Archive

December 15th

The potency of Trump's pitchfork populism

    Donald Trump became the driving force in American politics by giving voice to anger, fear and resentment that were already there, just below the surface, waiting for their moment and messenger.

    At present, Trump's target is any believer in Islam who seeks to enter the United States. Back in June, he launched his campaign with invective toward any Latino immigrant living in this country without documents. He attacks President Obama less for his policies than for his identity -- not for what the president does but for who he is. Trump has made himself the champion of a fading, embattled "us" in a life-or-death struggle against a swarming, threatening "them."

     The blustery billionaire's "us" is nowhere near a majority of the U.S. electorate, but it might be enough to win him the Republican nomination for president. And even if he falls short, the forces he has loosed will not easily be tamped down.

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Prosecuting religious hate speech isn't easy

    In the United States, we tend to say that the cure for hate speech is more speech: If you don't like what Donald Trump has to say about Muslims, speak out, or vote against him. Other democracies do it differently, and many make it a crime to incite racism and violence. This approach sometimes seems appealing -- but it's also difficult to apply, as the Israeli Supreme Court showed this week when it declined to order the prosecution of the authors of a Jewish law book that arguably constitutes religious hate speech.

    The case, so far only available in Hebrew, is politically important because it involves a book, "The Law of the King" ("Torat ha-Melekh"), that seems to have inspired the attack in July in the Palestinian village of Duma that killed three members of the Dawabsheh family. But it's more broadly significant as an example of the challenges of legally regulating speech that is morally repugnant and potentially dangerous.

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Here's what Antonin Scalia doesn't get about affirmative action

    During oral arguments in a case about affirmative action at the Supreme Court this week, Justice Antonin Scalia suggested that minority students do better at "less-advanced" universities where they won't be pushed too fast.

    Scalia's notion missed the point of affirmative action entirely, though, as do similar critiques that such programs somehow take opportunities away from white people and give them to minorities. I would know - my education was a product of affirmative action. While it may have paid for me to go to school, it hasn't helped me at all when it comes to finding a job.

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Feeding on fear

    Welcome to the Islamic Scare era, in which the nation becomes engulfed in a Donald Trump- induced fear of embedded Muslims planning terrorist attacks against the homeland. The United States has been through a phase like this before.

    It was called the Red Scare, and we are all the poorer because of it.

    The Red Scare, generated post-World Wars I and II, set off a chain of nasty behavior and excesses that trampled civil liberties and the freedoms we were taught to cherish. To be sure, there were American communists in the '40s and '50s who advocated the overthrow of the U.S. government and who worked as spies for the Soviet Union. The record of convictions is there to prove it.

    But so, too, is evidence of the damaging effect that the Red Scare had on this country - lives turned upside down by false accusations and blacklists; political repression that walked all over freedom of expression and association.

    A climate of fear can do that to a country.

    Which is where we are now.

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Empowering the Ugliness

    We live in an era of political news that is, all too often, shocking but not surprising. The rise of Donald Trump definitely falls into that category. And so does the electoral earthquake that struck France in Sunday’s regional elections, with the right-wing National Front winning more votes than either of the major mainstream parties.

    What do these events have in common? Both involved political figures tapping into the resentments of a bloc of xenophobic and/or racist voters who have been there all along. The good news is that such voters are a minority; the bad news is that it’s a pretty big minority, on both sides of the Atlantic. If you are wondering where the support for Trump or Marine Le Pen, the head of the National Front, is coming from, you just haven’t been paying attention.

    But why are these voters making themselves heard so loudly now? Have they become much more numerous? Maybe, but it’s not clear. More important, I’d argue, is the way the strategies elites have traditionally used to keep a lid on those angry voters have finally broken down.

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America's definitive voice

    When it comes to the birth of American geniuses, 1915 was a very good year. This year marks the centenary of Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Saul Bellow and, on Saturday, the guy who gave eternal life to the Great American Songbook - Frank Sinatra.

    Bellow and Sinatra also have something in common more important and remarkable than their birth year, their affinity for fedoras, their decades-long political drift from left to right and their tempestuous personal lives. It wasn't until 1953 that each found his voice.

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Obama team weighs cyberwar options on Islamic State

    After the massacre at San Bernardino, President Obama's national security advisers are re-examining when to ask Internet companies to take down jihadi propaganda and social media accounts, according to U.S. officials.

    The issue is not new. Al-Qaida and its franchises have used the Internet systematically for more than a decade. But the Islamic State has flooded social media like Twitter and Facebook to provide future recruits all over the world a steady stream of slickly produced material that encourages the kind of do-it- yourself terrorism that has plagued Europe and the United States in recent years.

    The problem for U.S. policymakers is whether to treat this flood of social media as a cancer that must be eradicated or a source of valuable intelligence on the plots and techniques jihadis use to attack the West.

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December 13th

Who speaks for the GOP?

    With no Republican in the presidency, the voice of the Grand Old Party is clearly up for grabs these days, and Donald Trump, the loudest mouth on the scene, is doing an effective job of claiming the distinction, though he has never held a political or public office of any kind.

    No figure who ordinarily might be recognized as the GOP spokesman -- a former Republican president, former presidential nominee, former secretary of state or big-state governor -- has stepped up to speak for the party of icons Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan, leaving the field for Trump to dominate with his bombast and bigotry.

    But his latest outrage of calling for all Muslims to be barred in response to the global terrorist threat from the radical Islamic peril has finally stirred one forthright party leader. Paul Ryan, the new Speaker of the House, has given meaning to his just-acquired job title by saying of Trump's demand: "This is not conservatism." It is "not what this party stands for and, more importantly, it's not what this country stands for."

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Why Hillary Clinton had a very good year

    I'm a fan of The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, but when he gets one wrong, it's often a doozy. And saying that Hillary Clinton had the "worst year in Washington" is about as wrong as you can get.

    Yes, Clinton did, as Cillizza remembers, suffer through a scandal, and she emerged with bruised polling numbers, at least when it came to perceptions of her honesty. If the award was "worst summer in Washington," I could see Clinton as a contestant, although Scott Walker and Matt Williams would be stronger choices.

    One year ago, Clinton was the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, perhaps in the best position any non- incumbent has been in modern times. Yet two potentially strong contenders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Joe Biden, were lurking around the edges of the contest, not exactly active candidates but not far from doing what candidates at that stage do. Nor was it entirely clear yet how strong Clinton's grip on party actors might be when she stumbled the way all candidates do.

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Why do doctors choose a $2,000 cure when a $50 one is just as good?

    I'm a doctor with a miracle drug. Three of them, in fact. Their names are Avastin, Lucentis and Eylea. I use them to treat the number one cause of blindness in Americans over sixty-five: wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Calling them a miracle is no understatement. If your doctor delivers the unlucky news that you've developed wet AMD, it means blood vessels under your macula have started to leak or bleed, robbing you of the sight you rely on to read books, see faces, watch TV or drive.

    Enter the miracle drugs - eye injections that limit those leaking submacular vessels, giving us our first treatment capable of bringing vision back. But somehow, these drugs have become among the most controversial in all of medicine.

    All three treat wet AMD very effectively. Their most significant difference is cost. Lucentis and Eylea cost approximately $2,000 and $1,850 per dose, respectively. Avastin? Only $50.

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