Archive

January 22nd, 2017

Joe Biden, endangered species

    Last year, when Joe Biden spoke at Davos, he gave an incisive and passionate address reminding the CEOs and leaders in the audience of their responsibilities to the have-nots of the world. It was powerful stuff and at the conclusion of his remarks, my dear partner, Carla, leapt to her feet to give him a standing ovation. I stood beside her and then, scanning the room, realized we were the only ones standing.

    This year, when Joe Biden was introduced for his valedictory speech as vice president of the United States, half the audience stood. The applause was resounding. It was clear that the packed plenary audience would miss the plainspoken, passionate son of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Watching him deliver the speech, it was also clear Biden would miss audiences like this one.

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How Republican-style health-care reform quickly becomes a tax cut for the richest of the rich

    The election of Donald Trump with a Republican-majority Congress is proving once again that conservative economic policy largely reduces to cutting taxes, mostly for the rich.

    But wait a second, aren't they also wading into health-care reform?

    They are, and it proves my point. While much attention is reasonably focused on how they're all repeal with no replace - and how that's likely to reverse the coverage gains we've seen and undermine insurance markets - there's something else going on here. And that is - you guessed it - a big tax cut for the rich.

    Unless your job description includes denying the facts around the Affordable Care Act, you probably know that it has provided health insurance coverage to 20 million people, lowering the uninsured rate to an all-time low of 9.1 percent, from 16 percent before the reform was enacted. What you might not know is that most of the revenue the ACA raised flows from some very rich waters.

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Donald Trump's new reality show: Beat the press

    Donald Trump loves to pick a fight. In fact, he can't resist. In just the last two weeks, he's picked a fight with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meryl Streep, CNN and Rep. John Lewis. And now he's itching to pick a fight with the White House Press Corps.

    This should come as no surprise. After all, waging war on the media was the centerpiece of his campaign. He banned the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and others from his campaign rallies. At every event, he pointed to the "dishonest" reporters in the crowd. He even singled out certain reporters by name -- forcing some news organizations to hire security guards for their journalists.

    Any idea that Trump might pursue a more positive working relationship with the press disappeared at his first post-election news conference when Press Secretary Sean Spicer, Vice-President-elect Mike Pence and then Trump himself blasted CNN and Buzzfeed for their accounts of the supplemental intelligence briefing provided to Trump and President Obama by the CIA and FBI. Even reporting that the briefing took place, Trump charged, was "fake news," which, of course, it wasn't.

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Donald Trump has assembled the worst Cabinet in American history

    Any time a new administration comes into office, there will be some complaining about the new president's Cabinet picks. But we're seeing something extraordinary happening now. Donald Trump's Cabinet brings with it a combination of ethical problems, inexperience, hostility to the missions of the departments its members are being called to lead, and plain old ignorance that is simply unprecedented.

    This is shaping up to be nothing less than the worst Cabinet in American history.

    As just one colorful example, let's look at this report in Thursday's New York Times about Rick Perry, who will be secretary of energy. The change from the leadership under Barack Obama is already striking: the current secretary, Ernest Moniz, is a respected nuclear physicist who also came to the job with significant experience managing scientific institutions, and he'll be succeeded by someone who advocated eliminating the department, although in his defense Perry couldn't quite remember that it was the one he wanted to get rid of (that famous "Oops" moment). But it's even worse than that:

    ---

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Cutting the NEA is first move to eliminate a free, open public realm

    For months now the debate in the arts world has been: Will he really do it? Will Donald Trump be the president who finally gives the right wing what it has so vehemently craved for decades, the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts?

    A report in The Hill suggests that pessimists, who assumed the worst once it became clear that Trump's election would likely empower organizations like the conservative Heritage Foundation, were right. He may indeed try to kill it.

    And the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as cutting the federal appropriation for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The animus against these organizations has been so powerful for so long that defending them feels almost pro forma, a reflexive rhetorical blast into the headwinds of an anti-arts bias so deep that there's little hope of changing anyone's mind ("The NEA is welfare for cultural elitists," declares the Heritage Foundation, sententiously).

