Archive

May 6th, 2016

The Diabetic Economy

    Things are terrible here in Portugal, but not quite as terrible as they were a couple of years ago. The same thing can be said about the European economy as a whole. That is, I guess, the good news.

    The bad news is that eight years after what was supposed to be a temporary financial crisis, economic weakness just goes on and on, with no end in sight. And that’s something that should worry everyone, in Europe and beyond.

    First, the positives: the euro area — the group of 19 countries that have adopted a common currency — posted decent growth in the first quarter. In fact, for once it was better than growth in the U.S.

    Europe’s economy is, finally, slightly bigger than it was before the financial crisis, and unemployment has come down from more than 12 percent in 2013 to a bit over 10 percent.

    But it’s telling that this is what passes for good news. We complain, rightly, about the slow pace of U.S. recovery — but our economy is already 10 percent bigger than it was pre-crisis, while our unemployment rate is back under 5 percent.

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May 5th

Why we fear spiders more than climate change

    People tend to fear spiders and snakes more than they do electrical sockets or fireworks, even though the latter present a far greater danger. This might help explain why humans have such a hard time seeing the threat of climate change.

    Evolutionary psychologists argue that much of human behavior can be understood only by studying our ancient ancestors. Through 99 percent of human history, they lived in small groups of hunter-gatherers, with brains evolved to handle specific tasks, such as recognizing quickly a poisonous reptile or the emotions and intentions betrayed by facial expressions. The kind of rational thinking needed to weigh payoffs far in the future developed only recently, in the last 1 percent of our existence.

    QuickTake Climate Change

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Cruz picks dream team but can't escape reality

    What a day: On Wednesday, we got to see Texas Sen. Ted Cruz introduce his imaginary friend and vice-presidential pick, Carly Fiorina, to jump-start his imaginary path to the White House. We were also treated to Donald Trump's jumbled foreign policy speech that invoked the Nazi-appeasing America First movement of the 1930s.

    Trump and Cruz barely slept after Tuesday's primaries. Hours after Trump's clean sweep of five Northeastern states, he was at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington to finally put flesh on the bones of his foreign policy. Much was made of his using a teleprompter -- how presidential! -- but it was still pretty sketchy: "ISIS will be gone," he promised without saying how. And he reprised some old favorites: "Instead of taking charge that night, Hillary Clinton decided to go home and sleep," he said of the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. He'll build up the military without spending a dime. He'll punish China with tariffs but rely on it to rein in North Korea.

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May 4th

Austerity's victims may decide Britain's EU vote

    Prime Minister David Cameron should, if the pollsters and bookmakers are right, win his campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. But if things go wrong between now and the June referendum his biggest challenge will be to persuade the poor, for whom he has done little, that Brexit won't make them better off.

    The economic case for leaving the EU has an apparent logic: Withdraw and Britain will be unshackled, free to do business with whomever it pleases and to tap into demand from fast-growing economies, such as China. In reality, Britain's existing arrangements are already favorable to trade and there is little reason to believe they would remain as good post-Brexit. The empirical evidence is clear: Membership of the EU has lifted trade and incomes, and that has not come at the expense of relationships with nations outside the single market. For those seduced by the promise of new trade opportunities, disappointment beckons.

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The most under-appreciated fact of the election: Americans feel good about the economy

    In an election season about "voter anger," one important thing is underappreciated: voter optimism. And in particular, optimism about the economy.

    "Wait, what?" you may be thinking. Isn't the election defined by the country's "economic blues"? Isn't the election being shaped by "anger over a 'failed economy'"?

    This is not the full story. Or even a very correct story.

    Yes, it is true that the economic recovery since the Great Recession has proceeded in fits and starts. And, yes, current economic indicators are somewhat mixed. But voters feel favorable about the economy nevertheless. Here's some evidence.

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Trump's strategy for beating Clinton among female voters: Humiliation

    Top Republicans appear increasingly resigned to Donald Trump as their nominee, and a number of them are morbidly wondering just how extensive a down-ballot disaster his candidacy will unleash for the party, in a pondering-the-iceberg-from-the-decks-of-the-Titanic kind of way.

