Archive

January 12th, 2017

More productivity? Be careful what you wish for

    One of the most significant economic debates over the last decade has been over the nature of the U.S. productivity slowdown and what might someday end it.

    Improving overall productivity requires individual workers to produce more. That's usually made possible by automation or other technological advances, and commentators have settled on their favorite candidates for the next big breakthrough, from drones to self-driving vehicles to the editing of genetic codes. The sad reality, however, is that the next breakthrough already may be here, aiding the manufacture of the addictive drugs that are ruining or ending so many lives.

    Whether we like it or not, there is now a far greater variety of calming, stimulating and depressing substances, and most of them are more readily available. In these areas, productivity has not stood still, and the underlying lesson is that a productivity acceleration can be a dangerous thing.

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It's time to retire the tainted term 'fake news'

    When Jim DeMint wanted to dis a TV interviewer's suggestion that Obamacare has merits as well as flaws, the former senator and tea partyer used a handy putdown: "You can put all that under the category of fake news."

    When conspiracy theorist Alex Jones wanted to deny a CNN report that Ivanka Trump would take over the East Wing offices traditionally occupied by the first lady, he used the same label.

    And when a writer for an arch-conservative website needed a putdown for ABC's chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, he reached for the obvious: "fake-news propagandist."

    Fake news has a real meaning - deliberately constructed lies, in the form of news articles, meant to mislead the public. For example: The one falsely claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump, or the one alleging without basis that Hillary Clinton would be indicted just before the election.

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House Republicans' Worst Week in Washington

    It might have sounded like a good idea.

    The Office of Congressional Ethics - created amid the tumult and controversy of the aughts in Congress - had run amok! Members of Congress - Republicans and Democrats! - were being accused of ethical wrongdoing with scant evidence! Something had to be done!

    So, last Sunday night, House Republicans voted to gut the OCE, and, in so doing, ensured that their first step as the party with full control over political Washington would be directly into quicksand.

    The move, which was led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Va., and championed by fellow Republicans Sam Graves, Mo., Peter Roskam, Ill., and Blake Farenthold, Texas - all three of whom had, to their minds, been victimized by the OCE - sparked an immediate backlash. Democrats slammed Republicans for holding a closed-door, Sunday night vote that eliminated an office aimed at keeping lawmakers in line. Advocates for transparency and good government piled on.

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Confronting North Korea: Talk first, get tough later

    In 1994, when I was secretary of defense, we came perilously close to a second Korean War because of North Korea's nuclear program. Today we are again approaching a crisis with North Korea, and again the cause is its nuclear program. A war in 1994 would have been terrible, but we were able to avoid it with diplomacy (the Agreed Framework, from which the United States and North Korea withdrew in 2002). Today a war would be no less than catastrophic, possibly destroying the societies of both Koreas as well as causing large casualties in the U.S. military. It is imperative that we employ creative diplomacy to avert such a catastrophe.

    The pressure boiled over this past week when Kim Jong Un announced plans to test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could deliver a nuclear warhead to the continental United States. In reply, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted, "It won't happen," seemingly suggesting he might take military action against North Korea's missile program.

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Chronicle of another sabotaged U.S. election

    The current uproar over the Russian hacking into the 2016 presidential election is not the first, nor the most consequential, foreign intrusion into American politics.

    In the 1968 election, agents of Richard Nixon, with his knowledge and acquiescence, encouraged South Vietnam leaders to boycott Paris peace talks with the North Vietnamese. They promised that the Saigon regime would get a better deal from President Nixon than from his Democratic rival, Hubert Humphrey. The South Vietnamese stayed away and Nixon was narrowly elected.

    This deal, which retiring President Lyndon Johnson called an act of "treason," violated the Logan Act barring such intervention in foreign policy. A file called the "X" envelope, compiled four years later by LBJ adviser Walt Rostow, offered more evidence that the Nixon team had repeatedly pressured South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to boycott the talks, and this did help Nixon win.

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America's 'democratic faith' dims overseas

    "We are following a foreign policy which is the outward expression of the democratic faith we profess. We are doing what we can to encourage free states and free peoples throughout the world, to aid the suffering and afflicted in foreign lands, and to strengthen democratic nations against aggression."

- Harry S. Truman, State of the Union, 1949

 

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America's corporations need a new reason to be

    Publicly traded corporations are at something of an impasse in the U.S. Their numbers are shrinking: from 7,507 in 1997 to not much more than 3,500 now. Their ranks are getting top-heavy, with most profits and cash flow accruing to a shrinking group of giants.

    That information is from a paper published in November, "Is the American Public Corporation in Trouble?" by finance professors Kathleen Kahle of the University of Arizona and Rene M. Stulz of Ohio State University. Their conclusion: Yeah, it is.

    "As a whole, public firms appear to lack ambition, proper incentives, or opportunities. They are returning capital to investors and hoarding cash rather than raising funds to invest more."

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A kidnapping reopens our racial wounds -- if we let it

    It didn't take long for the emails to arrive, as I expected.

    "Chicago hate crime today against Trump!" said one. "Let's see your column justify that one."

    He was writing about the big news of the day, the "Facebook torture case," as some called it. It involved the kidnaping and torture -- streamed live on Facebook -- of a white teenager with special needs, allegedly by two 18-year-old black men and two black sisters, aged 18 and 24.

    The four suspects were charged Thursday with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and a hate crime.

    Justify? Why would I want to "justify" such barbaric bullying?

    Why would I want to excuse the barbarism that compelled the youths in that video to laugh lustily as they drank alcohol, smoked blunts, cut out a piece of their victim's scalp and force him to drink water from a toilet bowl?

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White House Red Scare

    President Donald Trump will walk into the Oval Office and be stunned.

    First, it will be a shock to work in an office decorated with images of men other than himself. Second, he is bound to be suffused with awe as he looks around at the Remington bronze bronco, the Rockwell “Statue of Liberty,” the portraits of Washington and Lincoln, the Swedish ivy on the mantel that has eavesdropped — and leaves dropped — on so much history.

    The new president will suddenly realize that Joe Biden is right. He needs to grow up. Chuck Schumer is right. He has to stop nonsense-tweeting and name-calling. John McCain is right. He needs to stop fawning over Vladimir Putin, his BFF whose eyes flash “KGB.”

    Donald Trump will, at long last, assume a mantle of dignity.

    NOT!

    The capital has never been more anxious about its own government. The town is suffering pre-traumatic stress disorder. This guy is really going to be president.

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The Most Interesting Intelligence Briefing in the World

    "'It may be that [Donald Trump] is more suited to intelligence briefings essentially in the form of tweets - short, punchy statements that leave out some of the nuances but give him the core message without giving him the sense of being talked down to or getting repetitive text,' [David Priess] said. 'Sometimes you've got to come up with a way to make this more interesting.'" - The New York Times

    "A U.S. intelligence report on the hacking was scheduled to be presented to [President] Obama on Thursday and to Trump on Friday, though its contents were still under discussion on Wednesday, officials said." - Reuters

    They have been in this conference room for nearly 48 hours, and it is starting to smell like an intoxicating combination of dry-erase marker, sweat and that stuff that collects on your mousepad despite your best efforts.

    "We have one day left," a Senior Intelligence Official says.

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