Archive

May 14th, 2016

Trump vs. the Fed

    Donald Trump's ideas about managing the U.S. government's finances have generated a lot of debate, shedding useful light on the presidential hopeful's unconventional approach to economic policy. But Trump has yet to address a crucial issue: how he would manage a likely conflict with one of the world's most powerful institutions -- the Federal Reserve.

    Trump has proposed large spending increases and steep tax cuts, a combination that the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated would boost government debt to 129 percent of gross domestic product over ten years, from about 75 percent now. (As far as I can tell, this estimate does not include Trump's more recent proposals to increase infrastructure and military spending.)

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Trump refutes Trump

    How do you nail a blob of mercury to the wall? That's a problem the Democratic nominee -- likely Hillary Clinton -- will have to solve in running against Donald Trump, most of whose positions on major issues are, shall we say, elusive.

    I say "most" because Trump has been steadfast on three of his most nonsensical promises: banning Muslims from entering the country, forcing Mexico to pay for a border wall, and deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants. Many of his supporters surely know he could not possibly do any of those things if elected president. But some don't -- and would feel betrayed if Trump suddenly dropped the whole xenophobia thing.

    On other issues, however, trying to pin Trump down on what he believes or intends has been an exercise in futility. This is a problem not only for Clinton but for Republicans who would like to support Trump for the sake of unity but want some idea of where the party is being led.

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Trump brings his winning hand to Washington

    On Thursday, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, goes to Capitol Hill to make either love or war with his party's establishment in the person of House Speaker Paul Ryan. Ryan quietly said he wasn't sure he could support Trump as president. Oh, yeah? Trump said loudly he wasn't sure he could support Ryan as chairman of the party convention in July.

    Just as Trump needs to bring all sides together, he's decided to continue campaigning, against his party. That's consistent for a man who can live without a friend but not without an enemy. On Sunday, he was asked on ABC News's "This Week" whether the party needed to be unified. He said: "I'm very different than everybody else, perhaps, that's ever run for office. I actually don't think so."

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Trump’s Miss Universe Foreign Policy

    OK, it’s easy to pick on Donald Trump’s foreign policy. But just because he recently referred to the attack on the World Trade Center as happening on “7/11” — which is a convenience store — instead of 9/11, and just because he claimed that “I know Russia well” because he held a “major event in Russia two or three years ago — (the) Miss Universe contest, which was a big, big, incredible event” — doesn’t make him unqualified.

    I’m sure you can learn a lot schmoozing with Miss Argentina. You can also learn a lot eating at the International House of Pancakes. I never fully understood Arab politics until I ate hummus — or was it Hamas?

    And, by the way, just because Trump’s big foreign policy speech was salted with falsehoods — like “ISIS is making millions and millions of dollars a week selling Libyan oil” — it doesn’t make him unqualified.

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The myth of the ignorant voter

    From the department of not understanding politics, Neil deGrasse Tyson tweets:

    "Candidate Endorsements matter if you'd rather have a famous person, an organization, or media entity do your thinking for you"

    Tyson, a prominent astrophysicist and science commentator (with five million Twitter followers!), is criticizing those of us who rely on this kind of information to vote.

    It's possible that he skips a lot of elections. Most citizens, even those who vote regularly, do. Or he may carefully study the policies and qualifications of each candidate in each election for which he's eligible to vote, and all the bond measures and initiatives, too.

    I somehow doubt it. To fully examine each of those elections -- local, state, national -- would practically be a full-time job.

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Playboy president Donald Trump and the double standard

    I am so sorry that I am writing about Donald Trump every day. I did not ask for this life, either. It does not bring me any more pleasure than it brings you. HOWEVER:

    The Washington Post recently studied the sexual history of Donald Trump and concluded that he could go "from playboy to president" (which was, I think, the cover story of every magazine in the 1950s, generally with a man with Bryl-creamed hair on the cover who resembled Don Draper.)

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Our fictional pundit predicted more correct primary results than Nate Silver did

    He went from being a hostage of Russian security forces to predicting the exact results of the Iowa presidential caucuses, right down to the third- and fourth-place finishers. He called Bernie Sanders's upset win in this past week's Indiana primary, when his competitors all said Hillary Clinton had it locked down. He has correctly predicted the results of 77 out of 87 races in this year's primaries, an 89 percent accuracy rating that equals that of FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver while tackling nearly twice as many contests.

    And he's a fictional character.

    Carl "The Dig" Diggler is a parody of political pundits written by Felix Biederman and me for CAFE. Carl exists to satirize all that is vacuous, elitist and ridiculous about the media class. From his sycophantic love of candidates in uniform to his hatred of Bernie Bros, from his reverence for "the discourse" to his constant threats of suing the people who troll him on Twitter, Carl is predicated on being myopic, vain and - frankly - wrong.

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Loretta Lynch to transgender America: I've got your back

    "As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened," which is why, President Obama said in his 2015 State of the Union address, "we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender" (LGBT). By merely saying the word "transgender," Obama did something no other president had ever done in a State of the Union speech.

    On Monday, the Justice Department went a giant step further. It is suing North Carolina over its blatantly discriminatory "bathroom law" that requires transgender men and women to use the bathroom of their sex at birth. And as incredible and unprecedented as that move is, Attorney General Loretta Lynch's remarks justifying her action were breathtaking. None more than the penultimate paragraph.

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How to shorten airport lines? Get rid of the TSA

    Millions of Americans have learned to dread going to the airport. An unfortunate combination of surging passenger volumes and declining numbers of screeners have led to security lines that can average over an hour in length. Thousands of passengers are missing flights daily. Meanwhile, airports and airlines nationwide are struggling to contain passenger anger. In desperation last week, one leading U.S. airline trade group asked passengers to troll the Transportation Security Administration by tweeting of long lines with the hashtag #ihatethewait.

    While no doubt satisfying, such stunts aren't going to speed up security checks before the upcoming summer travel rush. This problem has been years in the making. To solve it, the government may have to get the TSA out of the screening business altogether.

    The idea is neither new nor outlandish. Canada and most Western European countries employ private contractors to screen passengers. Before the 9/11 attacks, the U.S. did as well. The Federal Aviation Administration set security standards and guidelines but allowed individual airports to choose the companies responsible for doing the actual screening.

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High-frequency lawyers are next step in automation

    Microeconomic theory gets little attention. The public usually only hears about macro, tax or labor economics -- the things that affect day-to-day life. But deep within the stygian recesses of academia, bright mathematical minds are working on the economics of the next century.

    One of these is Yuliy Sannikov, a professor at Princeton. Known throughout his life as a mathematical genius, Sannikov recently won the John Bates Clark Medal, a notable award given each year to a prominent economist under the age of 40. In recent years, that award has been given mostly to empirical researchers, reflecting econ's turn toward data-driven work. Sannikov is among the few who work with pure math and abstract concepts.

    Since 2008, a lot of people have looked very unfavorably on purely mathematical economic theory. But in microeconomics, this kind of theorizing has been quite successful: It has enabled advances in online auctions, organ transplants and a number of other areas. This work is not as glamorous as the research done by people who claim to be able to explain recessions and unemployment, but by keeping a low profile, it is able to stay a lot more grounded in reality.

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