Archive

May 15th, 2016

I wanted to help Syrian refugees settle in Canada. Now they are my family.

    Our unusually mild Canadian winter had made me expect that I could get away with a light coat and no hat. But I had a few blocks to walk, and my ears were stinging in the freezing wind, so I took the scarf from around my neck and draped it around my head. "You know what you look like, don't you?" my colleague Bill said.

    I smiled. I knew exactly what I looked like. And so did the Syrian woman wearing a hijab walking alongside us. She smiled, too.

    The eight of us -- Bill, me and a refugee family of two parents and four kids -- were heading to the elementary school where the three older children were to begin their Canadian education. The family spoke barely a word of English, and yet there they were, earnest and trusting, bundled up in their government-issued winter coats and boots, the kids' backpacks almost as big as they were, but holding little more than a lunch bag and some brand-new indoor shoes with soles that lit up with each step.

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How to tell debt facts from political hype

    Recent remarks by Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, have turned the spotlight back to the U.S.'s $18 trillion federal government debt. The attention follows a period of substantial decline in the budget deficit that countered claims the country was heading rapidly toward debt Armageddon.

    Here are key facts to remember as you assess what is likely to be a loud and contentious political conversation on debt:

    - There are five major ways to reduce the burden of debt: by growing faster, thus generating incremental resources for debt servicing while maintaining and enhancing living standards; by raising more tax revenue and earmarking it for debt repayment; by cutting government spending and diverting the funds to higher debt servicing, including prepayments; by defaulting on contractual debt terms; and through financial engineering that captures interest-rate arbitrage opportunities, buys back debt cheaply, improves the mix of issued securities and delivers greater financial efficiency.

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Donald Trump has discovered one weird trick for getting people to agree with him

    Donald Trump has discovered one weird trick for getting everyone to agree with him half the time. That's taking both sides of every issue.

    Or at least appearing to.

    Trump, you see, doesn't so much seem to have firm positions as he has words that have come out of his mouth more recently than other words. Sometimes the new words mean the same thing as the old ones. Other times they don't. So which ones does Trump "really" believe? Who knows. Perhaps with the exception of Mexico paying for a wall at our southern border, it's not even clear he does. The answer might be whatever he thinks will help him the most.

    And no, that's not hyperbole. Just look at all the positions he's taken on all the biggest issues there are.

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Critics of black women cadets read too much in a gesture

    West Point officials have decided against punitive action for 16 black female cadets who sparked nationwide controversy by posing for a group photo with their fists raised.

    Good. They'll get some counseling but graduate on time, which they have earned in spite of the crazy commotion the photo stirred up.

    The women are young. They were celebrating their upcoming graduation. Maybe they didn't how easy it is for some black people to alarm some white people -- especially when we are black people in groups.

    The 16 women were following an old school tradition by posing in historical-style uniforms before graduation later in May. Controversy erupted because of the upraised fists.

    An investigation determined that the cadets had no political message in mind. That would have violated the academy's and the Defense Department's prohibitions against political activities by active service members.

    Meanwhile, Internet chatter about the matter exploded.

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Congress to America: Drop Dead

    In a moment, we’ll get to the Zika virus.

    First, remember how scathing Republicans were about President Barack Obama’s handling of Ebola in the fall of 2014? They lambasted his reluctance to ban travelers from affected nations, with Paul Broun, a House member from Georgia then, even wondering if Obama had a “purposeful” plan to use Ebola to harm America.

    Phyllis Schlafly, the conservative gadfly, suggested that Obama didn’t care if Ebola devastated the United States: “He wants us to be just like everybody else, and if Africa is suffering from Ebola, we ought to join the group and be suffering from it, too.”

    A Fox News contributor, Dr. Keith Ablow, suggested in a radio broadcast that Obama perhaps wanted America to suffer from Ebola because “his affiliations” are with Africa rather than with America.

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Bring Hillary and Bernie Together

    Bernie Sanders is not going away. And why should he? The weather is nice, the crowds are enormous and he keeps winning primaries. Hillary Clinton has what appears to be an insurmountable lead in delegates, but hope springs eternal.

    “It is a steep hill to climb,” he admits.

    Actually, probably harder to surmount than Gangkhar Puensum. (Which is the world’s highest unclimbed mountain. I am telling you this to distract you from the subject of delegate counts.)

    But about Sanders: Democrats, what do you think he should do?

    A) Convention floor fight. “Game of Thrones”! Jon Snow is alive!

    B) Go away. When Clinton lost, did she torture Barack Obama over who was going to be on the platform committee? No, she sucked it up and gave an extremely nice endorsement speech.

    C) Why can’t we all just get along?

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May 14th

Obama’s Gorgeous Goodbye

    In this twilight of his presidency, Barack Obama is unlikely to deliver much in the way of meaningful legislation.

    But he’s giving us a pointed, powerful civics lesson.

    Consider his speech to new graduates of Howard University last weekend. While it brimmed with the usual kudos for hard work, it also bristled with caveats about the mistakes that he sees some young people making.

    He chided them for demonizing enemies and silencing opponents. He cautioned them against a sense of grievance too exaggerated and an outrage bereft of perspective. “If you had to choose a time to be, in the words of Lorraine Hansberry, ‘young, gifted and black’ in America, you would choose right now,” he said. “To deny how far we’ve come would do a disservice to the cause of justice.”

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What happens when a Washington 'cave dweller' comes to light

    Washington doesn't work the way people think it does. And when the public gets a peek into the way it does work, there's a lot of outrage.

    Most real power doesn't lie with the senators or cabinet officials or ambassadors. The people who make things happen don't have an office of their own or a room with a view. They're one or two levels down, working the machine from the inside. When they succeed, the public isn't aware of their existence, much less their influence. These are the "cave dwellers" of Washington.

    Occasionally, one of the cave dwellers surfaces and is subjected to public scrutiny. The results are rarely pretty. For one thing, the very important people for whom the cave dwellers work bristle at their lowly staff soaking up some of the spotlight. Other cave dwellers can use the opportunity to settle scores.

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Trump's approach to economics: Speak loudly and carry a 'yuge' stick

    When it comes to policy ideas, Donald Trump is hard to pin down. Now, though, the outline of a Trump economic theory has started to emerge. It isn't pretty.

    He doesn't place much faith in markets. He doesn't want an independent central bank. His views on currencies and sovereign debt rest on the principle that everything is negotiable, even contracts between creditors and borrowers. His main weapon wouldn't be the rule of law but bullying, especially of corporations that move outside the U.S. for competitive reasons.

    It's foolhardy, of course, to predict what a President Trump would do. In recent days, he backed down on a campaign promise to eliminate the U.S.'s $19 trillion debt before admitting that that wasn't, well, realistic. Then he implied he would stiff the holders of U.S. Treasuries when he said he wanted to renegotiate that debt.

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Trump vs. the Fed

    Donald Trump's ideas about managing the U.S. government's finances have generated a lot of debate, shedding useful light on the presidential hopeful's unconventional approach to economic policy. But Trump has yet to address a crucial issue: how he would manage a likely conflict with one of the world's most powerful institutions -- the Federal Reserve.

    Trump has proposed large spending increases and steep tax cuts, a combination that the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated would boost government debt to 129 percent of gross domestic product over ten years, from about 75 percent now. (As far as I can tell, this estimate does not include Trump's more recent proposals to increase infrastructure and military spending.)

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