Archive

December 3rd

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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Trump likes to be 'unpredictable.' That won't work in diplomacy.

    Once when I was serving in the federal government in the early 2000s, the Treasury Department was ready to issue an obscure communique. Just before it was set to be released, someone noticed a stray punctuation mark. The picayune typo could have led some to interpret the communique as a U.S. policy reversal on some territory where sovereignty was disputed.

    This mattered: Historically, foreign officials and the press parse every word that presidents and policy principals say to decipher any changes in policy. Even minute shifts in language can send important signals to the world.

    In this case, the moment the typo was detected, we fixed the problem before it went public. A minor kerfuffle was averted.

    Now imagine trying to clean up President-elect Donald Trump's statements.

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Trump and the dollar

    Since Donald Trump was elected president, the value of the U.S. dollar is up about 4 percent against the currencies of our trading partners. And that "Trump bump" in the dollar is an extension of longer-term trend wherein the greenback is up 20 to 25 percent, depending on the basket of currencies to which you compare it, since mid-2014.

    U.S. presidents, and especially their Treasury secretaries, are hidebound by tradition to profess their undying love for a strong dollar. Perhaps the new president will buck (hee-hee) this trend, because lemme tell you: The strong dollar, which makes our exports less competitive in foreign markets, is no friend of Trump's.

    During the campaign, Trump ran hard against the U.S. trade deficit, or exports minus imports, last seen at about $500 billion, about -2.5 percent of GDP. Our trade deficit is exclusively in manufactured goods; we have a surplus in services (financial services, entertainment, including royalty fees, intellectual property, airline fares). I raise that because the linkages among the trade deficit, the loss of manufacturing jobs and the dollar are what connects the trend you see in the figure to potential headaches for the next president.

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There's no 'good' or 'bad' America

    Are people who believe in deplorable things themselves "deplorable"? Donald Trump voters, whether they intended to or not, empowered racists. Many hold misogynistic and Islamophobic views, even if they might like to believe that they don't. But this should not - it cannot - have much bearing on whether someone is "good" or "bad" in an absolute sense.

    To prioritize one's tribe or family to the exclusion of others has long been a universal condition. The nature of this in-group identity is malleable and can morph from ethnic to religious to nationalist identities. Whatever its form, however, it remains a potent force, steeped as it is in those most natural of sentiments -- fear and the will to survive. As anthropologist Scott Atran writes: "Across most of human history and cultures, violence against other groups was considered a moral virtue." Today we know that the desire to exclude shouldn't be the norm, but that doesn't make it any less a part of who we are.

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The racist history of Southern white evangelicalism and the rise of Donald Trump

    Two weeks after electing Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, America pauses this week for a day of Thanksgiving. No doubt, many dinner tables will be as divided as the election results-as contentious as our anxious streets. But if we listen closely to the prayers of those who are jubilant in this season, we may discern the false religion that blessed Donald Trump's reactionary campaign. Such discernment is necessary, as we have learned through our cross-racial Moral Mondays movement, before we can experience the moral revival that offers the only way forward together for American democracy.

    Franklin Graham, the son of our home state's most famous preacher, Billy Graham, celebrated Trump's election with this prayer of thanksgiving: "Political pundits are stunned. Many thought the Trump/Pence ticket didn't have a chance. None of them understand the God-factor. . . While the media scratches their heads and tries to understand how this happened, I believe that God's hand intervened."

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