Archive

December 28th

It's Kochs vs. GOP on this tax plan

    In this uncertain world, there are still a few unalterable facts of political life. For example, Republicans always do what Charles and David Koch, the billionaire bankrollers of right-wing politics nationwide, tell them.

    Then again, maybe not. As it happens, the Koch brothers are dead set against the House Republicans' business tax reform plan, yet GOP leaders are pushing it anyway.

    At issue is the proposed destination-based cash flow tax (DBCFT), which despite its eye-glazing name is anything but a tepid idea. To the contrary, it could affect long-standing business models across Corporate America.

    Here's the plan: Instead of today's corporate tax, which charges rates up to 35 percent on worldwide income, adjusted for deductions and loopholes, the DBCFT would impose a flat 20 percent tax only on earnings from sales of output consumed within the United States (with an immediate write-off on capital investment and no deduction for net interest).

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Here's what the N.C. Republican legislative ambush looked like from the inside

    The chants of protesters yelling "You work for us! You work for us!" echoed through the building. Lobbyists scurried, nervously asking legislators whether they knew what was going on. Republicans ducked in and out of conference rooms, saying little and avoiding the press. Democrats like me collected tidbits of information to try to piece together what was going on.

    It was a legislative ambush, executed with painful precision. Here's how it unfolded.

    Last week, outgoing North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, R, called the state's General Assembly into a special, emergency session to fund the relief effort for victims of a recent hurricane and major forest fires. We passed the relief bill and were adjourned.

    Then, minutes later, the Republican leadership of the General Assembly called a surprise, second special session. They had secretly compiled the number of Republican signatures needed for another session, to begin immediately. Even our hyperactive rumor mill hadn't alerted us to this maneuver.

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For Trump, Dow 20000 is both blessing and burden

    Since Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has risen almost 9 percent, flirting with closing for the first time ever at the 20,000 mark. The year-end rally is the market's way of saying it approves of the president-elect's ideas.

    As well it should. Trump's tax-cutting, deregulating and deficit-spending policies are tailor-made to boost corporate profits.

    Now would be a good moment to wave the yellow flag. This may not be such great news for the rest of the economy. What's happening is exactly what some economists had predicted over the summer: In Trump's first two years as president, business-friendly policies would lower corporate costs, and stock investors would get a bigger share of the economic pie.

    But the Trump effect isn't just sending stocks into record territory. It's also leading inflation expectations higher, which could cause interest rates to rise even faster than the Fed now intends and the dollar to strengthen. All of that is pushing the economy in the opposite direction from what Trump wants.

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Albuquerque concedes forfeiture was illegal, continues with illegal forfeitures

    Last year, New Mexico passed one of the most restrictive asset forfeiture laws in the country. It requires state and local governments to actually get a criminal conviction before they can take a suspect's property. It essentially does away entirely with "civil" asset forfeiture, a practice most people tend to find appalling once you convince them that it actually happens.

    Somehow, Albuquerque didn't get the message. There's ample evidence that the city simply chose to ignore the law and continued with the seizures. It's easy to see why -- over about five years, the city brought in more than $8 million in revenue by taking property from people who were never convicted of a crime. In some cases, it took cars from people who could prove they had nothing to do with the alleged crime associated with their automobile. Last November, two state lawmakers sued the city to make it stop.

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What happens when Trump starts blaming Yellen?

    The big question about President-elect Donald Trump is what happens when things start to go wrong. There's no doubt they will. Every president has to contend with unforeseen setbacks, and for Trump it will be worse. His outlandish and often contradictory promises guarantee he'll have plenty of bad news to explain away or blame on other people.

    The economy will be high on the list -- and Trump already has a scapegoat-in-waiting. In one of the presidential debates, he attacked Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen for keeping interest rates low for political reasons, and said this would cause big problems once the Fed had to start pushing rates higher.

    The fact is, this economy is not the kind a new president would choose to inherit. It's better to take over in a trough than at what might prove to be a peak. The stock market is testing the upper bounds of plausible valuation, the economy is at or close to full employment, a strong dollar is making life harder for exporters, and the Fed just resumed its effort to get interest rates back to a more neutral level. In short the stage is set for bad news, with Yellen in a starring role.

