Archive

January 9th, 2017

Reality Politics, Starring Donald Trump

    Two big political events this week. A new Congress started work and “The New Celebrity Apprentice” arrived on TV.

    “Celebrity Apprentice” is now hosted by Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former action movie star who became a governor and is now recycling back into entertainment. He is replacing Donald Trump, a former reality TV star now preparing to move into the White House. Trump’s Cabinet choices include one former governor who transitioned into “Dancing With the Stars” and is now seeking to become secretary of energy.

    On Wednesday we learned that Omarosa Manigault, a former “Apprentice” contestant who’s said she’s done “20-plus reality shows,” is joining the new White House staff.

    I think we are seeing a pattern here. Two major questions:

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Rand Paul prefers his own health-care gimmick

    Sen. Rand Paul, R, is skeptical. He thinks something's fishy about this whole "repeal and replace" thing that Republican congressional leaders have planned for Obamacare, which is basically the name for the multi-trillion-dollar U.S. health-care system and the complex web of insurance rules, subsidies and taxes that enables millions of Americans to obtain health insurance and, as a result, care.

    After Republicans were handed control of Washington in November, their longtime insistence on "repeal and replace" began morphing into "repeal and delay." Politically, Republicans find this easy to justify. First, they are eager to avoid blame for throwing 20 million Americans off of their health insurance, causing some to forgo vital care and, as a consequence, expire prematurely and, worst case, publicly. Second, they have never actually had a replacement policy, do not now have a replacement policy and, given ideological and cost constraints, are highly unlikely ever to have a replacement policy.

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Coping with the Russian hacking hangover

    Donald Trump was quick to agree with President Vladimir Putin that alleged Russian hacking into the American presidential election was overblown and irrelevant. It immediately put the president-elect on a collision course with his own U.S. intelligence community, on which he now must rely for key national security decisions when he takes office later this month.

    Trump's promised briefing from the American spymasters of the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies should clear the air. But Trump signaled that he intends to take his time assessing it. "I just want them to be sure, because it's a pretty serious charge and I want them to be sure," he told reporters on New Year's Eve.

    Trump went on to say he knows "a lot about hacking" and that it "is a very hard thing to prove, and I also know things that other people don't know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation," cryptically suggesting he had other information that would justify his doubts. The remark would be in keeping with his reputation of seldom acknowledging being wrong.

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As Obama leaves, battles over his legacy begin

    As President Barack Obama's two terms near an end and we talk of his legacy, we cannot ignore the grand come-together vision of unity he expressed in his 2004 debut on the national stage -- and wonder what happened to it.

    We are not "red states" and "blue states" but "the United States of America," he said to vigorous applause.

    After the divisive election that brought us President-elect Donald Trump, a lot of people have been moved to assert that Obama has made race relations worse. As an African-American who remembers far worse race relations in the country, I disagree. To me, it looks as though a lot of people are merely irritated, whether they realize it or not, that they have to think about race relations at all, and they're taking out their frustrations at Obama.

    In fact, Obama has received considerable criticism from critics to his own left who are frustrated over his lack of programs targeted specifically to underprivileged black Americans.

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Are We Out Of Touch With The 'Real America' Or 'Reality TV' America?

    Following the 2016 election, some readers have accused me of being out of touch with the Real America -- that mythic locale inhabited by people who vote like them and watch the same TV shows they do.

    "Duck Dynasty," for example, a program I watched on an assignment that bears about as close a resemblance to the rural South as "Gomer Pyle" did to the U.S. Marines. Real Americans supposedly love that show, a cornball sitcom about a family of heavily bearded children who get into harmless scrapes involving guns and explosives.

    No thanks. My own children are grown.

    So in an effort to measure my Real America quotient, I recently took a year-end celebrity quiz in the morning newspaper. You know, which celebrities got married, divorced, won awards, had children, got cancelled, excommunicated or pistol-whipped during 2016?

    Just kidding. To my knowledge, no red carpet habitues actually got shunned by the Pope or beaten senseless, although somebody called Kim Kardashian apparently did get robbed of her jewels at gunpoint.

