Saturday, December 31, 2016

What We Could Learn From Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson had very different visions of America.  Hamilton wanted to create an economic powerhouse that would not threaten individual freedom.  Jefferson was skeptical of that prospect.  He favored an agrarian economy that would preserve individual freedom in a fragile democracy.  However, Hamilton supported Jefferson in his battle against Aaron Burr for the presidency.  He did so because he believed that Burr was a man without principle.  He was driven by unbounded personal ambition that could not be contained by principle.  Burr would exploit uninformed zealots to secure his power and authority.  Hamilton had to choose between two men with whom he had little agreement.  He chose Jefferson because he would preserve a fragile democracy.  Aaron Burr was a demagouge who was blinded by ambition and who cared little for the institutions that were created to preserve our democracy. 

We have elected a demagogue as our 45th president.  We will have to see whether the institutions that we have created to protect our democracy from a person like Aaron Burr will survive the test that Hamilton feared.  We have granted great power to a person who thinks only of himself.  The Republican Party will have to make a choice that Hamilton helped us to avoid.  The Republican Party can choose between harnessing his power to its advantage or preserving a still fragile democracy.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Financial Times Sums Up Populism Run Amuck

The global society that has been pieced together over the last few decades may be coming to an end.  The world has changed faster than most people are prepared to change.  Populism, which is the denial of politics, is setting the stage for the tyranny of the majority.  The warning signs occurred early in Europe with the rise of populist parties, problems in the common market,  Britain's exit from the European Union and a flood of immigrants escaping from danger, but the election of a demagogue in the US may be the last straw.  The nation that many other nations have looked to for leadership has been infected with the populist disease.  The Financial Times describes the problems that we face along with a warning.  We may not be able to repair a broken system. 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Both Trump And Clinton Voters Believe What They Want To Believe

Many of us respond favorably to information which supports our prior belief system.  Of, course many also believe things for which there is little or no information to support a cherished belief.  The Economist sponsored a survey which asked both Trump and Clinton voters to indicate their belief or disbelief on a set of issues.  Trump voters tended to believe many things that are not true but many Clinton voters also tend to believe things that are consistent with their priors.  Trump voters, not surprisingly, were more likely to have stronger false beliefs.

Winston Churchill once said that there are many problems with Democracy.  Of course, misinformed voters is one of its major problems.  Most Americans have a poor understanding of the major issues that divide Trump and Clinton.  On the other hand, Churchill concluded that despite its problems, Democracy was better than the alternatives.  Enlightened monarchs and autocrats are a rare breed.  Ironically, digital technologies make it much easier for people to have access to information but they have also made it easier to spread false information.  The jury is still out on the future of Democracy in an era when responsible journalism is under attack, and the use of digital media to misinform the public has become more common.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Why Is Putin Very Popular In Russia Despite Bad Economy?

Bill Clinton famously said that "It is the economy stupid" to describe his successful political campaign.  The economy was bad and he was going to fix it.  That was a winning message and it is typically important to the popularity of political leaders.  That is not the case in Russia.  Vladimir Putin's popularity has reached levels that would make any political leader jealous.  The great majority of Russians approve of his performance despite slow economic growth and cuts in government spending on social programs.  Putin's popularity is based upon his performance as a geopolitical leader.  Russians approve of his adventures in Crimea and Ukraine as well as other things that he done to elevate Russia's role in an evolving new political order.  National pride is a powerful force and Putin has managed it very well.  His success is also based upon his control of the information that is available to the public.  If he were unable to control the Internet like other western leaders he would be less able to keep his supporters happy with a diet of national pride.  As someone once said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels".  George Bush exploited the wave of patriotism that followed the 9/11 attack in New York to justify his invasion of Iraq.  The media supported him initially, but eventually turned on him when no weapons of mass destruction were found and his popular support eroded along with his poor performance in Iraq and the resulting upheaval in the Mid East.  His popularity plummeted because he could not control the news.  Donald Trump will continue to attack the established media in order to implement his very dangerous agenda which requires him to be less subject to the checks and balances in our democracy.   He understands that autocrats depend upon the control of information.  Real journalism is the enemy of autocracy.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

One Of America's Top Conservative Journalists Is Critical Of Trump's AG Nominee

Jeff Sessions is a senator from Alabama who was an early supporter of Donald Trump during the GOP primaries.  He was rewarded by Trump with his nomination to head the US Justice Department.  George Will's conservative column in the Washington Post is syndicated in many small town newspapers in the US.  He describes one his reasons for opposing Trump's nominee for Attorney General.  Sessions served many years as a senator and has a lot of Republican friends in the Senate. However,  Sessions will face many other criticisms when his nomination is reviewed by the Senate.  It won't help him to have one of America's most influential conservatives against him.  This is only one of many battles that Trump will face against committed conservatives in his efforts to reshape the Republican Party.  Trump is more interested in accumulating power than he is in conservative ideology.

Best Analysis Of Presidential Elecion Results in US

The data in this article explain the results of the election better than others that I have read.  Clinton won most of the affluent suburbs that used to vote Republican by a wide margin.  Her margin over Trump among highly educated Americans with graduate degrees surpassed Obama's margin in the previous two elections.  Trump, however, got a higher percent of white working class voters than either McCain or Romney got against Obama.  That loss was most meaningful in competitive states that had been won by Obama.  Few expected Clinton to do well with less educated white voters in most of the Red states.  Clinton would have won the election if she had done as well as Obama with working class white voters in several battleground states.  She lost ground even with white voters who approved of Obama's policies. 

