Archive

January 16th, 2017

In 2017, spend less time and energy on jerks and hucksters

    Though I'm generally staying away from rigid resolutions for 2017, in the process of planning my coverage for the year, I've reached one conclusion:

    As President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in, inaugurating a new era of classlessness in American politics, bringing frauds into his administration and empowering a new class of political hucksters, I'll need to triage which of the many jerks and con men arriving in his wake deserve space in this column. And this is a good moment for me to reassess when covering shocking remarks or behavior will marginalize those sentiments and actions, and when weighing in would give them new power.

    I fully intend to keep writing about jerks as well as con men and con women who have actual power. If someone has seen fit to hire you to host a television show, if you make decisions about who gets to work and tell stories in the entertainment industry, if you have an elected office or a position in the bureaucracy that gives you influence over arts and communication policy, or if you occupy the Oval Office and you behave like a creep, a fool or an intellectual arsonist, then I'll rush to my keyboard and write what needs to be said.

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Voting is an American right

    In 1965, fewer than two percent of eligible African-Americans living in Selma, Ala., were registered to vote. As we all know, this was the result of laws and policies whose purpose was to keep African-Americans out of the voting booth. It took decades of blood, sweat and tears to reverse this deeply embedded discrimination. Having lost my father to that struggle when I was still a small child, I cannot begin to express what it meant to see a black man take the presidential oath of office in 2008.

    What a difference eight years makes. While Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, fewer than 80,000 votes divided among Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan made Donald Trump the electoral college winner. In each of these states, Clinton saw a significant decline in minority vote totals of 10 percent or more. And in each of these states - along with swing states North Carolina and Florida - that difference in turnout may be attributed to legislative efforts to make it harder to vote. In fact, a federal appeals court described North Carolina's lawmakers as targeting minority voters with "almost surgical precision."

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Donald Trump could blow up the GOP's Obamacare repeal strategy

    All it took was a handful of Donald Trump tweets. When Trump declared he wasn't crazy about congressional Republicans' timing on killing an independent ethics oversight office, Washington showered him with credit for the abrupt GOP reversal that followed -- never mind that he hadn't even condemned the GOP move, just its timing.

    Are we about to see a rerun on Obamacare? Perhaps! When Trump holds his news conference Wednesday, he will likely be asked whether he still thinks that Republicans should repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act "simultaneously," as he said in a post-election interview. If he answers in the affirmative, it could throw the current GOP strategy -- repeal on a delayed schedule with no guarantee of any replacement later -- into further doubt.

    Tuesday, multiple reports tell us that anxiety is rising among Senate Republicans over the current GOP strategy. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who holds an influential position as chairman of the health and education committee, is now saying more explicitly than before that Republicans should not repeal the ACA until they have a replacement ready.

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Artists aren't here to 'heal' the country - they have more important political work to do

    The election results shook up a lot of things, among them assumptions about how effective artists are when they venture into politics.

    Plenty of Hollywood's biggest stars have long been allied with Democratic candidates and liberal causes, but during the 2016 presidential race, celebrities came out against Donald Trump with exceptional fervor and vehemence. And, like many assumptions about what works in politics, Trump's victory called into question whether all that star power actually amounts to much in terms of voter persuasion.

    As a result, questions about who will perform at Trump's inauguration, who wouldn't if asked and why have become a way to look at artists' roles in the aftermath of that shake-up. (They have also left the president-elect attempting to claim that he boosted album sales for classical crossover artist Jackie Evancho, the transition's biggest "get" so far.)

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The investigation of James Comey is exactly what the country needs

    The announcement by the Justice Department's inspector general that his office will look into FBI Director James B. Comey's handling of Hillary Clinton's emails reopens painful questions about the 2016 election, but it is also welcome news. The country needs this - an objective, independent and thorough investigation of issues that have roiled the country for months and continue to stir heated debate.

    The investigation will address allegations that Comey violated established Justice Department and FBI policies and procedures in his July 5, 2016, public announcement concerning the Hillary Clinton email investigation. And it will explore allegations that Comey's Oct. 28 and Nov. 6 letters to Congress, which jolted the presidential election - and may have changed its outcome - were improper.

    The impact of Comey's actions can never be definitively known. But it is important, for the Justice Department and for the country, to obtain a detailed accounting of what happened and why; to assign blame where it is warranted; and to understand how similar situations can be prevented.

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We'll know soon whether U.S. spies bluffed on Russia

    If you're one of those people who don't trust the intelligence community when it says Russia ran an influence campaign against Hillary Clinton, I have some good news. We will soon know whether the spies are being straight with us.

    In less than two weeks, Donald Trump is to become president and his nominee for CIA director is Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo. Former Republican senator Dan Coats is Trump's choice to be the next director of national intelligence. If the evidence supporting the unclassified report released Friday on the Russian hacking is flimsy, these three will know soon enough.

    That report asserts that Russian President Vladimir Putin authorized a cyber-espionage and propaganda campaign to discredit the Democratic presidential nominee -- an explosive claim. But the report is silent on how the government knows all of this.

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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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