Archive

November 25th, 2016

Welcome to the Trump kleptocracy

    "It's very possible that I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it," Donald Trump said back in 2000 when he was contemplating a bid that he never followed through on. And while he didn't actually turn a profit on his 2016 run, it's looking more and more likely that being president is going to be very lucrative for Trump. By the time it's over, he may even be worth as much as he has always claimed to be.

    The words "conflict of interest" don't begin to describe what the Trump administration is shaping up to look like - though there will be plenty of conflicts of interest with administration figures such as Rudy Giuliani, who made millions from foreign governments and corporations, some of which are hostile to the United States. But the real action is going to be in Trump's own family.

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Wanted: An Alliance for the Republic

    Our country needs a new era of bipartisanship -- but not the kind you are probably thinking of, and not, I fear, the kind we are likely to get.

    Barely a week after Donald Trump secured his Electoral College majority, we are confronted with a series of abuses that would be unacceptable from any other president-elect, Republican or Democrat. In the coming months and years, members of both parties who honor our constitutional rights and our shared ethical standards need to band together in what you might call an Alliance for the Republic to defend basic norms and resist their violation.

    Trump's defining down of what we have a right to expect from our leaders is already obvious. Begin with his naming of Steve Bannon as his chief strategist and senior adviser. The press release announcing the appointment listed Bannon above Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman who was made chief of staff. Typically, the chief of staff would come first, but the ordering was a clear indication of which of the two has Trump's ear.

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Trump terrifies me. Should I rent my house to his supporters for the inauguration?

    Over the past couple of years, I've come to depend on my home as a source of income. I'm a freelance journalist, and renting out my basement (and, sometimes, my entire house) on sites such as Airbnb alleviates a lot of pressure.

    For people like me, Inauguration Week can be lucrative. During busy tourist seasons, most hosts charge two to four times more per night than usual. I could make thousands of dollars -- a windfall.

    But I'm no longer planning to rent out my home then. Because I don't want to bring a certain kind of Donald Trump supporter into my neighborhood. Of course, I believe those coming to D.C. to celebrate Trump's victory have every right to do so. They had every right to vote for him, and every right to free speech. This isn't about being a sore loser. It's about fear.

    I am concerned about renting to the wrong kind of Trump celebrant, the kind of Trump supporter for whom hate trumps decency. The type who would rip off a Muslim woman's headscarf, spray a swastika with the message "Make America white again," or write "#go back to Africa" and "Whites only" on a high school bathroom door.

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Trump could easily be more transparent with the media. Here's how.

    President-elect Donald Trump did something unusual last week, barely a day after he'd won. On Thursday, according to the Associated Press, he "refused to allow journalists to travel with him to Washington for his historic first meetings" with President Obama and congressional leaders.

    It wasn't an anomaly. This week, he did it again: On Tuesday evening, he took his family to dinner in New York without informing a press pool or allowing reporters to trail along and wait outside the restaurant.

    To those who don't follow politics and the media closely, this might sound inconsequential. But it's an enormous departure from a long-standing practice -- one meant to ensure the public is kept informed as to what its leader is doing. Trump has now broken with that tradition, choosing opacity over transparency.

    But that's not all.

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The scary reality of Trump's promises to Israel

    Many of us American expats living in Israel for years or even decades woke up early last Wednesday to watch the presidential election returns. Not obscenely early, of course, because the result was not really in doubt. The idea was to be awake for the moment that the networks declared the winner.

    As we sat in shocked silence listening to the newscasters question whether Hillary Clinton "still has a path to the presidency," Israeli radio reported that others, also American immigrants, had gathered in a celebratory rally in downtown Jerusalem. "Lock her up! Lock her up!" they chanted, echoing one of the uglier memes of the bitter campaign just ending.

    Putting aside the sadness that the meanness had reached Israeli shores, the belief that Donald Trump's shocking victory augurs well for Israel or American Jews is also simplistic and dangerous. Trump's election, in fact, represents a danger to the world's largest Jewish communities.

