Archive

December 12th

Identity Politics and a Dad’s Loss

    This fall I sat down in Tulsa, Oklahoma, with a black pastor whose unarmed son, Terence Crutcher, had been shot dead on the street by a white police officer.

    The Rev. Joey Crutcher told me that Terence’s killing was just the latest loss his family had suffered. He had also lost a child to crib death years ago, and another to cancer. In addition, his grandson had been shot dead while driving home from church in a gang hit that was a case of mistaken identity.

    Such heartbreak: Three children and a grandchild dead, each for a different reason. I’ve been thinking of the Crutchers because of the debate raging in the Democratic Party about its future. One faction argues that the left became too focused on “identity politics” — fighting for the rights of Muslims, gays, blacks and Latinos but neglecting themes of economic justice that would appeal to everyone, working-class whites in particular.

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The post-truth era of politics

    Welcome to -- brace yourself for -- the post-truth presidency.

    "Facts are stubborn things," said John Adams in 1770, defending British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre, "and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence."

    Or so we thought, until we elected to the presidency a man consistently heedless of truth and impervious to fact-checking.

    Oxford Dictionaries last month selected post-truth -- "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief" -- as the international word of the year, and for good reason.

    The practice of post-truth -- untrue assertion piled on untrue assertion -- helped get Donald Trump to the White House.  The more untruths he told, the more supporters rewarded him for, as they saw it, telling it like it is.

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China really isn't joking about Taiwan

    There's a reason Donald Trump's impetuous conversation with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has left foreign-policy experts tearing their hair out by the roots. The fussy diplomatic protocols Trump flouted, in this case, are not a mere formality. They are a finely honed coping strategy for Chinese emotions that are very raw and potentially explosive. Although the Chinese reaction has been surprisingly - perhaps hopefully - muted, there is no more sincerely sensitive issue in China, among politicians and the public, than Taiwan.

    Taiwan, or the Republic of China, was founded by the fleeing Kuomintang (KMT or "Nationalist Party"), the modernizing but corrupt, authoritarian, and incompetent rulers of China in the 1930s, after they lost the mainland to the Communist Party, the modernizing but corrupt, authoritarian, and incompetent rulers of China from 1949 to the present. They fled to the conveniently defensible island on China's southern margins, once famous as a haven for pirates and later a Japanese colony.

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The Art of the Scam

    Remember Donald Trump’s tax returns? It was unheard-of for a presidential candidate to refuse to release returns, since doing so strongly suggests that he has something to hide. And at first the Trump campaign offered excuses, claiming that the returns would eventually be made available once an IRS audit was done, or something. But at this point it’s apparent that Trump believed, correctly, that he could violate all the norms, stonewall on even the most basic disclosure, and pay no political price.

    Indeed, it’s clear that Hillary Clinton was in effect punished for her financial transparency, while Trump was rewarded for his practice of revealing nothing about how he makes money.

    And as a result, we can expect radical lack of transparency to be standard operating procedure in the new administration. In fact, it has already started.

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Republicans are preparing a fiscal extravaganza

    Immediately after Inauguration Day, Republicans are planning to use their dominance in Washington to enact the most radical overhaul of spending and taxes in a half-century.

    Soon after the new Congress convenes next month, they plan to repeal some of Obamacare, delighting the right-wing base. The critical element, replacement, would come later. In the more than 6 1/2 years since the Affordable Care Act became law, Republicans have yet to find a consensus on replacement.

    If they get a partial repeal, congressional Republicans might try to cobble together a replacement by the spring. This would be part of a huge bill that might include a big tax cut and major cuts in domestic spending programs, including turning the most important low-income assistance initiatives into block grants to the states, with eventual cutbacks. Look for a lot of fiscal gimmicks and sleight of hand.

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John Glenn survived space and celebrity - and still had a great marriage

    In April 1959, NASA revealed its first spacemen, the Mercury Seven astronauts, during a news conference in Washington, D.C. They became America's first reality stars, their lives documented by Life magazine for a sum of $500,000 a piece. It was an unprecedented time. The new silver-suited space cowboys, who mostly came from military test-pilot backgrounds, became instant sex symbols, and John Glenn was the poster boy.

