Archive

November 20th, 2015

Germans' refugee response puts U.S. to shame

    The political controversy over the proposed resettlement of 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. next year imperils the superpower's claim to global moral leadership. Unlike their counterparts in some European nations, the more compassionate politicians in the U.S. appear powerless to do more for people fleeing war and terror.

    Syria is the biggest source of refugees: According to the United Nations, more than 4 million people have fled and more than 7 million are displaced internally. The U.S. took in 69,933 refugees in fiscal year 2015, which ended in September; only about 1,800 were Syrians.

    These numbers are for the U.S. resettlement program, which plucks people from UN-monitored refugee camps. Usually, the most vulnerable are selected -- women, children, people targeted for political persecution or those with life-threatening diseases. A few Syrians may be trickling into the U.S. on their own as asylum-seekers, but those numbers probably are tiny: You can't cross the Atlantic on a leaky raft.

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Cabs, Camels, or ISIS

    Today, I’ll talk about the Paris attacks, but before I do, I want to share two news stories here, in case you missed them: The first calf to come from a cloned camel was born at a research center in Dubai and a local taxi startup is taking on Uber in the Arab world.

    You may think that these emirates startups — cloning camels and cabs — have nothing to do with Paris, but they do. Bear with me.

    A newspaper here, The National, quoted Dr. Ali Ridha Al Hashimi, the administrative director of the Reproductive Biotechnology Center in Dubai, announcing “that Injaz, the world’s first cloned camel, gave birth to a healthy female calf weighing about 38 kilos on November 2. Injaz, whose name means ‘achievement’ in Arabic, was cloned in 2009 from the ovarian cells of a dead camel.” Previously, when the pregnancy was disclosed, the center’s scientific director, Dr. Nisar Wani, said, “This will prove cloned camels are fertile and can reproduce the same as naturally produced camels.”

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What does Islamic State think it's doing?

    If Islamic State was directly responsible for the attacks in Paris that have killed more than 130 people, it is a serious change in strategy.

    "It's not just about inspiring any more, but motivating," Patrick Skinner, a former CIA official now with the consulting firm Soufan Group, told the Financial Times. "They are projecting their terror further and more deliberately."

    Indeed, coordinating at least eight terrorists for attacks on six locations is a whole different level of sophistication than urging Canadian Muslims to carry out random hit-and-runs on men in uniform.

    Coming shortly after attacks in Ankara and Beirut for which Islamic State is taking responsibility, as well as its possible bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, it appears that Islamic State is taking its holy war to new battlegrounds.

    But if Islamic State was behind these attacks and those in France, the big question is: Why?

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The Paris attacks reveal, again, the GOP's weaknesses on foreign policy

    The 2016 Republican field is many things. It is deep. It is diverse. It is a mix of insiders and outsiders.

    But one thing it is not: Filled with candidates possessing deep resumes on foreign policy.

    The current top tier of the 2016 field includes a businessman (Donald Trump), a doctor (Ben Carson) and two senators who have spent five (Marco Rubio) and three years (Ted Cruz) in the Senate, respectively. Jeb Bush, who finds himself on the outside looking in on the top tier right now, has a long and impressive record but not one that is larded with foreign policy experience. Ditto Chris Christie in New Jersey. Or John Kasich in Ohio -- although he, at least, spent almost two decades in Congress including time on the House Armed Services Committee.

    That dearth of foreign policy knowledge comes at a time when foreign policy and national security concerns are on the rise within the Republican party. And those concerns are only likely to be bolstered in the wake of Friday's terror attacks in Paris, which, again, reminds Americans of the threat posed by the Islamic State around the world.

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Republicans who fault the media show their bias

    For Republican presidential contenders challenged by the media, the go-to answer has become a claim of victimhood: You are biased against us. As Marco Rubio put it at the CNBC debate last month, "The Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC. It's called the mainstream media."

    Are media outlets really biased against Republican candidates? One of the most careful studies, by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago, doesn't find much evidence of that. Its central conclusion is that readers have a strong preference for like-minded news-- and that newspapers tend to show a slant in a direction that is consistent with the preferences of their readers.