There are lots of graphs which break down the results in the election, but the main message is that Clinton did not succeed in reproducing the Obama Coalition that put him in office.  Clinton outperformed in areas that used to vote Republican.  Trump outperformed in areas that were once Democratic strongholds.  His messages were designed to do exactly that.  They were the messages that won the elections for Obama and lost the election for Clinton among industrial workers and coal miners.  Surprisingly, they also won the GOP primaries for Trump.  He won the primaries by delivering economic messages against free trade and globalization, and defending many of the popular Democratic social welfare programs like Social Security and Medicare that have been attacked by Republicans.  His messages against immigration and stronger protections against terrorism were also well timed.  They were amplified after each terrorist attack in Europe and the US.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

This Was Not Just Another Presidential Election

This article reviews the people that Trump has nominated for key positions in his government.  They have a lot in common.  They all oppose the agency to which they have been nominated or its historical purpose.  This is more like a bloodless revolution than a presidential election.

Trump's Version Of Populism Does Not Sell To New Democratic Base

Trump has been successful in selling himself to Republicans who have suffered the most of changes in the US economy.  Automation and globalization have eliminated many low skilled jobs in the US that paid decent wages and were more plentiful in the past.  The Republican Party traditionally supported free trade and it relied upon on cultural issues that they used as wedges against Democrats who were more liberal on religious social and cultural issues.  Trump captured the Republican electorate, and many Democrats, by attacking free trade and globalization, which had been a key part of Republican ideology, but also by ramping up the attack on liberal values which included multiculturalism and more open borders.  Few Republicans or Democrats thought that Trump would win the GOP primary or the general election.  He won a narrow victory in three Rust Belt states, along with expected victories in Red States,  that enabled him to pull off the upset despite losing the popular vote by 2.8 million.

Trump's electoral success has been accompanied by a dramatic shift in the Republican base.  It no longer places a high value on free trade and it has changed its mind about Russia and Vladimir Putin as well as Wikileaks.  Both are viewed more favorably by the Republican base since they helped Trump to win the general election.  The Democratic base has moved in the opposite direction. It has become more negative towards Russia, Putin and Wikileaks since the revelations about how they helped the Trump campaign.

This article describes the Democratic base and the problems that it will have in future elections.  Hillary Clinton won only 50 counties but they account for the 64% of US GDP.  She destroyed Trump in Santa Clara County which provides a home for many of our high tech firms.  She also defeated Trump by a huge margin in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She also won big victories in almost every major city in the US as well.  These cities contain large numbers of minorities who are a critical part of the Democratic base.  The future of the US economy will be determined by the firms and the workers in the high tech industries that overwhelmingly voted for Clinton.  They support globalization, free trade and more liberal social values.  They will not support the kind of populism promoted by Trump or Bernie Sanders.  The minority voters in our big cities have typically voted for Democrats but they have not been as motivated by the social welfare programs that they identify with the Democratic Party.  For example, access to higher education no longer yields the wage premium that it once did.  We are producing college graduates faster than the demand is growing for high skill jobs. The Democratic Party has to figure out how it can motivate minority voters as well as the voters in the high wage counties that overwhelmingly voted for Clinton and strongly against Trump.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How Trump Will Crush Republicans Who Don't Join His Team

Wishful thinkers hope that real Republicans will not be pushed around by Trump as he pushes his agenda through Congress.  The Donald will not tolerate Republicans who do not fall in line with his agenda. He intends to run the US much he runs Trump Enterprises, and much like Putin runs Russia.  This article describes some of the tools at his disposal.  His first line of defense is the large number of people who voted for him and are emotionally attached to him.  He will maintain contact with his base through alt right news organization like Breitbart News and the social media. Fox News has already moved further to the right to support his agenda and to attack his critics.  He will also continue to criticize the mainstream media in order to bring them in line with his agenda.  He will also find ways to use the powers of the executive branch under his control to harass unfriendly media outlets.  In short, The Donald has no interest in maintaining a strong democracy.  It is not in his nature and he is not afraid of using power to get his way.  He soon will have the power of the federal government  under his control.  Republicans who want to keep their jobs will fall in line with The Donald's agenda.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reality TV Populism Versus Populism In Europe

Donald Trump's populism is different from European Populism in an important way.  The plans that Trump has been putting in place is populism for the billionaires who he recruited to his government.  They will get richer while Trump supporters will be faced with the loss of government social welfare programs that will be come less affordable due to Trump's proposed tax cuts.  This is pretty standard Republican orthodoxy with one exception.  Trump has been a better salesman to the GOP base than his predecessors.  TV populism has worked for him.

The populism promoted in Europe has actually been good for many of its citizens.  Social welfare programs have not been one of the casualties.  Democracy may be at risk to authoritarianism but European Populism is not primarily devoted to cutting taxes for the super rich.

Austria's Freedom Party Signs Cooperation Agreement With Putin's Party

Austria's Freedom Party had its beginning in the 1950's with Austrians who had supported Hitler.  It has risen in power along with other far right parties in Europe who have exploited popular concerns about immigration and terrorism.  It came close to winning the presidency in the recent Austrian election.  The Freedom Party opposes the sanctions imposed on Russia following its activities in Ukraine and Crimea.  It has also aligned itself with Donald Trump's team which includes General Flynn who also supports a closer relationship with far right parties in Europe including Putin's.  We may be seeing the development of an alignment of far right populist parties in Europe and the US led by Putin and Donald Trump. 

Trump's Choice For Budget Manager Is Hard To Understand

The Office for the Management of the Budget is one of the most powerful offices in the administration.  It is also an office that most people don't understand or appreciate.  It is responsible for assuring the federal income is equal to, or close to, federal spending.  Trump has nominated several candidates for high offices who have been critics of the agency to which they have been nominated to lead.  He may have outdone himself with his OMB choice.   An economist who is an expert on the US budget said that Trump's OMB choice is the most ideological and unqualified candidate for that position in decades.  In other words he is much like Trump.

