Archive

December 11th

Trump, Finally Explained

    Do you remember “50 First Dates”? It was a Drew Barrymore movie about a woman with short-term amnesia who wakes up every morning with no memory whatsoever of the day that went before.

    I am thinking it’s the perfect Donald Trump analogy.

    In the past, I’ve always presumed that when Trump completely changed his position on health care or the Mexican wall or nuclear weapons in Japan, it was due to craven political opportunism. But it’s much more calming to work under the assumption that he doesn’t remember anything that happened before this morning.

    Think about it next time you hear him bragging about his big margin of victory. “We won in a landslide. That was a landslide,” he told a crowd in Ohio on Thursday. It was perhaps the first time in history that a candidate used those terms after receiving 2.5 million votes fewer than his competitor.

    It’s stupendously irritating, unless you work under the assumption that he no longer recalls the real story.

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The post-truth world of the Trump administration is scarier than you think

    You may think you are prepared for a post-truth world, in which political appeals to emotion count for more than statements of verifiable fact.

    But now it's time to cross another bridge - into a world without facts. Or, more precisely, where facts do not matter a whit.

    On live radio Wednesday morning, Scottie Nell Hughes sounded breezy as she drove a stake into the heart of knowable reality:

    "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts," she declared on "The Diane Rehm Show" on Wednesday.

    Hughes, a frequent surrogate for President-elect Donald Trump and a paid commentator for CNN during the campaign, kept on defending that assertion at length, though not with much clarity of expression. Rehm had pressed her about Trump's recent evidence-free assertion on Twitter that he, not Hillary Clinton, would have won the popular vote if millions of immigrants had not voted illegally.

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The Orwellian nightmare for policy wonks is coming

    I'm not going to sugarcoat this: For policy experts, the next four years of the Trump administration will be a waking nightmare. This is for two reasons. The first is that Trump's team has few if any policy wonks. The second is that this puts the average policy wonk in a no-win situation.

    Let's start with the lack of policy wonks. I would guess that the Washington Free Beacon's Matthew Continetti and the New York Times' Neil Irwin disagree on many issues of substance. One of the things that the appear to agree on, however, is that the incoming Trump Cabinet does not contain much in the way of relevant policy or management expertise. Here's Continetti:

    "Only one of the men and women nominated by Trump has experience managing the gigantic and recalcitrant organizations that comprise the administrative state: Elaine Chao, who served as George W. Bush's secretary of labor and is now slated to head the department of transportation under Trump. White House counsel Don McGahn knows Washington as an attorney and former chair of the FEC. And, as I write, there are two members of the administration who have experience as elected executives: Mike Pence and Nikki Haley."

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The economies inherited by Obama and Trump are as different as night and day

    In the three months before President Obama came to office -- the last quarter of 2008 -- the nation's economy was contracting at a rate of 8.2 percent, the biggest quarterly decline in real gross domestic product since 1958. The month before Obama took office, payroll employment fell by 695,000. The unemployment rate was 7.3 percent and rising fast.

    The technical term for such statistics is "nightmarish."

    Now let's look at the economy President-elect Donald Trump is inheriting. Since we're still in the last quarter of this year, we don't yet know its GDP growth rate, but the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's tracker predicts it will come in at 2.9 percent (last quarter's growth rate was a robust 3.2 percent). According to Friday's jobs report, employment growth was 178,000 and the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent, a nine-year low, and close enough to the Fed's estimate of full employment that they're likely to raise interest rates at their next meeting to keep the job market from getting too tight. (I think they'd be wrong to do so, but that's a different discussion.)

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Robots won't kill the workforce. They'll save the economy.

    The United Nations forecasts that the global population will rise from 7.3 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050, a big number that often prompts warnings about overpopulation. Some have come from neo-Malthusians, who fear that population growth will outstrip the food supply, leaving a hungry planet. Others appear in the tirades of anti-immigrant populists, invoking the specter of a rising tide of humanity as cause to slam borders shut. Still others inspire a chorus of neo-Luddites, who fear that the "rise of the robots" is rapidly making human workers obsolete, a threat all the more alarming if the human population is exploding.

    Before long, though, we're more likely to treasure robots than to revile them. They may be the one thing that can protect the global economy from the dangers that lie ahead.

