Top of the Ticket
Political commentary from David Horsey
African elephant slaughter nears tipping point toward extinction

African elephants face a looming threat of extinction. Add that to a summer of bad news.

Since the beginning of June, we have seen a passenger jet shot down over Ukraine; an army of Islamic maniacs committing atrocities in Iraq; Israelis and Palestinians acting out their fears and hatreds in Gaza; hundreds of Central American kids running the U.S.-Mexico border; police battling protesters in suburban St. Louis; wildfires burning up the West; not to mention the more personal tragedy of Robin Williams’ suicide.

The constant suffering humans inflict upon one another is gut-wrenching, of course. It takes a cold heart not to feel empathy for the innocents facing death and dislocation in war zones or to have a bit of compassion for children seeking refuge from drug gangs. Still, as awful as we can be to one another, we are not running out of human beings (unless the worst-case scenarios about climate change come true, in which case we are all doomed). African elephants, on the other hand,...

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James Foley beheading shows vicious barbarity of Islamic State

Hollywood has come up with some fearsome swarms of monstrous villains -- think of the orcs in “The Hobbit” or the zombies in “World War Z” -- but those computer-generated creatures are nothing compared with the all-too-real swarm of monsters that have rallied to the black banner of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

ISIS (or ISIL, the alternative version of the name that substitutes the broader geographic term, Levant, for Syria) may be the most despicable band of barbarians to plague the world since the Khmer Rouge finished stacking up the skulls of their victims in Cambodia 35 years ago. Emerging from the chaos of the Syrian civil war, ISIS militants have swept across the Iraqi desert and seized control in much of that country over the last two months.

They are not the first armed force to bring havoc to that tortured land, but they are arguably the worst. Driven by a fanatical allegiance to an extremist form of Sunni Islam, ISIS shock troops have carried out crucifixions and...

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Should our cops be commandos?

Among my grandfather's many jobs was a stint as police chief in Anacortes, Wash., back when it was a boisterous and sometimes violent cannery town. There was plenty of trouble to be managed among the fishermen drinking and fighting in the saloons and brothels, the Chinese immigrant cannery workers in their rickety shacks and out on the water where smugglers ran the Canadian border and hid out in the misty coves and channels of the San Juan Islands. 

With only a knife, a pistol and one deputy, Grandpa somehow managed to maintain law and order. If he were in charge of the small city’s police force today, though, he would have access to all kinds of high-caliber weaponry and armored vehicles to outfit a team of tactical officers in uniforms that would make them look like combat soldiers in Afghanistan. The federal government and military contractors would be eager to supply him with such gear, even though Anacortes is now a quiet community where the only reminder of the wild old days is a...

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Racial prejudice and militarized cops are a bad mix in America

The killing of a young black man by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and the subsequent military-style police response to protests has illuminated two very disturbing phenomena. One is older than our republic -- racial prejudice -- and the other is relatively new -- the militarization of America’s cops. 

Generally, I have great sympathy for police. They get stuck dealing with all the bad consequences of our shameful failure to deal with numerous social ills, from mental health to poverty. That being said, here’s what I think about the situation in Ferguson: The police were out of control and did things they would be unlikely to do in a white suburb. 

If the accounts given by numerous eyewitnesses are to be believed -- and the people I’ve seen interviewed seem quite believable -- the fatal shooting of the unarmed 18-year-old black man, Michael Brown, was murder. There was a confrontation of some kind between Brown and the cop who shot him, but the policeman appears to have started...

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While critics carp, airstrikes in Iraq prevent genocide

Commenting on the brutal mess in Iraq, a letter writer in the August issue of Rolling Stone asks, “Did the U.S. make Iraq worse? Maybe, but other places go to hell on their own.” Though that viewpoint may too easily excuse a multitude of national sins, it is still at least as insightful as current critiques of American foreign policy emanating from both the left and right.

Much of the world is, indeed, going to hell on its own. Because American military force has sometimes made things worse in the past, should the U.S. now refrain from using its power to stamp out a few hellish fires? Activists on the left lean toward an affirmative answer to that question. Convinced that the ill-conceived invasion and occupation of Iraq during the George W. Bush administration is the cause of all the miseries that have followed, they condemn President Obama for ordering airstrikes against the invading army of Sunni fanatics known as the Islamic State.

The antiwar group Code Pink is calling on people...

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Robin Williams' 'spark of madness' let him soar above his demons

Robin Williams did not have a mere spark of madness, he was a bonfire.

Given the apparent circumstances of his death – severe depression leading to suicide – some might ask if he burned too hot for his own good. Was the “spark of madness” truly the precious gift he considered it to be? Or is it a dangerous thing that we need to smother with rationality and restraint?

“You’re only given one little spark of madness,” Williams said. “You mustn’t lose it.” I very much doubt the “madness” of which he spoke had anything to do with mental illness. Rather, it is the spark of impulse, insight, enthusiasm and inspiration that is essential to creativity. It is defined negatively as madness only by the forces of conventionality and conformity, by the powers-that-be who are threatened and undermined by original thinkers, rebels, contrarians and comedians.

A rapid-fire rush of comic insight was the hallmark of Williams’ performances. He perceived the absurdities and ironies of politics, sex,...

