly popular. He leads only in a minority subset of the population -- depending on the survey, projected Republican primary voters or Republicans combined with Republican-leaning independents. Neither of these groups represent a majority of Americans.

    Moreover, most Republicans pick another candidate over Trump. He is ahead, sometimes by sizable margins, because there are so many other candidates fracturing the non-Trump vote.

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Will the Supreme Court add to campus turmoil?

    Watching the racial ferment on campuses nationwide, and listening to the Supreme Court consider the charged topic of affirmative action, exposes the gulf -- the chasm, really -- between the difficult reality of race relations on campus and the out-of-touch, aggrieved perspective of the conservative justices.

    Like me, you may not be a fan of the current wave of college protests. Students have been outrageously uncivil; they have overreacted to perceived slights; they have discounted the importance of the open debate that is central to the academic enterprise.

    At the same time, underlying this bad behavior is a sincere sense of hurt and alienation. Minority students too often feel like intruders on majority white campuses, unwelcome and disrespected. They have too few student peers and even fewer faculty role models.

     Into this combustible environment strolls the Supreme Court, to weigh making matters worse. Last Wednesday, the justices heard oral argument in a case that challenges the affirmative-action program at the University of Texas -- and could end up tying the hands of colleges nationwide.

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Trump's attacks on Muslims brought him more media coverage than ever

    Just over a month ago, I wrote about how Donald Trump seemed to have lost his media mojo. At the time, television news coverage of his campaign had plateaued for more than six weeks, falling to either equal or below that of his GOP rivals.

    But now he seems to have recovered from that lull. In fact, on Dec. 9, he reached a new record for the 2016 presidential race, accounting for 76 percent of all mentions of candidates of either party on national television news networks and 82 percent of mentions of the GOP candidates.

    On Dec. 9, Trump received 3,919 total mentions on national television, setting an all-time record for his campaign. This was almost 750 more mentions than he received after his much-anticipated first debate performance on Sept. 16.

    The massive surge in mentions of the candidate began Dec. 8 as he spent the morning defending his proposal to forbid Muslim immigration to the United States.

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The Worst Year in Washington

    ​Famous last names. Enviable poll numbers. Establishment support. Lots and lots of money. The whiff of inevitability. That's where Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton started 2015. Both were expected to cruise to their respective parties' presidential nominations.

    That's not how things played out.

    Bush ends the year in the far more hopeless position. He is mired in single digits in every national and key early-state poll, placing fifth among Republican candidates in the latest Washington Post-ABC News survey. Clinton is way ahead of her closest Democratic rival - Vermont socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders - nationally.

    But the similarities in the un-dynamic duo's year are striking: hot starts followed by the realization that their built-in advantages mattered a whole lot less than they thought. Name recognition and organization and all the money in the world can't sell a message that voters aren't all that interested in buying.

 

    Jeb!

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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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