Archive

November 27th, 2015

Why ending free travel won't make Europe safe

    If the first casualty of war is the truth, maybe the second is common sense. It's become common to declare that Europe's borderless travel zone must go if security is to be restored after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Before abandoning part of the European Union's most popular achievement -- freedom of movement -- let's think it through.

    The argument goes roughly like this: Because borderless travel, established in stages through the 1990s and 2000s, never secured Europe's external frontier and intelligence sharing, and because the European Union is too feckless to make that happen now, the best recourse is to resurrect national borders and put the maintenance of security back into the hands of national governments.

    Three pieces of evidence are generally provided. First, the Paris attacks were planned in Belgium, a divided state with an ineffectual intelligence service that allowed the Brussels district of Molenbeek to become a safe zone for Europe's jihadists. Belgium's failures thus became the problems of its neighbors, too.

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Virginia for the Win: Why the Old Dominion is ground zero in the refugee debate

    Virginia for the Win is a series examining Virginia's crucial role in the 2016 presidential race and national politics:

    War is a political act.

    Presidential campaigns are the ultimate in political warfare.

    With the terrorist attacks on Paris that claimed 130 lives and with Brussels in lockdown over what officials there say is an imminent terrorist attack, public opinion surveys in the United States indicate that fears about terrorism have overtaken economic concerns as the top issue in the 2016 presidential campaign cycle.

    This has moved the Syrian refugee controversy to the forefront of our political discussion. It may be temporary. But it highlights Virginia's position straddling the fork in the road leading to the White House.

    As we predicted last week, the refugee debate has morphed into shorthand for partisan differences over President Obama's anti-terror war strategy. This is best discussed after a brief Electoral College primer.

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November 26th

The GOP's political correctness dodge

    The Republican presidential candidates and the far-right echo chamber have made "politically correct" an all-purpose dismissal for facts and opinions they don't want to hear.

    Take Donald Trump's claim that when the World Trade Center towers collapsed on 9/11, "I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering."

    The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" columnist, Glenn Kessler, found no evidence to support Trump's claim and gave him "Four Pinocchios," reserved for the most bald-faced lies. PolitiFact gave the statement a "Pants on Fire" rating, denoting extreme mendacity. But when ABC's George Stephanopoulos pressed the GOP front-runner to explain himself, noting that "police say it didn't happen," Trump resorted to what has become a familiar dodge.

    "I know it might not be politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down," Trump said.

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The Gift of Reading

    The list of what a child needs in order to flourish is short but nonnegotiable.

    Food. Shelter. Play. Love.

    Something else, too, and it’s meted out in even less equal measure.

    Words. A child needs a forest of words to wander through, a sea of words to splash in. A child needs to be read to, and a child needs to read.

    Reading fuels the fires of intelligence and imagination, and if they don’t blaze well before elementary school, a child’s education — a child’s life — may be an endless game of catch-up.

    That’s a truth at the core of the indispensable organization Reading Is Fundamental, a nonprofit group that provides hundreds of thousands of free books annually to children age 8 or younger, in particular those from economically disadvantaged homes, where books are a greater luxury and in shorter supply.

    I shine a light on Reading Is Fundamental, or RIF, for several reasons.

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Memories

    It isn't the holiday season that calls back my memories at this time of year, but that "day of infamy." As the years pass there are fewer and fewer of us who actually lived through it but we must never allow it to be forgotten: December 7, 1941.

    I was no where near the actual bombing when this nation was awakened by an event as no other had ever done. Long before the day of television, and certainly, no such communication of phones in every hand, radio was the voice of news.

    We had been picked up from school on a Friday afternoon for a trip to a small town just below Jacksonville, Florida. It was only the second trip outside the boundaries of Georgia for us children and turned out to be memorable in unexpected ways. We were not to find the sunny Florida that we had expected.

