Archive

April 26th, 2016

The New Trump as New Coke

    If authenticity is your calling card, how do you become authentically inauthentic?

    Welcome to the New Donald Trump, a marvel of the Twitter-Cable-Facebook Non-Industrial Complex and the age of minuscule attention spans.

    It took Richard Nixon prodigious feats of hard work between 1962 and 1968 to create the New Nixon who got himself into the White House. But in an era when "brand" is both a noun and a verb and when "curating" is the thing to do, why should it surprise us that the New Trump took less than two weeks to fabricate?

    After the wild, undisciplined and offensive period leading up to his April 5 loss in the Wisconsin primary to Ted Cruz, Trump decided he needed to curate his brand big time.

    Shoved aside were key staffers, including his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who had reveled in the, shall we say, forceful approach to politics that was supposed to be part of Trump's authenticity. He's trying to banish offensive talk about women, the gratuitous fights with television anchors, the uninformed comments about abortion.

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April 25th

Even drunken drivers have constitutional rights

    Can you be charged with a crime for refusing to take a Breathalyzer test when stopped on suspicion of drunken driving? It's hard to think of a constitutional rights question that affects more people. The Supreme Court took it up Wednesday, considering whether the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure protects your breath and your blood from a warrantless search.

    Two different states involved in the case offer different constitutional reasons for their practices -- a sure sign that something is fishy here. The bottom line is that mandating a search without a warrant violates the Constitution, and the court should say so, regardless of the legitimate importance of combating drunken driving.

    A review of the states' positions should make that clear.

    North Dakota's Supreme Court said that you implicitly consent to taking a blood test when you get into a car there. It added that you aren't really forced to take the blood test -- you just get convicted of a crime if you don't. In a sense, the court was saying that driving is a privilege, not a right.

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The 2 race cards that still haunt us

    History repeats itself these days, first as tragedy then as a made-for-TV movie.

    It may be only coincidental but this is a good time to revisit two racially charged dramas: The O.J. Simpson double-homicide case and the confirmation hearings for now-Justice Clarence Thomas' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Watching HBO's two-hour docudrama "Confirmation," a retelling of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings, after watching FX's 10-part "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" series, reminds me of an unexpected element that these two seemingly unrelated events shared in common: The race card.

    In Simpson's case, as one of his high-priced lawyers lamented after the verdict, that card was played "from the bottom of the deck." But in my experience that's how the race card is usually played, whether out of desire or desperation, and no race has a monopoly on it.

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That ‘Natural’ Label Doesn’t Mean Much

    Scenario: You’re at the store, trying to make healthy yet frugal choices. You see several products labeled “organic” and others labeled “natural.”

    You’re trying to buy good food and household products for less, and those organic items seem to cost a bit more. Maybe natural is just as good, right? What’s the difference?

    It comes down to standards.

    Federal organic standards ban the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and most synthetic ingredients in any certified organic product. So that organic label means something.

    Natural, on the other hand, generally means nothing. It’s usually a feel-good label slapped on packaging to attract consumers who value their health and the environment to a product that may not be good for either.

    Yet a few years ago, a report made headlines with the finding that consumers prefer natural to organic products. Clearly there’s some confusion.

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Proposed bridge to Crimea is an old plan with a new twist

    The Russian annexation of Crimea is to be consummated with a 12-mile (19-kilometer) bridge connecting Russia's Krasnodar region with the Crimean city of Kerch. The first support of the bridge was completed earlier this month, beginning the final phase of a project that explains a lot about how President Vladimir Putin's Russia functions -- and how Russia has functioned for ages, achieving surprising results with chaotic, ill-thought-out efforts.

    The Nazis were the first to try to bridge the Kerch Strait in 1943 as they created an infrastructure for their invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler's personal architect and trusted minister, Albert Speer, commissioned and approved the plans, and construction started just in time for the Soviet troops to push the Nazis back. The Germans bombed what they had built so the Russians couldn't use it. The Soviets completed a bridge in 1944, but it was a temporary one, using wooden supports, and ice floes crushed it in 1945.

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Parties, not voters, should choose nominees

    Supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are complaining about how restrictive the rules are for Tuesday's New York's primary. It is a closed election -- only registered Democrats can vote for Democratic candidates -- and the deadline for registered voters to switch affiliations was way back in October.

    Is that an example of voter suppression, as some New Yorkers suing the state would have it?

    No, it isn't. As with caucuses instead of primaries, or the Democrats' superdelegates, or the Republican system of delegate selection, the same concept applies: Nominations are a party's internal choice, and it should be entitled to make that choice as it sees fit -- as long as it is open to participation by new members.

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Out of Africa, Part II

    I am visiting Ndiamaguene village in the far northwest of Senegal. If I were giving you directions I’d tell you that it’s the last stop after the last stop — it’s the village after the highway ends, after the paved road ends, after the gravel road ends and after the desert track ends. Turn left at the last baobab tree.

    It’s worth the trek, though, if you’re looking for the headwaters of the immigration flood now flowing from Africa to Europe via Libya. It starts here.

    It begins with a trickle of migrants from a thousand little villages and towns across West Africa like Ndiamaguene, a five-hour drive from the capital, Dakar. I visited with a team working on the documentary “Years of Living Dangerously,” about the connection between climate change and human migration, which will appear this fall on the National Geographic Channel. The day we came, April 14, it was 113 degrees — far above the historical average for the day, a crazy level of extreme weather.

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Obama in Saudi Arabia, Exporter of Oil and Bigotry

    A college senior boarded a flight and excitedly called his family to recount a U.N. event he had attended, but, unfortunately, he was speaking Arabic. Southwest Airlines kicked him off the plane, in the sixth case reported in the United States this year in which a Muslim was ejected from a flight.

    Such Islamophobia also finds expression in the political system, with Donald Trump calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country (“Welcome to the USA! Now, what’s your religion?”) and Ted Cruz suggesting special patrols of Muslim neighborhoods (in New York City, by the nearly 1,000 police officers who are Muslim?). Some 50 percent of Americans support a ban and special patrols.

    Such attitudes contradict our values and make us look like a bastion of intolerance. But for those of us who denounce these prejudices, it’s also important to acknowledge that there truly are dangerous strains of intolerance and extremism within the Islamic world — and for many of these, Saudi Arabia is the source.

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New York douses the Bern

    As we all expected, Hillary Clinton's victory over Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the New York primary was resounding. What was not expected, to me at least, was how the exit polls reveal how the Empire State became a firewall against "the Bern."

    Sanders's call for a political revolution to create jobs, make the economy work for everyone, not just the one percent, and end the corrupting influence of money on politics should have found fertile ground in New York state. The thousands who rallied with the Vermont senator in Washington Square Park, Prospect Park and Hunter's Point South Park seemed to be evidence that "the Bern" was spreading in Hillary's home state.

    And then folks voted.

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National fetish is double-barrel menace

    The current Texas Monthly is a special issue – a .38 Special, if you will. It's about guns.

    Page after page, see and hear about Texans and their rods. A cover shot and photo gallery show people and their beloved rifles, carbines and sidearms. See former Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson pose with his Colt .45 like one might a trophy walleye. If one could peer down that barrel, you'd bet one could see into the man's soul.

    Artist Matthew Diffee depicts what he saw and heard at a San Antonio gun show. One quote: "We sell freedom implements and other bunker supplies."

    Ah, freedom. In a bunker.

    I understand how a few readers might see it differently, but one must ask how this form of fetishism took root.

    After all, a firearm is an appliance that shoots a projectile. I have a toaster. It shoots toast.

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