Trump's choice for OMB is ideologically opposed budget deficits.  In fact, he is ideologically opposed to the federal government.  He has been one of the leaders in House who believes that it would not be a problem if the US defaulted on its debt.  He has that in common with Trump who claims that he is skillful at renegotiating payments to creditors. However, he is at odds with Trump on another important matter.  Trump wants to make substantial cuts in federal taxes and he also wants to increase federal spending on infrastructure and defense.  That, of course will lead to huge federal budget deficits.  If Trump decides to negotiate US debt with its creditors, US treasury notes will no longer be regarded as risk free and deserve the low interest rates that it currently pays on US debt. 

Why Democrats Need To Use A Gun

The Republican Party has been using a gun in their political warfare while Democrats have been using a knife.  The Democrats send their enemy to the hospital while the Republican victim goes to the morgue.  This article describes how the Republicans are violating the informal rules that once determined how the political game has been played so that the national interest was placed ahead of political party interests.  It contrasts the way that President Obama has observed the informal rules during and after the last election with the way that Republicans have been behaving.

President Obama decided not to use his office to politicize the election when he learned that Donald Trump's campaign was being assisted by Russian hacks.  The Republican Governor of North Carolina lost his election to a Democrat and he immediately questioned the results of the election.  The Republican lost despite changing voting laws that made it more difficult for minorities to vote in the election.  The state legislature then voted to reduce the powers of the newly elected Democratic Governor so that he less power to select to his own cabinet.

That has been happening at the national level as well.  The Republican Senate majority leader stated that his goal was to prevent the newly elected President Obama from winning a second term in office.  He used the filibuster to prevent the president from implementing the agenda that enabled him to win the election.  He also refused to consider President Obama's Supreme Court nomination that Obama submitted in the last year of his term.

Now that we have elected a demagouge to the presidency, and provided him with a majority in the House and the Senate,  Democrats will have to decide whether they will continue to play the political game with knife while Trump's takeover of the Republican Party arms it with assault rifles. They will not get any help from their Republican colleagues .

Monday, December 19, 2016

What Populism Brought To Poland

Poland elected a populist government and it is giving its supporters some of what it asked.  This article describes the rapid changes that are transforming Poland.  Some of it is familiar to what populists in America seem to want.  God and country are being brought together in attacks on cultural and sexual liberalism.  Evolution is under attack in the education system and science education is being replaced by Polish history.  The system of checks and balances no longer limits the excesses of the executive branch and journalists are being replaced in the media by party hacks.  This is the kind of populism that Donald Trump has been selling in America.  How long will it take for the US to become more like Poland?

Saturday, December 17, 2016

How A Far Right Fake News Site in Britain Was Used To Elect Trump

This article describes a far right activist in Britain and how he uses the social media to influence public opinion in the US and Europe.  He was influential in supporting Brexit in Britain and he was an advocate for Trump in the US election.  He is also a fan of Putin and far right groups in Russia.  His slogan Britain First is very similar to Trump's slogan of America First.  Stephen Bannon, who is Trump's strategy manager, and a key part of Trump's transition team,  is the manager of Breitbart News which uses the social media to spread fake news in the US.  Bannon has opened Breitbart News in Europe to support far right movements there and to take back lessons to the US.  This has become an international movement with a common set of messages and purpose,

Was Donald Trump Putin's Usefull Idiot?

Paul Krugman argues that Trump was not Putin's useful idiot.  He understood the help that he was getting from the information Russian sources provided to Wikileaks.  He also valued it because it helped him the win an election in which he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million.  Clinton lost Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by less than 1%.  Its easy to believe that help from Russia and Wikileaks might have contributed to the 1% loss in the critical rust belt states.

There were useful idiots, however, that contributed to the ascendancy of the The Donald to his throne in the Trump Tower.  He got a lot of help from President Obama who chose not to disclose the information that he was provided by the intelligence community.  He did not want to use the powers of his office to influence the election.  On the other hand, leaders in the Republican Party chose to ignore what they knew about Russia's role in providing information to Wikileaks.  They also put pressure on the FBI director to release information weeks before the election that was harmful to Clinton.  It turned out that the FBI found nothing new in the emails they were examining but the damage was done.  It dominated the new cycle in the weeks before the election.

We can argue that Hillary was a flawed candidate and that she ran a bad a campaign.  On the other hand, Donald Trump was the worse candidate for the presidency that ever won the nomination from a major political party or ever won the presidency.  He was helped by a lot of useful idiots.

How To Tell Whether Trump Lied To You

Donald Trump won the Rust Belt states by promising to bring manufacturing jobs back to the Rust Belt.  Forbes has provided a score card so that Trump supporters in the Rust Belt can keep score of the number of manufacturing jobs, which were lost to automation and outsourcing, come back to America under The Donald's regime.  If you look at the graph provided by Forbes,  you will see that the loss in manufacturing jobs accelerated between between 2000 and the financial crisis in 2008.  That took place during the Bush Administration when his policies were similar to those proposed by Trump.  Bush cut taxes for the rich and he reduced government regulations which were presumed to be stifling innovation.  During the Obama Administration the loss of manufacturing jobs decelerated and there was a slight uptick in manufacturing jobs. 

