Archive

March 12th, 2016

Finding ideas to pick up where Abenomics left off

    If there's one country that needs creative economic policy solutions, it's Japan. With many observers saying Abenomics has stalled after a year of weak economic performance, plenty of people are asking what's next -- or has Japan run out of ideas?

    The backdrop doesn't look great. The country is experiencing an unprecedented decline in population. The national debt is mounting. Wages are falling, consumption is depressed and productivity is still stagnating. China, Japan's biggest trading partners, is slowing.

    Abenomics -- the raft of policies enacted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe -- has had some good effects. Growth and inflation rose for a couple of years, probably as a result of easy monetary policy, before the China slowdown hit. Unemployment has been virtually eliminated, and women have finally entered the workforce (though they often remain confined to insecure low-level positions). A consumption tax hike, along with zero interest rates, has improved the debt position. And a series of corporate governance reforms promise to make Japan Inc. more profitable.

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‘Every Parent’s Nightmare’

    We as a society derided the Roman Catholic Church as an accessory to child sexual abuse, and we lambasted Penn State for similar offenses.

    Yet we as a society are complicit or passive in a similar way, by allowing a popular website called Backpage.com to be used to arrange child rape. Consider what happened to a girl I’ll call Natalie, who was trafficked into the sex industry in Seattle at age 15.

    “It was every parent’s nightmare,” Natalie’s mother, Nacole, told me. “It can happen to any parent. Fifteen-year-olds don’t make the best choices. I dropped her off at school in the morning, I was expecting to pick her up after track practice in the afternoon, and then I didn’t see her for 108 days.” The girl ran off to a bus station, was found by a pimp, and within days was being sold for sex on Backpage.

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A supremely politicized court

    The decision of the Republican Senate majority to consider no nominee of President Obama to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia is significant, but not for the usual reasons given - that the work of the court will be disrupted or that the senators are showing disrespect for the president by refusing to consider any nominee he might name. All that happens when the court is reduced to an even number of justices (eight in this instance) is that a few key cases are scheduled for reargument in the court's next term, which will begin in October. A few months later, after the new president has taken office, the vacancy will have been filled.

    Rather, the significance of the Senate's action lies in reminding us that the Supreme Court is not an ordinary court but a political court, or more precisely a politicized court, which is to say a court strongly influenced in making its decisions by the political beliefs of the judges.

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Will Latinos wall off Trump?

    How's this for poetic justice? Donald Trump's favorite scapegoats could end up having the satisfaction of blocking him from the White House.

    Latino voters have the potential to form a "big, beautiful wall" between Trump and his goal. If Trump gets the Republican nomination and Hispanics are provoked into voting in numbers that more nearly approach their percentage of the population -- and if, as polls suggest, they vote overwhelmingly against Trump -- it is hard to see how the bombastic billionaire could win.

    Such an outcome would serve Trump right. Unfortunately for the GOP, it would also threaten to make Latinos a reliable and perhaps monolithic voting bloc for the Democratic Party, just as African-Americans have been since the 1960s. If this were to happen, simple arithmetic would make it increasingly difficult for Republicans to win the White House.

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Trump's treatment of the news media and those who disagree with him is getting worse

    Politico's Ben Schreckinger posted a piece Monday night headlined "Trump cracks down on protesters." It reads, in part:

    "Donald Trump's rally here began with the candidate asking all attendees to raise their hands and take an oath to vote for him, while extended barriers cordoned off the press and plainclothes private intelligence officers scoured the crowd for [protesters]. ...

    "On Friday, two members of Trump's private security team wore street clothes to a rally in New Orleans. One of them, Eddie Deck, explained to reporters that his duties were now weighted towards intelligence work researching potential protesters and assisting uniformed security personnel under the direction of Trump's head of security."

    Later in the piece, Schreckinger notes, "At Monday's rally [in North Carolina] and at [a] Friday rally in New Orleans, press pens were constructed with barriers that created long avenues of exit and entry, forcing members of the media to enter and exit away from the floors of the venues."

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Only Trump Can Trump Trump

    Donald Trump is a walking political science course. His meteoric rise is lesson No. 1 on leadership: Most voters do not listen through their ears. They listen through their stomachs. If a leader can connect with them on a gut level, their response is: “Don’t bother me with the details. I trust your instincts.” If a leader can’t connect on a gut level, he or she can’t show them enough particulars. They’ll just keep asking, “Can you show me the details one more time?”

    Trump’s Republican rivals keep thinking that if they just point out a few more details about him, voters will drop The Donald and turn to one of them instead. But you can’t talk voters out of something that they haven’t been talked into.

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Maybe someday bitcoin will grow up to be a currency

    Two big things have happened in the cryptocurrency world recently. The first is that there are now two competing versions of bitcoin: bitcoin core and bitcoin classic. There is quite a lot of argument about which will become more popular. The second development is that the price of bitcoin - now known as bitcoin core - rose a lot in late 2015.

    This has raised the expectations of many cryptocurrency buffs that bitcoin will replace the fiat money printed by central banks.

    But when I read these debates, I see a lot of misunderstanding. Whether people are talking about which version of bitcoin will prevail, or whether cryptocurrency in general will replace fiat currency, they keep making the same error.

    That error is the assumption that long-term value is what makes a currency good. The truth is it's almost the opposite.

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Intel whistleblowers fear government won't help them

    Nearly three years after Edward Snowden bypassed the intelligence community's own process for reporting wrongdoing and leaked troves of classified documents to Glenn Greenwald, the system for protecting whistleblowers inside the national security state remains broken.

    This is the view of current and former intelligence officials, national security lawyers and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Their message is simple: whistleblowers are often too intimidated to take their case to the inspectors general and Congress.

    "There is a systemic problem with the whistleblower process," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told me. "There is no easy way for them to come forward that doesn't jeopardize their careers, across the whole defense and intelligence community enterprise."

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Europe gets tough on immigration, American style

    Europe can't build a wall to keep out Syrian refugees. But Tuesday European Union leaders did the next best thing from their perspective, announcing an agreement with Turkey to repel and return all those trying to come illegally into Greece by boat from Turkey.

    The plan represents a major shift for the EU in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis. In place of a generous legal approach that rejected mass returns of asylum seekers, Europe is now adopting a much more hardline attitude that distinguishes sharply between migrants seeking illegal entry and refugees who've already been processed within Turkey and may be granted legal settlement rights and asylum.

    The EU-Turkey deal promises to deliver more than €3 billion to Turkey for its role in holding on to Syrians. But the latest announcement contains two key elements not fully clarified before. Each element represents a big change in EU policy, and a point where morality diverges from EU and international law.

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Cruz's risky detour to crush Rubio in Florida

    It's been a huge week in the presidential campaign. We've gone from Donald Trump having an unstoppable path to the Republican nomination to the possibility that he could be beaten.

    That's the good news for the majority of Americans who believe that an authoritarian, ill-informed, bellicose real estate mogul is unsuited to be president.

    The bad news is that the vehicle of Trump's defeat is turning out to be Sen. Ted Cruz. With his faux-folksy recitations of Dr. Seuss and "The Princess Bride," his singular insistence that Obamacare could be repealed, and non-stop obstruction fueled by his self-regard as the only principled man in Washington, he helped grind governing to a halt in recent years. One of the few points of bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill is antipathy to Cruz. Vice President Joe Biden captured the feeling at the annual Gridiron Club dinner on March 5, joking that if President Barack Obama really wanted to put his mark on the Supreme Court, he should name Cruz to the open seat. "Before you know it, you'll have eight vacancies."

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