Archive

January 19th, 2017

The Trump and Pony Show

    As a professional skeptic, I’m going to remain doubtful that Donald Trump has been a willing Russian tool, masterfully serving the needs of a dangerous American adversary. I’m not going to buy all the sordid details of “that crap,” as the president-elect called intelligence reports of his being compromised by nasty people operating out of the Kremlin.

    I’m going to believe Donald Trump, for now, which is more than he ever did for the graceful president soon to exit. Trump has been a garbage conveyor belt, passing along every bit of half-fermented slop that came his way. “An extremely credible source has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” he tweeted in 2012, to cite one lie among thousands.

    I’m going to believe this same Donald Trump who urged Russia to interfere with an American election, because to believe otherwise, without irrefutable evidence, is a pretty damn horrific thing to imagine. It would mean that in a week, the Russians will have installed a stooge — and done it with the right wing of this country cheering them on.

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Obama, Trump and the power of 'we'

    Our nation is about to replace a president who loves soaring rhetoric and extended argument with a chief executive who prefers tweets to the big speech.

     And there is an irony in this transition. Barack Obama resolutely makes the case for moving forward by referring again and again to the lessons of American history. Donald Trump, by contrast, wants to bring us back to a glorious past -- we need to become great again -- but rarely cites history at all, preferring anecdotes about his own experiences or knocks on the last eight years.

    The presidency itself, of course, often pushes those who hold the office to higher rhetorical ground. Trump seems reluctant to change much of anything about himself, but he might usefully consider what he could learn from Obama.

     We ask that question knowing that speechmaking genius is not and has never been essential to a successful presidency. Over the last century, the list of presidents we lift up as especially gifted speakers is short -- Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Obama.

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January 18th

Why politicians don't make great art critics

    Congress has a lot of touchy issues to deal with these days, including one that boils quite literally beneath their feet.

    A painting, entitled "Untitled #1," by former Missouri high school student David Pulphus, has been on display in the busy underground walkway between the Cannon House Office Building and the Capitol since June 2016.

    But as the new year arrived, the painting touched off a cultural tug-of-war after some Republican lawmakers noticed what was in it.

    In a montage of images, the painting shows a street protest in Ferguson, Mo., confronting police. Some of the people have the heads of animals, including the heads of razorback pigs on the police.

    The unflattering depiction of police was too much for some members of Congress to take. Three times, Republican lawmakers (Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, Doug Lamborn of Colorado and, as a team, Dana Rohrabacher of California and Brian Babin of Texas) have taken the painting down and delivered it to the office of Rep. William Lacy Clay, a Missouri Democrat whose district includes Ferguson.

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Can Trump's Cabinet save him from himself?

    The Trump administration's first Cabinet meeting should be an interesting affair. On issue after issue -- Russia, the border wall, the Iran nuclear deal, climate change, torture, NATO -- President-elect Donald Trump's nominees have diverged from his stated positions. So whose views will prevail? Could Trump's secretaries help save Trump from himself -- and the country from Trump? Will they offer a sobering dose of reality therapy for the reality TV president?

    There are strong arguments for either outcome. I am tending ever so cautiously -- clinging perhaps -- to the optimistic one.

    The official position of the Trump transition is no. "At the end of the day, each one of them is going to pursue a Trump agenda and a Trump vision," incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters Thursday.

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Why Trump can't fire America's consumer finance watchdog

    Republicans are putting a great deal of pressure on President-elect Donald Trump to fire Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He should resist that pressure. Any effort to discharge Cordray would be illegal -- and it might even precipitate something close to a constitutional crisis.

    Here's the legal background. Most federal agencies count as "executive," meaning that their heads serve at the pleasure of the president. But some agencies are "independent" -- meaning that by law, the people in charge of them can be removed only for good cause, which Congress often specifies to mean "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office."

    The Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission are independent agencies -- and so is the CFPB. Under the law, Cordray's five-year term extends until July 2018.

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Repeal-and-delay won't work for GOP on Obamacare

    In the congressional Republicans' rush to put some meat on the bones of the president-elect's pledge to bury Obamacare, they've already found themselves out of the starting gate without another horse to ride.

