Archive

February 14th, 2017

Bannon's right. The media is the 'opposition.'

    Stephen Bannon, the White House strategist, roving provocateur and now foreign policy guru for President Donald Trump, stirred up a hornet's nest recently when he called the national media "the opposition party."

    Mainstream media organizations howled in protest at Bannon's mischaracterization of their role and pledged anew their dedication to fairness, truth and accuracy. As they should.

    But I suggest they also take a deep breath - and eagerly embrace Bannon's (and subsequently Trump's) description of the media's mandate in these deeply troubled times for American democracy. Not the "party" part, of course. But being an independent "opposition" - an outside check on abuses of power by government and by other public and private institutions - is exactly what the Founding Fathers had in mind for the feisty, boisterous scribes and pamphleteers of their time. It's just what the media should do, and what the country needs, today.

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Authoritarian Bumbling

    The real story of the Trump administration to date isn’t about any one policy. It’s about Trump and a small group of insiders throwing their weight around — and incompetently at that.

    That should concern everyone who cares about the Constitution and the rule of law — but especially Republicans.

    After all, if you like Trump’s agenda, don’t you want him to achieve it in a way that’s effective and legal?

    I personally can’t imagine a bigger bummer than finally getting a president who promises to do everything I want, only to have those policies overturned by our courts or implemented poorly.

    Take the Muslim ban, for example. Putting aside whether or not you agree with it (and I certainly don’t), the way it was written and enacted says a lot about how Trump is operating so far.

    Recall that Trump has at hand any number of lawyers who could have checked the legality of his executive orders and helped him draft them in a way that would stand up in court.

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Who benefits from Bannon's economic nationalism?

    The Trump administration's efforts to implement extreme security policies that harm American interests and values have hit a wall of institutional and popular opposition. On Russia, the Trump administration is already coping with congressional pushback on any efforts to pursue an overly friendly approach.

    So it is worth asking: What are the areas of international relations where the Trump administration faces less serious resistance? And what will happen there? I think the answer lies in foreign economic policy - for now.

    The Trump administration has faced few impediments on implementing its trade agenda. To be fair, that's because it hasn't done that much as of yet. The one concrete action is that Trump withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership, leading to . . . hosannas from Senate Democrats. Not much else has happened on this front beyond a lot of rhetoric about tariffs and border adjustment taxes.

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February 13th

What American liberals can learn from the anti-Nazi resistance

    The left is struggling to define a strategy of resistance against the radical agenda of Donald Trump and his Cabinet. Some are calling for the adoption of tea party-style tactics of total obstruction. Congressional Democrats seem to be taking a more pragmatic approach. Since the inauguration, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-New York, has pledged that his caucus is ready to work with the Trump administration on policies that align with Democratic values.

    Twentieth-century German history provides a useful perspective. While comparisons between Trump's America and Adolf Hitler's Germany should be made cautiously, we can learn something from the anti-Nazi resistance: The left should not only be fighting extreme measures coming from the regime but also peeling off conservatives to create an anti-Trump coalition.

    Unfortunately, the German example also shows that such coalitions can require painful compromises on core values -- precisely the kind of compromises Democrats currently appear unwilling to make. More than anything, the analogy shows that false moves during a resistance can haunt a nation for decades.

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We can't let Trump go down Putin's path

    For reasons still mysterious to me, President Donald Trump continues to praise and defend Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a recent interview with Bill O'Reilly on Fox, President Trump affirmed his respect for Putin. When O'Reilly challenged Trump by calling the Russian president a "killer," Trump defended Putin, whom he has never met, by criticizing the United States: "We've got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country's so innocent?"

    A generous interpretation of this odd, unprecedented defense of Putin is that Trump is praising the Kremlin leader in order to cultivate better relations with Moscow. That is a naive, but tolerable, foreign policy. (U.S. foreign policymakers should pursue concrete national and economic interests, not "better relations," but that discussion is for another day.) A more worrisome interpretation, however, is that Trump admires Putin's policies and ideas, and may even seek to emulate his method of rule. That is unacceptable. Understanding Putin's methods for consolidating autocracy in Russia might help us stop autocratic tendencies in the Trump era now, before it's too late.

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Donald Trump just lost, bigly

    President Donald Trump has been on an 18-month winning streak. That streak ended Thursday night when a federal appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling lifting Trump's travel ban on refugees and all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim states.

    "The Government has taken the position that the President's decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections," read the unanimous ruling of the three judges. "There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy."

    Trump, as is his way, reacted angrily via Twitter: SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!

    The government will probably ask the Supreme Court to intervene in the travel ban.

    But, all caps aside, this is a major setback for not only one of Trump's signature campaign promises but also for his conception of a presidency with nearly unlimited power.

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Trump's trade rejection is a blight for U.S. cotton

    President Donald Trump has made clear he is not in favor of multinational trade agreements such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Last month, he signed an executive order withdrawing the U.S from the negotiations of the TPP, a free-trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

    The TPP would have eliminated foreign taxes in the form of tariffs on the vast majority of U.S. exports of food and agricultural products. Agricultural tariff rates average 19 percent in Japan and 16 percent in Vietnam, though some products have peak tariffs of more than 300 percent, according to the U.S. trade representative.

    There is also the 2010 ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement, which pulls together 10 nations in Southeast Asia. Although the U.S. is not a member, the pact indirectly benefits American cotton farmers and is the catalyst behind the plant's recent surge in price.

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Sessions and the voting rights nightmare

    When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren last week as she was reading Coretta Scott King's 1986 letter denouncing Jeff Sessions, he jogged the memory of another Massachusetts Democrat, Rep. William Keating.

    "I went to bed that evening seeing what was occurring," Keating said in an interview, "and when I woke up in the morning, my mind immediately went back to the outrage of an amendment that had been passed in the House," almost entirely with Republican votes.

    The amendment, introduced by Rep. Dave Schweikert, R-Ariz., and approved on May 9, 2012, was aimed at preventing the Justice Department from using its funds "to bring any action against any state for implementation of a state law requiring voter identification."

    In other words, even if the Department of Justice thought a voter ID law discriminated against African-Americans or Latinos, it could not sue to protect them.

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'Political' Super Bowl ads weren't about politics

    What was the target audience for those commercials that ran during that glorious Super Bowl Sunday night? (I'm from New England.)

    You know the ads I'm talking about -- the ones that were less about selling a product than conveying a sentiment about America. The Budweiser ad that depicted Adolphus Busch immigrating from Germany in the 1850s. ("Go back home," he's told as he walks down the street.) The Coca-Cola commercial, revived from 2014, in which Americans of different nationalities sing "America the Beautiful" in their native languages. The Expedia ad about influencing "narrow minds" and trying to "puncture prejudice." And, of course, the 84 Lumber commercial that tells the story of two illegal immigrants, a mother and a daughter, trying to find their way to the U.S.

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Trump doesn't take kindly to limits on his power and conflicts of interest

    As President Trump is faced with unconstitutionally defying the rulings of the federal judiciary that has blocked his temporary immigration ban, he is being educated on the realities of the rule of law in our American democracy.

    The three members of the Ninth Circuit Court panel who rejected the administration's arguments to reinstate Trump's travel ban on refugees and people from select Muslim countries has persuaded Trump to lash out at the naysaying judges. On Twitter, he warned them they will shoulder the blame if more terrorism occurs in the United States.

    The president's latest temper tantrum no doubt pleases his staunchest supporters. But his criticism of the Judiciary Branch continues his demonstrate his contempt for the most basic pillars of the nation's trilateral separation of governmental powers.

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