Archive

March 29th, 2016

In Brussels, terror in our back yard

    Tuesday morning, I was sitting in my home office in Brussels, working on my latest children's book, when a friend texted: "Holy cow. Preliminary reports indicate one or more explosive devices have gone off at Zaventem airport."

    I immediately looked out the window at my children's Belgian school. It's barely 100 yards away, and every day, rain or shine, the children enjoy a full hour of recess plus a 20-minute mid-morning break. One of the luxuries of my life here is that I'm able to hear the happy sounds of children playing on the other side of my garden wall - including my 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter.

    This time, it was a relief to hear quiet, to know that the children were still inside. Police and ambulance sirens began to shriek in the distance, but it was easier than I thought to stay calm - at least at first. The airport is a 10-minute drive from my house. Then another friend texted: "You heard about the explosion at the metro stop?" The Maelbeek metro station is just over a mile away. Now my mouth went dry. What was next? I threw a sweater over my pajama top, pulled on jeans and boots, and ran to the children's school.

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The marketing of Trump

    At his rallies, Donald Trump's supporters carry signs that read, "The Silent Majority Stands with Trump." On Twitter, his supporters invoke the slogan to answer the candidate's critics, such as myself, adding, "Silent No More." Yet it's the other part of the phrase that merits attention. Is there any sense in which Trump's supporters constitute a majority?

    Trump may indeed get to the 1,237 delegates he needs for a majority at the Republican convention. He might even get to a majority of the voters of the Republican Party, though I think that's highly unlikely.

    As of Tuesday's primaries in Arizona and Utah, Trump had secured 37 percent of the vote of the Republican primary electorate, or roughly 7.8 million votes out of approximately 21 million.

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Obama’s Last Tango

    Barack Obama is tangoing into history, and there’s something perfect about that.

    The tango has been described as vertical solitude. And this president is all about vertical solitude.

    Republicans are frothing and comics are tweaking about the baseball diplomacy in Cuba and the tango diplomacy in Argentina, juxtaposed with the terrorist attack and manhunt in Brussels.

    Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore mocked Obama’s “spring break world tour.” He chided the president for doing the wave with Raúl Castro and remarked on Obama’s sinuous, take-charge tango partner. “OK, Republicans, now he’s leading from behind,” Wilmore said. Rush Limbaugh accused the president of flamenco dancing and “doing the tango with women not even his wife.”

    Yes, that outrageous sin of being polite to your foreign hosts at a state dinner.

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I, Cthulhu, endorse Donald Trump

    Note: This came to me in a dream and I have transcribed it as faithfully as possible, as my hair turned slowly white with horror. The drawing above is the most faithful representation I have found of the being that whispered these things to me in an unspeakable and ancient tongue.

 

    I am called by many names.I was before time was. I transcend mere physical space. I am the heir of Azathoth.

    You may know me as Cthulhu.

    Long have I slumbered in the vasty deeps, beyond the reach of time, waiting for the stars to turn. I dream below the waves, a monstrous mind suspended, rapt in thought. I am dead and yet I dream, vile nightmare visions that reach forth their tentacles into the minds of those who dwell upon the shores of fleeting light. In them I preserve my nameless terror.

    But now I feel the call. I feel the movement, the earthquake. The Trump calls me from my slumber.

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Free tuition has been a boon for this boomtown

    Is free college tuition too far-fetched? As president of a community college, I certainly had my doubts up until a few years ago. Grant programs in Minnesota, Tennessee, South Dakota and my own state, North Dakota, have turned doubts into belief.

    The momentum for affordable education has arrived. Democrats and Republicans have expressed growing concern about Americans' ability to earn a college degree without accumulating a crushing debt. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, has pledged to make tuition free at public colleges and universities, while his opponent for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, has proposed to make college more affordable. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, highlighted the problem of college costs by sharing that he recently paid off $100,000 in student loans.

