Archive

February 19th, 2017

Gerrymandering is the biggest obstacle to genuine democracy in the United States. So why is no one protesting?

    There is an enormous paradox at the heart of American democracy. Congress is deeply and stubbornly unpopular. On average, between 10 and 15 percent of Americans approve of Congress - on a par with public support for traffic jams and cockroaches. And yet, in the 2016 election, only eight incumbents - eight out of a body of 435 representatives - were defeated at the polls.

    If there is one silver bullet that could fix American democracy, it's getting rid of gerrymandering - the now commonplace practice of drawing electoral districts in a distorted way for partisan gain. It's also one of a dwindling number of issues that principled citizens - Democrat and Republican - should be able to agree on. Indeed, polls confirm that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all stripes oppose gerrymandering.

    In the 2016 elections for the House of Representatives, the average electoral margin of victory was 37.1 percent. That's a figure you'd expect from North Korea, Russia or Zimbabwe - not the United States. But the shocking reality is that the typical race ended with a Democrat or a Republican winning nearly 70 percent of the vote, while their challenger won just 30 percent.

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Trump's voracious appetite for cable news is troubling, but that's not stopping him

    In the heat of the 2016 campaign, "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd asked Donald Trump whom he spoke to for military advice.

    "Well, I watch the shows," Trump responded. "I mean, I really see a lot of great - you know, when you watch your show and all of the other shows, and you have the generals."

    Trump's campaign insisted that he was misunderstood - that he spoke to lots of military advisers in addition to watching them on television.

    Maybe. But what has become very clear in the intervening months - even as Trump stunned the world by winning the presidential election - is that he a) watches massive amount of cable TV and b) regularly reacts to it and borrows ideas from it.

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February 18th

Economics profession gets a presidential demotion

    The question of who Donald Trump will choose to head his Council of Economic Advisers now has an answer of sorts: It doesn't really matter. The CEA chairman will no longer be included in the president's Cabinet. Economics has officially received a demotion.

    Instead of simply deriding the administration as economically illiterate, we should look at this decision as part of a broader trend -- the waning of economists' prestige and influence.

    This is a difficult trend to measure objectively. It's well-known that much of the public disagrees with most economists on a few high-profile issues, especially free trade. But there's also enormous demand for the econ major at the undergraduate level, which is one reason economics professors get paid higher salaries than most other academics. It often seems like one's opinion of economics is a marker of social class in the U.S. -- if you respect economists and listen to their ideas, you're a member of the educated, globalized elite, while if you decry them you're part of the unwashed masses.

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Voters worldwide don't like cutting corporate taxes

    On Sunday, Swiss voters rejected a reduction in corporate tax rates by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

    Some of the factors that drove their decision were unique to Switzerland and this particular referendum. The tax change had been forced on Swiss politicians by the European Union and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which don't like the preferential treatment the country has been giving to multinational corporations with operations there. It was a complicated proposal, and Finance Minister Ueli Maurer (of the right-leaning populist Swiss People's Party) doesn't seem to have done a great job of selling it. There were ramifications related to local-government finances that, well, I'm not going to pretend to understand.

    Still, there do seem to have been some more universal factors at work. This was also a vote, as Markus Hafliger of the Zurich-based Tages-Anzeiger newspaper put it (translation mine), "against globalization, against opaque corporations, against a managerial caste perceived as out of touch with the real world."

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Trump immigration policies can't make this rural Minn. town white again

    Guadalupe García de Rayos, 35, a mother of two American children, was arrested last week in Phoenix, Arizona, and deported to Mexico, which she left as a 14-year-old to travel illegally to the U.S. There was no public-safety rationale for her removal. But the president who defrauded students, cheated contractors and shattered democratic norms on his way to the White House is apparently a stickler for following rules.

    The deportation, over protests, was another shot in the federal government's new war on immigrant communities. Its reverberations extend far beyond the 20 metro areas, including Phoenix, that are home to the majority of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Guadalupes can be found in unexpected places.

    Worthington, Minnesota, is a prairie town of 13,000 near the southwest corner of the state, just north of the Iowa line. It has a thriving little downtown spotted with restaurants and stores, and, from June to October, an open-air farmer's market in the old Campbell Soup Company parking lot.

