Archive

December 9th

Why the New York Times' gun control op-ed can (and should) matter

    There is a way of thinking - one that tends to comfort the comfortable and leave the afflicted in extended misery.

    It's a way of dividing every vexing, complicated, long-running but slow-moving matter of public debate into one of three categories, then getting about the more ordinary business of one's day.

    First, there are ideas and proposals championed by the powerful that generally have a relatively easy path from idea to law. Second, there are issues that have somehow, some way managed to reach the critical mass necessary for change. Usually that's because the economic or reputation-related costs have, in that order of importance, simply grown too large.

    Then, there are those matters that are beyond practical political reach. Suffering, death, danger and maltreatment aside, a policy solution to these problems simply has no real path, no viability at all.

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Time to face our peculiar national problem

    In response to the latest mass killings in Southern California, President Obama once again deplored a type of crime that seems increasingly peculiar to American society. "The one thing we do know," he said, "is we have a pattern now of mass shootings in the country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world."

    The reason certainly is no secret. It's the ready availability of guns of all varieties openly purchased or traded in an open society, in which the gun-rights lobby successfully wards off most governmental attempts to bring sensible controls to the mayhem market.

    In what sounded like another note of futility, Obama lamented: "Those same people who we don't allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm, and there's nothing we can do to stop them."

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The Not-So-Bad Economy

    According to the economist Kevin O’Rourke, who has been doing a running comparison between the Great Depression that began in 1929 and the Great Recession that began almost eight years ago, the world has just passed a sad landmark. While the initial slump this time around wasn’t nearly as bad as the collapse from 1929 to 1933, the recovery has been much weaker — and at this point world industrial production is doing worse than it did at the same point in the 1930s. A remarkable achievement!

    But the bad news is unevenly distributed. In particular, Europe has done very badly, while America has done relatively well. True, U.S. performance looks good only if you grade on a curve. Still, unemployment has been cut in half, and the Federal Reserve is getting ready to raise interest rates at a time when its counterpart, the European Central Bank, is still desperately seeking ways to boost spending.

    Now, I believe that the Fed is making a mistake. But the fact that hiking rates is even halfway defensible is a sign that the U.S. economy isn’t doing too badly. So what did we do right?

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GOP advice: To top Trump, tap into Trumpism

    Establishment Republicans have a problem. Donald Trump isn't going away.

    After five months and going strong as the party's front-runner for president, the Grand Old Party's elites have figured out that the billionaire real estate mogul and television star really could win the GOP nomination.

    Why not? He's defied all of the conventional wisdom so far.

    In a seven-page confidential memo, the National Republican Senatorial Committee offers poll-tested advice to you, if you're a GOP candidate, on how to get your campaign's message out, even when voters and reporters are eager to hear you sound like Trump -- for better or worse.

    The central theme of the memo, which comes from NRSC executive director Ward Baker, boils down to tap into Trumpism without mimicking Trump.

    That makes sense. Republicans are in a delicate situation. They desperately want the bonanza in TV ratings and support from the party's base that Trump brings to the party. They just don't want Trump.

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Coming of age in terrorist times

    "Mommy, what did the news used to be about before it was about terrorism?"

    That was my younger daughter, snuggling in bed a few weeks after 9/11. She was then 4, and, granted, there was probably more consumption of news in our home than was healthy.

    Fourteen years later, that toddler is a college freshman, too cool to snuggle and too far away even if she were so inclined. But her question remains sadly relevant.

    "It's really scary to grow up in a time when mass killings happen this often," she texted Wednesday afternoon, as the latest active shooting situation was still unfolding.

    And, knowing her mom, "Are you gonna write about it?"

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What I saw in the faces of refugees

    "I saw death behind me, and life in front of me," said Safae, a Syrian mother of two young sons, as she told me the story of her family's escape from the Islamic State. They had fled in the night across the Syrian-Turkish border and had arrived, finally, in Greece.

    Looking at her two beautiful boys, I was reminded of my own grown sons. How similar our families were; face to face, it was so easy to imagine myself in her shoes, worn as they were after her dangerous trek.

    After wrapping filming for the fifth season of "Homeland" in Berlin - living in a fictional world of chaos, violence and confusion - I went to the island of Lesbos to spend time with folks from the International Rescue Committee (IRC). I joined them there to support people like Safae and her family, who have faced the realities of terrorism and war that I have only imagined on screen.

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Weak gun laws failed to protect my mom

    The six-paragraph newspaper article about her was headlined, simply, "Shot in Head." It began: "Gay Chamlee is listed in serious condition at Floyd Medical Center after being shot in the head Tuesday afternoon. Her husband is charged with the shooting."

    Sometimes I imagine what she was like before - big blue eyes shining, long hair blowing behind her as she drove too fast, like any teenager. I've only known her the way she is now - bloated from her medication, face sunken where her right eye should be, a large scar running over her head. That she has no sense of smell and has the mental capacity of a 12-year-old aren't visible, but I can see these things when I look at her. My mother has been this way ever since she was shot in 1985 by a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun, more commonly known as a "38-special." According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, American women are 11 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries. Yet gun laws in this country remain severely lax.

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December 8th

Combating racial isolation in admissions

    When Abigail Fisher's challenge to affirmative action in university admissions was first heard at the Supreme Court two years ago, counsel for the University of Texas at Austin, where Fisher was denied admission, explained that the school's admissions policies are aimed, in part, at ensuring that classes include a critical mass of minority students. Critical mass is necessary, the school's lawyer argued, to address the racial isolation experienced by minority students and to obtain the full benefits of diversity for all students. But some justices were skeptical. "How am I supposed to decide," Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. asked, "whether you have an environment within [which] particular minorities . . . don't feel isolated?" As the court prepares once again to hear arguments on Fisher's claim thisnext week, African American student protesters on campuses across the nation have been offering a powerful response to Roberts's question.

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Why Christians can extend the same benefit of the doubt to Muslims after a violent attack

    A few years ago, a co-worker asked me a question about my evangelical faith that I'll never forget: "Are you one of those Christians who supports people who bomb abortion clinics?"

    I was floored - and it wasn't just because the woman didn't know me well enough to ask something so offensive. I couldn't believe someone actually thought abortion clinic bombers would receive support from a friendly, mainstream evangelical like me.

    A couple of years later, I was talking with a friend who cited, in part, the teachings of TV preachers for his inability to believe in Christian theology. I tried to draw a distinction between name-it-and-claim-it theology and authentic Christianity, but it didn't go anywhere. He had already made up his mind.

    It's hard representing Christ to people who are jaded and convinced that the outliers are the norm in Christianity. I don't blame them entirely, though.

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When mass shootings become part of our routine

    An old love song speaks of "the little ordinary things that everyone ought to do." That phrase used to cover instructions such as: "Take out the trash," "brush your teeth," "close cover before striking," "look both ways before crossing." Ordinary things.

    9/11 changed all that.

    Now "things that everyone ought to do" include "remove your shoes" and "leave liquids at home." And "little ordinary things" involve pat-downs, full-body scans, concrete planters in front of buildings and the horror of the unattended package. No more "none of your business." Now it's "see something, say something." All the ordinary things of our day.

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