Archive

October 4th, 2016

Syria's 'Army of Islam' says no to war with Israel

    There was a time when you could count on hard-core Sunni Islamists in the Middle East to be reliably opposed to the existence of the Jewish state. Organizations ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaida disagreed on everything from jurisprudence to short-term strategy, but when it came to Israel there was consensus.

    The slaughter in Syria is changing that. Take, for example, Jaish al-Islam, a Syrian coalition of rebels whose name translates conveniently to "Army of Islam." Mohammed Alloush, the political leader of the group, Wednesday told me his fighters did not seek war with Israel.

    "We have no intention to make war against anyone except for the Syrian regime," he said. "If we compare all the killing in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Syrian regime has committed many more crimes than the whole conflict. Our aim now is to get rid of the Syrian regime," he said.

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I never worry I'll be shot in Chicago. After all, I'm white.

    For the past 18 years, I've walked regularly down Howard Street, on the far northern fringe of Chicago. It's a colorful marketplace of dollar stores, chicken shacks, West Indian restaurants, Arab-owned groceries and hip-hop sneaker shops. It's also the turf of Loyalty Over Cash, a Gangster Disciples faction that has been embroiled in a feud with the Insane Cutthroat Gangsters, another Gangster Disciples group operating a mile south. A few years ago, a drive-by gunman fired a bullet through a convenience store window, killing a customer inside. The store reopened two days later, without even covering the hole. The next week, a 16-year-old aspiring rapper was gunned down on a sidewalk at 3 in the morning. I got to the crime scene after the building engineer washed away the blood but before the TV van left.

    Even in the midst of a gang war, I had no fear of getting shot. Why? Because I'm white.

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Five myths about nuclear weapons

    Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agreed on one thing at last week's presidential debate: Nuclear weapons are the single greatest threat to U.S. security. The candidates' concerns diverged from there. Clinton praised the controversial nuclear deal with Iran and worried about nuclear terrorism. Trump said that the U.S. nuclear arsenal is not keeping pace with Russia's. Nukes have been shrouded in myth since they were credited - improperly, many say - with ending World War II by destroying two Japanese cities. Seventy-one years later, and decades after the end of the Cold War, these weapons continue to bedevil diplomacy, discourse and the planet itself.

 

Myth No. 1

    Nuclear weapons haven't been used since Nagasaki.

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"Cruz Caves, Endorses Trump"

    Is anybody surprised at the above headline that appeared in my daily? Stronger, more important men than this failed candidate have done the same. It would have been more news worthy had this ethically challenged senator not endorsed the likewise challenged presidential candidate. The only surprise is that he did not do it sooner.

    Note, it is just in time for the early vote casting, just in case there is anyone left who can be influenced by him. He is only one in a long list of Republican "bigwigs" who vowed and declared they would never, ever support Mr. Trump should he become the candidate. Well, he did and they have supported him. Some fell all over themselves endorsing him near simultaneously with the convention vote. Others withheld their endorsements a few weeks after he became the official candidate but they are now on the bandwagon. Many don't even bother to give an excuse for such a reversal. If that is not putting party before nation, what is?

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Americans don't mind paying taxes, but they want Trump to, also

    Donald Trump handed Hillary Clinton a great political gift last week with his ill-advised interjection at their presidential debate. When she suggested that he didn't pay his federal income taxes, Trump replied, "That makes me smart." With that declaration, Trump appeared to admit that, as many suspected, he used various legal loopholes to pay no federal income tax in certain years. (Clinton paid $3,624,455, or 32.4 percent of her income, in federal taxes in 2015).

    Trump seemed to assume that Americans would admire his savvy. He's wrong. Since the federal income tax was introduced during the Civil War, U.S. citizens have grumbled about their taxes. But they've also told pollsters they think they pay about the right amount -20 percent, on average. More than half of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center last year said their rate was fair.

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You didn't need a new Wells Fargo account. I sold you one anyway.

