Archive

December 15th

Welcome to Donald Trump's Bizarro World cabinet picks

    As low as my expectations might be for the Donald Trump presidency, he finds new ways to drop the bar even lower.

    Take his cabinet nominees. Please.

    They aren't all bad. Retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, the president-elect's choice for secretary of defense, comes well-recommended by old guard defense experts like Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and turns out to be nowhere near as nutty as his nickname implies.

    And it's hard to dislike the bipartisan appeal of Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.), although Trump's choice to name her U.N. ambassador is a puzzlement. She has little experience in foreign relations but she opposes President Obama's Iran nuclear deal, so maybe that's good enough for Trump.

    But some of Trump's other choices illustrate how dramatically an election can swing our government's executive branch into a Bizarro World version of its former self -- like the fictional planet in DC comics where everything is the reverse of life on Earth.

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Trump’s Bottomless Secretarial Pool

    It’s not as if Donald Trump wants for self-amusement, but still I pity him the apparent end of his search for a secretary of state. He had such a blast with it.

    Luminary upon luminary genuflected before him. Oracle upon oracle plumbed the mists of his utterances. (“Just met with General Petraeus,” he tweeted. “Very impressed!”) He was the star yet again of a top-rated reality show, this one with the heightened stakes of war and peace — “The Apprentice: Armageddon.” I assume that Mark Burnett helped to vet the candidates.

    In fact I know it, because of something I’ve kept secret until now: I was in the running. It was fleeting but electric, and Trump cut me a break, letting me escape media notice by transporting me to Mar-a-Lago in a leaky dinghy at midnight. After a choppy voyage, I made a soggy entrance for my audition — sorry, interview — which consisted of Trump’s telling me which countries he already had hotels in and which he wanted to expand to. Then Ivanka swept in, modeling a choker and matching tiara from her jewelry collection, and asked me if I sensed a potential market for them in sub-Saharan Africa.

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Trump has completely upended the political game; we need to adjust accordingly

    The election of Donald Trump was a through-the-looking-glass moment in American politics.

    As in, everything that we - the collective political horde - thought was conclusive about how you win an election (outspend your opponent, build a better organization, lead in polling, run more TV ads) was disproved in one fell swoop on Nov. 8.

    Trump did everything wrong - by these traditional standards - and he won. And it wasn't the first time. The traditional rules of the road would have meant that Trump never rose beyond the 1 percent of the vote with which he started the Republican primary fight. The idea that a candidate could bully and insult his way to the Republican nomination over 16 (largely) serious candidates was simply unthinkable. The "rules" said it couldn't happen.

    Trump, to his immense credit, understood that a) flouting the rules actually endeared him to a big swath of voters and b) there might just not be any real rules at all.

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The war on professional journalism

    It was bound to happen. An ugly fake news story motivated an internet reader to make an armed assault on a Washington pizza parlor. Fortunately, no one was shot, but the episode underscored how hate messages are increasingly imperiling not only innocent lives, but the credibility of truthful, legitimate journalism in a particularly perilous time.

    The invader drove to D.C. spurred by a false news fantasy that Hillary Clinton was behind a child molestation ring in the basement of the eatery. The malicious pipe dream flooded the internet and was swallowed by the would-be rescuer of the nonexistent kids, who surrendered when confronted by police.

    The incident came on the heels of a barrage of similar fraudulent reports around the country. Their clear intent is to discredit liberal targets, tying them to equally false political chicanery spread by conservative conspirators. One of their champions has been Donald Trump's new chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, late of the right-wing Breitbart News website.

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The coming Trump kleptocracy, perfectly captured in a single sentence

    If you want to understand why the conflicts of interest involving Donald Trump's business holdings and presidency could matter enormously in the months and years to come, read this single sentence buried in Thursday's big Wall Street Journal piece about those holdings:

    "It's not clear how much Mr. Trump's businesses would benefit from his proposal to cut business tax rates."

    The key part of that sentence is the phrase, "it's not clear." The Journal piece reports that Trump has employed a "web" of limited liability companies to house assets accounting for over $300 million of the revenues he reported in disclosure forms last year. The crucial revelation in the piece is that these entities are a key reason why many of the specific details of Trump's holdings remain shrouded in "opacity."

