Archive

December 21st

Embracing humanism may be the only way forward

    This year was in many ways one of great-power politics. The resurgence of Russia on the global stage, from Ukraine to Syria to China. The Saudi-Iranian power struggle in the Middle East. China's assertion of its status as the Middle Kingdom once again, expecting deference from its neighbors in East and Southeast Asia. North Korea's determined pursuit of nuclear weapons. Even Great Britain's rejection of the European Union, fueled in part by Tory dreams of Britannia sovereign once again. It is a world of deals and shifting alliances, particularly as Pax Americana seems to wane - a trend that Donald Trump's stunning election as president threatens to accelerate - and U.S. foreign policy takes a decidedly realist turn.

    It is a world of 21 million refugees and 41 million internally displaced people, driven from their homes by war, famine, and tyranny; a world in which a half-million Syrians have been slaughtered in front of our eyes; a world with a conscience that can no longer be shocked by human suffering, whether from poison gas, barrel bombs, deliberate and systematic rape, or looming genocide. How, then, can one argue that this was a year of humanism?

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The Tainted Election

    The CIA, according to The Washington Post, has now determined that hackers working for the Russian government worked to tilt the 2016 election to Donald Trump. This has actually been obvious for months, but the agency was reluctant to state that conclusion before the election out of fear that it would be seen as taking a political role.

    Meanwhile, the FBI went public 10 days before the election, dominating headlines and TV coverage across the country with a letter strongly implying that it might be about to find damning new evidence against Hillary Clinton — when it turned out, literally, to have found nothing at all.

    Did the combination of Russian and FBI intervention swing the election? Yes. Clinton lost three states — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more. If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?

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Patriotic Opposition to Donald Trump

    Nothing is safe or sacrosanct in Donald Trump’s developing governance team, and America had better start being alarmed about it and moving to actively oppose it.

    The time for voting has elapsed, but the time for being vocal has emerged.

    Let’s take the tally:

    He has chosen a man hostile to immigrants and with a complicated — to put it mildly — history on race to be attorney general.

    He has chosen a man who is anti-abortion, pro-fetal “personhood,” and anti-Obamacare to be secretary of health and human services.

    He has chosen a man who has criticized paid sick-leave policies and opposes increasing the federal minimum wage to lead the Department of Labor.

    He has chosen a climate change denier and anti-environmental-regulation crusader to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.

    He has chosen a vocal proponent of school vouchers to run the Department of Education.

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December 20th

The Electoral College's Trump dilemma

    In making what is likely to be the most consequential decision of this transition period, Donald Trump couldn't resist petty vindictiveness.

    Mitt Romney was briefly touted as the front-runner to become secretary of state. After meeting with Trump over a meal, he pronounced himself "very impressed" by the man he had described as "a phony, a fraud" during the campaign.

    Trump did not accept this graciously. Citing a Trump friend, The Washington Post reported that the president-elect "enjoyed watching his dinner partner appear to grovel for the post."

    Memo to Trump's Republican critics: Your initial instincts about Trump were right. Remember that catering to this man will bring only pain and humiliation.

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December 18th

A Republican corporate tax plan liberals can like

    Few are paying attention, but a proposal now working its way through Congress could change the U.S.'s whole approach to trade, industrial policy and taxation. The plan would exempt income earned on exports from corporate taxation. Today, corporations pay federal taxes on the profits they make from goods and services sold overseas -- only the location of the company's headquarters matters. Under the new proposal, taxes would be based on where the sales are made. The Republican plan also cuts the top corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent and limits the deductibility of interest expenses, among other changes.

    The switch in the location of taxation is the most important change. First, it would crack down on tax havens. By moving its headquarters to a country with a low or zero corporate tax rates -- Bermuda or the Cayman Islands -- a company now can avoid U.S. taxes by holding cash offshore until it's ready to repatriate it. This results in lost revenue for the federal government, and also incentivizes corporations to sit on cash instead of investing it in the U.S.

