Archive

February 6th, 2017

Fruit of a Poison Tree

    So the “president,” who was “elected” under the fog of Russian interference (now under investigation by both houses of Congress) and with a boost from the director of the FBI (now under investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general), has just made a nomination to the Supreme Court: Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Denver.

    Pundits have been applauding like a pod of trained seals in the hours since the announcement, gushing about how brilliant Donald Trump’s rollout of Gorsuch was, how immensely qualified he is and how difficult it would be for Democrats to block his nomination if they chose to do so.

    Let’s tackle each of these individually, but let’s do so under the umbrella of this ultimatum that I believe the liberal base is sending to the Democratic Party: Fight this, tooth and nail. Never give up and never give in.

    This seat on the Supreme Court was stolen from Barack Obama when Republicans refused to even hold hearings for his nominee, and the election was stolen from the American public by maleficent figures, foul of motive and moving in shadows.

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America the unexceptional

    For decades, political science has treated American politics as distinct from the domestic politics of the rest of the world. A key reason behind this division was the idea of American exceptionalism: the notion, stretching back to historians Richard Hofstadter, Seymour Martin Lipset, and Louis Hartz, that American political institutions were forged in a different kiln than other countries. America's constitutional checks on the power of the state, its ideological rejection of a socialist party, its embrace of the free market, and its relative isolation from national security threats for long segments of its history ostensibly created a different kind of politics. In many ways, the post-Cold War era was all about the difficulties the United States faced in exporting its own political values to the rest of the world.

    There have always been critics of the concept of American exceptionalism. Foreigners on the receiving end of some of America's less savory overseas interventions would scoff at the idea. Critics of the national security state such as Glenn Greenwald or Noam Chomsky would argue that American hypocrisy on matters such as surveillance and the selective focus of U.S. human rights criticisms obviates the idea of American exceptionalism.

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February 5th

A progressive guide to deploying Trump outrage

    It's been deeply heartening to see the intensity and enthusiasm of the resistance to President Donald Trump's executive order freezing immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries. But precisely the intensity of the effort, complete with all-night lawyers at major airports, poses a challenge: Generating -- and maintaining -- a heightened sense of panic and outrage at every Trump policy move will be unsustainable over four years. If political energy isn't expended wisely, it will dissipate quickly, and opposition will gradually fade.

    What's needed is a guideline to know when to declare that the sky is falling -- and when to express measured, reasoned disagreement with policies that progressives consider mistaken.

    So here's a proposed guideline: If a policy is being changed, that's a reason to state opposition and keep an eye on how the policy changes are implemented. If the rules for making policy are being broken, it's time to make a lot of noise.

    To see the difference, take some examples from Trump's executive orders in the first week of his presidency.

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Where's the best place to resist Trump? At work.

    As thousands of protesters descended on JFK Airport in New York on Saturday to protest Friday's executive order blocking citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, the AFL-CIO affiliated, 19,000-member Taxi Workers Alliance called for a solidarity strike. In response Uber, the controversial "ride-sharing" service whose chief executive sits on Trump's business advisory board, suspended its surge pricing and continued operating, effectively attempting to break the strike. Reaction was swift: #deleteuber quickly became a trending topic on Twitter as users posted screenshots deleting their accounts.

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Where Is Jared Kushner?

    Remember the good old days — by which I mean just a few weeks ago — when there was hope and talk that Donald Trump’s 36-year-old son-in-law would play the angel to Steve Bannon’s devil, tempering the president’s policies and keeping his crudest and most belligerent tendencies in check?

    Well, the devil is running rampant in the Trump administration so far. The angel looks ever paler and frailer, with a halo that’s hard to find.

    Jared Kushner, where are you?

    I ask that specifically, in terms of Trump’s inner circle and Bannon’s obviously greater sway. But I ask it in a broader sense as well. Where among Trump’s sanest advisers and the most reasonable Republicans in Congress is the degree of pushback that’s called for? Where are the sufficiently loud voices of dissent? Right now Trump has too many mum collaborators too content to hope for the best. I put Kushner in that pack.

