Archive

June 23rd, 2016

No 'Brexit' could mean an even bigger crisis in Europe

    British polls have swung toward an "in" vote since the murder of parliament member Jo Cox, a predictable shift toward stability. It may be time to switch from imagining post-Brexit dystopias to picturing a Europe with Britain still in it. That's almost an equally worrying sight, given what some of the EU's top officials and former architects say about European integration these days.

    You'd never expect euroskepticism from Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the former French president who, in the early 2000s, watched over the drafting of a European Constitution, which was approved by EU heads of state in 2004 and even by some countries' voters, but killed after France and the Netherlands rejected it in referendums in 2005. The EU's current framework, the Treaty of Lisbon -- whose Article 50 would have served as the legal basis for Brexit -- is in part based on that strong federalist document. Yet Giscard now says the EU-28 is "ungovernable."

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Good tiddance to Great Britain

    Perhaps in no country in Europe is the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union feared so much by so many as the Netherlands, where I am from. The Dutch sympathy for Britain is genuine and widespread; it has old roots, as both countries, from time immemorial, have been mercantile nations, with an aversion toward protectionism. Which is to say that Dutch feelings are not representative of European feelings more broadly - nor should they be considered flattering for Britain.

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Even if Cameron wins Thursday's vote, he loses

    Nobody doubts that a vote to leave the EU on June 23 could bring enormous change in Britain's relationship with Europe and its domestic politics. But that doesn't mean that a vote to remain would bring a return to business as usual. Far from it.

    Even in the event of a strong remain vote, Prime Minister David Cameron would have new headaches: Over 40 percent of Conservative MPs who have declared a public position on the referendum are lining up to leave the EU, and this would make for a more unruly party, and even the possibility of further defections of MPs to UKIP post-the referendum. A modest vote to remain, however -- let's say somewhere between 50.1 percent and 53 percent --would mean even bigger problems.

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Democrats' sit-in is a justified act of civil disobedience

    Sometimes civil disobedience is justified. Sometimes it is necessary. The unprecedented events playing out on the House floor -- Democratic members staging a sit-in in the well of their own chamber - represent such a moment.

    The immediate, and understandable, precipitating events were the massacre in Orlando and the refusal of House Republican leaders to permit a vote on a measure to try to keep lethal weapons out of the hands of possible terrorists and others whose past behavior and mental state mirror the profile of the mass murderers who have made the United States the citadel of gun violence.

    But the underlying cause for the revolt runs far deeper. Partisan polarization and intense competition for control of Congress have ushered in a ruthless stewardship of the first branch of government, motivated mostly to kill bills and avoid votes, all in the quest to retain or gain majority control. Regular order did not carry the day in the House, but then regular order has not been in evidence in the House or Senate for many years.

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June 22nd

Why I Was Wrong About Welfare Reform

   In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a controversial compromise bill for welfare reform, promising to “end welfare as we know it.”

    I was sympathetic to that goal at the time, but I’ve decided that I was wrong. What I’ve found in my reporting over the years is that welfare “reform” is a misnomer and that cash welfare is essentially dead, leaving some families with children utterly destitute.

    Every year I hold a “win a trip” contest to choose a university student to accompany me on a reporting trip to cover global poverty in places like Congo or Myanmar. This year we decided to journey as well to Tulsa, in the heartland of America, because the embarrassing truth is that welfare reform has resulted in a layer of destitution that echoes poverty in countries like Bangladesh.

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The danger we can confront

    Along came the alligator.

    A horrifying story at the end of a horrifying stretch, a heartbreaking coda befitting a nation on perpetual edge.

    That the story would go viral was guaranteed: a 2-year-old grabbed, his father trying in vain to fight off the primordial beast, an unforeseen danger lurking in what is supposed to be the happiest place on earth.

    It is human nature to be mesmerized by such a tale. In the early days of cable news, we could not avert our national gaze from Jessica McClure, the 18-month-old who fell into a well in her aunt's backyard in Midland, Texas. Baby Jessica's rescue was the subject of round-the-clock coverage during the 58 hours workers labored frantically to free her.

    Decades before came the Lindbergh Baby, snatched from his crib at 20 months, his decomposed body found two months later, after a tabloid frenzy and a nationwide manhunt, just five miles from home.

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Is the gun lobby finally cornered?

    A political crisis is usually preceded by an intellectual and moral crisis. Dominant ideas that once seemed to hang together lose their hold when they are exposed as contradictory and incoherent.

     Similarly, moral claims made on behalf of a worldview can, gradually or suddenly, come to be seen as empty. Demoralization comes before defeat.

    This is what happened in the Soviet Union. A corrupt and dictatorial system fell for many reasons, but its demise became inevitable when even those with an interest in mouthing the old slogans and defending the old ideology came to realize that almost everyone around them thought they were extolling bunk.

    But a crisis can also develop around particular issues in democratic countries. This is what's happening now to those who maintain an absolutist position in opposing all new measures to limit the use of firearms.

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Double jeopardy? Gay Muslims in America

    One day in the late 1950s on a golf course with actor-comedian Jack Benny, song-and-dance man Sammy Davis Jr. was asked what was his handicap. "Talk about handicap," said Davis, according to various sources. "I'm a one-eyed Negro Jew."

    Right. Beat that for a handicap.

    Davis was an African-American convert to Judaism who lost an eye in an auto accident. But Davis' refusal to let any obstacle block his way to stardom became an inspiration for the world.

    Times change. Davis' story came back to mind after the Sunday early-morning massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Suddenly Muslim Imam (minister) Daayiee Abdullah became one of the most sought-after clergy in America.

    Abdullah, 62, is this country's first openly gay imam. Born Sidney Thompson to a black Baptist family in Detroit, the former public interest lawyer directs the Mecca Institute, an online learning and research center in Washington, D.C., for those seeking "more expansive and inclusive interpretations" of Islamic texts.

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Donald Trump gives Hillary Clinton her cause

    The political context around Hillary Clinton has changed. Until now, complaints about her have pervaded public commentary, usually with a predictable refrain. In a May podcast, former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart couldn't find much good to say about the next leader of the Democratic Party.

    He imagined Hillary Clinton, he said, "to be a very bright woman without the courage of her convictions, because I'm not even sure what they are."

    It was hardly an original damnation. Clinton has long been perceived and portrayed as a cautious, calculating, programmed talking-points bot, a grind churning personal ambition into political power, a transactional politician who lacks the inspirational lift that Democrats admire in Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama.

    In The Washington Post, Chris Cillizza said that Stewart had "perfectly diagnosed" the problem with Clinton's candidacy.

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America's greatest shame

    In the wake of the latest example of this country's most egregious distinction -- its continuing acquiescence in mass gun violence -- a visibly fed-up President Obama made yet another grief-bearing visit last week, calling on the survivors of victims of the Orlando gay nightclub massacre.

    Perhaps to emphasize his sorrow, he was accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, whose own life has been visited at least twice by family loss, and who wears his heart on his sleeve. They traveled separately to Orlando in keeping with the long-held policy that the president and his elected standby not risk both being lost in a plane crash or other tragedy.

    It was Biden to whom Obama turned for a solution after the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school shooting rampage that claimed the lives of 20 little kids and six adults. Many Americans thought or hoped then it finally would so shock and outrage the public, and Congress, to take meaningful action against this national sickness.

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