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My Shared Shame: The Media Helped Make Trump

    Those of us in the news media have sometimes blamed Donald Trump’s rise on the Republican Party’s toxic manipulation of racial resentments over the years. But we should also acknowledge another force that empowered Trump: Us.

    I polled a number of journalists and scholars, and there was a broad (though not universal) view that we in the media screwed up. Our first big failing was that television in particular handed Trump the microphone without adequately fact-checking him or rigorously examining his background, in a craven symbiosis that boosted audiences for both.

    “Trump is not just an instant ratings/circulation/clicks gold mine; he’s the motherlode,” Ann Curry, the former “Today” anchor, told me. “He stepped on to the presidential campaign stage precisely at a moment when the media is struggling against deep insecurities about its financial future. The truth is, the media has needed Trump like a crack addict needs a hit.”

    Curry says she’s embarrassed by the unfairness to other Republican candidates, who didn’t get nearly the same airtime.

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Don't believe the NRA hype

    By this point, we're all familiar with the National Rifle Association's political playbook.

    We've seen their leaders misinform and exaggerate before, in debates about legislation, candidates for office and judicial nominees. While their tactics might be tried and true, they typically bear little relationship to the truth.

    Their latest campaign, against Judge Merrick Garland, is no different.

    Garland is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Regarded as the second-highest court in the land, the District of Columbia Circuit has served as a steppingstone to the Supreme Court for former justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February, along with Justices John G. Roberts Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas, among others.

    Here's something else about Garland's résumé. Nothing about it sheds any light whatsoever on how he views guns or the Second Amendment.

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The color of heroin addiction - why war then, treatment now?

    The nation's heroin epidemic found its way from the shadows of America to Capitol Hill on Tuesday as lawmakers and experts struggled with a raging disease that is leaving an increasing number of bodies behind.

    Heroin deaths have almost tripled since 2010, Louis J. Milione, a Drug Enforcement Administration deputy assistant administrator, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. "Today's heroin at the retail level costs less and is more potent than the heroin that DEA encountered two decades ago," he said.

    The surge in overdose deaths is one reason Congress now is examining heroin addiction. Another reason is the complexion of the addicted.

    Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Maryland, who has seen the effects of drug abuse in his Madison Park neighborhood in West Baltimore, pointed to the difference in the way heroin addiction is dealt with now compared with years ago.

    The difference between a war on drugs and drug treatment is like the difference between black and white.

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And now for some good news

    No doubt we all could use some good news about the 2016 election, and, unaccustomed as I am to playing Pollyanna, I've got some.

    For several election cycles now, pundits and political consultants have been fretting that the political system isn't keeping up with how the country is changing demographically. Yet in 2016 - with almost no fuss and no self-consciousness - the presidential race looks like America and then some.

    Consider: The overwhelming Democratic front-runner is a woman, yet all the questions that used to be raised about whether a woman could be president have disappeared. In fact, this particular woman is criticized for many things, but ladylike incompetence on masculine subjects such as missile "throw weights" (a man's issue, according to Ronald Reagan's chief of staff, Donald Regan) would be laughed out of town if any candidate brought them up now. And there's been nothing about baking cookies, either. In 1980 this was still a subject for discussion - and a requirement for first ladies.

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Terrorists and Their Privacy

    One inevitable sequel to a terrorist attack is seeing the ugly mugs of creeps-turned-monsters thrust before us over a multitude of news cycles. Another is a debate over cellphone encryption.

    Encryption is a means of turning information into secret code. Terrorists communicate through encrypted devices to hide their plans and protect the identities of their co-conspirators. For obvious reasons, law enforcement wants to know what's being said and to whom.

    The FBI had been demanding that Apple turn over an encryption key to crack the iPhone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple has refused, arguing that helping the FBI hack Farook's iPhone would put the privacy of other iPhone users in jeopardy. That would be bad for business.

    Apple's case has always been morally and legally flawed, but now it may be moot. That's because on the very day of the terrorist outrage in Brussels, the Justice Department announced it may now be able to get at the information in Farook's iPhone without Apple's input.

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