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Trump's grand strategic train wreck

    Believe it or not, President Donald Trump has a grand strategy. According to some analysts, Trump's endless streams of erratic and apparently improvisational ideas don't add up to anything consistent or purposeful enough to call a grand strategy. We see it otherwise. Beneath all the rants, tweets, and noise there is actually a discernible pattern of thought - a Trumpian view of the world that goes back decades. Trump has put forward a clear vision to guide his administration's foreign policy - albeit a dark and highly troubling one, riddled with tensions and vexing dilemmas.

    Grand strategy is the conceptual architecture that lends structure and form to foreign policy. A leader who is "doing grand strategy" is not handling global events on an ad hoc or case-by-case basis. A grand strategy, rather, represents a more purposeful and deeply held set of concepts about a country's goals and orientation in international affairs.

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Trump's travel ban harms Islamic State's victims

    If you want to get a sense of the cruel stupidity of President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration and refugees, look no further than Vian Dakhil. She is a Yazidi lawmaker who became famous for her 2014 speech to Iraq's parliament as her people faced genocide. "Mr. Speaker," she said. "We are being slaughtered under the banner 'There is no God, but Allah.'"

    Because Trump has banned travel to the U.S. for citizens from Iraq (and six other Muslim-majority countries) for 90 days, Dakhil will not be allowed to attend a ceremony next week in Washington to receive the Lantos prize, an annual human-rights award named for Holocaust survivor and former Representative Tom Lantos.

    Think about that for a minute. Dakhil, who is on an Islamic State most-wanted list, is precisely the kind of person Trump's new executive order is supposed to protect. It prioritizes "refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality."

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Those five million outlaw voters

    Interesting times we live in. The ban on Muslims, which was not a ban on Muslims, except they all seemed to be Muslims who were held up at airports, no Johnsons or Aberystwyths, and they had green cards and visas, including a translator formerly employed in a war zone by U.S. forces, which brought massive crowds into the streets because someone at the White House hadn't read the manual on "Writing Executive Orders" and the executive who signed the order, who couldn't tell an executive order from a lace placemat, is, for the 20th time in one week, exposed as a dope.

    Isn't somebody supposed to be looking after the man? His alt-right strategy guy, now a permanent member of the National Security Council, the one with the Bulgarian movie star hairdo -- where was he? Busy writing the declaration on Holocaust Remembrance Day that forgot to mention the Jews?

    Meanwhile, we are dealing with the idea that five million Americans, registered to vote in more than one place, hit the road on Election Day to cast as many ballots as possible for Hillary Clinton, a mass migration not seen except in Godzilla movies, and yet it was so poorly managed that, despite cheating ON A SCALE NEVER BEFORE SEEN IN HUMAN HISTORY, she lost the Electoral College.

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The resistance to Trump is big, diverse and ferocious

    Just one full week into Donald Trump's presidency, the dizzying pace of news has left many of us feeling a sense of political vertigo - and dread.

    The new administration began with a poorly attended inauguration that led a wounded Trump to lash out at the media in a bizarre speech at the CIA's headquarters. As millions of women and men marched in Washington and cities around the world, press secretary Sean Spicer summoned reporters to the White House briefing room and, defying clear evidence to the contrary, brazenly and falsely claimed that Trump drew "the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration - period." A day later, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway went on national television and rebranded Spicer's bald-faced lies as "alternative facts." Later in the week, White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon launched a calculated strategy of open war on the press, saying the "elite media" should "keep its mouth shut."

    All of this established the tone for Trump's full-blown, Orwellian assault on reality.

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The danger of Trump's constant lying

    "[No man has the] right to mislead others, who have less access to history, and less leisure to study it. . . . Thus substituting falsehood and deception for truthful evidence and fair argument."

    -- Abraham Lincoln, "Cooper Union Address," 1860

    You may know me as an actor. I'm also a longtime supporter of election reform and opponent of partisanship. In 1999 I gave a talk at one of the last bipartisan congressional retreats, using what I had learned preparing to play Abraham Lincoln to warn against faction, partisanship's original name. The founders knew partisanship to be one of the few things powerful enough to destroy the great American democratic experiment. I had some great quotes. John Hume, a Nobel laureate for his work to bring peace in Northern Ireland, spoke before me. His experience made searing testimony. We did our best. It seems it didn't work.

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