    Meanwhile, the New York Times reports: "Trump is considering formally turning over the operational responsibility for his real estate company to his two adult sons, but he intends to keep a stake in the business and resist calls to divest, according to several people briefed on the discussions."

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December 14th

States need to do better by their most talented students

    In Los Angeles in 1982, I stumbled upon a math teacher named Jaime Escalante. He was helping large numbers of low-income Hispanic students master calculus and pass the Advanced Placement exam.

    Such high achievement in urban schools was unusual then. It still is. Our national education policy has mostly ignored high fliers and focused instead on getting low-performing students up to grade level. But just as the new Escalante postage stamps are shining a light on his achievements, the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is finally giving states an opportunity to encourage their most-accomplished students.

    A report by the Fordham Institute, "High Stakes for High Achievers: State Accountability in the Age of ESSA," describes in detail how states could make this happen. Then the report laments how badly almost all of them are doing at it, particularly in the Washington area:

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Kellyanne Conway plunges into the Mommy Wars

    As if she didn't have enough on her hands with the president-elect, Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway has plunged full-force into a topic at least as emotionally charged: the Mommy Wars.

    Speaking at a Politico "Women Rule" event Wednesday, Conway cited her four young children as the reason for declining a White House job.

    "My children are 12, 12, 8 and 7, which is bad idea, bad idea, bad idea, bad idea for mom going inside," she said. "They have to come first and those are very fraught ages."

    When the possibility of an administration role came up in her talks with senior officials, Conway said, they would say, "'I know you have four kids but ...' I said, 'There's nothing that comes after the "but" that makes any sense to me so don't even try.' Like what is the 'but'? But they'll eat Cheerios for the rest of the day? Nobody will brush their teeth again until I get home?"

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Democrats must get past mere opposition to Trump

    As the still shell-shocked Democrats try to figure out what went wrong and what to do about it, Hillary Clinton's formal announcement of her candidacy in 2015 would be a good starting point.

    The beautifully produced two-minute video was replete with attractive and aspirational Americans. It presented a diversity of color, young, old, gay and lesbian couples, a single mother and immigrant entrepreneurs. The candidate, who appears in only about a third of the video, was comfortable and self-assured. Even though she warned that the deck was too often stacked against average Americans, her tone was upbeat.

    It got good reviews for tone and content. The New York Times reported, misleadingly, that it included "plenty of white working-class people," a signal that she would address these voters' concerns in the campaign. A subsequent Times video chat was more insightful: Top political reporter Maggie Haberman noted that despite the video's high production values "it's not clear what her message is." The theme, she said, seemed to be striking a balance between "things are getting better" and "things are great."

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A disquieting pick for White House counsel

    The White House counsel operates out of the public eye but has the president's ear. In the Trump administration, with the unprecedented multiplicity of conflict-of-interest challenges facing the businessman- president, the job will take on added importance. As a Democratic commissioner at the Federal Election Commission, I served five years alongside Donald McGahn, President-elect Donald Trump's choice for the post. My experience may be instructive - and disquieting.

    The FEC's fundamental mission is to fight corruption by shining a light on money in politics, empowering citizens to assess their elected officials' potential conflicts of interest. From the moment he walked in the door in 2008, McGahn made no secret of his disdain for the agency, its mission and the commission staff.

    At the six-member FEC, McGahn corralled his two fellow Republicans into a rigid voting bloc, promoting gridlock and delay. In decision after decision, he ensured that the money flooding our political system grew ever murkier and the connections between donors and candidates harder to trace.

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What Obamacare has meant to my patients

    Over the past few weeks, there has been talk both of funding infrastructure projects and defunding Medicaid, at least in part. I recently saw a patient who reminded me that Medicaid itself provides an essential kind of infrastructure.

    His black beard pointed stiffly down his chest. At the middle of his sternum, it flowered out into plastic beads, strung on the dozens of rosaries he wore about his neck. Red, yellow and green beads flashed as he yelled, "Go, go, go on, and get me out of here."

    A few years ago, before the expansion of Medicaid, we would have. We knew that if this patient stayed in the hospital, we could extinguish his mania and treat his acute injuries. We also knew that extended hospitalization was futile without access to ongoing care as an outpatient, so we often gave patients like him the green light for discharge.

    He was homeless, mentally ill and uninsured. Back then, the last of those problems often seemed the most insurmountable.

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