Archive

January 14th, 2017

A note of gratitude for Meryl Streep

    Thank you, Meryl Streep.

    I often have been annoyed by Hollywood stars who use award shows to make political statements, although I have made exceptions for those who support causes that I also happen to support. Call me human.

    I would have been delighted by Streep's pitch for press freedom and the Committee to Protect Journalists even if -- full disclosure -- I were not a member of its board.

    Streep, who supported Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, criticized Trump in her speech for mocking a New York Times reporter with a disability. Trump denies that he was mocking the reporter. Yet videotape appears quite clearly to show him entertaining a rally crowd by mocking the reporter.

    Of course, Trump responded to Streep by ignoring her, right? After all, a president-elect has more important things to worry about than the displeasure of a Hollywood star, right? Yes, I'm kidding. After all, we're talking about Donald Trump, long-time believer, as one of his biographers put it, of "counter-punching" even the mildest attack.

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Trump's Twitter tantrums are a message of weakness

    Seriously? Is President-elect Donald Trump so thin-skinned that even criticism from Meryl Streep triggers a nasty, over-the-top response? What kind of crybaby have Americans elected as their leader?

    "One of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood," Trump absurdly called the most acclaimed actress of our time, demonstrating he is no more prepared to become critic in chief than commander in chief.

     Are there more important things to think and write about than Trump's latest Twitter tantrum? Yes and no. Trump threatens to snatch health insurance coverage from millions, enact huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, reverse progress against climate change, destabilize the Western alliance, pick fights with China while cuddling up to Russia -- the big-issues list is long and frightening. But I believe it would be foolish not to examine the personality and the psychological makeup of the man who will soon be in the White House.

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The Dark Magic of Kellyanne Conway

    If you happened to watch CNN on Friday morning, you saw a brutal exchange about Russian hacking between a righteous anchor with steam coming out of his ears and a right-wing operative with ice in her veins.

    “Chris Cuomo bulldozes Kellyanne Conway,” said a headline in one of the many publications so impressed by the encounter that they reported on it.

    If you happened to watch CNN on Monday morning, you saw that Conway was actually back with Cuomo for more.

    Surprised? Then you don’t know the first thing about her.

    She’s no mere mouthpiece, no measly surrogate. She’s more like the David Blaine of political spin, intent on working feats of magic that few others would attempt and surviving situations that would cripple any ordinary mortal. He catches a bullet in his mouth; she makes Donald Trump sound like a humble servant of the common man. He lasts 44 days in a plexiglass case over the Thames; she lasts 40 minutes with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.

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The Fight for Health Care Has Begun

    When House Republicans abandoned their plan to gut an independent ethics office last week, it showed the power of public opinion. It also offered a playbook for Democrats in 2017.

    As soon as news of the original plan broke late last Monday afternoon, social media exploded with outrage. Phone calls poured in to Capitol Hill the next morning. At 10 a.m., Donald Trump distanced himself from the plan, and by midafternoon Republicans had folded.

    We’ve seen this script before, but it has recently come from the political right more often than the left. The Tea Party and its allies managed to alter President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus and 2010 health care law, as well as help block climate, preschool and infrastructure bills.

    Remember, some of those victories came when Republicans didn’t control the White House or Congress. But they had other advantages: a focused message, a strong organization and a whole lot of passion. They influenced policy by striking political fear into members of Congress.

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Meryl Streep called out Donald Trump's bullying and lies. Trump just hit back - with more lies.

    As the debate continues raging among journalists about how aggressively to call out Donald Trump's lies, Monday morning brings a new episode that reminds us why it's so important not to flinch from reckoning with the possibility that conventional journalistic techniques just aren't going to cut it during the Trump era.

    At the Golden Globes ceremony Sunday night, actress Meryl Streep tore into Trump, depicting him as a bully who takes borderline sociopathic pleasure in abusing and belittling others. As Exhibit A, Streep cited Trump's now-infamous mockery of a disabled reporter, Serge F. Kovaleski, and made the case that this sort of public performance sets a tone by example:

    "This instinct to humiliate, when it's modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence."

