Archive

Trump signals a 180-degree turn on China policy

    The U.S.-China relationship is ending 2016 on its most ominous note in years. President-elect Donald Trump has questioned the one-China policy that has been the default American position and angered mainland China by taking a congratulatory call from Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-Wen. China has reciprocated with barely veiled aggression, adding visible anti-aircraft systems to the artificial islands it has dredged out of the South China Sea and seizing an underwater American drone from under the nose of a U.S. warship.

    The big question for 2017 is whether the two sides will let the relationship unravel further. Will their cool war become more "war" and less "cool"?

    Until now, the rival strategic interests of China and the U.S. have been mitigated by shared economic interests. But economic cooperation can quickly end over disagreements on currency and trade -- reducing the Sino-American relationship to raw, zero-sum geopolitical competition.

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Year’s End Quiz

    Happy almost New Year! Wow, we’ve been through a lot. Let’s take a look back at 2016 and see how much of the silliness you remember. We’re not going to talk about Hillary. Too sad. But here’s an end-of-the-year quiz about:

 

Republicans We Once Knew

   

    1. It’s been a long year for Chris Christie, but he made history when... 

    A) The National Governors Association voted him “Least Likely to Succeed.”

    B) A Quinnipiac poll in New Jersey showed his job disapproval rating at 77 percent.

    C) He did the tango on “Dancing With the Stars.”

   

    2. Ted Cruz said that when his wife, Heidi, became first lady... 

    A) “She’ll put prayer back in the prayer breakfast.”

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Taking 2016 'literally,' but not all 'seriously'

    Our long wait is over. The time has come to honor the most quotable quotes, in my opinion, from a bizarre political year that many of us wish we could forget.

    I call my award, which includes no prize other than a firm handshake, "the Earl." That's my salute to the late Earl Bush, long-time press secretary to the late Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley or, in the memories of many Chicagoans, Richard the First.

    Bush is famously remembered for telling reporters: "Don't print what (the mayor) said. Print what he meant."

    Indeed, one of the nation's most powerful politicians sometimes seemed to speak English as though it were his second language.

    Even reading from a prepared text did not save him on one occasion from misreading "plateaus" to declare, "We shall reach greater and greater platitudes of achievement."

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N.D. Democrat tiptoes through Trumpworld

    Like North Dakota's whooping cranes and black-footed ferrets, Heidi Heitkamp is part of an endangered species. Less than two years from now, the first-term Democratic senator will be running for re-election in a state where Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 36 percentage points. Even for a centrist as popular as Heitkamp, that's a mountain to climb.

    Some of the reasons for Trump's lopsided victory in North Dakota are peculiar to him, but others can also be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party. Democratic presidential candidates make little effort to appeal to rural voters, who make up most of North Dakota's population and who care less about transgender bathrooms or Katy Perry than about guns and growing things.

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Donald Trump's pivot through Asia

    President Barack Obama will have to wait until after he leaves office to see if some of his most touted foreign-policy achievements - such as the opening to Cuba and the Iranian nuclear deal - survive his presidency. But even before he exits, it is already obvious that his signature policy in East Asia, the "pivot" or "rebalance," is deader than a dodo. And, no, it's not just resting; it's nailed to the perch.

    China's brazen seizure of a U.S. underwater drone on December 15 in international waters makes that clear. That China handed it back a few days later hardly makes up for this act of thievery without any conceivable legal justification, given that the area in the South China Sea where the drone was taken is outside even the fanciful limits claimed by Beijing in its "nine-dash line." Unless this was an insubordinate act of a lowly naval captain (which no one in Beijing has suggested), it was a message that China can do what it wants in the Western Pacific and the United States can't stop it.

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America's concern for the poor is about to be tested

    Poor Americans are facing the gravest threat to the federal safety net in decades as President-elect Donald Trump takes office accompanied by a Republican-controlled Congress.

    The risks to essential benefits for tens of millions of low- and moderate- income Americans include losing coverage extended to them by the Affordable Care Act, threats to the fundamental structure of the Medicaid health- insurance program for the poor and further reduction of already squeezed funding for scores of other important programs serving the most vulnerable Americans.

    First, Republicans are expected to seek significant cuts in what's known as non-defense discretionary spending, which includes many important programs for low- and moderate-income people, such as rental vouchers for low-income families, programs to fight homelessness, job training, funding for poor school districts, Head Start for young children and Pell grants to help low-income students afford college.

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December 30th

America owes its working class, yes. But the working class has duties, too.

    Members of the working class are not solely the victims of economic change and inadequate public policy. They themselves bear some of the responsibility for the frustration and anger they feel. They have agency. The degree to which our public conversation after the election has implicitly denied this basic fact has been concerning.

    As a culture, we feel more comfortable discussing what we want than what we owe. This is generally true. Applied to this specific situation, we want working-class Americans to lead flourishing lives that include meaningful employment, and society as a whole has a moral obligation to work toward making this the case. But working-class Americans have duties as well.

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Making the connection between work and dignity

    Economists like to tell a possibly apocryphal story about Milton Friedman. The prophet of free markets, visiting an Asian country in the 1960s, witnessed a public-works project that had people making a road with picks and shovels. When he asked why they didn't use earth-moving machines instead, a local official responded that the goal was to provide people with jobs. In that case, the economist asked, why didn't the government just have the workers use spoons instead?

    This parable elicits a chuckle from many economists, who use it to contrast the hard-nosed, efficiency-minded thinking of their discipline with the ineffectual mandates of bumbling bureaucrats. But to many outside the profession, the story demonstrates a willful ignorance about the importance of work and human dignity. The government should focus on getting people jobs instead of just mailing them money. Ideas for doing that range from government employment guarantees to public-works programs to tax incentives for corporations that hire more employees.

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Is democracy a 'fetish'?

    It's important for those who favor the popular election of our presidents to separate their arguments for direct democracy from the outcome of a particular contest.

    My colleague George F. Will's recent column in defense of the Electoral College offers an excellent opportunity to make a case that has nothing to do with the election of Donald Trump.

    After all, Will, admirably and eloquently, insisted that Trump was unworthy of nomination or election. So our disagreement relates entirely to his insistence that we should stick with an approach to choosing presidents that, twice in the last 16 years, overrode the wishes of Americans, as measured by the popular vote.

    Will brushes aside these outcomes. "Two is 40 percent of five elections, which scandalizes only those who make a fetish of simpleminded majoritarianism."

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Could Trump help unleash nuclear catastrophe with a single tweet?

    Donald Trump's alarming Tweet about his desire to "greatly strengthen and expand" the "nuclear capability" of the United States unleashed a frenzy of media efforts to try to divine his actual policy intentions. It forced some of his advisers into tortured claims that Trump didn't say what he actually said, even as others simultaneously insisted that Trump did meaningfully put other countries on notice that if he deems them to be challenging our supremacy, they will face an arms race.

    But perhaps the most worrisome thing about Trump's nuclear Tweet is not the intention to break with decades of international disarmament efforts that it may have signaled, though that's frightening enough on its own. Rather, it's that he saw fit to Tweet about nuclear weapons at all.

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