Archive

January 13th, 2016

The Peace Prize Winner and Crimes Against Humanity

    Soon the world will witness a remarkable sight: a beloved Nobel Peace Prize winner presiding over 21st-century concentration camps.

    Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the world’s genuine heroes, won democracy for her country, culminating in historic elections in November that her party won in a landslide. As winner, Suu Kyi is also inheriting the worst ethnic cleansing you’ve never heard of, Myanmar’s destruction of a Muslim minority called the Rohingya.

    A recent Yale study suggested that the abuse of the more than 1 million Rohingya may amount to genocide; at the least, a confidential U.N. report to the Security Council says it may constitute “crimes against humanity under international criminal law.”

    Yet Suu Kyi seems to plan to continue this Myanmar version of apartheid. She is now a politician, and oppressing a minority like the Rohingya is popular with mostly Buddhist voters.

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Leo, Hillary, and Their Bears

    It’s hard to say which of the three monomaniacal, monumentally grueling quests is the most riveting.

    There’s the torturous trek portrayed in “The Revenant” of Hugh Glass, a 19th-century trapper who, inflamed by revenge, dragged his bloody body 200 miles through the Western wilderness after being gnawed by a grizzly and deserted by fellow trappers.

    Then there’s the hunt by Leonardo DiCaprio for his first Oscar, for portraying Glass. He has been on the press circuit dramatizing the agonizing shoot, bragging about his verisimilitude in eating raw bison liver. The director, Alejandro Iñárritu, told Variety he had to fly ants twice, first class, to Calgary, Alberta, so they could crawl over Leo’s fractured frontiersman.

    Some wags suggested Leo was so eager to inhabit the solitary Glass’ misery that he broke up with Kelly Rohrbach, his latest supermodel girlfriend, because she was bringing a frivolity to the saturnine mood of the promotional effort by taking the bouncy Pamela Anderson role in the new “Baywatch” movie.

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Wanted: Straight Shooters

    We have come a long way in the debate on gun safety. Well, actually we haven’t come anywhere at all. But we’ve certainly talked a lot.

    And the lines have just hardened. Last week President Barack Obama announced a teeny, weeny executive action to close a few loopholes in the background check laws. Republicans acted as if he’d introduced an Act for the Poisoning of School Lunch.

    Ted Cruz posted a picture of the president, wearing a military helmet and practically snarling, with the headline “Obama Wants Your Guns.” Marco Rubio said it was just “one more way to make it harder for law-abiding people ... to be able to protect their families.”

    The presidential campaign, as you may have noticed, is all about fear and terror. The gun lobby has been stupendously successful in arguing that the best way to protect ourselves from violence is to have the entire population packing heat.

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Blathering in Front of TV Cameras

    Several TV networks covered the Rose Parade. ABC, NBC, RFD, the Hallmark network, and Univision had frequent interruptions to unleash commercials on us. The Home and Garden network ran the two hour parade uninterrupted—except for endless on-air self-promotion about HGTV and its programs.

    Both had commentators who chatted with each other and seemed to spend more time enjoying being on air than in reporting the parade.

    They aren’t unusual.

    TV news—including parade coverage—has become more of a personality-based medium than a news medium. The Happy News TV anchors chat with each other. A few seconds here. A few seconds there.

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America's embarrassing sectarian strife over sectarian strife in the Middle East

    Saudi Arabia's execution of a Shiite cleric produced a predictable explosion of sectarian enmity across the Middle East last week. Less noticed - and perhaps less excusable - was the narrow, partisan and more or less sectarian reactions it prompted in Washington.

    Republicans, led by their presidential candidates, rushed to excuse or even defend the Saudis' reckless and brutal killing of a sheik whose crime was speaking up for the country's oppressed Shiite minority. "Our response should be to stand with our allies," saidSen. Marco Rubio (Fla.). "A strong relationship with Saudi Arabia would allow us to say you shouldn't be executing people for the types of crimes they committed," pronounced Jeb Bush.

