Archive

December 29th

Red State Hope for Democratic Blues

    For the longest nights of the year, there is no better place to be than on snow-crusted ground, staring up at Montana’s big empty sky. Democrats across rural America must know the feeling, this Christmas week, of looking into a black void and feeling so very alone.

    There is a chance for the pulse to quicken — a flash of the northern lights, perhaps, the distant howl of a wolf — in that utter darkness. And there is hope for a party spurned in the wide-open spaces of the country, as well. Meet Steve Bullock, the newly re-elected Democratic governor of Montana.

    Donald Trump took Montana by 20 percentage points — a rare win for celebrity-infatuated megalomaniacs in a state whose voters can usually smell the type from a hundred miles out. But once again, Democrats won the governor’s office and did it with votes to spare. Bullock’s Mountain State secret sauce is something national party leaders should sample during their solstice.

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'It's A Wonderful Life' puts Trump in perspective

    "Pottersville is closer to how we live now than Bedford Falls."

    Mary Owen, youngest daughter of the "It's a Wonderful Life" co-star Donna Reed, is sitting in the Washington Square Diner in Greenwich Village. Across the street, a sold-out house is watching the film in a theater.

    Mary had just spoken to the audience, mostly millennials. Some had never seen it. She shared stories of her mother and secrets of the filming. She said watching it now is "a good corrective to the campaign we just went through." The crowd cheered.

    Frank Capra's film premiered 70 years ago this week. It was a commercial flop. "People had already lived through the Depression," Mary says over a cup of chicken soup. "They had already lived through runs on the bank. They had already lived through World War II, and the rationing. And then suicide. Why would they want to go to a movie [about] all of that?"

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Democracy is dying as technocrats watch

    On Nov. 29, three weeks after Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election, a chart, showing a precipitous decline in support for democracy around the world, went viral after appearing in The New York Times:

    Plenty of public argument ensued about the validity of the underlying data. But there was hardly any comprehension among experts about why moral support for democracy might be eroding - in part, because there's good reason to think that experts are themselves to blame.

    This is most obvious in the case of Trump, who devoted a large share of his presidential campaign not just to attacking democratic norms but also to attacking the technocratic experts who have come to symbolize democracy in the United States.

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Wyoming is in economic trouble and might stay there

    We've heard a lot over this past election year about the economic struggles of Rust Belt states. But the most economically troubled state in the country may be Wyoming.

    That at least is the verdict of the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States index, which currently ranks Wyoming dead last in absolute terms as well as in percentage change since both the beginning (December 2007) and end (June 2009) of the last recession. The BEES index tracks employment, mortgage delinquency, personal income, home prices, and the stock prices of local corporations.

    The state employment and unemployment numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Dec. 16 offer a more mixed picture. The establishment survey of employers showed the state continuing to shed jobs in November, but the household survey showed an employment gain and a decline in the unemployment rate to 4.9 percent, not much above the national rate of 4.6 percent.

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U.S. economic problems are also partly cultural

    The new hot topic is regional economic development, mostly because the victory of Donald Trump drew attention to lagging economic areas such as Appalachia and the Midwest. Bloomberg View columnist Noah Smith recently outlined some economic suggestions, and while I agree with many (not all) of his proposals, I would like to consider an alternative and more culturally oriented perspective.

    The first noteworthy fact about this discussion is its recent flowering. No new information about these regions has come to light, except for the fact that they tilted the Electoral College toward Trump. That suggests we may be blurring two questions, with "How can we help these regions?" becoming a paternalistic "How can we get them to change their voting patterns?" Mississippi and Louisiana, two of America's poorest states, haven't gotten a comparable outburst of new attention, perhaps because they reliably vote Republican in presidential elections.

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The United States might be the next Argentina

    Argentina could have been the United States.

