Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Wow, Bill O'Reilly Admits Mistake

Bill O'Reilly has been criticized for billing a critic of Sweden's immigration policies who led Donald Trump to claim that Sweden experienced a terror attack.  I have to give O'Reilly credit for doing something that Trump never does.  He admitted that he falsely billed the critic as an important security adviser in Sweden.  However, he did not admit that part of his job is to find guests who support his political ideology and Donald Trump. 

Germany's Bernie Sanders Has Captured The Populist Movement

There are many Democrats who who believed that Bernie Sanders could have won the populist vote that catapulted Donald Trump to the White House.  Germany's Bernie Sanders is running close to Merkel in the polls.  He may not win but he has ruined the chances of Germany's right wing populist movement to threaten Merkel. 

David Brooks Defines The War That Is Underway In America And Europe

David Brooks has figured out what's really happening with Trump and others like him in Europe.  He defines the Enlightenment, and he describes the expanding thread of Enlightenment over time and through political eras.  It has never been easy because there are always forces that oppose it.  Today the Enlightenment is under attack by a Steve Bannon and his instrument for "deconstructing" the "establishment" in the form of Donald Trump who has the power of the presidency at his disposal.  The "establishment" consists of elites who espouse liberal and progressive ideas that need to be defeated so that ordinary people can have their day in the sun. Bannon does not view the thread of enlightenment thinking as a constant.  He views history as a series of cycles.  Our current cycle must be blown up so that the next cycle can emerge.  It will take political power to destroy liberal and progressive ideologies that underlie the Enlightenment thread described by David Brooks.

Donald Trump loves the role that he has been assigned in this drama.  Bannon describes Trump as the gladiator that was the hero in the movie Ben Hur.  Trump will be the hero in this drama.  The force of his will, and his use of power to defeat the enemies of the people, will catapult into a commanding position at the top.  The people will give him the gift of love and admiration that his ego requires.

Trump, the gladiator, will have enlightenment obstacles to overcome so that he can play his role successfully.  Our political system was inspired by enlightenment thinkers who developed a Constitution that was designed to thwart gladiators who seek power for its own sake.  The other branches of government must be willing to give him the power that he needs win his war.  The people that he leads must be fed a diet of information that praises his actions and other sources of information must be suppressed.  Reason and logical thinking must give way to passion and admiration for the gladiator and his power.

We don't know how this movie will work out for its director or its hero.  We will get another glimpse of the battle today when Trump addresses Congress.  He will describe the war that he will fight to insure their safety and he will increase military spending to accomplish that goal.  He will cut government spending on agencies that are unrelated to his role as the gladiator.  He will inspire confidence in the business community so that they will create jobs for those who have been left behind by globalization and by foreign forces that threaten our culture.  The gladiator must be given his chariot so that he can deliver the goods that he has promised.  The Republicans who control Congress will cheer the gladiator in the hope that they can use his power to attain their goal of sharing power with him and removing obstacles put in his way by opposing forces.  If they decide to play a large role in the movie, and they pave the way for the gladiator, the Enlightenment will be put on hold so that movie play itself out.  We will have to forgive his allies because "they know not what they are doing".

Monday, February 27, 2017

Fox News Doubles Down On Lie About Sweden

Trump claimed that there was a terrorist attack in Sweden at his Florida rally.  After the media reported the lie, Trump claimed that it was reported on Fox News.  That was also not true.  Fox News had reported that crime had increased in Sweden.  That claim was also denied by Swedish authorities.  Bill O'Reilly found another way to show that Fox News is more truthful that the "mainstream media".  O'Reilly found an individual, with no connection to the Swedish government, to claim that crime has risen in response to immigration.  That is inconsistent with government records, but O'Reilly proved that Fox News can be relied upon to support Trump lies.  It shouldn't be difficult to find an individual in Sweden willing to say anything that Bill O'Reilly decides to report.  That is how Fox has built its audience of conservatives and red necks.

