Archive

December 23rd

Fake news is sickening, but don't make the cure worse than the disease

    When a guy with an assault rifle walks into a pizza joint to "self-investigate" the made-up conspiracy theory he found on the internet about a nonexistent child-prostitution ring, there's no doubt we've got a problem.

    And regular folks are reasonably alarmed.

    A new Pew Research Center study finds that two in three U.S. adults say that fabricated news stories cause "a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events." This sense is shared widely across incomes, education levels, political affiliations and most other demographic characteristics, according to the study.

    Pope Francis agreed, memorably comparing the consumption of fake news to the eating of excrement. (A much-shared fake story said he had endorsed Donald Trump for president.) President Barack Obama has chimed in on the dangers, too: "When there's so much active misinformation and it's packaged very well," he said, it poisons political discourse.

    Facebook, initially reluctant to step into the fray, announced Thursday that it would take some first steps.

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Democrats warn State Department of potential Trump 'witch-hunts'

    Democrats in Congress, upset by the Trump transition team's efforts to identify Energy Department officials who worked on climate change, are trying to head off a larger effort to identify and potentially purge bureaucrats who worked on Obama administration policies at the State Department.

    The Obama administration's political appointees will leave office en masse when President-elect Donald Trump takes office, but the civil servants and career diplomats who worked with them will largely remain. The fear is that the Trump team will try to single out career officials who have worked on several Obama foreign policy items that they may seek to reverse, such as the Iran nuclear agreement and the Paris climate accords.

    Earlier this week, the Energy Department refused a request by the Trump transition team to identify specific officials and contractors who have worked on climate change. On Wednesday, the Trump transition team said that this request had not been officially authorized. On Thursday, all but one of the Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry to urge him to reject any similar requests that his agency might get from the incoming administration.

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Christmas in America means the usual lawsuits

    Christmas is right around the corner, meaning that the time has come for the usual passel of lawsuits and threats of lawsuits, of bitter division over words and symbols -- in short, of all the usual trimmings of the season.

    Let's do a quick roundup.

    In New York City, on the Upper East Side, a lawyer has filed suit against a wealthy neighbor for playing Christmas music too loud outside her townhouse. The music apparently runs from 7 a.m. until midnight, and the plaintiff says he is not against Christmas music as such -- he just wants a break from his neighbor's loudspeakers.

    In Texas, a nurse's aide at a public school is in trouble for putting up a homemade poster with a picture of Linus and a quotation from the half-century-old television classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas." The problem is that the quotation is from the scene in which Linus explains to Charlie Brown the true meaning of the holiday: Christmas, he says, is really about Jesus -- and he explains by reciting the famous lines from the second chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

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December 22nd

We need an independent, public investigation of the Trump-Russia scandal. Now.

    The Trump-Russia scandal continues to widen, with revelations that are making it increasingly clear that not only do we need a full investigation, but that investigation needs to be independent and bipartisan, and include public hearings. Some Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have suggested that the Senate Intelligence Committee can handle it.

    But let's make no mistake: that's a way of sweeping it under the rug. The Intelligence Committee's hearings are closed to the public and press, and while there will certainly need to be parts of this investigation that are kept behind closed doors lest "sources and methods" be compromised, we need to learn as much as possible about this scandal. A dusty, redacted report released a year from now will not be enough.

    If this keeps going in the direction it's headed, this could stand alongside Watergate and Iran-Contra as one of the most important scandals in modern American history. It's increasingly looking like a hostile foreign power run by a murderous thug tried to swing an American election, and may have succeeded -- at least, in helping to tip it.

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Best secretary of state Kremlin could buy

    OK, take a deep breath. And then consider this: We are about to inaugurate as president a man who won the election with the active help of Vladimir Putin himself.

    But that's not all. Take another deep breath. Now add this: Knowing that Russia directly intervened to help him become the next president of the United States, what's Donald Trump's response? It's to reward the Kremlin by naming one of Vladimir Putin's buddies to be the next secretary of state.

