Archive

January 16th, 2017

Donald Trump and the anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists

    Things are getting down and dirty now. And millions of lives are at stake. I cannot possibly state strongly enough how dangerous it is that President-elect Donald Trump has embraced the notion that vaccination is the cause of autism.

    Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a celebrated vaccine skeptic, met with Trump on January 10. Speaking to reporters outside Trump Tower in Manhattan after the meeting, Kennedy said he will chair a commission "on vaccine safety and scientific integrity" at Trump's request, because, "we ought to be debating the science."

    (One news organization, the Guardian, later reported that the Trump team denies Kennedy will lead such a commission, but offered no other explanation for why the environmentalist was summoned to meet with the president-elect.)

    Kennedy has long held the position that vaccines are dangerous, and that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine administered to all American children is a likely cause of autism. Like any good conspiracy theorist, Trump has long questioned the wisdom of vaccines. On October 22, 2012, Trump tweeted that vaccines constitute "doctor-inflicted autism."

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A War on Regulations

    The incoming Republican government is waging a war against regulations.

    “For every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated,” Donald Trump promised after the November vote. Since then, Republicans in Congress have voted to give themselves broader authority to strike down federal rules of all kinds.

    The way I see the difference between liberals and conservatives is, in part, in their different approaches to our flawed body of regulations. Liberals think we should keep them and improve them. Conservatives would rather scrap many of them altogether.

    Both approaches confront the same problem: No government run by humans will ever be perfect. Some regulations give us clean drinking water and safe food, whereas others may be outdated or poorly written.

    And when you’re the one on the wrong side of the red tape — the small business owner hindered by regulations written for enormous corporations, or the innocent person wrongfully placed on the No Fly List — your anger and frustration are justified.

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Stumbling block or stepping stone?

    Watching President-elect Donald Trump's falsehood-filled news conference this week, thinking back over his foul, nasty campaign, an election stained with slurs, serial insults, black voter suppression and an outcome influenced by Russia, and looking ahead with dread to his swearing-in Friday as president of the United States of America, a small, quiet voice within asks: "Dear God, are we being punished?"

    It has certainly happened before. We know what you did to the wicked and sinful in Sodom and Gomorrah. And they had it coming.

    Who can forget the punishment you handed out to Ananias and Sapphira for their deception, so aptly described in the Acts of the Apostles? Your wrath against wrongdoing and injustice is amply documented throughout the Scriptures.

    But what have we done that is so unwholesome, so egregious, as to deserve punishment in the form of Trump?

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Where's the GOP's health-care plan?

    For six years, Republicans have voted more than 60 times to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. "Repeal and replace" was a staple of Donald Trump's stump speech. Give us control, Republicans promised, and what Mike Pence promises as the "first order of business" will be repeal and replace.

    Only one problem: There is no plan. Republicans have hundreds of ideas but no replacement plan and no consensus. So now the same politicians who couldn't come up with a serious plan in six years are considering a new idea: repeal now and replace later. Use the arcane rules of a "reconciliation" bill to push through repeal; replacement plan to come later. Promise. Trust us, they say, we'll come up with something in a few months, or a couple of years, with a "few bumps along the way," as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said. ("Bumps" is a euphemism for sick Americans losing health care, giving new meaning to the phrase "road kill.")

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Presidents have always needed unwelcome CIA advice

    The Central Intelligence Agency was created 70 years ago to prevent another Pearl Harbor and fight Soviet communism. Since then, almost every U.S. president has had his troubles with the agency. But until now, none picked a fight with the CIA between his election and his inauguration.

    President Donald Trump is going to have to decide how he wants to coexist with his premier spy service. Resentful of its conclusion that the Russian government backed his bid for the White House, Trump is already talking about restructuring it. Like it or not, he'll have to take its views into account.

    History has demonstrated that it's dangerous when the CIA gets it wrong. And that it's even more dangerous when a president disbelieves the agency when it's right.

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Stop obsessing over 'secrets' about Trump and Russia. What we already know is bad enough.