How To Put An End To Democratic Government

This article provides a history lesson on how to end a democracy.  James Madison understood how the developing American democracy might succumb to a wave of populist furor.  He said that "tyranny arises on some favorable emergency".  Donald Trump understood this as well.  In 1989 Trump said that "civil liberties end when an attack on our safety arises".  He has put that understanding to effective use during his election campaign and after assuming power.  He constantly warns us about the dangers we face from a variety of sources.  He also claims that he is the only one upon whom we can rely when disaster strikes.

This article describes how Hitler used the burning of the Reichstag to end civil liberties in Germany and assume total control over the country.  It also describes more recent examples which have been used to attack liberal democracy in Russia, France, Germany and Turkey.

There are checks and balances in America which makes many of us less concerned about the rise of autocracy in our nation.  The Donald has been attacking two of them with force.  He tells his supporters that our media do not tell the truth.  He is especially bothered by the media when they fact check the numerous lies that he broadcasts to his base.  It is not possible for Trump to tell a lie in his own mind because his self confidence depends upon the strength of his beliefs.  However, he can quickly change his mind in response to new circumstances.  Trump has also attacked our judicial system when judges have disagreed with positions that he has taken.  He usually tells his supporters that judges who disagree with him are biased like the media that he attacks.  The truth is always on his side.

The other branch of government that is supposed to protect us from autocrats is Congress.  Most of the Republicans in the House and in the Senate face a conflict with Trump.  They would like to take advantage of their control over the legislature and the executive branch to promote their political agenda.  The risk that we face is that they will overlook the threats to our system of governance while pursuing political advantage.  At some point it will become Trump's legislature.  They will be powerless in the face of Trump's populist base which is under his control.

I would like to think that we can ignore Donald Trump.  Our system may be more resistant to the dangers that he presents than we might imagine.  On the other hand,  the risk of catastrophe is too great to ignore the clear and present danger that we face from the White House.  Fear is powerful force and Trump will everything that he can to elevate it order to increase his power.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Trump Mania Has Taken Over At CPAC

The Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) is holding its annual meeting in Washington. Stephen Bannon along with Trump's Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were interviewed by the CPAC Chairman.  Each of them were full of praise for Donald Trump.  Kellyanne Conway also spoke at the meeting.  She suggested that CPAC should change its name to TPAC to reflect Donald Trump's takeover of the movement.  Bannon and Priebus are full of praise for Trump and the radical changes that he is promoting in our system of governance. 

I found it difficult to read this interview at CPAC.  It paints Trump as the transformational  leader that America needs to replace the failed liberal order that threatens our national sovereignty and our culture.  Similar things were said about dictators in the 1930's.  When Trump speaks at CPAC he will be swamped by devotees who will want to kiss his ring. CPAC used to be regarded as a fringe political group.  It has now entered the mainstream as TPAC.

America Needs A New Milton Friedman

Milton Friedman popularized free market economics during the cold war.  The cold war is over and a lot of things have changed since Friedman's era.  His ideas have gone about as far as they can go.  Republicans like Paul Ryan are stuck in the Friedman era but economic theory has taken a back seat to empirical research on more practical problems.  Noah Smith suggests some the candidates who are more representative of the changes that have taken place in economics and are also able to communicate economic ideas to the public. Paul Krugman, who has a platform in the NYT,  has done a good job of relating current economic thinking about important problems to the public, but the profession has not settled on the best candidate to replace Milton Friedman as the spokesperson for the new economics that is focused on finding solutions to real problems.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Freedom Is Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose

The title of this post was taken from a popular song.  It provides an interesting twist on the meaning of freedom.  For example, a homeless person has a certain kind of freedom that most of us would not want.  Homeless people lack the freedom to purchase many essential consumer goods because they don't have the means to purchase them.  On the other hand, they have the kind of freedom that conservatives have been selling to the public forever.  Freedom is one of the most abused words in the English language.  Paul Ryan, is the conservative speaker of the house who plays a key role in determining tax policy and federal spending policies.  His tweet about Obamacare, quoted below, is a good example of how conservatives abuse the concept of freedom:

"Freedom is the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need.  Obamacare is Washington telling you what to buy regardless of your need."
Ryan did not have to go very far to learn about how to abuse the concept of freedom.  Milton Friedman wrote a book called "Freedom To Choose" that became very popular during the Cold War when the war of ideas was between the market system and Communism.  Since we generally believe that freedom is a good thing its usually a good idea to attribute it to what you want to sell, and to deny it to something you want to criticize.  That of course is what Ryan did with his tweet.

