Archive

February 7th, 2017

Is Putin already testing Trump?

    Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump spoke on the phone, a hotly-anticipated, one hour call. Throughout the campaign and transition, Trump insisted he and Putin would get along well, and hinted at closer cooperation on a range of issues.

    In the week following the phone call, fighting dramatically escalated in Eastern Ukraine, where Russia backs and supplies fighters. The violent escalation has left 25,000 citizens of Avdiivka are now living without electricity, heating, or water, according to the Center for Civilians in Conflict.

    In that same week, anti-Kremlin activist Vladimir Kara-Murza's lawyer said he suspects his client was poisoned again; he believes his near-fatal 2015 illness was the result of poison. And Putin's domestic critics do have a tendency to get themselves poisoned, sometimes in exotic fashion.

    And a technical tweak to U.S. export limits on information technology Thursday briefly became Exhibit A in Trump's supposed rapprochement with Russia - before it wasn't.

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If you want to kill the solid jobs recovery, repeal Dodd-Frank

    There were two important pieces of economic news out Friday, and while it might not seem so, they're intimately connected.

    First, we got another in a stream of solid reports on the U.S. job market. Payrolls were up 227,000, and while the jobless rate ticked up to 4.8 percent, that was for a good reason: more people entering the labor market. Hourly pay is up 2.5 percent over the past year, ahead of inflation, meaning real paychecks have more buying power. There's still some slack in the job market -- too many underemployed folks, for example (part-timers who want to work full-time) -- but if we stick on this path, we'll squeeze out the remaining slack within the year or so.

    That's the good news.

    The bad news is that the Trump administration is threatening to blow up the job market recovery by rolling back financial market oversight. It's repeal-without-replace all over again, invoking the feared economic shampoo cycle: bubble, bust, repeat.

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'Hidden Figures' is the film America needs now

    "Hidden Figures" pulled off a surprise victory at the Screen Actors Guild awards Sunday night, making it the most serious challenger to Oscar favorite "La La Land" for best picture.

    An enjoyable if overpraised musical, "La La Land" is the sort of Hollywood tale Academy voters love. But "Hidden Figures," a drama about three black women working as NASA mathematicians in the early days of the space race, has an edge of its own. It's a movie for anxious times, offering patriotic balm for the fractured body politic and even throwing in a tale of career resilience in the face of automation.

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Sinister forces lurk behind Trump's bluster

    Behind the smokescreen of President Trump's childish argument over the size of his inauguration crowd and his allegation that widespread voter fraud caused him to lose the 2016 popular vote is an autocratic assault on America's long post-Cold War leadership.

    His bold inaugural reset of U.S foreign policy from the collective Western defense of democratic principles is a throwback to the old and repudiated cry of "America First." This alone reveals the depth of the threat he poses to world peace and order.

    His verbal assaults on press freedom at home, and his disparagement of NATO abroad as the U.S. bulwark of power in Europe, are aimed at the heart of American global leadership. His intention appears to be undermining the traditional U.S. resistance to Russian expansionism, despite his flimsy self-assurance that he can best handle the old KGB spymaster who has risen to unchallenged power in Russia.

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All that anger about globalization? It's 'globaloney.'

    Donald Trump's election was propelled by a wave of anti-globalization anger that is sweeping the United States and other Western advanced economies. Trump has echoed that anger in his rhetoric. In his inaugural address, he lamented that America has "made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated." And now he is responding to that anger with his policies. In his first days in office, he has signed an order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, pledged to renegotiate NAFTA and prepared a moratorium on new multilateral agreements. He has directed construction of a wall along the southern border and threatened a 20 percent import tax on goods from Mexico. And he has blocked refugees, immigrants and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

    All this reflects genuine skepticism of the benefits of globalization, opposition to trade deals and anxiety about immigration among large portions of the U.S. population, protests notwithstanding.

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When troops worry about their kids' schools, our military suffers

    Military readiness can be defined in a number of ways: the ability of a military unit "to accomplish its assigned mission" or "accurately defining expected threats and resourcing the military to counter them." More often than not, the issue of readiness is framed as a question of whether or not service members are adequately trained and properly equipped.

