Archive

January 17th, 2017

Vipers of the Echo Chamber

    “Indy, why does the floor move?”

    “Hand me the torch.”

    In “Raiders of the Lost Arc,” Indiana Jones deals with a cavernous well filled with snakes, and with flame as his only ally.

    That scene comes to mind as the 115th Congress coils itself to strike at things that help a lot of Americans.

    Congressional Republicans have designs that have fermented in darkened catacombs for decades. Almost every idea would harm those who need help and help those who don’t.

    In President Trump they see their signal to strike with velocity and ferocity.

    Ah, an opening for those who have resided so comfortably in their Fox News/Breitbart echo chamber, their seats gerrymandered out of the reach of actual democracy.

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Advice for Women's March participants: Less pink, more grit

    Please, sisters, back away from the pink.

    Pink pussycat hats, sparkly signs, color-coordinated street theater - all of it is gleefully in the works for the upcoming Women's March on Washington on Jan. 21.

    And that scares me a little. Because all of this well-intentioned, she-power frippery can make this thing more Lilith Fair than Lilly Ledbetter. And the Women's March of 2017 will be remembered as an unruly river of Pepto-Bismol roiling through the streets of the capital rather than a long overdue civil rights march.

    This is serious stuff.

    It's about human rights. It's about the way 51 percent of our nation's population still gets less pay, less representation in elected office and in corporate corner offices, less access to health care, less safety and less respect that the other 49 percent of our deeply divided nation.

    The Women's March needs grit, not gimmicks.

    Case in point?

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Would Donald Tax a Fellow Trump?

    Bring those jobs back home, Donald Trump bellowed to those greedy corporate executives who’ve shipped middle-class jobs out of country, or I’ll slap you with a big tariff when you try to sell your foreign-made products here.

    Great stuff, Donnie — and to prove you mean business, I know just the CEO you should target first: Her name is Ivanka. Your daughter.

    Her multi-million-dollar line of clothing and accessories, sold through major national retailers ranging from Macy’s to Amazon, is pitched to America’s working women. Yet practically all of her products are made on the cheap in low-wage factories in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam — anywhere except America.

    Imagine the message it would send to runaway corporations — and the integrity it would establish for Trump — if he slapped his first tariffs on Ivanka’s goods.

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When Backpage.com Peddles Schoolgirls for Sex

    As a 16-year-old high school sophomore living in Boston, Asia Graves was sold on the internet “like a pizza,” she recalls, handed over to be raped by strange men every day.

    Along with thousands of other girls, she was sold through what amounts to an online brothel called Backpage. It dominates the online sex trade and is implicated in almost three-quarters of the reports of child trafficking in the United States.

    Yet this week offers a moment to celebrate. Under political and legal pressure, Backpage on Monday closed its “adult” advertising section, used to peddle women and children for sex. There’s also an overdue effort to hold its executives criminally and civilly liable.

    “There’s been a lot of progress,” notes Graves, who eventually escaped her pimp — but only after he gouged her face with a potato peeler and stomped on her, breaking her jaw. She was cheering this week as a Senate subcommittee held hearings on Backpage and discussed tightening the law on websites like it.

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Online and Scared

    And so it came to pass that in the winter of 2016 the world hit a tipping point that was revealed by the most unlikely collection of actors: Vladimir Putin, Jeff Bezos, Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg and the Macy’s department store. Who’d have thunk it?

    And what was this tipping point?

    It was the moment when we realized that a critical mass of our lives and work had shifted away from the terrestrial world to a realm known as “cyberspace.” That is to say, a critical mass of our interactions had moved to a realm where we’re all connected but no one’s in charge.

    After all, there are no stoplights in cyberspace, no police officers walking the beat, no courts, no judges, no God who smites evil and rewards good, and certainly no “1-800-Call-If-Putin-Hacks-Your-Election.” If someone slimes you on Twitter or Facebook, well, unless it is a death threat, good luck getting it removed, especially if it is done anonymously, which in cyberspace is quite common.