    With respect to television broadcasters, the evidence remains ambiguous. But Republicans who think that the media are biased against them might want to consider a striking empirical finding: Whatever their beliefs, political partisans have long tended to see, and to complain loudly about, media bias.

    In short, people are biased about bias.

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Race, College and Safe Space

    Before there were the Paris terror attacks that changed everything and the second Democratic presidential debate that changed nothing, much of America had been transfixed by the scene playing out on college campuses across the country: black students and their allies demanding an insulation from racial hostility, full inclusion and administrative responsiveness.

    There was a part of the debate around those protests that I have not been able to release other than by writing here, one step off the news, but hopefully in step with the history of this moment.

    Last week I heard artist Ebony G. Patterson talking about the black body as a “site of contention,” and that phrase stuck with me, because it seemed to be revelatory in its simplicity, and above all, true.

    Black bodies are a battlefield: black folks fight to defend them as external forces fight to destroy them; black folks dare to see the beauty in them as external forces condemn and curse them. 

    Or worse, most insidiously, black folk try to calibrate their bodies to avoid injury.

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Race to be right’s anti-intellectual champion

    Sure, it seems like the race for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination has been going on since lily pads were green. However, let’s acknowledge that it was just June 16 when the starter’s gun fired.

    Or, when Donald Trump first shot off his mouth.

    Trump registered in decibels and kinship with xenophobes the moment he accused Mexico of shipping rapists and murderers our way.

    For a fifth of Republicans polled, he had them at “hello.”

    Seeing which way the derby flags were flying, the field began to bunch almost immediately at the wind of his tail in a quest to be the contender who most deftly defied logic.

    Well, it’s neck-and-neck now, with Trump astride Sea Bigot while Ben Carson applies the whip to a steed named Mythmaker.

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Missouri gears up for next free speech fight

    As if the University of Missouri didn't already have enough problems, state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R, is trying to block a research study by a graduate student in the School of Social Work. The senator, who's a one-man scourge of Planned Parenthood, is claiming that the study violates a Missouri law that bars spending state funds to encourage abortion.

    Schaefer's effort blatantly violates academic freedom. If it succeeds, it might possibly violate the First Amendment.

    But the constitutional point isn't a slam-dunk. As interpreted by the Supreme Court, the First Amendment allows a state, when it's doing the talking, to promote only the views and values that it likes. In theory, a state could conceivably demand that its universities and their employees take a one-sided view and promote only those ideas the legislature and the public prefer.

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France has had its 9/11. What happens next?

    Paris is getting back to life as usual after Friday's attacks, if you discount the armed police on the streets and a general sense of grief. But for France, the question of what President Francois Hollande should do, now that he has declared the nation at war, remains unanswered.

    This situation is completely different from the aftermath of the attacks in January on the Charlie Hebdo magazine. Then, Paris was all about unity. The lone voice of Marine Le Pen's nativist National Front, attempting to make political capital out of the tragedy, was ignored. Those attacks weren't directed at the citizenry as a whole, but at a very particular kind of magazine and a Jewish supermarket. Charlie Hebdo was not France's 9/11. Friday's attacks were.

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Democrats compete for our attention and fail

    The latest Democratic presidential debate did not go as we expected a few days ago. The terrorist attacks in Paris, which unfolded only about 24 hours before candidates took the stage, changed the whole dynamic. They talked about terrorism. And then everything else they said, all the meat-and-potatoes domestic policy talk that we were waiting for, seemed almost petty in comparison.

    So how did the candidates handle the terrorism questions? They were fine, but they were also not in a position to say much. At this point the honest answer to "How does Paris change things?" should probably be "too early to tell" -- not what any debate coach would suggest.

    Perhaps that's why none of the three remaining candidates were particularly sharp by their own standards this time around. No big loss there. It's ever more obvious that Hillary Clinton has had the nomination wrapped up for months. Still, debates can be useful exercises in representation even if they have nothing to do with who will win.

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