Archive

December 16th

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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To see the future of electric vehicles, look East

    Nevada is starting to look like the place where the electric car's future will be decided. Last June, Tesla broke ground on a $5 billion battery plant in Sparks, and on Wednesday, Chinese start-up Faraday Future announced that it had chosen a Las Vegas suburb as the site for a new $1 billion plant to make electric vehicles. Faraday hopes to roll out a competitor to Tesla's flagship Model S in 2017.

    But as glitzy as these bets are, the real action is happening in China, where smoggy skies and government subsidies are creating the perfect conditions for electric vehicles to thrive. The proof is in the numbers. According to data released this week by the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers, sales of electric cars are poised to exceed those in the U.S. for the first time ever. Already, they've grown 290 percent year-on-year to 171,145 vehicles. They're expected to reach 220,000 to 250,000 for the year, whereas the U.S. market is predicted to top out at around 180,000 cars.

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The Lie About College Diversity

    The Supreme Court listened anew last week to arguments about affirmative action in higher education, and we heard yet again about the push by colleges to assemble diverse student bodies.

    That’s a crucial effort.

    It’s also an incomplete and falsely reassuring one.

    Have you spent much time on campuses lately? Leafed through schools’ promotional literature? Listened to their come-ons?

    If so, you’ve probably noticed how often they promise students academic and social experiences customized to their established preferences, tailor-fitted to their predetermined interests, contoured to the particular and peculiar niches they want to inhabit.

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The gun that killed my grandson

    Motives do not matter to the dead. They don't matter much to survivors, either. When my 6-year-old grandson, Noah, was gunned down three years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, along with 19 other first-graders and six educators, we were engulfed in a grief so brutal and so profound that an explanation was the last thing we sought. We just wanted life the way it had been. We wanted Noah back. We still do. Badly.

    Only a month earlier, while visiting from the West Coast, I had gone to the school book fair with the kids. We sat by the big window that the killer would later blow open to force his way in. Noah, his twin sister, his 7-year-old older sister and I read aloud from the books we had bought while waiting for their mom to be done with her three parent-teacher conferences. The kids made jokes, they laughed, they jostled each other. I treasure the picture I took of them on that small wooden bench. There was such love among these three, such complicity. The strongest of bonds.

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