Archive

February 7th, 2017

Trump tears politics and policy asunder

    President Trump's first weeks in office have not only stood American foreign policy on its head, but party politics at home as well. Both the Republican and Democratic parties are reeling from his deeply divisive tactics.

    The leaders of Mexico and Australia have pushed back against Trump's reckless and distinctly undiplomatic telephone threats. Trump still insists Mexico ultimately will pay for his wall on the southern border. And last week he scolded the Australian prime minister for "the worst call" he had had that day with a foreign leader.

    Meanwhile, Democratic Party leaders are at sea over what can be done about the Trump one-man wrecking ball. He has them back on their heels trying to cope with his Supreme Court nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia with a right-wing clone, Judge Neil Gorsuch of Colorado. They have failed to block most of Trump's cabinet nominees.

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The dream of cheap, clean nuclear power is over

    For much of my life, I loved the idea of nuclear power. The science was so cool, futuristic and complicated, the power plants so vast and majestic. I devoured science-fiction novels like "Lucifer's Hammer," where a plucky nuclear entrepreneur restarts civilization after a comet almost wipes us out. I thought of accidents like Three Mile Island and even Chernobyl as stumbling blocks to a nuclear future.

    Then, in 2011, two things happened. First, a tsunami knocked out the nuclear reactor at Fukushima, forcing a mass evacuation and costing Japan hundreds of billions of dollars. Second, I learned that progress in solar power had been a lot faster and steadier than I had realized. I started taking a closer look at whether nuclear was really the future of energy. Now I'm pretty convinced that my youthful fantasies of a nuclear world won't come true anytime soon.

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Me, Me, Me, Me, Me

    President Donald Trump has a tense relationship, to say the least, with African-Americans. He earned it. He built his political base in part by questioning the legitimacy of the first black president and demanding to see his birth certificate. He used racism for traction.

    So what was his demeanor on Wednesday, when he marked Black History Month by sitting down with a handful of black leaders (supporters, really) in the Roosevelt Room? Did he ramp up the courtesy? Tamp down the self-congratulation? Go out of his way to emphasize that he’d be a president for all and that he fully appreciated the struggles and hardships of black Americans over time?

    Not so much.

    But he did talk about his struggles. His hardships. He couldn’t mention Martin Luther King Jr. without flashing on the King bust in the Oval Office, noting that there had been an erroneous report of its removal and lamenting what he sees as his terrible victimization by biased journalists and “fake news.”

    King’s martyrdom became Trump’s martyrdom. Black History Month turned into Trump Appreciation Day.

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Let's put an end to the 'My childhood was better than yours' wars

    The man behind me was sure he was right. I knew it when he gave the verbal equivalent of a "harrumph" under his breath. We were both watching a mother at the supermarket checkout negotiating with her 3-year-old over a candy bar. As the child's volume increased, she turned to us - apologetic and embarrassed - and said, "I knew I should have gone through the candy-free aisle."

    The "harrumph" guy weighed in loudly enough that the now-defeated woman, who was unwrapping a Milky Way, could hear him, which I guess was his goal. He turned to me in that chummy way you do with someone else your age and said, "We didn't have candy-free aisles when we were kids. Our mothers didn't need them. What a bunch of snowflakes."

    He wanted me to laugh and agree with him. He thought he and I would be simpatico on where this generation of parents has gone wrong. Or maybe even more to the point - that our childhoods were better.

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Kellyanne Conway's Worst Week in Washington

    It all started innocently enough.

    Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President Donald Trump and, for many Americans, the face and voice of the administration, was making the case for her boss' controversial travel ban to MSNBC's Chris Matthews. Here's what she said:

    "I bet it's brand new information to people that President Obama had a six-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. ... Most people don't know that because it didn't get covered."

    The reason the Bowling Green massacre didn't get covered, of course, was because there is no such thing. Bowling Green, Kentucky, has never been home to a terrorist attack.

    What Conway was referring to was the arrest of two men in Bowling Green in 2011 on federal terrorism charges after one of the men's fingerprints had been traced to a roadside bomb detonated in Iraq in 2005.

