Archive

February 20th, 2017

Trump is dividing American Jews over domestic politics, not Israel

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is paying a visit to Washington on Wednesday -- an event that typically triggers angst in the American Jewish community as it confronts its internal conflicts over Israel.

    This time, though, the figure at the center of the community's vexations is not Netanyahu, but President Trump.

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The rules about making new rules

    Since taking office, President Donald Trump has signed executive orders instructing officials to reconsider regulation of the financial sector and requiring executive departments and agencies to find two rules to repeal for every new one they issue. But translating those promises into action is going to be a lot harder than the president thinks.

    Here's the rub: It generally takes a new rule to change or remove a regulation that is already on the books. Under long- standing Supreme Court precedent and a law known as the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies must provide a reasoned explanation when they want to change established policy.

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The Trump brand was built on winning. So what happens when it starts to lose?

    The White House is perhaps the best imaginable venue for product placement. But despite the fact that it now commands a presidential seal, the Trump brand seems less attractive than ever.

    Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and even discount retailers such as Kmart are dropping daughter Ivanka's fashion line. Companies such as Uber face backlash for merely giving the impression of being pro-Trump. Professional athletes, those traditional arbiters of cool, are turning their backs: So far, six of the New England Patriots have declined to meet the president, and beloved Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry mockingly described President Trump as an asset -- "if you remove the 'et.' "

    The "brash business mogul" brand just hasn't translated well from the campaign trail to leadership of the country. In fact, the move to D.C. seems to have deflated it completely.

    Overexposure hasn't helped. Even under the harsh lights of the campaign, Trump operated under, if not a veil of mystery, at least a level of remove. Watchers certainly saw enough of him to stick in their minds, but the barrage only became unrelenting late in the game.

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One-Month Report Card

    You just came out of a yearlong coma, and you’re trying to catch up. The unimaginable is real. The Cubs won the World Series. California has been drenched with so much rain that its biggest dam may fail. And in the first month of a new presidency, the leader of the free world has:

    Told a stunning and easily disproved lie on his first full day in power. He then sent his spokesman out to repeat that lie and said the press would “pay a big price” for refusing to do the same. The pattern of taxpayer-financed mendacity continued nearly every day under the new regime, with lies about everything from the murder rate to the weather.

    Threatened to “defund” the most populous state in the nation he governs, California, the world’s sixth-largest economy, which contributes more than $350 billion in annual tax money to the federal government. “California is, in many ways, out of control,” he said.

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The Banksters Are Free at Last

    Of all the people suffering economic pain today, who should get priority attention from the new president and Congress?

    Regular folks in our country might say that those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder — the poor and downtrodden working class — ought to be the priority. But, then, regular folks don’t run Congress — or Trump’s White House.

    The Donald’s working-class voters must be stunned to see that his top economic priority isn’t them, but a tiny group dwelling in luxury at the very tippy-top of the ladder: Wall Street bankers.

    Rather than pushing an urgently needed FDR-style jobs program, Trump & Company are rushing to aid the richest Americans at the expense of the working class, actually proposing to unleash the banksters to defraud and gouge workaday people.

    For example, they want to save the poor financial giants from a consumer protection called the “fiduciary rule.”

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The Silence of the Hacks

    The story so far: A foreign dictator intervened on behalf of a U.S. presidential candidate — and that candidate won. Close associates of the new president were in contact with the dictator’s espionage officials during the campaign, and his national security adviser was forced out over improper calls to that country’s ambassador — but not until the press reported it; the president learned about his actions weeks earlier but took no action.

    Meanwhile, the president seems oddly solicitous of the dictator’s interests, and rumors swirl about his personal financial connections to the country in question. Is there anything to those rumors? Nobody knows, in part because the president refuses to release his tax returns.

    Maybe there’s nothing wrong here and it’s all perfectly innocent. But if it’s not innocent, it’s very bad indeed. So what do Republicans in Congress, who have the power to investigate the situation, believe should be done?

    Nothing.

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Republicans are fiddling while their White House burns

    Losing a national security adviser to scandal within the first month of a new presidency, with Michael Flynn resigning late Monday, isn't just unprecedented; it's one of those events that would have Spock telling Kirk that the readings are off the charts and make no sense.

    Which is also the case with Donald Trump's approval ratings -- they're not just the worst ever at this point, but in territory that's unimaginable had any previous major party nominee won election. Barry Goldwater, George McGovern, Walter Mondale -- odds are that had some weird fluke happened and they had won, they would still have been doing much better by that measure than Trump.

    The president himself is beset by up to three separate scandals: One about Russian interference in the U.S. election along with contacts between his campaign and transition team with the Kremlin; one about conflicts of interest and "emoluments"; and perhaps one about the president himself as a security risk.

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It's even worse than Watergate

    We all knew it couldn't last. But nobody expected the Trump administration to fall apart as soon as it has because, no matter how unorthodox his campaign, nobody anticipated the level of ignorance and incompetence Donald Trump would actually bring to the White House.

    As columnist E. J. Dionne writes in the Washington Post, the quandary we all suddenly face is: "What is this democratic nation to do when the man serving as president of the United States plainly has no business being president of the United States?" Tough words, but true.

    Consider: Only four weeks into his presidency, Trump has created a constitutional crisis that is worse than Watergate. Nixon's scandal, as serious as it was, only entailed one president ordering a band of criminals to steal documents from the DNC headquarters -- and then lying about.

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One nation, divisible by what scares us most

    It's a dangerous world. The threats are insidious, lurking undetected until it's too late. Left on your own, you won't survive. The government's job is to protect you.

    Many Americans hold some version of this view. But they strongly differ on which threats they fear.

    Red America worries about deliberate human action. Blue America dreads unintended, usually inanimate, threats. Red America focuses mostly on the body politic. Blue America emphasizes the body. In the pre-Trump era, that meant conservatives talked about crime, foreign enemies, and moral decay while liberals emphasized environmental poisons, illness, unwanted pregnancies, and material deprivation. As we'll see, Donald Trump added a twist of his own (and jettisoned the old conservative moral concerns). But the basic people-vs.-things division remains.

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February 19th

Obama preferred verbosity at news conferences; Trump favors brevity

    For the past eight years, a presidential news conference was a chance to hear from Professor Barack Obama, the long-winded lecturer in chief who expounded on domestic politics and international relations with nuance, depth, range and, most of all, a lot of words.

    Under the new administration, brevity is in.

    President Donald Trump, who has carved out a niche online as the tweeter in chief, is willing to go beyond 140 characters while fielding questions from reporters at the White House. But sometimes, it seems, not by much.

    Trump's joint news conferences with foreign leaders are brisker affairs. He is not interested in filibustering answers to run out the clock, the way Obama did, but prefers racing through them in a mix of simplistic declarative sentences, ad-libs and non sequiturs.

    When he does fall back on talking points, as all politicians inevitably do, they are not the kind that come from a briefing book prepared by an aide. Rather, Trump's talking points often appear to spring from his own id and have little or nothing to do with the subject at hand.

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