Archive

August 4th, 2016

Bowser's $9,000 in Trump change

    Who knows what the Trump family thinks about the District of Columbia government. Better understood, perhaps, is the regard that the Republican presidential nominee and his family have for D.C.'s Democratic mayor, Muriel Bowser. That is, if regard is measured in terms of check-writing.

    On April 10, 2014, 10 days after then-Ward 4 Council member Bowser defeated incumbent mayor Vincent Gray in a Democratic primary, Donald Trump's daughter, Ivanka, contributed the maximum $2,000 to the Muriel Bowser for Mayor Committee.

    On Oct. 1, with a month left in the general election contest between Bowser and independent mayoral contender David Catania, one of Donald Trump's sons, Eric Trump, donated $2,000 to Bowser's election committee.

    With the mayoral election won, attention turned to Bowser's transition and inauguration. Those activities attracted Donald Trump himself, who, on Dec. 1, contributed $5,000 to Bowser's D.C. Proud Inaugural Committee.

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A wealth tax may make a country richer

    Standard economic theory says that taxation reduces productivity. If you tax income, you reduce the incentive to work. If you tax capital gains, you reduce the incentive to invest, and so on. When you discourage useful economic activity, the economy becomes less efficient.

    But what if it were possible to impose taxes in a way that also increased productivity? That's the promise of a clever new theory by economists Daphne Chen, Fatih Guvenen, Gueorgui Kambourov and Burhanettin Kuruscu.

    The basic idea is startlingly simple. Lots of people have wealth but aren't able to use it effectively -- they pick bad investments, or use it to start failing businesses. The U.S. tax system accommodates these people with a variety of breaks; if they lose on their investments, they get capital gains tax write-offs, while if their businesses are unprofitable those companies pay no tax. Meanwhile, the people who put wealth to good use -- the savvy entrepreneurs and wise investors of the world -- get taxed on their profits and capital gains. The net effect of this system is to allocate more of society's capital to the people who are least able to put it to good use.

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Why Clinton is both widely disliked and widely admired

    Hillary Clinton is the most admired woman in the United States.

    Hillary Clinton is viewed unfavorably by nearly 60 percent of Americans.

    Somehow, both are true at the same time. How can that be?

    The answer says a lot about women who break glass ceilings.

    No woman has been in the public eye more in the last quarter-century than Clinton - and no woman has been so venerated. According to Gallup's annual survey, the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state has been rated the most admired woman in America 20 times over the past 23 years, including in its most recent December 2015 survey. Since the question was first asked by Gallup in 1948, Clinton has been top rated more than any other woman, besting even Mother Teresa; only Eleanor Roosevelt comes close, having been rated most-admired for 13 years in the 1940s and 1950s.

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U.S. friends get caught in Turkey's post-coup purges

    Many of the Turkish officers that are the key counterparts for U.S. counterterrorism efforts have been arrested or purged after a failed coup earlier this month.

    This is the frank assessment of both the U.S. general in charge of the Middle East and South Asia, Joseph Votel, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

    Neither man sugarcoated their words Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum.

    "It's affected all segments of the national security apparatus in Turkey," Clapper said. "Many of our interlocutors have been purged or arrested. There is no question this is going to set back our cooperation with the Turks."

    Votel said he was "concerned about the longer term impact" of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's post-coup purges and arrests, though he said the U.S. had ways to manage it. He also acknowledged that some of the Turkish officers who have been arrested worked closely with the U.S. on the fight against the Islamic State. "I think some of them are in jail," he said.

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The TPP is much more than just a free-trade deal

    The Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multilateral trade deal involving the U.S. and many countries on the Pacific Rim, has become something of a bugaboo for those both on the left and the right. Republican nominee Donald Trump has denounced TPP, declaring it a sop to China, even though China isn't included in the agreement. Bernie Sanders is against it as well. President Barack Obama and Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine are for it, while Hillary Clinton, who helped negotiate the deal, has now turned against it. It's not clear what Americans in general actually think about the treaty -- polls indicate lukewarm support, and Americans tend to view foreign trade as an opportunity rather than a threat. But it's obvious that there are very vocal, committed minorities in both parties who are adamantly opposed to the deal, and both nominees appear to be giving them what they want.