    After trying about 60 times to repeal the retiring president's health-insurance law, the Affordable Care Act, it is astonishing they have no specific and detailed plan with which to replace it. Even Donald Trump has spotted their weakness and vulnerability. He has warned them using his much-favored medium, Twitter, "to be careful the Dems own the failed Obamacare." In other words, in their bid to replace Obama's signature legislation, Republicans risk being blamed by the electorate for making an imperfect health insurance system worse.

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York has indeed recognized this hazard. He has declared that the Republicans are "going to own it and all the problems in the health-care system."

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Nothing will end Trump's conflicts of interest

    On Wednesday, while Donald Trump was standing at a lectern in New York attacking the news media and political opponents, expressing, yet again, his desire for warm relations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and promising to apply a cosmetic veneer over his unsightly conflicts of interest, the nine largest pharmaceutical companies lost $24 billion in 20 minutes.

    In his disjointed presentation, Trump said that the drug industry is "getting away with murder." Noting that federal government programs are the largest purchasers of drugs, he vowed to "save billions of dollars."

    Like much of what the president-elect said on Wednesday, the comments were off point. No matter. The Nasdaq Biotechnology Index fell 3 percent, and the Standard & Poor's 500 Pharmaceuticals, Biotechnology & Life Sciences Index fell 1.7 percent, with investors attributing the losses to Trump's remarks.

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In remarkable exchange with undocumented mom, Paul Ryan holds out hope for immigrants

    One big question that looms as Donald Trump takes power is this: Will Trump actually make good on the aspects of his program that embody Trumpism at its most cruel and inhumane? Trump promised to expand mass deportations and to end protections for those brought here illegally as children. Now he must decide whether to deliver on those promises -- which, if carried out, will likely cause the broader public to recoil.

    In a remarkable exchange with an undocumented mother Thursday night at a CNN town hall, House Speaker Paul Ryan strongly suggested to her that the revocation of protections for the DREAMers brought here as children will not be carried out. That's newsworthy on its own. But beyond that, the exchange, captured on youtube, also exposed the cruelty of stepped-up mass deportations for many other low-level undocumented offenders:

    The policy details lurking underneath the emotion are extremely important. A woman brought here illegally as an 11-year-old child "through no fault of her own," as CNN's Jake Tapper put it, asked whether she and "many families in my situation" should face deportation. "No," Ryan responded. After noting her love for her daughter, Ryan added:

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We don't have to be flat broke in retirement

    Of the many proposed legislative changes that might occur during the presidency of Donald Trump, the one with the highest probability of actually becoming law is a reduction in corporate tax rates. While we are considering making changes to the tax laws, I have a modest, related proposal that won't cost very much and has enormous potential benefits: Raising the ceiling on contributions to individual retirement accounts (IRAs), 401(k)s and other tax-deferred retirement-savings accounts.

    At a minimum the IRA contribution ceiling should be tripled to $15,000 a year, and indexed to inflation, and the 401(k) limit should be doubled to $36,000 a year. QuickTake America's Retirement Gap

    Let's begin with the basic facts: For this year, IRAs top out at $5,500 a person ($6,500 if you are 50 or older); 401(k)s max out at $18,000 ($24,000 if you're 50-plus).

    Those numbers are, to be blunt, absurd. Without any changes, the U.S. will face a retirement crisis in the next 20 years or so. Raising the limits would be the first of several steps the U.S. should take to avoid that fate. (Fixing Social Security and Medicare are subjects for another column.)

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Trump remains shockingly uninformed

    Donald Trump's first press conference since the election basically confirmed he's easily the least suited person to be president who ever got anywhere near to the office.

    The office he will occupy in nine days.

    Candidate Trump displayed vast ignorance of policy and of basic rules of how the government works. On Wednesday, President-elect Trump utterly failed to demonstrate that he's learned anything. On health care, on Russia, on anything.

    For example, Trump claimed he'll be issuing a "plan" to replace Obamacare as soon as his Health and Human Services secretary is confirmed. But he didn't even hint at any broad outline of what might be in such a plan, and spent most of his answer on health care . . . well, I don't even know what to call it. Babbling about Obamacare? That's about the closest I can get.

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