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The trauma of Aleppo: 'Why do we expect them to care about us?'

    "Responsibility for this brutality lies in one place alone, with the Assad regime and its allies, Russia and Iran," President Obama said last week of the barbarity in Aleppo, Syria, "and this blood and these atrocities are on their hands."

    My journalism students and I here in Dubai follow the news together closely to talk about stories and how they're reported. We followed this one with some disappointment, however, because the president would not acknowledge the consequences of his own lack of action in Syria. And when his U.N. envoy, Samantha Power, talked about shame, my class could only wonder whether she had looked in the mirror recently.

    For them, it's no longer any wonder that neither the U.S. president nor any other American representative will be attending the next conference on Syria. Reportedly there's a meeting in Moscow later this month to determine Syria's fate: It involves only the Russians, the Turks and the Iranians. No Syrians. One student recalled a report that at an international conference on Syria held in Vienna last year, the only Syrian present was a waiter who was serving the diplomats.

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Lessons Learned From Two Battle Strategies

    President  Barack Obama and Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina don’t agree on many policy questions. But they have found themselves facing a similar political situation this year. And their very different reactions capture the deep — and alarming — differences between our two political parties right now.

    Both Obama and McCrory essentially had their accomplishments on the ballot. McCrory, a Republican, was running for re-election. Obama wasn’t, but his chosen successor was running against a candidate who had personally demeaned him and promised to repeal his agenda.

    As you’d expect, Obama and McCrory each campaigned hard. There, however, the similarities stopped. The differences have played out in three acts.

    In the first act, before Election Day, Obama was faced with evidence that Russia was trying to help Donald Trump win. Obama erred on the side of nonpartisan caution, opting not to announce the CIA findings on Russia’s motives. He was willing to use the presidential bully pulpit to criticize Trump, but not the levers of presidential power to disadvantage him.

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December 27th

China's drone seizure was definitely about Trump

    Spring has come early to the South China Sea. Many analysts had assumed that China would do something to test the newly elected president once he was in office. George W. Bush faced an earlier incident when a Chinese frigate nearly rammed the USNS Bowditch in March 2001 and the spy plane collision a few weeks later, months after he was inaugurated. Barack Obama had the USNS Impeccable incident in March 2009. But for President-elect Donald Trump, China's seizure of an underwater drone, affiliated with the Bowditch, has come ahead of schedule.

    We can only speculate why. Perhaps this was a response to Trump's controversial phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and subsequent comments about changing America's stance toward the "One-China" policy. Perhaps it was something that was going to happen anyway.

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Populism, Real and Phony

    Authoritarians with an animus against ethnic minorities are on the march across the Western world. They control governments in Hungary and Poland, and will soon take power in the United States. And they’re organizing across borders: Austria’s Freedom Party, founded by former Nazis, has signed an agreement with Russia’s ruling party — and met with Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser.

    But what should we call these groups? Many reporters are using the term “populist,” which seems inadequate and misleading. I guess racism can be considered populist in the sense that it represents the views of some non-elite people. But are the other shared features of this movement — addiction to conspiracy theories, indifference to the rule of law, a penchant for punishing critics — really captured by the “populist” label?

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The Plague of ‘Early Decision’

    As the moment of judgment neared, they barely slept, convinced that their very futures were on the line. Dread consumed them. Panic overwhelmed them.

    I don’t mean Americans awaiting the Electoral College’s validation of Donald Trump.

    I mean students (and their parents) awaiting actual colleges’ verdicts on early-decision and early-action applications.

    One friend of mine canceled our dinner plan because he hadn’t realized that it fell around the time when his daughter expected word from her top Ivy League choice. He and his wife couldn’t leave her home alone in such a tremulous state, at such a terrifying juncture.

    Another friend’s daughter, also vying to get into a highly selective school, repeatedly burst into tears as she berated herself for a 3.9 grade-point average instead of a 4.0. What if the difference spelled her doom?

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