Donald Trump has told two big lies to his desperate supporters in the Rust Belt.  The first lie was to blame the loss of manufacturing jobs on the Obama Administration.  The second big lie is to promise that a return to George Bush's  policies will bring back the lost jobs.  Most of Trump's supporters are less interested in facts than in hopeful promises made by The Donald.  In any case, Forbes will continue to publish the scorecard for those who want to keep score.  Trump's cabinet choices suggest that he is focused on stimulating the energy industry.  That will be good for Texas, Oklahoma and in shale drilling areas but it won't do much for the coal industry.  The declining cost of other energy sources, like natural gas, will continue to reduce mining jobs in Appalachia. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

US Economic Policies Paved The Way For Donald Trump

Donald Trump deviated from Republican economic orthodoxy during his campaign for the GOP nomination.  He promised workers who lost their jobs from international trade that he would restore their jobs.  Hillary Clinton depended upon her supposed firewall in the rust belt to win the general election.  Donald Trump showed that a Republican who argued against free trade could tear down the firewall.  He won the rust belt states by a slim margin but it was enough to win the election.  The Democratic Party and the GOP establishment did not go in the direction that Trump took to win the presidency.  Both parties accepted the naive idea that free trade was good for everyone.  Trump showed that he could win the presidency by being the anti-free trade candidate.

Donald Trump won the election with his rhetoric against the conventional economic orthodoxy celebrated by both political parties.  He cannot, and will not, recover the jobs that have been lost by free trade orthodoxy and by deindustrialization.  He will tease his rust belt supporters with small deals like the one that he brokered in Indiana with Carrier.  His economic policies, however, will not bring back the lost manufacturing jobs.  Deindustrialization and globalization cannot be reversed.  That will not matter to Donald Trump.  He won the election and he is in the process of consolidating his power as an authoritarian president who is less subject to election cycles.

The Donald's Victory Lap In Pennsylvania Praises Blacks For Not Voting

Donald Trump returned to Hershey Pennsylvania to celebrate his victory in the state that has voted Democratic since 1988.  In the process he put his racism on display by praising blacks for not showing up at the polls to vote for his opponent.  He also praised his candidate for Department of  Interior who favors opening up federal land for energy companies, along with others who will join his government.  They are all recruited from the far right of the political spectrum.

Marco Rubio May Play "Little Marco" Over Tillerson Nomination

Donald Trump knocked Marco Rubio out of the GOP campaign for the presidential nomination by defeating him in his home state of Florida.  Trump also toyed with him during the campaign.  He called him "Little Marco".  After dropping out of the nomination campaign Rubio turned his attention to winning reelection to the Senate.  He has an important role in the Senate that could be harmful to Trump's nomination of Rex Tillerson for his Secretary of State.  Rubio issued a tweet expressing his concerns about Tillerson's nomination and that got him in trouble with important donors to his campaign from Texas and even a phone call from former Vice President Dick Cheney.  The heat has been put on Rubio from high places.  It would be surprising if he did not return to being "little Marco" for The Donald. He learned his lesson well during the nomination campaign.  "Don't mess with the guy who has small hands".  His hands are bigger than they may appear.  The Donald also claims that is true of the rest of his anatomy.

Trump May Appoint A TV Star As Head Of Council Of Economic Advisers

Donald Trump was better known as a TV personality before he turned his fame into his current position as our president elect.  He also has no respect for science.  He discounts the mass of evidence accumulated by climate scientists about global warming because it is inconsistent with his political objectives.  Therefore, we should not be surprised if Donald Trump chooses a TV star to head up his Council of Economic Advisers.  Prominent economists have filled that role under previous presidents.  Trump may give that position to a TV personality who has demonstrated his incompetence during his career as a pretend economist on TV. Larry Kudlow is perfect for the job.  It will be a perfect match between a fake president and a fake economist.  Kudlow preaches an economic gospel that will fit in well with Trump's gospel for "Making America Great Again".  Tax cuts for the rich, and for corporations, along with deregulation, is the magic formula for both of them. Kudlow may not get the nomination but it would be a "match in heaven deferred".

Why Trump Is A Threat To Democracy

Democracy is a rare thing in most of the world.  It requires a system of informal norms to persist.  Without appropriate informal norms which govern political behavior a democracy can be subverted. America has had a strong democracy despite authoritarian inclinations in its electorate.  Donald Trump is a threat to our democracy for two major reasons.  In the first place, he has all of the earmarks of an authoritarian personality.  They were put on full display during and after the election campaign.  In the second place, the informal rules that regulate the interactions between our two political parties have been weakening.  Democracy only works when both parties acknowledge the legitimacy of the other political party.  The political dysfunction that has been evident to many observers over the last few years suggests that this is no longer true.  Donald Trump raised questions about both of our political parties during the primary campaign.  He claimed that he would drain the swamp in Washington when he became our president.  He ran against the "establishment" of the Republican Party during his primary campaign as well as the legitimacy of our president and his opponent in the general election.  There is a yellow light flashing a warning in our political system.  It should concern all of us who cherish a working democracy.  It could easily turn into a red light under Donald Trump once he assumes control of our government.  The Republican "establishment" has been pushed aside as Donald Trump consolidates his control over the Party during his transition.  He will turn his attention to eliminating his opposition from the Democratic Party and from the traditional media once he gains more control over our system of governance.  It would be a serious mistake to underestimate the intentions of Donald Trump under the conditions that prevail today.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Drill Baby Drill Is The New Trump Message

Ignorance is bliss in the Trump transition team.  A member of the team who was smart enough to make millions on Wall Street, pleads ignorance about climate science.  He likens the consensus among climate scientists about global warming to the consensus within the early church that the earth was the center of the solar system, or the belief that the earth is flat. The implication is that paid critics of climate science are like the scientists who raised questions conventional wisdom in the past.  They are the good guys.  Scientific consensus is bad.  And it is OK that he can ignore the scientific consensus on global warming and take the superior position of deferring judgement on the issue of global warming. That is exactly what Trump did in his meeting with the NYT. He claimed ignorance.  He is just a loyal member of the Trump transition team that is setting the stage for the energy industry to take its place at the center of Trump's industrial policies.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Trump Picks Global Warming Denier To Head Energy Department

