Archive

December 9th

The 'trigger warning' test you can't fail

    "Trigger warnings" on U.S. college campuses have become easy targets for ridicule, but that doesn't seem to have dampened enthusiasm for them. Professors issue these warnings on their syllabuses or during class when the material studied turns to sex, race or violence. To some, this is a reasonable way to protect students who might take offense at what they read or see. To others, the warnings encourage young adults to be overly sensitive victims of political correctness imposed by self-appointed "elites."

    Since this campus craze has spread and become a contentious subject in U.S. politics, let's make sure we know what we're talking about. One way to do that is with a 10-question practice test. Here goes:

    1. Why the word trigger?

    A. The warnings originally applied to representations of gun violence.

    B. Images and stories cause traumatic reactions suddenly and uncontrollably.

    C. To a survivor, troubling content has the fearsome power of a pointed gun.

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The OPEC deal sells fake news for real money

    It's hard to blame Russia for using its propaganda machine to help build a post-fact world when its economy depends on a post-fact market -- the oil one. The market's reaction to news from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries highlights its spurious mechanics.

    Bloomberg News reported recently that Russia as a country made $6 billion just by talking to OPEC about cutting its oil output: News about the negotiations drove up the price. Now, Russia has agreed to a cut by 300,000 barrels per day by January "if technically possible." It looks like a lot -- a quarter of the total cut OPEC members have agreed among themselves -- but then Russia's output increased by 520,000 barrels a day between the end of August and the end of October, reaching an absolute record level. Russia has been making money on the increasing price while growing production -- the best of both worlds thanks to some deft news manipulation and nothing else. Now, even if Russia cuts output by about 2.7 percent of the current level, as it has promised, it will still reap a profit if the price of crude holds at the current level -- about 7 percent higher on Thursday morning than three days before.

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The False Liberator

    Say what you want about Fidel Castro, in Africa he was a liberator. His aid to the South African anti-apartheid struggle will forever be remembered as a grand stroke of moral leadership, in great contrast to American policy.

    That's the theme of various sympathetic postmortems for the Cuban dictator, who died at 90 on Nov. 25.

    Castro's detractors express an "American-centric" view, the New York Times' Pentagon correspondent, Helene Cooper, noted Sunday on "Meet the Press": "The Castro that I grew up knowing as a child growing up in Liberia was a Castro who fought the South African apartheid regime that the United States was propping up."

    To be sure, it would be hard to exercise unchallenged rule over a country for nearly half a century without doing anything admirable. So stipulate that Castro's Cold War-era backing of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, and his army's war against South African troops in nearby Angola, belong on the plus side of history's ledger.

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Should you trust that news story you're reading? Here's how to check

    One of the hottest questions in the aftermath of the 2016 election has been how to fight the plague of fake news. Facebook has alternately evaded and grappled with its role in the crisis. Fake-news writers have explained their motivations. And my Washington Post colleague David Ignatius has looked at the international implications of a wave of falsehoods.

    As much as it's important to push back on what's not true, it's also important to focus on what is trustworthy and to explain why outlets and reporters who continually do a good job amidst this onslaught are worth trusting. After this disorienting election, I reached out to a wide range of friends from all points on the political spectrum to ask what outlets and which writers they had confidence in and to explain the reasons for that confidence.

    Many of the people who responded suggested that they trusted individual writers -- or the judgment of individual people passing along stories -- more than the trusted specific institutions.

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Seduced and Betrayed by Trump

    Donald Trump won the Electoral College (though not the popular vote) on the strength of overwhelming support from working-class whites, who feel left behind by a changing economy and society. And they’re about to get their reward — the same reward that, throughout Trump’s career, has come to everyone who trusted his good intentions. Think Trump University.

    Yes, the white working class is about to be betrayed.

    The evidence of that coming betrayal is obvious in the choice of an array of pro-corporate, anti-labor figures for key positions. In particular, the most important story of the week — seriously, people, stop focusing on Trump Twitter — was the selection of Tom Price, an ardent opponent of Obamacare and advocate of Medicare privatization, as secretary of health and human services. This choice probably means that the Affordable Care Act is doomed — and Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters will be among the biggest losers.

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No one can stop President Trump from using nuclear weapons. That's by design.