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Letter From Saudi Arabia

    Saudi Arabia is a country that is easier to write about from afar, where you can just tee off on the place as a source of the most austere, anti-pluralistic version of Islam — the most extreme versions of which have been embraced by the Islamic State, or ISIS. What messes me up is when I go there and meet people I really like and I see intriguing countertrends.

    Last week I came here looking for clues about the roots of the Islamic State, which has drawn some 1,000 Saudi youths to its ranks. I won’t pretend to have penetrated the mosques of bearded young men, steeped in Salafist/Wahhabi Islam, who don’t speak English and whence the Islamic State draws recruits. I know, though, that the conservative clergy is still part of the ruling bargain here — some of the most popular Twitter voices are religious firebrands — and those religious leaders still run the justice system and sentence liberal bloggers to flogging, and they’re still in denial about how frustrated the world is with the ideology they’ve exported.

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Behold the energy that made America

    “I should have learned sushi.”

    So says James in a rare moment of retrospection. Most days he has no time for that. He is all forward motion.

    His goal is to be an architect. Now he’s working in food service and mastering English.

    A sushi chef makes more than what James does at the moment. He kicks himself for not learning it while working in a California restaurant in his first few months in California. “Cowleefonia” is his linguistic attempt to master everything about us, to be one of us.

    To James, every syllable counts.

    His real name is Trisnawan. Born in Indonesia, like many immigrants, he chose a name here that wouldn’t cause Americans to entangle themselves on their own tongues.

    Hannan, meanwhile, is quiet and determined – quietly determined. She is in this country because the civil war in Yemen made her home unsafe, rocked and wrecked by a bomb out on the street.

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Are You Happy, and How Would You Know?

    Like many others, I can't resist academic studies on happiness. They often come up with persuasive reasons some seem to be happier than others. I'm always on the lookout for pointers.

    That said, there's no happy-mometer to push under someone's tongue to measure contentment with scientific confidence. So some skepticism is warranted.

    Of course, the researchers are assessing what they call "subjective well-being." That's how individuals regard their happiness level, not what the rest of the world thinks it should be.

    We all know people who are happiest when they are complaining. And of course, sense of happiness is culturally influenced. One study was titled "Are Scandinavians Happier than Asians?"

    Most of us believe, at least at times, that money by itself does not buy happiness. We've seen America's most elite shopping streets -- from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to Worth Avenue in Palm Beach to Madison Avenue in New York -- populated by dissatisfied mugs, fancy shopping bags in tow.

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America doesn't have to hate itself to beat racism

    Calling on any nation to repudiate its history is asking a lot. Asking this of the United States -- a country that is animated, more than most, by its great national myths -- may be asking the impossible.

    This was the thought that stayed with me after reading Ta- Nehisi Coates's "Between the World and Me" earlier this year. Protests at Princeton last week demanding a new name for the Woodrow Wilson School turn on the same issue, as do similar recent controversies. The charge is that the U.S. is much farther than it thinks from coming to terms with its racist past.

    According to Coates, slavery wasn't just a blemish on an otherwise grand and inspiring history. He argues that racism has been the organizing and enabling principle of the entire American project. Facing the truth about the past isn't just a matter of intellectual honesty, he says. There can be no hope of social justice today or tomorrow unless the essentially depraved character of the American enterprise is finally acknowledged. That's the claim: Denial of history perpetuates denial of justice.

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Why not draw straws? Elections are all random

    I'll cheerfully admit that until last weekend I had no idea that Mississippi decides tied elections by drawing straws -- much less that other states flip a coin. The only comparable version of planned randomness I'd heard of was the ancient Greek practice of choosing annual leaders by lottery.

    My first instinct on hearing about the Mississippi State House election that was resolved Friday in favor of the Democratic candidate was that this arbitrary practice should obviously be changed.

    On reflection, I'm not so sure.

    A strong case can be made that elections should reflect the intentions of the voters, and that deciding them by reference to luck makes a mockery of the idea that the people are choosing.

    Yet simultaneously, elections in the real world turn on a range of random factors, such as weather, traffic and the uncertainty of individual voters' whims and willingness to turn out.

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