Archive

December 27th

Obama's disappointing swan song

    As President Obama enters his final month in the Oval Office, he does so licking his wounds, not only over the defeat of his Democratic Party and the candidate he campaigned diligently for, but also for the besmirching of his legacy.

    The 11th-hour disclosure that Russian hacking played a role in Hillary Clinton's loss, and Obama's passive response to the outrage -- he said only he would take some unspecified action against it -- left him looking weak and indecisive as he heads out the door.

    His lame report in his final White House press conference, that in a confrontation with Vladimir Putin he told the Kremlin strongman to "cut it out," came off ludicrously like a whine to a schoolyard bullyboy.

    Obama defended that reply, made during the closing weeks of the presidential campaign, on grounds he didn't want to fuel more questions about the interference with the American political process and the legitimacy of the result.

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The Senate Bathroom Angle

    We are sorely in need of some cheerful news out of Washington, so I’m going to tell you Barbara Mikulski’s story about the Senate bathrooms.

    Almost every veteran woman legislator, in every level of government, has a story about the shortage of bathroom facilities at work. Really, there needs to be a book on this. It could have a happy ending, and none of the chapters would involve Russian attempts to manipulate an election.

    Mikulski, 80, has served in Congress longer than any other woman in history. She’s retiring this month after representing Maryland for 30 years in the Senate. Before that she spent 10 years in the House. She was a social worker who got into Democratic politics during a battle to stop a planned highway that was threatening the ethnic Baltimore neighborhoods she loved. It was an unusual career route at the time, but she was an unusual person.

    “One of the things they said was that I didn’t look the part,” Mikulski, who is 4-foot-11, recalled. “… You know, chunky and I have a definite blue-collar style, so I wasn’t to the manner born, to the trust fund inherited.”

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The Year of ‘Post-Truth’

    “Post-Truth.” The Oxford English Dictionary named this its word of the year for 2016.

    This was a year when campaign lies — most, though not all, coming out of the Donald’s mouth — were so numerous that fact checking became nearly impossible.

    Yes, each individual statement could be fact checked. But there were so many rapid-fire falsehoods that it was impossible to debunk them one by one on TV without devoting entire shows to just that.

    And, far too often, nobody even cared if their preferred candidate was untruthful. The internet was awash with fake news that was more popular than the real news.

    One fake news story told Trump supporters that the pope had endorsed Trump, while another one told Clinton supporters that he’d denounced Trump. In reality, he did neither.

    Things have hardly gotten better since the election, with Trump making false claims about “millions” of “illegal voters” and denying intelligence assessments that Russia intervened on his behalf.

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Trump imitates Putin, but the U.S. Isn't Russia

    If Vladimir Putin gave a damn about American public opinion, he'd encourage Donald Trump to make at least a symbolic gesture to prove he's not the Russian strongman's vassal. So far, there's no sign either party to their oddly one-sided alliance feels the need.

    Trump's every significant appointment and foreign policy pronouncement has been exactly as the Russians would have it. "The man has very strong control over his country," Trump has said. "He's been a leader far more than our president has been a leader." So what if Putin's leadership skills include having political rivals and troublesome journalists jailed or killed?

    For all of his crudity, Trump can be excruciatingly polite.

    More telling are Trump's cabinet picks: first, national security adviser Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, a flaky conspiracy-theorist who not only gave credence to the delusional "Pizzagate" tale, but has also dined publicly with Putin and done paid gigs on the Kremlin-sponsored "Russia Today" TV network.

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Why President Trump will continue to hold rallies

    Donald Trump has just finished the last of his nine post-election "thank-you tour" rallies. Why did he do them? And why is he planning further rallies after he becomes president?

    One clue is that Trump conducted them only in the states he won. And most attendees appeared to have voted for him -- overwhelmingly white, and many wearing Trump hats and T-shirts. When warm-up speakers asked how many had previously attended a Trump rally, most hands went up.

    A second clue is that rather than urge followers to bury the hatchet, Trump wound them up. "It's a movement," he said in Mobile, Alabama. He playfully told a crowd in Orlando, Florida, that in the run-up to the election, "You people were vicious, violent, screaming, 'Where's the wall?' 'We want the wall!' Screaming, 'Prison!' 'Prison!' 'Lock her up!' I mean, you were going crazy. You were nasty and mean and vicious." He called his followers "wild beasts."

