Archive

  • Why Are We Afraid of the Returning Expat Terrorist?

    This is not the training you get from ISIL. (Flickr/Andres Alvarez Iglesias)
    One of the common refrains we hear in the reporting on ISIL is that officials are worried that Americans will go to Syria or Iraq, fight with ISIL, and then return here to launch terrorist attacks on the United States. As a discrete category of terrorist threat, this is something very odd to be afraid of. It isn't that such people might not have the motivation to carry out a terrorist attack. But if they went to fight with ISIL, they probably already had the motivation. Ah, but what about the things they learned there? This morning, I heard a reporter on NPR refer to such returnees employing their "newfound terrorist skills" against the United States. But what skills are we talking about? If you want to learn how to make a bomb, you don't have to go to Syria to acquire the knowledge. There's this thing called "the internet" where it can be found much easier. The way these potential attackers are talked about, you might think that launching a terrorist attack is something you can only...
  • Missiles and Rebels: What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

    (Rex Features via AP Images)
    L ast weekend, the New York Times reported on a meeting President Obama had with a group of foreign policy experts and pundits to talk about combatting ISIL, among other topics. "Asked by one of the columnists what he would do if his strategy did not work and he had to escalate further," reporter Peter Baker wrote, "Mr. Obama rejected the premise. 'I'm not going to anticipate failure at this point,' he said." Now of course, this meeting wasn't about soliciting ideas so much as it was about convincing important opinion leaders that the administration is on the right track, so there was naturally going to be some spinning. But now that this military campaign has begun in earnest, there are few more important questions than this one: Is the administration anticipating failure? And what are they doing about it? We've been through this once before. In 2002 and 2003, the Bush administration and its supporters told us that the Iraq War would be a piece of cake. We'd storm into Baghdad, be "...
  • So Much For the End of the War on Terror

    U.S. Navy photo by Carmichael Yepez
    Remember when Barack Obama was going to end the War on Terror? Well today, not only did the U.S. launch air strikes within Syria to target ISIL, we also struck against the Khorasan group, a small al-Qaeda offshoot that was purportedly plotting to blow up American airplanes, and the al-Nusra front, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. Back in May of last year, Obama gave a speech meant to signal a break with the prior twelve years, in which he said, "we must define our effort not as a boundless 'global war on terror,' but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America." One could argue that that's a distinction without a difference, that it's only about rhetoric. You might also say that the War on Terror isn't so much a set of military actions as it is a mindset. It's the state of being terrorized, in which the nation is constantly on the edge of panic, willing to approve almost anything in the name of staying "...
  • Are We Getting Enough Religion With Our Politics?

    Flickr/Harley Pebley
    The Pew Research Center's Religion and Public Life Project has a new survey out about the role of religion in politics (among other things), and the headline is that there has been something of an increase in the desire for religion to take a more active political role. So what would that look like? The survey only asks a few questions about that topic in particular, but here are the results: Not surprisingly, it's the religious group that already has the most political power as at least something of a bloc—white evangelical Christians—that is the most eager for more religious involvement on all these scores. But even they oppose church endorsements of candidates (by 54-42), which suggests that the idea of churches becoming real partisan players causes some discomfort. But let's be realistic: we have that already, on both the right and the left. Lots of evangelical churches function as a locus of organizing for the GOP at election time, just as black churches do for Democrats. The...
  • Does America Have the Greediest Doctors?

    Flickr/UCD School of Medicine
    Yesterday, The New York Times published a mind-boggling investigation into a way some physicians have found to hit patients with absolutely mind-boggling bills for not just routine procedures, but the involvement of doctors in their care that they neither asked for nor knew about until they got the bill. However widespread a practice this is, I'm going to argue that what we have here is not a few bad apples but a problem of culture. But first, here's an excerpt: In operating rooms and on hospital wards across the country, physicians and other health providers typically help one another in patient care. But in an increasingly common practice that some medical experts call drive-by doctoring, assistants, consultants and other hospital employees are charging patients or their insurers hefty fees. They may be called in when the need for them is questionable. And patients usually do not realize they have been involved or are charging until the bill arrives. The practice increases revenue...
  • Plagiarism Charges and the Vapidity of Campaign Website 'Plans'

