Archive

February 20th, 2017

Republicans are fiddling while their White House burns

    Losing a national security adviser to scandal within the first month of a new presidency, with Michael Flynn resigning late Monday, isn't just unprecedented; it's one of those events that would have Spock telling Kirk that the readings are off the charts and make no sense.

    Which is also the case with Donald Trump's approval ratings -- they're not just the worst ever at this point, but in territory that's unimaginable had any previous major party nominee won election. Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Walter Mondale -- odds are that had some weird fluke happened and they had won, they would still have been doing much better by that measure than Trump.

    The president himself is beset by up to three separate scandals: One about Russian interference in the U.S. election along with contacts between his campaign and transition team with the Kremlin; one about conflicts of interest and "emoluments"; and perhaps one about the president himself as a security risk.

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It's even worse than Watergate

    We all knew it couldn't last. But nobody expected the Trump administration to fall apart as soon as it has because, no matter how unorthodox his campaign, nobody anticipated the level of ignorance and incompetence Donald Trump would actually bring to the White House.

    As columnist E. J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post, the quandary we all suddenly face is: "What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?" Tough words, but true.

    Consider: Only four weeks into his presidency, Trump has created a constitutional crisis that is worse than Watergate. Nixon's scandal, as serious as it was, only entailed one president ordering a band of criminals to steal documents from the DNC headquarters -- and then lying about.

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One nation, divisible by what scares us most

    It's a dangerous world. The threats are insidious, lurking undetected until it's too late. Left on your own, you won't survive. The government's job is to protect you.

    Many Americans hold some version of this view. But they strongly differ on which threats they fear.

    Red America worries about deliberate human action. Blue America dreads unintended, usually inanimate, threats. Red America focuses mostly on the body politic. Blue America emphasizes the body. In the pre-Trump era, that meant conservatives talked about crime, foreign enemies, and moral decay while liberals emphasized environmental poisons, illness, unwanted pregnancies, and material deprivation. As we'll see, Donald Trump added a twist of his own (and jettisoned the old conservative moral concerns). But the basic people-vs.-things division remains.

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February 19th

Obama preferred verbosity at news conferences; Trump favors brevity

    For the past eight years, a presidential news conference was a chance to hear from Professor Barack Obama, the long-winded lecturer in chief who expounded on domestic politics and international relations with nuance, depth, range and, most of all, a lot of words.

    Under the new administration, brevity is in.

    President Donald Trump, who has carved out a niche online as the tweeter in chief, is willing to go beyond 140 characters while fielding questions from reporters at the White House. But sometimes, it seems, not by much.

    Trump's joint news conferences with foreign leaders are brisker affairs. He is not interested in filibustering answers to run out the clock, the way Obama did, but prefers racing through them in a mix of simplistic declarative sentences, ad-libs and non sequiturs.

    When he does fall back on talking points, as all politicians inevitably do, they are not the kind that come from a briefing book prepared by an aide. Rather, Trump's talking points often appear to spring from his own id and have little or nothing to do with the subject at hand.

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Monopolies look like they're worse than we thought

    Economists are increasingly turning their attention to the problem of monopoly. This doesn't mean literal monopoly, like when one utility company provides all the power in a city. It refers to market concentration in general -- when an industry goes from having 20 players to having only 10, or when the four biggest companies in an industry start taking a bigger and bigger share of sales. This sort of creeping oligopoly acts much like a literal monopoly -- it raises prices, limits market size and tends to make the economy less efficient.

    There's now evidence that market concentration could also be hurting workers, by decreasing the share of national income that they receive. It's probably making inequality worse. I also suspect that creeping monopoly will prove to be one of the main reasons for decreasing business dynamism. And it could even be a contributor to slow productivity growth. In other words, many of the diseases in our economy can probably be traced, at least in part, to the problem of market concentration. And it's getting worse.

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Drip, Drip, Drip

    Every day there is a fresh outrage emerging from the murky bog of the Donald Trump administration.

    Every day there is a new round of questions and a new set of concerns that raise anxieties and lower trust.

    Every day it becomes ever more clear that it is right and just to doubt the legitimacy of this regime and all that flows from it.

    The latest round involves the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who this week was forced to resign following disclosures about his communications with the Russian ambassador on the same day that then-President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Russia for its interference in our election to help Trump and damage Hillary Clinton.

    The official reason given for requesting Flynn’s resignation was, according to the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer: “The president was very concerned that Gen. Flynn had misled the vice president and others.”

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Donald Trump has put America in legal hell

    President Donald Trump's attack on the federal judiciary last week came off to many as just the latest in his pattern of insults du jour, lobbed against anyone daring to defy the White House's designs. The outcry, from congressional Democrats, law professors, and even, if Sen. Richard Blumenthal is to be believed, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, was predictable. Gorsuch reportedly called the president's remarks "demoralizing" and "disheartening."

    Underlying the ritual furor, though, is a set of deeper concerns. Constitutional experts worry that the president's comments reveal an authoritarian chief executive who may prove unwilling to be checked or balanced by the judiciary. By scorning norms of comity and respect for a coequal branch of government, Trump's comments also strike at the bedrock of America's global leadership, which is grounded in the rule of law.

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Dear White People: Don't be snowflakes

    Everybody loves free speech, it seems -- and just about everybody also knows someone who they wish would just hush up.

    That's an old saying that I just made up. It came to mind amid some of the protests that have been busting out all over Donald Trump's America.

    Back in the 1960s, progressive college students campaigned for free speech. Today we see a new generation of college students and faculty who seem to be campaigning just as passionately to restrict speech -- as long as it is somebody else's.

    Conservatives have made hay for decades out of this censoring impulse, especially when they think it is only found on the left.

    An exquisite example is provided by Milo Yiannopoulos, author, public speaker and senior editor at the conservative Breitbart news sites.

    I almost felt sorry for Yiannopoulos when his speaking engagement sponsored by the College Republicans club at the University of California, Berkeley, was cancelled after peaceful protests turned into a riot.

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As a Christian, I defended Obamacare. But I really support single-payer insurance.

    A video of me questioning Rep. Diane Black, R-Tennessee, about how her party will replace the Affordable Care Act went viral last Friday. I had gone to her town hall meeting on Thursday near my home to ask what the poor and sick would do once they're left without the law's protections. The next night, I had the really weird experience of seeing myself on national television, and the even weirder experience of hearing and reading other people's interpretation of my own words. My town hall question has been described as a "Christian defense of Obamacare" and "an impassioned case for the ACA's individual mandate."

    But the truth is that I do not actually believe that the ACA is the best way to insure people. In fact, I am ashamed and afraid that this video might have done more harm than good. In my view, Christians shouldn't be satisfied with health-care policy that leaves anyone out, especially those who need care most but can afford it least. Christians should support a universal, single-payer system.

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American Hellscape

    In case you were wondering what Republicans have planned for the environment, it’s now clear.

    Some of the ideas aren’t new — like mining and logging our national forests. Or giving the green light to controversial oil pipelines like the Dakota Access Pipeline, which threatens the drinking water and sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

    But apparently those ideas came from a more restrained Republican Party which still had to get its laws signed by Democrat Barack Obama. Now the gloves are off.

    Why just mine and log our national forests when you can also drill for oil in our national parks, as one bill would allow? Parks at risk under the bill include the Everglades, the Grand Tetons, and the Flight 93 National Memorial.

    Or, heck, just get rid of the whole Environmental Protection Agency. I mean, what was that hippie Richard Nixon doing establishing it in the first place? Sure, the Cuyahoga River was so polluted with industrial waste that it literally caught fire — but what do we need rivers for, anyway?

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