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How the U.S. lost itsgroove

Thomas Friedman

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The New York Times

“9/11 has made us stupid,” said Thomas Friedman. After those terrible attacks six years ago, our nation was right to take new precautions against foreign threats. But it’s now clear that 9/11 “knocked America completely out of balance,” turning us into a society defined by fear and suspicion. We’re so obsessed with security and terrorism that we’ve lost the “sense of openness” that once made us the envy of the world. Travel restrictions on foreigners have gotten so bad that business visits to the U.S. have fallen by 10 percent, while businessmen are flocking to our economic rivals in Europe and Asia. We keep pouring billions into the black hole of Iraq, while our bridges and airports rot and crumble. Once the “gold standard” in science and technology, the U.S. now stands idly by while the big breakthroughs, and investments, take place outside our borders. Before 9/11, America’s “global brand” was the land “where anything is possible for anybody.” Now, instead of standing as a symbol of hope, we’re a symbol of paranoia: “Give me your tired, your poor, your fingerprints.” We have become “The United States of Fighting Terrorism.”

Hiding from hostile questioners

Jennifer Rubin

The American Spectator

By ignoring hostile questioners, Republican presidential candidates are making a big mistake, said Jennifer Rubin. All the major GOP contenders decided not to participate in a debate last week focusing on issues relating to African-Americans, claiming “scheduling conflicts.” The real reason, most people suspect, is that Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson feared aggressive questioning by the debate’s moderator, liberal talk-show host Tavis Smiley, as well as hostility from the mostly black audience. Now, these are hard times for Republicans, and it’s only natural for the party’s candidates “to go into a defensive crouch and stick to the safe confines of Fox News and friendly talk-radio hosts.” But will that strategy win elections? To regain the White House and Congress, Republicans need to win over the independents and moderate Democrats they’ve lost in recent years, and they won’t do that by confining their appearances to conservative media outlets. The best place to explain why tax cuts help everyone, whether or not you’re “rich,” is not Fox, but CBS, NBC, and PBS, where most of the voters are. Only by venturing into the lion’s den will Republicans “begin to convince the American people that they do not deserve to be banished to the political wilderness.”

When ‘charities’ benefit the wealthy

Robert Reich

Los Angeles Times

Americans this year will donate a record-breaking $200 billion to charity, said Robert Reich. That sounds wonderfully altruistic, but merely 10 percent of that total actually goes to the poor. Much of our generosity—especially the portion donated by the wealthy—goes to “culture palaces” such as operas, museums, and symphonies, and to the rich folks’ alma maters. “Let’s face it: These aren’t really charitable contributions. They’re often investments in the lifestyles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have, too.” Making a big contribution to Harvard or Princeton is one way to ensure that your kid will be admitted as a “legacy,” which is one reason Harvard has amassed a $35 billion endowment. Contributions to cultural institutions, on the other hand, often function as “investments in prestige,” with the family name “engraved on the new wing of an art museum.” Does it matter? Yes, because the donations are tax deductible. That means they drain the U.S. Treasury of badly needed funds—funds that could be used for programs that really do help the poor. Providing “charitable’’ deductions for Lincoln Center and Harvard, in other words, actually hurts those most in need.

Actually, there are gays in Iran


The Washington Post

I hate to break it to you, President Ahmadinejad, but “I’m a 25-year-old Iranian, and I’m gay,” said Amir (whose last name is being withheld for his safety). The president of Iran provoked a lot of laughter on his trip to New York last week when he insisted, both at Columbia University and the United Nations, that there are no gay people in my country. My friends and I weren’t surprised, since our Islamic rulers still stone gays who are caught having sex. But despite their repressive attitudes, the Internet has made Iranian society much freer, and I’m part of the first generation of Iranian homosexuals to emerge from the closet. Through the relative safety of Web sites, people like me have met other gays and have learned that homosexuality is commonplace throughout the world. Many of us have gained enough courage to come out to our friends and parents, who are terribly upset at first. But “when people see us as reasonable humans, their negative views of homosexuality are shattered.” It would be wonderful if Ahmadinejad “could learn to respect gays,” but since that’s not likely, my message to him is this: We exist, whether you want to admit it or not.

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