Archive

March 15th, 2016

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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I have the voting power of 40 Texas Republicans

    I am about to cast the most consequential vote in my youngish inconsequential life. Because of a few accidents of history in this crazypants election cycle, and a weird strategic decision I made five years ago, I am about to hold more power in a national election than I have ever had, or will likely ever have again, or really ever should have.

    And here is how I am going to wield it: I am going to vote for a man I disdain, an empty suit who is the wholly owned subsidiary of a rich old plutocrat; a man who skitters cockroach-like toward whichever position might keep him safe from having to say what he really thinks; a man whose every stated opinion on any social issue fills me with disgust; a man who has debased himself so much in this race that, by his own admission, he has become an embarrassment to his own children.

    That is the man who gets my vote. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.

    Deep breath.

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Donald Trump's Gettysburg Infomercial

    The concept of Donald Trump delivering famous speeches has been tried before, but when it was tried before, he had not gotten up in front of the American people after winning Michigan and Mississippi on Semi-Super Tuesday and delivered an hour-long infomercial for Trump Water, Trump Wine, Trump Steaks and Trump Magazine. He even praised Trump University and Trump Airlines. Meanwhile Hillary Clinton started her speech and ended it and we never cut away once.

    Trump said, in his speech, that he was "more presidential than anybody ever except the great Abe Lincoln." But after seeing a transcript of Trump's Gettysburg Address, I am not sure he needed to stop there.

    Hello America. Hello, Gettysburg!

    I love Pennsylvania. I love it here! Look at this place. How can you not?

    Forty, 50, maybe 60 years ago, some really brilliant, remarkable guys, they got together and said, hey, let's build something. Something great, where people can be equal. And now look. Look what we have. It's wonderful, isn't it?

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Why it's all right that a parent and I view this history book differently

    My most important moment in school, at least in relation to what I do for a living, was when my high school U.S. history teacher, Al Ladendorff, encouraged our class to criticize the textbook.

    I had never heard a teacher say that before. Could I really do it? This led to a life of gleefully pointing out flaws in books, newspapers and television and to happy employment as a Washington Post reporter and columnist.

    Arlington parent Hans Bader, a lawyer who knows what fun it is to challenge authority, is trying to encourage that same kind of critical thinking in his third-grade daughter, and in the rest of us. In a post on the Liberty Unyielding website - "Sugar-coated lies? My daughter's politically correct history textbook" - he decries what he sees as big errors and false analyses in his daughter's widely used history textbook, "Our World Far & Wide," by Joy Masoff.

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Can a moderate left beat a radical right?

    Obama Derangement Syndrome is striking Republicans once again.

    To avoid having to answer for the rise of Donald Trump, they want to hold the man in the White House responsible for the emergence of a demagogic showman who has been the loudest voice challenging the legal right of the winner of two elections to be there.

    Obama picked his words carefully but with some quiet glee when he was asked about this at a joint news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday. "I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things," Obama said, "but being blamed for their primaries and who they're selecting for their party is" -- here he paused, enjoying the moment -- "novel."

    On the contrary, Obama insisted, it was Republicans who had created "an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive" and allowed "the circus we've been seeing to transpire." He urged his opponents to "do some introspection."

    That would be nice, wouldn't it?

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Donald Trump's thuggery

    It's always a good day in middle school when the seventh-graders make it out of the cafeteria without a lunchtime food fight. So we should, I suppose, pause to appreciate the restraint and substance of the latest GOP presidential debate.

    The candidates, most notably mashed-potato-flinger-in-chief Donald Trump, managed to make it through the evening without resort to belittling invective ("little Marco," "lying Ted") or juvenile puffery ("He referred to my hands, if they are small, something else must be small. I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee.")

    Sigh of relief, and credit to CNN moderator Jake Tapper and his colleagues for substantive questions that did not prod the candidates to taunt one another.

    "So far I cannot believe how civil it's been up here," Trump observed at one point in the evening, as if he has not been the chief engine of 2016 campaign incivility.

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March 14th

What Clinton's Wall Street speeches tell us

    Hillary Clinton has sometimes been cast as her husband's opposite. He's a natural; she's calculating. He's a bubbly roue; she's a Methodist scold. He's a slapdash genius; she's a buttoned-down know-it-all. He's indiscriminate and omnivorous; she's discerning and restrained.

    I've never found this twin portrait entirely convincing. Hillary Clinton didn't traipse through the ice of New Hampshire in the winter of 1992 answering embarrassing questions about her marriage because she insists on a tidy, well-ordered life. She did so because she shared her husband's soaring ambition. Maybe not every last morsel of it, yet surely enough to endure more than many spouses would.

    And, of course, Clinton proved her personal ambition later, running for Senate and then for president. Twice.

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