Archive

January 18th, 2016

Ambassador Is a Dangerous Job

    When Thomas E. McNamara arrived in Colombia as U.S. ambassador in 1988, he encountered a hit list issued by narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar. "I was No. 1," he recalls. "Ambassadors tend to get that kind of attention."

    On a different mission to confer with Lebanese government officials, McNamara was greeted with "a welcome-to-Beirut mortar and artillery barrage," which landed in the parking lot outside the building. "We picked up papers and went to the basement, where there was a secure bunker," McNamara, later named ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism, told me.

    No, being a professional foreign service officer is not all about cocktails in Paris, London and Rome. In fact, little of it is. Most members of the U.S. foreign service serve in harsh parts of the world. And much of their job centers on going into dangerous countryside where they're exposed to some who would do them harm.

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We Shouldn’t Take Their Oil

    Donald Trump’s first presidential campaign ad pledges to “take their oil.” That’s what President (gasp) Trump would do after having “quickly cut the head off the Islamic State,” says the deep-voiced narrator.

    Along with political decapitation, there are many disturbing things in the Republican front-runner’s commercials besides these three words. But stop and ponder the questions they raise.

    First, the U.S. government lacks state-owned oil companies, the requisite drilling equipment, and a fleet of tankers. How would Trump “take their oil”?

    He’d get around this inconvenience wrought by America’s capitalist system by giving ExxonMobil the job, and backing the corporation up with “a ring” of U.S. troops.

    “You ever see these guys, how good they are, the great oil companies?” Trump crowed in Iowa in November. “They’ll rebuild that sucker, brand new — it’ll be beautiful.”

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January 17th

Don't Try To Breathe Life Into A Dead Scandal

    This just in: Nothing boosts circulation or enhances ratings like a sex scandal. The more prominent the actors and the more prurient the allegations, the better. Whatever factual adjustments become necessary to keep the narrative going, many journalists are eager to play along.

    For example, how did the current spat between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton over her husband's well-known sins begin? Was it when Hillary, unwisely rising to the bait, criticized Trump's "penchant for sexism"? Or was it earlier, when Trump described her taking bathroom break during a TV debate as "disgusting"?

    Most would say Trump's bizarre insult jump-started things. However, if you watch "Morning Joe" or read accounts of Hillary's supposedly "enabling" Bill Clinton's transgressions, it's pretty much all her fault. Always was.

    Even the New York Times, in an editorial arguing that "Trump is way out of line bringing up Mr. Clinton's philandering," couldn't restrain itself from scolding her for allegedly attacking Bill's paramours.

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Two parties in revolt

    Less than month before the first votes of the 2016 presidential election are cast in Iowa, both major parties find themselves in the grip of revolution -- the Republican on the right and the Democratic on the left.

    In the Grand Old Party, two loose-cannon conservatives -- business tycoon Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- are vying for an early foothold in the Iowa precinct caucuses against a gaggle of nominally less conservative contenders seeking the establishment label: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

    Four other would-be right-wing cage-rattlers: former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former business executive Carly Fiorina, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, are still hanging in, as is the libertarian Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, praying for lightning to strike in a cloudless sky.

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The Year of Trump

    Is 2015 over yet? Is it safe to come out now?

    What a bummer. Mass shootings, cops using unarmed civilians for target practice, the Middle East in rubble, terrorist attacks, Donald Trump.

    Trump wasn’t the worst of it, perhaps. But he certainly was the most irritating.

    It was a spectacle worthy of Tennyson — “Trump to the right of us, Trump to the left of us, Trump in front and behind. Into the valley of Trump rode the 300 million.”

    A year ago he was a loud-mouthed reality show host who moonlighted as a developer of ugly buildings. Now he’s the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.

    To any patriotic American with a sense of history, it’s embarrassing. We are a country of 320 million people — many of us smart, some informed and reasonable. And the best we can do is Donald Trump?