    A model among the highly competitive group, Glenn even looked like the kid from Mad Magazine, freckle-faced and all-American. But what really set him apart from his fellow astronauts was the special relationship he had with his wife, Annie, even among the tremendous scrutiny and pressures that killed most of the astronauts' marriages.

    When I wrote my book on the astronaut wives, I learned that the Glenns were what NASA wanted all seven astronauts and their wives to be. They had what appeared to be the most solid love story in America, then and up until Thursday, when Glenn died at 95.

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Red states are finally going to be able to turn themselves into poor, unhealthy paradises

    In 2004, the journalist and historian Thomas Frank wrote an insightful and prescient book, "What's the Matter With Kansas?", in which he tried to puzzle out why voters in his native state backed Republicans whose policies undermined their own economic interests.

    Watching the apocalyptic response to Donald Trump victory in the liberal precincts I inhabit, I'm struck by a similar quandary: Why are voters in states that pay a disproportionately large share of federal taxes, and benefit from a disproportionately small share of federal spending, so upset about the prospect of a cut in taxes and federal spending?

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What does it take to get a police officer punished for killing an unarmed black man?

    Watch the video. Walter Scott, unarmed and slow of foot, tries to run away. Police officer Michael Slager calmly fires five rounds into Scott's back. Later, Slager approaches Scott's body, not to give first aid but apparently to plant evidence of a struggle that never took place.

    Now tell me: How cheap is black life in these United States of America?

    A jury in North Charleston, South Carolina, could not agree that Slager committed a crime, forcing the judge in the case to declare a mistrial. Prosecutors quickly announced they will try Slager again. In the optimistic view, this week's stunning result, or non-result, means justice deferred rather than justice denied. I'm trying to be an optimist, but at the moment it's not easy.

    Tell me: What does it take to get a police officer punished for killing an unarmed black man in cold blood?

    The whole thing is on video, people. A passerby named Feidin Santana used his mobile phone to capture Scott's final minutes. An immigrant from the Dominican Republic, Santana gave lengthy testimony at Slager's trial.

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Keith Ellison's coronation as DNC Chair hit a major hurdle this week

    Keith Ellison seemed to be on cruise control in his campaign to be the next head of the Democratic National Committee. The Minnesota Democrat had won endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer for the job and had emerged as the liberal favorite in a party that has become increasingly controlled by its progressive wing in recent years.

    Then this week his past came back to haunt him.

    Ellison has a long history of controversial remarks, many of which he has disavowed. Like the time he compared George W. Bush to Hitler. Or his defense of the Nation of Islam. Or calling his 2012 opponent a "low-life scumbag."

    But, this week another Ellison controversy emerged -- and this from the much-more-recent past.

    In 2010, Ellison gave a speech at a fundraiser hosted by a past president of the Muslim-American Society. In it, he says he wants the "U.S. to be friends with Israel" but adds: "We can't allow another country to treat us like we're their ATM." Then Ellison said this:

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Glenn was a star astronaut who stayed grounded

    John Glenn was the most celebrated American hero of the past 60 years, and he never lost his small-town Midwestern roots.

    The first American to orbit the Earth died Thursday, at 95. In addition to his exploits, he was a four-term U.S. senator and unsuccessful presidential candidate. The decorated pilot in World War II and the Korean War was one of the seven original Mercury astronauts. In 1962, aboard Friendship 7, he circled the globe three times; he went back in space in 1998, when he was 77.

    His first journey was at the height of the Cold War, when the Russians had leaped ahead in space, a source of both national embarrassment and worry over security concerns. Glenn's flight began to reverse these fortunes, and Americans fell in love with his clean-cut charm.

    There was a tumultuous ticker-tape parade in New York in 1962 -- there was another in 1998 -- and he was embraced by President John F. Kennedy, who encouraged him to go into politics.

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