There are two ways of dealing with Ryan's abuse of the concept of freedom.  One might ask why Ryan wants to use the concept to attack Obamacare.  It is a very complex bill and there may have been a better way to make healthcare more available.  That is not why Ryan opposes it.  The bill includes a tax on individuals with very high incomes so that individuals with low incomes can afford to purchase it.  That violates a basic tenet of Republican policy that Ryan has consistently promoted.  That is, lowering taxes for the super rich.  Its much easier to sell us on the idea of greater freedom than it is to sell tax cuts for the super rich.  Of course, it is also consistent with the Republican fetish for claiming that Washington is the center of evil in the universe.  One wonders why Ryan chose to work in Washington.

The other way of approaching Ryan's abuse of the concept of freedom is ask whether it is a good idea for government to make healthcare affordable for the millions of low income citizens who would otherwise be denied access to healthcare.  Unlike Ryan, many citizens favor providing basic needs like healthcare to citizens who don't have the means to purchase healthcare.  One could also ask whether government programs like Medicare and Social Security should be repealed because citizens are forced by Washington to pay into those programs.  Ryan doesn't like those programs either and he has proposed a variety of ways to change them.  He has faced stiff opposition to the changes that he has proposed because most Americans like them.  Its been easier for Republican's to attack Obamacare for a variety of reasons.  First among them, is the extensive effort that they have put into demonizing President Obama.  That began when Republicans changed the name of the bill from the Affordable Care Act to Obamacare.

The bottom line is that one should always be wary about politicians who abuse the concept of freedom.  Every law written by Congress take away some of our freedom.  We should always consider the merits of government policies and avoid false advertisers who abuse the concept of freedom for their own purposes. Its an especially good idea to think very carefully about the common abuse of the concept of freedom. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

CPAC Meeting Has Become An Alt-Right Trumpian Meeting

The annual meeting of conservatives in Washington has changed since Trump's election.  Winning elections is everything.  The conservative wing of the Republican Party is now the Trump Party.  Steve Bannon who orchestrated Trump's "America First' campaign will give a keynote speech and Breitbart News is now a major player in the movement.  Senator Rand Paul used to win the straw vote taken at the end of the CPAC meeting.  Trump's use of celebrity power and nationalistic messaging has replaced Paul's libertarian message.  The idea is to use government as a force to drive change instead of limiting government.  If you own the government you should use the government to reshape the nation.  What used to be known as the Republican Party no longer exists.

Trump captured the core of the Republican Party during his campaigns.  I wondered what would happen to the GOP after Trump lost the general election.  He might have started a third party with the segment of the party that he had captured.  That would also have led to the demise of the Republican Party.  Instead he won the election by beating Hillary Clinton with a margin of 50,000 votes out of 13 million votes cast in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  If Clinton had won those votes, and those states, she would be our president and CPAC would still love Rand Paul. Instead Trump is our president and the Grand Old Party no longer exists; It is the Trump Party.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

We Do Not Have Free Press According To Fox News Host Bill O'Reilly

Fox News superstar Bill O'Reilly supports Donald Trump's attack on the free press in the US.  His argument is consistent with the Fox News marketing strategy of presenting itself as the alternative to the "mainstream media".  It tells the truth by supporting Donald Trump and other Republicans.  The mainstream media has a liberal bias (whatever that is???).  Therefore, Donald Trump is not really attacking the free press because it is not really free.  Apparently,  only attacking Fox News would be consistent with an attack on the free press.  It is our only source of unbiased reporting.

