Archive

January 3rd, 2017

The Supreme Court: Trump's first pick won't matter as much as his second

    The political world will soon be consumed by President Donald Trump's choice to fill the nearly year-long vacancy on the Supreme Court. Incensed by the Republican-controlled Senate's refusal to even consider President Obama's nominee to fill the seat, U.S. Appeals Court Judge Merrick Garland, Democrats are promising a bruising confirmation fight.

    But SCOTUS-watchers will be looking ahead to what the sitting justices will do, particularly Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer. Why?

    Because it won't be Trump's first Supreme Court pick who will seal the court's ideological direction for a generation. It will be, if and when it happens, his second.

    Almost anyone on Trump's list of 21 candidates to take Antonin Scalia's spot on the court is likely to replicate the late justice's voting pattern (if not his style). That would restore the court's long-held position as a generally conservative court capable of the occasional liberal surprise.

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Trump goes from reality TV star to TV reality

    Television is one of pop culture's nimblest mediums. News-oriented programs such as "Saturday Night Live" and "Full Frontal With Samantha Bee" can incorporate big events on hours' notice, and even scripted dramas and comedies can comment on the events of previous weeks or months.

    And in 2017, that will mean more Donald Trump. We probably won't get the first movies and novels about or influenced by the Trump administration for another year. But television shows will be the first line of pop culture's response to this new era in American politics.

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Why has the homicide epidemic in Chicago been left to spread?

    Chicago, the nation's third largest city, ends 2016 with the more homicides than the two larger cities -- New York and Los Angeles -- put together. Everyone is shocked but not everyone is surprised.

    More than 750 people were killed in Chicago in 2016, the highest total since 1997, and more than 3,500 were wounded by firearms.

    Dr. Gary Slutkin, a University of Illinois at Chicago epidemiologist who founded the CeaseFire Illinois violence-reduction program also known as CureViolence, saw this plague coming.

    He warned Gov. Bruce Rauner in a March 2015 letter of a probable surge in Chicago shootings if the program's funding was not restored. The $4.5 million grant represented most of the funding for CeaseFire Illinois, which serves sites across six cities in the state. "Lives depend on this program," he wrote.

    Sure, just about every social service program makes life-or-death pleas when its funding is cut. But this doctor had some startling statistics on his side.

    Slutkin had seen similar interruptions in funding precede violent crime surges in Chicago four times since CeaseFire took to the Windy City's streets in 2001. That's too often to be brushed off as mere coincidence.

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Why it was actually a good year

    By conventional wisdom, 2016 has been a horrible year. Only someone living in a cave could have missed the flood of disheartening headlines. However, if 2016 continues the global trends of previous years, it may turn out to have been one of the best years for humanity as a whole.

    Those of us who live in the world of poverty research and rigorous measurement have watched many global indicators improve consistently for the past few decades. Between 1990 and 2013 (the last year for which there is good data), the number of people living in extreme poverty dropped by more than half, from 1.85 billion to 770 million. As the University of Oxford's Max Roser recently put it, the top headline every day for the past two decades should have been: "Number of people in extreme poverty fell by 130,000 since yesterday." At the same time, child mortality has dropped by nearly half, while literacy, vaccinations and the number of people living in democracy have all increased.

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2017's Priority: Protecting democracy

    The most important political task of 2017 transcends the normal run of issues and controversies. Our greatest obligation will be to defend democracy itself, along with republican norms for governing, and the openness that free societies require.

    To say this is not alarmist. Nor is it to deny the importance of other issues. Preserving the gains in health insurance coverage achieved by the Affordable Care Act should be a high priority. So should preventing a shredding of the social safety net and stopping budget-busting tax cuts for the best-off Americans.

    But even these vital matters are secondary to preventing a rollback of democratic values and a weakening of the institutions of self-rule, at home and around the world.

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In 2017, knowledge, experience and the truth matter more than ever

    Humility is a virtue but fake humility is a sin, or ought to be. So let me begin the new year with full-throated praise of some people and institutions that supposedly got their comeuppance in November: the mainstream media, so-called "coastal elites," share-the-wealth liberals, pointy-headed intellectuals and others said to be hopelessly out of touch with the "real America."

    In what too quickly became the consensus view, all of the above were put in their place by Donald Trump's narrow electoral victory. We unreal Americans were demonstrated to be clueless, the conventional wisdom has ruled, and now are obliged to slink away and repent.

    All of this is pure rubbish. It's time to stop all the self-flagellation and raise our voices to insist that things like knowledge, experience, qualifications and respect for objective fact still matter -- now, perhaps, more than ever.

    Let me start with a much-maligned sector that is near and dear to my heart: the news media. We have been accused of causing the whole Trump phenomenon, failing to notice said phenomenon was happening, or both.

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Memo to the media: Stop giving Donald Trump the headlines he wants

    Donald Trump is once again claiming credit for beating back the scourge of outsourcing, this time insisting that he is the reason that Sprint has announced plans to move thousands of jobs back to America from other countries.

    "Because of what's happening, and the spirit and the hope, I was just called by the head people at Sprint, and they are going to be bringing 5,000 jobs back to the United States," Trump said, adding that the news of jobs "coming back into the United States" marks "a nice change." Trump later added that the jobs were coming back "because of me."

    But based on what we know right now, it is not at all clear what role Trump -- or whatever "spirit" of "hope" his victory has created -- had in bringing these jobs back to the U.S.

    Yet here are some of the headlines that greeted Trump's claim:

    -- CNN: "Trump declares victory: Sprint will create 5,000 U.S. jobs."

    -- The New York Times: "Trump Takes Credit for Sprint Plan to Add 5,000 Jobs in U.S."

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Snatching Health Care Away From Millions

    If James Comey, the FBI director, hadn’t tipped the scales in the campaign’s final days with that grotesquely misleading letter, right now an incoming Clinton administration would be celebrating some very good news. Because health reform, President Barack Obama’s signature achievement, is stabilizing after a bumpy year.

    This means that the huge gains achieved so far — tens of millions of newly insured Americans and dramatic reductions in the number of people skipping treatment or facing financial hardship because of cost — look as if they’re here to stay.

    Or they would be here to stay if the man who squeaked into power thanks to Comey and Vladimir Putin wasn’t determined to betray his supporters, and snatch away the health care they need.

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I hereby resolve to approach 2017 with a plan

    My main New Year's resolution for 2017 is pretty much the same as always: Stop eating Christmas cookies, cut back on the drinking and get back to the gym. This resolve tends to stick for much of the year -- only during the next holiday season does everything invariably fall apart again. Maybe I should consider making this a pre-Thanksgiving resolution.

    I've had some other resolutions on my mind this week, though, and it struck me that they might be of wider applicability for a year that so many people are approaching with a hangover -- literal, metaphorical or both -- and a lot of trepidation. Also, while I don't really believe that New Year's resolutions are the key to ending the productivity-growth slowdown that has been weighing on the economy for the past decade-plus, they can't hurt, right? So here goes.

 

Go outside.

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My take on the Republicans' new, interesting corporate tax plan

    A lot of folks - OK, four people, but that's a lot for this sort of thing - have asked me what I think of this new tax idea Republicans are pushing to replace the current corporate tax: a destination based, border-adjusted tax on cash flow. (Let's call it a BAT - border-adjustment tax - as does the CNNMoney team in this useful explainer; it even has a hashtag: #DBCFT.) Sounds tricky, but the basics are straightforward, and have more appeal than you might think. But there are also legitimate concerns, not the least of which is that the BAT is one potentially good part of a really damaging tax package.

    First, a brief description. The BAT makes a number of consequential changes to the current corporate tax:

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