ISIS, Lord Voldemort And “He Who Must Not Be Named”.

  

The Dark Lord was one mean dude.  The witches and wizards in the Harry Potter books and movies were so paralyzed by fear that they didn’t speak his name.

Voldemort was referred to instead as “You Know Who” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named”.

Now, says British anti-terrorism campaigner Maajid Nawaz, President Obama and other well-intentioned liberals are paralyzed by political correctness.  They refuse to speak of ISIS and other Islamist groups by their proper names.

“We’re unable to say ‘Islamist extremism’ as distinct from Islam the religion,” he told us on “How Do We Fix It?

“Add ‘ism’ on the end and it’s already clear that we’re not talking about Islam the faith. We’re talking about the politicalization of the faith.” 

If we don’t use the right name for those who wish to impose their beliefs on others, Maajid says, “what we’re doing is disempowering those Muslims who are attempting to re-claim their faith from Islamists.”

  

Nawaz is a Sunni Muslim and knows of what he speaks.  In his late teens and twenties, he was a leading member of Hizb ut-Tahri, a British-based Islamist group.  His rejection of religious dogma came during four years in Egyptian jails, while serving time for political activities.

 After returning to the UK in 2006, he co-founded Quilliam, a leading think tank devoted to upholding democratic values and combating extremism. 

Language and messaging are a crucial part of his fight.  The goal is to isolate insurgents from other Muslims, Maajid told us.  “It doesn’t help that to deny it.” 

“We know of no other insurgency that can survive without a level of support within the target communities they seek to recruit from.”

Jihadism has become a brand, which no longer depends on organizations to inspire young Muslims. “A bit like back in the 60’s people would wear Che Guevara on their tee-shirts, now it’s about raising the black ISIS flag.”

Unless President Obama and other leaders clearly speak out against Islamists, they are denying themselves a powerful weapon.  By refusing to mention them by name, Maajid says, “the only thing we have to fall back on is the very thing liberals have been critical of – more assassinations and more war and more killing and more invasions.”

Maajid Nawaz wrote the book Radical: My Journey Out of Islamic Extremism.  With Sam Harris, he co-authored Islam and the Future of Tolerance.

Photos: Ralph Fiennes as Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1. (top) Maajid Nawaz (above)
  

What We Can Learn About Ourselves After the Paris Attacks

  
To a greater or lesser extent, we all live in filter bubbles.  Only truly shocking events shake up our view of the world.  
The 11/13 Paris attacks were the latest assault on our senses.

Intelligence officials, police, politicians and the rest of us are dealing with a new reality  – that ISIS and its hateful, nihilistic celebration of death are a greater threat to our way of life than most of us had assumed.

“The Paris terror attacks suggest that the U.S. and its allies overestimated recent successes against Islamic State while underestimating the group’s ability to strike far from its Middle East stronghold,” is the assessment of analysts who spoke to The Wall Street Journal.

The attacks are reminders of past U.S. intelligence failures – in Vietnam during the 60’s, Iran with the fall of the Shah in 1979, and the rise of Al Qaeda before the 2001 attacks. Institutional confirmation bias prevents us from viewing events through a different lens. 

Perhaps it’s time for a little collective humility about our ways of viewing the world. “In psychology they call thinking that you see the world as it truly is, free from bias or the limitations of your senses, naive realism,” says David McRaney of the “You Are Not So Smart” podcast.  Our “facts” are often little more than opinion, says McRaney, a recent guest on our show, “How Do We Fix It?”.

With the events of the past few days, even politicians would do well to reassess some of  their views. 

“The assault on Paris has thrust national security to the heart of the Presidential race, forcing candidates to scramble,” writes Jonathan Martin in today’s New York Times. Perhaps voters will react as well, prompting them “to reconsider their flirtations with unconventional candidates and to take a more sober measure of who is prepared to serve as Commander In Chief.” The demands on the candidates will be more exacting, writes Martin.

But what of our own views of freedom and tolerance?  Will we become more fearful and less hopeful about what the future can bring? Hopefully not.

Our horror and helplessness “we will overcome and quickly,” writes Bobby Ghosh in the online journal, QZ. “Our society is redoubtable and resilient.”

But hate is what we must be most careful to guard against. “Hatred is political currency, coveted by Al Qaeda and ISIL, but more dangerously, by right-wing groups among us,” says Ghosh in his perceptive article.  

It’s time to be calm, strong and open-minded about the views of others, but also resolute: Recognize the lethal threat that a relatively small number of Islamists present to us (and, yes, call them what they are). Yet also be confident about democracy’s strengths and the values that the great majority of us share.

