Archive

January 1st, 2017

Obama mastered his demons. Trump nurtures his.

    Politicians are desperate people. That was the premise of a question David Axelrod posed to President Barack Obama in a podcast earlier this week. Their exchange on the topic will become especially poignant on Jan. 20, when the erstwhile non-politician Donald Trump is sworn in as Obama's successor.

    "Most politicians have some sort of wound," said Axelrod, who has worked with dozens of candidates for House, Senate and statewide offices as a Democratic media consultant. "I find, especially at a higher level, that something happened in their childhood, and they really need the approbation of the crowds and the affirmation that comes with being elected."

    What Axelrod was asking the president was the big question I've always harbored about Obama: Where's the hole? Where in Obama is the insatiable hunger, the vast, unfillable void that drives someone to the daily madness of running for the American presidency?

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Nine 'amazing' moments from the Obama presidency

    Talking to Valerie Jarrett about her time as senior adviser to President Barack Obama and specifically about that time he sang "Amazing Grace" in Charleston, S.C., on June 26, 2015, got me to thinking about other amazing moments of the Obama presidency. So, before Obama nostalgia hits full-tilt after New Year's Day, here are nine "amazing" moments from his presidency.

    "Donald Trump is here tonight!"

    Donald Trump loves being the center of attention, even negative attention. But as we learned this year, the roasting of the Big Apple builder by Obama at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Association dinner "accelerated [Trump's] ferocious efforts to gain stature within the political world."

    "Donald Trump is here tonight! Now, I know that he's taken some flak lately, but no one is happier, no one is prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald. And that's because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter -- like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?"

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If we knew what things cost, they might cost less

    The U.S. is a place where the big things -- health care, infrastructure and asset management to name a few -- just cost too much. Price transparency is an underrated tool for bringing down those costs.

    In economics classes, we teach something called the law of one price -- the cost of the same good or service shouldn't be much different for different buyers. In some markets, that law holds very well -- the differences in the prices different traders pay for a share of Apple Inc. stock at any given time, for example, are tiny.

    But in other markets, the law doesn't hold well at all. For example, until the rise of internet pricing services like TrueCar, auto salesmen could figure out how to get some buyers to pay much more for the same car than others -- a technique known in econ as price discrimination. Because car buyers didn't know what other buyers paid, they had no way to know if they were getting a good deal or not. They could find out only by laboriously shopping around. Now, the price transparency brought by the internet is probably eroding dealers' gross profit margins, to the benefit of consumers.

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Five myths about the President's Daily Brief

    David Priess, a former analyst and daily intelligence briefer at the CIA, is the author of "The President's Book of Secrets: The Untold Story of Intelligence Briefings to America's Presidents From Kennedy to Obama."

    We've learned that President-elect Donald Trump has declined many intelligence briefings, delegating the daily task instead to Vice President-elect Mike Pence. "I get it when I need it," Trump said. "I'm, like, a smart person. I don't need to be told the same thing and the same words every single day for the next eight years." In some ways this is a departure from the approach of past presidents. But there's also widespread misunderstanding of the President's Daily Brief (PDB) and the traditions surrounding it. Here are five erroneous beliefs worth correcting.

 

    Myth No. 1

    The PDB has traditionally been for the president's eyes only.

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UN has great potential for Trump

    "After January 20th things will be different at the UN," President-elect Donald Trump tweeted ominously after a historic Security Council vote to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank passed over a U.S. abstention last week. Trump had turned to Twitter days earlier to implore President Barack Obama to veto the resolution at the request of the Israelis. The split between incoming and outgoing U.S. presidents over the measure led to a few days of turmoil and a delay in the vote only to culminate in a highly public rebuke by the Security Council of Israel's policy. It seems all but certain that the fleeting display of unity in New York over the future of the Israel-Palestine conflict will quickly be subsumed by an even more polarized posture once Trump takes office.

