Archive

November 18th, 2016

Lies in the Guise of News in the Trump Era

    If you get your news from this newspaper or our rival mainstream news sources, there’s probably a lot you don’t know.

    You may not realize that our Kenyan-born Muslim president was plotting to serve a third term as our illegitimate president, by allowing Hillary Clinton to win and then indicting her; Pope Francis’ endorsement of Donald Trump helped avert the election-rigging.

    You perhaps didn’t know that Clinton is a Satan worshipper at the center of “an international child enslavement and sex ring.” Or that Chelsea Clinton isn’t Bill Clinton’s daughter, but a love child of Hillary’s by another man — or that Bill has his own love child with a black prostitute.

    Oh, the scoops we miss here at The Times!

    None of those items is actually true, of course, but all have been reported by alt-right or fake news websites (the line between them is sometimes blurred). And one takeaway from this astonishing presidential election is that fake news is gaining ground, empowering nuts and undermining our democracy.

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Donald Trump is about to face a rude awakening over Obamacare

    After reiterating his promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, President-elect Donald Trump has indicated that he may keep two of the law's most popular provisions. One is straightforward enough - children up to the age of 26 being allowed to stay on their parents' plan. The other - preventing insurance companies from denying coverage because of preexisting conditions - offers a perfect illustration of why Trump and most of the other Republicans critics of Obamacare don't understand the health insurance market.

    Let's say that in the beautiful new world of "repeal and replace," insurers are required to sell you insurance despite the fact that your kid has a brain tumor. Insurance companies know what to do with that. Their actuaries can calculate that kids with brain tumors typically require (I'm making this number up) about $200,000 a year in medical care. So they'll offer to sell you a policy at an annual premium of $240,000.

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Why this Frenchman plans to resist President Trump - by becoming a U.S. citizen

    It was 20 years ago this fall that I set foot in the United States from Paris. I initially came here to study. One thing led to another, I put deep roots in this country over two decades. My wife is American, and my 8-year-old son was born here.

    Yet, despite all that, I was always reluctant to become a U.S. citizen. It was in part out of a sentimental attachment to France and its storied multi-ethnic soccer team, Les Bleus, and in part because even after 20 years, I still find America's mores and laws somewhat foreign, if not alienating. All this time I told myself that I could pack up and leave at a moment's notice, whenever I was finally fed up with American society's least attractive aspects. Or in the event of an adverse political outcome.

    I confess I entertained such a thought last night upon the unexpected election of Donald Trump to the presidency.

    It was a lie, a fantasy. My life is here. My family is here. My friends are here. I care about them. Whether I like it or not, I belong here.

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Trump's celebrity won him the White House. It could destroy his presidency.

    Even before he honed his message of anger, disaffection and solidarity for the white working class, what powered Donald Trump toward the White House was his celebrity - as a tabloid fixation, billionaire developer, reality-television star, Twitter fiend. He sought fame for its own sake, treating life as a series of brand extensions. A majority of the same American electorate that handed him the presidency believes he is unqualified for the job. Without his constant image-making and bomb-throwing, without his ability to shock and captivate so many audiences on so many platforms, he never could have won the Republican nomination, let alone the White House.

    But now he has, and if he wants to have a chance at an effective presidency, Trump will have to do something that appears contrary to his nature: He will have to cease behaving like a celebrity. Trump must relinquish spectacle, trading it in for the unglamorous business of governing.

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Trump, the conflicts-of-interest president

    When Donald Trump starts work in the Oval Office in January, he will have more potential business and financial conflicts of interest than any other president in U.S. history. How transparently and directly he addresses those conflicts will provide an early look at what kind of a leader he plans to be, and what kind of an administration he plans to run.

    The private company Trump controls and oversees, the Trump Organization, sits atop a lucrative array of real estate holdings, hotels, golf courses and licensing operations -- all of which threw off, perhaps, as much as $557 million in revenue last year. (Trump reported that figure to the Federal Election Commission earlier this year, but it's never been publicly verified by an independent auditor. Trump could help clear up the matter by releasing his tax returns, but he's broken with recent presidential tradition by declining to do so.)

    While most federal officials working in the executive branch can't collect outside business income while serving in the U.S. government, longstanding conflict-of-interest laws exempt the president from that stricture. So a president is free to handle private business from the White House if he or she likes.