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The heart of U.S. economy is weaker than it looks

    A few years ago, I was among the many people arguing that the fundamentals of the U.S. economy were strong. I believed that the slow recovery from the Great Recession wasn't a new normal, and that the U.S. would return to something close to the steady levels of growth it enjoyed during the 20th century.

    I'm now reconsidering that position. Some fundamentals look considerably weaker than they did a decade ago. Others are now uncertain, and depend heavily on what President-elect Donald Trump does once he takes office.

    The U.S.'s greatest strength has always been immigration. Because of the country's extraordinary willingness to take in newcomers, the U.S. population has grown by a factor of more than 120 since 1776. The U.K.'s population, in contrast, has grown by only a factor of 10. More recently, a relatively young U.S. population helped the country avoid many of the economic problems that plague Europe and Japan.

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Mortgage rates spike to near yearly highs following Trump victory

    The sharpest spike of the year in mortgage rates came after Donald Trump's win.

    According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average soared to 3.94 percent this week with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) That's 37 basis points higher than a week ago when it was 3.57 percent and the fifth-largest one-week jump in the 30-year fixed rate since 2000. (A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.) It was 3.97 percent a year ago. The 30-year fixed rate hasn't been this high since January.

    The 15-year fixed-rate average jumped to 3.14 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 2.88 percent a week ago and 3.18 percent a year ago. The 15-year fixed rate hasn't been above 3 percent since February.

    The five-year adjustable rate average climbed to 3.07 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 2.88 percent a week ago and 2.98 percent a year ago. This is the first time since January the five-year ARM has been higher than 3 percent.

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Japanese officials cling to Donald Trump's history as a businessman

    President-elect Donald Trump's surprise victory has left government officials around the world -- including here in Japan -- scrambling to make sense of the most uncertain moment in U.S. political history since the election of Ronald Reagan, if not before. They have been hanging on every tweet.

    The emerging view -- or, more likely, hope -- among many top Japanese officials is that Trump is a pragmatist willing to reverse himself. "In one of his Twitter entries," noted Tomohiko Taniguchi, a close adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a few days after the election, "he denied what he said during the election campaign about how South Korea and Japan should go nuclear."

    The alternative -- that Trump actually meant many of the things he said in the presidential race -- seems unthinkable.

    Earlier that day, I sat down with another senior Japanese government official. His tone suggested optimism -- or was it disbelief? "The strong point of President Trump is that people do not expect a kind of consistency," he said. "The president is decided, but they can change the policy any time."

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How World War III could begin in Latvia

    Four years ago, I predicted Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Here's my next prediction, which by now will strike many people as obvious: The Baltics are next, and will pose one of President-elect Donald Trump's first and greatest tests. It probably won't take the form of an overt invasion.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin has a clear goal and a grand strategy. But it's not the most realists perceive. Some argue that he is driven by fundamentally rational, defensive goals: NATO expansion appeared threatening and Russia is pushing back. The West expanded its sphere of influence at Russia's expense, and Russia is now retaliating. That's why the "Ukraine Crisis Is the West's Fault," according to John Mearsheimer.

    As with most academic realist analysis, this is nonsense. Putin is not driven by cold calculations of rational self-interest, because no human is. We are not Vulcans. We are driven by our perception of self-interest as shaped and defined by our deeper presuppositions and beliefs - which is to say, our ideology or religion.

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November 24th

Why many of us will miss Gwen Ifill

    Like other friends and fans of Gwen Ifill, I did not expect to be talking about her in the past tense. Not this soon.

    The groundbreaking, award-winning "PBS NewsHour" co-anchor died Nov. 14 in hospice care in Washington. The cause was endometrial cancer, according to her brother Roberto Ifill.

    She was 61. That surprised me. With her relentlessly youthful zest for life she didn't look that old. Yet it was shocking to hear that she had died so young.

    Those of us who were fortunate enough to have known her or worked with her can speak of her deeply held belief in the finest tenets of journalism, such as accuracy, fairness and a quest for balance without resorting to false equivalencies.

    But what was most memorable about her was her unshakeable and thoroughly engaging on-camera presence in her two jobs since 1999: co-anchor with Judy Woodruff on "PBS NewsHour" and moderator on PBS' "Washington Week."

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