Archive

January 14th, 2017

The Fight for Health Care Has Begun

    When House Republicans abandoned their plan to gut an independent ethics office last week, it showed the power of public opinion. It also offered a playbook for Democrats in 2017.

    As soon as news of the original plan broke late last Monday afternoon, social media exploded with outrage. Phone calls poured in to Capitol Hill the next morning. At 10 a.m., Donald Trump distanced himself from the plan, and by midafternoon Republicans had folded.

    We’ve seen this script before, but it has recently come from the political right more often than the left. The Tea Party and its allies managed to alter President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus and 2010 health care law, as well as help block climate, preschool and infrastructure bills.

    Remember, some of those victories came when Republicans didn’t control the White House or Congress. But they had other advantages: a focused message, a strong organization and a whole lot of passion. They influenced policy by striking political fear into members of Congress.

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Meryl Streep called out Donald Trump's bullying and lies. Trump just hit back - with more lies.

    As the debate continues raging among journalists about how aggressively to call out Donald Trump's lies, Monday morning brings a new episode that reminds us why it's so important not to flinch from reckoning with the possibility that conventional journalistic techniques just aren't going to cut it during the Trump era.

    At the Golden Globes ceremony Sunday night, actress Meryl Streep tore into Trump, depicting him as a bully who takes borderline sociopathic pleasure in abusing and belittling others. As Exhibit A, Streep cited Trump's now-infamous mockery of a disabled reporter, Serge F. Kovaleski, and made the case that this sort of public performance sets a tone by example:

    "This instinct to humiliate, when it's modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody's life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence."

 

    On Monday morning, Trump responded with a series of tweets:

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Kellyanne Conway's laughable 'look at what's in his heart' defense of Donald Trump

    Kellyanne Conway has a prescription for what ails the media's relationship with President-elect Donald Trump. In defending Trump's months-old mocking of a disabled reporter, Trump's senior adviser said we need to look into Trump's heart.

    "Why don't you believe him? Why is everything taken at face value?" Conway asked CNN's Chris Cuomo while talking about Meryl Streep's criticism of Trump at Sunday's Golden Globes.

    She continued: "You can't give him the benefit of the doubt on this, and he's telling you what was in his heart? You always want to go by what's come out of his mouth rather than look at what's in his heart."

    The short answer to Conway's question is no, we can't give him the benefit of the doubt because of what's in his heart. We can't do this because the evidence so clearly shows a presidential candidate mocking a reporter's physical disability. But mostly we can't do this because we don't know what's in his heart, and any attempt to figure that out would amount to a value judgment.

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Trump has to rescue Obamacare or admit he's a liar

    It didn't take long. During the first week of 2017, the new Republican Congress has begun efforts to dismantle America's health-care system. Their long-standing goal, consistent with their right-wing ideology, is to take away health insurance from tens of millions of Americans, privatize Medicare, make massive cuts to Medicaid and defund Planned Parenthood. At the same time, in the midst of grotesque and growing income and wealth inequality, they're preparing to allow pharmaceutical companies to increase drug prices and to hand out obscene tax breaks for the top one-tenth of 1 percent.

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January 12th

Killing Obamacare threatens real Americans

    Let's try to get this straight. Donald Trump campaigned as the champion of lower-paid working people who deserve better than they have. Republicans have spent the Obama presidency complaining about high deficits and promising to cut them.

     And whenever liberals put forward major reforms, conservatives say: No, no, you can't make radical changes on the basis of narrow partisan majorities. Let's take it slow and be very careful. They love to cite Thomas Jefferson's dictum, "Great innovations should not be forced on slender majorities."

     In moving with reckless speed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are violating every one of these supposed principles. That's because the principle that really matters to them is the one they try to shroud behind happy talk about efficiency and compassion: They want to spend a whole lot less money helping Americans get health coverage. 

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Trump will find worthy foe in pugnacious Schumer

    Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is exceptionally smart, a prodigious worker with keen political instincts who sometimes can be a bit of a bully. The perfect Democrat, it would seem, to lead the opposition against President Donald Trump.

    That is, if he curbs his penchant to be transactional and is tough and skillful enough to hold together a diverse Senate caucus.

    The 66-year-old New Yorker, a lifetime politician, is taking over from Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, who is retiring. Schumer is achieving a long-held ambition, though he wanted to be majority leader. Still, with 48 members and the reality that it usually takes 60 votes for legislation to clear the Senate, Schumer may be the most important Democrat in Washington.

    He probably won't exactly emulate the approach taken eight years ago by his Republican counterpart, Senator Mitch McConnell, who quietly tried to thwart the new president at every step and in every way.

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The art of journalism in the Age of Trump

    The approaching presidency of Donald Trump poses daunting challenges for the journalists covering him, not merely because he has described them as dishonest, low-life scum or because of anxiety over whether the new administration will adhere to basic norms of access, such as daily briefings and regular news conferences.

    The president-elect's behavior presents fundamental questions, recurring daily if not hourly, about the best way to serve our audience. These are technical issues of craft, ordinarily of interest only to journalists themselves. In the Age of Trump, they are imbued with real-world consequences.

    Should news organizations depart from customary restraint and label Trump's falsehoods as outright lies? Should the media treat Trump tweetstorms with the rapt attention devoted to more traditional presidential statements, or refrain from such reflexive coverage in order to avoid being distracted, perhaps intentionally, from more important matters?

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More productivity? Be careful what you wish for

    One of the most significant economic debates over the last decade has been over the nature of the U.S. productivity slowdown and what might someday end it.

    Improving overall productivity requires individual workers to produce more. That's usually made possible by automation or other technological advances, and commentators have settled on their favorite candidates for the next big breakthrough, from drones to self-driving vehicles to the editing of genetic codes. The sad reality, however, is that the next breakthrough already may be here, aiding the manufacture of the addictive drugs that are ruining or ending so many lives.

    Whether we like it or not, there is now a far greater variety of calming, stimulating and depressing substances, and most of them are more readily available. In these areas, productivity has not stood still, and the underlying lesson is that a productivity acceleration can be a dangerous thing.

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It's time to retire the tainted term 'fake news'

    When Jim DeMint wanted to dis a TV interviewer's suggestion that Obamacare has merits as well as flaws, the former senator and tea partyer used a handy putdown: "You can put all that under the category of fake news."

    When conspiracy theorist Alex Jones wanted to deny a CNN report that Ivanka Trump would take over the East Wing offices traditionally occupied by the first lady, he used the same label.

    And when a writer for an arch-conservative website needed a putdown for ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, he reached for the obvious: "fake-news propagandist."

    Fake news has a real meaning - deliberately constructed lies, in the form of news articles, meant to mislead the public. For example: The one falsely claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump, or the one alleging without basis that Hillary Clinton would be indicted just before the election.

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House Republicans' Worst Week in Washington

    It might have sounded like a good idea.

    The Office of Congressional Ethics - created amid the tumult and controversy of the aughts in Congress - had run amok! Members of Congress - Republicans and Democrats! - were being accused of ethical wrongdoing with scant evidence! Something had to be done!

    So, last Sunday night, House Republicans voted to gut the OCE, and, in so doing, ensured that their first step as the party with full control over political Washington would be directly into quicksand.

    The move, which was led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Va., and championed by fellow Republicans Sam Graves, Mo., Peter Roskam, Ill., and Blake Farenthold, Texas - all three of whom had, to their minds, been victimized by the OCE - sparked an immediate backlash. Democrats slammed Republicans for holding a closed-door, Sunday night vote that eliminated an office aimed at keeping lawmakers in line. Advocates for transparency and good government piled on.

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