Archive

December 12th

America's definitive voice

    When it comes to the birth of American geniuses, 1915 was a very good year. This year marks the centenary of Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow and, on Saturday, the guy who gave eternal life to the Great American Songbook - Frank Sinatra.

    Bellow and Sinatra also have something in common more important and remarkable than their birth year, their affinity for fedoras, their decades-long political drift from left to right and their tempestuous personal lives. It wasn't until 1953 that each found his voice.

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Being Muslim in America was already hard. Donald Trump is making it even scarier.

    I went numb when I heard about the San Bernardino shooting. I started cleaning the house, as if it would clean the mess created by the killings. A wave of despair accompanied by the thought, "Oh, no, not again," covered me from head to toe. Questions flooded my mind: "Will I once again have to apologize because I am a Muslim?" "Will I be living with the shame that some of my family members, my Muslim friends and I feel when there is a bombing or killings that we didn't do?" "How will I face my non-Muslim friends?"

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Constitution speaks up on 'one man, one vote'

    On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on whether states' drawing of legislative districts should be based on total population, as it is now, or voter population, as some conservatives want. The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, raises a fundamental question about who is represented in our democracy. But as so often happens, the oral argument took a turn in the direction of our history with a focus on the drafting of the Constitution.

    The key moment came when Justice Elena Kagan asked petitioner William Consovoy what would seem like devastating question: The Constitution requires counting total population when apportioning congressmen, so why should the states have to count voters rather than population?

    Consovoy's answer related to the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia in the hot summer of 1787. It's a bit shocking, so I'll quote it in full:

    Apportionment at the time of Article I's framing was focused on taxation issues, on giving States autonomy with respect to voter qualifications. And there was a real concern. That's why it was a -- the great compromise.

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A tradition of risky thinking

    As Donald Trump's proposal to prevent terrorism with "a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, until our representatives can figure out what's going on" illustrates, our country is always at risk for sloppy thinking about, well, risk.

    Fortunately, there's an antidote: Wall Street Journal columnist Greg Ip's new book, a short, sharp history of the United States' never-ending search for safety - against every kind of threat, from terrorism to forest fires to financial crises.

    Aptly titled "Foolproof," Ip's volume is an extended meditation on a paradox: The more we succeed in controlling or eliminating the risks we know and understand, the more we render ourselves vulnerable to the ones we don't.

    The problem isn't that effective risk control breeds a false sense of security; the problem is that it breeds a well-founded sense of security.

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#You Ain’t No American, Bro

    Two weeks ago, I was in Kuwait participating in an IMF seminar for Arab educators. For 30 minutes, we discussed the impact of technology trends on education in the Middle East. And then an Egyptian education official raised his hand and asked if he could ask me a personal question: “I heard Donald Trump say we need to close mosques in the United States,” he said with great sorrow. “Is that what we want our kids to learn?”

    I tried to assure him that Trump would not be our next president — that America’s commitment to pluralism runs deep. But the encounter was a bracing reminder that what starts in Iowa shows up in Kuwait five minutes later. Trump, by alienating the Muslim world with his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, is acting as the Islamic State’s secret agent. ISIS wants every Muslim in America (and Europe) to feel alienated. If that happens, ISIS won’t need to recruit anyone. People will will just act on their own. ISIS and Islamic extremism are Muslim problems that can only be fixed by Muslims. Lumping all Muslims together as our enemies will only make that challenge harder.

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December 11th

What to Tell Donald Trump

    “You know how you make America great again?” Sen. Lindsey Graham said on CNN Tuesday morning. “Tell Donald Trump to go to hell.”

    Fine by me.

    But before we give him that send-off, there’s a whole lot else we should tell him, not that he hears anything other than his own voice and the applause of people who mistake a trash-talking bully for a blunt-talking leader.

    We should tell him that we’re on to him. We now fully realize that nothing he says — certainly not this dangerous claptrap about preventing all Muslims from entering the United States — is meant as an earnest proposal, as serious policy.

    No, he’s just an addict whose drug of choice is attention, and he can’t get enough of it. He’s learned that if he presses the lever the right way, with the right provocation, out pops another hit of saturation media coverage, of all Trump all the time.

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That behind-the-scenes climate-change cabal

    The arrival of the Beatles. The Civil Rights Act. LBJ’s rout of Goldwater. All vied for “Biggest Story” of 1964. But another might have eclipsed them all: the Surgeon General’s report definitively linking smoking with cancer.

    Why so big? Well, that year four of 10 American adults smoked. Yes, this cancer thing was big news.

    Now here we are in 2015. You may believe that ISIS is the biggest story in the world, but face it: If most climate scientists are right, the biggest story is bigger than that, with sea-level change, the exhausting of life-giving glaciers -- you know.

    You may not believe all that, but it’s sort of like the smoking debate. Either we are harming ourselves, or . . .

    It’s no big deal.

    It is possible that the nations represented in Paris at the Global Climate Summit, all 190 of them, could be wrong along with just about every scientist who studies the climate full-time?

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Supreme Court justices are not immune to the news

    Monday, just a few days after the shootings in San Bernardino, California, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it won't hear a challenge to a Chicago suburb's ban on semiautomatic weapons. Tuesday, in the wake of a semester's turmoil over race on campuses from Missouri to New Haven, the court is hearing a challenge to affirmative action.

    Coincidence? Well, sort of.

    The court's actions -- refusing to hear the gun challenge while considering affirmative action -- are case studies of judicial timing that raise a broader question: How is the court influenced by day-to-day headlines and current events? The answer turns out to be more complicated, and more interesting, than you might think.

    To start with, it's important to remember that the justices are limited in their actions and case selection by parties' decision to ask them for review. Unlike, say, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, which opens cases on its own motion (sua moto, in law Latin), the U.S. court can't actively shape its own agenda.

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Stop Tying Terrorist Attacks to Unrelated Issues

    Traumatic national events often lead promoters of various causes to attempt a product tie-in. The terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, was no exception.

    The agendas may be worthy of support, but trying to Scotch-tape them onto only vaguely related circumstances comes off as phony. This is done across the political spectrum, but in the recent tragedy, the left has gotten especially sloppy.

    Yes, America needs to ban weapons of war and the sale of all guns to crazy people. But the gun control advocates' campaign to make the outrage in San Bernardino about the free flow of guns is disingenuous.

    Gun control laws do not deter terrorists who can make bombs out of common household chemicals. France has strict gun laws, and look at the weaponry the Paris monsters got their hands on. The Sept. 11 hijackers used box cutters. It's not that our uncontrolled flow of guns isn't a serious problem. It's just that it is not this story.

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Obama team weighs cyberwar options on Islamic State

    After the massacre at San Bernardino, President Obama's national security advisers are re-examining when to ask Internet companies to take down jihadi propaganda and social media accounts, according to U.S. officials.

    The issue is not new. Al-Qaida and its franchises have used the Internet systematically for more than a decade. But the Islamic State has flooded social media like Twitter and Facebook to provide future recruits all over the world a steady stream of slickly produced material that encourages the kind of do-it- yourself terrorism that has plagued Europe and the United States in recent years.

    The problem for U.S. policymakers is whether to treat this flood of social media as a cancer that must be eradicated or a source of valuable intelligence on the plots and techniques jihadis use to attack the West.

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