Archive

December 10th

Trump wrecking crew on its way

    Elections have consequences. We've said it before, but it's never been truer than it is today.

    Yes, elections have consequences, as Donald Trump is now proving by filling each and every cabinet post with a man or woman whose sole mission is to roll back every advancement made over the last eight years under President Obama.

    Start with Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), who was tapped by Trump to be the new secretary of Health and Human Services. Since March 2010, the primary mission of the HHS secretary has been overseeing implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Not Tom Price. For the last six years, his primary mission has been to repeal Obamacare. Now he'll have his chance.

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Trump is surrounding himself with generals. That's dangerous.

    More than any other president-elect in recent memory, Donald Trump has sought out military brass to populate his inner circle. Trump met Monday with retired Army Gen.David Petraeus, a contender for secretary of state. He is also considering retired Marine Gen.James Mattis as a potential defense secretary, retired Marine Gen.John Kelly for secretary of state or homeland security, and Adm. Mike Rogers as the director of national intelligence. His national security adviser-designate, Michael Flynn, retired from the Army as a lieutenant general after decades as a military intelligence officer. And CIA Director-designate Mike Pompeo graduated from West Point and served during the Cold War as an Army officer.

    There is a great American tradition of veterans holding high political office, from Presidents George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower to senior officials such as Secretary of State Colin Powell and Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake in the George W. Bush administration, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and national security adviser James Jones in the Obama administration. A typical administration, though, starts out with few recent generals in key positions. Filling as many slots with retired brass as Trump is poised to do is highly unusual.

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December 9th

Trump and the Carrier plant: Smart politics, unsustainable economics

    Once, on a visit to the French countryside, I visited the most beautiful, picturesque little country farm I'd ever seen. The farm produced an organic yogurt for the market and, ever the annoying economist, I asked my host how this boutique operation could compete with factory farms. "We couldn't possibly do so," he told me. The farm never came close to profitability and survived only because of deep subsidies.

    This revelation led to the inevitable compare-and-contrast discussion between the proud French farmer and efficiency-oriented American. The punchline of that conversation came back to me Wednesday for a topical reason I'll reveal in a moment. The farmer explained to me that the way to think of his operation was that of a nonprofit that the public willingly supported in order to enjoy truly organic food and the existence of a quaint, non-corporate farm (it was open to visitors, which was how I happened to be there).

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The 'trigger warning' test you can't fail

    "Trigger warnings" on U.S. college campuses have become easy targets for ridicule, but that doesn't seem to have dampened enthusiasm for them. Professors issue these warnings on their syllabuses or during class when the material studied turns to sex, race or violence. To some, this is a reasonable way to protect students who might take offense at what they read or see. To others, the warnings encourage young adults to be overly sensitive victims of political correctness imposed by self-appointed "elites."

    Since this campus craze has spread and become a contentious subject in U.S. politics, let's make sure we know what we're talking about. One way to do that is with a 10-question practice test. Here goes:

    1. Why the word trigger?

    A. The warnings originally applied to representations of gun violence.

    B. Images and stories cause traumatic reactions suddenly and uncontrollably.

    C. To a survivor, troubling content has the fearsome power of a pointed gun.

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The OPEC deal sells fake news for real money

    It's hard to blame Russia for using its propaganda machine to help build a post-fact world when its economy depends on a post-fact market -- the oil one. The market's reaction to news from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries highlights its spurious mechanics.

    Bloomberg News reported recently that Russia as a country made $6 billion just by talking to OPEC about cutting its oil output: News about the negotiations drove up the price. Now, Russia has agreed to a cut by 300,000 barrels per day by January "if technically possible." It looks like a lot -- a quarter of the total cut OPEC members have agreed among themselves -- but then Russia's output increased by 520,000 barrels a day between the end of August and the end of October, reaching an absolute record level. Russia has been making money on the increasing price while growing production -- the best of both worlds thanks to some deft news manipulation and nothing else. Now, even if Russia cuts output by about 2.7 percent of the current level, as it has promised, it will still reap a profit if the price of crude holds at the current level -- about 7 percent higher on Thursday morning than three days before.

