Archive

November 21st, 2015

Japan needs workers, and women are ready to step in

    When Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared that he intended to promote women in the workplace, many people were understandably skeptical. After all, Abe is known as a conservative, and conservatives in most countries support traditional gender roles. Perhaps for this reason, many writers rushed to declare that "womenomics" wasn'tfor real. But I believed that something big had changed in the Japanese mindset, and that this time really was different. I came away from a recent trip to Japan even more convinced that womenomics is a deep and permanent shift that will reverberate throughout the country's social and economic structure.

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It's okay if you care more about the Paris attacks than the Beirut bombings

    The outpouring of support for Paris has been mostly inspiring, but one class of reaction has been especially odd: the scolds who chide our hypocrisy for caring so much about predominantly white, European victims while reacting less emotionally to the plight of the victims of terrorist attacks elsewhere. These unfortunate discrepancies are, supposedly, signs of latent racism, rather than something less insidious.

    Comparing the response to the comparative global silence after a pair of suicide bombings in Beirut, Aryn Baker argued in Time, "Whatever the reasons - and there are many - for the disparity of global reaction, the message that emerges from these twinned events is that some lives matter more than others." Claire Bernish's headline on theAntiMedia.org contended: "America: Your Solidarity with Paris is Embarrassingly Misguided." The piece held that "as long as you wear just one flag, your attempt to stand with victims of terror is a most embarrassingly hollow solidarity, indeed."

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How the Government Made Me a Dissident

    I sometimes say the government turned me into a dissident — after I spent 14 years at the CIA and two more at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

    I only say it half-jokingly. While I’m proud of winning this year’s PEN Center’s First Amendment award, I never intended to make a career out of being at odds with the government.

    Sometimes, though — like when I spent two years in prison for blowing the whistle on the CIA’s torture program — it’s felt like the government’s gone out of its way to be at odds with me.

    And it’s clear that our government demonizes people who disagree with the official line. Things got bad for anyone who disagrees with the official line right after 9/11.

    We slid down the rabbit hole with the passage of the so-called PATRIOT Act. Enacted six weeks after the terrorist attacks, the law legalized actions against American citizens — including widespread Internet surveillance and phone taps — that had previously been unthinkable.

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Hollande's challenge is same in Syria and Paris

    In a kebab shop in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis Wednesday morning, the split-screen images that the owner and I were watching on his TV drove home the symmetry between the challenges that French President Francois Hollande faces here and in Syria.

    The left side of the screen showed police SWAT teams besieging terrorist suspects in an apartment just a few hundred meters from the restaurant. The right-hand side showed the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, steaming out of port on its way to join the fight against Islamic State in Syria. In both places, violence has grown in security vacuums. In both, Hollande's success will depend on finding a way to destroy Islamist terrorists without driving co-religionists into their arms.

    That will be no easier here in Paris than in Raqqa, where Hollande needs to figure out how to cooperate with Russia in destroying Islamic State without joining it in supporting the Syrian regime. President Bashar al-Assad's barrel-bombing of mainly Sunni civilians in Syria drives them straight into the arms of extremists, so to join him would be counter-productive.

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Clinton's party matters more than she does

    Hillary Clinton has picked up one of the few remaining major endorsements available to Democrats: the blessing of the Service Employees International Union. As Politico reports, "Clinton now has the support of unions representing about 9.5 million union members, or nearly two-thirds of the U.S.' 14.6 million union workers."

    Bernie Sanders's slim hopes of rallying just got slimmer. It's hard to see how a challenge from the left can succeed if it can't grab support from unions, notably from one that endorsed Clinton's opponent, Barack Obama, in 2008.

    This "is the latest sign of her tightened grip on the party," as Jonathan Martin of the New York Times pointed out on Twitter -- a grip she has held since January 2015, in fact.

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Bombs Won’t Cut It

    When Paris suffered attacks that killed 17 last January — at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket — it responded with great class.

    Parisians filled the streets, locked arm-in-arm in solidarity against terrorism. Leaders from throughout Europe (but not, alas, President Barack Obama) joined them in a show of support.          

    And two days after the demonstration, Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls gave a memorable speech to the French National Assembly supporting the government’s declared “war on terrorism” but calling for the nation to maintain its principles of religious tolerance and separation of church and state.           

    At which point the deputies stood and gave him an ovation, then broke into La Marseillaise. It was a wonderful moment. (The French have a great national anthem and they use it like a sword.)       

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Betraying Ourselves

    Desperate refugees flee persecution and war, but American politicians — worried about security risks — refuse to accept them.

    That’s the situation today, but it’s also the shameful way we responded as Jews were fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. In the shadow of one world war, on the eve of another, Americans feared that European Jews might be left-wing security threats.

    “Jews are not Communists,” Rabbi Louis I. Newman of Manhattan noted, pleadingly, in December 1938, trying to assuage the xenophobia. “Judaism has nothing in common with Communism.”

    Yet in January 1939, Americans polled said, by a 2-to-1 majority, that the United States should not accept 10,000 mostly Jewish refugee children from Germany. That year, the United States turned away a ship, the St. Louis, with Jewish refugee children; the St. Louis returned to Europe, where some of its passengers were murdered by the Nazis.

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Back door to encryption won't stop terrorists

    There's no evidence the plotters of the Paris terrorist attacks used encrypted communications, but the debate about whether the technology should have a "back door" for intelligence services is heating up again. The debate, however, probably will have little effect on terrorist organizations.

    Michael Morell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency, told "60 Minutes" on Sunday that after the public discussion of encryption sparked by Edward Snowden and the privacy concerns he raised, "we're now going to have another debate about that. It's going to be defined by what happened in Paris."

    Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks and for the explosion of the Russian airliner over Egypt last month. The group used Telegram, a Russian-designed, Berlin- based secure messenger app, to get out its message. The terrorists appear to prefer this methodto platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, where they are being censored and their accounts blocked.

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American history will judge today's intolerance

    History is a cruel judge of intolerance in America. Let that be a warning to politicians rushing to bar Syrian refugees, especially Muslims, from seeking sanctuary in the U.S.

    Segregationists are condemned today, even those who later recanted; think of George Wallace. There are few kind words for the American nativist strain, embodied by political movements like the anti-Roman Catholic Know-Nothing Party that flourished in the 1850s.

    Even progressive icons like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Chief Justice Earl Warren are censured for their role in interning Japanese-Americans in World War II. On the positive side, Seth Masket of Vox wrote this week about Gov. Ralph Carr of Colorado, who in 1942 became a lonely voice for the rights of Japanese-Americans.

    Now Republican presidential candidates and governors, and a handful of Democrats, are playing a politically motivated fear card. It doesn't matter, they argue, if families and little children are fleeing mayhem and carnage in Syria. Don't let them in, especially if they are Muslims. They cite, of course, the terrorist attack in Paris.

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A Holiday Treat From Congress

    In honor of the coming vacation travel season, the Senate is working on a bill that would loosen the requirement that pilots take medical examinations.

    Yes! I know that’s been on your mind a lot, people. Next week, as you gather around the Thanksgiving table, be sure to express your gratitude to Congress. If you hear a small plane buzzing overhead, drink a toast to the future, when the folks in America’s cockpits may no longer be burdened with repressive, old-fashioned health monitoring.

    Pop quiz: Which of the following aviation issues would you like to see your elected representatives resolve by the end of 2015?

    — Ban those laser lights that stupid kids keep flashing in pilots’ eyes.

    — Do something about all the damned drones flying around airports.

    — End the passenger peril of being squashed by a reclining seat.

    — Ease pilot health exams! Ease pilot health exams!

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