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Jared Kushner's White House job may be legal. But history shows it's a bad idea.

    In May, Hillary Clinton floated a proposal: If she was elected president, she would consider naming Bill Clinton as an economy czar responsible for aiding America's most impoverished communities. The blowback was swift, and within days she had backed off her two-for-one plan.

    Bill Clinton is far better known than Jared Kushner, President-elect Donald Trump's son-in-law and newly appointed senior adviser. But the speed with which the Bill Clinton trial balloon burst is suggestive: Naming family members to official administration jobs is not just fraught with ethical land mines and legal hurdles. History shows it's also a recipe for unforeseen headaches and policy controversies, even a disaster waiting to strike an administration.

    Kushner's true problem isn't the wording of the 1967 anti-nepotism law that may or may not bar his appointment. Nor is the ethical dilemmas that he and his wife Ivanka Trump have courted as they haphazardly disentangle themselves from their business holdings and financial connections with foreign governments and corporations.

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How Trump's conspiracy theories about vaccines could harm public health

    President-elect Donald Trump met Tuesday with Robert Kennedy Jr., an environmental activist (and Democratic political scion) who opposes mandatory vaccination laws because he believes in discredited conspiracy theories that immunizations are dangerous. Kennedy told reporters that Trump had asked him to lead a commission on vaccines.

    Though Trump transition aides later said that the decision wasn't final, the meeting was alarming to doctors, epidemiologists and public health experts such as myself. Kennedy is neither a physician nor a scientist; he has been at the forefront of pushing bogus assertions that vaccines cause autism -- they do not -- and he has compared side effects of immunizations to the Holocaust.

    Which makes Tuesday's encounter just the latest indication that the next president might be willing to discard science and medical research on vaccination in favor of debunked myths. There's a real risk that Trump could politicize vaccines, undermining trust in one of the great public health interventions in human history.

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January 16th

'Hillbilly Elegy' Raises Provocative Questions

    "Well, I was drunk the day my mama got out of prison /

    And I went to pick her up in the rain /

    But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck /

    She got runned over by a damned old train."

    -- David Allan Coe

 

    Anybody who can sing the lyrics to what country bad boy David Allan Coe called "the perfect country and western song" probably won't find a whole lot in J.D. Vance's hotly debated, bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" that's real surprising.

    Fans of Jeff Foxworthy's painfully funny "You Might Be a Redneck" comedy act will also find Vance's action-packed childhood familiar. Like this: "If your grandma poured gasoline on grandpa, and lit him on fire for coming home drunk ... you might be a redneck."

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Fossil-fuel bullies vs. Republicans

    Talking to my Senate Republican colleagues about climate change is like talking to prisoners about escaping. The conversations are often private, even furtive. One told me, "Let's keep talking, but you can't let my staff know."

    The dirty secret is that climate change is not really a partisan issue in Congress. Its history has not been partisan, with Republican senators such as John McCain, Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake (as a House member) having introduced climate bills in the past. Climate change became partisan in 2010, shortly after the five Republican-appointed justices of the Supreme Court upended a century of law and precedent to issue the Citizens United decision, which rejected limits on corporate spending on political campaigns. The timing is not a coincidence.

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Judd Apatow Freaking Out Over Donald Trump

    Donald Trump: freak or geek?

    Who better to answer that question than Judd Apatow, the executive producer of “Freaks and Geeks” and the comedian, producer, director and writer who has been in a spiral over the ascent of his fellow TV big shot and Twitter addict?

    “Geek,” he replies.

    I have come to Apatow’s office — decorated with photos of jazz greats and the casts of “Freaks and Geeks” and “Girls” — to see how he’s doing.

    His intense, extended Twitter screed about Trump has me a little concerned. As he tweeted the other day, “How are we supposed to work when all of reality is a freeway chase?”

    I ask him if there’s a danger he could lose himself to the Trump monster.

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