Archive

January 4th, 2017

Fake news is no joke

    Among the more pernicious aspects of the Donald Trump phenomenon is the way his political success has elevated the deplorable pollution of conscientious American journalism with a new form of manipulating and deceiving public opinion -- what is now widely referred to as "fake news."

    Trump did not, of course, invent this phenomenon that now corrupts the pool of information that now daily affects what Americans rely on in forming their judgments about public affairs and the high-profile figures whose words and actions dominate the national discourse.

    But during his successful presidential campaign and since then, Trump has been both a principal trafficker in misinformation. He recently claimed falsely that he really won the popular vote, when it was carried by Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million ballots in the official count.

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Higher education: College could be more affordable soon - or less

    Could there be a Trump-Putin Pact in our future? Could President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, united in their mutual admiration despite ideological differences, enter into a straightforward nonaggression agreement, in which the United States and Russia pledge "to desist from any act of violence, any aggressive action and any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other powers"?

    Trump has declared his desire: "I want to get along with Russia." He also wants to cooperate with the Kremlin along a broad front, from joint operations against terrorism, especially targeting the Islamic State, to halting nuclear proliferation and advances by Iran and North Korea.

    Putin is manic about NATO, wanting more than anything a strong check against the Western European alliance on his western front. Trump's antipathy toward NATO is just what Putin's needs to stop the West's expansion in Eastern Europe. The prospects of economic cooperation resulting from such a union are dazzling. A U.S.-Russia thaw would be in personal and political interests of the two leaders.

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Is a Trump-Putin Pact on the horizon?

    Could there be a Trump-Putin Pact in our future? Could President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, united in their mutual admiration despite ideological differences, enter into a straightforward nonaggression agreement, in which the United States and Russia pledge "to desist from any act of violence, any aggressive action and any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other powers"?

    Trump has declared his desire: "I want to get along with Russia." He also wants to cooperate with the Kremlin along a broad front, from joint operations against terrorism, especially targeting the Islamic State, to halting nuclear proliferation and advances by Iran and North Korea.

    Putin is manic about NATO, wanting more than anything a strong check against the Western European alliance on his western front. Trump's antipathy toward NATO is just what Putin's needs to stop the West's expansion in Eastern Europe. The prospects of economic cooperation resulting from such a union are dazzling. A U.S.-Russia thaw would be in personal and political interests of the two leaders.

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Populism: the establishment strikes back?

    The liberal international order is facing a profound moment of crisis as the year begins.

    Twenty-five years after the fall of the Soviet Union, governments in Washington and Moscow will be both led by figures who embrace a similar brand of right-wing nationalism, one that harps on the primacy of national sovereignty, invokes myths of a greater past, trumpets Christian values, and rejects multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. Their ideological brethren have also found firm footing in parts of Europe and threaten to rewind decades of liberal integration on the continent.

    "Their world is crumbling," declared Florian Philippot, the chief strategist of France's anti-immigrant National Front. "Ours is being built."

    In 2016, ultra-nationalism shook the West. The ascendant populists - a slightly erroneous catch-all term that got pinned to a host of right-wing political movements - were full of sound and fury, and their rise signified a rude awakening for the establishment on both sides of the Atlantic.

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January 3rd

Temperatures keep rising. But government interest cools.

    The new year probably won't be the warmest on record. But the British government predicts that it will still rank among the hottest. 2017 is almost certain to be the 41st consecutive year when global temperatures are above the 20th-century average. And the U.S. government isn't likely to do much about it.

    A La Niña event has settled in, and the tropical Pacific Ocean has cooled, which means overall temperatures shouldn't be as high as they were in 2016 - which is expected to be the third year in a row to be named the hottest in recorded history. The mercury got a boost from a record-challenging El Niño event, a cyclical warming of the tropical Pacific, which dispersed heat around the globe.