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December 10th

A response to the pleas to shut up Trump

    The holidays are right around the corner, so it's the season to tell other people to shut up. That's my takeaway from the various events of this week. Let's look at three.

    First, there were renewed cries for Donald Trump to be banned from Twitter. An online petition has tens of thousand of signatures. The arguments vary, but they are from a common set. He makes things up. He's vicious. He's every "ist" and "ic" in the book. And here is the fun part: There is no free speech issue because Twitter, as a private company, has the right to suspend what accounts it likes.

    To which I say: Wow.

    They're right of course that Trump's tweets are often offensive. They're also right that the First Amendment has no application. Absent a specific legal prohibition, a private business may refuse to serve whomever it likes, including the president of the United States. Still, the present moment feels as if we have passed through the looking glass, into a world where everything is just the opposite of what it ought to be. How else to explain the sudden affection on the left for corporate power as a check on government?

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What happens if Trump keeps interfering with the free market? Look at the Soviet Union.

    For Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the news from Carrier looks like a slam-dunk: A company that was going to move 1,000 jobs to Mexico has agreed to keep the factories and jobs open in Indiana after the president-elect and vice president-elect applied a little pressure. We don't know exactly what subsidies, tax breaks or other deals may have been involved, but workers making furnaces in Indiana are cheering, and Trump is basking in triumph. He promised in the campaign to apply his deal-making stills to stopping the exodus of U.S. manufacturing jobs abroad. Now he can claim some success even before being sworn in.

    But after the celebrating should come some discomfort. Trump's aggressive rhetoric suggests he sees nothing wrong with pushing corporate chieftains around in the name of making America great again.

    Trump would do well to remember: He was elected president, not factory boss.

    What makes capitalism strong are the forces of the market left to work their own magic. No free market is ever totally free, but the basics matter a lot: Decisions are made on the basis of things like supply and demand, knowing that information is open and rule of law secure.

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Republicans are making 'voter fraud' a weapon so that they never lose again

    On Nov. 8, North Carolinians went to the polls and chose a new governor: Democrat Roy Cooper. Cooper defeated incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory by more than 10,000 votes. It's a clean win that should bar a recount.

    Despite this, McCrory and other Republican Party officials are engaging in an effort to subvert the election results by tainting them with unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud and elections officials' misconduct. Doing so is not only dangerous, it creates the perception that the election results are unreliable when they are not, and it fuels future legislative efforts to disenfranchise voters.

    This week's vote by the North Carolina State Board of Elections to grant the McCrory campaign's request for a recount of 90,000 votes in Durham County illustrates how merely claiming that the results "look suspicious" leads to public distrust and encourages a witch hunt for nonexistent "irregularities."

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Rep. Keith Ellison: I should have listened more and talked less

    My mom, Clida, taught my four brothers and me about her father's work to organize black voters in rural Louisiana in the 1950s. We carried her dad's legacy of activism with us. The Civil Rights Movement was present in the daily life of my family in Detroit in the 1970s.

    I'll never forget working to get my college, Wayne State University, to divest from the government in South Africa. This was the beginning of my activism, and the fight for social and economic justice has been a constant thread in my life. My activism led me to toss my hat in the ring for DNC chair, where I will work to reclaim our history as the party that stands with working people.

    Unfortunately, some political opponents continue to distort my record based on an old right-wing smear campaign - not my work in Congress, or my vision for the future of the Democratic Party.

    Go back 25 years to 1991. Cameras recorded the brutal beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police. Unemployment for African Americans was 13 percent, and the war on drugs was driving up incarceration rates.

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If all you have is a Mattis, everything looks like a nail

    In the 1990s, during Bill Clinton's second term, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (A), National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (B), and Secretary of Defense William Cohen (C) would meet weekly for what was called the "ABC lunch." When the rest of us minions gathered in the White House Situation Room for one crisis or problem or another, we always had the sense that the agenda was kind of fixed, with the statements of the principals a choreographed ballet reflecting agreements already reached at that lunch table.

    If current trends from President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet appointees continue, the new lunch crowd may all be senior generals in the U.S. military. With National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn now joined by Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis, and both Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. John Kelly being considered as a possible secretary of state, three of the five institutions most centrally involved in U.S. national security policy could be headed by former senior military officers. That would be an unprecedented event in American history, a serious challenge to the tradition of civilian control over the military, and a danger to U.S. national security.

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