The Friday night lights of young multi-racial, multi-ethnic Paris before the carnage struck were symbols of western civilization’s trust, joy and strength.  They must not be snuffed out by the actions of a few.

(Above: CNBC coverage of today’s Moment of Silence for the victims of the Paris attacks)

The Best Argument I’ve Heard To Turn Climate Skeptics Into Believers


Looks pretty peaceful doesn’t it?  I love our part of the Connecticut shoreline.  On most days the waters from Long Island Sound are calm and there is a lovely balance between sky, land and sea.

But what if this picture were to change in the years to come with dramatic sea level rise and climate change?

I’m no alarmist. In fact, it’s quite possible that over the next one hundred years, the average increase temperature will be relatively modest.  Scientists don’t know exactly what will happen. But that’s not an argument for doing nothing.

Quite the reverse.

Environmental economist Gernot Wagner of the Environmental Defense Fund, co-author of the book “Climate Shock,” says “first  and foremost, climate change is a risk management problem.” Even if you are a climate skeptic and believe that the possibility of a global disaster is minimal, consider this: “Most of us have auto and home insurance to cover us in the event of a disaster.”

“If you had a 10% chance of having a fatal car accident, you’d take necessary precautions. If your finances had a 10% chance of suffering a severe loss, you’d reevaluate your assets. So if we know the world is warming and there’s a 10 percent chance this might eventually lead to a catastrophe beyond anything we could imagine, why aren’t we doing more about climate change right now?”

I don’t believe our house here is likely to be flooded or damaged by fire anytime soon, but I still pay a lot money each year for coverage just in case. Shouldn’t we be doing the same thing to deal with the risk of global warming?

Gernot makes the case for an insurance policy. A price would be placed on carbon emissions,  either through a tax or a system of cap and trade.

This would mean ending subsidies for fossil fuels and boosting incentives for renewable forms of energy. “We need new technologies. We need energy efficient technologies,” Gernot said this week on the “How Do We Fix It?” podcast.

“You set the right incentives and get out of the way.”  Use the market to reduce the CO2 emissions. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in Silicon Valley will do their thing.

Before the Industrial Age began in the late 18th Century, carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere were roughly 280 parts per million for thousands of years.  Today the level is 400 parts per million and rising. Even if emissions were stabilized tomorrow the carbon number would continue to rise.

Scientists first made the link between greenhouse gas emissions and rising temperatures in the 19th century. Today, all but a handful of climate scientists say there is an urgent need for action to reduce carbon dioxide levels as soon as possible.

“We know we need to act,” says Gernot.


Gernot Wagner (right) and Martin Weitzman (left), authors of “Climate Shock.”

Top photo by Linda Jessee.

You’d Be Surprised At The Mistakes People Make…

  

Go ahead.  Google “insurance mistakes.”  There’s a flood of stuff  about the simple errors many of us make – from not having coverage to paying for stuff we really don’t need. 

Laura Adams, who hosts the popular podcast, “Money Girl,” could save you a ton of money and loads of heartache.

Laura is a font of wisdom about insurance and she gives us the basics about auto, home, life and health policies on this week’s “How Do We Fix It?” podcast. She takes a potentially dry subject and makes it approachable and believe it or not, entertaining.

Here are Laura’s 5 insurance fixes…
– Make sure you shop around for insurance. Get several quotes and reach out to an insurance agent who can explain is and is not covered by your policy.
– Learn the basics at insurancequotes.com, bankrate.com or the non-profit Insurance information Institute. http://www.iii.org.
– Avoid duplication. Make sure you understand exactly what you’re buying.

– Many states have programs to help people who can’t afford insurance. Check out your state’s Department of Insurance.
– Term life insurance policies are much cheaper than many people realize, A healthy person under 40 may be able to get $250,000 in coverage for less than $20 a month.

Why You’re Crazy To Panic When The Stock Market Drops

  
The stock market has gone wobbly again with more dire headlines about quarterly losses and worries over  the state of the global economy. 

But how much has really changed in the past few months?  Not much. Our knowledge of the world is pretty much the same.

The U.S. economy is still in better shape than most of the rest of the world.  Commodity prices are still low (a plus for consumers), and there are still plenty of good companies to invest in.

“The media is out there hyping the activity in the market,” says equities expert Susan Schmidt of Westwood Holdings in Dallas.  “They’re focusing on what’s happening during the day, but investing is really about focusing on the long term.”

I’m a journalist and I have an ego. I know that she’s right.  It’s fun when your story is the lead item on the network news. 

