Archive

February 22nd, 2017

The death of a hero

    We buried one of my heroes on Friday. She was my mother-in-law.

    In the case of Helen Boyle, hero might be a form of understatement. Rather than begin with gushing words and bloated adjectives, permit me to recite just a few facts about her 85 years on this earth.

    She lost her father at age 5, and learned of his death from a kid on the street while she was walking home. He looked at her and said, in that mean and matter-of-fact way that kids can muster, "Your father's dead." Helen was shocked and didn't know what to say, so she snapped back, "I know," even though she didn't.

    When she was 38, she gave birth to twins, Neil and Sharon, who died within days of being born. From here, I will let her son Kevin pick up the story.

    "The pain that must've meant for my mother must've been extreme, but she had little time to grieve. More was waiting for her. Just a few weeks later my father went in for an operation for what they thought was an ulcer.

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Trump's hall of mirrors

    President Donald Trump's fake-news pivot isn't subtle. First he benefited from fake news stories during the campaign; then as president-elect and now president, he has constantly used the epithet against mainstream media outlets that dare criticize him.

    Any negative polls, he has proclaimed, are "fake news." So are news stories that put him in a bad light - even if they are corroborated by Trump's own officials, as with reports that Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch termed comments about the judiciary "demoralizing" and "disheartening."

    What's happening here is more than the simple continuation of Trump's well-documented tendency as a candidate to lie flagrantly and refuse to back down. It is more than his narcissistic incapacity to receive bad news.

    It is more dangerous. Trump is deploying a strategy, used by autocrats, designed to completely disorient public perception. He's not just trying to spin the bad news of the day; all politicians do that. He seeks nothing less than to undermine the public's belief that any news can be trusted, that any news is true, that there is any fixed reality.

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Trump ethics means jobs for Washington lawyers

    Norm Eisen likens the appropriate response to President Donald Trump's ethics challenges to the broken-windows theory of crime prevention: If you stop the misdemeanors and minor felonies it might deter the serious stuff.

    Eisen, the ethics czar to President Barack Obama, now is chairing the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington with Richard Painter, the ethics counselor for President George W. Bush. The committee is bipartisan, but its fire is aimed at Trump.

    In less than a month it has filed two lawsuits, five actions or statements, and 37 freedom-of-information demands. These range from accusing Trump of violating the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which forbids presidents from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments, to potential conflicts of interest involving the Trump family, to the lack of transparency involving outside advisers.

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The economy is already pretty great

    President Donald Trump asserts that the U.S. economy is a disaster and that he alone can fix it. The truth is that the U.S. economy is doing better than most Americans realize, and activist attempts to fix what ain't broke are one of the gravest threats to it. What's at stake is not simply that the president is vague or wrong about the facts. It's that bad facts make for bad policy.

    Since the second quarter of 2009, the U.S. economy has expanded consistently for almost eight years, a record that is already better than six of the 10 expansions since the 1950s. In contrast, the previous recovery, starting in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, lasted only six years. The Obama-Trump expansion will soon overtake the Reagan-Bush expansion of the 1980s, making it the third longest of the post-war era.

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The Republican war on deficits is a farce

    Mother Jones's Kevin Drum spotted a great quote from Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, who is concerned about Republican hypocrisy: "I hope we're not going to a place where all of the sudden, because we're in office, we don't think the deficit matters anymore."

    I want to reassure Corker, Drum, and everyone else (and there are a lot of them) who think Republicans care about federal budget deficits only when Democrats are in office. Nope. The truth is that most Republicans never care about federal budget deficits. They do talk about them strategically, so they sound hypocritical. But if you watch what they support, the truth is that most congressional Republicans and their allies flat-out reject the entire notion of budgeting.

    Budget deficits are, of course, the difference between revenues and spending. Call that, I don't know, the technical definition.

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The evidence for vaccine safety is abundant. That will be $100,000, please.

    At what point does a body of evidence become massive enough to count as proof? When has a question been answered enough times that it can be put to rest?

    When it comes to the safety and effectiveness of vaccines, it sometimes seems as though public health advocates must constantly roll the burden of proof toward a mountaintop that never comes into view.

    The latest salvo against vaccinations came courtesy of Robert Kennedy Jr. and Robert De Niro. At a joint appearance this week, Kennedy offered $100,000 to anyone who could turn up a study showing that it is safe to administer vaccines to children and pregnant women, with a specific call out to concerns about mercury. De Niro was there to lend his endorsement and a patina of Oscar-winning gravitas.

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The Bright Side of the Bottom

    There’s a bright side to everything. It’s true that Donald Trump could turn out to be the worst U.S. president ever. But think how happy that’s going to make James Buchanan fans.

    Buchanan’s been on the bottom for 150 years, but his days may be numbered. Sure he sent the country careening into civil war. But he never tweeted about it.

    “We’ve heard that from some visitors,” said Patrick Clarke, director of Buchanan’s home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

    You can’t help thinking about this stuff on Presidents Day weekend. When the guy we’ve got now has scheduled the first big political rally of his 2020 campaign.

    He told you he’d make history! Trump is running for re-election before he can find the bathroom switch in the White House. It’s definitely something to tell the grandchildren. Don’t forget to print out the stories. You can use them as decorations on the wall of that old basement bomb shelter where you’ve secretly been starting to store canned goods and bottled water.

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February 21st

Stop calling Trump an isolationist. What he believes is far more dangerous.

    Under President Trump, American foreign policy is returning, many commentators say, to the isolationism that preceded World War II. This line of interpretation (and often attack) emerged during the election: While Hillary Clinton warned that her opponent would "tear up our alliances," an array of experts supplied such fears with a historical pedigree. As Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass put it, Trump stood for a "new isolationism," a revival of the 1930s dream of "turning away from global engagement."

    The problem is, Trump isn't an isolationist. He is a militarist, something far worse. And calling Trump an isolationist isn't an effective critique.

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Republicans' gerrymandering could help Democrats

    The tea party wave of 2010 cost the Democrats the House, and then Republicans gerrymandered congressional districts to remain in power. But drawing districts with the intention of helping your party is an act of statistical modeling, and all models have assumptions, biases and flaws. A midterm election with an unpopular Republican president will reveal some of the flaws in the Republican Party's gerrymandering. The redrawn lines may even benefit Democrats.

    The House gerrymander that Democrats complain about is mostly a phenomenon in five states -- Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia. President Barack Obama carried all five states in 2008, yet after the 2010 Census, Republicans in those states drew district maps that were very favorable to their party. Those five states have a combined 73 seats in the House -- currently 52 Republicans and 21 Democrats. Those 73 seats are all held by the party favored to hold those districts, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index.

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I sentenced criminals to hundreds more years than I wanted to. I had no choice.

    In the fall of 2007, Steven Fabre appeared in my courtroom. He was a 29-year-old New York native there to plead guilty to a single count of possession with intent to distribute crack. Fabre was a typical, fungible street dealer who found business by approaching cars or pedestrians. He used the proceeds from his sales to feed his own addiction; he'd been using drugs since he was 14. Fabre had a number of convictions for very minor offenses, plus one for selling a small quantity of a controlled substance, for which he received five years of probation when he was 18. He never graduated from high school and had worked only for a short time, stocking his parents' small grocery store.

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