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The Real Plot Against America

    In retrospect, it worked out much better than planned. Who’d have thought a pariah nation, run by an authoritarian who makes his political opponents disappear, could so easily hijack a great democracy? It didn’t take much. A talented nerd can bring down a minnow of a nation. But this level of political crime requires more refined mechanics — you need everyone to play their assigned roles.

    You start with a stooge, a fugitive holed up in London, releasing stolen emails on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, in the name of “transparency.” Cyberburglars rely on a partner in crime to pick up stolen goods. And WikiLeaks has always been there for Russia, a nation with no transparency.

    The emails show office gossip — catty, sometimes crude back-and-forth by party operatives, and a bias for one candidate. Ho-hum. To make the plot work, reporters have to take the bait. On cue, they decry the fact that politics is going on inside a major political party. The horror — Democratic hacks saying nasty things about Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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Presidential Convention Quiz

    It’s all over, people. Now let’s see how much you were paying attention. Take the Nominating-a-President Quiz:

    In Cleveland

    1. Donald Trump told reporters that the message that America should take away from the Republican convention was:

    A. “The Obama administration has a deeply flawed foreign policy.”

    B. “Doom, despair, darkness, disaster.”

    C. “The fact that I’m very well liked.”

 

    2. Trump said that if he doesn’t win in November he’s going to:

    A. Start a new life doing charitable work at a leper colony.

    B. Teach political science at Trump University.

    C. Blame Mike Pence.

 

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One reason to elect Clinton: Resisting rising dictators

    Vladimir Putin is not a Bond villain, the Kremlin is not Spectre and, in the real world, we don't need Daniel Craig to push back against Russia's hybrid foreign policy. But we do need to elect Hillary Clinton for president. If we don't, as we learned in recent days, we'll be led by a man who appears bent on destroying the alliances that preserve international peace and American power, a man who cheerfully approves of hostile foreign intervention in a U.S. election campaign. And please remember: If that's how he feels about Russia, there's no guarantee that he'll feel any different about China or Iran.

    We also need a President Clinton to distance herself from the current administration, at least in this sense: President Obama has consistently refused to take seriously Russia's hybrid foreign policy, a strategy that mixes normal diplomacy, military force, economic corruption and a high-tech information war.

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Investor education seems to be going in reverse

    Amid all the hoopla and theater of the national political convention you might have missed a noteworthy report about the financial literacy of the average American adult. It's worth taking a look during the weekend if you want a break from the presidential race, which seems like it begins again as soon as the election results are in.

    There's not much in the National Financial Capability Study to suggest that people are getting smarter about their finances. "Only 37 percent of respondents are considered to have high financial literacy, meaning they could answer four or more questions on a five-question financial literacy quiz-down from 39 percent in 2012 and 42 percent in 2009," according to the study.

    This is a troubling development. You would think that after the financial crisis, when so many individual investors got badly burned, that they would make a greater effort to understand investing. But the academic evidence suggests that investor education is at best an uphill battle, and at worst a big waste of time.

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In U.S. politics, the tribe always comes first

    If nothing else, the past two weeks bear witness to the amazing resilience of America's political parties -- not as political or intellectual movements, but as tribes. Ideas come and go -- but what do ideas matter, really? The parties, God help us, endure.

    Donald Trump is neither a conservative nor a Republican, as President Barack Obama told the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday. The Republican nominee's program, such as it is, rejects mainstream conservatism in almost every particular. In taking over the party, he ran against it. Yet see how the party accommodated itself to the invader. The Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week celebrated his coronation. Expressions of discontent weren't tolerated, as Texas Sen. Ted Cruz found out: Republicans ditched everything except the imperative to unite against the enemy.

    The remolding of the Democratic Party has been less dramatic, but there are similarities. Senator Bernie Sanders stands for a tendency within liberalism, not something entirely outside it, so he isn't the Democratic equivalent of Trump. Even so, the demands of tribal politics have yielded a notable reordering of ideas.

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