Archive

August 9th, 2016

Why less homeownership is good news

    You might have missed it amid the recent Campaign 2016 turbulence, but there's been a major development on the economic front. The U.S. homeownership rate has just fallen to its lowest level since the Census Bureau began tracking it in 1965.

    During the second quarter of this year, only 62.9 percent of U.S. households were owner-occupied residences, down from the all-time high of 69.2 percent reached in the fourth quarter of 2004.

    Contrary to entrenched conventional wisdom, however, the ongoing decline of the homeownership rate is actually good news.

    Here's why: Thanks to recovering real estate values, today's homeowners as a group have the same equity in their property - roughly 58 percent - that the record-size cohort did back in late 2004, according to the Federal Reserve. Ergo, there's now more equity, on a per- household basis; current homeowners' tenure is that much more sustainable and secure.

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What would Founding Fathers think of your bedroom games?

    There's no constitutional right to sex toys -- yet. That's according to a federal appeals court, which declined to strike down a Georgia city's ordinance that prohibits selling sexual aids. But the three-judge panel invited the full court to rehear the case and strike down the law, stating that it was "sympathetic" to the claim but constrained by precedent.

    Eventually, the right to sex toys is likely to be accepted in all jurisdictions, as it already is in some. The basis will be the right to sexual intimacy recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas. And that raises a question about the evolving nature of constitutional rights: How did we get here? How does a decision framed around the autonomous right of two people to create an intimate sexual relationship come to cover access to toys? And should it?

    The idea that the U.S. Constitution would apply to sex toys at all may seem a little silly. Certainly the Framers would have found the idea absurd. They recognized an inchoate right to privacy from search and seizure. But they didn't think the right protected all conduct that was no one else's business.

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Republicans can give up on reining in Trump

    The Republican leaders now imploring Donald Trump to avoid "distractions" are wasting their time. These aren't distractions. They are the real Trump.

    It's not in his DNA to back down, whether it's from demeaning the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq or from lying about his mockery of a disabled reporter. Instead, the Republican presidential nominee doubles down when caught in mistakes or outright lies.

    And he does this even though he is well aware of the outrage his behavior causes.

    The major fact-checkers, PolitiFact and The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, have found that Trump, far more than any other candidate, consistently makes claims that are demonstrably false. He wasn't against the Iraq war or the Libyan intervention, though he continues to claim that he was. He knew Russian President Vladimir Putin "very well" when he thought it an advantage; now he says he never met him.

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Republicans burn down one last institution

    There used to be some exceptions to the Republican Party's war on American institutions.

    The party began aggressively attacking the news media and the academy in the era of Nixon-Agnew, undermining confidence in the validity of news reports and the integrity of journalists while condemning the pernicious ideological influence of university professors.

    Republicans added public schools to the enemies list as desegregation orders trickled through the nation in the 1960s and 1970s. The courts, the ultimate source of such orders, were cast as a radical den, home to judges who were delegitimized as "unelected," "liberal" and "activist." Racial conservatives resisted integrated schools while religious conservatives condemned public education as a godless swamp. More often than not, the religious and racial objections drew from the same well of resentment.

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Is Donald Trump mentally unstable?

    His critics have used a lot of adjectives to describe Donald Trump: outrageous, flamboyant, pompous, thin-skinned, erratic, egocentric and paranoid, for starters.

    But maybe it's time to use another word: "crazy." Not "crazy" as in wild and funny, but "crazy" as in mentally unstable. Given his bizarre behavior, it's a question more and more people are asking these days.

    One thing's for sure, we know Trump's a pathological liar. He lies with every breath. He lies so often about so many things he makes "Lyin' Ted" look like a truth-teller. Look at his contradictory statements about Vladimir Putin.

    Back in 2014, he bragged: "I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer." Last November, he claimed he "got to know Putin very well because we were both on '60 Minutes.'" But this week, he told reporters: "I never met Putin. I don't know who Putin is."