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After the election, concern about minority children feeling welcome in their own country

    The day after Donald Trump won the presidential election, my 5-year-old daughter was identified by a classmate as having black skin. "Trump doesn't like black people," the little girl told her, "so you lose." My daughter said the girl went around pointing out the other "black" children - they were Asian twins. In the eyes of a kindergartner in predominantly white Menlo Park, Calif., though, they all appeared black, which must mean they are different, which is true. They - and we - are minorities.

    "I wish I had white skin, Mommy," my daughter told me when I asked her how the exchange made her feel. I was angry, scared and worried she would experience worse marginalization soon. She is the daughter of an immigrant, she is interracial, she has brown skin, she is a Muslim, she is a girl. A perfect ball of yarn spun with fibers a bigoted campaign targeted.

    My immediate thought: What if they won't feel welcome in their country of birth? I know this is possible, because it happened to me.

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You already possess the greatest tool to be an effective activist: Breathing

    I was among the tens of millions of Americans overcome with negative emotions post-election. I wrote here about my own intra-daily swings between rage and confusion. Even with years of training in yoga and meditation, I had no idea how to spend my energies in a healthy, productive way. I practice regularly, but meditation just seemed too big and scary because I couldn't sit still long enough to isolate and define what I was feeling. And wouldn't it only hurt more if I did?

    What also felt true was a prevailing feeling of helplessness. There was a strong desire to do something, anything, but retaliatory feelings were all we had. Vengeance fantasies, judgment and name-calling, desperation over the feeling of loss of moral norms, and powerlessness to help the citizens these norms had protected: This anger and fear eclipsed any efforts to be a better citizen, inspire change or develop a clear voice of response.

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Putin Praise Could Have Disastrous Results For NATO, U.S.

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

    "I never said Trump was 'brilliant,'" he might say. "That was a poor translation. I said he was 'colorful,' which nobody denies. Unfortunately, he is also an ignorant buffoon with no greater understanding of international relations than the average Moscow prostitute, of which he has known many."

    Would Trump confine himself to mocking Putin's short stature and bare-chested TV appearances on his Twitter account? Or would the United States and Russia go to war footing overnight?

    Fortunately, we can all relax. Everybody understands that Trump lives so deep in Putin's pocket that no such exchange seems possible. When it comes to foreign affairs, the only constant in our new president's pronouncements is that he has never yet said anything -- not one single thing -- that the Russian dictator would find objectionable.

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New York Times report: 'The Internet is brutal to mediocrity'

    In a new strategy document, The New York Times is taking aim at a staple of journalism -- the forgettable news story. "Journalism That Stands Apart" is the product of the newspaper's 2020 group, which is a team of seven New York Times journalists charged with plotting a map for the organization's future. The institutional imperative is to double digital revenue to $800 million by 2020, a goal that requires securing more and more digital subscriptions.

    Product improvements, note top editors Dean Baquet and Joe Kahn in a memo referencing the report, must come with fewer resources. "There will be budget cuts this year," write Baquet, the executive editor, and Kahn, the managing editor. "We've been pretty open in saying that in 2017 we're preparing to make some targeted reductions in the cost base at the same time continuing to make crucial hires we need to drive the report," said Kahn last week in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog.

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January 21st

Missing Obama Already

    Barack Obama’s legacy is being systematically unraveled even before he leaves office, with The Wall Street Journal scoffing that he “has been a historic president but perhaps not a consequential one.”

    Historians will also note that the Democratic Party is in far worse shape today than when Obama took office: It has lost its House and Senate majorities, as well as 13 governorships and more than 900 state legislative seats.

    More broadly, the sunny Obama optimism of “Yes, we can” has faded into a rancorous miasma of distrust and dysfunction. One example of that rancor is unfolding at the Woodmont Country Club outside Washington, where hawkish pro-Israeli members are campaigning to deny Obama membership — even though there’s no official indication he will even apply.

    Yet here’s my prediction: America and the world will soon be craving that Obama Cool again.

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