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Republicans can escape their health-care trap

    What will happen if Republicans gain the votes -- including the big one in the Oval Office -- to do what they want to do to Obamacare? For a clue, look at what's happening in Kentucky.

    Recall that the state's new governor, Matt Bevin, is a tea partyer who fulminated against the Affordable Care Act in his campaign last fall and promised to get rid of it.

    In the brief period he has been in office, Bevin has made two decisions on Obamacare. He's getting rid of Kynect, the Kentucky health-insurance exchange, meaning he's inviting the federal government in to run the state's marketplace. And he has reversed his pledge to quash Medicaid expansion. Instead of repealing it, he's now talking about reforming how Kentucky administers the expansion instead.

    The question of who runs Kentucky's exchange doesn't matter much, so his "bold" action will have little effect. But on Medicaid, his decision to punt will matter a lot. Lots of voters in the state get to keep their insurance.

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Outrage in Oregon

    The armed men occupying an isolated federal building in a remote Oregon bird sanctuary say they won’t leave until the federal government stops its “tyranny.” Yet it’s not clear what that tyranny is, exactly.

    One of the group’s leaders is Ammon Bundy, who, along with his brother, participated in their father Cliven’s fight against the federal Bureau of Land Management in 2014, when the government tried to move the elder Bundy’s cattle off protected land. Their tense standoff with federal authorities became a cause célèbre among many movement conservatives.

    That protest took on a life of its own, with anti-government activists around the country converging on the Bundy farm in Nevada to show their support. In the end, the feds gave up and walked away.

    It was initially less clear what the younger Bundy wants, besides snacks and Facebook donations. He’s since told reporters that he essentially wants two things.

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Our Toxic Failure

    Now that it’s already been phased out, the world can agree that a chemical used in Teflon — the famous coating on nonstick pots and pans — was toxic.

    A recent New York Times Magazine article told the story of the heroic victims who paid with their health and the lawyer who represented them. Together they ensured that a study was done to link this chemical, called PFOA, to the health problems it caused.

    PFOA is thought to be linked to several cancers, as well as thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, and more. It’s also probably in your blood.

    This chemical is just one in a class of fluorine-based chemicals with slippery, nonstick properties. They’re often used in waterproof or stain-resistant items — even in Oral B’s Glide dental floss.

    Chew on that for a moment. Oral B puts this chemical in a product designed to go straight into your mouth.

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Obama's vision requires crushing Republicans

    President Barack Obama's final State of the Union address consisted of a clear vision and an equally plain, if less explicitly identified, path to reach it. Obama envisions a future powered by democratic pluralism, green energy and a redistribution of power from business owners and the wealthy to workers and the middle class.

    How will we reach that future? His answer: By crushing the reactionary party obstructing the way.

    Much will be made of Obama's direct rebuttals of Sen. Ted Cruz and billionaire Donald Trump, who received presidential attention for their respective views on carpet-bombing and Muslims. (Or carpet-bombing Muslims.) But the two presidential candidates got only a fraction of the attention that Obama showered on their party. Virtually every paragraph was constructed as a contradiction of Republican dogma, Republican policy, Republican politics or Republican attitude.

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Obama fights the furies

    The most venomous part of the Republican Party has seized control of the national dialogue. This forced President Obama to use his final State of the Union message on Tuesday to battle against intolerance, anger, pessimism and despair.

    Even more tellingly, the Republican designated to reply to him, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, effectively joined hands with a man she otherwise criticized. She implored her party to reject "the siren call of the angriest voices." For one moment, at least, Obama had realized his dream: A part of red America came together with his blue America to share responsibility for the nation's frustrations.

    Yet the limits of this cease-fire were brought home with a speed facilitated by the technology of instant communication: Haley had barely issued her plea against rage when Twitter was engulfed by it -- directed her way by voices at the right end of her party, particularly from enthusiasts for Donald Trump. The siren call struck back.

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