Newspapers, radio and TV cover what changes from one day to the next, but Susan says that should be of little concern to the 55% of Americans who have money in the stock market.  Think decades not days should be their mantra.  Over decades your retirement savings nearly always do better in stock funds than in cash or bonds.  Especially in this very low interest rate environment.

  
Susan Schmidt.

 “It’s a lot about keeping your cool and looking for the long term and keeping keeping your eye on the bigger picture… Be the cool customer and don’t panic,” Susan told us on the latest How Do We Fix It? podcast. 

“No investor is right 100% of the time and if they say they are! they’re lying.” Listen to what she said here.

If you’re scared that Wall Street is nothing more than a giant casino, here are some fixes.

–  Look at the stock market’s performance over the long term. Ignore the noise of daily news coverage.

–  Diversity your investments and spread risk. Consider low-fee large and small stock funds as well as US and international investment products.

–  Learn the language. Investing basics are easier to grasp than you may think.  Big investment firms can help you take the first steps. Find out what you need to know at at fidelity.com, TDAmeritrade or Vanguard

–  “Morningstar is the equivalent of Rotten Tomatoes,” Susan tells us. “Morningstar gives stars to mutual funds.” From one to five stars – “the more stars the better.”. 

Top photo from the front page of the Financial Times. September 30, 2015

Don’t Put His Views In a Political Box.  What The Media Are Missing About Pope Francis.

  New Republic

“We in the press are about to over-politicize his visit to America,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks.

How right he is.

The media are awash with bland, secular generalizations. The trumpets of left and right are already at blaring with either praise or denunciations of the Pope’s message.

House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation to Pope Francis to address Congress “will be at his own party’s expense,” declares Brian Beutler in the increasingly hardline liberal journal “New Republic.”

In a scathing article, curmudgeon conservative George Will blasts The Pope for “his woolly sentiments that have the intellectual tone of fortune cookies.”

  The New York Post

But comments from both sides that seek to put the Pope in a box miss this importance of his message and above all, his example.

American Catholics don’t fit neatly into frames tethered to snippets extracted from a hugely complex spiritual leader,” writes conservative Catholic Ashley McGuire. As “a capitalism-loving, pro-life advocate who is quite possibly obsessed with abortion, I could not be more excited to welcome Pope Francis to America.

Regardless of political affiliation, many Americans appreciate the Pope’s emphasis on love and mercy over dogma and orthodoxy. 

He is humble and a warm presence in world of snarky pundits and fiercely opinionated politicians. As a Jesuit, Francis takes his vow of poverty seriously. He believes we can learn from the poor. His heart is with those who suffer and are in need.

As a devout Catholic he understands how symbols send a message. After arriving at Andrews Air Force Base and being greeted by President Obama and Vice President Biden, the Pope hopped into a small Fiat instead of the usual large limo reserved for dignatories.

He says the church should be “bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out in the streets,” instead of being unhealthy “from clinging to is own security.

As Gerald Seib points out in The Wall Street Journal, this Pope is a disrupter: “in sync with the dissatisfaction with the status quo” and also recognizing that The Catholic Church establishment has lost its way.

Many of us like leaders who would shake things up. Think Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. This Pope challenges the existing order. An overwhelming majority of American Catholics approves of what he’s doing.

“I don’t think the categories Left and Right are very useful for understanding the Pope,” says theologian and papal expert Lawrence Cunningham of Notre Dame.

On some social matters he is deeply conservative. “Francis unflinchingly maintains the church’s ancient teaching about the sanctity of human life and total opposition to abortion,” writes Timothy Carney in a highly perceptive piece in The Washington Examiner.

“Although he has urged Catholics to drop their “obsession” with such issues, Francis would also stand with his predecessors against gay marriage. In fact, he clashed with the Argentinian government when it was expanding marriage to include same-sex couples.”

“On economics, Francis would look more like a Democrat than like a Republican, but so would his “conservative” predecessors,” writes Carney.

On the environment he has been more outspoken than those who came before him. But with rising carbon levels in the atmosphere and a growing sense among global leaders that action is required, the need is greater than it was years ago.

Fact is, whether  we’re conservative, liberal or independent, most of us like the guy.

“Pope Francis is an extraordinary learner, listener and self-doubter,” says David Brooks. “The best part of this week will be watching him relate to people, how he listens deeply and learns from them, how he sees them both in their great sinfulness but also with endless mercy and self-emptying love.”

