Archive

December 11th

Robots won't kill the workforce. They'll save the economy.

    The United Nations forecasts that the global population will rise from 7.3 billion to nearly 10 billion by 2050, a big number that often prompts warnings about overpopulation. Some have come from neo-Malthusians, who fear that population growth will outstrip the food supply, leaving a hungry planet. Others appear in the tirades of anti-immigrant populists, invoking the specter of a rising tide of humanity as cause to slam borders shut. Still others inspire a chorus of neo-Luddites, who fear that the "rise of the robots" is rapidly making human workers obsolete, a threat all the more alarming if the human population is exploding.

    Before long, though, we're more likely to treasure robots than to revile them. They may be the one thing that can protect the global economy from the dangers that lie ahead.

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December 10th

What happens if Trump keeps interfering with the free market? Look at the Soviet Union.

    For Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the news from Carrier looks like a slam-dunk: A company that was going to move 1,000 jobs to Mexico has agreed to keep the factories and jobs open in Indiana after the president-elect and vice president-elect applied a little pressure. We don't know exactly what subsidies, tax breaks or other deals may have been involved, but workers making furnaces in Indiana are cheering, and Trump is basking in triumph. He promised in the campaign to apply his deal-making stills to stopping the exodus of U.S. manufacturing jobs abroad. Now he can claim some success even before being sworn in.

    But after the celebrating should come some discomfort. Trump's aggressive rhetoric suggests he sees nothing wrong with pushing corporate chieftains around in the name of making America great again.

    Trump would do well to remember: He was elected president, not factory boss.

    What makes capitalism strong are the forces of the market left to work their own magic. No free market is ever totally free, but the basics matter a lot: Decisions are made on the basis of things like supply and demand, knowing that information is open and rule of law secure.

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A response to the pleas to shut up Trump

    The holidays are right around the corner, so it's the season to tell other people to shut up. That's my takeaway from the various events of this week. Let's look at three.

    First, there were renewed cries for Donald Trump to be banned from Twitter. An online petition has tens of thousand of signatures. The arguments vary, but they are from a common set. He makes things up. He's vicious. He's every "ist" and "ic" in the book. And here is the fun part: There is no free speech issue because Twitter, as a private company, has the right to suspend what accounts it likes.

    To which I say: Wow.

    They're right of course that Trump's tweets are often offensive. They're also right that the First Amendment has no application. Absent a specific legal prohibition, a private business may refuse to serve whomever it likes, including the president of the United States. Still, the present moment feels as if we have passed through the looking glass, into a world where everything is just the opposite of what it ought to be. How else to explain the sudden affection on the left for corporate power as a check on government?

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Republicans are making 'voter fraud' a weapon so that they never lose again

    On Nov. 8, North Carolinians went to the polls and chose a new governor: Democrat Roy Cooper. Cooper defeated incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory by more than 10,000 votes. It's a clean win that should bar a recount.

    Despite this, McCrory and other Republican Party officials are engaging in an effort to subvert the election results by tainting them with unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud and elections officials' misconduct. Doing so is not only dangerous, it creates the perception that the election results are unreliable when they are not, and it fuels future legislative efforts to disenfranchise voters.

    This week's vote by the North Carolina State Board of Elections to grant the McCrory campaign's request for a recount of 90,000 votes in Durham County illustrates how merely claiming that the results "look suspicious" leads to public distrust and encourages a witch hunt for nonexistent "irregularities."

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Rep. Keith Ellison: I should have listened more and talked less

    My mom, Clida, taught my four brothers and me about her father's work to organize black voters in rural Louisiana in the 1950s. We carried her dad's legacy of activism with us. The Civil Rights Movement was present in the daily life of my family in Detroit in the 1970s.

    I'll never forget working to get my college, Wayne State University, to divest from the government in South Africa. This was the beginning of my activism, and the fight for social and economic justice has been a constant thread in my life. My activism led me to toss my hat in the ring for DNC chair, where I will work to reclaim our history as the party that stands with working people.

    Unfortunately, some political opponents continue to distort my record based on an old right-wing smear campaign - not my work in Congress, or my vision for the future of the Democratic Party.