    It's Christmas Eve 2010 and the doors are locked, the tellers have closed their stations and the customers are gone. But I'm still at work with another Wachovia personal banker - my bank, a part of Wells Fargo - in our crappy branch-office cubicles calling friends and relatives, trying to persuade them to sign up for additional checking accounts.

    Why? The branch is only open as a courtesy and, let's face it, nobody has "open a deposit account" on their to-do list today, but I have a sales quota to meet regardless of what the calendar says. It's the same as any other day, so I proceed as if my job depends upon it. Because it does.

    I know you guys bank somewhere else, I begged my cousins over the phone as we made plans to see each other on Christmas Day, but I'm going to be a complete basket case until I can get some new accounts, trying to cajole them into signing up for accounts they didn't need.

    They wanted to know: How much is the monthly fee?

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Why Trump must not be president

    OK, let's end this comedy. No more Big Orange jokes. This madness has gone on long enough.

    It's time to stop pretending. There are not two serious contenders for president. There's one candidate, Hillary Clinton, who's not perfect, but who at least has the experience, intelligence and capacity to do the job. There's another, Donald Trump, who shouldn't even be on the ballot.

    If you don't believe it, go back and watch a rerun of the first debate. He blamed it on the microphone and the moderator, but no matter how many lame excuses he makes, Donald Trump proved once and for all why he doesn't belong on the same stage with Hillary Clinton.

    She was everything he was not. She was prepared, he was not. She was cool, he was hot. She was substantive, he was shallow. She was polite, he was rude and obnoxious. She answered questions directly, he bobbed and weaved. She told the truth. And he lied.

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The first debate was a defeat for Trump. Here's why the second could be a massacre.

    If the first step to fixing your problem is acknowledging you have a problem, Donald Trump is in some serious trouble. We're ten days from his second debate with Hillary Clinton, and while most voters and virtually every sane observer agree that Trump did poorly in the first debate, a spate of reporting suggests that his campaign, and especially Trump himself, are in a state of deep denial about what happened and what he needs to do in order to have a different outcome next time.

    But that's not all. Because of the format of the second debate, Trump stands to do even worse than he did in the first debate, and Clinton could do even better.

    I'll explain why that is in a moment, but first, let's take a quick tour around Trumpland today:

 

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One theory of why Trump is hiding his tax returns

    One of the things you're supposed to do if you want to be the leader of a company - or a country - is to set a good example.

    That's why I was so appalled during the debate Monday night when Donald Trump boasted - or seemed to boast - about having paid no U.S. income taxes for the years in which his tax returns have become public record. "That makes me smart," he said.

    Actually, it doesn't make him smart. It makes him foolish. And a phony. Here's a guy wearing an American flag in his lapel, talking about how our country is heavily in debt and needs money badly, and then telling us that he's smart for not supporting the place in which we all live.

    I don't know about you, but I found it infuriating.

    If Trump were truly smart - and wasn't, as I wrote in July, someone who lacks impulse control - he'd boast about paying no taxes, then say that he would close the loophole or loopholes that allowed him do that.

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Human soldiers will always cause human tragedies

    Pentagon officials proclaim repeatedly that the air campaign against the Islamic State is the "most precise in military history." Since the war began in August 2014, there have been 15,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, with the United States responsible for 70 percent, which have killed 45,000 Islamic State fighters, according to a recent estimate from a U.S. commander. The Pentagon acknowledges just 55 civilian casualties, with several investigations ongoing - a ratio that is unbelievably low by recent historical standards, including when compared to counterterrorism drone strikes.

    And yet on Sept. 17, the U.S. military's vaunted precision failed. An attack that day apparently by U.S. and coalition aircraft in Syria had to be stopped when Russian officials alerted their U.S. counterparts that it was a Syrian military convoy, not an Islamic State target, which was being bombed. That convoy was not a legitimate military target under U.S. rules of engagement, making the attack on it a failure on par with inadvertently harming civilians. The U.S. military's subsequent press release declared flatly "coalition forces would not intentionally strike a known Syrian military unit."

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