Archive

February 25th, 2017

This is what it's like working in the Trump administration

    To get a sense of how insular and disrespectful, even to its own, the Trump administration has become just 30 days in, consider the case of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

    Tillerson is less empowered on foreign policy matters than the president's son-in-law, who oversees the Middle East; his personal lawyer, who, reports say, was involved in writing a "peace plan" for Russia and Ukraine; and political adviser Stephen Bannon, who has an unprecedented seat on the National Security Council and deep influence on the president's views on a host of foreign and domestic policies.

    Meanwhile, Tillerson, one of the most powerful former chief executives in the world, is reduced to reorganizing the State Department bureaucracy, a worthwhile and substantive initiative, but perhaps better left to a deputy, if he could only hire one without prior White House approval.

    Speculation has already begun on how long before Tillerson tells President Donald Trump that he didn't sign up to be neutered and irrelevant, and he moves on.

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The problem with Donald Trump's blame game

    Presidents have long liked to play the blame game. In his early State of the Union addresses, Ronald Reagan blamed the economy he inherited from Jimmy Carter. Barack Obama, who frequently spoke of the economic crisis unfolding as he took office, was called the "blamer in chief" by conservative media; in mid-2009, the New York Times suggested that tactic would not work for very long, reasoning at some point a president must take responsibility for the problems before him.

    But President Trump has shown unusual range in the number of people and institutions he's targeted in his first weeks in office: He's blamed the Democrats for delaying his Cabinet picks. The "low-life leakers" are a "big problem," Trump tweeted. It was during the Obama administration that "Crimea was TAKEN by Russia," asking "was Obama too soft on Russia?" amid inquiries into his own team's contacts with Russian officials. Massive voter fraud is to blame for him losing the popular vote, Trump has claimed, despite no evidence to support it.

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February 24th

The increasing importance of a Labor Department that understands the threats to workers in the current economy

    American workers got a very big break when Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination for labor secretary.

    Created in 1913, the Labor Department's mission is "to foster, promote, and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees of the United States; improve working conditions; advance opportunities for profitable employment; and assure work-related benefits and rights." The fact that Puzder's career revealed him to be uniquely anti-worker - he opposes minimum wages and overtime pay and prefers machines to workers ("they're always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case") - made him obviously ill-suited for the position.

    What may be less obvious is how the Labor Department pursues its mission, and why the agency and its secretary increasingly matter. So let me try to at least scratch the surface.

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The enduring myth of the U.S. immigration crisis

    With the rise of Donald Trump, anti-immigrant sentiment has reached levels not seen in decades in the U.S. Anger against illegal immigration and fear of refugees, previously confined to the fringes of the Republican base, are now at the center of public dialogue. Among some pundits and intellectuals, the response has been to try to accommodate this anger -- to see immigration as a problem that needs solving.

    I think this is wrong. Yes, I'm in favor of improving the U.S. immigration system -- my proposal is to implement a skills-based system like Canada's. Yes, the current system is suboptimal in a number of ways. But by treating immigration as an urgent problem in need of dramatic policy action, centrists are conceding way too much. The current situation is not an emergency at all.

    Illegal immigration to the U.S. ended a decade ago and, according to the Pew Research Center, has been zero or negative since its peak in 2007:

    About a million undocumented immigrants left the country in the Great Recession. But even after the end of the recession, illegal immigration didn't resume.

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Neil Gorsuch sides with big business, big donors and big bosses

    One of the most important questions for analyzing a potential Supreme Court justice is how he or she understands economic and political power: Who should govern? How should power be distributed in a society? In the case of Neil Gorsuch, the federal appeals judge President Trump has nominated for the high court, the answers are troubling. Gorsuch's record on the bench reveals a man with a strong top-down streak, a preference for concentrated wealth and power. He has consistently been the friend of big business and monopolies at the expense of competition and open markets, and the friend of big donors at the expense of small donors. In disputes between the employee and employer, he sides with the boss.

    How judges interpret antitrust law is especially important in understanding their approach to the relationship between economic and political power. It tells you a lot about what they think counts as fair and free competition between citizens. It also teaches us whether they understand markets as institutions -- formed through rules and subject to public governance -- or instead as some mythic set of natural forces, beyond our control.

