Archive

December 11th

Finding America’s Mother Teresa

    If this political season has you feeling down, meet Annette Dove. She’s a salve for our aches and wounds, for she represents the American grass roots’ best.

    Dove, 60, is a black woman who dropped out of high school when she became pregnant and who has endured racism and domestic abuse. Drawing on her own experience overcoming difficulties, she now runs a widely admired program for troubled children. Funding the program in part with her own savings — even going into personal bankruptcy to keep it going — she transforms lives.

    Dove works seven days a week and struggles month to month to pay the bills with donations, foundation support and a state grant; when the money runs out, she prays.

    The poverty and disadvantage that Dove is fighting here in Pine Bluff, a poor, majority-black town of 50,000, are found all across America. But so, too, are people like Dove, battling for progress through churches, schools, Big Brother programs, advocacy efforts.

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Donald Trump, Department of Justice, Jeff Sessions

    In his successful run to the presidency, Donald Trump spent a lot of time talking about the Second Amendment and defending gun ownership. He spent very little time talking about the other amendments, other than to say he supported the Constitution. He knew his core support came from those who could effortlessly repeat a phrase, “Donald Trump supports my Second Amendment rights,” without knowing much more than that.

    There’s probably a reason why Trump wasn’t specific about the other rights—he doesn’t know much about the Constitution. That became apparent this past week when he said he would jail anyone who burned the flag. However, the Supreme Court, in Texas v. Johnson (1989), ruled that burning the flag is protected by the First Amendment right of free speech, no matter how hateful or unpatriotic it may seem. Trump’s tweet was soundly condemned by all media and civil rights organizations.

    Trump’s knowledge of the Constitution isn’t as important as his attorney general’s enforcement of Trump’s political beliefs. Most attorney generals have been apolitical; Trump’s nomination may not be.

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Trump's Carrier deal could permanently damage American capitalism

    There are many aspects of the economic policy of the new administration that I find misguided. But I am most troubled by what President-elect Donald Trump did with Carrier to hold on to an extra 700 jobs in Indiana. Ronald Reagan's response to the air traffic controllers' strike was a small act that had profound consequences. I fear in a similar way that the negotiation with Carrier is a small thing that is actually a very big thing - a change very much for the worse with regards to the operating assumptions of American capitalism.

    Market economies can operate anywhere along a continuum between two poles.

    I have always thought of American capitalism as dominantly rule and law based. Courts enforce contracts and property rights in ways that are largely independent of just who it is who is before them. Taxes are calculable on the basis of an arithmetic algorithm. Companies and governments buy from the cheapest bidder. Regulation follows previously promulgated rules. In the economic arena, the state's monopoly on the use of force is used to enforce contract and property rights and to enforce previously promulgated laws.

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Trump's bait-and-switch strategy

    As the nation's news media try to figure out how to handle President-elect Trump, he continues to keep them off balance with the hustler's tactic of bait-and-switch. He tosses out one after another tasty news morsels to draw attention from issues than can do him political damage.

    A recent example is how he countered the fact that he lost the popular vote on Election Day by insisting he had really won it -- and then threw into the mix his allegation that the whole election was rigged anyway.

    With this double dose of malarkey, Trump at least temporarily misdirected eyes and ears away from the more significant question: Is he potentially breaking the law or flirting with a serious conflict of interest by holding onto his huge real-estate business while preparing to assume the presidency?

    At first, in his long interview with editors and reporters of the New York Times in their Manhattan lair, Trump insisted that there was no conflict in him taking over the Oval Office and continuing to run his huge international real-estate empire.

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Trump is setting a terrible precedent. Ask Japan.

    Factory workers should be cheering. Donald Trump, actually living up to a campaign promise, has been badgering corporate America to keep manufacturing jobs at home. On Thursday, Trump announced that Carrier will maintain about 1,000 jobs in Indiana rather than shift them to Mexico. He has prodded Apple to build plants at home rather than outsource to China. And he has taken credit (dubiously) for rescuing a Ford factory in Kentucky.

    Many of you are probably saying: Hey, why haven't we done this sort of thing all along? Finally, we've got a tough guy in the White House who can stop those fat cats from moving our jobs overseas!

    The problem is that Trump's bullying will undermine the rule of law -- and ultimately prove detrimental to the U.S. economy. We know this because he's far from the first government official to try such meddling. In Japan, bureaucrats were once famous for it. And the results there should serve as a warning.

