US Opinion and Commentary

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China Is Sneezing Hard, Infecting Global Markets

Posted January 7th, 2016 at 4:53 pm (UTC-4)
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It’s a terrible start of the year for world financial markets. All of the major U.S. stock indexes dropped for the fourth straight day, losing about 5% of value since the start of the year. It was not unexpected. Twice this week, Beijing halted trading on the Chinese stock market after steep sell-offs. Just 29 minutes after opening Thursday, China’s market plunged seven percent. Europe and the United States braced themselves for the aftershocks. The government has been trying to address China’s trend of dramatically slower growth with policy tweaks – this week, by devaluing the yuan in a controlled manner. But the psychological calculations that drive traders to dump stock are not always predictable. Some economists say not to worry: this is to be expected and it is nowhere as bad as China’s sell off last summer. But the fact remains that when China sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold. For global markets, 2016 has gotten off to a rocky start.

North Korea’s Latest Nuclear Test Tests Global Limits

Posted January 6th, 2016 at 4:37 pm (UTC-4)
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North Korea’s boastful announcement that it tested a hydrogen bomb is being met with condemnation, skepticism and concern. The United States, United Nations, NATO, China and Russia all condemned the nuclear test. But the White House is casting doubt on the technological leap Pyongyang claims, saying “the initial analysis is not consistent with … a successful hydrogen bomb test.” A final determination is weeks away as the International Atomic Energy Agency and other intelligence gathering agencies investigate. In the meantime, diplomats are considering another round of economic sanctions North Korea as punishment. And foreign policy experts are weighing in on the possible fallout from this test: that is, whether or not North Korea has gone from fission to fusion.

Saudi Executions Strain Decades of US Ties

Posted January 5th, 2016 at 3:44 pm (UTC-4)
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The turmoil set off by Saudi Arabia’s decision to execute 47 prisoners – among them, a prominent Iranian Shia cleric – has put the Obama administration in a tight spot. Allies since the 1930s, one American administration after another has maintained strong ties with the Saudi kingdom. President Barack Obama appears to have been pinning his hopes on bringing long-time enemies, Saudi Arabia and Iran, together to help solve Syria – and by extension – extinguish the threat posed by ISIS. The United States is not deaf to human rights activists who prove over and over again that Saudi Arabia has silenced political dissent, in this most recent case, by beheading. But the U.S. has banked on the Saudis for cheap oil and influence in the Middle East. In turn, the Saudis had a regular customer and political cover when needed. The Saudis knew this execution would further stoke Shia-Sunni sectarian tensions in the region. What will it do to the cozy relationship between Riyadh and Washington?

New Year Starts With Fight Over Gun Control

Posted January 4th, 2016 at 3:27 pm (UTC-4)
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President Barack Obama got right back to work after his holiday break with gun control on his mind. At a meeting Monday with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, FBI Director James Comey and other top law enforcement officials, the president was briefed on proposals designed to crack down on unregulated gun sales. Later in the week, CNN will host Obama for a live town hall meeting on the issue, which was brought home vividly just last month when 14 people were massacred by a heavily armed young Muslim-American couple during mass shooting in California. Republican presidential hopefuls immediately hammered Obama’s move to invoke executive power – that is, to enact the laws without Congressional approval. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie called the president a “petulant child,” while frontrunner Donald Trump vowed to use HIS future executive power to overturn Obama’s.

Our World in 2016

Posted December 31st, 2015 at 10:09 am (UTC-4)
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Predicting what the future holds is nearly always a risky pursuit. We can examine and dissect events past, trends and patterns, but do we ever really know what is to come? We do in one case: America will elect a new president in 2016, ending President Barack Obama’s second term. And experts agree overwhelmingly that the world will continue to be plagued by the threat of terrorism. But what about the global economy? Gun violence? The Iran nuke deal? Europe’s migrant crisis? Some of the world’s most pressing issues will be stubbornly familiar and hard to remedy; others are likely to emerge as new challenges in a new year.

2015 in Review

Posted December 30th, 2015 at 2:12 pm (UTC-4)
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As 2015’s final minutes tick away, it’s gives us a chance to look into the mirror to see what we are leaving behind. Many philosophers have noted that history tends to repeat itself. Terrorism. Gun violence. Racial tensions. Religious differences. Politics. The environment. So we reflect on the events and trends of 2015 in hopes of identifying patterns, learning from the mistakes of the past and building on its successes to take on many of the same challenges in 2016.

ISIS Loses Ground With Recapture of Ramadi

Posted December 29th, 2015 at 11:44 am (UTC-4)
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It was hard not to feel good about news that Iraqi forces backed by U.S. military retook Ramadi, a key Iraqi city, from Islamic State militants despite the cautious words from top Obama administration officials. “While Ramadi is not yet fully secure and additional parts of the city still must be retaken, Iraq’s national flag now flies above the provincial government center and enemy forces have suffered a major defeat,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement. The mission to defeat ISIS remains long and unpredictable. But after a year of seemingly endless bad news about the war on terror – not the least of which was the brutal and deadly mass shooting of civilians at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California by a radicalized Muslim couple – it feels good to hold onto this moment of hope.

