Archive

November 20th, 2015

Republican insiders imagine the unthinkable

    Republican regulars, veterans of conventional politics, are pondering the unthinkable: What if neither Donald Trump nor Ben Carson fades? Which would be a stronger candidate? Would either govern if he won?

    Neither outcome would be welcome to more established Republicans and most still doubt it will occur, especially with a heightened emphasis on national security after the terror attacks in Paris.

    In conversations with 10 of these insiders, most before the Paris outrage, they gave the odds of a victory by Carson or Trump at around 30 percent, less than probable, better than a long shot. As of Tuesday, they have better chances of winning at least one of the initial nominating contests, Carson in Iowa and Trump in New Hampshire.

    Both are outsiders who've never run for political office and are playing to the right wing. Yet they couldn't be more different. Trump, 69, is a bombastic real estate and entertainment billionaire with a malleable political philosophy who has stirred some racial animosities.

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Paris reminds us we need an adult in charge

    We're all Parisians now, so we should all be adults. Let's bid adieu to the adolescent desire to replace our disappointing elected officials with ingénues.

    That means dropping the pretense that an entertaining businessman like Donald Trump could transfer his putative deal-making skills to the world stage. It means recognizing that governing isn't brain surgery. As good a doctor as Ben Carson was, his skills don't translate either.

    Amusement is the most charitable way to explain how two utter neophytes have led the Republican polls for months, in the company of a few other newbies who break through with the right soundbite every so often. Carly Fiorina couldn't run Hewlett-Packard, except into the ground. Because she can go toe-to-toe with Trump in trading insults doesn't make her presidential timber.

    Not that the establishment candidates have any miracle solutions, domestic or foreign. But at least some of them have talked about the issues (the senators) or actually governed (the governors).

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Holocaust Museum sees a U.S. duty to Syrian refugees

    As the U.S. debates the security implications of accepting refugees from the Syrian crisis, Americans should remember our history - both good and bad - of dealing with Jewish refugees during World War II, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum said Tuesday.

    There are some unfortunate similarities between the American reaction then and now, said Cameron Hudson, the director of the museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. The U.S., separated from the crisis by an ocean, can close its doors in a way that Europe cannot.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan announced Tuesday that he would lead an effort to force a "pause" in admitting Syrian refugees, following the disclosure that one attacker in Paris may have used a fake Syrian passport to enter Europe. Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush have proposed litmus tests for Syrians based on religion, tests President Barack Obama said ran counter to American values.

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Germans' refugee response puts U.S. to shame

    The political controversy over the proposed resettlement of 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. next year imperils the superpower's claim to global moral leadership. Unlike their counterparts in some European nations, the more compassionate politicians in the U.S. appear powerless to do more for people fleeing war and terror.

    Syria is the biggest source of refugees: According to the United Nations, more than 4 million people have fled and more than 7 million are displaced internally. The U.S. took in 69,933 refugees in fiscal year 2015, which ended in September; only about 1,800 were Syrians.

    These numbers are for the U.S. resettlement program, which plucks people from UN-monitored refugee camps. Usually, the most vulnerable are selected -- women, children, people targeted for political persecution or those with life-threatening diseases. A few Syrians may be trickling into the U.S. on their own as asylum-seekers, but those numbers probably are tiny: You can't cross the Atlantic on a leaky raft.

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Cabs, Camels, or ISIS

    Today, I’ll talk about the Paris attacks, but before I do, I want to share two news stories here, in case you missed them: The first calf to come from a cloned camel was born at a research center in Dubai and a local taxi startup is taking on Uber in the Arab world.

    You may think that these emirates startups — cloning camels and cabs — have nothing to do with Paris, but they do. Bear with me.

    A newspaper here, The National, quoted Dr. Ali Ridha Al Hashimi, the administrative director of the Reproductive Biotechnology Center in Dubai, announcing “that Injaz, the world’s first cloned camel, gave birth to a healthy female calf weighing about 38 kilos on November 2. Injaz, whose name means ‘achievement’ in Arabic, was cloned in 2009 from the ovarian cells of a dead camel.” Previously, when the pregnancy was disclosed, the center’s scientific director, Dr. Nisar Wani, said, “This will prove cloned camels are fertile and can reproduce the same as naturally produced camels.”