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U.S. is destined to remain stuck in the sands of the Middle East

T.E. Lawrence – Britain’s legendary “Lawrence of Arabia” – warned outsiders that, for them, Arabia is not a hospitable place. “However friendly and informal the treatment of yourself may be, remember always that your foundations are very sandy ones.”

Expanding “Arabia” to the wider Islamic world, Americans have, indeed, found the ground to be quite sandy, from Baghdad to Benghazi. But, like quicksand, it is impossible to escape.

Back in the days of Lawrence, the Middle East was a headache primarily for the British and French, and most Americans would probably be happy to return to a more detached relationship with all the travails of the region. It’s not going to happen, though, because of four persistent factors.

First is Israel. The Israeli settlements policy is infuriating and Israel's military tactics can produce horrendous suffering, but the nation's values remain close to ours and its ties to varied American communities remain rock solid. The U.S. will remain Israel’s strongest...

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Bad news in Gaza, Iraq and D.C., but good news in Botox business

The awfulness of Gaza goes on. So does the madness in Iraq and Syria. Wildfires burn through the West, while in Washington, our do-absolutely-nothing Congress prepares to adjourn, freeing up time for representatives and senators to go home and campaign to be reelected so they can accomplish nothing for another two years.

It seems an opportune time to consider a far less depressing issue, one that, outside of Hollywood and the Redneck Riviera, affects only a small minority: artificial body enhancement, a.k.a., cosmetic surgery or “having a little work done.”

I am mostly vacationing this week (hence my desire to avoid the big issues). My days are being spent on the shores of a gorgeous lake. Temperatures are hitting 100 degrees and, all around me, people are cavorting in swimsuits that reveal just how diverse human bodies can be.

Really, Homo sapiens is an unusual species. Other creatures of the same type pretty much all look alike. Sure, there are subtle differences, but it really is...

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Religion has taken center stage in America's political debates

Near the banks of the Clearwater River in Idaho there is an earthen mound that members of the Nez Perce tribe, by tradition, believe is the center of the world, the place from which all people originated. It is unlikely that very many Nez Perce believe this is literally true but, even if they believed the myth with all of their heart and soul, they would find it impossible to impose their belief on the rest of the country. There are just not enough of them.

There are many more Muslims in the world and a fair share of them feel compelled to enforce their version of religious truth. The Taliban in Afghanistan, the army of militant Sunnis in Syria and Iraq and numerous radical, religiously motivated factions in other Islamic countries simply can’t stand the idea that other people may not see things the way they do. They are willing and eager to imprison and kill to enforce their beliefs. 

In Uganda, political leaders who claim to be Christian think it’s perfectly fine to execute gays and...

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U.S. can be a global winner by going lean on energy consumption

There are endless metrics to gauge whether the United States is ahead or behind other countries. Finland does education better and cheaper. Russians and central Europeans beat Americans in alcohol consumption. But it takes only five minutes for the average American to earn enough money to buy a pint of beer -- far less time than in any other nation. And, when it comes to meat consumption, only the Australians come close to matching the amount of dead animal we eat in the land of the free and the home of the obese.

Whatever the measure, no one in this country really cares how we stack up against Ethiopia or Uruguay or Vanuatu. That is like comparing the Dodgers with a T-ball team. The competitor we really care about is China.

The U.S. still beats China in movie-box-office revenues, number of Internet users and spending on the military, but China has leaped ahead in spewing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. That is quite a dramatic feat, given the amount of CO2 generated by the U.S....

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Immigrant kids bring out the phobias in conservative xenophobes

Anyone who has ever wondered what happened to that strange-looking, banjo-playing kid from “Deliverance” should check out Rep. Louie Gohmert. Imagine that kid all grown up and you’ll have the spitting image of the Texas Republican.

Like banjo boy, Gohmert is weirdly mesmerizing. What swamp did he wander out of and how in the world did he get elected to the United States House of Representatives? The scary answer: There are thousands of people just like him in Texas's 1st Congressional District. 

Gohmert shows up regularly to spin conspiracy theories on the floor of the House, thereby supplying snarky MSNBC hosts with a steady stream of crazy, right-wing nonsense to ridicule. A few years ago, he gained attention when he sounded the alarm about “terror babies” -- children of women who he claimed were coming into the U.S. to produce offspring who would grow up to attack America. 

These days, he is more concerned with a different kiddie threat. It is time, he says, to “use whatever means,”...

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Obama may dislike politics too much to be a great president

The real estate offices in Palm Springs are buzzing with rumors that the Obama family may be buying a home in Rancho Mirage – a modern-design, 8,232-square-foot compound priced at $4.25 million and perched on a hilltop inside a gated community where Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby once lived. It’s a place where the fairways are close and Congress is far, far away -- just what the president will want when he exits the White House on Jan. 20, 2017.

Actually, there are days when Barack Obama looks as if he’d be happy to move to California and start his post-presidency right away. The man elected in 2008 on a euphoric wave of hope and change has not been able to change much and his hopes have been dashed by a Republican opposition that has been dedicated to one core principle: Whatever Obama wants, Obama doesn’t get.

If Obamacare survives and becomes as permanent and popular as Social Security, it will be the one great achievement of his presidency. Beyond that, however, Obama’s...

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