Archive

August 25th, 2016

Clinton and Trump should be debating taxation

    Imagine what could happen if Donald Trump hadn't turned the presidential campaign into an argument over who founded Islamic State or whether there should be ideological entrance tests for foreign visitors and immigrants. Then he and Hillary Clinton could have a rational debate over taxes, a serious topic on which they have clear differences.

    Trump wants to cut taxes massively, especially for the wealthy, which he claims will stimulate unprecedented growth. Clinton wants to boost taxes on corporations and the rich and use the revenue to create jobs and help the middle class.

    Both evade some specifics but there's enough for a substantive debate.

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Clinton and Trump are both wrong on corporate taxes

    Hillary Clinton thinks corporate taxes are too low. Donald Trump thinks corporate taxes are way too high. They're both wrong, and the economic consequences could be huge if either nominee's tax proposal becomes law.

    Trump would slash the rate to 15 percent and allow millions of partnerships and single-owner firms set up by hedge fund managers, lawyers and other well-heeled taxpayers to also pay the 15 percent rate once they pass earnings through to their personal income taxes. Clinton would hold the existing corporate tax rate steady at 35 percent but would close a variety of loopholes, which amounts to a tax increase.

    The problem is that corporations don't really pay taxes. They just pass them along to employees, shareholders and customers. Raising corporate taxes takes money out of people's pockets and encourages companies to send operations overseas, where corporate tax rates are lower. Corporations don't suffer but the economy does.

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Can the Grand Old Party survive?

    Donald Trump's decision to put his presidential campaign into the hands of the most destructive right-wing elements of the Republican Party is a clarion call to the old GOP establishment to wake up and shake off the lethargy into which it has sunk in the shocking Trump party takeover.

    As yet, there is not the slightest evidence that the old champions of orthodox Republicanism -- what George W. Bush called "compassionate conservatism" with little intent of embracing it himself -- are ready or know how to begin bringing it about against the Trump onslaught on common decency.

    The would-be Bush dynasty, including both presidents and the woefully ineffective Jeb Bush, has stood by tsk-tsking while Trump has made a shambles of the old order.

    The 2012 Republican standard-bearer, Mitt Romney, has sounded the alarm while pointedly declining to put himself at the head of the resistance. Meanwhile, the fawning and inept Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus not only has thrown in the towel but also has signed up as a willing Trump puppet.

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A useless word in higher ed: 'Tuition'

    If Congress wanted to make an actual difference regarding the rising cost of college, and to give universities and colleges a fighting chance to solve this problem, it would strip from the Higher Education Act the requirement that colleges publish a "tuition" number. The figure is as good as useless now.

    Colleges should instead publish five numbers: how much they spend each year on educating each student; the range a family is expected to contribute to that expense, from zero to a maximum; how much a family contributes on average; the range of what a college itself will contribute for each student; and how much the college contributes on average to the total expense for each student.

    Why is the concept of tuition as good as useless? Let me count the ways.

 

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The inventions that changed our genetic code

    Of all living things, why do humans alone create advanced technology? Not long ago, scientists thought it was because we are the only intelligent life form on this planet. That explanation alone no longer suffices. Over the last decade, scientists have discovered that crows can use tools, hyenas can cooperate to solve complex problems, jays can plan for the future, rats and voles can demonstrate empathy, and ducklings are capable of abstract thought.

    Yet our technology is extraordinary. Why were we the ones to transform the planet? A clue comes from a recent paper on a genetic change that helped our ancient ancestors tolerate smoke after fire was invented. It's the latest finding to bolster the increasingly compelling notion that natural selection acts on our species in a unique way. While evolution forces all living things to adapt to changing natural environments, this emerging school of thought holds, it also forces humans to adapt to our own inventions. And indeed, there's evidence we have been physically reshaped by agriculture, dairy farming, stone tools, spears and the taming of fire.

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The conflict at the heart of U.S. retirement plans

    This month, yet another slew of private retirement plan managers became the target of class-action lawsuits. This time it was a bunch of universities: Yale University, New York University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and other schools have been sued for failing to properly oversee their employees' retirement plans.

    The lawyer behind the suits, Jerome Schlichter, has already hit companies for failing to administer their 401(k) plans responsibly; this latest wave of suits targets the so-called 403(b), a form of defined contribution plan used by non-profits like universities that closely resembles the 401(k).

    These suits are sending shock waves through the world of private retirement plans. And with good reason: They betray the nation's unresolved confusion over the historic change that's occurred in how most people save for retirement. Once upon a time, in the bygone age of defined-benefit pension plans, it was assumed that employers would bear all the responsibility of ensuring that the money they set aside to finance these pensions was invested responsibly and efficiently.

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I love Donald Trump's post-fact world

    Finally!

    Take that, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Mr. You Are Entitled To Your Own Opinion, But Not Your Own Facts. Fact-check rating: Entirely false. You are entitled to your own set of facts. It's the logical next step in the American Dream. You deserve only the best, and if reality doesn't want to cooperate, well, reality can shove it.

    Thank you, Donald Trump. With his decision to make Stephen Bannon of Breitbart his campaign's new chief executive -- yes, Stephen Bannon, he of the outlet that published such headlines as "Trump 100% Vindicated: CBS Reports 'Swarm' on Rooftops Celebrating 9/11″ -- Trump has crossed the post-fact Rubicon to invade, um, post-fact France. (I don't think it's actually France that they crossed the Rubicon to invade, but, according to my own set of facts, it is now. Thanks, Donald.) Look under your seat, folks! You get your own set of facts! Everyone gets your own set of facts!

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August 24th

Clinton's liberal administration takes shape

    Will Hillary Clinton be a standard-order mainstream liberal Democrat if she is elected in November? That view received some supporting evidence this week with the announcement of the leadership group for her transition planning team.

    If personnel is policy -- and it most certainly is -- then Clinton's choices matter. Based on the eight people she named to her transition team, she'll fill her administration with governing professionals who have strong ties to the party, including some with strong ties to the current president.

    The team consists of chair Ken Salazar; co-chairs Tom Donilon, Jennifer Granholm, Neera Tanden and Maggie Williams; policy wonks Ed Meier and Ann O'Leary; and chief economist Heather Boushey.

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Great cities must protect their watersheds

    The world's great cities could hold the key to the prosperity of the human race. Yet a comprehensive new study points to a worrying trend: The water they need to grow is getting more expensive, because they're failing to protect the nature that purifies it.

    Cities are amazing engines of productivity. As the hubs of our modern societies, they mix together people with a diversity of skills and create fertile ground for learning and invention. In many respects, bigger tends to be better. Larger cities have more patents and inventions per person, and achieve better energy and resource efficiency thanks to economies of scale. For example, they require less conducting cable per person to carry electrical power where needed.

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End all ivory sales worldwide

    Throughout my life, I have been an avid hunter, fisherman and outdoorsman. I hunt quail, wild turkey, dove and other birds. I've been on safari in Africa a number of times to hunt Cape buffalo and other plains game. I hunt elk in the Rocky Mountains every year. In my native Texas, I fish the Gulf Coast's bays for redfish and trout, and I fish Wyoming's cool streams for freshwater trout.

    Like most sportsmen, I am also a conservationist. From the days of Teddy Roosevelt, American hunters - and, indeed, the Republican Party that Roosevelt represented - have held a deep reverence for nature and the wildlife found there. Roosevelt had a hand in the creation of 23 national parks. A half-century later, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

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