    We now have not one but two "secret" dossiers on the Russian campaign to support Donald Trump. One of them is an unverified and probably unverifiable 35-page collection of rumors and gossip put together by a former British spy. Dumped on the Internet by BuzzFeed, the report is filled with small mistakes and some puzzles (for instance: how could salacious Russian "kompromat," or compromising material, be used to blackmail someone as shameless as Trump?) and mixes the plausible with the implausible without giving real answers.

    The other is the declassified version of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence report on Russia's role in the U.S. election campaign. Carefully hedged and printed on official stationery, it sticks almost entirely to information that was already in public domain, including straight-faced analysis of programs broadcast on RT, the Russian state propaganda channel, which are available to anybody who owns a television.

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In Virginia, Perriello campaign: Fool's errand or a winning pitch?

    Tom Perriello's campaign for Virginia's Democratic gubernatorial nomination might strike some as a fool's errand.

    The one-term congressman and former U.S. Special Envoy cannot boast of the same statewide political resume as his opponent, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam. Nor can Perriello count on the support of many of the state's top Democrats, who lined up behind Northam when it appeared as though he would be unchallenged for the nomination.

    But rank-and-file Democrats may not care about such niceties as endorsements and money.

    Instead, they just might do what Republicans did in the course of the 2016 presidential race and turn their hopes -- and votes -- to a candidate who is closer to their hearts.

    Perriello has already established that his campaign will be addressed to Virginia's version of the "forgotten man."

    In his campaign announcement, posted to his Facebook page, Perriello said "too many families are getting left out of [the American] dream today."

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In 2017, spend less time and energy on jerks and hucksters

    Though I'm generally staying away from rigid resolutions for 2017, in the process of planning my coverage for the year, I've reached one conclusion:

    As President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in, inaugurating a new era of classlessness in American politics, bringing frauds into his administration and empowering a new class of political hucksters, I'll need to triage which of the many jerks and con men arriving in his wake deserve space in this column. And this is a good moment for me to reassess when covering shocking remarks or behavior will marginalize those sentiments and actions, and when weighing in would give them new power.

    I fully intend to keep writing about jerks as well as con men and con women who have actual power. If someone has seen fit to hire you to host a television show, if you make decisions about who gets to work and tell stories in the entertainment industry, if you have an elected office or a position in the bureaucracy that gives you influence over arts and communication policy, or if you occupy the Oval Office and you behave like a creep, a fool or an intellectual arsonist, then I'll rush to my keyboard and write what needs to be said.

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Voting is an American right

    In 1965, fewer than two percent of eligible African-Americans living in Selma, Ala., were registered to vote. As we all know, this was the result of laws and policies whose purpose was to keep African-Americans out of the voting booth. It took decades of blood, sweat and tears to reverse this deeply embedded discrimination. Having lost my father to that struggle when I was still a small child, I cannot begin to express what it meant to see a black man take the presidential oath of office in 2008.

    What a difference eight years makes. While Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, fewer than 80,000 votes divided among Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan made Donald Trump the electoral college winner. In each of these states, Clinton saw a significant decline in minority vote totals of 10 percent or more. And in each of these states - along with swing states North Carolina and Florida - that difference in turnout may be attributed to legislative efforts to make it harder to vote. In fact, a federal appeals court described North Carolina's lawmakers as targeting minority voters with "almost surgical precision."

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Donald Trump could blow up the GOP's Obamacare repeal strategy

    All it took was a handful of Donald Trump tweets. When Trump declared he wasn't crazy about congressional Republicans' timing on killing an independent ethics oversight office, Washington showered him with credit for the abrupt GOP reversal that followed -- never mind that he hadn't even condemned the GOP move, just its timing.

    Are we about to see a rerun on Obamacare? Perhaps! When Trump holds his news conference Wednesday, he will likely be asked whether he still thinks that Republicans should repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act "simultaneously," as he said in a post-election interview. If he answers in the affirmative, it could throw the current GOP strategy -- repeal on a delayed schedule with no guarantee of any replacement later -- into further doubt.

    Tuesday, multiple reports tell us that anxiety is rising among Senate Republicans over the current GOP strategy. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who holds an influential position as chairman of the health and education committee, is now saying more explicitly than before that Republicans should not repeal the ACA until they have a replacement ready.

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