Archive

February 13th, 2017

Sessions and the voting rights nightmare

    When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren last week as she was reading Coretta Scott King's 1986 letter denouncing Jeff Sessions, he jogged the memory of another Massachusetts Democrat, Rep. William Keating.

    "I went to bed that evening seeing what was occurring," Keating said in an interview, "and when I woke up in the morning, my mind immediately went back to the outrage of an amendment that had been passed in the House," almost entirely with Republican votes.

    The amendment, introduced by Rep. Dave Schweikert, R-Ariz., and approved on May 9, 2012, was aimed at preventing the Justice Department from using its funds "to bring any action against any state for implementation of a state law requiring voter identification."

    In other words, even if the Department of Justice thought a voter ID law discriminated against African-Americans or Latinos, it could not sue to protect them.

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'Political' Super Bowl ads weren't about politics

    What was the target audience for those commercials that ran during that glorious Super Bowl Sunday night? (I'm from New England.)

    You know the ads I'm talking about -- the ones that were less about selling a product than conveying a sentiment about America. The Budweiser ad that depicted Adolphus Busch immigrating from Germany in the 1850s. ("Go back home," he's told as he walks down the street.) The Coca-Cola commercial, revived from 2014, in which Americans of different nationalities sing "America the Beautiful" in their native languages. The Expedia ad about influencing "narrow minds" and trying to "puncture prejudice." And, of course, the 84 Lumber commercial that tells the story of two illegal immigrants, a mother and a daughter, trying to find their way to the U.S.

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Trump doesn't take kindly to limits on his power and conflicts of interest

    As President Trump is faced with unconstitutionally defying the rulings of the federal judiciary that has blocked his temporary immigration ban, he is being educated on the realities of the rule of law in our American democracy.

    The three members of the Ninth Circuit Court panel who rejected the administration's arguments to reinstate Trump's travel ban on refugees and people from select Muslim countries has persuaded Trump to lash out at the naysaying judges. On Twitter, he warned them they will shoulder the blame if more terrorism occurs in the United States.

    The president's latest temper tantrum no doubt pleases his staunchest supporters. But his criticism of the Judiciary Branch continues his demonstrate his contempt for the most basic pillars of the nation's trilateral separation of governmental powers.

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Don't expect Trump to make commencement speeches

    In the first two years of his presidency, George W. Bush delivered commencement addresses at Yale, Notre Dame and Ohio State universities. President Barack Obama also spoke at Notre Dame during his first couple of years in office, as well as at Michigan and Carnegie Mellon.

    Don't look for President Donald Trump this spring on these or most other well-known campuses. He would face disruptive protests that would extend beyond the halls of academe.

    The threat of vocal protests limited public appearances for a few other presidents, including Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. But not until they'd been in office for years.

    For Trump, with his proposed immigration ban and penchant for racial, ethnic, sexist and other insults, the phenomenon has occurred almost instantly.

    Unfriendly venues appear to be spreading. Over the weekend there were 3,000 protesters at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida while he was there attending a Red Cross benefit dinner. Last week he canceled an appearance at a Harley-Davidson plant in Milwaukee because of planned demonstrations.

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Michael Flynn's truly horrible week in Washington

    The truth always comes out.

    We (re)learned that lesson for the billionth time last week when The Washington Post reported that national security adviser Michael Flynn had talked with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about economic sanctions that the then-Obama administration had imposed on Russia after its hacking of the 2016 U.S. election.

    That reporting, which emanated from nine intelligence sources, ran directly counter to Flynn's assertion that sanctions had never come up during his various in-person, text and phone conversations with Kislyak during the presidential transition in December. This passage, from The Post's report, is particularly painful:

    "Flynn on Wednesday denied that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, 'No.'

    "On Thursday, Flynn, through his spokesman, backed away from the denial. The spokesman said Flynn 'indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up.'"

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Defunding Planned Parenthood was a disaster in Texas. Congress shouldn't do it nationally.