    Here's something that might not inspire any additional confidence: The New York Times reports Friday that the Trump campaign is "likely" to employ a strategy against Hillary Clinton that includes hammering her over her husband's "sexual indiscretions," as a way to rebut Clinton's accusation that Trump is sexist:

    "In January, after Mrs. Clinton accused him of being sexist, he warned that Bill Clinton's sexual indiscretions would be fair game, accused Mrs. Clinton of impugning the reputations of women who accused her husband of sexual indiscretions, then boasted that Mrs. Clinton had been intimidated into dropping the subject.

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Kasich is still Trump's deadliest weapon

    It is simply astonishing how destructive Ohio Gov. John Kasich's campaign has been to the Republican Party.

    Right now, the evidence is on full view in Indiana. As part of a deal with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's campaign, Kasich isn't campaigning in the Hoosier State, which votes on Tuesday. But he and his supporters are still telling people to vote for him -- even though a vote for the Ohio governor is basically a vote for Donald Trump. If Kasich's supporters in Indiana want him to have any chance at the nomination, they will vote for Cruz.

    Here's why.

    Trump has a slim lead in current polling averages in Indiana. He's at 37 percent, with Cruz close behind at 35 percent. Kasich is far behind with 16 percent. If Kasich's voters switch to Cruz (and all else remains equal), then Cruz will win big. If they stay put, Trump might narrowly prevail. Indiana has 57 delegates: 30 will go to the statewide winner; of the remaining 27, 3 each will go to whomever wins in the state's nine congressional districts.

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Oh, Ted Cruz. You had the Worst Week in Washington.

    Desperation, thy name is Ted Cruz.

    The Texas senator spent this week doing anything and everything he could think of to blunt the momentum Donald Trump has built with sweeping wins in six primaries over the past two weeks.

    First was the alliance - announced Sunday night - between Cruz and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Under the agreement, Kasich would stand down in Indiana's May 3 primary and Cruz would do the same in Oregon (May 17) and New Mexico (June 7). The goal was clear: Unite the anti-Trump vote in hopes of keeping the real estate mogul from the 1,237 delegates he needs to be the party's nominee.

    Within hours of the alliance's debut, it was already on shaky ground, with Kasich telling his supporters in Indiana on Monday morning to still vote for him and insisting he wasn't trying to do anything to stop Trump. By Thursday, Cruz was insisting there was no "alliance" and Kasich's chief strategist, soon after, was sending not-so-cryptic tweets about not being able to stand "liars."

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Trump is riding a warped 1980s nostalgia

    The 1980s have been making a comeback -- and the nostalgia goes far beyond shoulder pads or neon heels and big hair. In the U.S., it seems to be about a search for lost identity -- and emotions that are familiar to me as someone who lived through that decade in Moscow.

    On the conservative site Townhall, Nick Adams recently argued that Donald Trump's success in the presidential race has a distinctly '80s flavor:

    "Trump is in many ways the 1980's retro-renaissance man who has come back to save America and restore it to its greatness, by killing political correctness and resurrecting 1980s sentiments and values. Might is right, and America is always right. And he's bringing out all of the 1980's hotshots out of hibernation to Make America Great Again with their last breath. Clint Eastwood, Bruce Willis, Kirstie Alley, Jean Claude Van Damme, Gary Busey, and countless others. It seems they are all coming out of their collective hibernation to support the man who can make America what it once was: great again, just like it was in the 80s."

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Trump may spell end of social conservatives

    The 2016 Republican presidential campaign began last year with Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum -- among others -- flashing Bible passages and competing for support from social conservatives in Iowa. It will end in July with the all but certain nomination of Donald Trump.

    The rout of social conservatives in this campaign is absolute. Their future looks grim.

    The problem isn't that Trump has a disco ball where his moral compass should be. It's that he isn't particularly interested in the social conservative agenda -- or even in pretending that he is.

    Aside from a few comic forays into biblical scholarship early in his campaign, and later comments about abortion that were so off message that they merely confirmed his lack of interest in the topic, Trump is running free and clear of the entire movement. He's leaving social conservatives in the dust.

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