    Now that looks like a plan. (Flickr/Camille Rose)
    Not one but two major candidates got in trouble this week for having "plans" on their websites that turned out to be cut and pasted from other sources. So how much of a sin is this? Should it affect anyone's vote? The answers are: not a very serious one, and no. To catch you up: the first candidate to get caught was Monica Wehby, the Republican nominee for Senate in Oregon, whose health care "plan" turned out to come from a survey by Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, and whose economic "plan" was copied from the websites of other candidates. Then last night we learned that Mary Burke, the Democrat challenging Scott Walker for governor in Wisconsin, did the same thing. In both cases, the transgression was blamed on staffers who subsequently resigned (in a nice touch, the Burke campaign said it wasn't "plagiarism" because the staffer himself had written the plans he copied when he worked for those other candidates). Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski broke both these stories, and he deserves some...
  • How District Lines Just Kept 400,000 Poor and Middle Class Virginians From Getting Health Coverage

    Flickr/Taber Andrew Baln
    Yesterday, the Virginia legislature passed a budget that once again rejected Governor Terry McAuliffe's call to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would have given health insurance to 400,000 Virginians who are currently uninsured. We don't have to go over all the specious arguments made by expansion's opponents, or delve into the details of the billions of federal dollars and economic benefits that the state is giving up. The question I want to address at the moment is, in a state that everyone acknowledges is trending blue, how does this happen? Particularly when even many strongly conservative states are coming around to expanding Medicaid? At one level, the answer is that Virginia's elected Republicans are a particularly cruel bunch, who like Republicans elsewhere would happily see a poor family go without coverage if it means they can give the finger to Barack Obama. But the more structural answer lies in the way district lines have been drawn there. First, let'...
  • This Is Going to Hurt You More Than It Hurts Me

    Flick/Jim Forest
    We're now having a national debate on the merits of corporal punishment, an issue that has many facets and brings up all kinds all kinds of complications involving religion, culture, gender, authority, and tradition. I'm not going to begin to address even a small portion of them, but I do want to talk about one thing that gets me a little perturbed about this discussion. If you actually look at what corporal punishment advocates (and yes, there are people who do that on a semi-professional basis) say, there's a constant effort to characterize "good" corporal punishment as something that isn't really all that unpleasant for the child. They say it should never be done in anger (and if more than one out of 20 actual spanking incidents in the real world isn't done in anger, I'd be shocked), but only in a controlled, limited way that is over quickly, causes no injury, produces only temporary discomfort, and carries the ultimate message, "I love you." As Focus on the Family founder James...
  • Why This Will Be the Unaccountable War

    He stands alone.
    Yesterday the House voted 273-156 to train and equip Syrian rebels, a part of President Obama's plan to combat ISIL, and today the Senate is expected to do the same. While it might look on the surface like Congress taking a stand and accepting responsibility for this new engagement, in fact, this is likely to be a war with no accountability for any political figure other than Barack Obama himself. The "no" votes were a combination of Democrats who opposed the Iraq War in 2003 and don't want to see us pulled back into another war there, and Republicans who either want a bigger war with massive numbers of ground troops or just hate Barack Obama so much they can't cast a vote for anything he proposes (or both). Today, the Senate is expected to pass the measure as well, and we'll probably see the same thing: members from both parties on each side, with drastically different reasons for voting the same way. The whole thing is the kind of war you'd expect from the Obama presidency, defined...
  • Why ISIL Wants to Be In a War With America

    The closing image of the latest video from ISIL.
    As we continue to debate our new war, or semi-war, or whatever you want to call it, it's important for people like me whose job it is to write about political developments not to pretend to know more than we do. It's not always easy to restrain yourself, since if you're a political blogger you have to have an opinion about everything (and fast). When we get into a topic like this that touches on so many different areas—the presidency, Congress, public opinion, terrorism, and so on—it can be difficult if not impossible to stay in the lane of the topics where you actually know what you're talking about. All of which is an extended throat-clearing to let you know that I'm going to be speculating a little, but I think this is an important question: When it comes to the United States's actions, what does ISIL want? The occasion for this question is a new video that has been released , purportedly created by the group, that apes the form of a movie trailer (I was able to watch it here , but...

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