    The Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are pushing to prevent Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds to pay for contraception and cervical and breast cancer screenings. Funding for the federal Title X program, which provides infrastructure support to a network of nearly 4,000 clinics across the country, could also be in jeopardy.

    Five years ago, we learned in Texas what can happen when efforts to defund Planned Parenthood are carried out: The network of health-care providers falls apart and women lose access to essential preventive services. Now Trump and his allies are poised to wreak the same havoc on the country that the 2011 Republican state legislature imposed on Texas.

    The motivation for the Texas action was the same as the motivation for what Congress plans to do: appeasing groups opposed to legal abortion. But none of these family planning programs pay for abortion care, which the law already prohibits spending federal money on. Defunding Planned Parenthood only reduces access to contraception and other necessary health care. Indeed, by reducing unintended pregnancies, the programs Republicans want to cut Planned Parenthood out of actually reduce the number of abortions.

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Checks and balances have their day in court

    The minutes seem like hours in the Trump administration. Every day brings a fresh deluge of alarming developments. Has it only been three weeks? Can the country survive four years of this?

    The most hopeful sign so far arrived Thursday, with the Latin phrase per curiam: Not only did the federal appeals court reject the Trump administration's highhanded argument that its immigration order was not subject to judicial review, it did so unanimously.

    A judge appointed by President George W. Bush joined two judges appointed by Democratic presidents (Barack Obama and Jimmy Carter) to uphold a decision by a district court judge named by Bush. The appeals court spoke as one. Not as partisans or ideologues but as judges, calmly and convincingly applying the law in State of Washington v. Donald J. Trump.

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Connecting Trump’s Dots

    Every day, the president’s behavior becomes more worrying. One day he demeans a federal judge who challenges him; the next day, without evidence, he accuses the media of hiding illegal voting or acts of terrorism. His lack of respect for institutions and truth pours out so fast, you start to forget how crazy this behavior is for any adult, let alone a president, and just how ugly things will get when we have a real crisis. And crises are baked into this story because of the incoherence of President Donald Trump’s worldview.

    How so? The world today is more interdependent than ever. The globalization of markets, the spread of cellphones, the accelerations in technology and biology, the new mass movements of migrants and the disruptions in the climate are all intertwined and impacting one another. As a result, we need a president who can connect all of these dots and navigate a path that gets the most out of them and cushions the worst.

    But Trump is a dot exploiter, not connector. He made a series of reckless, unconnected promises, not much longer than tweets, to get elected, and now he’s just checking off each one, without thinking through the linkages among them or anticipating second-order effects.

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The Trump administration came here from an alternative universe. It's a fact.

    We are being too uncharitable to the Trump administration.

    We have probably made Sean Spicer cry, and that is not what anyone set out to do.

    There is a much simpler explanation for the list of Secret Media Terrorism Coverups and the Bowling Green Massacre and the "alternative facts" than this idea that somehow, the Trump administration is making up facts or misleading the American people. Nonsense. They are doing the best they can with the facts they have. They simply have come here from an alternative universe.

    It is not their fault that their facts appear to be quite different from what is happening in the universe where most people live. They did not ask to come here. Something went wrong with the timeline, is all. Somebody stepped on a butterfly, and here we are.

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Bureaucrats under Trump face a crisis of legitimacy

    These are interesting times to be a federal bureaucrat. You know, in the "may you live in interesting times" sense.

    President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration unleashed a wave of dissent in the State Department -- and a warning from White House press secretary Sean Spicer that dissenters should "either get with the program or they can go." U.S. Representative Patrick McHenry, a member of the House Republican leadership, sent a letter to Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen last week demanding that the Fed stop negotiating agreements with foreign bank regulators "until President Trump has had an opportunity to nominate and appoint officials that prioritize America's best interests." Other House Republicans want to resurrect an 1876 rule that allows them to dock the pay of individual federal employees to $1.

    You might think this is all due to the unpresidented rise of Trump. That's definitely a factor, but the bureaucracy was undergoing a legitimacy crisis well before he got elected.

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