Archive

February 8th, 2017

Trump's illusion of unusually swift action

    Everyone seems to agree that, for better or worse, Donald Trump's presidency is off to a fast start. But it's not. Trump has done an excellent job of kicking up a ton of dirt. But two weeks in, there's a lot less than may seem.

    To be sure: The travel ban executive action is really happening, although it's been reined in already, and may still be in judicial and political danger going forward. That's one major item on the side of "fast start." And while it's very low hanging fruit, selecting a Supreme Court nominee is also a solid, substantive action.

    Beyond that? He's off to a very normal start in terms of real action.

 

- Personnel

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Trump wants you, the taxpayer, to pay for campaigning from the pulpit

    At Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast, President Trump renewed his campaign pledge to repeal -- in his words, "totally destroy" -- the Johnson Amendment, a provision of our tax code that prohibits charitable entities, including churches, mosques and synagogues, from intervening in campaigns for elected office, at the risk of losing of their tax-exempt status.

    Bad idea, Mr. President.

    Current law already permits religious leaders and religious organizations to express their views about candidates without undermining our campaign finance laws. What they can't do is express those views on the taxpayer's dime. Doing away with the Johnson Amendment would undermine the principle that all campaign finances are taxed at least once, placing taxpayers in the unreasonable position of subsidizing the partisan agendas of religious entities.

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The Trump administration is showing white nationalists it won't fight them at all

    The Trump administration is reportedly planning to rebrand a government effort to combat violent extremism into one that focuses only on terrorists acting in the name of Islam.

    The program, launched by the Obama administration in 2011, is counterterrorism by other means. It seeks nonkinetic ways to prevent terrorism through various kinds of "soft power" initiatives, from messaging campaigns and community intervention to jobs and education programs. Theoretically, up to now, it's been targeting all forms of violent extremist ideology, from radical Muslim groups to domestic white nationalists. In practice, though, even under Obama, the focus was almost entirely on Muslims, aside from a tiny handful of mostly invisible grants and programs.

    But there was still a powerful symbolic statement behind saying the government wanted to fight all extremists, no matter what ideology they espoused. And it would be an equally powerful symbolic statement if the Trump administration decides to drop all non-Muslim interventions and rebrand the effort as Combating Islamic Extremism.

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February 7th

Trump's sad 'thank you' to African-Americans

    "They didn't come out to vote for Hillary. They didn't come out. And that was a big - so thank you to the African-American community," taunted Donald Trump at a mostly white post-election rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania, in December.

    Trump's celebration of lower black election turnout came to mind as I watched him on television kicking off Black History Month at the White House this week with his top black supporters and campaign workers. The assembled were all grins as they listened to Trump pay tribute to himself and past black civil rights heroes. Don't know what they made of his off-the-wall reference to abolitionist, orator and writer Frederick Douglass, who died in 1895. "Frederick Douglass," Trump said, "is an example of somebody who's done an amazing job and is being recognized more and more, I notice." Say what?

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News that's above reproach? It's all in the terminal

    Democrats trust only Democratic-approved media sources, and Republicans trust only Republican-approved media sources. Perhaps the only medium that both Democrats and Republicans will accept as a valid source of information is … the stock market.

    With the stock market, there is a price at which one can buy or sell. And that's that. No alleging that Fox News peddles "alternative facts," or MSNBC spins.

    Additionally, for anyone with their wealth in financial assets, movement in the stock market affects their net worth and retirement prospects. Even for conspiracy theorists who might believe the stock market is rigged by the Fed or the powers that be or whomever, at the end of the day you can log into your account or check your quarterly statement and see your account balance in dollars. No one can convince you that the Trump era has been good for your finances if you're looking at your decimated portfolio, and no amount of harsh news coverage of the president will change how you feel about a rising balance.

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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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