Archive

January 1st, 2017

Netanyahu Makes Trump His Chump

    For those of you confused over the latest fight between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu of Israel, let me make it simple: Barack Obama and John Kerry admire and want to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in the Land of Israel. I have covered this issue my entire adult life and have never met two U.S. leaders more committed to Israel as a Jewish democracy.

    But they are convinced — rightly — that Netanyahu is a leader who is forever dog paddling in the middle of the Rubicon, never ready to cross it. He is unwilling to make any big, hard decision to advance or preserve a two-state solution if that decision in any way risks his leadership of Israel’s right-wing coalition or forces him to confront the Jewish settlers, who relentlessly push Israel deeper and deeper into the West Bank.

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Inside the coming war between the United States and the United Nations

    Even before Donald Trump's inauguration as president, Congress is planning to escalate the clash over the U.N. Security Council's anti-Israel resolution into a full-on conflict between the United States and the United Nations. If Trump embraces the strategy -- and all signals indicate he will -- the battle could become the Trump administration's first confrontation with a major international organization, with consequential but largely unpredictable results.

    Immediately after the Obama administration abstained Friday from a vote to condemn Israeli settlements as illegal, which passed the Security Council by a vote of 14 to 0, Republicans and Democrats alike criticized both the United Nations and the U.S. government for allowing what Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., called "a one-sided, biased resolution." Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee for the State Department and foreign operations, pledged to lead an effort to withhold the U.S. funding that makes up 22 percent of the U.N.'s annual operating budget.

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December 31st, 2016

These coal country voters backed Donald Trump. Now they're worried about losing Obamacare.

    CNN this week aired a terrific segment on people from coal country who voted for Donald Trump - but are now worried that his vow to repeal Obamacare will deprive them of crucial protections that enable them to stay afloat financially. This dovetails with other reporting that suggests a lot of Trump voters may be harmed by repeal of the law.

    Which raises a question: Did voters such as these know they were voting for this? After all, Trump promised countless times throughout the campaign to repeal the Affordable Care Act, didn't he? If they are complaining about this now, don't they have only themselves to blame?

    No. I'm going to argue that, while Trump did repeatedly vow repeal, these voters were absolutely right to conclude that he would not leave them without the sort of federal protections they enjoy under Obamacare. That's because Trump did, in fact, clearly signal to them that this would not happen.

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Immigration is only hope for states that helped Trump

    Donald Trump's appeal in northern industrial states was an economic message of bringing back growth to stagnant communities. He also won in part with a tough line on immigration. Newly released Census data indicate that when it comes to making policy, he'll have to choose between those agendas.

    Much of the blame for the hollowing out of the Midwest has been placed on the decline of manufacturing, but sluggish population growth has played a big role as well. Slower population growth means fewer new households, which means less demand for housing, restaurants, teachers, health-care workers and all other economic activity. While Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin account for 12.4 percent of the U.S. population, in 2016 they accounted for just 1 percent of the country's population growth. Pennsylvania's population actually shrank by over 7,000 people.

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I watched a populist leader rise in Hungary. That's why I'm worried for America.

    Hungary, my country, has in the past half-decade morphed from an exemplary post-Cold War democracy into a populist autocracy. Here are a few eerie parallels that have made it easy for Hungarians to put Donald Trump on their political map: Prime Minister Viktor Orban has depicted migrants as rapists, job-stealers, terrorists and "poison" for the nation, and built a vast fence along Hungary's southern border. The popularity of his nativist agitation has allowed him to easily debunk as unpatriotic or partisan any resistance to his self-styled "illiberal democracy," which he said he modeled after "successful states" such as Russia and Turkey.

    No wonder Orban feted Trump's victory as ending the era of "liberal non-democracy," "the dictatorship of political correctness" and "democracy export." The two consummated their political kinship in a recent phone conversation; Orban is invited to Washington, where, they agreed, both had been treated as "black sheep."

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Does Trump realize there can only be one president at a time?