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Trump business ties will clash with Constitution

    Donald Trump will face wide-ranging questions about his ethics and integrity from the moment he enters the White House in January.

    The president-elect says he'll turn over his vast financial holdings to his kids. But many doubt a blind trust will insulate him completely, potentially exposing him to conflicts of interest or the appearance of such conflicts on a range of domestic and foreign issues as no president before. During the campaign, Trump branded his opponents with nicknames such as "Lyin Ted" and "Crooked Hillary." Yet more than Ted Cruz or Hillary Clinton, he lied and shrewdly assumed that the media, especially television, would never catch up with him as he moved to the next deception. That should be harder for a president.

    The public will have reason to believe that Trump's "decisions are influenced by personal interests," says Stephen Gillers, an ethics expert and professor at New York University Law School. "The problem is exacerbated because of the number and diversity of his financial interests. It is not just a peanut farm. It is further compounded as the public doesn't know what all these interests are."

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The next attorney general

    The president-elect is at work on identifying appointees for his new administration. Both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani have been floated as possibilities for the role of attorney general. Neither appointment would serve the work we most need at the Justice Department: a restoration of impartiality, fairness, nonpartisanship and thoroughgoing avoidance of conflicts and the appearance of conflict.

    A Christie aide and an appointee have just been convicted in the "Bridgegate" scandal over the closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Christie, who was not himself indicted, claims he did not know about the lane closings, but three people contradicted him under oath: Bridget Kelly, Christie's deputy chief of staff when the closings occurred; Bill Baroni, a top Christie appointee at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; and David Wildstein, a political ally of the governor and also a senior official at the Port Authority at the time of the scandal. According to the New York Times, "It was impossible for even casual trial observers not to discern, from witness after witness, the evident viciousness and grubbiness of the governor and his administration."

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November 17th

Trump will have vast powers. He can thank Democrats for them.

    Liberals are understandably panicked about what Donald Trump can carry out. "We have a president-elect with authoritarian tendencies assuming a presidency that has never been more powerful," Franklin Foer wrote this past week in Slate. Trump will command not only a massive nuclear arsenal and the most robust military in history, but also the ability to wage numerous wars in secret and without congressional authorization; a ubiquitous system of electronic surveillance that can reach most forms of human communication and activity; and countless methods for shielding himself from judicial accountability, congressional oversight and the rule of law - exactly what the Constitution was created to prevent. Trump assumes the presidency "at the peak of its imperial powers," as Foer wrote.

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Stay angry America

    The ascendancy of Donald Trump is surprising, but it is not shocking. How could this have happened? Easily. We are not a society of angels. The poisons that Trump peddles have been loose in the land for a long time. For decades the Republican Party has played with this fire with increasing recklessness, until finally it surrendered to the ravaging flame. There was never anything "unimaginable" about the nasty anti-modern furies that carried this repulsive demagogue to the White House; more precisely, liberals appear to have suffered yet again from a failure of imagination. If our allegiance to the ideals of justice and equality and tolerance leaves us shocked at the persistent vitality of their opposites, then our idealism is parochial and naiive. This is a country of wildly different destinies, and the belief in equality does not make people equal: The unprecedented pace of change, the daze of historical acceleration in which we live, produces a sensation of insecurity, a terrible volatility, that often results in fear. Trump battened off working-class panic and white panic. He practices the politics of panic. He is not the first: There is a tradition of such politics in America. In the wake of its victory, we must attend to its causes. Why all this American panic?

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Should the world get ready for Secretary of State Bolton?

    Who will be America's next secretary of state?

    Several names keep popping up on the list to become the top U.S. diplomat in the wake of Donald Trump's victory Tuesday. They include Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and European history buff; Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Richard Haas, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Dept. official in the George W. Bush administration; and John Bolton, U.N. ambassador under Bush.

    Obviously, any one of these men - all veterans of the D.C. swamp Trump said he would drain - could be tapped. Corker, one Hill staffer says, was called out of a staff meeting to speak with Trump during the president-elect's visit to the Capitol on Wednesday; Haas briefed Trump on foreign policy last summer, though a source familiar with the Trump team says "Haas may be angling for the job, but it's not entirely clear."

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