 

One-Size-Fits-All.  Our National Panic Over Sex Crimes

  

  
This week I changed my mind about America’s sex offender laws. Sure, they’re popular and were passed by Congress and state legislatures in response terrible crimes.  
But no law can cure all ills and the national sex offender registry appears to be in urgent need of reform. 
In recent years we’ve had a scorched-earth debate about sex offenses led by the voices of fear and outrage. On the nightly news and in shows such as “Law and Order,” Americans have been fed this image of “stranger danger” – the creepy older guy who preys on children.
But the vast majority of assaults – as many as 90% – are committed by people who know the victims. 
In her new book, “Protecting Our Kids? How Sex Offender Laws Are Failing Us”, Sociology professor Emily Horowitz argues that Jessica’s Law, Megan’s Law and some other recent acts are examples of over-reach and a sweeping one-sized-fits-all approach to a very complex problem. Other researchers have also argued against moral panic that treats all sex offenders as monsters.
Dangerous adult predators are lumped together with teenagers and adolescents who were convicted of fondling or even sexting.
“We’re in the middle of a sex panic that’s been going on for decades now,” says Emily on the latest episode of our podcast, “How Do We Fix It?” 
Today there are more than 800,000 names on the ever-growing national sex offender registry. “Those are people who are publicly listed on the internet with all of their personal information and photographs. These are all people who’ve served time, completed probation and parole.” 
Until we spoke with Emily I believed that public shaming and a registry for sexual predators was a good idea. I still do – in some cases. But far too many people are on the list.
The national registry, which continues to grow each year despite a decline in sex offenses against children, may be an egregious violation of individual liberties, especially for the large share of offenders who were under 18 when they broke the law. They could stay on the list for the rest of their lives.
“It makes emotional sense. but it doesn’t make practical sense,” says Emily. “There is no other crime where people are listed on a public registry.” This includes those convicted of murder and assault.
“The premise underlying sex offender registries is that people who commit sex crimes are different from all other criminals, because they’re predatory, they cannot be stopped, and they’re uncontrollable so they need to be listed for life.”
“But that’s not true,” Emily insists. A quarter of the people on the registry committed crimes as juveniles. “They are particularly responsive to treatment. There are very few who are violent pedophiles.” 
“Child sexual abuse is very complicated and it happens most often within the family and among people known to the children so these laws are totally ineffective.”
The recidivism rate for sex offenders is not higher than for other crimes.” 

Among the fixes we discussed:
– Reform the national sex offenders registry, and include only the most violent offenders. Most people on the national registry were convicted of a single offense.
– Money now spent to maintain the registry should be diverted to mental and social services. .
– Educate children and parents. Encourage discussion about sex offenses and how to report them.
– Help people who’ve served their time re-build their lives. “You are much less likely to re-offend if you have a stable job and a stable home,” says Emily Horowitz.
I don’t agree with all that she says. Her focus on the treatment of offenders does not fully take into account the victims of the most horrendous crimes. Their stories must continue to be told. 
But a strong case has been made for registry reform. In its current state, the lives of many families face ruin. As a result victims of sex crimes, who know the perpetrators, may be very reluctant to report them to law enforcement. 

Coca Cola vs. Science?  The Sour Fight Over Sugary Sodas, And What You Can Do About It.

   

When I was a kid I thought Coke was the best thing ever. From about the age to 10 to 15, my day wasn’t complete unless it included a seven ounce bottle of the sweet stuff.
Even better was Coke with four cubes of ice and a slice of lemon plus maybe even a shot of grenadine in a grownup highball glass. To me aged 13 that was sophistication itself.

Even now decades later I still like an occasional Coke.  It’s way better that Pepsi.  And yes, if you put a blindfold on me, I could still tell the difference.

But the fuss raised rhis week by The New York Times over Coca Cola’s funding of scientists to influence the debate over what causes weight gain leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Coca Cola has spent millions of dollars to back researchers who claim that lack of exercise is a far greater cause of the obesity epidemic than poor diets.  According to The Times, a non-profit group called the Global Energy Balance Network said the company gave it $1.5 million last year to start the organization, and nearly $4 million in funding for other projects.

“Most of the focus in the popular media and the scientific press has been ‘Oh they’re eating too much, eating too much, eating too much’ – blaming fast food, blaming sugary drinks and so on,” says Steven Blair, an exercise scientist in a video made by the group. “There’s really virtually no compelling evidence that that, in fact, is the cause.”

Most prominent obesity and diabetes researchers disagree.  The news about Coke’s activities provoked uproar in the public health community. 

For this week’s How Do We Fix It? podcast, we invited Dr. Kelly Brownell, Dean of Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy to be our guest.  As our show is about solutions, we asked him to look at fixes for America’s worst health crisis. 

