Archive

June 30th, 2016

Donald Trump's claims about radical jihadists are very wrong

    What do we mean when we talk about "homegrown extremism" or "radicalization" in the United States? Donald Trump claims that the threat of "radical Islam" is imported by immigrants from abroad, from regions where there is a history of terrorism against us and our allies. He refers to " thousands upon thousands of people" entering the United States, "many of whom have the same thought process" as the Orlando, Florida, shooter. He asserts that they are forming "large pockets" of people who want to "slaughter us."

    Actually, we don't know the motivations of the Orlando shooter, and we probably never will. We certainly do not know what thought processes immigrants might bring with them as they travel from the "many more Muslim countries" Trump mentioned earlier this week (the short list - in addition to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria - would include Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Mali, Niger and Nigeria). Many of these potential immigrants might be fleeing jihadist violence in their home countries.

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Culturally constructed ignorance wins the day

    I spend much of my time shrugging off breathless news events. Ebola (now Zika), employment reports, Federal Reserve rate changes, government shutdowns, peak earnings and so on. Much of what passes for earth-shaking news turns out to be, with the benefit of hindsight, something in between idle gossip and fear-mongering. The genuine, not well-anticipated, actual market-moving news -- such as the U.K.'s vote to leave the European Union -- is a relatively rare thing.

    However, there is a disconcerting trend that has gained strength: agnotology. It's a term worth knowing, since it is going global. The word was coined by Stanford University professor Robert N. Proctor, who described it as "culturally constructed ignorance, created by special interest groups to create confusion and suppress the truth in a societally important issue." It is especially useful to sow seeds of doubt in complex scientific issues by publicizing inaccurate or misleading data.

    Culturally constructed ignorance played a major role in the Brexit vote, as we shall see after a bit of explanation.

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A cost-benefit test defeats Texas abortion limits

    Today the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional right to abortion -- and laid down a new framework for how courts should evaluate future legislation limiting it. For the first time, the court expressly held that laws limiting access to abortion must be evaluated on a cost-benefit basis, to see if health benefits to women outweigh the costs in making abortion less available. The cost-benefit scheme gives greater precision to the undue-burden test established in the landmark 1992 case of Casey v. Planned Parenthood. But it also raises the difficult question of how, exactly, costs and benefits should be determined if and when other states pass laws that limit abortion access while purporting to protect women's health.

    The decision went 5-3, with Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the court's four liberals and the opinion written by Justice Stephen Breyer. That's significant for two reasons. First, the case would have come out the same way even if Justice Antonin Scalia were still alive or Judge Merrick Garland had been confirmed. Kennedy was the swing vote, and he voted to uphold the legacy of the Casey decision he co-authored.

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White Savior, Rape and Romance?

    The movie “Free State of Jones” certainly doesn’t lack in ambition — it sprawls so that it feels like several films stitched together — but I still found it woefully lacking.

    The story itself is quite interesting. It’s about Newton Knight, a white man in Mississippi during and after the Civil War, who organizes and mounts a somewhat successful rebellion against the Confederacy. He falls in love with a mixed-race slave named Rachel, and they establish a small community of racially ambiguous relatives that a 2003 book of the same title calls “white Negroes.”

    It is easy to see why this story would appeal to Hollywood executives. It has a bit of everything, with eerie echoes of modern issues.

    It comes in the wake of “12 Years a Slave,” at a time when slave narratives are en vogue, only this story emphasizes white heroism and centers on the ally instead of the enslaved.

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Learning from Britain's unnecessary crisis

    Elites are in trouble. High levels of immigration are destabilizing our democracies. Politicians who put their short-term political interests over their countries' needs reap the whirlwind -- for themselves but, more importantly, for their nations.

    Citizens who live in the economically ailing peripheries of wealthy nations are in revolt against well-off and cosmopolitan metropolitan areas. Older voters lock in decisions that young voters reject. Traditional political parties on the left and right are being torn asunder.

     One of the few good things about Britain's vote to leave the European Union is the rich curriculum of lessons it offers leaders and electorates in other democracies.