    One of the hallmarks of our democratic system is its commitment to the peaceful transition of power. This practice comes with two important, linked corollaries that fall under the umbrella that there can be only one president at a time. The first is that the incoming president, especially in the arena of foreign policy, takes care not to trespass on the prerogatives of the incumbent. The second is that the outgoing president, once departed, remains largely mute, giving his successor space to operate unimpeded by post-presidential backseat carping.

    President-elect Donald Trump must have missed this memo. Not bothering to wait for the constitutionally mandated handover, Trump has inserted himself into policy-making, from bullying U.S. manufacturers to barging into foreign affairs, including shaking up U.S.-China policy and intruding into the Obama administration's dealings with Israel at the United Nations.

     This public tussling is as disturbing as it is unprecedented.

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Despite Trump's triumph, there are silver linings all around us

    In a 2015 survey, only 6 percent of Americans said that things in the world are getting better. This is not a surprise. Americans remain deeply pessimistic about the direction of their country and the world. But what if this view fails to account for much evidence to the contrary? What if Americans' failure to know the facts about progress becomes in itself a barrier to further progress?

    That is the message of some recent findings by Our World in Data, an online publication of the University of Oxford. Since 1930, the global rate of extreme poverty has fallen from 75 percent to 10 percent. The literacy rate has increased from 30 percent to 85 percent. Child mortality has been reduced by a factor of 10. Democracy has flourished; colonialism has almost disappeared. Education rates have soared, and population growth has slowed to the point where it could be zero by the end of the century.

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Carrie Fisher's openness about her bipolar disorder motivated me to talk about mine

    Soon after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my late 20s, I remember looking for stories of people who were living successful lives with the condition. I had been through the trauma of losing touch with reality, a symptom of my illness during manic episodes, and needed to find examples of people who could show me that it got better, that I could find stability. Carrie Fisher was one of the first celebrities I learned also had bipolar disorder, and she had found a way to cope: through writing, performing and talking openly about her mental illness. Her openness was inspiring, refreshing and motivated me to start writing about my illness, too.

    What impressed me the most about the way Fisher spoke about the horrific and unpredictable ups and downs of bipolar disorder, and also her battle with drugs and alcohol, was how she did so without shame. She admitted it took her a long time to get to that point, but once she did there was no looking back. Fisher had pride for her struggle. She turned her "issues" into consumable entertainment in the form of books and plays for which she received rave reviews and awards.

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Carrie Fisher gave new hope to geeky girls like me

    I was devastated by the news of Carrie Fisher's passing. Fisher was so many things: a writer, an actor, a script doctor, an author and one of the funniest women out there. She spoke frankly about her struggle with drugs and mental illness, letting people know it was OK to have flaws. She laughed at her own struggles, tweeting in 2011, "If my life wasn't funny it would just be true and that is unacceptable." Part of what she laughed at was the fame she earned playing Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" films. It was not all she was, but the role she played changed everything for me, and for millions of little girls around the world.

    Back in the 1970s, girls didn't have a lot of strong role models in mainstream entertainment. The women we saw in films and on TV were waiting to be rescued or draped artistically over the hero. They were decoration, or prizes to be won. We read books and fairy tales where the only accomplishment of the lead female was to be lovely enough to catch someone's eye. Even the smart ones were smart only until they found a man.

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Want to visit Mars? Start with a new moon mission

    Fifty years ago, the U.S. had the moon to itself. Starting in 1969, when the first of six Apollo missions touched down, it seemed likely that American astronauts would make a long-term home on the lunar surface. Instead, the U.S. sent its last manned mission there in 1972, and won't be returning anytime soon. That's a shame: The moon is now a more compelling destination than ever.

    Other countries, seeing new scientific and commercial potential there, have started to fill the exploration gap, including China, Russia and Japan. Perhaps the most ambitious effort is the European Space Agency's "moon village," which is intended to be a permanent international outpost on the lunar surface. In recent weeks, the concept has gained considerable momentum as Europe's science ministers and private space companies have embraced it.

    If the U.S. wants to join them, and resume its historic role as the leader in lunar exploration, it'll need a major shift in priorities.

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