This claim by O'Reilly illustrates the problem we have in this country.  The marketing strategy of Fox News is elevated to the position of defining what is meant by the freedom of the press.  Of course, the market segment that Fox has targeted in its corporate strategy would agree with this silliness.  Its equivalent to arguing that the market for information should be an ideological monopoly.  The only proper competition in the market should be between Fox and other information sources that share the same ideological bias as Fox.

Donald Trump may agree with O'Reilly.  He cited a report on Fox News to defend his claim that a terrorist attack occurred in Sweden that was unreported by the mainstream press.  The president has a huge security staff that is able to provide him with well informed information.  Its hard to find a good reason why he chose to use Fox News to defend his false statement about Sweden.  Should O'Reilly be a member of his security team so that he can provide information that his security team has been unable to uncover? 

Is The 21st Century Broken?

David Brooks has been pretty depressed by what he sees in the US and in the rest of the world.  He argues that the 21st century is broken in this op-ed.  Most of the article is about the impact of  slower economic growth in the US.  There are two parts to this story.  The first part is about the effect of slower growth on employment.  The second part is an attempt to explain the slower rate of economic growth.  He pulls some explanations from a couple of books that make sense to him, but this is not a problem that lends itself to an easy explanation.  Economists and other social scientists have been trying to put this puzzle together but the problems are easier to see than the solutions.  Its pretty clear that globalization has proceeded more rapidly than the ability of nation states to adapt to many of its consequences.  We have multinational corporations but we don't have an international governance system to cope with the issues that arise from the decisions that they make in pursuit of their individual economic interests.  New technologies have provided us with new products and opportunities but they have also disrupted labor markets and transformed the way we communicate with each other.  There are also numerous failed states and unresolved conflicts in many parts of the world that have added fuel to economic issues and social identity problems in the developed world. 

We have suffered major disruptions other times in our history.  They often create a climate for politicians to exploit.  The clear and present danger we face today is that many of our citizens have lost faith in the ability of our political system to deal the problems that they face.  They have turned to personalities like Donald Trump for a political solutions to a host of complex problems that have no easy solution.  Trump has no real understanding of the issues that we face and the policies that he has tossed around are half baked or foolish.  He has also demonstrated that he can't be trusted to govern our nation or lead the international system that has looked to the US for leadership.  He is more likely to destroy the institutions that we need to improve than he is to fix a system that is not working for many of our citizens.  David Brooks understands this problem and that is what depresses him.  He believes that Donald Trump will self destruct and things may return to normal.  I wish that it were that easy.  Neither of our political parties have been able to focus on the problems that we face.  They appear to be more concerned about gaining political control than they are about anything else.  The Republican Party hopes that they it can take advantage of Donald Trump's presidency to implement conservative policies that are based upon ideological purity.  They are fighting an ideological war that has no relationship to the real problems that we face.  The Party has decided to work with Donald Trump to gain political advantage but it will not be able to contain him.  The battle between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton in the primary campaign illustrated the divisions that exist in the Democratic Party about how to deal with problems that we face.  Even if Clinton had won the election she would have faced the gridlock that President Obama had to deal with for eight years.  Our political system is in need of repair.  Its hard to see how we can respond the many serious issues that we and many of our citizens face.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trump Defends Lie About Sweden With Another Lie

The Donald told his devotees at a campaign rally in Florida on Saturday that there was a terror attack Friday night in Sweden. He argued that the terror attack was due to Sweden's liberal immigration policy.  He, of course, was going to prevent this from happening in America.  The problem with Trump's false claim is that there was no terror attack Friday night in Sweden,  Most people would regard his false claim as a lie.  However,  The Donald defended his lie by claiming that Fox News had reported the attack.  There are several problems with The Donald's defense of his lie.

In the first place, Fox News did not report a terror attack in Sweden.  Tucker Carlson, who recently joined Fox to spread false news, tried to make a more general point that Sweden's liberal immigration policy is responsible for an increase in Sweden's crime rate.  That was not exciting enough for The Donald's revival meeting.  He lied about the terror attack and then he defended his lie by claiming that it was reported on Fox News.  In The Donald's twisted mind it makes perfect sense to defend a big lie with another lie.  He knows that most of his followers do not get their information from the mainstream media that reported both of his lies.  Of course, that is why The Donald keeps telling them not to pay any attention to the "fake news" provided by the mainstream media.  He uses Twitter to inform his devotees because it is a fact free source of news.

