Archive

January 12th, 2017

Trump will find worthy foe in pugnacious Schumer

    Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is exceptionally smart, a prodigious worker with keen political instincts who sometimes can be a bit of a bully. The perfect Democrat, it would seem, to lead the opposition against President Donald Trump.

    That is, if he curbs his penchant to be transactional and is tough and skillful enough to hold together a diverse Senate caucus.

    The 66-year-old New Yorker, a lifetime politician, is taking over from Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who is retiring. Schumer is achieving a long-held ambition, though he wanted to be majority leader. Still, with 48 members and the reality that it usually takes 60 votes for legislation to clear the Senate, Schumer may be the most important Democrat in Washington.

    He probably won't exactly emulate the approach taken eight years ago by his Republican counterpart, Senator Mitch McConnell, who quietly tried to thwart the new president at every step and in every way.

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The art of journalism in the Age of Trump

    The approaching presidency of Donald Trump poses daunting challenges for the journalists covering him, not merely because he has described them as dishonest, low-life scum or because of anxiety over whether the new administration will adhere to basic norms of access, such as daily briefings and regular news conferences.

    The president-elect's behavior presents fundamental questions, recurring daily if not hourly, about the best way to serve our audience. These are technical issues of craft, ordinarily of interest only to journalists themselves. In the Age of Trump, they are imbued with real-world consequences.

    Should news organizations depart from customary restraint and label Trump's falsehoods as outright lies? Should the media treat Trump tweetstorms with the rapt attention devoted to more traditional presidential statements, or refrain from such reflexive coverage in order to avoid being distracted, perhaps intentionally, from more important matters?

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More productivity? Be careful what you wish for

    One of the most significant economic debates over the last decade has been over the nature of the U.S. productivity slowdown and what might someday end it.

    Improving overall productivity requires individual workers to produce more. That's usually made possible by automation or other technological advances, and commentators have settled on their favorite candidates for the next big breakthrough, from drones to self-driving vehicles to the editing of genetic codes. The sad reality, however, is that the next breakthrough already may be here, aiding the manufacture of the addictive drugs that are ruining or ending so many lives.

    Whether we like it or not, there is now a far greater variety of calming, stimulating and depressing substances, and most of them are more readily available. In these areas, productivity has not stood still, and the underlying lesson is that a productivity acceleration can be a dangerous thing.

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It's time to retire the tainted term 'fake news'

    When Jim DeMint wanted to dis a TV interviewer's suggestion that Obamacare has merits as well as flaws, the former senator and tea partyer used a handy putdown: "You can put all that under the category of fake news."

    When conspiracy theorist Alex Jones wanted to deny a CNN report that Ivanka Trump would take over the East Wing offices traditionally occupied by the first lady, he used the same label.

    And when a writer for an arch-conservative website needed a putdown for ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, he reached for the obvious: "fake-news propagandist."

    Fake news has a real meaning - deliberately constructed lies, in the form of news articles, meant to mislead the public. For example: The one falsely claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump, or the one alleging without basis that Hillary Clinton would be indicted just before the election.

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House Republicans' Worst Week in Washington

    It might have sounded like a good idea.

    The Office of Congressional Ethics - created amid the tumult and controversy of the aughts in Congress - had run amok! Members of Congress - Republicans and Democrats! - were being accused of ethical wrongdoing with scant evidence! Something had to be done!

    So, last Sunday night, House Republicans voted to gut the OCE, and, in so doing, ensured that their first step as the party with full control over political Washington would be directly into quicksand.

    The move, which was led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Va., and championed by fellow Republicans Sam Graves, Mo., Peter Roskam, Ill., and Blake Farenthold, Texas - all three of whom had, to their minds, been victimized by the OCE - sparked an immediate backlash. Democrats slammed Republicans for holding a closed-door, Sunday night vote that eliminated an office aimed at keeping lawmakers in line. Advocates for transparency and good government piled on.

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Confronting North Korea: Talk first, get tough later

    In 1994, when I was secretary of defense, we came perilously close to a second Korean War because of North Korea's nuclear program. Today we are again approaching a crisis with North Korea, and again the cause is its nuclear program. A war in 1994 would have been terrible, but we were able to avoid it with diplomacy (the Agreed Framework, from which the United States and North Korea withdrew in 2002). Today a war would be no less than catastrophic, possibly destroying the societies of both Koreas as well as causing large casualties in the U.S. military. It is imperative that we employ creative diplomacy to avert such a catastrophe.

    The pressure boiled over this past week when Kim Jong Un announced plans to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States. In reply, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted, "It won't happen," seemingly suggesting he might take military action against North Korea's missile program.

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Chronicle of another sabotaged U.S. election

    The current uproar over the Russian hacking into the 2016 presidential election is not the first, nor the most consequential, foreign intrusion into American politics.

    In the 1968 election, agents of Richard Nixon, with his knowledge and acquiescence, encouraged South Vietnam leaders to boycott Paris peace talks with the North Vietnamese. They promised that the Saigon regime would get a better deal from President Nixon than from his Democratic rival, Hubert Humphrey. The South Vietnamese stayed away and Nixon was narrowly elected.

    This deal, which retiring President Lyndon Johnson called an act of "treason," violated the Logan Act barring such intervention in foreign policy. A file called the "X" envelope, compiled four years later by LBJ adviser Walt Rostow, offered more evidence that the Nixon team had repeatedly pressured South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to boycott the talks, and this did help Nixon win.

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America's 'democratic faith' dims overseas

    "We are following a foreign policy which is the outward expression of the democratic faith we profess. We are doing what we can to encourage free states and free peoples throughout the world, to aid the suffering and afflicted in foreign lands, and to strengthen democratic nations against aggression."

- Harry S. Truman, State of the Union, 1949

 

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America's corporations need a new reason to be

    Publicly traded corporations are at something of an impasse in the U.S. Their numbers are shrinking: from 7,507 in 1997 to not much more than 3,500 now. Their ranks are getting top-heavy, with most profits and cash flow accruing to a shrinking group of giants.

    That information is from a paper published in November, "Is the American Public Corporation in Trouble?" by finance professors Kathleen Kahle of the University of Arizona and Rene M. Stulz of Ohio State University. Their conclusion: Yeah, it is.

    "As a whole, public firms appear to lack ambition, proper incentives, or opportunities. They are returning capital to investors and hoarding cash rather than raising funds to invest more."

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A kidnapping reopens our racial wounds -- if we let it

    It didn't take long for the emails to arrive, as I expected.

    "Chicago hate crime today against Trump!" said one. "Let's see your column justify that one."

    He was writing about the big news of the day, the "Facebook torture case," as some called it. It involved the kidnaping and torture -- streamed live on Facebook -- of a white teenager with special needs, allegedly by two 18-year-old black men and two black sisters, aged 18 and 24.

    The four suspects were charged Thursday with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and a hate crime.

    Justify? Why would I want to "justify" such barbaric bullying?

    Why would I want to excuse the barbarism that compelled the youths in that video to laugh lustily as they drank alcohol, smoked blunts, cut out a piece of their victim's scalp and force him to drink water from a toilet bowl?

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