Archive

March 26th, 2016

The reality check on Cuba

    President Obama's trip to Cuba later this week, the first by a sitting U.S. president in 88 years, marks a new chapter in U.S.-Cuba relations. This event, in conjunction with the recent announcement that commercial flights to the island will begin this year, has generated a surge of interest in travel to the island among Americans. Much of the excitement around traveling to Cuba can be best captured in a phrase I have been hearing with increasing regularity since relations began to warm: "I want to see Cuba before it changes."

    What "changes," exactly, do people want to avoid seeing when they visit Cuba? The arrival of U.S.-style capitalism? A post-Castro political era? Whatever those changes travelers wish to avoid may be, they stand in stark contrast with the will of the Cuban people, who are very much invested in any change that would bring a brighter future to the island.

    Cuba has long served as a canvas for the projection of American fantasies. This reality has resulted in a lack of appreciation for the complexities of life on the ground for most Cubans and the role of the United States in producing them.

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Outrage And Scandal Is A Media Construct

    Some days I wonder if I'm qualified to express opinions about American politics anymore. See, I'm not particularly angry, and I also doubt that voters in general are any more worked up than usual. Voter outrage is mainly a media trope. Even at Donald Trump rallies, there's a whole lot of sheer entertainment and play-acting.

    Not that make-believe outrage can't have actual, even deadly, results. But does anybody really believe Mexico will pay for Trump's imaginary wall? Not really, but it makes people feel daring to play "let's pretend."

    Sure, it's a presidential election year, and people do get excited. However, people also work themselves into temporary frenzies over the NCAA basketball tournament, but everybody shows up for work after their team loses. Thankfully, for most Americans, politics is a lot more like sports than civil war.

    Back during Bill Clinton's first term, I often suspected that what was really bugging the Rush Limbaugh listeners was that they spent so much time stuck in traffic.

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Remember the 12 steps

    Addiction has long been medicine's unwanted stepchild. Doctors didn't understand it, didn't know how to treat it and felt helpless in the face of the wreckage it brought to their patients' lives. As a result, while providers addressed the consequences of addiction - endocarditis, liver failure, seizures, overdose - they rarely treated the disease itself. That mysterious task has been left to others: counselors, peers in recovery and 12-step programs.

    But this is changing. There is now a general consensus in medicine that addiction is best understood as a chronic disease that can be treated with pharmacological interventions. Providers now have access to an array of medications that reduce cravings and addictive behaviors. As a result, doctors in increasing numbers are seeking training in addiction management and are willing to assume responsibility for treatment of this complicated disease.

    This is all to the good. And yet.

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Mr. Trump goes to Washington

    The visit Monday wasn't quite like Jimmy Stewart's in the famed movie. But Donald Trump's day in D.C. revealed a version of the man different from the bragging, profane hotel tycoon who has become the frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination.

    Temporarily laying aside his red "Make American Great Again" campaign cap and sporting a sedate tie and dark business suit, Trump visited the Washington Post editorial board, his new luxury hotel conversion at the Old Post Office Building and then the AIPAC conference at the massive Verizon Center, which houses the Washington Wizards pro basketball team.

    At each venue, he figuratively stepped out of phone booth without his cape, offering himself in uncommonly modest garb and temperament as a candidate determined to be perceived as presidential, after months of playing the bullying know-it-all.

    His self-confidence remained in place, but the tone was much more conciliatory than what has dominated his assault on the American political system since first declaring his political intentions nearly a year ago.

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March 25th

Will Trump Be Dumped?

    Most people would be upset to be at the center of an agitated national debate about whether they were more like Hitler, Mussolini, Idi Amin, George Wallace or a Marvel villain.

    Not Donald Trump.

    He doesn’t like invidious comparisons, but he’s cool with being called an authoritarian.

    “We need strength in this country,” he told me Friday morning, speaking from his Fifth Avenue office. “We have weak leadership. Hillary is pathetically weak.

    “She got us into Libya and she got us into Benghazi and she’s probably got 40 eggheads sitting around a table telling her what to do, and then she was sleeping when the phone call came in from the ambassador begging for help. You know, the 3 a.m. phone call?”