The Republican Senator John McCain did not call Trump a dictator but he defended the free press in an interview on Meet The Press.  He argued that we should learn from history that attacking the free press is one of the first moves made by dictators.  Chris Wallace debated this issue with Trump's Chief of Staff on Fox News and argued that Trump went too far when he stated that the free press is the enemy of the people.  It provides a check on the abuse of presidential power.

The Donald has a long history of lying even before he entered politics.  He once used a use a false identity to send information to People Magazine to report that Donald Trump was dating a popular celebrity.  He sees no difference between the truth and falsehoods.  He has even lied under oath in law suits.  Its easy to see why he is critical of the press which places a higher value on the truth than he does.  His base loves him when he tells lies but he is going to have tough time governing when much of the nation does not believe anything that he states.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Trump Stages A Campaign Rally In Florida To Spread Fear

The Donald was in his glory yesterday in Florida.  He stoked fear in the hearts of his ignorant supporters, and he puffed up his chest and proclaimed that he would be their savior.  He also warned his Fox News literate audience that they should not pay any attention  to the "fake media" because they tell lies about him.  Its easy to understand why he does not want them to pay attention to the mainstream media.  They fact check what he lies about.  For example, he told his rabid audience in Florida, seeking rapture, that there was a terrorist attack in Sweden Friday.  Tweets from Sweden after Trump's campaign rally, to scare his followers, deny any terrorist attack Friday night.  His audience will not learn about Trump's lie on Fox News or talk radio.

The Donald enjoys his campaign rallies.  It bores him to deal with governance, with the exception of issuing executive orders and sending tweets to keep his fans in rapture.

Friday, February 17, 2017

What A Failed Trump Adminstration Looks Like

David Brooks has been one of the leading conservative journalists in America.  His platform on the NYT has enabled him to advance conservatism, and offer intelligent commentary on Republican policies.  Trump did not fit into either of those boxes.  Trump captured around 35% of the electorate by exploiting populist sentiment.  That has given him enough power to neutralize opposition from the GOP Congress.  That may be enough to complete one term in office.  He offers his opinion on what the failed Trump Administration will look like in this article.

*  The Trump Administration is based upon his personality.  The government is conducted by a vast rules based organization.  He has declared war on the government agencies but he has no experience with managing organizations that have a rule base culture.  They have begun to fight back against him and he will not win that fight.

*  Personality based organizations operate with a handful of insiders.  That includes Bannon and his kids.  He was rejected by a candidate who would have replaced Flynn.  The candidate did not see how he could be successful without the freedom to fill his top jobs with qualified individuals.  He recruited Rex Tillerson for the critical secretary of state position.  Tillerson has not been included in foreign policy decisions developed by Trump's inner circle.  He has also been forced to fill key positions with candidates recruited by the inner circle.  He was the CEO of Exxon and is accustomed to operating a huge organization by putting capable people in key positions.  He will not succeed in his new position which is under the control of Trump's inner cirlce.

*  Trump behaves more like a medieval Monarch than like the president of a nation state.  Leaders in the rest of the world will respond to him in kind.  Some have already discovered the value of flattery. Others will take advantage of his weak position and lack of familiarity with global politics.  Russia has already found ways to take advantage of his weaknesses.

Those are the broad outlines of Brooks' description of the failed administration.  He concludes that failure is certain but the nature of the failure is hard to predict.  Its easy to forecast a hurricane; its more difficult to accurately predict the location and extent of the damages.

Trump Must Banish Bannon Or Fail

Jennifer Rubin has been one of the Washington Post's conservative columnists for many years.  She has not been happy with Trump but she would like him to succeed.  Trump offered the national security job to a highly regarded senior officer.  His offer was rejected because the administration would not let him hire his own deputy.  The deputy in place is not qualified for the job but she is protected from above.  She argues that Steve Bannon is the culprit.  It will be difficult for Trump to recruit a top staff under these conditions.