    Go back 25 years to 1991. Cameras recorded the brutal beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police. Unemployment for African Americans was 13 percent, and the war on drugs was driving up incarceration rates.

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If all you have is a Mattis, everything looks like a nail

    In the 1990s, during Bill Clinton's second term, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (A), National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (B), and Secretary of Defense William Cohen (C) would meet weekly for what was called the "ABC lunch." When the rest of us minions gathered in the White House Situation Room for one crisis or problem or another, we always had the sense that the agenda was kind of fixed, with the statements of the principals a choreographed ballet reflecting agreements already reached at that lunch table.

    If current trends from President-elect Donald Trump's cabinet appointees continue, the new lunch crowd may all be senior generals in the U.S. military. With National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn now joined by Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis, and both Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. John Kelly being considered as a possible secretary of state, three of the five institutions most centrally involved in U.S. national security policy could be headed by former senior military officers. That would be an unprecedented event in American history, a serious challenge to the tradition of civilian control over the military, and a danger to U.S. national security.

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How to help U.S. victims of free trade

    If Donald Trump was consistent about one thing on the campaign trail, it was his rejection of the prevailing Washington consensus in favor of globalization and free trade. Now, weeks before taking office, he has pledged to tear up the Trans-Pacific Partnership on the first day of his presidency and kept Carrier from moving a factory to Mexico. His campaign threats to withdraw from the World Trade Organization and slap high tariffs on China and Mexico are already causing tremors in the global economy, amid fears of a possible trade war.

    While data overwhelmingly show that globalization has been a net plus for the global economy, there is no denying that the domestic costs of the new economy have fallen disproportionately on certain sections of the workforce. Manufacturing jobs in the U.S. dropped by almost 6 million jobs between 2000 and 2010, leading to a host of social ills such as alcohol and opiate dependency, depression and community disintegration. Among the wrenching costs of Rust Belt industrial decline is the revelation that, after rising for decades, the life expectancy of white Americans has started to fall, driven in no small part by suicide and overdose.

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Holding a job provides much more than a paycheck

    In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, I'm starting to rethink one of my basic beliefs about the economy. For a long time, I've believed that what mattered most for economic well-being was money. Median income, consumption, wages -- all the things I cared about most were measured in dollars.

    Because of this attitude, I've supported lots of policies aimed at boosting the amount of money in the average person's pocket. I've called for Japan to liberalize its markets, and for the U.S. to encourage workers to move to places with better opportunities. And I've often assumed that a dollar of government redistribution is just as good as a dollar of wages.

    I'm starting to think I was wrong. Maybe not completely wrong, but I did ignore a big, important source of economic well-being: jobs.

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Donald Trump's Cabinet assembly instructions

    Congratulations! The American people have given you the formidable responsibility of assembling a Cabinet. The best Cabinet ever, you promised! And with none of the problems of previous Cabinets. And without any ties to plutocrats or the grotesque handful of corporations, like Goldman Sachs, that are squeezing the life out of the American people. You will not let the American people down!

    1. Surreptitiously Google "What is a cabinet?"

    2. The first thing that comes up is some sort of rap battle from that cursed musical "Hamilton."

    3. Okay. This is fine. You can do this.

    4. FIFTEEN DEPARTMENTS?

    5. If you had only known you would have had more children.

    6. Okay, you had better write these departments down. Where is a pen?

    7. "How is the Cabinet coming?" Melania Trump asks. "Fine," you say, holding up a pen. "Huge progress."

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A government of, by and for corporate America

    President-elect Donald Trump promised to punish U.S. companies that ship manufacturing jobs out of the country. Instead, judging from the way he has handled Carrier, he plans to reward them. Quite handsomely, in fact.

    As should be standard practice with Trump, pay attention to the substance, not the theater. United Technologies, the parent company of air-conditioner maker Carrier, has been threatening to move more than 2,000 jobs from Indiana to Mexico. Trump addressed this specifically during his campaign, vowing to hit the company with a punitive tariff.

    "If they're going to fire all their people, move their plant to Mexico, build air conditioners, and think they're going to sell those air conditioners to the United States -- there's going to be a tax," Trump said on "Meet the Press" in the summer. "It could be 25 percent, it could be 35 percent, it could be 15 percent, I haven't determined."

    As it turns out, how about zero percent?

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