    The unusually warm conditions fit into a long-term trend fueled by ever-increasing greenhouse gas concentrations resulting from human activities. The past year brought some astonishing warm-weather extremes. In July, Mitribah, Kuwait, soared to a blistering 129.2 degrees, the hottest temperature ever reliably measured in the Eastern Hemisphere. In November and December, Arctic temperatures spiked 30 to 35 degrees above normal on two separate occasions, stunning climate scientists.

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The Supreme Court: Trump's first pick won't matter as much as his second

    The political world will soon be consumed by President Donald Trump's choice to fill the nearly year-long vacancy on the Supreme Court. Incensed by the Republican-controlled Senate's refusal to even consider President Obama's nominee to fill the seat, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, Democrats are promising a bruising confirmation fight.

    But SCOTUS-watchers will be looking ahead to what the sitting justices will do, particularly Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Why?

    Because it won't be Trump's first Supreme Court pick who will seal the court's ideological direction for a generation. It will be, if and when it happens, his second.

    Almost anyone on Trump's list of 21 candidates to take Antonin Scalia's spot on the court is likely to replicate the late justice's voting pattern (if not his style). That would restore the court's long-held position as a generally conservative court capable of the occasional liberal surprise.

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Trump goes from reality TV star to TV reality

    Television is one of pop culture's nimblest mediums. News-oriented programs such as "Saturday Night Live" and "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee" can incorporate big events on hours' notice, and even scripted dramas and comedies can comment on the events of previous weeks or months.

    And in 2017, that will mean more Donald Trump. We probably won't get the first movies and novels about or influenced by the Trump administration for another year. But television shows will be the first line of pop culture's response to this new era in American politics.

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Why has the homicide epidemic in Chicago been left to spread?

    Chicago, the nation's third largest city, ends 2016 with the more homicides than the two larger cities -- New York and Los Angeles -- put together. Everyone is shocked but not everyone is surprised.

    More than 750 people were killed in Chicago in 2016, the highest total since 1997, and more than 3,500 were wounded by firearms.

    Dr. Gary Slutkin, a University of Illinois at Chicago epidemiologist who founded the CeaseFire Illinois violence-reduction program also known as CureViolence, saw this plague coming.

    He warned Gov. Bruce Rauner in a March 2015 letter of a probable surge in Chicago shootings if the program's funding was not restored. The $4.5 million grant represented most of the funding for CeaseFire Illinois, which serves sites across six cities in the state. "Lives depend on this program," he wrote.

    Sure, just about every social service program makes life-or-death pleas when its funding is cut. But this doctor had some startling statistics on his side.

    Slutkin had seen similar interruptions in funding precede violent crime surges in Chicago four times since CeaseFire took to the Windy City's streets in 2001. That's too often to be brushed off as mere coincidence.

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Why it was actually a good year

    By conventional wisdom, 2016 has been a horrible year. Only someone living in a cave could have missed the flood of disheartening headlines. However, if 2016 continues the global trends of previous years, it may turn out to have been one of the best years for humanity as a whole.

    Those of us who live in the world of poverty research and rigorous measurement have watched many global indicators improve consistently for the past few decades. Between 1990 and 2013 (the last year for which there is good data), the number of people living in extreme poverty dropped by more than half, from 1.85 billion to 770 million. As the University of Oxford's Max Roser recently put it, the top headline every day for the past two decades should have been: "Number of people in extreme poverty fell by 130,000 since yesterday." At the same time, child mortality has dropped by nearly half, while literacy, vaccinations and the number of people living in democracy have all increased.

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2017's Priority: Protecting democracy

    The most important political task of 2017 transcends the normal run of issues and controversies. Our greatest obligation will be to defend democracy itself, along with republican norms for governing, and the openness that free societies require.

    To say this is not alarmist. Nor is it to deny the importance of other issues. Preserving the gains in health insurance coverage achieved by the Affordable Care Act should be a high priority. So should preventing a shredding of the social safety net and stopping budget-busting tax cuts for the best-off Americans.

    But even these vital matters are secondary to preventing a rollback of democratic values and a weakening of the institutions of self-rule, at home and around the world.

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