Why Trump's Campaign Against Reality Will Lose

The Donald held a press conference yesterday.  It was more like a campaign speech than a press conference.  It was clearly targeted towards his supporters.  He must hang on to his core supporters who are his source of power over Republican politicians who need their votes in subsequent elections.  He used the press conference to tell his supporters that he was doing a great job.  Everything would be great if the public got all of its information from Fox News and talk radio.  His real enemy is the "fake media" which Fox News refers to as the "mainstream media".  The problem with the mainstream media is that they have a bias in favor of reality.  That is, they fact check what he and his surrogates say, and they point out the lies and misleading information that he and his administration provide.  The only way that he can hold on to power is to steer his core supporters away from the "mainstream media" and  get all of their information from media sources which shape the news in his favor.

The Donald won the Republican primaries and the general election with his anti- reality strategy.  The question is whether the Trump Administration can run our government in the same way they he ran his election campaign.  This article, by a Republican who worked in the Bush Administration, argues that Trump will not win his war against reality.  The quote below describes what Trump hopes to accomplish:

"With less than a month in office, Trump is beginning to see reality’s revenge. His overall strategy seems disturbingly ambitious. Retired Gen. Michael Hayden, who directed both the CIA and the NSA, describes it this way in an interview: “A systematic effort to invalidate and delegitimize all the institutions, governmental and nongovernmental, that create the factual basis for action . . . so they won’t push back against arbitrary moves.”
 The article from which this quote was taken 
explains why Trump will not win his war against reality.  "We are not Venezuela"  That is, our institutions are too strong and they have a bias in favor in reality. 

The New York Times Argues For Special Prosecutor

Jeff Sessions headed up a Republican committee that wanted to have a special prosecutor investigate Hillary Clinton.  The committee argued that this was necessary because the Obama Administration was not impartial.  The NYT makes the case for a special prosecutor to investigate the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia.  Jeff Sessions, who was appointed by Trump, would have to recuse himself from the investigation.  Jeff Sessions is not likely to do so without pressure from Republicans who are less worried about the next election than our system of government.

The last two paragraphs in this editorial contains the justification by the Republican committee that argued for a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton.  It also explained why the Obama Justice Department should recuse itself from the investigation.  This is precisely the justification made by the NYT for a special prosecutor and for the recuse of Obama's Attorney General.  Jeff Sessions and his Republican committee will ignore their own argument when it comes to Trump.  Some of Trump's supporters who commented on this editorial also ignored the last two paragraphs.  That is the kind of world we live in today.  It will be up to the public to put enough pressure on Republicans, who face election in 2018, so that they will worry about holding their jobs. That is the only kind of message that motivates most of our politicians.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Hard Transition From Emperor To So-Called President

This article in the Miami Herald sums up the problems that The Donald is having adjusting to an common role for him.  He does not understand his new job and he is failing at it.  If he had been recruited to run a major corporation he would also be failing and the Board would be trying to figure out how to get rid of him.  The presidency of the US is an even more complex job that running a major corporation.  The system has been set up to make life difficult for anyone who gets that job.  Instead of a compliant Board, there is a system of checks and balances that hold the president accountable to the public.  That is, the president is a public servant.

Of course, The Donald believed that it was like the job he delegated to his kids.  He was in that job for himself and he could give a command and everyone would salute.  He made a mistake when he decided to win a job that is subject to constant scrutiny.  His ego is not capable of making that adjustment.  Consequently, he decided to change the job.  He is doing what he can to adapt our nation to an autocracy so that he can be more comfortable.  He has selected a staff that is helping him move in that direction.  Unfortunately for The Donald, and for our nation, he will self destruct along the way to a failed autocracy.  That will be painful for The Donald.  Hopefully, the damage to our nation can be repaired.

