Archive

January 21st, 2017

Just Another Swindle

    Good news, folks — our new president says he’s planning a “tax holiday” for you.

    Well, not directly for you. Trump’s trillion-dollar whopper of a tax break will only go to such multinational corporations as Apple, GE, Johnson & Johnson, and Microsoft.

    However, Trump says he’ll push for these cuts in your name, insisting that the trickle-down effect will create thousands of new jobs for America’s hard-hit working stiffs.

    Here’s the deal: To dodge paying the taxes they owe to our country, many U.S.-based global giants have stashed about $2 trillion worth of profits in offshore bank accounts. Now they want to bring this pile of loot home — yet they want to be rewarded for doing so by having the taxes they owe slashed.

    Enter The Donald, who’s delighted these scofflaws by offering to tax that offshore income at the low rate of only 10 percent — versus the 30 percent you and I pay for America’s upkeep. “Trust me,” exclaims the Donald. They’ll expand their businesses here and generate jobs for you!

    I was born at night, but it wasn’t last night.

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I taught those special snowflake millennials, and I have something to say

    There was a popular myth post-election that a Yale professor had offered an optional midterm for students upset over Trump's victory, and it lit up social media quickly. I counted about a dozen Facebook shares from friends on both sides of the political aisle. Comments typed fast and furious spoke of this snowflake generation, these spoiled, entitled babies who were raised so dreadfully and coddled by their parents. More than once I read, "This is what happens when you give everyone a trophy!" That the truth behind the rumors revealed an entirely opposite story made no difference: This was another opportunity to make fun of those insufferable millennials and their need for safe spaces.

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Chavez, Putin, Erdogan ... and Trump

    In the second half of the 20th century, the main threat to democracy came from the men in uniform. Fledgling democracies such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Thailand and Turkey were set back by dozens of military coups. For emerging democracies hoping to ward off such military interventions into domestic politics, Western European and American institutions, which vested all political authority in the hands of elected civilian governments, were offered as the model to follow. They were the best way to ensure that democracy, as Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan famously put it, became "the only game in town."

    Far from most thinkers' minds was whether Western institutions might be inviting a different threat to democracy - personal rule, in which civilian state institutions such as the bureaucracy and courts come under the direct control of the executive, and the lines between the state's interests and those of the ruler begin to blur. Most believed personal rule was something that applied only to the worst of the tin-pot dictatorships, such as that of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire, Daniel arap Moi in Kenya, or Sani Abacha in Nigeria. The checks and balances built in the fabric of Western institutions, the thinking went, would withstand any such usurpation.

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Trump's tweets start nationalizing private sector

    Here's a question: When is a company considered privately owned? There's ownership, and there's control. If a company's shareholders and executives don't have control over the day-to-day operations of their organization -- if the government calls them up and tells them what to do -- is it really private?

    Most big companies in China fall into this gray zone. Although the official state-owned enterprises have shrunk as a percentage of the economy, the government directly or indirectly owns controlling interests in most privately held businesses, and large minority stakes in the rest. This frees China's various government officials from the day-to-day operation of the companies, but allows them to intervene on anything of political interest -- or to use the companies as fronts for corruption.

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Trump may end up strengthening the EU

    Donald Trump is not one to mince words: He says he doesn't care if the European Union breaks up, since it is "basically a vehicle for Germany" and calls the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Europe's main defense arrangement, "obsolete." With these statements, the next U.S. president drew sharp battle lines: He, U.K. Brexiteers and other euroskeptics on one side and the rest of Europe on the other.

    That emerging divide is an unexpected gift for a faction that appeared to be in retreat after Brexit: European federalists. If Trump acts on his opinions, Europe will be faced with the necessity of playing a much more independent geopolitical role. The U.S. will be at best a situational ally, and at worst a competitor. That makes the idea of increasing European unity far easier to sell even to those electorates within the EU that have been skeptical of deepening integration. Few European nations are big enough to face an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world on their own.

