Archive

December 6th

U.S. boots inevitably touch ground again in the Middle East

    Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter's report to the House Armed Services Committee that 200 U.S. Special Operations Forces will be dispatched to spearhead the fight against the Islamic State further erodes President Obama's assurance that no more "boots on the ground" would be committed to the Middle East battlefield.

    Carter used the customary euphemisms to introduce new combat-ready troops to launch and supervise military engagements against the terrorists, also known as ISIL or ISIS. But from what he said, it was clear that elaborate plans are in the works to sharpen American fighting and intelligence-gathering efforts under whatever name.

    He told the committee: "We're good at intelligence; we're good at mobility; we're good at surprise. We have the long reach that no one else has. ... It puts everybody on notice in Syria that you don't know at night who is coming in the window. And that's the sensation that we want all of ISIL's leadership and followers to have."

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Another drop in a bucket of blood

    The common denominator in mass shootings is the use of firearms. Variables such as political ideology, religious fervor and mental illness are motivating factors, but death comes from the gun.

    Until our society recognizes that simple truth, the list of place names that recently added Colorado Springs and San Bernardino will have no end.

    I don't know which is more obscene, the fact that deadly shooting rampages have become almost routine or the way we so quickly seek to make each incident follow a familiar script.

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Why the United Auto Workers ships jobs abroad

    Does the labor movement favor or oppose outsourcing? It seems a silly question, given the AFL-CIO's vociferous opposition to the free-trade agreements and tax breaks that, the labor federation argues, abet the flight of good-paying manufacturing jobs abroad.

    What makes the question non-silly is this: The United Auto Workers has just negotiated and ratified collective bargaining agreements with U.S. automakers, the foreseeable and, to some extent, intended effect of which is to facilitate shifting jobs to Mexico.

    It's a case study in the difference between labor's political rhetoric, which is all about working-class solidarity, and collective bargaining, which is all about self-interest.

    Detroit has come back from the 2009 recession, big-time: with total vehicle sales hitting 16.4 million, profits in 2014 reached $6.5 billion for General Motors, $6.3 billion for Ford and$4.1 billion for Fiat Chrysler (before interest and taxes).

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What's the connection between the Baltimore riots and the Affordable Care Act?

    December is the month in which many people enrolled in "Obamacare" must reassess and renew their plans. As they do so, it's a good time to evaluate the politics and economics behind those health-care costs.

    Hospitals and health care keep cities employed. Take away hospital and medical care jobs, and you are removing one of the engines of economic hope for urban areas. But the need to add jobs is directly at odds with the Affordable Care Act (ACA)'s commitment to-well, to affordable health care.

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We're ignoring the real gun problem

    On Thursday, President Barack Obama spoke briefly to the press about yesterday's mass shooting in San Bernardino, and he began by noting: "So many Americans sometimes feel as if there's nothing we can do about it." But what's the "it" we're talking about here? Is it just our spectacular and never-ending run of mass shootings?

    Because if it is, we're on the lesser of our gun problems. I'll explain why in a moment, but here's a bit more of what Obama had to say:

    "It's going to be important for all of us, including our legislatures, to see what we can do to make sure that when individuals decide that they want to do somebody harm, we're making it a little harder for them to do it, because right now it's just too easy. And we're going to have to, I think, search ourselves as a society to make sure that we can take basic steps that would make it harder - not impossible, but harder - for individuals to get access to weapons."

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Trump wasn't a textbook demagogue, until now

    In the 17th century, poet John Milton called it a "goblin word" - a sobriquet so low that it was reserved for only the most insidious of rabble-rousers - yet in the last few months, any number of observers, from GOP presidential also-ran Rick Perry to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, from the Economist to, most recently, The New York Times, have crossed a rhetorical line in our politics by calling Donald Trump out as a "demagogue."

    Until recently, I've resisted it. As the author of "Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies," I have been asked countless times in recent years whether Trump is a demagogue, and have always responded - indeed, thought - that he was not. Clearly, though, with his escalating effrontery toward the American creed, he is now.

    This is not a matter of mere semantics. In the same way that precision should be used when issuing a terror alert, the term demagogue, properly applied, should be a tocsin of democracy - deployed judiciously and ringing loudly to foretell a singular menace to our republic.

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Rubio can lose early primaries and still win

    If Marco Rubio is the front-runner to win the Republican presidential nomination, as election prediction markets are saying (and I agree!), then why aren't his poll numbers spiking?

    That's what the Rubio naysayers keep asking. No matter that the Florida senator just moved into second place, behind Donald Trump, in HuffPollster's national poll estimate. In addition, only 15 percent of Republican voters so far say they won't vote for him after carefully considering him.

    Among the Rubio skeptics, Ed Kilgore at New York magazine has been raising a more thoughtful question:At what point in the primaries next year will Rubio start winning elections?

    Kilgore is correct that factional social conservatives tend to prevail in the Iowa caucuses, which are on Feb. 1. This makes it more likely that Ben Carson, Ted Cruz or even Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum will wind up first there.

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Prayers aren't enough for gun victims

    On November 19, less than a week after the terrorist attacks in Paris, my wife Carol and I were scheduled to leave for a Thanksgiving vacation in Madrid. "No, no, don't go," advised friends and family. Europe isn't safe. It's too dangerous.

    Are they kidding? The most dangerous place in the world today is the United States. Think about it: A first-grade classroom. A college campus. A navy office building. A movie theater. A shopping center. A church. A women's health clinic. And now a center for the developmentally disabled. All sites of mass shootings.

    The latest, San Bernardino, California, on December 2, where 14 people were gunned down, another 17 wounded, at an office holiday party. According to Shootingtracker.com, that made the 354th mass shooting -- defined as four or more dead or wounded -- in the 334 days since January 1, more than one a day. That's on top of the 89 people killed by gun violence every day. And those mass shootings have occurred all over the country, in some 220 cities in 47 states. Is nowhere in America safe?

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Merkel's 'Yes we can' blues

    As German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a storm of opposition over her brave decision to welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and elsewhere, she needs help from people like Martin Patzelt.

    A backbencher in the Bundestag, the German Parliament, Patzelt believes so strongly that "human rights are universal" that he took two Eritrean refugees into his own home in Frankfurt an der Oder, a small city on the Polish border. An admirer of Pope Francis ("my friend," he says with a smile), Patzelt met the refugees at his local Catholic Church and said he hoped his initiative would help "get rid of the polarization and hostility" toward migrants.

    Like Merkel, his fellow Christian Democrat, Patzelt grew up under the communist regime in the old East Germany and he thus shares her instincts on rights issues. But even this admirer of Merkel's "We can do it!" attitude toward refugees -- it is often translated here into Barack Obama's "Yes we can" slogan -- thinks she now needs to address the enormous practical problems her policy has created.

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Let techies help solve Europe's refugee crisis

    What if tech-savvy millennials could help solve the world's refugee crisis? How would they approach it?

    In modest offices on the 29th floor of a lower Manhattan high-rise, Daniel Lizio-Katzen, recently showed me a migration wizard. It's a software program that his company, Migreat, developed to help economic migrants and is now adapting to help refugees. The wizard detects the IP address of the user and then communicates in one of 12 different languages. The interface couldn't be more user-friendly: Based on answers to a list of questions, it produces a personalized migration checklist and advice, stripped of jargon, about national laws.

    This goes far beyond what governments or non-governmental organizations offer, and not just because of the multilingual platform. If you want to reach Iranian immigrants, it helps to know that they prefer to use the Viber app for mobile messaging, while Syrians tend to use WhatsApp and Russians use the St. Petersburg-based social network VK.

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