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What does Islamic State think it's doing?

    If Islamic State was directly responsible for the attacks in Paris that have killed more than 130 people, it is a serious change in strategy.

    "It's not just about inspiring any more, but motivating," Patrick Skinner, a former CIA official now with the consulting firm Soufan Group, told the Financial Times. "They are projecting their terror further and more deliberately."

    Indeed, coordinating at least eight terrorists for attacks on six locations is a whole different level of sophistication than urging Canadian Muslims to carry out random hit-and-runs on men in uniform.

    Coming shortly after attacks in Ankara and Beirut for which Islamic State is taking responsibility, as well as its possible bombing of a Russian passenger jet over Egypt, it appears that Islamic State is taking its holy war to new battlegrounds.

    But if Islamic State was behind these attacks and those in France, the big question is: Why?

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The Paris attacks reveal, again, the GOP's weaknesses on foreign policy

    The 2016 Republican field is many things. It is deep. It is diverse. It is a mix of insiders and outsiders.

    But one thing it is not: Filled with candidates possessing deep resumes on foreign policy.

    The current top tier of the 2016 field includes a businessman (Donald Trump), a doctor (Ben Carson) and two senators who have spent five (Marco Rubio) and three years (Ted Cruz) in the Senate, respectively. Jeb Bush, who finds himself on the outside looking in on the top tier right now, has a long and impressive record but not one that is larded with foreign policy experience. Ditto Chris Christie in New Jersey. Or John Kasich in Ohio -- although he, at least, spent almost two decades in Congress including time on the House Armed Services Committee.

    That dearth of foreign policy knowledge comes at a time when foreign policy and national security concerns are on the rise within the Republican party. And those concerns are only likely to be bolstered in the wake of Friday's terror attacks in Paris, which, again, reminds Americans of the threat posed by the Islamic State around the world.

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Republicans who fault the media show their bias

    For Republican presidential contenders challenged by the media, the go-to answer has become a claim of victimhood: You are biased against us. As Marco Rubio put it at the CNBC debate last month, "The Democrats have the ultimate Super PAC. It's called the mainstream media."

    Are media outlets really biased against Republican candidates? One of the most careful studies, by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro of the University of Chicago, doesn't find much evidence of that. Its central conclusion is that readers have a strong preference for like-minded news-- and that newspapers tend to show a slant in a direction that is consistent with the preferences of their readers.

    With respect to television broadcasters, the evidence remains ambiguous. But Republicans who think that the media are biased against them might want to consider a striking empirical finding: Whatever their beliefs, political partisans have long tended to see, and to complain loudly about, media bias.

    In short, people are biased about bias.

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Race, College and Safe Space

    Before there were the Paris terror attacks that changed everything and the second Democratic presidential debate that changed nothing, much of America had been transfixed by the scene playing out on college campuses across the country: black students and their allies demanding an insulation from racial hostility, full inclusion and administrative responsiveness.

    There was a part of the debate around those protests that I have not been able to release other than by writing here, one step off the news, but hopefully in step with the history of this moment.

    Last week I heard artist Ebony G. Patterson talking about the black body as a “site of contention,” and that phrase stuck with me, because it seemed to be revelatory in its simplicity, and above all, true.

    Black bodies are a battlefield: black folks fight to defend them as external forces fight to destroy them; black folks dare to see the beauty in them as external forces condemn and curse them. 

    Or worse, most insidiously, black folk try to calibrate their bodies to avoid injury.

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Race to be right’s anti-intellectual champion

    Sure, it seems like the race for the GOP 2016 presidential nomination has been going on since lily pads were green. However, let’s acknowledge that it was just June 16 when the starter’s gun fired.

    Or, when Donald Trump first shot off his mouth.

    Trump registered in decibels and kinship with xenophobes the moment he accused Mexico of shipping rapists and murderers our way.

    For a fifth of Republicans polled, he had them at “hello.”

    Seeing which way the derby flags were flying, the field began to bunch almost immediately at the wind of his tail in a quest to be the contender who most deftly defied logic.

    Well, it’s neck-and-neck now, with Trump astride Sea Bigot while Ben Carson applies the whip to a steed named Mythmaker.

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