Christmas USA

Posted December 24th, 2015 at 10:46 am (UTC-4)
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It seems a bit incongruous that a country where freedom of religion is among its bedrock foundations celebrates one of Christianity’s holiest of days as a national holiday. But as a cultural, racial and religious melting pot, the United States is a country of contradictions and compromises, and culture clashes over Christmas roil that pot a bit. Despite the separation of church and state, American religion and politics often work hand-in-hand. Even amid accusations of a war on Christmas, most Americans are generally swept up by the spirit of the holiday.

“Trump-ing” the Holidays

Posted December 23rd, 2015 at 2:50 pm (UTC-4)
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Christmas means family time and in many homes across America, the talk will turn to the upcoming presidential election. And there’s lots to talk about. The latest polls show Hillary Clinton building a commanding lead for the Democratic nomination over two other contenders. In the 12-person Republican field, Donald Trump has increased his lead despite more controversy over his remarks, this week directed at Clinton. But it is another five weeks before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses, and historically, voters don’t make up their minds until they have to. Trump’s rise to the top dominates the American political conversation. It has the country’s top political thinkers questioning conventional political wisdom. And it has some prominent Republicans questioning the survival of their party.

The Army We Have. The Army We Need.

Posted December 22nd, 2015 at 3:12 pm (UTC-4)
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Most of those running for president say more must be done to defeat ISIS. And more usually equals more military might. In the United States, military service is a choice, not a requirement. While all men must register with the Selective Service System at age 18, there has not been a military draft in 42 years. But that has not stopped some from suggesting its return, for reasons ranging from raising the competency level of the military to improving the country’s social fabric. Many argue that compulsory service would make politicians think twice about going to war. Does the U.S. has the military it needs? And what are the needs of the military it has?

Lindsey Graham’s Exit & What to do About ISIS

Posted December 21st, 2015 at 4:43 pm (UTC-4)
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Lindsey Graham was the only presidential candidate who advocated for sending tens of thousands of United States ground troops to Syria and Iraq to defeat Islamic State. Graham, a republican senator from South Carolina, exited the 2016 presidential race today. While he disagrees with Graham’s proposal, President Obama praised him for being “honest about suggesting ‘here is something I would do that the president is not doing.’ In an interview with National Public Radio, Obama said calls for carpet-bombing “would have an enormous backlash against the United States” if tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent Syrians and Iraqis are killed in the process. He also said deployment of tens of thousands of troops would result in an indefinite period of governing. So what will work? And what will not?

Putin and Trump: It’s a Match!

Posted December 18th, 2015 at 3:18 pm (UTC-4)
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“He is a bright and talented person without any doubt.” The words of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who lavishly praised Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump. Trump returned the favor the very next day when asked about Putin’s comments. “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country,” ignoring assertions from a TV host that Putin “kills journalists, political allies and invades countries.”

The love from Trump isn’t new. Previously, he said he thought he’d get along with Putin, who now has chilly relations with the United States after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and his highly suspect record on human rights. Diplomats were left gasping or opining righteously on cable news outlets that Trump’s comments prove what a danger a President Trump would be. Others found humor in the odd love affair. One blogger called it “Trumpevich.”

Gun Control: Americans Search Yet Again for Antidote to Gun Violence

Posted December 17th, 2015 at 4:15 pm (UTC-4)
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Two weeks to the day that a heavily armed radicalized Muslim couple killed 14 people at a work holiday party in San Bernardino, California, President Barack Obama tried to reassure Americans nervous about terrorism. Flanked by top officials at the National Counterterrorism Center, Obama said there are no “specific and credible” threats to the homeland. New polls indicate more Americans are concerned about a terrorist attack than gun violence, although one survey shows seven in 10 believe mass shootings have become a normal part of American life. The right to bear arms is among the most hotly debated constitutional issues. Demands for stricter gun control laws grow louder with each inexplicable act of violence: Sandy Hook, Columbine and, now, San Bernardino. The gun lobby and its supporters are no less pained by these tragedies, but say no law can stop a determined individual from buying a weapon. It is a familiar debate – one that continued on the week that first of the victims of San Bernardino were laid to rest.

GOP Candidates Gang Up on Trump as Terror Threat Dominates 5th Debate

Posted December 16th, 2015 at 2:08 pm (UTC-4)
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Some political pundits say last night’s fifth Republican presidential debate revealed two things: Donald Trump’s polling dominance may be waning, and the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino forced the candidates to engage in a substantive discussion about US foreign policy and national security. Republican Senator Ted Cruz trended upward along with former Governor Jeb Bush, who many agreed gave his best performance yet. Other observers noted that Trump appeared to pull back from the spotlight as others united to attack his controversial proposal to ban all Muslims from the entering the United States. Still others clalim Trump won the debate nonetheless; others say it was a draw. Either way, the race to win the nomination of the party is moving into a new and more serious phase as the Iowa caucus beckons.

Terror on Twitter

Posted December 15th, 2015 at 3:25 pm (UTC-4)
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There’s a growing consensus in Washington that technology firms, especially social media companies, need to do more when it comes to fighting terrorism. During his Oval Office address on terrorism, President Barack Obama told Silicon Valley to make it harder for terrorists to evade detection using technology. Congress also joined in: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) quickly reintroduced a bill that would require social media firms to report “any terrorist activity” — vaguely defined — to the authorities. That Twitter is a favorite tool of Islamic State recruiters is not news. But after the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Paris, the call to fight ISIS on social media has become more urgent than ever.