Archive

February 24th, 2016

Republicans, you have one last chance

    Republicans, you have one last chance.

    Following his fourth-place finish in South Carolina, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush ended his campaign for the White House, diminishing the hope among Republicans seeking a tolerable alternative to Donald Trump. On a night in which Nevada Democrats helped the chances of their more pragmatic candidate, Hillary Clinton, the GOP found itself with just one even-keeled option left in the race.

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My son is not a mascot for abortion bans

    Before "I was born, the doctors told my mom that I'll be Down syndrome and so the doctors asked her if she wanted to have an abortion of me," says John, a star of the reality show "Born This Way." Cut to his mother, Joyce, who remembers doctors cautioning, " 'Don't expect a lot. He will never be an asset to society. He will never be a productive citizen.' Those are the words they tell you - you know, all negative. I just said, 'No, John is gonna be my child. I will take care of him. He has Down syndrome, but it's not gonna limit him.' " The John we see at age 28 is funny and kind. He has warm relationships with family and friends, and, like many other reality show stars, is pursuing a pipe dream - in his case, being a rap artist.

    This is a familiar story for people with Down syndrome and their advocates. Where once experts advised parents to institutionalize babies born with Down syndrome, in the era of genetic testing, expecting mothers are frequently urged to abort. Even those who would otherwise identify as staunchly pro-life have seen Down syndrome as a possible justification for abortion.

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Moment of truth: We must stop Trump

    Like any number of us raised in the late 20th century, I have spent my life perplexed about exactly how Hitler could have come to power in Germany. Watching Donald Trump's rise, I now understand. Leave aside whether a direct comparison of Trump to Hitler is accurate. That is not my point. My point rather is about how a demagogic opportunist can exploit a divided country.

    To understand the rise of Hitler and the spread of Nazism, I have generally relied on the German-Jewish émigré philosopher Hannah Arendt and her arguments about the banality of evil. Somehow people can understand themselves as "just doing their job," yet act as cogs in the wheel of a murderous machine. Arendt also offered a second answer in a small but powerful book called "Men in Dark Times." In this book, she described all those who thought that Hitler's rise was a terrible thing but chose "internal exile," or staying invisible and out of the way as their strategy for coping with the situation. They knew evil was evil, but they too facilitated it, by departing from the battlefield out of a sense of hopelessness.

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Sick of Presidential Politicians Grubbing for Votes

    Like millions of Americans in the middle of February I have the flu.

    Unlike millions of Americans I have a deadline.

    Forced to stay at home, sucking Vitamin C drops, I have read newspapers, listened to radio, and watched television as a source of diversion.

    Dominating the media is the campaign for the presidency.

    In Iowa, all of the candidates went to fairs, restaurants, and anywhere there was any sign of carbon-based organic life to grab votes. Because hogs and corn stalks haven’t yet been granted the right to vote, the candidates resorted to talking with humans, and making sure that everyone got more useless swag than the presenters at the TV awards shows. The newspaper reporters were doing their best to report interactions between candidates and humans; the TV reporters were reporting on the polls. Very few were asking the tough questions.

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A Supreme Court fight for the ages

    The approaching battle over the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia is likely to be one for the ages, considering the huge political stakes as well as the depth of bitter partisanship in which it will unfold.

    Up for grabs will be the ideological balance of the court now left divided 4-4 between conservatives and liberals after the departure of Scalia, who embodied right-wing thinking at its most acerbic.

    Among the most contentious political clashes between the political camps on the Supreme Court was the 5-4 decision in the Citizens United decision, which threw open the door to virtually unlimited campaign contributions by wealthy individual and corporate donors. Based on the conceit that spending money is a legitimate form of free speech, the ruling arguably has put elections in the hands of the rich, at the expense of lower and middle-class Americans.

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Sanders and Koch could work together

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders evokes the Koch brothers as the enemies of everything he stands for. Charles Koch, chairman and chief executive of Koch Industries, has responded, spelling out where he agrees and disagrees with Sanders. The two clearly need to have a face-to-face conversation because I'm not sure they understand each other well.

