Archive

May 15th, 2016

Trump's ideas about the deficit sound inflationary

    Donald Trump is difficult to take seriously on policy matters, because he's kind of a random idea generator -- he just throws out a lot of different policy plans, many of them contradictory. This is a great defense against criticism from policy wonks -- as soon as we criticize one of his proposals, he just offers up the exact opposite. For example, he's advocated reducing the federal debt, spending more and cutting taxes (or possibly not).

    So while we can't evaluate Trump on the strength of his proposals -- since he will just do a 180 next week -- it's still interesting when Trump tosses out economic ideas that are rarely suggested in American politics. This gives us an excuse to talk about interesting things that we otherwise probably would ignore.

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Trump ponders a running mate

    Now that Donald Trump has the Republican presidential nomination in hand, he is weighing his choice for a running mate, considering some of his defeated 2016 rivals as well as someone with governing experience with whom he would be personally compatible.

    He has put one of those rivals, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, on his team to help him decide, and Carson himself has said he'd be willing to consider taking the job. If he were to get it, it would be a rerun of the 2000 phenomenon, when GOP nominee George W. Bush tapped his father's secretary of defense, Dick Cheney, to vet the prospects, and Cheney chose himself.

    Trump in an interview with the New York Times said he likes another former rival who was the last to drop out of the 2016 race, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, but "I'm not sure John even wants it."

    Still another recent rival, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, helped cut down Florida Sen. Marco Rubio in a debate by exposing him as a robotic candidate and then endorsed Trump. Christie's fiery temper would seem to fill nicely the compatibility factor.

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This Donald Trump interview should set off all sorts of alarm bells for the GOP

    Donald Trump is in the midst of a sort-of "congratulations to me" media tour - granting a series of interviews in which he touts how well he has done, how smart he is and, by comparison, how dumb everyone who said he couldn't win the Republican nomination is.

    Which is his right. And, given how long the odds were that Trump would conquer 16 other candidates to become the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, a valedictory lap might even be in order.

    The problem for Republicans is that the lessons Trump appears to have learned from his march to the GOP nod are all the wrong ones. His interview with the Associated Press, which the wire service published on Tuesday night, is filled with cringe-worthy pronouncements that should send chills up the spines of Republican elected officials and party activists hoping to preserve their congressional majorities this fall.

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Bring Hillary and Bernie Together

    Bernie Sanders is not going away. And why should he? The weather is nice, the crowds are enormous and he keeps winning primaries. Hillary Clinton has what appears to be an insurmountable lead in delegates, but hope springs eternal.

    “It is a steep hill to climb,” he admits.

    Actually, probably harder to surmount than Gangkhar Puensum. (Which is the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. I am telling you this to distract you from the subject of delegate counts.)

    But about Sanders: Democrats, what do you think he should do?

    A) Convention floor fight. “Game of Thrones”! Jon Snow is alive!

    B) Go away. When Clinton lost, did she torture Barack Obama over who was going to be on the platform committee? No, she sucked it up and gave an extremely nice endorsement speech.

    C) Why can’t we all just get along?

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The audacity of magical thinking in Trump's tax plan

    One of the chief policy mysteries of Donald Trump's campaign platform is how he intends to achieve the arithmetically impossible: reduce taxes by trillions of dollars; shield Social Security and Medicare benefits from any cuts; "rebuild" the military and infrastructure; and -- depending on what day Trump is talking -- start to pay off the national debt, if not eliminate it by the end of his second term.

    Perhaps, I thought, Sam Clovis, Trump's national co-chair and chief policy adviser, could explain. Clovis, an economics professor at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, was the Trump campaign's emissary to a summit on fiscal responsibility Wednesday sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

    To say the session was unedifying fails to convey its incoherence. It was alarming. "I understand less about Trump's budget plan after listening to Clovis than I did before," tweeted David Wessel of the Brookings Institution.

    Indeed. Interviewed by CNBC's John Harwood, Clovis started by misstating the cost of Trump's tax plan and proceeded downhill from there.