     History is unlikely to be kind to British Prime Minister David Cameron. Last week's referendum was not the product of broad popular demand. Cameron called it to solve a short-term political problem and get through an election. His Conservative Party was split on Europe and feared hemorrhaging votes to the right-wing, anti-Europe, anti-immigrant UK Independence Party.

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White Savior, Rape and Romance?

    The movie “Free State of Jones” certainly doesn’t lack in ambition — it sprawls so that it feels like several films stitched together — but I still found it woefully lacking.

    The story itself is quite interesting. It’s about Newton Knight, a white man in Mississippi during and after the Civil War, who organizes and mounts a somewhat successful rebellion against the Confederacy. He falls in love with a mixed-race slave named Rachel, and they establish a small community of racially ambiguous relatives that a 2003 book of the same title calls “white Negroes.”

    It is easy to see why this story would appeal to Hollywood executives. It has a bit of everything, with eerie echoes of modern issues.

    It comes in the wake of “12 Years a Slave,” at a time when slave narratives are en vogue, only this story emphasizes white heroism and centers on the ally instead of the enslaved.

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June 29th

Trump and the CIA (Christians in Action)

    "We don't know anything about Hillary in terms of religion," said Donald Trump, while speaking to a group of Christian leaders in New York. "Now, she's been in the public eye for years and years, and yet there's no - there's nothing out there." Trump, of course, is dead wrong about that, just as he is about so many other things on which he opines. There's plenty "out there" about Hillary Clinton's faith.

    She is on the record about her role as a church youth-group member and Sunday school teacher, and how her faith and teachings on forgiveness helped her endure disclosures of her husband's affairs. She even allowed things to get out of hand in a 2007 New York Times interview, when she responded to such questions as "How do you feed [your] personal relationship with God?," "Do you believe that the resurrection of Jesus actually happened?," and "Do you believe on the salvation issue . . . that belief in Christ is needed for going to heaven?"

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What Brexit means to US? Another Trumpian victory

    Many people see striking similarities between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Great Britain's vote to leave the European Union. One of those people is Donald Trump.

    The presumptive Republican presidential nominee just happened to arrive in Scotland to reopen a golf resort as the news of the "Brexit," or "British exit" vote, came in. Unsurprisingly he took him no time at all to make the story all about himself.

    "They took back control of their country," said Trump when asked about the British vote. "It's a great thing."

    "People are angry, all over the world, they're angry," he said. "They're angry over borders, they're angry over people coming into the country and taking over. Nobody even knows who they are. They're angry about many, many things."

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Trump, Clinton push opposing economic plans

    The contempt that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump express for each other will continue to play out in vitriolic sound bites. But their profound differences on what to do about the economy and the struggling middle class are far more important.

    "This election will be won by whichever candidate convinces middle-class voters they are better for their jobs and future prospects," says Stephen Moore, a Heritage Foundation economist and Trump adviser.

    "This is about whether economic forces hollow out the middle class or whether those forces strengthen the middle class, creating jobs and higher wages," says Gene Sperling, a leading economic official under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and an adviser to Hillary Clinton.

    As the economy has recovered from the economic crisis, the unemployment rate has shrunk to less than half of what it was eight years ago and wages have started to rise. But medium average family income, in real dollars, is less than it was 10 years ago.

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The shock that will reverberate beyond Britain

    The British vote to leave the European Union may come to be seen as a tipping point in global politics, perhaps more consequential than anything since the fall of the Berlin Wall. It may mark the moment when Europe comes face to face with its own constitutional dysfunction, when the idea of the "West" finally ceases to be plausible and when the United States is confirmed in its sense that its interests lie more in Asia than in its traditional Atlantic sphere of influence.

    The shock of the referendum will be felt initially in Britain. In politics, Prime Minister David Cameron has already announced he will be going, but in an agonizingly slow way. The business of replacing him requires a two-stage vote, one by Conservative members of Parliament and the next by rank-and-file members of the Conservative Party; this process will drag into the fall. In the meantime, the country will be led through its crisis by a lame duck.

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