Archive

December 2nd

Trump likes to be 'unpredictable.' That won't work in diplomacy.

    Once when I was serving in the federal government in the early 2000s, the Treasury Department was ready to issue an obscure communique. Just before it was set to be released, someone noticed a stray punctuation mark. The picayune typo could have led some to interpret the communique as a U.S. policy reversal on some territory where sovereignty was disputed.

    This mattered: Historically, foreign officials and the press parse every word that presidents and policy principals say to decipher any changes in policy. Even minute shifts in language can send important signals to the world.

    In this case, the moment the typo was detected, we fixed the problem before it went public. A minor kerfuffle was averted.

    Now imagine trying to clean up President-elect Donald Trump's statements.

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Trump and the dollar

    Since Donald Trump was elected president, the value of the U.S. dollar is up about 4 percent against the currencies of our trading partners. And that "Trump bump" in the dollar is an extension of longer-term trend wherein the greenback is up 20 to 25 percent, depending on the basket of currencies to which you compare it, since mid-2014.

    U.S. presidents, and especially their Treasury secretaries, are hidebound by tradition to profess their undying love for a strong dollar. Perhaps the new president will buck (hee-hee) this trend, because lemme tell you: The strong dollar, which makes our exports less competitive in foreign markets, is no friend of Trump's.

    During the campaign, Trump ran hard against the U.S. trade deficit, or exports minus imports, last seen at about $500 billion, about -2.5 percent of GDP. Our trade deficit is exclusively in manufactured goods; we have a surplus in services (financial services, entertainment, including royalty fees, intellectual property, airline fares). I raise that because the linkages among the trade deficit, the loss of manufacturing jobs and the dollar are what connects the trend you see in the figure to potential headaches for the next president.

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There's no 'good' or 'bad' America

    Are people who believe in deplorable things themselves "deplorable"? Donald Trump voters, whether they intended to or not, empowered racists. Many hold misogynistic and Islamophobic views, even if they might like to believe that they don't. But this should not - it cannot - have much bearing on whether someone is "good" or "bad" in an absolute sense.

    To prioritize one's tribe or family to the exclusion of others has long been a universal condition. The nature of this in-group identity is malleable and can morph from ethnic to religious to nationalist identities. Whatever its form, however, it remains a potent force, steeped as it is in those most natural of sentiments -- fear and the will to survive. As anthropologist Scott Atran writes: "Across most of human history and cultures, violence against other groups was considered a moral virtue." Today we know that the desire to exclude shouldn't be the norm, but that doesn't make it any less a part of who we are.

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The racist history of Southern white evangelicalism and the rise of Donald Trump

    Two weeks after electing Donald Trump to the highest office in the land, America pauses this week for a day of Thanksgiving. No doubt, many dinner tables will be as divided as the election results-as contentious as our anxious streets. But if we listen closely to the prayers of those who are jubilant in this season, we may discern the false religion that blessed Donald Trump's reactionary campaign. Such discernment is necessary, as we have learned through our cross-racial Moral Mondays movement, before we can experience the moral revival that offers the only way forward together for American democracy.

    Franklin Graham, the son of our home state's most famous preacher, Billy Graham, celebrated Trump's election with this prayer of thanksgiving: "Political pundits are stunned. Many thought the Trump/Pence ticket didn't have a chance. None of them understand the God-factor. . . While the media scratches their heads and tries to understand how this happened, I believe that God's hand intervened."

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Nobody cooks anymore, and maybe that's not so bad

    The vast majority of Americans will be sitting down to a gigantic, mostly home-cooked meal this Thursday. So this seems like as good a time as any to point out that such meals have become an anomaly. Basic ingredients -- such as, you know, turkeys, cranberries and sweet potatoes -- now account for only 5 percent of U.S. food spending.

    Basic ingredients also accounted for 5 percent of spending in 1999, so at least that's not on the decline. But according to the June 2016 U.S. Department of Agriculture report from which I got these numbers, prices rose faster from 1999 through 2010 for basic ingredients than for any of the other food categories -- so consumers were getting relatively less of them for the money. And I've got to think that, 50 or 100 years ago, basic ingredients made up a much higher share of food spending.

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No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along

    Donald Trump schlepped across town Tuesday to meet with the publisher of The New York Times and some editors, columnists and reporters at the paper.

    As The Times reported, Trump actually seemed to soften some of his positions:

    He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t seek to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But he should never have said that he was going to do that in the first place.

    He seemed to indicate that he wouldn’t encourage the military to use torture. But he should never have said that he would do that in the first place.

    He said that he would have an “open mind” on climate change. But that should always have been his position.

    You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory. You did real harm to this country and many of its citizens, and I will never — never — forget that.

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Koch Kollege for Right-Wing Social Engineers

    Breaking news: An amazing new school for political activists is training thousands of people to be community organizers. They’re using Saul Alinsky’s classic manual, Rules for Radicals.

    The Grassroots Leadership Academy gives how-to lessons in everything from mounting successful protest actions to recruiting middle-of-the-road voters. But, wait — who’s that hiding behind Saul Alinsky?

    Good grief, it’s the Koch brothers!

    Yes, this “grassroots” outfit has been set up by the gabillionaires Charles and David Koch to train cadres of right-wing corporatists to spread their ideological laissez-fairydust across the land.

    The academy is run through Americans for Prosperity, the Kochs’ political wing, which put up $3 million to get it going. About 10,000 people have gone through training sessions in three dozen states. The brothers’ grandiose scheme is to take over the Republican Party and use it as a tool to rebuild America itself into a Kochlandia, ruled by the superrich.

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It's time to decide Facebook's mission

    Your former high school classmate has pictures of a new baby, your aunt has video of her great vacation in Majorca, and your presidential candidate has several articles accusing her of killing an FBI agent for leaking emails.

    One of these things is not like the others (hint: it's the last one), but Facebook will share them all if it thinks they'll please you. It will even promote them further if it thinks that other users will find them interesting as well. To the algorithms that control the site, what matters is the "connection" you make with others via these snippets of information. Whether that connection is based on something true is an entirely different question.

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Is there anyone In Asia who still trusts America?

    At the conclusion of the leaders' summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Peru last week, the Pacific Rim trade group reasserted the importance of free trade in a joint communiqué. The APEC economies, including the United States, further committed to "keep our markets open and to fight against all forms of protectionism" - an intentional pushback to the growth of protectionist rhetoric, especially from the incoming administration in Washington, D.C.

    President-elect Donald Trump has vowed, most recently in a YouTube video released on Monday, to make America's withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the U.S.-led flagship free trade deal in the Asia-Pacific, a top priority for his administration. Trump's vitriol has already eliminated any chance that Congress will ratify the pact during the remaining lame-duck period of the current administration.

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Is fake news protected by the First Amendment?

    In the free marketplace of ideas, true ideas are supposed to compete with false ones until the truth wins -- at least according to a leading rationale for free speech. But what if the rise of fake news shows that, under current conditions, truth may not defeat falsehood in the market? That would start to make free speech look a whole lot less appealing.

    The rise of fake news therefore poses a serious challenge to our basic ideas about the First Amendment. Much of the debate in recent weeks has focused on social media and search engines. But whether the market for ideas is failing is more fundamental than whether Facebook or Google can be blamed for algorithms that promote and spread false stories.

    Start with the famous metaphor introduced by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes almost 100 years ago, in a dissent in the 1919 case Abrams v. United States. Holmes argued that "the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market."

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