    Like the U.S., it was one of the world's 10 richest countries at the turn of the last century. And also like the U.S., that made it a New World magnet for Old World immigrants. But unlike the U.S., that was as good as it ever got. There was no Argentinian Dream. Just a nearly never-ending nightmare of either falling behind gradually or falling behind suddenly. All of which was self-inflicted.

    Its fundamental problem was how unequal it was. About 300 families controlled most of the land, the economy and the government. Everyone else was just a cog in their beef-and-grain-exporting machine. Or, as the Financial Times' Alan Beattie has put it, Argentina is "what North America might have looked" like "if the South had won the Civil War and gone on to dominate the North." Which is to say that it was a semi-feudal aristocracy dependent on a steady supply of cheap labor.

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December 28th

The first family for sale

    Tacky. There's no other word to describe it.

    Tacky. That adjective best sums up the self-serving behavior exhibited by almost the entire Trump family so far -- father, daughter, and both sons -- all busy finding ever more creative ways to sell themselves off to the highest bidder.

    Donald Trump himself set the pace by refusing to sell off his vast business holdings and place the money in a blind trust, which the Wall Street Journal recommended as the only way to avoid massive conflicts of interest between his old job as businessman and his new role as president.

    Instead, Trump continues to mix the two as president-elect, meeting with business partners from India and the Philippines and continuing to make deals, even while he prepares to take the oath of office. This week, he also met with Mexican mogul Carlos Slim. Did they discuss building a wall along the border or a new Trump Tower in Mexico City? Who knows?

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The first family for sale

    Tacky. There's no other word to describe it.

    Tacky. That adjective best sums up the self-serving behavior exhibited by almost the entire Trump family so far -- father, daughter, and both sons -- all busy finding ever more creative ways to sell themselves off to the highest bidder.

    Donald Trump himself set the pace by refusing to sell off his vast business holdings and place the money in a blind trust, which the Wall Street Journal recommended as the only way to avoid massive conflicts of interest between his old job as businessman and his new role as president.

    Instead, Trump continues to mix the two as president-elect, meeting with business partners from India and the Philippines and continuing to make deals, even while he prepares to take the oath of office. This week, he also met with Mexican mogul Carlos Slim. Did they discuss building a wall along the border or a new Trump Tower in Mexico City? Who knows?

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Terrorists with U.S. arms will be Trump's problem

    Early next year, a group of Lebanese Air Force pilots and support crew will arrive at a U.S. base in Georgia to receive training on the A-29 Super Tucano, a Brazilian-made turboprop that uses aerial firepower to support ground missions. This seems like good news: Lebanon is a plucky little democracy only about a decade removed from a 29-year Syrian occupation and still surrounded by Middle Eastern mayhem.

    Responding to the Lebanese government's pleas for aid in combating Islamic State and other Syrian terrorist groups, the U.S. has this year alone provided it with $220 million in military aid -- including 50 armored personnel carriers and 40 artillery pieces -- and facilitated its purchase of six Super Tucanos. Congress is also giving Beirut $150 million to improve border security. This puts Lebanon on the same tier of aid recipients as Jordan, which has been a stable and loyal ally to the U.S. for years.

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Sizing up Trump's wild-card administration

    I don't think it has sunk in yet just how unpredictable virtually everything in Donald Trump's administration is going to be.

    To begin with, the incoming tweeter-in-chief has taken positions on both sides of many issues. Maybe he has thought through a number of policies and maybe he hasn't, but either way we know almost nothing of his preferences beyond those that appear to be based on instinct (trade deals bad, Putin good).

    And this is only the beginning.

    Recent presidents have been fairly predictable because they were partisan. Their actions, including personnel choices, reflected the views of the majority coalition within their party. Even those White House staffers whom we think of as having close ties to the president (George Stephanopoulos for Bill Clinton, Karl Rove for George W. Bush, David Axelrod and David Plouffe for Barack Obama) had careers as Democratic or Republican campaign or governing professionals before their better-known connection was established. As such, they could be seen as partisan actors, not presidential loyalists, and were part of the process of constraining the president.

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