Texas and Oklahoma are two states that rely heavily on the fossil fuel industry.  Donald Trump previously announced a candidate from Oklahoma to head the Environmental Protection Agency.  Trump's candidate is a climate change denier and has joined with Attorney Generals from other states to the sue the agency that he will head.  Trump selected a former governor from Texas to head the Energy Department.  Rick Perry is also a climate change denier.  When he campaigned for the GOP presidential nomination he stated that he wanted to close the Energy Department along with two other federal departments but he could not remember the name of the Energy Department in front of the  microphone.  Trump also nominated a candidate for Secretary of State who is the CEO of Exxon which is based in Texas.  Trump, who is also a climate change denier,  is doing what he can to protect the interests of the fossil fuel industry and the great states of Texas and Oklahoma.  Trump will also sabotage the Paris Agreement which will reduce the global demand for fossil fuels.  That will also make Russia happy.  Like Texas and Oklahoma, Russia's economy is heavily dependent on its fossil fuel industry that provides much of its tax revenue. It won't be long before Putin is invited to the Cotton Bowl football game between Texas and Oklahoma.

Beauty Contests And Cabinet Contests In The Trump Transition

There is a similarity between what Trump learned from running Miss Universe contests and the process that he is using to select his cabinet nominees.  This article describes the similarities and how it enables Trump to milk as much attention as he can out of the process.  It also reminds us of a common problem with democracy.  Demagogues can rise to power by appealing to human weaknesses.  Sex and pageantry sells politicians to much of the public better than boring discussions about government policies. Trump is a much better showman than most politicians.  He keeps his followers entertained and he seldom bores them with policy discussions.  Twitter is a perfect medium for reaching an audience that is easily bored with details.

How An Eagle Scout Became Trump's Nominee For Secretary Of State

This article describes the reporter's understanding of the complex process that led to Trump's choice of his nominee for Secretary of State.  It describes the problems that Trump had with some of the other candidates, as well as how the Exxon Mobile CEO (Tillerson) came to Trump's attention.  A former CIA Director (Gates), under both Bush and Obama, recommended the Exxon Mobile CEO.  He had worked with him on the board of the Boy Scouts of America.  He claimed that the best way he could describe Tillerson was to state that he had been an Eagle Scout.  The former Secretary of State (Rice) under Bush had become familiar with him on the golf course, and both Gates and Rice had consulted with Exxon Mobil and were impressed with him enough to recommend him to Trump.  He also impressed Trump who is more comfortable with business leaders than he is with politicians.  We don't learn much about Tillerson in this article but there are some interesting comments about the candidates who fell out of favor with Trump.

Did We Elect A Reckless President And What Can Be Done?

Tom Friedman argues that we have elected an unqualified and reckless clown to our highest office.  He explains why he reached that conclusion.  Its hard to argue against his conclusion, and its hard to imagine that this outcome was possible in our democracy. We should have known better.  Friedman describes what is at stake following this tragic mistake.  The entire system of liberal democracy is at risk with The Donald as the new leader of the system that has endured since the end of the second world war.  Trump's team has aligned itself with far right groups in much of Europe who would replace liberal democracy with autocracy.  Trump would rather be an autocrat than a leader constrained by a system of checks and balances.  He would trade our system for the system that enables autocrats to control the flow of information to the public and grants almost unlimited power to its leader.  Unless our elected leaders, in the party that he has captured, place the future of our nation over that of a party corrupted by Trump, we will have to bear the consequences of this tragic mistake.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Donald's Choices For The State Department

This NYT editorial is critical of Trump's nominees for key positions in his government.  What the editorial does not  explain why Trump is willing to risk a tough approval process for them in Congress.  His choices fit into a broader scheme of his plans for running our country.  The NYT owes it to the public to put his choices into context.  The Donald has no intention of being a traditional president who respects the two party system and liberal democracy.  He intends to be more like autocrats who are rising to power in Europe. Curiously,  Trump claimed that he opposed the Iraq war during his campaign.  He recently criticized the CIA for justifying the war by claiming that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.  John Bolton was one of the architects for the Iraq invasion and he was instrumental in turning the ambiguous data from US intelligence into a justification for the Bush Administration's invasion.  He may be just the kind of deputy that Trump wants in the State Department.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Russia's Next Election Tinkering Campaign

Russia successfully influenced the outcome of the US election.  This article describes how the same process is underway in Germany.  It may have more problems in Germany than it had in the US for a couple of reasons.  The German economy has been working pretty well for most of its citizens and Chancellor Markel is not an ally of Putin.  On the other hand, German citizens are very concerned about the influx of Syrian refugees who are fleeing from the civil war in Syria that is being inflamed by Russia.  The strategic messages, and the use of fake media in Germany to deliver the messages, are similar to those which were employed in the US election.

 There is also a link between the rise of right wing populism in Europe and the Trump administration.  Trump's strategy manager who operates a fake news site is closely connected to the populist movements in Europe.  He has taught Trump how to employ similar strategies in the US.  Some might wonder why Trump would ally himself with authoritarian parties in Europe and with Putin.  The short answer is that Trump is no fan of democracy.  He is more comfortable when he has total control over an organization.  He has captured the Republican Party and he is in the process of gaining total control over the remaining dissenters in the party.  His election victory has also weakened any opposition that he might encounter from Democrats.  He would like to run the US in the same way that Putin runs Russia.