    But a fighting force - even one as formidable as the United States military - isn't truly ready unless its members have confidence that their needs are being addressed on the home front. For service members, a major component of readiness is knowing that as they move from base to base with family in tow, the quality of their children's education doesn't suffer. Currently, though, readiness is being negatively impacted because many military families are making decisions about whether to leave the armed forces or to accept a move to a particular duty station based in part on the quality of the surrounding schools. These choices can create a brain drain that ultimately undermines the nation's fighting force.

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A Tyrant’s Ghost Guides Trump

    The Man Who Would Be King signs his executive orders with a stagy flourish, waving thick leather binders “that look like the menu at Beefsteak Charlie’s,” as Bill Maher said. Take that, Muslims! Die, Obamacare! We’re building a wall, Mexicans!

    Directly behind President Donald Trump in the Oval Office as he inks his bundle of biases into edicts is the newly installed portrait of the seventh president, Andrew Jackson, a shock-haired, vainglorious slave driver. Look close enough and you can almost see the dead man smirk: He’s back!

    Jackson is that vacant stare on the front of the $20 bill, soon to be replaced by Harriet Tubman — swapping out a man who owned about 150 human beings for a woman who started her life as property. Or maybe this won’t happen after all, given Jackson’s new prominence in the Trump White House.

    He is often called a populist, the first people’s president. Jackson was also an unapologetic slave owner, unlike earlier presidents who were troubled by holding people in bondage in the land of the free. To many Native Americans, Jackson is just short of Hitler — a genocidal monster.

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Trump's currency war against Germany could destroy the European Union

    It's just over a week after Donald Trump's inauguration, and his administration has already indicated that it is preparing for global economic war. The currency war the White House has in mind is clearly aimed not just against China - which has long been suspected of "cheating" in order to win the globalization game - but also Germany: On Tuesday, Peter Navarro, the head of the new National Trade Council, claimed that Germany is using its currency to "exploit" both its neighbors and the United States. The White House evidently thinks of the European Union, and the monetary union that established the euro currency, as essentially a mechanism to protect German interests and extend German power - as an instrument of Germany, as Trump himself put it.

    This fear of Germany is both an outlandish expression of paranoia and an idea with a long pedigree among some establishment economists and policymakers. Nobody doubts that the White House has tools at its disposal to strong-arm Germany into changing its economic policy - including its commitment to the euro, which currently binds the European Union together. Indeed, the Trump administration already seems to be doing just that.

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An Apology to Muslims

    Whenever an extremist in the Muslim world does something crazy, people demand that moderate Muslims step forward to condemn the extremism. So let’s take our own advice: We Americans should now condemn our own extremist.

    In that spirit, I hereby apologize to Muslims. The mindlessness and heartlessness of the travel ban should humiliate us, not you. Understand this: President Donald Trump is not America!

    I apologize to Nadia Murad, the brave young Yazidi woman from Iraq who was made a sex slave — but since escaping, has campaigned around the world against ISIS and sexual slavery. She has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize yet is now barred from the United States.

    I apologize to Edna Adan, a heroic Somali woman who has battled for decades for women’s health and led the fight against female genital mutilation. Edna speaks at U.S, universities, champions girls’ education and defies extremists — and she’s one of those inspiring me to do the same.

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Trump's hard line on trade puts the Fed in a quandary

    The Trump administration's antagonistic approach to some countries could be putting monetary policy on a collision course with international trade and financial policy rather than fiscal policy as initially expected. Instead of facing a demand shock, the Federal Reserve could be facing a supply shock.

    Speculation on fiscal policy -- and a possible monetary offset -- heightened in the weeks after the Nov. 8 election. The basic story is that with the economy close to full employment, a deficit-financed surge in demand would be inflationary, forcing the Fed to offset additional spending with a more aggressive pace of tightening. This presumably would run counter to President Donald Trump's economic ambitions and set the stage for a showdown between the Fed and the White House.

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