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Trump buries Ryan under expensive promises

    "Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States," Grover Norquist advised in 2012.

    Norquist, who has devoted his life to the cause of reducing taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans, was making a simple point: The next Republican president wouldn't need a brain. Paul Ryan had already mapped out the perfect GOP agenda. All a GOP president had to do was pick up a pen and sign it into law.

    That, of course, was before a Republican famously derided as a "short-fingered vulgarian" won the 2016 presidential election. And the more Donald Trump talks, the more his working digits look like monkey wrenches.

    Over the weekend, Trump gave an interview to The Washington Post in which he reiterated, and expanded on, his completely untenable promises on health-care reform.

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Tom Price and the future of Obamacare

    The other day, I was at a white coat ceremony, a ritual in which medical students don their white coats to mark the transition from the classroom to the patient's bedside. Seasoned physicians reflected on their experiences with patients and families who guided them along their own professional journey from student to doctor. There was no discussion of money, of insurance, of Obamacare. The day was all about the honor and duty of caring for people as they suffer or as they get well, of healing them.

    The ceremony culminates with the solemn reading of the Hippocratic Oath: "I will be loyal to the profession of medicine and just and generous to its members. … I will lead my life and practice my art in uprightness and honor, … holding myself far aloof from wrong, from corruption, from the tempting of others to vice. … I will exercise my art solely for the cure of my patients. … And now, if I be true to this, my oath, may good repute ever be mine; the opposite, if I shall prove myself forsworn."

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This Year, #OscarsSoBlack?

    On the bright side, at least Jenna Bush Hager didn’t say “Hidden Fences in the Moonlight,” mashing together all three of the critically acclaimed movies about African-Americans that are in theaters right now.

    I’m referring to that cringe-worthy moment at the Golden Globes when Hager, a correspondent for NBC’s “Today” show, mistakenly referred to “Hidden Figures” as “Hidden Fences,” something that the actor Michael Keaton also did later that same night. “Fences” is its own production, and it, “Hidden Figures” and “Moonlight” are all in the hunt for Oscar nominations, to be announced next Tuesday.

    They tell unrelated stories in unrelated styles. And they’re not equally accomplished, not to my eye. “Moonlight” has a daring, a poetry and a jolting intimacy that lift it well above the other two.

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Media, don't play Trump's game of divide and conquer

    Nineteen years ago Tuesday, the Drudge Report introduced the world to Monica Lewinsky and changed journalism forever. Now, at a time when sensationalism and salacious headlines are again dominating the news, the media industry is confronting one of the toughest challenges it has faced at any time since: how to cover President Donald Trump.

    Clearly emboldened by the media malpractice that defined much of 2016, Trump has been testing journalists on a near-daily basis since winning the election. He has attempted to manipulate press coverage through early-morning Twitter rampages, trumped up job-creation announcements and, most recently, the farcical news conference he convened last week, the ostensible purpose of which was to discuss how he'll avoid conflicts of interest in his business dealings. (Spoiler: He won't.) Taking questions from reporters for the first time since July, Trump marked the occasion by berating news organizations for running stories he didn't like about his campaign's purported coordination with Russia.

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Just when you thought the Trump ethics disaster couldn't get worse, it did

    For two weeks now, the majority leadership in the new Congress and the incoming Trump administration have been conducting a war on ethics. This has ranged from the effort to cripple the Office of Congressional Ethics to the Senate's rush to confirm President-elect Donald Trump's nominees before their financial conflicts disclosures were complete to Trump's own inadequate plan to address his ethical problems.

    The latest front involves the Office of Government Ethics and its director, Walter Shaub Jr., who has had the temerity to speak up against Trump's plan to deal with his conflicts of interest as "meaningless."

    Both of us, former ethics counsels for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively, have worked with Shaub, a career public servant who, in our experience, provided nonpartisan and wise advice. Now, Shaub is being pilloried - and may be at risk of losing his job - for doing just that, and asserting correctly that Trump's approach "doesn't meet the standards . . . that every president in the last four decades has met."

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