Archive

December 16th

Sick of the news? This is no time to tune out

    In another strange time in American history, the counterculture guru Timothy Leary urged people to "turn on, tune in, drop out."

    Five decades later, it's time for quite a different formula. In the era of fake news causing real trouble, and of the news media under fire for sins both justified and exaggerated, the better advice is this: Tune in and stay that way.

    Since the election of Donald Trump one month ago, and the rush of news that has followed, I've heard many people say they need to take a break from what's happening day-to-day.

    Call it news fatigue. They don't want to hear the latest upsetting developments: For example, the president-elect has nominated for national security adviser a general who pushes conspiracy theories, and a climate change denier to head the EPA. And, separate from the news itself, many people don't trust the media to be an impartial messenger.

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Sincere liberal flattery for right-wing watchdog

    Nobody on the conservative side has hounded Democrats, especially the Clintons, as relentlessly as the self-styled anti-corruption watchdog group Judicial Watch. It has loosed avalanches of lawsuits since its founding in 1994, most recently playing a major role in Hillary Clinton's e-mail controversy. Even its enemies acknowledge its effectiveness; one Clinton-supporting group has charged that Judicial Watch owes its impact to "a history of dishonest activism, promoting conspiracy theories."

    So guess what Democratic activists, led by a prominent Clintonite, are doing? Creating their own version of Judicial Watch to take on Donald Trump.

    You can't miss the irony of liberals copying something they've loudly deplored. Still, their plan could provide an effective counter to the president-elect's aversion to transparency and disdain for established ethical standards.

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December 15th

The disempowered majority

    Starting next month, the United States will have a minority government.

    This assertion flies in the face of just about everything you have read, since the Republicans will control the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. But the American system of representation, invented 229 years ago for 13 states that hugged the Atlantic shore, is more than ever out of tune with how the country's citizens have distributed themselves, across now 50 states and between metropolitan areas and the countryside.

    For the next two and probably four years, a majority of Americans will be governed by politicians largely elected by a minority of us. With the country already sharply divided, this is a problem that can no longer be politely ignored. Worse still, a government put in place by the peculiar workings of an outdated system is threatening to pursue quite radical policies destined to arouse considerable resistance from the disempowered majority.

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The War on Christmas was settled a long time ago. Christmas won.

   "'Merry Christmas' - because Donald Trump is now the president, you can say it again."

    That's how former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski teed it up for Fox News's Sean Hannity on Tuesday night. Just a year ago, then-candidate Donald Trump told supporters, "If I become president, we're all going to be saying 'Merry Christmas' again, that I can tell you." The election, read by these lights, looks like a salvo in the now decades-long, Bill O'Reilly-inspired contretemps known as the War on Christmas. And now we're firmly in that time of year when cable talking heads flip out and blame the forces of politically correct secularism for Target cashiers who greet us with "Happy Holidays" and Starbucks baristas who pour peppermint lattes into agnostic red paper cups.

    The catch: There already was a war on Christmas in the United States. It happened centuries ago, and Christmas won decisively.

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Trump blessed with incompetent opponents

    Donald Trump isn't short of opposition, but much of it has been strikingly ineffective.

    Not only was impotent criticism a big part of what got him elected, but many of his opponents also appear to be slow learners. That seems likely to bolster Trump's support and sustain him in office.

    The president-elect gives every impression of having already taken charge, a posture that his critics validate by treating every half-baked intervention (1,000 jobs "saved" at Carrier) and meaningless expostulation (flag-burners should have their citizenship revoked) as though it were an actual policy. At the hands of his critics, Trump's ridiculous running commentary becomes, "Trump is really shaking things up." In this way, by doing nothing, he's delivering before he's even sworn in.

    Unfortunately for Democrats, whose job it is to oppose the Republican president-elect, Trump shares their disregard for limited government and market forces. This shuts down the strongest lines of criticism and introduces an awkward mismatch between the intensity of the Democrats' loathing of Trump and the substance of their complaints.

