Archive

May 14th, 2016

Obama’s Gorgeous Goodbye

    In this twilight of his presidency, Barack Obama is unlikely to deliver much in the way of meaningful legislation.

    But he’s giving us a pointed, powerful civics lesson.

    Consider his speech to new graduates of Howard University last weekend. While it brimmed with the usual kudos for hard work, it also bristled with caveats about the mistakes that he sees some young people making.

    He chided them for demonizing enemies and silencing opponents. He cautioned them against a sense of grievance too exaggerated and an outrage bereft of perspective. “If you had to choose a time to be, in the words of Lorraine Hansberry, ‘young, gifted and black’ in America, you would choose right now,” he said. “To deny how far we’ve come would do a disservice to the cause of justice.”

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What happens when a Washington 'cave dweller' comes to light

    Washington doesn't work the way people think it does. And when the public gets a peek into the way it does work, there's a lot of outrage.

    Most real power doesn't lie with the senators or cabinet officials or ambassadors. The people who make things happen don't have an office of their own or a room with a view. They're one or two levels down, working the machine from the inside. When they succeed, the public isn't aware of their existence, much less their influence. These are the "cave dwellers" of Washington.

    Occasionally, one of the cave dwellers surfaces and is subjected to public scrutiny. The results are rarely pretty. For one thing, the very important people for whom the cave dwellers work bristle at their lowly staff soaking up some of the spotlight. Other cave dwellers can use the opportunity to settle scores.

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Trump's approach to economics: Speak loudly and carry a 'yuge' stick

    When it comes to policy ideas, Donald Trump is hard to pin down. Now, though, the outline of a Trump economic theory has started to emerge. It isn't pretty.

    He doesn't place much faith in markets. He doesn't want an independent central bank. His views on currencies and sovereign debt rest on the principle that everything is negotiable, even contracts between creditors and borrowers. His main weapon wouldn't be the rule of law but bullying, especially of corporations that move outside the U.S. for competitive reasons.

    It's foolhardy, of course, to predict what a President Trump would do. In recent days, he backed down on a campaign promise to eliminate the U.S.'s $19 trillion debt before admitting that that wasn't, well, realistic. Then he implied he would stiff the holders of U.S. Treasuries when he said he wanted to renegotiate that debt.

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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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