Archive

January 18th, 2017

Trump proved Obama's point

    Sen. Ben Cardin used one of the oldest saws in politics to lay out an imperative for the coming Trump era. "It cannot be business as usual," Cardin said.

    He was talking primarily about Russia, but his statement stands on its own. Under the 45th president, it cannot be business as usual for the media, for Congress or for any citizen who values our liberties. We are in for a very dangerous national ride.

    Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who is one of the least partisan voices in Congress, spoke at the opening of Senate hearings on Trump's nomination of Rex Tillerson -- a man with close ties to Vladimir Putin -- for secretary of state. The hearing began against the backdrop of shocking allegations that Russian intelligence services have compromising material on Trump's personal life and finances. There are also reports of collusion between Trump's political operatives and Russia's spies and cyber thieves.

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Trump has brought us the American style in paranoid politics

    Political scientists long assumed that U.S. institutions were more open and sturdier than those in other countries. One manifestation of that robustness, the theory went, was that U.S. politics appeared largely free from troubling symptoms like conspiracy thinking. Foreigners -- particularly in less-developed countries -- might attribute the actions of their leaders to shadowy forces like the CIA or Mossad, but Americans knew better than to think that offstage actors could have such influence on them.

    That belief is no longer tenable. Conspiracy thinking has been normalized in American politics in a way that almost nobody could have expected a year ago. Today, it is plausible to think that U.S. politics could soon resemble cultures that most Americans once regarded as conspiratorial or paranoid.

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Tribal warfare in economics is a thing of the past

    I still remember going to a graduate student barbecue my first month at the University of Michigan. I told a woman from another department that I was studying economics, and she asked me: "What school?" Blinking, I replied "This one. The University of Michigan."

    That wasn't what she was asking, of course. She wanted to know which tribe of economists I belonged to -- the Chicago school, the Austrian school and so on. But to me, the question made no sense, because academic economists in this day and age are not actually divided into warring schools of thought. And it's best that people stopped thinking about economists in those terms.

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The dark side of Donald Trump's insatiable desire to be liked

    "If (Vladimir) Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia," President-elect Donald Trump declared in his wild ride of a news conference on Wednesday. "Now, I don't know that I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there's a good chance I won't."

    The specific nature of Trump's relationship with the sinister president of Russia has been giving foreign policy experts shudders for months, climaxing this week in the publication of a dossier with allegations so salacious that they practically gave smelling salts a comeback. Beyond Putin, Trump's voracious hunger to be liked seems to be one of the defining elements of his personality and, likely, of his presidency. He doesn't yet seem to have learned that being liked can be a very bad thing and that there are times when it's worth making an active effort to earn a good enemy.

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The best president Putin could buy

    There's no doubt about it. Even Donald Trump now admits it. The Russian government, under direct orders from Vladimir Putin, interfered in the 2016 presidential election in order to help Donald Trump win -- and succeeded in their goal.

    Read that paragraph again. This is nothing short of an act of war. And the only thing more shocking than the fact that Russia did, indeed, hack our election is the reaction of President-elect Donald Trump, whose response to the most serious case of cyberwarfare in our history is a blase "So what?"

    For weeks, Trump simply denied Russia's role in the hacking of the DNC and Clinton campaign. We don't know it was Russia, he insisted. It could have been China. Or just "some guy in New Jersey." But whoever did it, said Trump, it was nothing but a "political witch hunt," hatched by Democrats in order to undermine the legitimacy of his victory on Nov. 8.

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January 17th

Republicans will find corporate tax reform is hard

    Legislating can be so much more challenging that it seems during an election campaign. That's becoming increasingly clear about Republican promises to repeal and replace Obamacare. And it's about to become clearer on corporate tax reform.

    Tax reform is a relatively easy concept: Most people favor lowering the tax rate and closing loopholes. The difficulty is in the details.

    Consider the proposal now before the House of Representatives. It includes a reduction in the corporate tax rate; a one-time lower tax on profits accumulated abroad; an end to the tax deductibility of interest expense, coupled with immediate expensing of investments; and a border-adjustment system that would impose the corporate tax on imports but not exports.

    The plan has several potentially desirable attributes. It would, for example, effectively eliminate the incentive for companies to shift profits abroad. However, the plan as a whole also has little chance of being enacted into law. Here's why not.

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Milton Friedman's Cherished Theory Is Laid to Rest

    When you're wrong, you're wrong, no matter how famous and respected you might be as a scientist. Albert Einstein was wrong about quantum mechanics. Linus Pauling was wrong about the structure of DNA. And Milton Friedman was wrong about the permanent income hypothesis. But unlike with the first two examples, where scientists quickly realized the mistake, economists haven't yet come to grips with the reality.

    Friedman's theory says that people's consumption isn't affected by how much they earn day-to-day. Instead, what they care about is how much they expect to earn during a lifetime. If they have a sudden, temporary loss of income -- a spell of unemployment, for example -- they borrow money to ride out the dip. If they get a windfall, like a government stimulus check, they stick it in the bank for a rainy day rather than use it to boost consumption. Only if people believe that their future earning power has changed do they respond by adjusting how much they spend.

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Human Rights Watch director: We are on the verge of darkness

    The global rise of populists poses a dangerous threat to human rights - which exist to protect people from governments. Yet today, a new generation of populists is reversing that role. Claiming to speak for "the people," they treat rights as an impediment to their conception of the majority will, a needless obstacle to defending the nation from perceived threats and evils. Instead of accepting that rights protect everyone, they encourage people to adopt the dangerous belief that they will never need their rights against an overreaching government claiming to act in their name.

    The appeal of the populists has grown with mounting public discontent over the status quo. In the West, many people feel left behind by technological change, the global economy, and growing inequality. Terrorism sows apprehension and fear. Some are uneasy with societies that have become more ethnically, religiously, and racially diverse. There is an increasing sense that governments and the elite ignore public concerns.

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Donald Trump’s Medical Delusions

    Thanks, Comey.

    The Justice Department’s inspector general is now investigating the way the FBI director conveyed the false impression of an emerging Clinton scandal just days before the election, even as he said nothing about ongoing investigations into Russian intervention and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. That action very probably installed Donald Trump in the White House. And it’s already obvious that the incoming commander in chief will be a walking, tweeting ethical disaster.

    On the other hand, he’s also dangerously delusional about policy.

    Some Republicans appear to be realizing that their long con on Obamacare has reached its limit. Chanting “repeal and replace” may have worked as a political strategy, but coming up with a conservative replacement for the Affordable Care Act — one that doesn’t take away coverage from tens of millions of Americans — isn’t easy. In fact, it’s impossible.

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Donald Trump hasn't solved any of his conflicts of interest

    There is a good reason that the Justice Department has always taken the position that presidents should abide by the provisions of the Ethics in Government Act, even though they are exempted from it for constitutional reasons: Doing that saves the president and his administration a lot of potential troubles.

    But President-elect Donald Trump's announcement Wednesday that he will retain full personal ownership of the Trump Organization's hundreds of companies and worldwide business interests, while setting up a structure for his children and trusted executives to manage the organization, invites just the sort of trouble the law is designed to avoid.

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