Archive

December 3rd

The Populism Perplex

    Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million, and she would probably be president-elect if the director of the FBI hadn’t laid such a heavy thumb on the scales, just days before the election. But it shouldn’t even have been close; what put Donald Trump in striking distance was overwhelming support from whites without college degrees. So what can Democrats do to win back at least some of those voters?

    Recently Bernie Sanders offered an answer: Democrats should “go beyond identity politics.” What’s needed, he said, are candidates who understand that working-class incomes are down, who will “stand up to Wall Street, to the insurance companies, to the drug companies, to the fossil fuel industry.”

    But is there any reason to believe this would work? Let me offer some reasons for doubt.

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The left's white working-class problem

    Democrats from President Barack Obama on down are blaming their 2016 debacle in part on too much "identity politics" - messaging aimed not at voters broadly, but at Latinos, women, African-Americans and the LGBT community as groups.

    The one group Democrats did not target were their old mainstays, non-college- educated whites (especially the males of that species), who responded by giving Donald Trump a margin of 39 points over Hillary Clinton, while voters of color failed to vote for her in the expected numbers.

    According to much newly minted conventional wisdom, Democrats can and should win back downscale whites by cranking up economic populism, without losing minorities, women and other key components of their coalition.

    "We need to speak to their economic interests, that we get it, that we understand, that we talk about those things and we try to fight hard for those things," said Rep. Tim Ryan (Ohio), who is challenging Rep. Nancy Pelosi of ultra-diverse San Francisco for leadership of House Democrats.

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Farewell to the Comic in Chief

    I miss him already. Miss his steady rationality, his I-got-this mien, the eight years without a hint of personal scandal. And not to be overlooked, I miss the wit of Barack Obama. No president has had a better comic sensibility.

    Let’s face it: We’re going to need to laugh to get through the presidency of Donald Trump and the Monster’s Ball of his administration. Trump can’t tell a joke, nor can he take one. He was graceless and unfunny at the Al Smith dinner last month, getting booed for his boorishness. And he was petulant and petty with his tweet after a “Saturday Night Live” skit had him asking Siri about the Islamic State.

    Thankfully, jokes at the expense of the highest office in the land are fully protected by the Constitution. But jokes coming from the occupant of that office are rare, and rarely funny. Obama is the exception.

    Anyone can write a joke. Few can deliver one. Obama has great timing, and a sense of self-deprecation honed over years of making fun of his name and his ears.

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Avoiding Thanksgiving Armageddon

    In my politically diverse extended family, Thanksgiving was always a happy version of "Crossfire" or "Firing Line," the occasion for raucous debates over the future of our country. My childhood and early teen years coincided with the 1960s, so the discussions sometimes got bitter.

    Bitter, but never devoid of love and affection. Usually, we had Thanksgiving at the home of my godparents, Aunt Do and Uncle Emile. My aunt tried briefly to ban political conflagrations but gave up, realizing that the combatants enjoyed them. My family, particularly my dad and my Uncle Ray, trained me for what I would do for a living. They taught me how to argue, how to hold intellectual ground, and also how to break tense discord with laughter.

    This Thanksgiving may be particularly tough for families that bear any resemblance to the one I grew up in. Donald Trump promises to be the most divisive president of my lifetime -- and I still remember Richard Nixon's tenure. Nixon made liberals like me angry. Trump scares us. I truly hope I'm wrong, but I can't help but notice his authoritarian tendencies and his apparent inability to separate his new responsibilities from his business interests.

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At 'Hamilton,' Pence meets old-time rowdy, activist theater

    "The Theater must always be a safe and special place," President-elect Donald Trump tweeted after the audience and cast of "Hamilton" confronted Vice President-elect Mike Pence following a performance last week. Opinions may differ about the propriety of those comments, but Trump's subsequent demand for an apology ignored the historical relationship between theater and politics - and the robust U.S. tradition of blending the two.

