Archive

January 9th, 2017

Joe Scarborough defends schmoozing with Trump as 'the Washington way'

    It started, as so many things do these days, with a tweet.

    The New York Times political reporter Maggie Haberman, covering Donald Trump's New Year's Eve festivities, observed Saturday night that Joe Scarborough and his MSNBC co-host Mika Brzezinski were among the president-elect's Mar-a-Lago revelers.

    Indeed, they were there. Haberman wasn't making a judgment, just reporting. The former CBS reporter Sopan Deb (soon to join the Times) took it further, describing them as "partying" with Trump.

    Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, wasn't having any of it. He shot back at Deb, charging "fake news."

    Under Deb's questioning, Scarborough explained that his and Brzezinski's purpose was professional, not social. The morning-talk duo was just trying to line up an interview with Trump. They were not partying, and, Scarborough later stressed, they were "dramatically underdressed," and he was headed home soon to a quiet night with his kids.

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House Republicans start 2017 on wrong foot

    Did the House Republicans already suffer their first defeat of 2017? Or is their retreat only tactical and temporary?

    After voting on Monday night to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics -- with no advance warning -- they backed off the decision on Tuesday. The office is the independent body established by a new Democratic majority in 2008 in response to multiple scandals in the Republican-majority House.

    From Monday night to Tuesday noon, there was a media and Twitter firestorm, including tweets from President-elect Donald Trump, who opposed the timing of the scuttling of the ethics office, but not the substance of it.

    For some perspective, let's step back and ask: Why should the House have any ethics oversight at all, let alone an independent role? After all, the voters can punish members who disgrace themselves. House members have to run every two years (compared with six years for the Senate). Plenty of politicians who get into trouble have chosen to resign rather than wait for the voters' verdict, while many others have simply chosen not to run for re-election.

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From Hands to Heads to Hearts

    Software has started writing poetry, sports stories and business news. IBM’s Watson is co-writing pop hits. Uber has begun deploying self-driving taxis on real city streets and, last month, Amazon delivered its first package by drone to a customer in rural England.

    Add it all up and you quickly realize that Donald Trump’s election isn’t the only thing disrupting society today. The far more profound disruption is happening in the workplace and in the economy at large, as the relentless march of technology has brought us to a point where machines and software are not just outworking us but starting to outthink us in more and more realms.

    To reflect on this rapid change, I sat down with my teacher and friend Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, which advises companies on leadership and how to build ethical cultures, for his take.

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Trump will make it up as he goes along

    “I mean, how do you know what you’re going to do until you do it? The answer is you don’t . . . I swear it’s a stupid question.” – Holden Caulfield, “Catcher in the Rye.”

    The thing about young Holden is that you have no idea what he is going to do or say, and neither does he...

    Apologies if you read that opening quote and assumed it to be a midnight tweet or an interview brush-off from Donald Trump.

    Admit it: Even a staunch Trump supporter would assume (and celebrate?) that the line could come straight from his well-oiled jaws.

    Whole gobs of what J.D. Salinger imagines depicts his ramblingly neurotic teen, even Holden's syntax, match up with Trump-speak – including insults and obscenities.

    But the objective as we go forward should be to focus not so much on

Trump’s words but on his policy actions as they occur or are proposed.

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January 4th

A shift to the right could inspire the 'religious left'

    The new year could be turbulent for religion in America.

    Several hot-button issues - including immigration, abortion, poverty, health care, education and religious freedom - will put religion near the center of public life.

    Observers are watching how Donald Trump's relationship with Muslims in the United States and abroad will unfold, after he campaigned on a pledge to ban Muslim immigrants. Will he deliver on his promises to evangelicals? With reports of rising incidents of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism during the 2016 campaign, activists will need to ramp up their efforts to counter bigotry.

    Republicans will control the presidency and both houses of Congress. That could bring more focus on religious freedom bills in 2017, setting off more debate over how the government can - or can't - force faith organizations to handle gay rights and access to contraception and abortion for employees. Meanwhile, many religiously motivated activists will be tracking changes to the Supreme Court (as Trump has promised to appoint justices who oppose abortion), and to the possible defunding of Planned Parenthood and overturning of the Affordable Care Act.