    If that's not enough to strike fear in your heart about our nation's future, I don't know what is.

    Of all the questionable cabinet appointments Trump has made, nominating Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state is by far the worst. For four reasons.

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When will we see Donald Trump's big 'pro-worker' agenda?

    Here's one question to entertain as we evaluate whether Donald Trump and congressional Republicans are really going to roll out an agenda that helps workers, as Trump has promised to do: Will Congress actually spend money to help them?

    There are two key ways Congress might do this: By spending more on efforts to help workers navigate the changes in the economy; and by spending more to create jobs, say, via a big infrastructure package (the latter of which Trump himself has promised). Those aren't the only ways to help them, of course. But many progressive economists think those are two very important tools that could help workers whose plight Trump himself has highlighted -- workers displaced by trade and automation.

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What Democrats should really be looking for in the next DNC chair

    We have now learned that Tom Perez, the outgoing Secretary of Labor, will be joining the race for chair of the Democratic National Committee. Much of the discussion around the question of the Democratic Party's next leader seems to have virtually nothing to do with the things that will actually make that leader a success or a failure, so it might be worthwhile to consider the questions Democrats should be asking themselves at this point.

    But first, here's the lay of the land. The leading candidate up until now has been Minnesota congressman Keith Ellison, who has garnered endorsements from key Democratic politicians like Chuck Schumer and Elizabeth Warren, and important liberal groups like the AFL-CIO. Nevertheless, the race - which will be decided by the 447 committee members when they meet in late February - is still wide open .

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Trump Is Taking on Wall Street, Literally

    Actor Jack Nicholson says he finally understood the meaning of the word irony when his mother called him an SOB.

    So let us consider Donald Trump, who campaigned as the populist champion of the working-class, promising that — by golly — he was going to take on Wall Street and the corporate elites.

    But the bitter irony for the working class is that they now see what the SOB meant — he’s literally “taking on” the moneyed powers, by taking them on-board his administration. Already he’s brought in Wall Street billionaires to fill the three top economic policy positions in his cabinet.

    Then there’s Betsy DeVos, the billionaire heiress to the scandal-plagued Amway fortune. Her life’s work has been trying to defund and privatize the public schools that working-class people count on, and to eliminate the working-class jobs of teachers and support staff.

    Her new job with Trump? Secretary of education, where she’ll now use our public money to undermine our public education system.

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The party's over; college towns have had their fun

    As economists look for models that could reverse the fortunes of stagnating parts of the country, one cause for optimism has been college towns, which have thrived despite being neither wealthy coastal metropolises nor booming Sun Belt cities. The problem is that the common thread among those towns is ... colleges. And demographic and labor-market forces have peaked in higher education.

    The appeal of the college town model is understandable. As a recent Wall Street Journal article notes, since 2000, the median unemployment rate in counties with flagship land-grant universities has been 1.2 percent lower than in other counties. For communities that aren't blessed with the robust infrastructure and deep talent pools of large cities, higher ed institutions represent a robust source of economic demand that isn't dependent on manufacturing or the business cycle. It's also a way to ensure a steady stream of young people, fighting some of the demographic pressures as the rest of small-town America ages.

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Mainstream Republicans think they're in control

    Mainstream Republicans are buoyed by Donald Trump's appointments so far, convinced that strategically positioned top officials can freeze out those they consider extremists.

    On domestic issues, establishment congressional conservatives believe that an alliance of Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Paul Ryan and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus will encourage the Trump administration to push a conventional Republican agenda. They also are counting on support from Trump's oldest daughter, Ivanka. The loser, in this view, will be top White House counselor Steve Bannon, a champion of white nationalists and the populist right.

    On national security, the betting is that Defense Secretary-designate James Mattis, a retired general, will join forces with Trump's choice for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon-Mobil, to outmanuever the designated national security adviser, retired General Mike Flynn. Flynn has drawn criticism for calling Islam "a political ideology" and ex-colleagues have said they are worried about his volatile temperament.

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