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Democrats can use the electoral college to stop Trump. But not how you think.

    Hillary Clinton's decision to join Green Party candidate Jill Stein's recount efforts in key states may have been welcome news to Democrats, but it is unlikely to change the outcome of the presidential election. Nor will complaining about the unfairness of the electoral college or begging Republican electors to vote for Clinton. Democrats' best chance to prevent Donald Trump from assuming the presidency is instead to do the unthinkable: Throw their support behind another Republican, such as Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee.

    To become president, a candidate must get a bare majority of 270 votes when the electoral college meets Dec. 19.

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He got life without parole for pot. And he was just denied clemency.

    Ferrell Scott was sentenced to life in prison for possession and conspiracy to distribute marijuana, a drug that's now legal in many states and turning a handsome profit for the (primarily white) pot industry. Scott, like many nonviolent drug offenders serving long sentences, is black. Without any chance at parole, despite an exemplary behavior record, he appealed to President Barack Obama for clemency. He found out that his bid had been denied when a friend emailed him about "bad news." Thinking something bad had happened to his 93-year-old mother, he called home. His daughter answered, crying, and told him the news.

    "She cried like a baby and she was telling me that she didn't know what she was supposed to do now. Couldn't understand it," Scott said in a phone interview.

    "Why haven't I been contacted? I hope this is a mistake. My God I'm f----!" he wrote to Amy Povah, who runs CAN-DO, an advocacy group for prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.

    It's not a mistake. His name is on the list of clemency denials published Tuesday on the Justice Department's website.

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If Democrats want to win, they should filibuster Trump early and often

    With Republicans taking over the White House next year and maintaining control over both houses of Congress, observers have warned that if Senate Democrats overuse the one tool at their disposal to block the GOP's agenda -- the filibuster -- it will be taken away from them. "The Democrats will have some limited ability to affect what happens" to the filibuster, writes political scientist Jonathan Bernstein. But "if they blockade the Supreme Court vacancy" left this year by the late Antonin Scalia, "Republicans would rapidly end the filibuster for those nominations." In The Washington Post, the Brookings Institution's Sarah Binder cautions that Democratic obstruction could put the filibuster at risk.

    True. But the filibuster's demise would be a feature, not a bug. After Donald Trump is inaugurated, Senate Democrats should filibuster with abandon. They have nothing to lose but the filibuster itself, and that would be a good thing for American democracy.

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If you can't trust people, try a smart contract

    Trust is extremely valuable for markets and the economy. In its absence, though, technology might prove to be the next best thing.

    Doing business would be really easy if people could all trust each other. In rural parts of Japan, for example, it's common to see unattended produce stands where farmers leave fruits and vegetables for sale. Customers pay by leaving cash in a deposit box, and everything operates on the honor system.

    In a low-trust society, someone would have to sit in the stall and write a bill of sale to transfer ownership of each item, and buyers would sign a bill of lading as proof of receipt. The produce stand would then need a business license, mandatory liability insurance, and regular health and safety inspections to make sure the vegetables aren't covered in E. Coli. All of a sudden, buying a vegetable just got a lot more expensive.

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If you repeal, you must replace

    In the six years since enactment of the Affordable Care Act, Republicans have sworn that, given the chance, they would "repeal and replace" it. Now they need to deliver. Repeal should be relatively simple. Enacting a replacement and implementing it won't be. And repeal without having an agreed-on plan for replacement in place is a recipe for calamity, as a new Urban Institute study shows.

    Repeal is easy because Senate rules allow a simple majority, rather than a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority, to pass measures called for in a budget resolution that affect only taxes and mandatory spending.

    So a Republican-controlled Congress has undoubted power to end key provisions of the ACA: the expansion of Medicaid; subsidies for most of those purchasing individual coverage in the health-care marketplaces; and tax penalties to enforce the mandate that individuals obtain insurance and the requirement imposed on medium and large employers to offer coverage. Indeed, Congress did this in January only to confront a veto by President Obama.

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