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Economist Mark Zandi: Donald Trump is the biggest threat to the recovery

    Mark Zandi is one of my favorite fellow economists. It's not just that he thinks about all the economy's moving parts; it's that he's able to discuss them with great clarity. We met for coffee the other day and spoke about current events.

    Jared Bernstein: No one can say when the next recession will hit, but what do see in the economic picture that we should be considering in this regard?

    Mark Zandi: Predicting recessions is indeed a dark art, but I think we are several years away from the next one. At the center of every recession is a serious imbalance in the economy and mirrored in the financial system. Think subprime mortgage and the Great Recession, or the technology bubble and the early 2000s recession. There are no such imbalances today. An overheating economy, characterized by accelerating inflation and rising interest rates is another precondition for recession. This doesn't describe today's economy.

    Q: So we shouldn't be worried about that measly 1.2 percent print on the last GDP report?

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Donald Trump sours on polls now that he's behind

    Donald Trump and polls have had a long and unusually good relationship. Throughout the Republican primary, polls showed Trump at or near the top of the field. He dutifully cited them - and cited them - as evidence that he was #winning, and that everyone who second-guessed his unorthodox campaign style was, in a word, dumb.

    It was Trump's ultimate defense. Every time another candidate or a party leader raised questions about his fitness for office or his conservative credentials, he could always point to polling that showed the Republican primary electorate siding with him. It served as his uber-example of how out of touch the party establishment was with its base; every time they predicted something he said or did would doom his campaign, his poll numbers went up. (See Muslim ban, build wall and make Mexico pay for it, etc.)

    Of late, though, the Trump-polls friendship has fallen on hard times. Very hard times.

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Republicans nominate dangerously insane person to lead America, then panic when he proves he's dangerously insane

    Republicans are in a full scale panic Wednesday because Donald Trump's candidacy appears to be in chaos. There is talk of an "intervention," inspired in part by Trump's continuing attacks on the Khan family. RNC chair Reince Priebus is described as "very frustrated" and "stressed," because he is "running out of excuses" to offer party bigwigs about Trump's political incompetence and indifference to basic political norms. Republicans are panicking because Trump is frittering away a chance to defeat Hillary Clinton amid "self inflicted mistakes" and "missed opportunities."

    In other words, if only Trump were not acting in such a crazy manner right now, he'd be on track to having a real shot to beat Clinton, and if Trump just gets a handle on his fleeting bout of bad behavior, he'll be right back in the position of having a good chance to win. An "intervention" just might set that right.

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America's nuclear arsenal can stand on two legs

    It's one of the delicious ironies of the Barack Obama presidency that a man who came into office with lofty talk on nuclear nonproliferation would oversee the biggest modernization of the U.S. arsenal since the Cold War. His administration kick-started a $1 trillion nuclear upgrade initiative that, among other things, will refurbish eight major weapons labs and prolong the lives of the Pentagon's most important tactical nuclear bomb and submarine-based warhead.

    For those of us who think there are more pressing issues than who gets to use what bathroom in North Carolina, this update is a legacy worth championing.

    However, it is possible to have too much of a necessary thing. Case in point is a new plan by the Air Force to spend $62 billion for research and development of new nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles to replace the aging Minuteman IIIs now in silos in the northern Great Plains.

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A Very Important Post about … cargo shorts

    The Cargo Shorts Wars have begun.

    They started with two bits of information. First, the simple fact that the past year annual sales of cargo shorts declined for the first time in a decade. Then there was Nicole Hong's Wall Street Journal story on the strife that cargo shorts -- yes, I said cargo shorts -- are causing in relationships:

    "Relationships around the country are being tested by cargo shorts, loosely cut shorts with large pockets sewn onto the sides. Men who love them say they're comfortable and practical for summer. Detractors say they've been out of style for years, deriding them as bulky, uncool and just flat-out ugly. . . .

    "Travis Haglin, who has worked in the retail industry for more than 15 years, including atRalph Lauren and J. Crew, said he has never felt comfortable wearing cargo shorts because they 'don't look cool enough.'

    " 'Men want to be like James Bond,' " Mr. Haglin said. 'Bond never wears cargo shorts.' "

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