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Why I told the Senate that Jeff Sessions thought civil rights groups were 'un-American'

    I was a young lawyer in the civil rights division at the Justice Department in 1981 when I first encountered Jeff Sessions, then the new U.S. attorney for Alabama. I met him while I was handling a major voting rights case in Mobile, and I relayed a rumor I'd heard: A federal judge there had allegedly referred to a civil rights lawyer as "a traitor to his race" for taking on black clients. Sessions responded, "Well, maybe he is."

    Five years later, that startling incident came up again, after Sessions was nominated for a federal judgeship. The American Bar Association contacted me and my supervisor to ask for background on Sessions, as was standard in those days for judicial confirmations. I told the ABA about conversations I'd had with the U.S. attorney in which he referred to the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union as "un-American." As he saw it, by fighting for racial equality, these groups were "trying to force civil rights down the throats of people who were trying to put problems behind them."

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What Trump Could Learn from Alexander Hamilton

    By now you’ve probably heard that Vice President-elect Mike Pence was booed by fellow theater-goers at a performance of the musical Hamilton, an unlikely hip-hop sensation that tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and other founding fathers.

    Then, at the end of the show, the cast respectfully addressed Pence and asked him to protect the rights of all Americans — in all their diversity.

    Donald Trump immediately demanded that the cast of Hamilton apologize to Pence. Twitter responded with the hashtag #NameAPenceMusical, offering up suggestions such as “Oklahomophobia!” and “Rent: But Not to Those People.”

    To be fair, the latter belongs less to Pence than to Trump and his father, who faced numerous accusations of racial bias in their real estate business.

    Some Trump supporters used the incident to make a point of their own. Among them, one noted that Hamilton was the creator of the Electoral College, the system that gave Trump the presidency even though he lost the popular vote by a significant margin.

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Ways to be thankful if politics got you down

    If your family is like mine, chances are that at some point Thursday afternoon or evening, you're going to have to say something upbeat. A family member will suggest going around the table, so that each of us can tell the group what we are thankful for. Given that so many people seem so low just now, not a few may have trouble coming up with anything. In the Thanksgiving spirit, therefore, I present a baker's dozen of suggestions on how to answer. All of them represent serious reasons to give thanks. If none of these lift your spirits, please -- please! -- come up with a list of your own. It's worth the effort.

    1. Around the world, infant mortality rates continue to plummet. Not fall. Plummet. It's true in every region of the globe.

    2. I wrote about this on election eve, but it bears a second mention: The Environmental Protection Agency reported earlier this year on the continuing sharp improvement in the quality of the nation's air. The trend is now better than a quarter-century long. Pick any pollutant you like, and the EPA report tells us that the airborne concentration has dropped enormously. (And the trend is independent of which political party controls the White House.)

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December 2nd

Was your turkey treated better than the workers?

    As you pick up your Thanksgiving turkey this year, you may look to see whether it's organic, free range, and humanely raised and slaughtered. What the label won't tell you is how the men and women in the poultry plant who processed your bird are treated. You may not want to know - but you should.

    Poultry production is big business. Poultry is the United States' most popular meat, and profits are soaring. Earlier this year, Tyson Foods, the largest poultry processor, boasted about its $461 million in profits over a three-month period.

    But this wealth is not trickling down to the nation's 250,000 poultry processing workers - not in terms of higher wages or safer working conditions. Poultry plants are one of the harshest working environments in U.S. manufacturing. In plants across the country, workers stand on both sides of long conveyor belts, in cold, damp, dangerously loud conditions, making the same forceful cuts or movements thousands of times daily. A typical worker handles 40 birds a minute. In the holiday months, workers are putting in eight- to 10-hour days, six to seven days a week, to meet demand.

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U.S. elections are a mess, even though there's no evidence this one was hacked

    Was the 2016 presidential election hacked? It's hard to tell. There were no obvious hacks on Election Day, but new reports have raised the question of whether voting machines were tampered with in three states that Donald Trump won this month: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

    The researchers behind these reports include voting rights lawyer John Bonifaz and J. Alex Halderman, the director of the University of Michigan Center for Computer Security and Society, both respected in the community. They have been talking with Hillary Clinton's campaign, but their analysis is not yet public.

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