Archive

February 25th, 2017

Follow The Money To Uncover Trump's Ties To Russia

    If you think about it, no wonder Donald Trump prefers the imaginative stylings of Fox News to the Presidential Daily Briefing. He's pretty much the network's target demographic: a daffy old-timer with time on his hands.

    Intelligence reports tend to be complex, hedged with uncertainties. That's boring to an elderly adolescent. Rather like the big-screen evangelical churches that furnish much of the rest of its audience, Fox News delivers provocative melodrama that keeps viewers wide awake.

    Hence Sweden, one of the safest, most prosperous democracies on earth, becomes a hotbed of terrorist violence. Never mind that Sweden's terrific crime novelists -- Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo -- probably kill off more imaginary victims than the country has actual homicides.

    Sweden has taken in many Syrian refugees; therefore, it must be hell on earth. Anybody who says different is spreading "fake news" -- a term that has basically come to signify "I'm talking out my ... "

    Well, making things up.

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Fight Trump, Not His Voters

    A few days ago, I blithely tweeted a warning that Democrats often sound patronizing when speaking of Trump voters. That provoked a vehement reaction.

    “Sorry,” Jason tweeted back, “but if someone is supporting a racist ignoramus who wants to round up brown ppl and steal my money, I’m gonna patronize.”

    “This is normalization of a hateful ideology and it’s shameful,” protested another.

    “My tone isn’t patronizing,” one person responded. “It’s hostile. Intentionally. I won’t coddle those who refuse to recognize my humanity.”

    “What a great idea!” another offered. “Let’s recruit a whole bunch of bigoted unthinking lizard brains because we could possibly ‘WIN!'”

    And so the comments went, registering legitimate anxieties about President Donald Trump — but also the troubling condescension that worried me in the first place. I fear that the (richly deserved) animus toward Trump is spilling over onto all his supporters.

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California really has what it takes to secede

    With the election of Donald Trump and the backlash to some of his early moves in office, Americans are rediscovering nationalism. But confusion reigns over what American nationalism really is. Does it have to be federalist, for instance? Does it have to be liberal? In one of the great ironies of the political season, these kinds of questions are thrown into sharp relief by the strangest nationalist movement now under way - in California.

    Drawing inspiration from breakaway groups in Europe, organizations like the "Yes California" movement and the California National Party want to peaceably, legally transform the West Coast of the United States into a "pragmatic progressive" paradise. From one angle, California nationalism, and this particular expression of it, makes perfect sense. Despite marked divides between its northern and southern halves, the Golden State has always nourished its own identity. That stamp was apparent even when Californians played a leading role in fueling all-American patriotism, from the early days of the space program to the closing days of the Ronald Reagan administration.

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Why the White House is leakier than Trump Tower

    President Donald Trump has threatened to prosecute leakers and bring in an outsider to review the intelligence agencies after reading unfavorable stories about his administration day after day in the news media. But he's learning the hard way that there isn't much he can do to stop government leaks.

    That may surprise Trump, because in the private sector, the tools to stop leaking are generally pretty effective. It's an anomaly of the legal system that in government, where the stakes are arguably higher than in business, it's easier to get away with leaking.

    You would think that criminal prosecution would be enough to deter government leaking. And if the leaked material is classified, leakers can go to prison. Both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations aggressively went after classified leaks, convicting officials as prominent as vice-presidential adviser I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling.

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Why it's been 31 years since the last tax reform

    President Donald Trump has promised the most comprehensive overhaul of the tax system since 1986. That was when a Republican president joined forces with a Democratic House of Representatives and a Republican Senate to lower personal income-tax rates and simplify a messy and outdated tax system.

    Today, Republicans control both houses of Congress as well as the White House. Democrats agree with them that the system has once again become messy and outdated. So in theory it should be easier to reach agreement now than it was then.

    Forget that theory. Passing tax reform this year will be a much tougher slog than it was 30 years ago, or than Republicans expect it to be today.

    Republican opposition would have doomed President Ronald Reagan's plans without Democratic support, and the bipartisanship and skilled political leadership needed to push them through don't exist today.

