Archive

January 2nd, 2017

A two-state solution is the only one

    In recent days, the Obama administration has undertaken two significant actions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue. It refrained from vetoing a resolution at the U.N. Security Council that, among other things, detailed the devastating impact that Israeli settlement expansion is having on the prospects for a two-state peace agreement. And in a landmark speech, Secretary of State John F. Kerry warned that the trend toward a one-state reality is becoming increasingly entrenched, and he set out principles for a lasting peace based on a two-state solution.

    He rightly pointed out that the demise of the two-state option is to nobody's benefit - Israeli, Palestinian or American. We share Kerry's concerns and applaud the Obama administration for having set out the conclusions of its peace efforts in a transparent and compelling manner.

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Hollywood’s Mother-Daughter Fable

    Some years ago I had the privilege of a long evening with Carrie Fisher, starting at her house in Beverly Hills and proceeding to a nearby restaurant, and she talked so expansively — about her memories of “Star Wars,” about her electric shock treatments, about Diet Coke, about everything — that I didn’t come away with just a few impressions of her. I came away with a few hundred.

    Still, one stood out: She was obsessed with the subject of mothering. While giving me a tour of the house, she mentioned again and again that her mother, Debbie Reynolds, lived next door. Did I know that they shared a driveway? And that they saw each other daily? This proximity clearly rattled her, but it reassured her, too. It was equal parts intimidation and consolation — in other words, motherhood itself.

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In 2017, all news will be good (and real), I promise

    We have nearly escaped 2016. Good riddance, pestilent year! Everything that has gone wrong has been your fault.

    2017 will be nothing like that.

    First off, no more celebrities will be allowed to die.

    There will be a moratorium on celebrity death, starting Jan. 1 and continuing through Dec. 31. This goes for dogs, gorillas and pandas as well. In fact, there will be no deaths of any kind.

    Listen, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you may not like this any more than I do, but you are not allowed to leave the house any longer. Neither are you, Betty White. Sit down and stay there. We will send you approved, heart-healthy snacks and a pile of interesting reading material. We are sorry, but it cannot be helped.

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Lessons From the Media’s Failures in Its Year With Trump

    The last year has not been the news media’s finest.

    Despite some outstanding coverage, overall we misled many people into thinking that Donald Trump would never win the Republican nomination, let alone the White House. Too often we followed what glittered, yapped uselessly at everything in sight and didn’t dig hard enough or hold politicians accountable for lies.

    In 2008, the three broadcast networks, in their nightly news programs, devoted over the entire year a total of three hours and 40 minutes to issues reporting (defined as independent coverage of election issues, not arising from candidate statements or debates). In 2016, that plummeted to a grand total of just 36 minutes.

    ABC and NBC had just nine minutes of issues coverage each; CBS had 18 minutes. So ABC and NBC each had less than one minute of issues coverage per month in 2016.

    Those figures come from Andrew Tyndall, whose Tyndall Report monitors the news programs. By Tyndall’s measures, there was zero independent coverage in 2016 on those nightly programs about poverty, climate change or drug addiction.

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Trump keeps saying he wants unity - and keeps showing that it's up to everyone else

    The night he won the presidency, Donald Trump gave a speech that was praised for its magnanimity.

    "Now it's time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together," he said, reading his prepared remarks from the teleprompter.

    "To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It's time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country."

    Those who opposed Trump didn't immediately embrace him. For several nights after he won, protesters marched in opposition to his victory - crowds that had large contingents of young people, women and people of color.

    After the two met in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama recommended that Trump's attempts to unify the country focus on those groups.

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What U.S. Muslims fear from Trump

    President Barack Obama's administration is dismantling a homeland security program created to track immigrants from Muslim-majority countries in an attempt to prevent President-elect Donald Trump from fulfilling his campaign promise to create a Muslim registry. As an American Muslim and human rights advocate, I am hoping against hope that retired Gen. John Kelly, the homeland security secretary nominee, will not reassemble the program.

    Kelly is not an obvious champion of human rights. As head of U.S. Southern Command, Kelly oversaw Guantanamo, where he frequently dismissed human rights concerns. Dozens of people languished in detention without charge, and many were force-fed after going on hunger strikes. But he could be our best hope in the Trump administration.

    While at Southern Command, Kelly invited critiques from human rights groups. Every year, he asked Amnesty International and other organizations to join him for a frank roundtable discussion. After one meeting, he took me aside to explain his point of view and hear me out. Dialogue and decency: In today's hyper-polarized political climate, these are as rare as unicorns.

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Trump's stimulus would strain tight labor market

    The fiscal stimulus plan President-Elect Donald Trump and congressional Republicans hope to pass in 2017 is intended to increase real economic growth. But fiscal stimulus doesn't exactly create growth. It creates demand. Whether demand leads to real growth depends on factors out of the government's control: productivity and the labor force.

    While real growth in the gross domestic product during this economic cycle has been lower than it was in past cycles, the drop in unemployment has surprised people for being as rapid as it has. Even with real GDP growth that has averaged only around 2.1 percent during this recovery since 2010, the unemployment rate has fallen sharply, from a peak of 10.0% in October of 2009 to 4.6% last month. Even in the slowest year of economic growth of this cycle, 2012, with 1.3 percent real GDP growth, the unemployment rate fell 0.6 percent.

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The last act of Obama's Israel drama may be his best

    The Israeli government's settlement policy puts it on the wrong side of history, justice, demography, the law, its own interests - and therefore the interests of its friends and allies. For each of these reasons, Israel should neither be surprised nor outraged at the recent U.N. Security Council resolution condemning those settlements. Nor should they be offended by the U.S. government's policy with respect to that vote, a policy that was well-articulated and defended by Secretary of State John Kerry in an address Wednesday.

    The Obama administration's abstention, which enabled that resolution to pass, should for the same reasons not be seen as a betrayal. Indeed, as a friend of Israel, the United States should have gone further and actively supported Resolution 2334, which passed with 14 votes in favor and just Washington abstaining. The settlements are hurting Israel, and true friends have the courage to tell each other what they need to hear, even when they don't want to hear it.

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Pruning Wall Street's thicket of conflicts

    Financial advisers no longer use telegrams and pneumatic tubes to execute customer orders, but they charge their customers based on an equally outdated and inefficient model: compensation is based on commissions for individual orders. With changes to the market, the law governing financial advisers should also evolve because their roles have changed.

    The need for reform has long been clear. Twenty years ago, a Securities and Exchange Commission task force on compensation recognized that the stockbroker commission structure creates far too many conflicts of interest. Instead of fixing the problem, Congress and financial self-regulators have simply slapped patch after patch on our increasingly outdated Depression-era regulatory infrastructure.

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Please, no more calls to 'drain the swamp.' It's an insult to swamps.

    Recent political discourse in the United States has been, shall we say, lacking in civility. Then again, we're talking about politics, a human endeavor that thrives on conflict between competing groups. But recently I've been dismayed, as an ecologist, by politicians using "swamp" as a derogatory term for our nation's capital and what goes on there. During his campaign and now as president-elect, Donald Trump turned the phrase "drain the swamp" into a rallying cry, pledging to restore "honesty, accountability, and change to Washington." Though his dedication to this principle has been called into question, Trump joins an illustrious list of politicians from both sides of the aisle who have invoked the swamp metaphor, including Ronald Reagan and Nancy Pelosi.

    My extensive experience working in and studying swamps allows me to see just how terrible the analogy is. Given the sea of misinformation we currently find ourselves swimming in, I feel this is as good a time as any to clarify what swamps actually are and why they should be regarded as wonderful and valuable parts of nature rather than objects of derision and hatred.

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