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Mr. President, don't break America's promise to 'dreamers'

    I was 7 when my family moved to Texas. I didn't have much say in the matter - my parents decided it would be the best place for me and my sisters to grow up, so we built our lives there.

    I went to school, made friends, studied hard and earned admission to the University of Houston. I worked my way through college and began my career in Texas, a place that had long since become my home.

    Those memories arise every time I meet students enrolled in the federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. These young people were brought to the United States as children, carried along through no decision of their own. They have grown up American - studying and learning in our public schools, celebrating our national holidays, becoming a part of our communities. They've made a lifetime of friends and memories here. This is the only home most of them can remember.

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Milo Is the Mini-Donald

    If you halved Donald Trump’s age, changed his sexual orientation, gave him a British accent and fussed with his hair only a little, you’d end up with a creature much like Milo Yiannopoulos.

    He could be Trump’s lost gay child. In fact, Yiannopoulos, 33, has a habit of referring to Trump, 70, as “Daddy.”

    Trump the father and Yiannopoulos the son are both provocateurs who realize that in this day and age especially, the currency of celebrity isn’t demeaned by the outrageousness and offensiveness through which a person achieves it.

    Both are con men, wrapping themselves in higher causes, though their primary agendas are the advancement of themselves.

    Both believe that audience size equals value — and that having people listen to you is the same as having something worthwhile to say.

    I heard nothing worthwhile during Yiannopoulos’ news conference Tuesday afternoon, though I heard a whole lot of Trump in him, and I wondered — no, shuddered — at a kind of worldview that may well be in ascendance, thanks to its validation by our president.

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Meet the 5 Trump Administrations

    It should be clear by now that there are five different Trump administrations swirling before our eyes — Trump Entertainment, Trump Cleanup, Trump Crazy, Trump GOP and the Essential Trump — and no one can predict which will define this presidency, let alone make a success of it.

    Trump Entertainment shows up every day now in the form of an outrageous “alternative fact,” a pugnacious news conference, a tweet denouncing the news media as “the enemy of the American people” — or as a pep rally in Florida, unconnected to any particular legislative agenda and organized entirely for the purpose of giving the president an ego sugar high.

    The country, though, is getting addicted to Trump Entertainment. It is hard to avert your gaze from a president who will say anything about anything. It’s so unusual, like a flying elephant or a horse that can talk, that you can’t help but stare. But it’s such a waste of energy. I wonder if the Chinese are spending their days this way. I suspect they’ve added another high-speed rail line just since Trump’s election.

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I didn't think I'd ever leave the CIA. But because of Trump, I quit.

    Nearly 15 years ago, I informed my skeptical father that I was pursuing a job with the Central Intelligence Agency. Among his many concerns was that others would never believe I had resigned from the agency when I sought my next job. "Once CIA, always CIA," he said. But that didn't give me pause. This wouldn't be just my first real job, I thought then; it would be my career.

    That changed when I formally resigned last week. Despite working proudly for Republican and Democratic presidents, I reluctantly concluded that I cannot in good faith serve this administration as an intelligence professional.

    This was not a decision I made lightly. I sought out the CIA as a college student, convinced that it was the ideal place to serve my country and put an otherwise abstract international-relations degree to use. I wasn't disappointed.

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Five ways President Trump can avoid the next 'Swedish terror' gaffe

    With cries of "fake news" coming from all sides, schools are stepping up - teaching media literacy to help students distinguish rumor from fact, hoax from reality.

    As President Donald Trump's bizarre suggestion of a recent terrorist attack in Sweden proved last weekend, he needs a crash course.

    We're here to help.

    The Sweden episode was a perfect circle of misinformation, beginning with a report on Fox News on Friday, since challenged, about the dangers of immigration in Sweden. Trump apparently saw that and brought it straight into his campaign-style speech the next day in Florida, in exaggerated form:

    "We've got to keep our country safe. You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden."

    When the reference caused an international ruckus, he capped it off, not by setting the record straight, but by a blame-shifting tweet that, as usual, fingered the media.

    America's longtime ally didn't take it well.

    "Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking?" fumed former prime minister Carl Bildt.

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