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America Becomes a Stan

    In 2015 the city of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, was graced with a new public monument: a giant gold-plated sculpture portraying the country’s president on horseback. This may strike you as a bit excessive. But cults of personality are actually the norm in the “stans,” the Central Asian countries that emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union, all of which are ruled by strongmen who surround themselves with tiny cliques of wealthy crony capitalists.

    Americans used to find the antics of these regimes, with their tinpot dictators, funny. But who’s laughing now?

    We are, after all, about to hand over power to a man who has spent his whole adult life trying to build a cult of personality around himself; remember, his “charitable” foundation spent a lot of money buying a 6-foot portrait of its founder. Meanwhile, one look at his Twitter account is enough to show that victory has done nothing to slake his thirst for ego gratification. So we can expect lots of self-aggrandizement once he’s in office. I don’t think it will go as far as gold-plated statues, but really, who knows?

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Fake news is no joke

    Among the more pernicious aspects of the Donald Trump phenomenon is the way his political success has elevated the deplorable pollution of conscientious American journalism with a new form of manipulating and deceiving public opinion -- what is now widely referred to as "fake news."

    Trump did not, of course, invent this phenomenon that now corrupts the pool of information that now daily affects what Americans rely on in forming their judgments about public affairs and the high-profile figures whose words and actions dominate the national discourse.

    But during his successful presidential campaign and since then, Trump has been both a principal trafficker in misinformation. He recently claimed falsely that he really won the popular vote, when it was carried by Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million ballots in the official count.

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Higher education: College could be more affordable soon - or less

    Could there be a Trump-Putin Pact in our future? Could President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, united in their mutual admiration despite ideological differences, enter into a straightforward nonaggression agreement, in which the United States and Russia pledge "to desist from any act of violence, any aggressive action and any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other powers"?

    Trump has declared his desire: "I want to get along with Russia." He also wants to cooperate with the Kremlin along a broad front, from joint operations against terrorism, especially targeting the Islamic State, to halting nuclear proliferation and advances by Iran and North Korea.

    Putin is manic about NATO, wanting more than anything a strong check against the Western European alliance on his western front. Trump's antipathy toward NATO is just what Putin's needs to stop the West's expansion in Eastern Europe. The prospects of economic cooperation resulting from such a union are dazzling. A U.S.-Russia thaw would be in personal and political interests of the two leaders.

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Is a Trump-Putin Pact on the horizon?

    Could there be a Trump-Putin Pact in our future? Could President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, united in their mutual admiration despite ideological differences, enter into a straightforward nonaggression agreement, in which the United States and Russia pledge "to desist from any act of violence, any aggressive action and any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other powers"?

    Trump has declared his desire: "I want to get along with Russia." He also wants to cooperate with the Kremlin along a broad front, from joint operations against terrorism, especially targeting the Islamic State, to halting nuclear proliferation and advances by Iran and North Korea.

    Putin is manic about NATO, wanting more than anything a strong check against the Western European alliance on his western front. Trump's antipathy toward NATO is just what Putin's needs to stop the West's expansion in Eastern Europe. The prospects of economic cooperation resulting from such a union are dazzling. A U.S.-Russia thaw would be in personal and political interests of the two leaders.

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Populism: the establishment strikes back?

    The liberal international order is facing a profound moment of crisis as the year begins.

    Twenty-five years after the fall of the Soviet Union, governments in Washington and Moscow will be both led by figures who embrace a similar brand of right-wing nationalism, one that harps on the primacy of national sovereignty, invokes myths of a greater past, trumpets Christian values, and rejects multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism. Their ideological brethren have also found firm footing in parts of Europe and threaten to rewind decades of liberal integration on the continent.

    "Their world is crumbling," declared Florian Philippot, the chief strategist of France's anti-immigrant National Front. "Ours is being built."

    In 2016, ultra-nationalism shook the West. The ascendant populists - a slightly erroneous catch-all term that got pinned to a host of right-wing political movements - were full of sound and fury, and their rise signified a rude awakening for the establishment on both sides of the Atlantic.

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