Archive

January 17th, 2017

Jared Kushner's White House job may be legal. But history shows it's a bad idea.

    In May, Hillary Clinton floated a proposal: If she was elected president, she would consider naming Bill Clinton as an economy czar responsible for aiding America's most impoverished communities. The blowback was swift, and within days she had backed off her two-for-one plan.

    Bill Clinton is far better known than Jared Kushner, President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law and newly appointed senior adviser. But the speed with which the Bill Clinton trial balloon burst is suggestive: Naming family members to official administration jobs is not just fraught with ethical land mines and legal hurdles. History shows it's also a recipe for unforeseen headaches and policy controversies, even a disaster waiting to strike an administration.

    Kushner's true problem isn't the wording of the 1967 anti-nepotism law that may or may not bar his appointment. Nor is the ethical dilemmas that he and his wife Ivanka Trump have courted as they haphazardly disentangle themselves from their business holdings and financial connections with foreign governments and corporations.

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How Trump's conspiracy theories about vaccines could harm public health

    President-elect Donald Trump met Tuesday with Robert Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist (and Democratic political scion) who opposes mandatory vaccination laws because he believes in discredited conspiracy theories that immunizations are dangerous. Kennedy told reporters that Trump had asked him to lead a commission on vaccines.

    Though Trump transition aides later said that the decision wasn't final, the meeting was alarming to doctors, epidemiologists and public health experts such as myself. Kennedy is neither a physician nor a scientist; he has been at the forefront of pushing bogus assertions that vaccines cause autism -- they do not -- and he has compared side effects of immunizations to the Holocaust.

    Which makes Tuesday's encounter just the latest indication that the next president might be willing to discard science and medical research on vaccination in favor of debunked myths. There's a real risk that Trump could politicize vaccines, undermining trust in one of the great public health interventions in human history.

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January 16th

'Hillbilly Elegy' Raises Provocative Questions

    "Well, I was drunk the day my mama got out of prison /

    And I went to pick her up in the rain /

    But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck /

    She got runned over by a damned old train."

    -- David Allan Coe

 

    Anybody who can sing the lyrics to what country bad boy David Allan Coe called "the perfect country and western song" probably won't find a whole lot in J.D. Vance's hotly debated, bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" that's real surprising.

    Fans of Jeff Foxworthy's painfully funny "You Might Be a Redneck" comedy act will also find Vance's action-packed childhood familiar. Like this: "If your grandma poured gasoline on grandpa, and lit him on fire for coming home drunk ... you might be a redneck."

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Fossil-fuel bullies vs. Republicans

    Talking to my Senate Republican colleagues about climate change is like talking to prisoners about escaping. The conversations are often private, even furtive. One told me, "Let's keep talking, but you can't let my staff know."

    The dirty secret is that climate change is not really a partisan issue in Congress. Its history has not been partisan, with Republican senators such as John McCain, Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake (as a House member) having introduced climate bills in the past. Climate change became partisan in 2010, shortly after the five Republican-appointed justices of the Supreme Court upended a century of law and precedent to issue the Citizens United decision, which rejected limits on corporate spending on political campaigns. The timing is not a coincidence.

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Judd Apatow Freaking Out Over Donald Trump

    Donald Trump: freak or geek?

    Who better to answer that question than Judd Apatow, the executive producer of “Freaks and Geeks” and the comedian, producer, director and writer who has been in a spiral over the ascent of his fellow TV big shot and Twitter addict?

    “Geek,” he replies.

    I have come to Apatow’s office — decorated with photos of jazz greats and the casts of “Freaks and Geeks” and “Girls” — to see how he’s doing.

    His intense, extended Twitter screed about Trump has me a little concerned. As he tweeted the other day, “How are we supposed to work when all of reality is a freeway chase?”

    I ask him if there’s a danger he could lose himself to the Trump monster.

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Donald Trump and the anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists

    Things are getting down and dirty now. And millions of lives are at stake. I cannot possibly state strongly enough how dangerous it is that President-elect Donald Trump has embraced the notion that vaccination is the cause of autism.

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a celebrated vaccine skeptic, met with Trump on January 10. Speaking to reporters outside Trump Tower in Manhattan after the meeting, Kennedy said he will chair a commission "on vaccine safety and scientific integrity" at Trump's request, because, "we ought to be debating the science."

    (One news organization, the Guardian, later reported that the Trump team denies Kennedy will lead such a commission, but offered no other explanation for why the environmentalist was summoned to meet with the president-elect.)

    Kennedy has long held the position that vaccines are dangerous, and that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine administered to all American children is a likely cause of autism. Like any good conspiracy theorist, Trump has long questioned the wisdom of vaccines. On October 22, 2012, Trump tweeted that vaccines constitute "doctor-inflicted autism."

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A War on Regulations

    The incoming Republican government is waging a war against regulations.

    “For every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated,” Donald Trump promised after the November vote. Since then, Republicans in Congress have voted to give themselves broader authority to strike down federal rules of all kinds.

    The way I see the difference between liberals and conservatives is, in part, in their different approaches to our flawed body of regulations. Liberals think we should keep them and improve them. Conservatives would rather scrap many of them altogether.

    Both approaches confront the same problem: No government run by humans will ever be perfect. Some regulations give us clean drinking water and safe food, whereas others may be outdated or poorly written.

    And when you’re the one on the wrong side of the red tape — the small business owner hindered by regulations written for enormous corporations, or the innocent person wrongfully placed on the No Fly List — your anger and frustration are justified.

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Stumbling block or stepping stone?

    Watching President-elect Donald Trump's falsehood-filled news conference this week, thinking back over his foul, nasty campaign, an election stained with slurs, serial insults, black voter suppression and an outcome influenced by Russia, and looking ahead with dread to his swearing-in Friday as president of the United States of America, a small, quiet voice within asks: "Dear God, are we being punished?"

    It has certainly happened before. We know what you did to the wicked and sinful in Sodom and Gomorrah. And they had it coming.

    Who can forget the punishment you handed out to Ananias and Sapphira for their deception, so aptly described in the Acts of the Apostles? Your wrath against wrongdoing and injustice is amply documented throughout the Scriptures.

    But what have we done that is so unwholesome, so egregious, as to deserve punishment in the form of Trump?

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Where's the GOP's health-care plan?

    For six years, Republicans have voted more than 60 times to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. "Repeal and replace" was a staple of Donald Trump's stump speech. Give us control, Republicans promised, and what Mike Pence promises as the "first order of business" will be repeal and replace.

    Only one problem: There is no plan. Republicans have hundreds of ideas but no replacement plan and no consensus. So now the same politicians who couldn't come up with a serious plan in six years are considering a new idea: repeal now and replace later. Use the arcane rules of a "reconciliation" bill to push through repeal; replacement plan to come later. Promise. Trust us, they say, we'll come up with something in a few months, or a couple of years, with a "few bumps along the way," as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. ("Bumps" is a euphemism for sick Americans losing health care, giving new meaning to the phrase "road kill.")

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Presidents have always needed unwelcome CIA advice

    The Central Intelligence Agency was created 70 years ago to prevent another Pearl Harbor and fight Soviet communism. Since then, almost every U.S. president has had his troubles with the agency. But until now, none picked a fight with the CIA between his election and his inauguration.

    President Donald Trump is going to have to decide how he wants to coexist with his premier spy service. Resentful of its conclusion that the Russian government backed his bid for the White House, Trump is already talking about restructuring it. Like it or not, he'll have to take its views into account.

    History has demonstrated that it's dangerous when the CIA gets it wrong. And that it's even more dangerous when a president disbelieves the agency when it's right.

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