Archive

February 20th, 2017

Three reasons to worry about Trump's cable news habit

    In his remarkable news conference Thursday, President Donald Trump received scrutiny on his claim to have secured "the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan." When a reporter pointed out that this claim was very easily disproved and raised issues of trust, Trump responded, "Well, I don't know, I was given that information. I was given -- I actually, I've seen that information around."

    Later in this rambling affair, Trump showed greater command of programming values on the 10 p.m. hour of CNN. "You look at your show that goes on at 10 p.m. in the evening," said Trump in response to a question from CNN correspondent Jim Acosta. "You just take a look at that show. That is a constant hit. The panel is almost always exclusive anti-Trump. The good news is he doesn't have good ratings. But the panel is almost exclusive anti-Trump and the hatred and venom coming from his mouth. The hatred coming from other people on your network."

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Market failure is the likely culprit in rising costs

    Two years ago, I suggested that the U.S. economy is riddled with strangely high costs in key sectors of the economy. Now, more and more people seem to be zeroing in on this problem. On Slate Star Codex, blogger Scott Alexander has a long, excellent rundown of high costs in five areas --- K-12 education, college, health care, infrastructure and housing.

    He's right. Americans pay much more for a university education than do people in Europe or East Asia. They pay about twice as much for health care and infrastructure, without any clear difference in quality.

    I'd add one more sector: finance. Retirement saving is dominated by managers who charge fees that seem small but end up taking a huge chunk of people's lifetime savings. Real estate agents typically get commissions equal to about 5.5 percent of the sale price of a home, compared to smaller commissions in most other rich countries - 1.5 percent in Sweden, Singapore and the Netherlands, for instance.

    The glaring difference between the U.S. and its peers in all of these areas casts doubt on the two usual suspects -- government intervention and Baumol's cost disease.

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The two words Donald Trump can't bring himself to say

    President Trump had a lot to say at his long-awaited news conference yesterday. His performance -- characteristically rich in calculated provocations, bizarre asides and even the occasional bit of genuine news -- generated enough material to keep the press corps occupied for weeks. As is so often the case with Trump, however, the most significant thing may be what he chose not to say.

    In the nearly 14,000 words of the news-conference transcript, Trump never mentioned the words "freedom" or "democracy." This is merely the latest installment in a well-established pattern. Throughout his election campaign he was strikingly reluctant to invoke America's higher ideals, choosing to dwell instead on what he sees as the dismal state of the country. His 1,439-word inauguration speech will be remembered for his startling use of the word "carnage" to characterize the country's current state -- and rightfully so, since the text dwelt so lustfully on claims of national decay. Trump made only one distinctly pat reference to freedom ("we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag"). "Democracy," "values" or "ideals" never came up.

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Gorsuch should answer a big question on abortion

    If the U.S. Supreme Court were to reverse Roe v. Wade, individual states could still permit abortion. But, in theory, the Supreme Court could go further, and rule that laws permitting abortion violate the equal protection rights of unborn fetuses. That may seem far-fetched -- but in his book on assisted suicide and euthanasia, Judge Neil Gorsuch lays out an argument that could easily be used to this end.

    Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court, carefully avoids discussing abortion rights directly in his book. Yet his disparagement of what he calls "ageism" amounts to a principle that could easily be applied to fetuses.

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Trump is dividing American Jews over domestic politics, not Israel

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is paying a visit to Washington on Wednesday -- an event that typically triggers angst in the American Jewish community as it confronts its internal conflicts over Israel.

    This time, though, the figure at the center of the community's vexations is not Netanyahu, but President Trump.

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The rules about making new rules

    Since taking office, President Donald Trump has signed executive orders instructing officials to reconsider regulation of the financial sector and requiring executive departments and agencies to find two rules to repeal for every new one they issue. But translating those promises into action is going to be a lot harder than the president thinks.

    Here's the rub: It generally takes a new rule to change or remove a regulation that is already on the books. Under long- standing Supreme Court precedent and a law known as the Administrative Procedure Act, agencies must provide a reasoned explanation when they want to change established policy.

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The Trump brand was built on winning. So what happens when it starts to lose?

    The White House is perhaps the best imaginable venue for product placement. But despite the fact that it now commands a presidential seal, the Trump brand seems less attractive than ever.

    Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and even discount retailers such as Kmart are dropping daughter Ivanka's fashion line. Companies such as Uber face backlash for merely giving the impression of being pro-Trump. Professional athletes, those traditional arbiters of cool, are turning their backs: So far, six of the New England Patriots have declined to meet the president, and beloved Golden State Warriors point guard Steph Curry mockingly described President Trump as an asset -- "if you remove the 'et.' "

    The "brash business mogul" brand just hasn't translated well from the campaign trail to leadership of the country. In fact, the move to D.C. seems to have deflated it completely.

    Overexposure hasn't helped. Even under the harsh lights of the campaign, Trump operated under, if not a veil of mystery, at least a level of remove. Watchers certainly saw enough of him to stick in their minds, but the barrage only became unrelenting late in the game.

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One-Month Report Card

    You just came out of a yearlong coma, and you’re trying to catch up. The unimaginable is real. The Cubs won the World Series. California has been drenched with so much rain that its biggest dam may fail. And in the first month of a new presidency, the leader of the free world has:

    Told a stunning and easily disproved lie on his first full day in power. He then sent his spokesman out to repeat that lie and said the press would “pay a big price” for refusing to do the same. The pattern of taxpayer-financed mendacity continued nearly every day under the new regime, with lies about everything from the murder rate to the weather.

    Threatened to “defund” the most populous state in the nation he governs, California, the world’s sixth-largest economy, which contributes more than $350 billion in annual tax money to the federal government. “California is, in many ways, out of control,” he said.

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The Banksters Are Free at Last

    Of all the people suffering economic pain today, who should get priority attention from the new president and Congress?

    Regular folks in our country might say that those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder — the poor and downtrodden working class — ought to be the priority. But, then, regular folks don’t run Congress — or Trump’s White House.

    The Donald’s working-class voters must be stunned to see that his top economic priority isn’t them, but a tiny group dwelling in luxury at the very tippy-top of the ladder: Wall Street bankers.

    Rather than pushing an urgently needed FDR-style jobs program, Trump & Company are rushing to aid the richest Americans at the expense of the working class, actually proposing to unleash the banksters to defraud and gouge workaday people.

    For example, they want to save the poor financial giants from a consumer protection called the “fiduciary rule.”

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The Silence of the Hacks

    The story so far: A foreign dictator intervened on behalf of a U.S. presidential candidate — and that candidate won. Close associates of the new president were in contact with the dictator’s espionage officials during the campaign, and his national security adviser was forced out over improper calls to that country’s ambassador — but not until the press reported it; the president learned about his actions weeks earlier but took no action.

    Meanwhile, the president seems oddly solicitous of the dictator’s interests, and rumors swirl about his personal financial connections to the country in question. Is there anything to those rumors? Nobody knows, in part because the president refuses to release his tax returns.

    Maybe there’s nothing wrong here and it’s all perfectly innocent. But if it’s not innocent, it’s very bad indeed. So what do Republicans in Congress, who have the power to investigate the situation, believe should be done?

    Nothing.

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