Archive

March 15th, 2016

Women who inspire

    The accomplishments of four leaders recognized this week at the Women in the World salon in Washington - a Tina Brown- sponsored platform for women on the front lines of change around the world - are awe-inspiring. The honorees' compelling and inspirational stories put to shame, by comparison, the puerile behavior of the top Republicans seeking to occupy the world's most powerful office.

    When GOP presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Donald Trump are not extolling their own virtues, they are, for the world to see, indulging in locker-room gibes about genitalia. Said Rubio recently, joking about the size of Trump's hands, "You know what they say about men with small hands."

    To which Trump responded in a nationally televised debate: "Look at those hands. Are they small hands?" raising them for viewers to see. "And, he referred to my hands, if they're small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee."

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Donald Trump can't keep blaming other people for the anger of his campaign

    Know that old cliche "Where there's smoke, there's fire?"

    That has been running through my head for the past couple of days, watching violence flare on the campaign trail in and around Donald Trump's rallies. Trump, for his part, insists that he is blameless. "I don't accept responsibility," he told NBC's Chuck Todd Sunday morning when asked about the tenor of his rallies and the skirmishes between protesters and supporters that have become increasingly commonplace.

    In Trump's version of events, the recent upswing in confrontation is to be blamed on professional "disrupters" who come to his rallies looking for fights. As for the vitriol coming from his supporters? "The reason there's tension at my rallies is that these people are sick and tired of this country being run by incompetent people that don't know what they're doing on trade deals," with U.S. jobs being shipped out to other countries, Trump told Todd on Sunday.

    Don't blame Trump, Trump says.

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Contested convention could deepen Republican chaos

    The anti-Donald Trump brigade is banking on defeating him this week in Ohio, and possibly Florida, paving the way for an "open" convention that would deny him the Republican presidential nomination and avoid what it believes would be a general election debacle.

    This is an uphill climb under any scenario and probably impossible if Trump wins both states on Tuesday. If the strategy works, however, it could create an even more perilous outcome.

    But Republicans, from establishment politicians to conservative activists to big-money types, are more rattled than ever by the New York billionaire; several respected polls suggest Trump as the nominee would be an electoral nightmare, threatening to take down lots of Republicans.

    Thus the chatter and strategizing for an open convention where Trump would come in with a plurality but not a majority. This requires a multicandidate field.

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Carson Endorses the Demagogue

    On Friday, I watched yet another bizarre scene from an already bizarre election cycle: The affable but hopelessly vacant Ben Carson endorsing the demagogic real estate developer who once said of Carson that he had a “pathological temper” as a child and compared him to a child molester.

    Carson said in his endorsement speech that there are actually “two different” sides to the front-runner.

    What does this mean? Which one is real? Are they both? Is there a Jekyll to this Hyde? It was an exceedingly strange and feeble attempt to diminish the danger that this man poses, but in a way, if anyone could understand this duality, it would be Carson.

    This is the same Ben Carson who has inveighed against the “purveyors of division,” who played a video at his presidential campaign announcement in Detroit in which the narrator said in part:

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Breaking the encryption deadlock

    Since the 1990s, U.S. law enforcement has expressed concern about "going dark," roughly defined as an inability to access encrypted communications or data even with a court order. Silicon Valley companies are rolling out encrypted products that allow users alone to access their data, and in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino, California, terrorist attacks, law enforcement officials argue that their fears are being realized. The FBI is engaged in a public battle with Apple over access to data stored on the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino attackers and cautions that encrypted messaging apps could hinder the organization's ability to uncover terrorism plots.

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Where the Soldiers Are Scarier Than the Crocodiles

    There are cobras and vipers here, and hungry crocodiles and belligerent hippos. But thousands of South Sudanese are hiding in these swamps because they have even greater fear of their own government — which the United States helped install.

    “When the soldiers come, we go into the water up to our necks and hide, with only our noses out of the water,” a displaced villager, Nyakier Gatluak, told me after I waded through swamps and rivers to reach the island where she shelters. She and other parents hold children and command them to be silent, hoping that they will be invisible in the water and reeds.

    I asked about crocodiles, and Nyakier was fatalistic. “Even if you die in the water, it’s better to be killed by snakes or crocodiles than by soldiers,” she said.

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Want public information? Too bad.

    Two years ago last month, I filed a public-records request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as part of my reporting into the flawed response to Hurricane Sandy. Then, I waited.

    The Freedom of Information Act requires a response within 20 business days, but agencies routinely blow that deadline. Eight months later, ProPublica and NPR published our investigation into the Sandy response, but it did not include any documents from FEMA. The agency had simply never gotten back to me.

    Finally, this Feb. 10 -- 492 business days past the law's 20-day deadline -- I got a curious phone call from FEMA. The agency was starting a "clean search" for the documents I asked for, because the original search "was not done properly."

    Why?

    "I wish I had the answer," the staffer told me. "There are quite a few cases that this happened to."

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Trump Clarifies, and It’s Worse

    Admit it, people, you miss the Republicans screaming at one another.

    “So far I cannot believe how civil it’s been up here,” said Donald Trump in the most-quoted moment of Thursday’s debate — an event that is probably not going to be all that much quoted.

    “The fact of the matter is, we have to have an expedited process.”

    “There’s TPA and TPP. I opposed TPP and have always opposed TPP.”

    “... You know, Smoot-Hawley led to the Great Depression.”

    Trump was the man we came to hear, and he didn’t exactly dominate the deep dives into policy. Still, it was interesting to learn that Marco Rubio doesn’t care about climate change, considering he lives in a city that seems to be submerging rather rapidly. And Ted Cruz has an irritating habit of holding his hand over his heart when he talks.

    All right, that wasn’t an issue. Let’s consider Social Security.

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The Sultan and the Salad

    I used to love going to the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset Boulevard, wandering its banana-leaf-patterned halls and communing with its glamorous ghosts and legends.

    Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, with their regular breakfast order to their bungalow of two bottles of vodka and another pair for lunch. Esther Williams and Joan Crawford in the pool. Howard Hughes, pacing around his darkened suite wearing Kleenex boxes for shoes and ordering sandwiches in the middle of the night. The Rat Pack with its whiskey and broads. Gina Lollobrigida and Marilyn Monroe lounging poolside, titillating cabana boys. Nancy Reagan, dishing at lunch.

    But then the Pink Palace fell out of favor and took on a ghostly hue of its own.

    In 2014, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Jay Leno, Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres and others called for a boycott of the hotel after its owner, the sultan of Brunei, implemented Shariah law in his small oily kingdom in the South China Sea, making homosexuality and adultery punishable by stoning.

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Donald Trump’s Epic Neediness

    After Donald Trump asked voters at a recent rally to raise their hands heavenward in a pledge of fealty to him, a few commentators frothed at the gesture’s supposed evocation of a Nazi salute.

    That wasn’t my take. As much as Trump appalls me, I don’t assign him control over the precise arcs of his supporters’ arms.

    I was and am transfixed by something else: the scope and intensity of his hunger for adulation. It’s bottomless, topless, endless, insatiable. He gazed upon a teeming arena of admirers and neither their presence nor their numbers was quite enough.

    He ached for an extra exhibition of their ardor. He had to issue a command and revel in their obeisance. I’m surprised only that he didn’t ask them to kneel or genuflect, but that could still come. The primaries slog on. The general election looms.

    And Trump’s campaign events have become increasingly unsettling affairs, by turns ludicrous and scary.

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