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Trump's proposed administration isn't ideologically diverse

    Should Americans worry about the emerging Donald Trump administration? Some say it is a "team of racists" that has emboldened white supremacists and frightened civil rights groups. Others suggest that a promising "team of rivals" is emerging.

    Does it matter? Scholars and policymakers disagree over how much cabinet ministers influence policy. My research finds that, in a crisis, a cabinet's ideological diversity matters a great deal. I've examined how governments in developing democracies behave in such times by studying their tolerance in the face of anti-corruption movements.

    Here's what I've found: Ideologically plural governments are more likely to behave tolerantly. Ideas act as weapons, and no one position can "win out" and undo institutional integrity.

    In other words, what's key to a government that behaves tolerantly isn't sharing a partisan ideology, be it conservative or liberal; rather, it's having internal ideological checks and balances, including administration officials in positions of power who vigorously disagree amongst themselves.

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Whose feminism is this?

    For the past 20 years, I have worked with domestic workers and caregivers to bring dignity and respect to the work of raising children, maintaining households and caring for the elderly.

    This is the family care work that has historically been shouldered by women -- paid and unpaid.

    For the millions of women who work as professional caregivers and domestic workers today, feminism isn't an intellectual exercise. It is a practical matter, with real life implications -- like whether they have equal protection under law; whether their wages are enough to pay the bills and raise their children; or whether their jobs offer the basic dignity of being considered work in our society.

    The domestic workers movement has created a home for some of the most isolated and vulnerable working women in our economy, offering a platform to change the laws and culture that undervalue their contributions and limit their human potential. Women of color and immigrant women built this movement.

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Yes, Kellyanne Conway, you did provide a platform for white supremacy

    "Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform? Are you going to look me in the face and tell me that?"

    That was the incredulous question posed by President-elect Donald Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, to Hillary Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri last week at the Harvard Institute of Politics' quadrennial first-draft-of-history discussion of the general election campaign. And there is no escaping the truth: Conway most definitely did.

    What elicited Conway's defensive and dismissive query was Palmieri's comment that "I am more proud of Hillary Clinton's alt-right speech than any other moment on the campaign trail." So am I. In fact, Clinton's boldness on race was a highlight of her White House bid.

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Trump voters getting what they wished for

    Every day, in almost every way, the voters who cast their ballots for Donald Trump are already getting just what they said they wanted: a loose cannon to "drain the swamp." And never mind the ramifications of his false and harmful off-the-cuff pronouncements.

    His premature introduction of governing-by-Twitter and his snap judgment in making quickie foreign phone calls without benefit of expert diplomatic and policy counsel are early-warning harbingers of a hip-shooting presidency.

    Trump's initial Cabinet and White House staff appointments, his conversations with Republican leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan, and his flirtation with Mitt Romney as his possible secretary of state may send sufficiently mixed signals to the gullible that Trump won't be as unorthodox as they feared.

    His quick decisions to give Cabinet positions at Treasury, Commerce and Education to wealthy business and Wall Street figures may well be enough to keep the once-rebellious old party regulars mollified.

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What Trump didn't learn from the financial crisis

    I'm cautiously optimistic about some of Donald Trump's policy initiatives, such as infrastructure upgrades and immigration reform. On others, such as trade, I'm worried, but less so than most. But on the issue of financial deregulation, I'm very pessimistic.

    The president-elect's transition team has already vowed to dismantle the Dodd-Frank Act, the main financial regulation enacted in the wake of the 2008 crisis. A major part of that would be reducing the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created mainly to shield the public from exploitative lending practices. The Department of Labor's fiduciary rule, which would require financial advisers to put customer interests ahead of their own, is also under threat. This has all been very good news for financial companies, especially the big banks that were the main target of the reforms. Already, financial stocks have soared, powering U.S. stock indexes to record highs.

    There's this old idea that what's good for American companies is good for Americans. But that's not necessarily true, and it's certainly not true in the case of financial companies.

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