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'Spare me a dime, or else' is not just begging

    Laws that ban street begging often are challenged as a violation of First Amendment free speech rights. Appellate courts are divided on the question, and the Supreme Court has never answered it definitively.

    But in the last year, courts across the country have begun striking down laws against panhandling on the ground that they prohibit certain speech on the basis of its content. The reason is a major Supreme Court decision from last year that barred an Arizona town from using content to distinguish between different types of temporary signs erected on public property.

    As a matter of morality, I think it's usually a mistake for cities to suppress begging, which serves as a reminder to us that our society hasn't solved some basic, serious social problems. But I don't think the high court case, Reed v. Gilbert, necessarily has the consequences that the lower courts have been attributing to it.

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Sex vs. gender in N.Carolina bathroom case

    North Carolina and the federal government are suing each other over whether the state's new transgender bathroom regulation violates federal civil rights laws. The cultural stakes are clear: the two governments have sharply different ideas about the acceptance of transgender people. But what about the legal stakes?

    The legal problem in the case is whether the North Carolina law, which bars transgender people from restrooms, locker rooms and changing rooms, violates the provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.

    That question may sound simple, but it's actually profound. It will require a court to decide whether gender is the same thing as sex, and if so, for what purposes.

    If this makes your head spin, let me start with a clarification of terminology that might make things worse before they can get better.

    In academic discourse today, it's become conventional to distinguish between two conceptual categories, sex and gender.

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Republicans want Trump to 'evolve' on foreign policy

    Donald Trump may eventually find some common ground with Congress on economics, but there's less hope for unity between the Republicans and their presumptive presidential nominee when it comes to foreign policy.

    Some senior party figures hope Trump's views will "evolve" to the point where the party can feel comfortable defending his competence to be commander in chief. There are no signs of evolution.

    On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman said that he had been working with members of the Trump campaign to help them get up to speed on foreign policy and national security. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, has had a series of phone calls with Paul Manafort, whom Corker referred to as Trump's campaign manager, and Corker's office is supplying information to the campaign.

    Corker told reporters that the Trump campaign is entering a new phase, focusing more on policy, and that he thought it only right that he help when asked. He played down Trump's often controversial statements on national security and called on his Republican colleagues to give Trump some time to study up.

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I wanted to help Syrian refugees settle in Canada. Now they are my family.

    Our unusually mild Canadian winter had made me expect that I could get away with a light coat and no hat. But I had a few blocks to walk, and my ears were stinging in the freezing wind, so I took the scarf from around my neck and draped it around my head. "You know what you look like, don't you?" my colleague Bill said.

    I smiled. I knew exactly what I looked like. And so did the Syrian woman wearing a hijab walking alongside us. She smiled, too.

    The eight of us -- Bill, me and a refugee family of two parents and four kids -- were heading to the elementary school where the three older children were to begin their Canadian education. The family spoke barely a word of English, and yet there they were, earnest and trusting, bundled up in their government-issued winter coats and boots, the kids' backpacks almost as big as they were, but holding little more than a lunch bag and some brand-new indoor shoes with soles that lit up with each step.

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How to tell debt facts from political hype

    Recent remarks by Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, have turned the spotlight back to the U.S.'s $18 trillion federal government debt. The attention follows a period of substantial decline in the budget deficit that countered claims the country was heading rapidly toward debt Armageddon.

    Here are key facts to remember as you assess what is likely to be a loud and contentious political conversation on debt:

    - There are five major ways to reduce the burden of debt: by growing faster, thus generating incremental resources for debt servicing while maintaining and enhancing living standards; by raising more tax revenue and earmarking it for debt repayment; by cutting government spending and diverting the funds to higher debt servicing, including prepayments; by defaulting on contractual debt terms; and through financial engineering that captures interest-rate arbitrage opportunities, buys back debt cheaply, improves the mix of issued securities and delivers greater financial efficiency.

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