Archive

January 4th, 2016

Cubans have spirit; what they need is money

    In the oldest part of the city, near the famed Parque Central, stands a building that's being restored from top to bottom.

    The project has been under way a long time. Possibly it began before the last time I was here, 21 years ago.

    One can only guess the height of the building because it's been swallowed by vines that now obscure all the scaffolds. From blocks away it looks like a masterpiece of topiary.

    Much of Cuba is like this, exotic and deceptive at a distance. Some things change. Some things remain stuck in a time warp.

    U.S. tourists are here now, practically everywhere you go. Both enchanted and sobered by what they see. They're coming in droves. Thousands upon thousands of Cuban-Americans make the trip, too, visiting family.

    The hotels in Havana are packed. Every charter flight from the States is full. This is new and revolutionary.

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2016: Another chance for me and the country to get it right

    Here we are, another turn of the calendar, another chance at those resolutions.

    I will make the Fitbit more than a stylish bracelet. After I find the Fitbit charger.

    I will Kondo-ize my entire house. After I find the Marie Kondo book telling me how to master the art of decluttering.

    I will pay every one of those speed camera tickets before they double. After I find a way out of the anger loop that consumes me every time I run afoul of a ridiculous speed trap designed not for public safety, but to pad the city's budget.

    And I will find my happy place.

    All these things are reasonable. All doable. I know I can do better if I just try harder.

    The same thing applies to our country. In 2016, we can do better if we just try harder.

    How about we vow, as Americans, to tackle a few collective shortcomings this year?

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Your health records are supposed to be private. They aren't.

    Seven years ago, I sat across from Farrah Fawcett in the living room of her Los Angeles condo. In what would be her last media interview before she died in 2009, the actress described her suspicion that an employee at UCLA Medical Center had shared details of her cancer treatment -- and the setbacks along the way -- with the National Enquirer.

    Whenever she sought treatment there, the tabloids were quick with a story, even if it wasn't right.

    "I actually kept saying for months and months and months, 'This is coming from here,' " Fawcett told me in the summer of 2008. "I was never more sure of anything in my life."

    To prove her theory, Fawcett set up a sting: In May 2007, she withheld news of her cancer's return from nearly all of her relatives and friends. Within days, the story was in the Enquirer. "I couldn't believe how fast it came out," Fawcett said.

    A UCLA employee was caught and charged with selling information to the tabloid. She pleaded guilty but died before she was sentenced.

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When Life Makes Resolutions for You

    Last year, I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions. But it appears that life made them for me.

    Two changes occurred in my life, and I responded. In retrospect, 2015 produced more personal growth than perhaps any other year of my life.

    The first change occurred shortly after New Year’s Day. After months of therapy, I was able to feel my feelings in a more intense, genuine way than ever before.

    In the past, I’d tried to cut myself off from all unpleasant feelings. It’s not fun to feel sadness, anger, or fear — and it’s inconvenient, too. But they don’t go away when you do that. Repressing them isn’t benign at all.

    Now I’ve learned to recognize when I need to take the time to address my own difficult emotions.

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The Nation That Forgot

    Once upon a time this nation comprised of refugees and their descendants was a welcoming mecca for the downtrodden. Admittedly, the welcoming was not so open as we like to think but certainly a long way from today's fear.

    How quickly we forget. In recent years we have recognized the injustice of imprisoning--that really is the correct word for it--those of Japanese descent, citizens by birth, in 1942. There they stayed until the end of World War II with little thought of how they could return to the life they had been forced to leave behind. Compensation or readjustment of any sort, except for the kindness of a few who maintained the property left behind, was not to come until decades later.

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The GOP Candidates Know Nothing about Syria

    Like many political animals, I was glued to the latest Republican presidential debate.

    For the most part, there were no surprises: Donald Trump railed against Muslims, Chris Christie lamented that the NSA can’t intercept Americans’ phone calls and emails as easily as it used to, Ben Carson remained confused about foreign policy, and Carly Fiorina yelled loudly that nobody was paying any attention to her.

    That’s great entertainment. But one ongoing theme bothered me — a lot.

    It seemed to me that none of the Republicans running for president had even the vaguest understanding of what’s happening in Syria.

    I learned during my nearly 15 years of working on the Middle East at the CIA — and after earning my college degree in Middle Eastern Studies — that nothing in that region is easily accomplished. Almost no issues are black and white. Alliances shift constantly, and sometimes politics makes for strange bedfellows.

    Syria is no exception.

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January 3rd

For-Profit Colleges Are Scandal Machines

    The nation’s for-profit, private college industry is a study in horror.

    Start with the fact that it actually calls itself an “industry.” Excuse me, but education is a social investment — not an industrial product.

    Next, this so-called “private” industry depends almost wholly on government money. It generates practically none of its revenue from the free market. Instead, it cons students into taking expensive government-backed loans to invest in educations that seldom deliver increases in their earning potential.

    “For-profit” colleges are just that. They maintain that their obligation isn’t to serve students or society, but to deliver profits to their corporate shareholders. These things are scandal machines, as proven by the latest for-profit college conglomerate to be exposed as a fraud.

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'The Force Awakens' has a perfection problem

          Like pretty much all of the rest of you, my family saw "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" over Christmas week. I emerged from the screening into a lively Internet debate over whether Rey, the main hero, was or was not a "Mary Sue": an author's wish-fulfillment character, perfect in every way, beloved by children, dogs and everyone around her. Plotwise, this character is improbably central to everything -- the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral.

          I will pause here to provide the requisite SPOILER ALERT. We cannot shield your eyes from it forever; at some point, we are going to have to be able to have an adult conversation about this movie. If you have not yet watched the movie and wish to with an unsullied mind, then best to depart this column right now.

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Test Your Savvy About 2016 With a Quiz

    Those of us engaged in columny usually settle for writing about what has already happened. But today, let’s not follow the easy course. Instead, take my quiz of what’s to come in the year ahead and see if we think alike.

    1. At the end of 2016, Donald Trump caused a stir by ...

    A. Preparing for his presidential inauguration by renaming the White House “Trump Palace.”

    B. Raising funds to renovate the Statue of Liberty so that its arms move, waving immigrants away.

    C. Actually, no stir at all. After being crushed in the presidential race, he has been quietly trying to repair business relations with Mexicans, Muslims, women — well, with everybody.

    2. In the Republican presidential race ...

    A. Ted Cruz built on his Iowa caucuses victory to make further gains on Super Tuesday and win the nomination.

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'Shoot first, think later' policing must go

    Before he announced the grand jury's decision regarding the Cleveland police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy McGinty warned that the outcome "will not cheer anyone." He got that right.

    The grand jury would not be indicting officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback. Loehmann claimed he had no choice but to fire at Rice after he saw the lad pull a gun from his belt that turned out to be only a realistic-looking pellet gun.

    "It would be irresponsible and unreasonable if the law required a police officer to wait and see if the gun was real," McGinty said, as he delivered a report that explained what the law demands of police officers who must make split-second decisions when they fear for their lives.

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