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Despite outrage, Electoral College remains secure

    Twice in the last five presidential elections, the Democratic presidential nominees -- first Al Gore and then Hillary Clinton -- have had to suffer defeat in the Electoral College after having won the nationwide popular vote.

    Gore in 2000 captured that vote by a half-million ballots, and the then sitting vice president had to endure the pain and humiliation of watching the Supreme Court rule against him. After a public and arduous examination of Florida's "hanging chads," the court deliberated into the wee hours before deciding against Gore by a split 5-4 vote.

    Clinton's loss this year came as more of a surprise, losing the Electoral College despite winning the popular vote by 2.8 million. But Gore had to undergo a personally more distasteful chore upon the opening of the next session of Congress in January 2001.

    It fell to him as the departing president of the Senate to announce to the assembled members of the Senate and House the official results of the election by the Electoral College, which found him trailing Republican president-elect George W. Bush 271 to 266.

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Happy Holidays, Donald Trump

    Some things Donald Trump says enrage me while others get under my skin. The pronouncement that does both is his regular claim that until he prevailed, Americans were not free to say "merry Christmas" to each other.

    He was at it again last week in West Allis, Wisconsin, during his Watch-Me-Divide-The-Country-Further "Victory Tour." Trump declared: "So when I started 18 months ago, I told my first crowd in Wisconsin that we are going to come back here someday and we are going to say merry Christmas again. Merry Christmas. So, merry Christmas everyone."

    Here's what bothers me: Long before Trump came along we were entirely free to say merry Christmas to each other. Our political leaders could say it, too.

      On her MSNBC program last weekend, my friend Joy Reid demonstrated that President Obama was no Christmas-hating guy trying to hide remembrances of the birth of Jesus Christ behind some noxious wall of secularism. She showed not one but 20 moments when the president said the words "merry Christmas."

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December 26th

Will the GOP be the pro-Putin party?

    Beneath the surface of the controversy over Russia's efforts to help Donald Trump become president is a dramatic reconfiguration of opinion on foreign policy.

    Many Republicans who had long been critical of Vladimir Putin's despotic rule are readjusting their positions to accord with Trump's more sympathetic views. Others are hanging back, fearful of picking a fight with their party's incoming president or undermining the legitimacy of his election.

    At the same time, Putin's fiercest Republican critics, including leading neoconservatives, find themselves allied with Hillary Clinton's supporters. They are calling out the Kremlin's interference with the election and demanding a full accounting of what happened. Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been among the most outspoken.

    While some on the left worry about starting a new Cold War, there has been a broad toughening of liberal and Democratic opinion toward Russia. This shift owes in part to outrage over Putin's efforts to sabotage Clinton, but the roots of the mistrust of Putin can be traced back several years.

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December 25th

What happens when Trump starts blaming Yellen?

    The big question about President-elect Donald Trump is what happens when things start to go wrong. There's no doubt they will. Every president has to contend with unforeseen setbacks, and for Trump it will be worse. His outlandish and often contradictory promises guarantee he'll have plenty of bad news to explain away or blame on other people.

    The economy will be high on the list -- and Trump already has a scapegoat-in-waiting. In one of the presidential debates, he attacked Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen for keeping interest rates low for political reasons, and said this would cause big problems once the Fed had to start pushing rates higher.

    The fact is, this economy is not the kind a new president would choose to inherit. It's better to take over in a trough than at what might prove to be a peak. The stock market is testing the upper bounds of plausible valuation, the economy is at or close to full employment, a strong dollar is making life harder for exporters, and the Fed just resumed its effort to get interest rates back to a more neutral level. In short the stage is set for bad news, with Yellen in a starring role.

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Taking office without a clue, and defiantly so

    Let’s say you are president.

    Make that president-elect. Let’s say you’ve had many grueling months of a brutal and bitter campaign, racking up time zones on your personal plane, putting your global business empire on the back burner -- a must-do to make the country your empire. What to do in preparation?

    This president-elect thing is good duty. Let's say you entertain a whole bunch of mightys and powerfuls – Mitt Romney! Kanye West! Before all that inauguration stuff happens, it’s a great opportunity to decide if you want the job.

    One of the amazing things about being president-elect: You get a chance to find out how things work – governing stuff.

    Pentagon stuff. National security stuff.

    So, you’re president-elect, and CIA experts have prepared intricate daily briefings for you. Heck, they’ll come right to your Manhattan office tower if you want and tell you everything they know.

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