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Trump Wishes Us All A Happy Thermonuclear New Year

    Now that the presidential election is over, will it ever really end? Not if Donald J. Trump and the cable news networks get their way. Having made the election into a pro-wrestling spectacle, the Twitter-addicted president-elect and his ratings-hungry enablers at CNN, Fox News, etc. appear determined to turn the United States government into an endless reality TV program.

    The hallmark of reality TV, of course, being sheer unreality. Absent terrorist attacks and weather-related catastrophes, however, political melodrama is the best known way to keep people watching what we quaintly call "news."

    CBS Chairman Les Moonves admitted as much last February. "It may not be good for America," he said of the GOP primary contest, "but it's damn good for CBS."

    Trump's role in the spectacle, he said, was great for ratings.

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Trump trade chief Navarro makes a rookie mistake

    Donald Trump has chosen Peter Navarro, one of the most ardent critics of trade with China, to head his new National Trade Council -- a move many consider the opening shot in a trade war. Though I think the China trade boom of the 2000s did have some harmful effects, especially on certain U.S. workers, I worry that Navarro's overall approach to trade doesn't make economic sense.

    The Cato Institute's Dan Ikenson recently took Navarro to task for his views on trade. Ikenson says Navarro is making an elementary error when he writes:

    "When net exports are negative, that is, when a country runs a trade deficit by importing more than it exports, this subtracts from growth."

    It's definitely not true that trade deficits always subtract from growth. This is a common error that I see people making, so it's important to explain why it's wrong.

    Everyone who's taken an economics class knows that gross domestic product, which represents the total value of the stuff a country produces, can be broken down into four parts:

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The imperative of hope

    Gloom is a terrible way to ring out the old and despair is of no help in trying to imagine the new.

      So let us consider what good might come from the political situation in which we will find ourselves in 2017. Doing this does not require denying the dangers posed by a Donald Trump presidency or the demolition of progressive achievements he could oversee. It does mean remembering an important distinction President Obama has made ever since he entered public life: that "hope is not blind optimism."

    "Hope," he argued, "is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it."

      It is this spirit that began to take hold almost immediately after Trump's election. Americans in large numbers, particularly the young, quickly realized that the coming months and years will require new and creative forms of political witness and organization.

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Shocking, but true: Corporate elites think Trump's trade agenda might help them

    It's widely treated as an article of faith that, if Donald Trump makes good on his vow to rip up our trade deals, he'll seek to re-negotiate them in a manner that helps American workers. After all, he's a "populist" who vows to remake the GOP as a "workers party," so surely any renegotiated deals on trade -- his signature issue, the one that cemented his bond with Rust Belt working class whites -- will follow suit, right?

    Maybe. But here's another plausible outcome: Whatever provisions on trade Trump does pursue on behalf of workers (such as tariffs -- never mind whether this would actually help them), Trump very well may also seek to re-craft our trade deals in ways that favor corporations.

    Don't take my word for this. Indeed, note that business groups themselves believe this is an actual possibility.

    Politico reports Wednesday that business lobbies, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are privately gearing up for a campaign to convince Trump that, if he does seek to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, he should do so in ways that help them:

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One president at a time

    President-elect Donald Trump seems to be so eager to be behind the desk in the Oval Office that he can't wait until he's sworn in to start running the country.

    As the retiring incumbent, Barack Obama, tries to enjoy his final presidential vacation in Hawaii, he must tolerate reading about his heir-apparent already impinging on his presidential turf back on the mainland. Trump is butting in on one of the most sensitive issues of war and peace of the last 70 years.

    Using his favorite communications toy, Twitter, Trump has implied he might start a new nuclear arms race. America's most notable non-expert in the nuclear field and in foreign policy has declared the United States "must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes."

    In a more pointed private remark to Mika Brzezinski, a co-host of the MSNBC program "Morning Joe," Trump was quoted as saying: "Let it be an arms race. We will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all."

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