Archive

March 14th, 2016

Five myths about the Ku Klux Klan

    Donald Trump's recent refusal to disavow Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke has reignited debates over the KKK's role in national politics. It's not surprising. The Klan's long history has been marked by spectacular rises and falls, from its terrorist origins in the aftermath of the Civil War to its massive revival as a nativist movement in the 1920s and its refashioning as a brutal anti-civil-rights vigilante squad in the 1960s. Today, Klan outfits continue to recruit small and marginal memberships. While the KKK's white hoods, flowing robes and fiery crosses remain resonant symbols of racial terror and white supremacy, misconceptions abound.

    Here are five of the most pervasive myths about the Ku Klux Klan.

 

    1. The KKK is too weak to pose a real threat today.

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Computer wins at go; humans are disappointed

    Put away your worries about how all the major presidential contenders have abandoned a bipartisan consensus on trade, or whether any serious financial instrument will ever again earn serious interest. In Seoul, a genuine tragedy for the human race is taking place.

    AlphaGo is winning. The computer, developed by artificial intelligence researchers at Google, has won the first two games in its five-game match with Lee Se-dol, the world's best player of the game Go. The chances of a comeback are tiny.

    It wasn't supposed to be like this. Sure, the best computers have been crushing world chess champions for over a decade. But Go -- Go was supposed to be unsolvable. Or at least not solvable so soon. AlphaGo might have beaten the European champ last fall, but he was ranked something like 229th in the world. No big deal.

    Go was safe, we thought, because Go was different. It's not just calculation. It's intuition. It's an aesthetic. It's a feeling for structure. It's a calm appreciation of space and shape and direction. In short, it's art.

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After 2016, will the political parties ever look the same?

    Even if Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump don't win the presidency, their candidacies have roiled the waters of American party politics. Within the GOP, those white voters who began migrating from the Democrats 50 years ago have become restive. On the Democrats' side, young voters are repudiating the "third way" politics favored by party elites. Are these fleeting disturbances, or do they suggest that some dramatic change is in store for U.S. political parties?

    To answer that question, it helps to look backward. In 1932, GOP ineptitude in the face of the Great Depression turned a solidly Republican majority into a Democratic one. After World War II, political scientists developed a theory of realignment to explain the shift. A succession of writers has attempted to refine and adapt that theory to analyze the development of American politics. It's a useful way to understand the current eruptions.

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Trade and Tribulation

    Why did Bernie Sanders win a narrow victory in Michigan, when polls showed Hillary Clinton with a huge lead? Nobody really knows, but there’s a lot of speculation that Sanders may have gained traction by hammering on the evils of trade agreements. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, while directing most of his fire against immigrants, has also been bashing the supposedly unfair trading practices of China and other nations.

    So, has the protectionist moment finally arrived? Maybe, maybe not: There are other possible explanations for Michigan, and free-traders have repeatedly cried wolf about protectionist waves that never materialized. Still, this time could be different. And if protectionism really is becoming an important political force, how should reasonable people — economists and others — respond?

    To make sense of the debate over trade, there are three things you need to know.

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The Miami debate was Clinton's personal nightmare

    Please make these debates stop. I'm not having fun any more. Please let me out of this deep well. And stop giving me lotion. I don't want any more lotion. I just want to go one night without watching a dang debate. Here is my recap of the last one. Won't that suffice?

    If not, here is the Wednesday night Univision/Washington Post debate summarized for those of you who were not unexpectedly trapped when helping a seemingly friendly stranger move a large unwieldy piece of furniture into a van and forced to watch these debates FOREVER PLEASE HAVE MERCY SEND SNACKS AT LEAST.

    Clinton: Thank you for having me. I've been looking forward to this debate.

    Maria Elena Salinas: Secretary Clinton, why don't people trust you?

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Looks like wild time in Cleveland

    They've tried everything to stop him. They've run ads calling him a closet Democrat. They've attacked his brands of vodka, neckties and magazines. They've accused him of hiring foreign nationals. They've exposed the massive fraud he allegedly wrought on students of his online university. They rolled out Mitt Romney and Carly Fiorina to denounce him.