    I asked the brand baron if he’s concerned that his brand has gone from fun to scary, from glittery New York celebrity to “SNL” skits about him featuring allusions to the KKK and Hitler. He blamed a “disgustingly dishonest” press.

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I was a devout Catholic. Not being able to get birth control shook my faith.

    My religion has always been a big part of my life. I was raised Catholic, received a Catholic education and taught at a religious school for years. My daughter is in Catholic school now. But the church's attempts to block my access to health care have made me feel disillusioned. Frankly, I've lost a great deal of faith in their teachings.

    As a teacher at a religiously affiliated school between 2007 and 2015, my health insurance was managed by the Archdiocese. It didn't cover contraception. We were told that the plan was in line with the beliefs of the church.

    This wasn't a problem for me until 2011, when my husband and I had a baby. We had little money and couldn't afford to have another child. So I wanted to go on birth control. But I couldn't afford to pay for contraceptive care on my own. My doctor advised me to get an IUD, but that would cost nearly $1,000, a staggering expense at a time when I couldn't even afford birth control pills out-of-pocket.

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On Invincible Ignorance

    Remember Paul Ryan? The speaker of the House used to be a media darling, lionized as the epitome of the Serious, Honest Conservative — never mind those of us who actually looked at the numbers in his budgets and concluded that he was a con man. These days, of course, he is overshadowed by the looming Trumpocalypse.

    But while Donald Trump could win the White House — or lose so badly that even our rotten-borough system of congressional districts, which heavily favors the GOP, delivers the House to the Democrats — the odds are that come January, Hillary Clinton will be president, and Ryan still speaker. So I was interested to read what Ryan said in a recent interview with John Harwood. What has he learned from recent events?

    And the answer is, nothing.

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Donald Trump is wicked. As a rabbi, I had to protest his AIPAC speech.

    As a rabbi of an Orthodox congregation in Washington, I am a strong supporter of Israel and of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which lobbies on its behalf here. For more than a decade, I've traveled to Israel at least once a year, and I've been to many AIPAC events over my 17 years as a rabbi.

    So when Donald Trump addressed the group's annual policy conference at the Verizon Center on Monday, I was sitting six rows away from the stage. And as Trump began his speech, I rose from my seat. I spread my tallit over my shoulders, raised my hands up high and declared: "This man is wicked. He inspires racists and bigots. He encourages violence. Do not listen to him." With every cell in my body, I felt the obligation to declare his wickedness to the world.

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Learning Lessons From Outrage

    There is so much we have learned from this painful election season and the rise of a demagogic real estate developer.

    We have learned that a human branding machine who grew up in the shadows and spotlight of New York City’s cutthroat media knows intuitively how to exploit that media.

    We have learned that too many in the media are ever so willing to be exploited if the exploitation is mutual and money is to be made.

    We have learned what conditions make the prime environment for the rise of a demagogue: disaffection, demographic change, the demise of hope and opportunity and the dislocation of traditional power and privilege from automatic inheritance of prosperity.

    We have seen that divisive, dangerous leaders don’t necessarily rise because of stirring oration or a clear and compelling vision. They can be quirky, disarming and idiosyncratic, with a vague, hollow message that says little even as it promises much.

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Counting the ways that Trump is wrong about trade

    Just about everything Donald Trump says about trade is wrong, but his use of trade-deficit numbers is especially so.

    To understand why, consider his attacks on Apple, which he accuses of destroying American jobs by making devices in China.

    The company just unveiled a sleeker, upgraded iPhone that it plans to sell for less than $400. The device was designed and engineered in the U.S. Its software was developed by Apple in the U.S. Many of the phone's parts come from suppliers outside China, including the U.S., Germany, Japan and South Korea.

    But because China assembles and ships iPhones -- adding only about $6.50 in value, according to one study -- government statisticians worldwide register the entire wholesale value of the device as an export from China. The full value of phones destined for the American market count as imports to the U.S. (The figures subtract the value of any U.S.-made components shipped to Foxconn, Apple's assembler, in China).

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