Archive

October 8th, 2016

Team Trump rebukes Hillary Clinton, sounds like a defense

    I grabbed my ear lobe and jiggled it in disbelief of the words I was hearing from former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani's mouth.

    Giuliani, a surrogate for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, was responding to a very good question from NBC's "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd on Sunday morning.

    Todd wanted to know whether Giuliani's own history of marital infidelity disqualified him to be "the right person" to lead the Trump campaign's latest tactic: criticizing Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's response to her husband then-president Bill Clinton's sexual behavior with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky.

    "You have your own infidelities, sir," Todd reminded the former mayor.

    "Everybody does," Giuliani casually responded. "You know, I'm a Roman Catholic, and I confess those things to my priest."

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Some Democrats stay quiet on voting reforms

    Remember how some Democrats were making a big deal about voting reforms earlier this year? They promised that if they won they would push for automatic voter registration, voting for ex-felons and better administration of elections.

    The good news for advocates of making voting easier is that the Democratic national platform wound up having a strong plank supporting reform. And Hillary Clinton has spoken out on the topic.

    But other Democratic candidates appear to be less enthusiastic.

    I've concluded this by looking at candidate websites to determine which topics they find important. Of the 13 candidates most likely to become new Democratic senators in 2017, only four mention voting topics at all in the issue sections of their sites. And only Patrick Murphy in Florida and Kamala Harris in California offer extensive lists of proposals, going beyond the usual opposition to voter ID requirements and support for giving former felons the right to cast ballots. The others? Nothing.

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Robots could eventually replace soldiers in warfare. Is that a good thing?

    The United States has on its Aegis-class cruisers a defense system that can track and destroy anti-ship missiles and aircraft. Israel has developed a drone, the Harpy, that can detect and automatically destroy radar emitters. South Korea has security-guard robots on its border with North Korea that can kill humans.

    All of these can function autonomously - without any human intention.

    Indeed, the early versions of the Terminator are already here. And there are no global conventions limiting their use. They deploy artificial intelligence to identify targets and make split-second decisions on whether to attack.

    The technology is still imperfect, but it is becoming increasingly accurate - and lethal. Deep learning has revolutionized image classification and recognition and will soon allow these systems to exceed the capabilities of an average human soldier.

    But are we ready for this? Do we want Robocops policing our cities? The consequences, after all, could be very much like we've seen in dystopian science fiction. The answer surely is no.

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Presidential Contest Is All Over But The Counting

   Two weeks ago, a woman from New Jersey approached me in The Spaniard, a pub and restaurant in Kinsale, Ireland.

    "You look Irish," she said, "but you sound American."

    "That's easily explained," I answered.

    All eight of my great-grandparents emigrated from Cork and Kerry to the United States during the late 19th century. Over there, I'm an ethnic stereotype: a burly fellow with thick white hair wearing a collarless blue shirt from a local shop. Everybody looks like my cousin.

    Frankly, we'd decided to spend time in Kinsale, a fishing port and resort town on Ireland's southern coast, to try it on for size. When we'd visited there 10 years ago, I'd felt very much at home. If push came to shove, how might it feel to live there?

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Pence’s Ugly Assignment

    Back when Mike Pence hosted a talk radio show in the 1990s, he described himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”

    For much of Tuesday night, he was like Forrest Gump on chamomile, squarely and steadily plodding forward, seldom tugged from his talking points and never particularly rattled. His expression was a sort of upbeat blur. His voice was a lulling drone.

    It wasn’t exactly a vivid performance, but it was an eerily consistent one, and it answered the question of how a man who supposedly prides himself on his virtue defends a running mate who is often bereft of it. He sets his jaw. He slows his pulse. He practices a bemused chuckle, perfects deafness to anything he prefers not to hear and purges from his memory anything he doesn’t want to own.

    That included the whole grotesque cornucopia of Donald Trump’s slurs and bad behavior, which Tim Kaine had studied up on exhaustively, knew by heart and kept throwing at Pence, pressing for the barest glimmer of shame or the slightest hint of apology. It was pointless — a point that Kaine himself made about an hour into this exercise in futility.