Making The World Safe For Autocracy By Weakening Liberal Democracy

This article in The Atlantic provides an important perspective to the rise in right wing populism in many liberal democracies.  It has been aided and abetted by Russia.  There are good reasons why Russia has done so.  Many of the small countries that were once part of the Soviet Union were coming under the influence of Europe and NATO.  That was a threat to Russian interests, and to Putin's efforts to restore Russia to its former glory as super power.  Western economic sanctions imposed after some of Putin's military interventions into Ukraine and elsewhere have been harmful to its economy as well.  The rise of right wing populism in response to globalization, multiculturalism and mass immigration from Syria and other Muslim states fits into his agenda.  It is not surprising that Russia intervened in the US election to support Donald Trump who would weaken NATO and build economic ties with Russia that are in Trump's interest as well as in Putin's interest.  Trump, along with Putin would prefer autocracy to a liberal democracy which limits his powers.  Americans need to see the Russian intervention into the election in a new perspective.  Trump would be an useful tool to Putin who is much more sophisticated and smarter than The Donald.  He is only part of a broader agenda that Putin has in mind.  That is, subverting liberal democracies that oppose his interests.

The Tainted Election And What Can Be Done

Paul Krugman explains how we should respond to the result of an election that was tainted by foreign intervention into the election.  We should prevent this tainted president from destroying our democratic system.  He claims that he will make America great again for citizens who have not benefited from rapid economic and cultural changes.  His appointments to key offices suggest otherwise.  He is a Republican on steroids.  He is surrounding himself with individuals who have no interest in ordinary Americans.  Many of them are like himself.  They have become rich and powerful by taking advantage of policies that have been harmful to most of the Americans who have purchased the snake oil that The Donald sold to them.  It will only take a few Republican senators to keep him from turning our nation into a banana republic.  The media must not make the mistake of treating this pretender to the throne he is seeking like he is an ordinary president.  He is a predator and  the media should hold him accountable.  If they fail to do so they will disappear in due order.  Our new president will intimidate them, until they submit to his desire for praise, or they will be replaced by the fake news sources that have been misinforming the public.  It would be a mistake to act as if we are not in great peril and permit an authoritarian personality from destroying what remains of our democracy. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Exxon Mobile CEO Top Candidate For Secretary of State

It is pretty clear that energy policies will high on Trump's to do list.  His top candidate for Secretary of State is the CEO of the largest energy company in the US.  Exxon Mobile has business deals with many partners across the globe.  Included among them is Russia whose economy is heavily dependent upon energy exports.  US intelligence agencies just released a report which concluded that Russian intelligence agencies had hacked into the computers operated by the Republican National Committee as well as the Democratic National Committee.  No data were released about information hacked from the RNC.  Data from the DNC computers were released prior to the election.  There is some speculation that Russia may have attempted to influence the US election by releasing the data from the DNC.  In any case,  this fuels speculation about the shared interest that Trump and Russia have in the energy industry.  Trump appointed a critic of the Environmental Protection Agency to its leadership position and the Trump transition team is engaged in a witch hunt at the EPA.  Efforts to reduce carbon emissions by governments is a threat to the energy industries in the US and to Russia.

Friday, December 9, 2016

How Democracies Fall Apart

This should be required reading for anyone concerned about the rise of populism and the risks that it poses for democracies.  It may be under a paywall but you can register in order to get a small number of free articles per month.

We all understand the circumstances under which populism flourishes.  A number of persistent problems continue to grow and people lose faith in the ability of governments to deal with important concerns that affect their lives.  They become suspicious of business leaders and other elite institutions such as the media.  These conditions may vary from country to country but a populist reaction to the failure of governments to deal with common problems is apparent in many nations with strong democratic institutions. 

When popular discontent with democratic institutions reached a boiling point in the past, governments were typically overthrown via a coup.  That is no longer true in many nations with a history of democratic government.  What we are witnessing today in many nations is a process of "authoritarianization".  This is a gradual process that takes place after the public elects an authoritarian leader they believe to be a change agent.  The popular support provided to the newly elected leader encourages others in government and other institutions to support the newly elected leader.  The insidious thing about this process is that change is gradual and difficult to perceive. Therefore, it difficult to counter it until it is too late.  It usually begins by establishing control over security forces and the judiciary.  Before long, the authoritarian leader has secured control over important political institutions  and the media.  This process is often accompanied by a process by which the leader creates a personal image that is attractive to many citizens.  The leader becomes a celebrity and often takes advantage of opportunities to create an image of strength and purpose by the use of forces under the leaders control.

America has elected a leader with an authoritarian personality who is supported by advisors who are very familiar with the process of authoritarianization.  They have studied how this has happened in other countries and they are intent upon capturing control of our fragile democracy by personalizing the authority of the leader we have elected to be a change agent.  The process is readily apparent to those who have witnessed it before.  Donald Trump has moved from an outsider in the Republican Party to its new leader.  The open question is whether he can gain complete control over the party that controls each of the important branches of government.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Achieving The American Dream Changes With The Year You Were Born

The American dream is that we will earn more than our parents.  This study shows that 92% of Americans born in 1940 achieved the American dream; they earned more than their parents.  The bad news is that the percent achieving the American dream has fallen steadily over time.   Less than 50% of Americans born in 1980 are earning more than their parents.  The American dream has become harder to achieve despite rising productivity.  It is affected by the economic growth rate and by the level of inequality.  The rise in income inequality is the primary reason why our chances of achieving the American dream have declined over time.  The rise in inequality is explained by a number of factors in this study.  We can reverse the inequality trend, that accelerated beginning in the 70"s, by changing the policies that are associated with rising inequality. That is the only way that we can make the American dream more achievable.

What Caused The American Revolution Against Britain?