“There’s very good science showing that consumption of sugary sodas is strongly related to risks for obesity, diabetes and some other major health problems,” Kelly told us.  

After decades of rising obesity and diabetes, the trend appears to have peaked.  A Gallup poll says 60% of Americans are trying to avoid drinking soda.  So Coke may have good reason to try and influence the debate and stop its sales slide. 

While there is nothing new about corporations paying money to fund scientific research, Coca Cola is playing a political role in the shifting debate over health and diet, as well as fighting back against soda taxes and efforts to stop the sale of high-sugar drinks in schools.  

Parents have a right to know the facts.

More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. “Obesity around the world is now a more significant problem than hunger,” Kelly Brownell told us.

As for dealing with the causes, here are his takeaways:

 1. Parents should know that weight problems usually start very early in life. “Early obesity tracks into the adult years,” he says.  

 2. Government can help with “policies that only allow healthy foods in schools. There could be restrictions on what foods are marketed to children.” Dr. Brownell also supports a soda tax.

 3. His best advice for individuals? “Try to eat fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and keep meat consumption under control and watch your calories.”

I’ve got a fourth one. Portion control.  Eat and drink less. 

When I was a kid, Coke came in 7 ounce bottles.  Then 12 ounce cans were introduced. Now the stuff comes in 20 ounce single-serve containers.  

Is it all the beverage industry’s fault? No.  As my pal and podcast show co-host Jim Meigs says: “Never under-estimate the ability of captalism to give us what we want.” Marketers and makers will keep on finding new ways to tempt us. 

But ina free-market society built around choice, stupidity comes with a cost.  We all have a role to play in making reasonable choices.

 

Hacking, Data Theft, And Why Adam Levin Scared the S**t Out of Me

    
My friends and family sometimes tease me about being an optimist – seeing the world as a better place than it really is. 

Well, last week the guy here in the photo turned me into a gloomy pessimist about the dangers of hacking and the data theft. Unless our security systems get better fast, mayhem might be around the corner. The threat to individuals, businesses, the government, and the financial system is scary. 

After years of thinking that Adam Levin was perhaps was a little bit alarmist on the subject, I’ve come around to his way of thinking.  Adam, who’s the co-founder and Chairman of credit.com and the security firm IDT 911, has turned me into a hacking hawk. 

“This is a pandemic,” he said this week on our podcast How Do We Fix It?  “It’s depressing when people say there’s fear-mongering going on in the identity theft world. There isn’t enough fear-mongering.” 

He’s right.  We’ve been inundated with the shock-horror of over-the-top news media coverage about the omnipresent threat of criminals, rapists, and child abductors lurking in our midst.  But arguably, not enough has been made of criminals and spies breaking into the computer systems that all of us rely on.  

Only last week, the head of The Office of Personnel Management was finally forced to resign after it was revealed that highly sensitive personal data involving more than 22 million people was stolen. 

A couple of weeks ago, Fortune published a hair raising account of last November’s break-in at Sony Pictures. The attack was a huge embarrassment for the firm as private emails became a matter of public gossip and scandal. For several weeks, one of the biggest players in Hollywood was forced back to an era of faxes and typewriters. Its computer systems were frozen.

We are all at risk of being victims.

So how do you reduce your threat?  Adam says we all need to consider that this is a potential threat to our money, property and privacy. Here are some of the tips that he recommends.

– Remember the 3Ms. MINIMIZE your risk of exposure

Don’t carry your social security card with you, in case your wallet or purse is stolen.  Limit the number of credit and debit cards that you have.  Secure your computer and smartphone with strong passwords. Be careful about giving your social security number to any business or health care provider that does not really need it. 
– MONITOR your personal finances.  Get a free credit report every year at http://www.annualcreditreport.com.  Also, go http://www.credit.com and other sites and get a free reading of your credit score.  Check your bank and other financial accounts as frequently as possible.

– If you become an identity theft victim, MANAGE the damage. Adam says there are programs to help consumers. Some are free through your work or insurance company.  Identity protection services offer instant alerts in case someone tries to apply for credit using your name.  The Consumer Federation of America has a helpful site: http://www.idtheftinfo.org.

– Credit cards offer more protections for consumers. “With a credit card, it’s their money. With a debit card it’s your money,” says Adam. If you’re a victim of debit card fraud it can take 7-10 days for the bank to return the money to your account. 

– If anyone calls you and starts asking for your information, hang up. Don’t give it to them. Use as many different passwords as you can for websites that you visit.

Two years ago Edward Snowden started a worldwide debate about Government snooping and  surveillance.  Today, there needs to be a similar outcry over the threat data theft presents to our privacy and security.