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Mike Pence just revealed the core weakness of Trump's candidacy

    Mike Pence put on a reasonably strong debate performance this week -- stronger, in key ways, than that of Tim Kaine. But in so doing, Pence inadvertently revealed the fundamental weakness of his running mate's whole candidacy. This weakness is surmountable, and Donald Trump could still win. But right now, it looks more likely that Trump won't surmount it -- and once you get past the noise and spin enveloping Tuesday night's festivities, what you see is that fundamental weakness sitting right there in plain sight once again.

    During the debate, by my count, Tim Kaine reminded the national audience of Trump's attacks on Mexican immigrants no less than five times. He revived Trump's attacks on a Mexican-American judge twice. He criticized Trump's misogynistic quotes twice and quoted Trump's suggestion that women should be punished for abortions once. He blasted Trump's birtherism three times, in one case flatly describing it as bigoted. And he aired Trump's plans for mass deportations five times.

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How to upgrade America's 'Third World' airports

    It's the one opinion that Donald Trump and his opponents seem to share: America's airports are so bad, it's like "they're from a Third World country," as Trump said in the first debate. Vice President Joe Biden used the same phrase to describe New York's LaGuardia two years ago. Much of the flying public seems to roughly agree.

    The sentiment is understandable if you've recently transited through a gleaming airport in Singapore, Dubai or Kuala Lumpur. Where LaGuardia has low-end souvenir shops, grim food courts and cramped concourses, these airports have butterfly gardens, jungle trails and sound-proofed, WiFi-enabled snooze cubes. It's enough to drive a frequent flier to distraction. And it makes you wonder why the world's biggest economy can't keep pace.

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Don't worry, millennial underachievers: It's always been tough to figure out your life

    Stepping into my college library one autumn Sunday, I heard an officer's police radio crackle to life: "Girl missing, left Manhattan dorm to teach class in Brooklyn this morning, never arrived." It took only a few seconds to realize the girl was me.

    The year was 1980, and I was a freshman. I had awoken earlier that morning terrified at the thought of going to my part-time job teaching 12-year-olds about the Holocaust at a Hebrew school in Brooklyn, a position I'd talked myself into in August but was utterly unqualified for. So I decided to skip work.

    That morning, I'd pretended to head to the job, bidding my roommates farewell with a backpack slung over my shoulder. But instead of catching the subway to Brooklyn as I normally did, I walked to a diner and lingered for hours at a scratched Formica table, eating scrambled eggs, sipping free coffee refills from a chipped ceramic mug and completing the easy answers in the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, ones with clues like "________ the Hun."

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A Muslim politician's American dream is real

    Saad Almasmari is ready for another interview. We are seated in a tea shop in Hamtramck, Michigan, which made news a year ago when it elected the nation's first Muslim-majority city council. Across from me, next to Almasmari, is a gracious young Muslim-American student whom I also had expected to meet here. Next to me is an organizer for the Hillary Clinton campaign whom I didn't. Almasmari invited the Clinton operative for the same time and place, figuring he'd kill two appointments with one cup of tea. He's a busy man.

    Hamtramck is a small town carrying more fears and hopes than its two square miles really ought to shoulder. Islamophobes are hoping the hardscrabble city blows up like a Michael Bay blockbuster, thereby proving that Muslims are all treacherous and anti-American. Multiculturalists want to see the city's Bangladeshi, Polish, Yemeni and other communities live in a dreamscape of harmony and prosperity, proving, among other things, that Islamophobes are idiots.

    Almasmari, meanwhile, mostly wants to get ahead.

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A good fairy smites Trump

    Donald Trump, the master spinner of fairy tales, has become the victim of a good fairy. An anonymous source has bestowed on The New York Times strong evidence of how he managed for years to turn huge business losses into legal ways to massively evade payment of federal income taxes.

    A Times reporter received three photocopied pages of Trump's signed 1995 tax return declaring losses of $916 million. They provided the basis by which he may have legally escaped paying as much as $50 million a year in taxes for as many as 18 years.

    The Times, doing due diligence, tracked down the tax accountant who prepared Trump's returns that year. He verified the photocopies' authenticity, as the Republican presidential nominee continued refusing to release his full income tax returns.

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