 

    On Monday morning, Trump responded with a series of tweets:

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Kellyanne Conway's laughable 'look at what's in his heart' defense of Donald Trump

    Kellyanne Conway has a prescription for what ails the media's relationship with President-elect Donald Trump. In defending Trump's months-old mocking of a disabled reporter, Trump's senior adviser said we need to look into Trump's heart.

    "Why don't you believe him? Why is everything taken at face value?" Conway asked CNN's Chris Cuomo while talking about Meryl Streep's criticism of Trump at Sunday's Golden Globes.

    She continued: "You can't give him the benefit of the doubt on this, and he's telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what's come out of his mouth rather than look at what's in his heart."

    The short answer to Conway's question is no, we can't give him the benefit of the doubt because of what's in his heart. We can't do this because the evidence so clearly shows a presidential candidate mocking a reporter's physical disability. But mostly we can't do this because we don't know what's in his heart, and any attempt to figure that out would amount to a value judgment.

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Trump has to rescue Obamacare or admit he's a liar

    It didn't take long. During the first week of 2017, the new Republican Congress has begun efforts to dismantle America's health-care system. Their long-standing goal, consistent with their right-wing ideology, is to take away health insurance from tens of millions of Americans, privatize Medicare, make massive cuts to Medicaid and defund Planned Parenthood. At the same time, in the midst of grotesque and growing income and wealth inequality, they're preparing to allow pharmaceutical companies to increase drug prices and to hand out obscene tax breaks for the top one-tenth of 1 percent.

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January 12th

Killing Obamacare threatens real Americans

    Let's try to get this straight. Donald Trump campaigned as the champion of lower-paid working people who deserve better than they have. Republicans have spent the Obama presidency complaining about high deficits and promising to cut them.

     And whenever liberals put forward major reforms, conservatives say: No, no, you can't make radical changes on the basis of narrow partisan majorities. Let's take it slow and be very careful. They love to cite Thomas Jefferson's dictum, "Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities."

     In moving with reckless speed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are violating every one of these supposed principles. That's because the principle that really matters to them is the one they try to shroud behind happy talk about efficiency and compassion: They want to spend a whole lot less money helping Americans get health coverage. 

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Trump will find worthy foe in pugnacious Schumer

    Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is exceptionally smart, a prodigious worker with keen political instincts who sometimes can be a bit of a bully. The perfect Democrat, it would seem, to lead the opposition against President Donald Trump.

    That is, if he curbs his penchant to be transactional and is tough and skillful enough to hold together a diverse Senate caucus.

    The 66-year-old New Yorker, a lifetime politician, is taking over from Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who is retiring. Schumer is achieving a long-held ambition, though he wanted to be majority leader. Still, with 48 members and the reality that it usually takes 60 votes for legislation to clear the Senate, Schumer may be the most important Democrat in Washington.

    He probably won't exactly emulate the approach taken eight years ago by his Republican counterpart, Senator Mitch McConnell, who quietly tried to thwart the new president at every step and in every way.

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The art of journalism in the Age of Trump

    The approaching presidency of Donald Trump poses daunting challenges for the journalists covering him, not merely because he has described them as dishonest, low-life scum or because of anxiety over whether the new administration will adhere to basic norms of access, such as daily briefings and regular news conferences.

    The president-elect's behavior presents fundamental questions, recurring daily if not hourly, about the best way to serve our audience. These are technical issues of craft, ordinarily of interest only to journalists themselves. In the Age of Trump, they are imbued with real-world consequences.

    Should news organizations depart from customary restraint and label Trump's falsehoods as outright lies? Should the media treat Trump tweetstorms with the rapt attention devoted to more traditional presidential statements, or refrain from such reflexive coverage in order to avoid being distracted, perhaps intentionally, from more important matters?

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