There must be a ton of historical books on this topic.  This article was written by economists.  They take the position that is was not about taxation in the colonies because they were much lower than taxes in Britain.  Colonial leaders wanted to be represented in the British Parliament.  Britain could have prevented the revolution if it allowed the colonies to be represented in parliament. Why did British leaders refuse to allow the colonies to be represented in parliament?  It is argued that political tensions in Britain led to the bad decision that promoted the revolution.  Monarchists, and the landed gentry, feared that it would weaken their political control in a parliament that was responding to democratic forces that were inspired by the movement to industrial capitalism and away from feudalism. The tension between these forces in Britain had been going on for many years.  The feudal system eventually gave way to the emerging capitalist system. 

There is a similar tension in Western societies today.  There are tensions between the globalization of the economy, that has been underway for many years, and the ability of nation states to deal with many of the consequences of globalization.  Our largest firms have an incentive to maximize profits in a global marketplace.  That creates all kinds of conflicts between business interests and the national interest.  What's best for our large corporations is not always consistent with the national interest and the ability of nation states to effectively manage conflicts that arise. Our large corporations have been more effective in responding to globalization than national governments which have to serve two masters.  That is, corporate interests and citizens who are differently affected by a perceived loss of national identity and economic opportunity.  We have been rudely awakened by the events of the last few years. There are no easy solutions available to the nation states.

George Will Offers His Critique of The Donald's Carrier Deal

George Will's conservatism is deeply embedded in free market ideology.  Therefore, it is not surprising that the Washington Post's most popular conservative opinion writer came out against the Carrier deal.  In particular, he quoted the president elect, and his vice president, who claimed that the free market does not always work to support Trump's "America First" objectives.  For George Will, nothing can be less conservative than the Carrier deal.  It interferes with free market forces and it violates Republican orthodoxies.  This is consistent with Will's past claims that Trump is not a Republican.  That may or may not be true.  However,  there is only one Republican Party and Trump is its leader.

In addition to Will's argument that Trump is not a Republican, he could not resist taking his argument one step further.  He claims the Carrier deal is consistent with that of progressive Democrats who practice what Will calls industrial policy.  That is, the idea that government should pick winners and losers in the market.  The implication is that Trump is really a Democrat and not a Republican.  That allows Will to be critical of the president elect with his followers who voted for Trump but dislike progressive Democrats.  Will ignores the many criticisms of the Carrier deal made by progressive Democrats who believe that government has a role to play in dealing with market imperfections, but also argue that Trump went too far in that direction.

The Donald Appoints An Enemy of the EPA To Its Leadership

Donald Trump met with Al Gore but apparently his mind was already made up about America's role in the battle against global warming.  His appointee is the Attorney General from Oklahoma whose economy is based upon fossil fuels.  He been a leader in organizing AG's in other states to fight a legal battle against the EPA's role in reducing carbon emissions.  Goodbye Planet, hello corruption.  Democracy has spoken in the US.  We elected a president who has no interest in science to lead us in the 21st century.  He is giving the people who elected him what they want.  I can't imagine that key people in the EPA will remain at the agency to participate in its dismemberment.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Did Young Voters Hand The Election To Trump?

Young voters disliked Donald Trump but they did not love Hillary Clinton.  If Hillary Clinton had come closer to the margin that Obama had with young voters she would have won the critical states of Wisconsin. Michigan. and Pennsylvania.  She would have also won Florida to put an icing on the cake.  Young voters had to choose between two candidates that did not inspire them.  Some decided not to vote and some voted for third party candidates.  We have to put up with daily tweets from the Donald for the next four years because young voters did not turnout for Hillary.  Some may have still been "feeling the Bern" and some may have believed that the election would not be close.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Medicare Is Not Going Bankrupt

Paul Ryan is the Republican Party's federal budget guru.  He has made a career out scaring the public about Medicare's finances.  This article provides valuable information about how Medicare is structured and how each of its entities in financed.  Its important that citizens understand so that they do not succumb to scare mongering by politicians like Paul Ryan who exaggerates its financial problems.  Ryan's attack on Medicare is consistent with his political ideology.  He has a low regard for government in general.  Less government is his goal.  One way to get less government is to cut federal taxes so that government has less money to fund government programs.  Tax cuts, primarily for those in high income brackets, is a key ingredient in his budget proposals.  The tax cuts set up the dynamic for defunding entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security.  According to Ryan we cannot afford these programs without running larger budget deficits.  Ryan is unwilling to abandon the tax cuts or to make modest increases in funding for Medicare and Social Security.

Monday, December 5, 2016

One Reason For Trump's Success With Rural Voters

Donald Trump understood the concerns that many Americans have about their economic future.  He located an enemy and told them that he would destroy the enemy and "Make America Great Again".  This article argues that Trump does not have a solution that will work for most of the voters who believe in him,  but he at least understands their problem.  They want to earn a paycheck; they do not want a welfare check.  Hillary Clinton, and most Democrats, believe that free trade is good for everyone because it increases national GDP.  They fail to recognize that workers live in smaller geographic areas that are dependent upon regional GDP.  They are not as mobile as the shifts that take place in the economy.  That is especially true in small town America where the loss of a major employer threatens the workers with poverty.  The labor force is much less flexible the basic assumption in trade theory.  Lower skilled workers will not easily move to areas that will provide them with higher skilled jobs as the economy moves in the direction of higher value added production.  The voters in those areas overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump because he told them what they wanted to hear.  The Democratic Party does not promise these workers jobs.  It focuses on longer term solutions such as education, job training, and temporary income from government programs.  The Republican Party is not much different.  That is why Donald Trump won the GOP primary election as well as the general election.  He attacked free trade and he offered protection from foreign terrorists.  It was a winning message in an election campaign.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Trump's Carrier Deal Unites Democrats And Conservatives

John Cochrane is a conservative economist from the University of Chicago.  He was very upset with Trump's Carrier deal for all the right reasons.  It was good politics, but it sets a very bad precedent.  Cochrane provides some of the responses to the Carrier deal. He is pleased that most of the comments from the left and the right oppose the deal.  He was unhappy, however, with an editorial by a conservative Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal.  She reminded her readers that John Kennedy did something similar when he asked steel industry executives not to raise prices because it would undermine his efforts to battle inflation.  When the steel industry decided to raise prices Kennedy responded by using his Attorney General to go after the steel industry.  That is exactly the kind of thing we anticipate from President Trump.  It was a very bad idea but Peggy Noonan argued that sometimes it is good to do bad things.  She was a Trump critic until he won the election.  He can't be all bad if he can put the Republican Party in the White House.