    There's only one thing wrong with that strategy: The Donald keeps winning primaries and racking up delegates. Now, as a last resort, his enemies within the GOP establishment have decided to exercise the nuclear option in order to block Donald Trump from becoming the Republican Party nominee. Suddenly, especially after his wins this week in Michigan, Mississippi and Hawaii, it's what everybody's talking about: a "brokered convention."

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Look beyond judges for Supreme Court nominee

    As President Barack Obama prepares to square off with Senate Republicans over his Supreme Court nominee, I offer a soft word of advice: Don't pick a judge.

    I mean this quite seriously. My Yale colleague Akhil Amar has written thoughtfully about what he calls the "judicialization" of the Supreme Court. It is rare nowadays for anyone to be selected who has not attended a top law school, enjoyed a top clerkship and spent several years on the bench. In his fine book "The Law of the Land: A Grand Tour of Our Constitutional Republic," Amar tells us this:

    "On the day that Samuel Alito replaced Sandra Day O'Connor in early 2006, not only was every justice a former judge, but each had been a (1) sitting (2) federal (3) circuit-court judge at the time of his or her Supreme Court appointment. Never before in history had the Court been so deeply judicialized."

    Obama's subsequent appointment of Elena Kagan, dean of Harvard Law School, broke the pattern, but Amar considers the distinction insignificant:

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Lady Justice, lacking in our courts

    In early Egypt, in ancient Rome, in Renaissance Europe and outside most 21st-century American courthouses, justice has been represented by that woman with a sword, scales and a blindfold. You know her, right? Lady Justice.

    But funny how inside the courtrooms there aren't many Lady Justices to be found.

    A majority of this country's population is represented by only three female justices on the nine-member U.S. Supreme Court. Activists are pressing President Obama to nominate a woman of color to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month. But Senate Republicans - overwhelmingly male - have vowed to block any nominee, of any gender, color or qualification. Nice, right?

    The Supreme Court's gender diversity is actually a little better than on a lot of benches. In the highest state courts across the country, only 29 percent of judges are women, according to the National Association for Women Judges.

    Is this because we simply don't have women qualified for judicial appointments? Of course not.

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Hillary! Bernie! Debate!

Hillary! Bernie! Debate!

 

Gail Collins

 

    Let’s give a hand to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. After all we’ve been through with the Republicans, it’s nice to hear presidential candidates go at each other’s throat while they’re talking about where they stood on immigration issues in 2007.

    This was Wednesday’s Democratic debate — the second one in a week, not counting the back-to-back town halls in between. People, do you remember when we used to complain that there weren’t going to be enough debates? Ah yes, long ago. Dinosaurs roamed the earth and Marco Rubio was a hot ticket.

    Clinton held up well, given that her first three questions involved why she lost the Michigan primary, her emails and whether she’d drop out if she was indicted. (“Oh, for goodness — that is not going to happen. I’m not even answering that question.”) It was a tough evening. Sanders accused Clinton of cruelty to Honduran children. She claimed he had sided with the Minutemen.

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March 13th

Torching the Truth

    America’s military adventures — and, just as often, its misadventures — have inspired thousands upon thousands of books. But the military isn’t just in the business of inspiring books: Sometimes it bans them, too.

    The Pentagon recently announced that it was refusing to carry a new book by journalist (and veteran) Joseph Hickman in the stores on U.S. military bases. It’s called The Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers.

    Burn pits, NPR reports, are “acres-wide mounds of waste near bases” containing “everything from batteries to vehicle scraps to amputated body parts.” These refuse piles, once set aflame with jet fuel, can burn for 24 hours a day. They expose our troops and other personnel to deadly toxic fumes.

    Banning books is bad enough. But there’s a bigger issue here: Why does the Pentagon expose our soldiers to deadly poisons and then pretend it hasn’t happened?

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