    Sometime in the next few weeks, Donald Trump will be briefed on the procedures for how to activate the U.S. nuclear arsenal, if he hasn't already learned about them.

    All year, the prospect of giving the real estate and reality TV mogul the power to launch attacks that would kill millions of people was one of the main reasons his opponents argued against electing him. "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons," Hillary Clinton said in her speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination. Republicans who didn't support Trump -- and even some who did, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio -- also said they didn't think Trump could be trusted with the launch codes.

    Now they're his. When Trump takes office in January, he will have sole authority over more than 7,000 warheads. There is no failsafe. The whole point of U.S. nuclear weapons control is to make sure that the president -- and only the president -- can use them whenever he decides to do so. The only sure way to keep President Trump from launching a nuclear attack, under the system we've had in place since the early Cold War, would have been to elect someone else.

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Donald Trump can be the NRA's agent of chaos

    You have to respect the ambition of the National Rifle Association. The easy course for the NRA in 2016 was to assume a Hillary Clinton presidency, and to graciously accept the bounty that her election foretold. With Clinton in the White House, the gun industry could count on a Clinton boom piggy-backing on the unprecedented Obama sales boom.

    For the NRA, the first woman president represented almost as rich a propaganda bonanza as the first black president. NRA rhetoric had already seamlessly supplanted Obama, previously the greatest threat to human freedom, with Clinton, who NRA leader Wayne LaPierre in May said "attacks our fundamental right to survive and protect ourselves."

    The group had much to gain from a Clinton presidency. With the House in Republican control, there was little Clinton could have realistically achieved on gun regulation. Meanwhile her Supreme Court nominee, like Clinton herself, would have served the NRA well as a readily caricatured super-villain and a spur to both organizing and gun sales.

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Democrats: Skip the civil war

    Democrats are in danger of moving from complacency to panic. Neither is particularly helpful.

    The complacency part is obvious: Until about 9 p.m. Eastern time on Nov. 8, supporters of Hillary Clinton (myself included) were certain that Donald Trump's weaknesses among women, nonwhite voters, and younger Americans would prevent him from becoming president.

    This analysis was half-right: Trump lost the popular vote by more than 2 million. But things went just wrong enough for Clinton in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to give Trump his Electoral College victory. His combined margin in the three states stands at about 100,000. Roughly 134 million votes have been counted nationwide.

    Is pointing to the limits of Trump's victory simply a way of evading the depth of the Democrats' plight? After all, they also failed to take over the U.S. Senate in a year many Republican incumbents looked vulnerable. They picked up a paltry six seats in the House. Add to this the large-scale losses of governorships and state legislatures since the Democrats' recent high point in 2008 and you have the makings of a party-wide nervous breakdown.

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BuzzFeed's hit piece on Chip and Joanna Gaines is dangerous

    I am currently planning my wedding, and I've never been happier. I believe that God brought me and Andy together and that God celebrates our love. I also believe that our marriage will offer a powerful testimony to skeptics that queer love can be God-honoring, and even sacramental.

    I have heard from a few well-meaning Christian friends that they feel they can't attend my ceremony. I think that's silly, I think it's theologically misguided, and it hurts me deeply because it makes it seem as if they care more about abstract principles than me, their friend and family member.

    Still, I do not think these conservatives should be shamed or mocked. I do not think they should be fired. And I certainly do not think they should be the butt of a popular BuzzFeed article.

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Boosting wages for U.S. workers is really hard to do

    For most people, two things are paramount for their economic well-being -- jobs and wages. A lot of discussion goes into how to raise employment, but increasing wages turns out to be a much thornier problem. In countries such as the U.S., where unemployment is already relatively low, leaders like President-elect Donald Trump need to wrestle with this difficult challenge.

    Wages haven't risen strongly in the U.S. for quite some time. One of my favorite measures is real median weekly earnings per full-time employee. This number isn't distorted much by very high earners, inflation or changes in the number of hours worked. It has barely budged during the past three decades, rising just 3.5 percent. Changing that situation, without throwing large numbers of people out of work, is a priority.

    So what raises wages? If you ask most economists, they'll give you a simple answer: productivity. The more a worker produces, the more he or she should be able to charge in exchange for his or her services. For this reason, economists generally recommend education as the main tool for boosting wages.

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