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The False Liberator

    Say what you want about Fidel Castro, in Africa he was a liberator. His aid to the South African anti-apartheid struggle will forever be remembered as a grand stroke of moral leadership, in great contrast to American policy.

    That's the theme of various sympathetic postmortems for the Cuban dictator, who died at 90 on Nov. 25.

    Castro's detractors express an "American-centric" view, the New York Times' Pentagon correspondent, Helene Cooper, noted Sunday on "Meet the Press": "The Castro that I grew up knowing as a child growing up in Liberia was a Castro who fought the South African apartheid regime that the United States was propping up."

    To be sure, it would be hard to exercise unchallenged rule over a country for nearly half a century without doing anything admirable. So stipulate that Castro's Cold War-era backing of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress, and his army's war against South African troops in nearby Angola, belong on the plus side of history's ledger.

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Should you trust that news story you're reading? Here's how to check

    One of the hottest questions in the aftermath of the 2016 election has been how to fight the plague of fake news. Facebook has alternately evaded and grappled with its role in the crisis. Fake-news writers have explained their motivations. And my Washington Post colleague David Ignatius has looked at the international implications of a wave of falsehoods.

    As much as it's important to push back on what's not true, it's also important to focus on what is trustworthy and to explain why outlets and reporters who continually do a good job amidst this onslaught are worth trusting. After this disorienting election, I reached out to a wide range of friends from all points on the political spectrum to ask what outlets and which writers they had confidence in and to explain the reasons for that confidence.

    Many of the people who responded suggested that they trusted individual writers -- or the judgment of individual people passing along stories -- more than the trusted specific institutions.

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Seduced and Betrayed by Trump

    Donald Trump won the Electoral College (though not the popular vote) on the strength of overwhelming support from working-class whites, who feel left behind by a changing economy and society. And they’re about to get their reward — the same reward that, throughout Trump’s career, has come to everyone who trusted his good intentions. Think Trump University.

    Yes, the white working class is about to be betrayed.

    The evidence of that coming betrayal is obvious in the choice of an array of pro-corporate, anti-labor figures for key positions. In particular, the most important story of the week — seriously, people, stop focusing on Trump Twitter — was the selection of Tom Price, an ardent opponent of Obamacare and advocate of Medicare privatization, as secretary of health and human services. This choice probably means that the Affordable Care Act is doomed — and Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters will be among the biggest losers.

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No one can stop President Trump from using nuclear weapons. That's by design.

    Sometime in the next few weeks, Donald Trump will be briefed on the procedures for how to activate the U.S. nuclear arsenal, if he hasn't already learned about them.

    All year, the prospect of giving the real estate and reality TV mogul the power to launch attacks that would kill millions of people was one of the main reasons his opponents argued against electing him. "A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons," Hillary Clinton said in her speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination. Republicans who didn't support Trump -- and even some who did, such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio -- also said they didn't think Trump could be trusted with the launch codes.

    Now they're his. When Trump takes office in January, he will have sole authority over more than 7,000 warheads. There is no failsafe. The whole point of U.S. nuclear weapons control is to make sure that the president -- and only the president -- can use them whenever he decides to do so. The only sure way to keep President Trump from launching a nuclear attack, under the system we've had in place since the early Cold War, would have been to elect someone else.

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Donald Trump can be the NRA's agent of chaos

    You have to respect the ambition of the National Rifle Association. The easy course for the NRA in 2016 was to assume a Hillary Clinton presidency, and to graciously accept the bounty that her election foretold. With Clinton in the White House, the gun industry could count on a Clinton boom piggy-backing on the unprecedented Obama sales boom.

    For the NRA, the first woman president represented almost as rich a propaganda bonanza as the first black president. NRA rhetoric had already seamlessly supplanted Obama, previously the greatest threat to human freedom, with Clinton, who NRA leader Wayne LaPierre in May said "attacks our fundamental right to survive and protect ourselves."

    The group had much to gain from a Clinton presidency. With the House in Republican control, there was little Clinton could have realistically achieved on gun regulation. Meanwhile her Supreme Court nominee, like Clinton herself, would have served the NRA well as a readily caricatured super-villain and a spur to both organizing and gun sales.

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