    Koch agrees with Sanders that the U.S. is a two-tiered society in which a privileged few reap a disproportionate share of the benefits. But Koch says he and Sanders part ways when it comes to a solution:

    "I disagree with his desire to expand the federal government's control over people's lives. This is what built so many barriers to opportunity in the first place."

    Rush Limbaugh likes to say that "under capitalism, the rich get powerful, and under socialism, the powerful get rich." I was born and raised in the Soviet Union, so I know where he's coming from. I'm not sure, however, that Limbaugh, Koch and Sanders are talking about the same kind of socialism.

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My Friend, the Former Muslim Extremist

    Whenever a Muslim carries out a terror attack in the West, the question arises: Why do they hate us?

    Provocative answers come from my friend Rafiullah Kakar, who has lived a more astonishing life than almost anyone I know. Rafi is a young Pakistani who used to hate the United States and support the Taliban. His brother joined the Taliban for a time, but now I worry that the Taliban might try to kill Rafi — ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

    One of 13 children, Rafi is a Pashtun who grew up in a mud home close to the Afghan border, in an area notorious for tribal feuds and violent clashes. His parents are illiterate farmers, and it looked as if Rafi’s education would end in the fifth grade, when he was sent to a madrasa. His mom wanted him to become a hafiz, someone who has memorized the entire Quran.

    “One reason people send kids to madrasa is that a hafiz can get to paradise and take 10 other people along,” Rafi notes, explaining a local belief about getting to heaven. “My mother wanted me to be a hafiz, so I could be her ticket to paradise.”

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February 23rd

Imagine a Republican Party under Trump

    As this week's slugfest between Donald Trump and the Pope confirms, the 2016 election is unlike others we have known. Trump may eventually lose to another candidate. Or he could end up with the most delegates and the Republican nomination for president.

    Which raises a basic question: What is the Republican Party if Trump is its nominee?

    The answer is not immediately obvious. Parties are amorphous and hard to define, but they are much more than the shadow cast by a presidential nominee. The Republican Party has traditions and factions, dispositions and interests, and it embodies and conveys an identifiable set of values. The gun lobby and conservative Christians are generally components of the party. Unions and environmentalists are generally not. And pretty much everyone gets that.

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Cruz and Rubio, Separated at Mirth

    Ted Cruz described Marco Rubio last week as “Donald Trump with a smile,” saying that both are quick to call their critics liars, though Rubio does it amiably.

    Cruz is right about Rubio’s affect, wrong about which candidate it distinguishes him from. He and Rubio are the pair twinned in so many respects beyond the curve of their lips.

    That makes these two U.S. senators — both in their first terms, both Cuban-American, both lawyers, just five months apart in age — a uniquely fascinating study in how much the style of a person’s politics drives perceptions of who he is and in how thoroughly optics eclipse substance.

    Rubio, 44, is routinely branded “mainstream” and occasionally labeled “moderate.” There’s a belief among Republican leaders, along with evidence in polls, that he has an appeal to less conservative voters that Cruz doesn’t.

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Why people believe conspiracy theories about Scalia's death

    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died just days ago, but already conspiracy theories about his death abound. Radio talk-show host Alex Jones suggested that a pillow found near Scalia's head might indicate that he'd been suffocated. Some retired detectives said the lack of an autopsy was evidence of a cover-up. The website TruNews wondered whether the CIA used heart-attack-inducing drugs to kill the justice. Even Donald Trump joined the fray, calling the death "pretty unusual."

    For those who don't believe that the justice was murdered -- Scalia, at 79, had passed average life expectancy -- it can be disconcerting to watch a large swath of the public fall prey to hysteria and paranoia. After all, we live in a democracy. If a substantial portion of Americans operate in a conspiracy-fueled delirium, how can we make sound decisions, choose thoughtful leaders and support rational policies?

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