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Why Trump, billionaires won't confront claims over conflicts of interest

    When a billionaire does it, that means that it is not corrupt.

    That seems to be an animating principle of the incoming Trump administration. Although to be fair, in what amounts to a populist touch, this will probably apply to select millionaires as well. At least the ones worth a solid eight figures.

    It comes from the top. We've never had a president with the kind of conflicts of interest that Donald Trump does. And it's not just that he's wealthier than past denizens of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

    It's that other presidents have either sold their assets and had someone else buy them new ones without telling them what they are - an actual blind trust - or only had a vanilla portfolio of Treasury bonds and mutual funds that didn't create any potential for self-dealing.

    They didn't do this because they were required to by law. They're not. They did it because it seemed required by good governance.

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Trump’s Disastrous Example

    Donald Trump rightly reprimanded House Republicans on Tuesday for their move to disembowel the Office of Congressional Ethics, but let’s not be duped or dumb. This was like a crackhead dad fuming at his kids for smoking a little weed.

    Their conduct hardly measured up to his, which obviously encouraged it. When they look at him, here’s what they see: a presidential candidate who broke with decades of precedent by refusing to release his tax returns and thus shine a light on his conflicts of interest. A president-elect who has yet to spell out how he would eliminate those conflicts — and who has, instead, repeatedly reminded reporters and voters that he’s under no explicit legal obligation to eliminate them at all. A plutocrat whose children have toggled back and forth between his government activities and his corporate interests, raising questions about the separation of the two.

    Is it any wonder that House Republicans felt OK about trying to slip free of some of their own ethical shackles, no matter how ugly the optics?

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Joe Scarborough defends schmoozing with Trump as 'the Washington way'

    It started, as so many things do these days, with a tweet.

    The New York Times political reporter Maggie Haberman, covering Donald Trump's New Year's Eve festivities, observed Saturday night that Joe Scarborough and his MSNBC co-host Mika Brzezinski were among the president-elect's Mar-a-Lago revelers.

    Indeed, they were there. Haberman wasn't making a judgment, just reporting. The former CBS reporter Sopan Deb (soon to join the Times) took it further, describing them as "partying" with Trump.

    Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, wasn't having any of it. He shot back at Deb, charging "fake news."

    Under Deb's questioning, Scarborough explained that his and Brzezinski's purpose was professional, not social. The morning-talk duo was just trying to line up an interview with Trump. They were not partying, and, Scarborough later stressed, they were "dramatically underdressed," and he was headed home soon to a quiet night with his kids.

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House Republicans start 2017 on wrong foot

    Did the House Republicans already suffer their first defeat of 2017? Or is their retreat only tactical and temporary?

    After voting on Monday night to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics -- with no advance warning -- they backed off the decision on Tuesday. The office is the independent body established by a new Democratic majority in 2008 in response to multiple scandals in the Republican-majority House.

    From Monday night to Tuesday noon, there was a media and Twitter firestorm, including tweets from President-elect Donald Trump, who opposed the timing of the scuttling of the ethics office, but not the substance of it.

    For some perspective, let's step back and ask: Why should the House have any ethics oversight at all, let alone an independent role? After all, the voters can punish members who disgrace themselves. House members have to run every two years (compared with six years for the Senate). Plenty of politicians who get into trouble have chosen to resign rather than wait for the voters' verdict, while many others have simply chosen not to run for re-election.

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From Hands to Heads to Hearts

    Software has started writing poetry, sports stories and business news. IBM’s Watson is co-writing pop hits. Uber has begun deploying self-driving taxis on real city streets and, last month, Amazon delivered its first package by drone to a customer in rural England.

    Add it all up and you quickly realize that Donald Trump’s election isn’t the only thing disrupting society today. The far more profound disruption is happening in the workplace and in the economy at large, as the relentless march of technology has brought us to a point where machines and software are not just outworking us but starting to outthink us in more and more realms.

    To reflect on this rapid change, I sat down with my teacher and friend Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, which advises companies on leadership and how to build ethical cultures, for his take.

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