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Trump is like Woodrow Wilson

    It would be really nice if Donald Trump's current and potential conflicts of interest could be justified as good for America, after all. As a political scientist who is generally skeptical of "good government" crusades and of broad definitions of public corruption, I'd love to be able to offer a defense of Trump on those grounds -- just as I can offer a defense of old political machines.

    Alas, no dice.

    Trump isn't building a party machine. Why does that matter? With everything else going on, why would we want a Tammany Hall in addition to Trump Tower? Because Trump's conflicts of interest aren't justified even by the democratic theory most open to politicians enriching themselves. A weaker version of democracy could lead him and his followers to ignore or excuse what can't be justified.

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Trump, Finally Explained

    Do you remember “50 First Dates”? It was a Drew Barrymore movie about a woman with short-term amnesia who wakes up every morning with no memory whatsoever of the day that went before.

    I am thinking it’s the perfect Donald Trump analogy.

    In the past, I’ve always presumed that when Trump completely changed his position on health care or the Mexican wall or nuclear weapons in Japan, it was due to craven political opportunism. But it’s much more calming to work under the assumption that he doesn’t remember anything that happened before this morning.

    Think about it next time you hear him bragging about his big margin of victory. “We won in a landslide. That was a landslide,” he told a crowd in Ohio on Thursday. It was perhaps the first time in history that a candidate used those terms after receiving 2.5 million votes fewer than his competitor.

    It’s stupendously irritating, unless you work under the assumption that he no longer recalls the real story.

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The post-truth world of the Trump administration is scarier than you think

    You may think you are prepared for a post-truth world, in which political appeals to emotion count for more than statements of verifiable fact.

    But now it's time to cross another bridge - into a world without facts. Or, more precisely, where facts do not matter a whit.

    On live radio Wednesday morning, Scottie Nell Hughes sounded breezy as she drove a stake into the heart of knowable reality:

    "There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore, of facts," she declared on "The Diane Rehm Show" on Wednesday.

    Hughes, a frequent surrogate for President-elect Donald Trump and a paid commentator for CNN during the campaign, kept on defending that assertion at length, though not with much clarity of expression. Rehm had pressed her about Trump's recent evidence-free assertion on Twitter that he, not Hillary Clinton, would have won the popular vote if millions of immigrants had not voted illegally.

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The Orwellian nightmare for policy wonks is coming

    I'm not going to sugarcoat this: For policy experts, the next four years of the Trump administration will be a waking nightmare. This is for two reasons. The first is that Trump's team has few if any policy wonks. The second is that this puts the average policy wonk in a no-win situation.

    Let's start with the lack of policy wonks. I would guess that the Washington Free Beacon's Matthew Continetti and the New York Times' Neil Irwin disagree on many issues of substance. One of the things that the appear to agree on, however, is that the incoming Trump Cabinet does not contain much in the way of relevant policy or management expertise. Here's Continetti:

    "Only one of the men and women nominated by Trump has experience managing the gigantic and recalcitrant organizations that comprise the administrative state: Elaine Chao, who served as George W. Bush's secretary of labor and is now slated to head the department of transportation under Trump. White House counsel Don McGahn knows Washington as an attorney and former chair of the FEC. And, as I write, there are two members of the administration who have experience as elected executives: Mike Pence and Nikki Haley."

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The economies inherited by Obama and Trump are as different as night and day

    In the three months before President Obama came to office -- the last quarter of 2008 -- the nation's economy was contracting at a rate of 8.2 percent, the biggest quarterly decline in real gross domestic product since 1958. The month before Obama took office, payroll employment fell by 695,000. The unemployment rate was 7.3 percent and rising fast.

    The technical term for such statistics is "nightmarish."

    Now let's look at the economy President-elect Donald Trump is inheriting. Since we're still in the last quarter of this year, we don't yet know its GDP growth rate, but the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta's tracker predicts it will come in at 2.9 percent (last quarter's growth rate was a robust 3.2 percent). According to Friday's jobs report, employment growth was 178,000 and the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent, a nine-year low, and close enough to the Fed's estimate of full employment that they're likely to raise interest rates at their next meeting to keep the job market from getting too tight. (I think they'd be wrong to do so, but that's a different discussion.)

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