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The Struggle Inside The Wall Street Journal

    The most successful modern publisher of ideological journalism is Rupert Murdoch. He buys media properties, or starts new ones, and turns them into conservative megaphones.

    In England, he carefully nudged the venerable Times to the right, while his tabloids mocked Labour Party politicians as weaklings or Stalinists. In the United States, he transformed the once-liberal New York Post into a peppery conservative tabloid and then built Fox News from scratch.

    Clearly, he enjoys both populist and elite media. And in 2007, he bought a journalistic jewel, The Wall Street Journal.

    Now The Journal’s newsroom is embroiled in a fight over the paper’s direction.

    Many staff members believe that the paper’s top editor, Gerard Baker, previously a feisty conservative commentator, is trying to Murdoch-ize the paper. “There is a systemic issue,” one reporter told me. The dissatisfaction went public last week, with stories in Politico and the Huffington Post. At a staff meeting on Monday, Baker dismissed the criticism as “fake news,” Joe Pompeo of Politico reported.

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Memo to Trump: Iraq is too big to fail

    The first few weeks of Donald Trump's presidency have been a political roller coaster for Iraq.

    On Jan. 21, the newly minted commander in chief raised his oft-repeated mantra that the United States might have offset the costs of the Iraq War by somehow seizing Iraqi oil. Six days later, he signed an executive order banning Iraqi nationals from entering the United States for 90 days and Iraqi refugees from entering for 120 days. The banned persons initially included thousands of translators and other Iraqis who risked their lives by serving alongside U.S. troops in Iraq.

    Though Iraq's parliament issued a nonbinding call to retaliate by banning American visitors, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi chose to take the high road. Refusing to bow to domestic political pressure, he ruled out a reciprocal travel ban in a speech on Jan. 31.

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Imagining a successful Trump presidency

    Imagine a successful Trump presidency.

    That is the assignment I gave myself this week as I met with research fellows at the Hoover Institution, a free-market think tank located here on Stanford University's campus, and with Stanford professors. Set aside the initial stumbles and Washington angst, and imagine how Donald Trump might build on his unexpected electoral victory.

    I was taken aback by the first response.

    "Well, it's sad," a conservative expert on politics replied when I asked the question. "Because he could have done something groundbreaking."

    Could have? Past tense? Already?

    Yes, this person replied. Trump took office with a unique opportunity to triangulate between the two parties. With Republicans he could have enacted tax reform and rolled back regulations. With Democrats he could have pushed through a giant infrastructure bill, dividing the Democratic coalition (trade unions from teachers unions, Midwesterners from coastal elites). Presto: a new working coalition.

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The Power of Disruption

    The Trump resistance movement is stretching its wings, engaging its muscles and feeling its power. It is large and strong and tough. It has moved past debilitating grief and into righteous anger, assiduous organization and pressing activism.

    Welcome to the dawn of the fighting-mad majority: The ones who didn’t vote for Trump and maybe even some who now regret that they did.

    They are charging forward under the banner of sage wisdom that has endured through the ages: Show up, get loud and fight back. Do it with your body and words, with your time and money, with every fiber of yourself. They see what this dawning regime means and they don’t intend, not even for a second, to wait around to see what happens. “What happens” is happening right now and it’s horrific.

    Donald Trump is a vulgar, uninformed, anti-intellectual, extremely unpopular grifter helming a family of grifters who apparently intend to milk their moment on the mount for every red cent.

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President Trump just escalated his war with the intelligence community - bigly

    President Donald Trump's latest round of early morning tweets Thursday go well beyond the usual bluster about his opponents. He is now basically calling for the use of the government's investigative machinery to be turned loose on them.

    Trump tweeted angrily about the leakers who have disclosed to the press that intelligence officials have determined that there were contacts between Russia and Trump campaign officials during the past year. Trump was also presumably referring to leakers who revealed that the Justice Department warned that former national security adviser Michael Flynn communicated inappropriately with the Russian ambassador, making him vulnerable to blackmail. Trump tweeted:

    The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!

    Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years. Failing @nytimes (and others) must apologize!

 

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