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Lessons from Ollie the bobcat, trapped in Washington's bubble

    As daily events in Washington grow ever stranger, we can still take comfort in good, old-fashioned stories about cute animals. On Wednesday, the female bobcat Ollie -- who had escaped from her enclosure two days earlier -- was discovered at Washington's National Zoo. This may seem like a trivial event, but it does reflect some major themes of our time. I'll start with the pessimistic lessons, but close with some reasons for hope.

    First, we Americans play it far too safe, most of all when it comes to our children. After Ollie's escape was reported, 13 nearby schools canceled their outdoor recesses, even though bobcats are not a threat to human beings (they prefer very small prey). Better safe than sorry, seems to be the national child-rearing philosophy, but the phony threats are causing us to overlook real dangers to our children, such as the national debt and mediocre political institutions. At least the kids won't be done in by a 25-pound feline.

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February 6th

Democracy depends on the facts

    Once upon a time, long, long ago, during his second campaign for the presidency of the United States, Richard M. Nixon made sporadic appearances before live audiences, during which he would take questions from selected citizen panels. Several of us covering that 1968 campaign were convinced that the panels had been stacked in Nixon's favor. Much as we poked and prodded into their makeup, however, we never found anyone particularly partisan. The panelists were just ordinary people with mixed political pedigrees. What they were not, which gave the former vice president a significant advantage, was experienced in the cross-examination of a seasoned politician.

    The organizer of this arrangement, a fellow by the name of Roger Ailes (yes, that Roger Ailes), provided additional insurance of these events' success by a deceptively simple sleight of hand: He stacked not the panels, but the audiences, with Nixon supporters. Whatever the question, whatever the answer, each audience responded with unbridled enthusiasm. The impression was of a candidate knocking questions out of the park.

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Is Trump trying to tweet us into a war with Iran?

    On Wednesday, the White House put out a statement from National Security Advisor Michael Flynn criticizing Iran's recent ballistic missile test as well as a number of attacks in recent months by Iranian-supported Houthi militias against American, Saudi, and Emirati ships off the coast of Yemen. The statement then criticizes the Iran nuclear deal and the Obama administration, before concluding that "we are officially putting Iran on notice."

    This is the Trump administration's first meaningful foray into Iran policy since taking office. In some ways, it is reassuring, as parts of the statement are reasonable. And it does not appear that the administration is at least at this point determined to walk away from the nuclear agreement. But then President Donald Trump started tweeting. And now, there are some reasons for concern.

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Sean Spicer is right. That 5-year-old refugee has diabolical plans.

    "That's why we slow it down and make sure that if they are a 5-year-old that maybe they're with their parents and they don't pose a threat. . . . To assume that just because of someone's age or gender or whatever that they don't pose a threat would be wrong"

    -- Press secretary Sean Spicer, when asked about the 5-year-old Iranian boy who was detained under President Trump's new executive order on refugees.

 

    Sean Spicer is quite right to be concerned. This 5-year-old boy waiting at the airport certainly has a diabolical plan. All 5-year-old children do.

    When the 5-year-old comes to this country, he will begin his hostile takeover almost immediately. He is going to touch everything in the house and his hands will be sticky for some undefinable reason and nothing in the house will ever feel entirely not sticky ever again.

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In praise of slacktivism: Your cliched Facebook post can still make a difference

    This week, a friend mentioned to me that she wanted to post a photo of her parents depicting them shortly after they arrived in America. They look terrified and in love and very, very hopeful. She wanted to post it on Facebook with a message about how hard they worked from the very day they arrived. And how the America she knows has always looked like them. It was a beautiful message, but she was afraid to post it. She feared it might seem trite or too earnest.

    She's not alone. Some of us have feeds full of political posts, but many friends remain silent, including ones who are politically engaged. Talking to them offline, they tell me their concerns: It's untoward; it's unoriginal; it's self-aggrandizing; they don't want to launch pointless online battles in which nobody will be persuaded; they think posting about politics on social media is the province of aunts and uncles and high school classmates you barely remember. And maybe it's pointless: As author Malcolm Gladwell put it in 2010, perhaps "the revolution will not be tweeted."

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