    Thus while a sweeping tax-reform bill is a top priority of both Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan, with a goal of passing it by July, the odds are that it won't happen. A look at what took place in 1986 helps explain why.

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Who gains if U.S. universities start losing out

   Since World War II, the U.S. university system has been the envy of the world. More than that, it has to some extent been the world's university system, drawing the best scholars from all over the planet to do their research and teaching where academic standards are highest and resources greatest. America's higher-education dominance has continued even as other sectors of the U.S. economy have lost ground to foreign competition, and it has fueled the rise of new industries in which the U.S. has become a world leader.

    By most measures, this dominance continues. According to Shanghai Ranking Consultancy's 2016 Academic Ranking of World Universities, which focuses on research output, 15 of the world's top 20 universities, and 50 of the top 100, are in the U.S.

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Trump's foreign policy: the worst and the dimmest

    Back in 2001, during the "end of history" interregnum between the Cold War and 9/11, Henry Kissinger published a book called "Does America Need a Foreign Policy?" It was obviously a rhetorical question coming from a master of diplomacy. But now it is a very real issue, because the United States under President Donald Trump does not actually seem to have a foreign policy. Or, to be exact, it has several foreign policies -- and it is not obvious whether anyone, including the president himself, speaks for the entire administration.

    On Feb. 15, for example, Trump was asked, during a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whether he still supported a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. His insouciant reply? "So I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I'm very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." This immediately prompted news coverage that, as a New York Times article had it, "President Trump jettisoned two decades of diplomatic orthodoxy on Wednesday by declaring that the United States would no longer insist on the creation of a Palestinian state as part of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians."

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Trump wasn't a real CEO. No wonder his White House is disorganized.

    Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump made much of his business experience, claiming he's been "creating jobs and rebuilding neighborhoods my entire adult life."

    The fact that he was from the business world rather than a career politician was something that appealed to many of his supporters.

    It's easy to understand the appeal of a president as CEO. The U.S. president is indisputably the chief executive of a massive, complex, global structure known as the federal government. And if the performance of our national economy is vital to the well-being of us all, why not believe that Trump's experience running a large company equips him to effectively manage a nation?

    Instead of a "fine-tuned machine," however, the opening weeks of the Trump administration have revealed a White House that's chaotic, disorganized and anything but efficient. Examples include rushed and poorly constructed executive orders, a dysfunctional national security team, and unclear and even contradictory messages emanating from multiple administrative spokesmen, which frequently clash with the tweets of the president himself.

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Trump war on leaks might bring more chaos, not less

    The issue of leaks to the press has caused a public stir once again, yet the history, the law and the practical enforcement all seem puzzling. Leaks are supposed to be super-dangerous, or so we are told, yet actual leakers, until recently, were not prosecuted very often.

    To make sense of this puzzle, I read a variety of interesting histories. The most interesting source was "The Leaky Leviathan," by David E. Pozen of Columbia Law School.

    Pozen stresses that leaks serve the purpose of the federal government more often than not. A survey from the mid-1980s found that 42 percent of surveyed senior government officials felt that it was sometimes appropriate to leak information to the press -- hardly a sign this is intrinsically treasonous behavior. Nor has the federal government moved to stop leaks the way the private sector has.

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Trump persists in his campaign against the press

    Not yet a month in office, President Trump was back on the campaign trail in Florida the other day in what could be called a victory lap celebrating the job he had already won.

    The event was a transparent ego booster shot to his constant need for reassurance that his faithful flock was still with him. He held it amid spreading street protests and news-media allegations that his infant administration was in governing chaos.

    At great length, he boasted of "our incredible progress in making America great again" and of the "truly great movement" he had assembled "without the filter of the fake news, the dishonest media which has published one false story after another with no sources, even though they pretend they have them. They make them up in many cases, they just don't want to report the truth and they've been calling us wrong now for two years."

    Trump argued that "Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln and many of our greatest presidents fought with the media and called them out oftentimes on their lies. When the media lies to people, I will never, ever let them get away with it."

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