The Post Truth World Defense System On Display

Donald Trump tweets something that is not true.  His defenders claim that it does not matter whether his claims are supported by evidence.  He can say the opposite the next day and that's OK too.  He has a right to change his mind.  This article is about the "Post Truth" world that we live in today.  Its a world in which the media is blamed for being biased when they report that Trump contradicts himself or that he has told another lie.  Fact checking is just another liberal/progressive plot. 

The comments that follow this article help to make the major point of this article.  Many of the comments are critical of our post truth reality under Trump.  On the other hand,  Trump's defenders are well prepared to dismiss the criticisms.  One of their common defense mechanisms is to change the subject.  They are equipped with an assortment of "lies" that are attributed to progressives in general or to Obama and Clinton.  Its OK if Trump lies because the other side lies.  That perfectly describes the post truth world that we are entering. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Economism And Economic Inequality

"Economism" is part of the the title for a new book that explains how the simple supply and demand diagrams that explain almost everything in Economics 101 provide the basis for laws that shape the way society works to disadvantage of many citizens.  A simple diagram of the supply and demand for labor is used to explain what the author means by "economism".  The graph shows that putting a floor on wages by legislating a minimum wage reduce the demand for labor.  Well meaning people who pass a minimum wage law are being harmful because such laws will increase unemployment.  That, of course, is what the owners of low wage paying fast food chains argue when they oppose an increase in the minimum wage.  It turns out, however, that the evidence is mixed about the relationship between an increase in the minimum wage and unemployment.  There is not as much agreement among economists about the effect of minimum wage increases that have actually been legislated and the amount of unemployment.  However, the simple supply and demand models that dominate in Economics 101 textbooks have had a powerful influence on what people, who have not gone beyond Economics 101, believe to be true.  Economism is a powerful tool that is frequently used by the powerful and their supporters to justify economic policies that justify the levels of inequality that have been on the rise in much of the developed world.  We can't repeal the law of supply and demand but we need to understand its limitations.

Rule Based Capitalism Versus Deal Based Capitalism

Larry Summers describes the virtues of "rule based capitalism" which has been prevalent in the US and in most large developed nations.  Donald Trump struck a deal with Carrier in Indiana that caused it to reverse a decision about relocating a small plant to Mexico.  Carrier decided to retain around half of the jobs in Indiana, and to move the other half to Mexico.  In return,  Indiana gave Carrier a tax break that deferred some of the higher cost of production in Indiana.  More importantly, Carrier is a division of United Technologies which is a large federal contractor.  It certainly did not want to get on the bad side of a president who can influence federal purchasing decisions.  This was a very small deal that retained around 800 jobs in Indiana.  However, Donald Trump turned it into a big deal by claiming that the deal was part of his promise to "Make America Great Again".  Larry Summers refers to this as "deal based capitalism" and he describes how that commonly works to the disadvantage of citizens in more autocratic nations.  Corruption, and crony capitalism, become more common when politicians abuse their power to curry favor with the public by rewarding or punishing business entities who defer to them. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

Voters In Swing States Did Not Vote For Trump On The Economy

Exit polls in swing states show the Clinton won the votes from those who stated that the economy and foreign policy were the main reasons for their vote.  This finding contradicts the explanation about voters in the Rust Belt who were supposed to be primarily concerned about the economy.  Trump won the votes from those who were motivated primarily by terrorism and immigration.  Fear prevailed over economic concerns.

The Small Number Of Votes That Made Trump President

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2.5 million.  Trump's  small margin of victory in three states that Clinton was expected to win provided the electoral votes that made him our President-elect.  There are two pictures in this article that show the narrowness of Trump's victory.  Our nation and the world will be much different due to less than 1% of the votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  If liberals who voted for Jill Stein had voted for Clinton she would have won Wisconsin and Michigan.  She would have won Pennsylvania as well if she got the Stein vote and a handful of protest votes that went to Johnson.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

What Makes America Great?

Donald Trump won an election by promising to make America great again.  He claimed that only he could make America great again because he was a master deal maker.  He would negotiate individual deals with our trading partners that satisfy his criteria for a good deal.  That is, I win, you lose.  This is in stark contrast to a speech given by John Kennedy that is still presented to graduates of Harvard's Kennedy School Of Government.  The Kennedy graduates are always moved by that speech.  They would not be moved by Trump's vision of a great America.  Kennedy had a vision of a world in which shared values, led by American ideals, would make everyone better off.  Trump's America first vision rejects the ideal of world that is made better off by America's global leadership.  It is a sum zero vision in which America only wins when one of our partners loses.  There is no place in his vision for America's role in building a better world around a set of shared values in which America sets a good example.  Trump's vision will accelerate the move towards a selfish nationalism in which competition between nations leads to a race to the bottom.  Kennedy offered a vision in which every nation was engaged in a race to the top. That may be old fashioned in world in which states in our country compete with each other for jobs and resources.  The rust belt states have seen many of their jobs move to lower wage states that also promise lower taxes and less regulation to corporate "clients".