Archive

January 16th, 2017

Three themes for Democrats' resistance

    Democrats, weakened by November's election, are in many ways overmatched.

    House Speaker Paul Ryan finally has the support he needs to enact his agenda, transferring trillions in national wealth from the less well off to the very richest, and dismantling the Affordable Care Act. The aggressive and highly skilled Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has an untested adversary in Charles Schumer, who, though a canny politician, is new to the cat-herding job of Democratic leader.

    And, of course, the Orwellian machinations of President-elect Donald Trump and his team pose an unprecedented challenge, one outside the ken of American political experience -- Democratic or otherwise.

    What Democrats need is time to assess the altered landscape and adapt. What they are about to get is a blur of ferocious activity.

    Senate hearings for eight nominees for Cabinet posts are scheduled to take place from Tuesday to Thursday (plus the nominee for CIA director). By my count, half a dozen in this week's nomination batch are rods poised to attract political lightning.

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James Comey's Worst Week in Washington

    James Comey had hoped to lay low for a while after the election. After all, the FBI director -- via his last-minute interjection into the presidential race -- had become a major player in the fight between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

    A few months in the background, however,was not to be for Comey. The Justice Department's Inspector General announced on Friday that it would open an investigation into Comey's conduct in the runup to the election.

    "I am grateful to the Department of Justice's IG for taking on this review," Comey said in a statement that didn't just stretch credulity but totally shattered it.

    Democrats rejoiced, seeing the probe as proof of what they had insisted since Comey delivered extended remarks on why no indictment would be brought against Clinton last July: That he had broken with protocol and waded deeply into the political process.

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The end of policy, at least for now

    There is a slow-motion collision occurring in every important area of public policy, one that will exact a great cost on the American public and our institutions. It is a collision of three forces: faux populism, uncompromising ideology and a challenging reality that demands policy solutions precluded by those first two forces.

    Faux populism is saying anything to get elected without any plan or intention of making good on (or even remembering) your promises. You can promise that jobs are coming back though you've no idea how to make that happen. You can promise that your health-care plan will be cheaper and better than the current one, though you've neither an idea nor a plan to deliver on that promise. You can promise to build walls that keep "others" out and that others will pay for. You can promise to deregulate Wall Street and cut taxes with no worries about financial bubbles or fiscal constraints. You can deny globalization and promise that isolationism, tariffs and, moving abroad for a moment, leaving the European Union will be seamless and without cost.

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January 15th

How Donald Trump could create a financial crisis

    Predictions are hard, especially about the future of the Trump administration.

    Will his team of economic nationalists, who want to impose tariffs and increase infrastructure spending, get their way, or will it be his gang of economic conservatives, who want to cut taxes for the rich, cut spending for the poor, and deregulate Wall Street? Yes. Trump, you see, isn't so much ideologically flexible as he is ideologically fluid. He has no idée fixe other than appearing strong, especially in the eyes of cable TV pundits. Sometimes that will mean going along with what Congressional Republicans want - gridlock is for the weak - but most of the time that will mean getting Congressional Republicans to go along with him. Which is to say that we should take his policy promises both seriously and literally. He's going to try to do what he's said he will, no matter how inconsistent those things might seem together.

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Fear among federal workers flourishes as they face a hostile Trump presidency

    The fear in the federal workforce is palpable.

    "Obviously, the end of my run is here," predicted a Department of Agriculture employee, sure that the new administration won't be friendly to his agency.

    "The war on federal workers has just begun," another declared in an online federal worker forum.

    The country's 2.1 million federal workers have survived decades of government reinvention and massive outsourcing to contractors. But with the inauguration of Donald Trump less than two weeks away, this threat feels different.

    All over the nation's capital panicked job searches are under way among its legions of badge-wearing, Metro commuting, "I-can't-talk-to-you-I-work-for-the-government" federal employees.

    "Does The Post have any openings?" one very experienced federal worker asked me, right after another sent her resume my way.

    The dusting off of resumes had to set off some air quality warning. Oh wait. Is the EPA already gone?

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As a doctor, I see how a lack of health insurance worsens illness and suffering

    When I first met my patient, I didn't know why he'd been vomiting. It turned out to be for the worst reason.

    He'd been losing weight and energy for months. He'd occasionally seen blood in the toilet. Now he was unable to defecate: A tumor in his bowel had grown so large it stopped stool from passing through.

    When I looked to review his last colonoscopy, he said he'd never had one. His father had died of colon cancer, but my patient didn't have insurance or a doctor, and he hadn't gotten screened. Although millions of Americans have gained health insurance in recent years, he was one of millions more who remain uncovered.

    I wondered whether his fate could have been prevented. Could we have caught his cancer earlier? Would insurance coverage have prevented a bad outcome?

    As doctors, we see such tragedies every day. We see how a lack of health insurance exacerbates illness and suffering. And research supports our experience.

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Trump and the Tainted Presidency

    The more we learn about Russia’s hacking and the release of its electronic loot during our presidential election, the more it becomes clear that Donald Trump’s victory and his imminent presidency are already tainted beyond redemption.

    While Russian hacks “were not involved in vote tallying,” the publishing of pilfered emails and promulgation of fake news altered the zeitgeist, poisoned the political environment and shifted public opinion, all of which redounded to Trump’s benefit.

    Trump is as much Russia’s appointment as our elected executive. The legacy of his political ascendance will be written in Cyrillic and affixed with an asterisk.

    Do not let this be buried in the pundits’ blathering: A hostile foreign power stole confidential correspondence from U.S. citizens — this is no different from physically breaking into a U.S. office and carting off boxes of written letters — and funneled that stolen material to a willing conspirator, Julian Assange. The foreign power then had its desired result achieved on our Election Day.

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Deficits Matter Again

    Not long ago prominent Republicans like Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, liked to warn in apocalyptic terms about the dangers of budget deficits, declaring that a Greek-style crisis was just around the corner. But now, suddenly, those very same politicians are perfectly happy with the prospect of deficits swollen by tax cuts; the budget resolution they’re considering would, according to their own estimates, add $9 trillion in debt over the next decade. Hey, no problem.

    This sudden turnaround comes as a huge shock to absolutely nobody — at least nobody with any sense. All that posturing about the deficit was obvious flimflam, whose purpose was to hobble a Democratic president, and it was completely predictable that the pretense of being fiscally responsible would be dropped as soon as the GOP regained the White House.

    What wasn’t quite so predictable, however, was that Republicans would stop pretending to care about deficits at almost precisely the moment that deficits were starting to matter again.

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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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The Obamas leave an image that will never fade

    Hold on to one image from President Obama's farewell address: The president using his handkerchief to wipe a tear from his eye as he thanked Michelle Obama for her grace and forbearance.

    The first lady was holding back tears, too, as was her daughter Malia. Politics aside, it was a touching moment in the life of a family we have come to know so well -- one of countless such moments, and images, that have changed this nation forever.

    The White House is really a glass house, and for eight years we have watched the Obamas live their lives in full public view. We've seen a president age, his hair graying and his once-unlined face developing a wrinkle here, a furrow there. We've seen a first lady change hairstyles and model an array of designer gowns. We've seen two little girls grow into young women.

     We've seen it all before -- except that we've never seen an African-American family in these roles. Images of the Obamas performing the duties of the first family are indelible, and I believe they will be one of the administration's most important and lasting legacies.

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