    The Obama administration was meanwhile leaning toward Shiite Iran, which furiously denounced the execution and allowed militants to sack the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. The State Department carefully refrained from blaming the regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for the violence and adopted a neutral position on the bilateral dispute - an extraordinary stance given the decades of U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia and enmity with the Islamic Republic.

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An LGBT rights fight on the horizon

    Just because there's been surprisingly little thunder against the gays of late doesn't mean no one has been busy conjuring up the lightning that precedes it. And just because the Republican presidential candidates have so far been relatively quiet about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans on the campaign trail doesn't mean they won't turn up the volume if it suits them. Thanks to a collision of the primary calendar and actions coming to a head out in the states, it just might suit them.

    In September, we had to endure a storm over the illegal antics of Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk who said that her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples was a matter of acting under "God's authority" - the historic Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage be damned.

    Then, in November, we witnessed the repudiation of an anti-discrimination law that protected LGBT people in Houston. Thanks to a campaign built on lies about transgender people in public bathrooms, a statute that covered 15 "protected characteristics" was repealed with more than 60 percent of the vote.

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America's seismic division on race

    The landscape of the 2016 election is seismic. Deep beneath the surface of our daily lives, three tectonic plates have collided, and a tsunami now pounds us. The names of those plates are income inequality; "overcriminalization and excessive punishment in the U.S. Code," to quote Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan; and demographic transition.

    On the first two, right and left are actually, weirdly enough, experiencing a meeting of the psyches, or something of the sort. But the third issue casts everything in the light of racial questions and makes the strange fact of latent bipartisan agreement almost impossible to see.

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Trump's birther strategy expands

    I am struck, this week, by Donald Trump's triumphant return to his birtherism strategy. He's currently raising the question about Ted Cruz, saying it could be "very precarious" for the party if Cruz is the nominee given his affiliation with Canada.

    Trump enjoys doing this sort of thing and it seems to have brought him solid results so far. Why stop at Cruz?

    Yes, it helps that you can picture Cruz being born in Canada. (Other theories I would entertain about Cruz's birth include: he appeared one morning on a large uninhabited asteroid with a single rose on it; he was born in the middle of a big fire and then a lumberjack came out of the building holding Cruz in his arms totally unharmed and ever since the element of fire has responded to Ted's call; Cruz was not born at all, he just emerged fully formed from the head of someone delivering an impassioned filibuster; Cruz came into being nine months after his father scaled a wall to pick the rampion in Ronald Reagan's garden.)

    But here's a preview of some other stratagems Donald will probably try to narrow the rest of the field.

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The hostile climate for fighting gun violence

    The president of the United States and the mayor of the District of Columbia both used this week to address violence within the sphere of their responsibilities. And they are catching flak for it.

    President Obama's focus was on the weapons that now kill as many people as car accidents and on the need for gun-control measures. He said at the White House on Tuesday: "Every single year, more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns - 30,000. Suicides. Domestic violence. Gang shootouts. Accidents." And he added this grabber: "In 2013 alone, more than 500 people lost their lives to gun accidents - and that includes 30 children younger than 5 years old."

    The next day, D.C.Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) went to the city's Eastern Market Metro station to announce the formation of a task force to combat gun robberies, which last year increased to 1,249, 10 percent more than the 1,112 recorded in 2014. This year isn't off to a good start - 25gun robberies in the first six days of 2016. Robberies without guns numbered 28.

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The Obama Boom

    Do you remember the “Bush boom”? Probably not. Anyway, the administration of George W. Bush began its tenure with a recession, followed by an extended “jobless recovery.” By the summer of 2003, however, the economy began adding jobs again. The pace of job creation wasn’t anything special by historical standards, but conservatives insisted that the job gains after that trough represented a huge triumph, a vindication of the Bush tax cuts.

    So what should we say about the Obama job record? Private-sector employment — the relevant number, as I’ll explain in a minute — hit its low point in February 2010. Since then we’ve gained 14 million jobs, a figure that startled even me, roughly double the number of jobs added during the supposed Bush boom before it turned into the Great Recession. If that was a boom, this expansion, capped by last month’s really good report, outbooms it by a wide margin.

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