Inequality In China Approaches US Levels

China has a single party form of governance.  The membership in the Communist Party is close to the number of citizens who voted in the US and French primaries.  They believe that their system enables the government to make better development decisions than those made in the "electoral supermarket"  promoted by Western democracies.  The populist movement in Europe, and the election of Donald Trump in the US, demonstrate some of the flaws in the Western governance system.  China is not very interested in copying our "electoral supermarket" system.

Thomas Piketty has been concerned with the problem of rising income and wealth inequality.  He is impressed by the rapid growth of the Chinese economy which has enabled it to rise out of poverty.  In 1978 China's share of global GDP was only 4%; it rose to 18% by 2015.  Average income in China is 3-4 times lower than that in Western nations but the top 10%, around 130 million, have an average income equal to that of rich nations.

The problem in China is that the share income for the bottom 50% of the population fell from 28% to 15% while the income share going to the top 10% rose from 26% to 41%.  Income inequality is approaching that of the US which leads the developed world in income inequality.

Wealth has also become more concentrated in China over this period.  The share of wealth held by the top 10% rose from 41% to 67%.  China faces the risk of a form of Pluto-Communism with a stronger concentration of wealth than capitalist countries.

The major difference between China and Western nations is in the share of capital held by the state.  The state share of capital in China has fallen from 78% to 30% which was about the public share of capital in Western nations prior the its collapse since 1980. Privatization in Western nations has substantially increased to the point where the national debt exceeds the level of public capital.  France and Germany are an exception to this trend.  In the US,  private property owners hold almost the entire share of capital and they have drawing rights on future tax revenues.  This is a serious burden on the regulatory capacity of public authorities.  It has become more difficult for the state to ease the burden for citizens who have not benefited from globalization.  Its no wonder that Donald Trump and other populists have been able to gain political power.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Why Republican's in Congress Will Not Criticize Trump

Job protection is the first, and perhaps the only, goal of our elected officials. That explains why few Republican members of Congress criticize him.  Almost 90% of Republicans approve of him and they agree with what he has been doing in office.  A negative tweet from Trump would be the kiss  of death for any Republican who hopes to win their next election.  Most of them live is safe districts but they will face a challenge in the GOP primary if they get on the bad side of Trump.

It's hard to believe that Trump has such high approval ratings among Republicans when so many of his statements and policies have been criticized even by conservative columnists in The Washington Post and the New York Times.  Trump has successfully taught his base to ignore the mainstream media.  They get most of their information from sources aligned with Trump. 

Why Did Mike Flynn Resign?

The FBI routinely monitors calls to the Russian Embassy.  They sent a transcript of conversations between Mike Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the Justice Department.  The White House was provided the transcript with a warning that it made Flynn a target for Russian blackmail.  Flynn remained on the job and Kellyanne Conway told a TV interviewer that Trump had complete confidence in Flynn the day before he resigned.  What caused the White House to force Flynn to resign?

One explanation for Flynn's resignation is that the FBI transcript was leaked to the press.  Trump tweeted about the leak and warned that he was taking actions to prevent future leaks.  The fact, that the press had copies of the leaked transcript made it impossible for Trump to keep him in his job.  The next question that remains to be answered is any relationship between Flynn's discussion of US sanctions relief  in return for Russian assistance in the presidential election.  That investigation should be going forward.  The danger to Trump is that Flynn would not have made the call without Trump's knowledge and approval.

By the way, there are video links in this article showing Kellyanne Conway's efforts to spin the information during TV interviews.  She has an almost impossible job defending Trump and his administration.  She looks like she has aged several years since she took the job.

Meet Donald Trump's 31 Year Old Senior Strategy Advisor

Donald Trump's team is making life easy for late night comedy shows.  Steven Miller, the most hated kid in Santa Monica High School, was given his opportunity to show his stuff on the Sunday TV News shows.  The Donald tweeted his pleasure with his performance afterwards.  Use this link to videos of the performance that Trump praised.  The only thing that Miller did not do was to shout out Seig Heil after screaming that Trump cannot be questioned.

The Con Man Economy: Take The Money And Run

The advice that we should give students who want to succeed in the Con Man Economy is to follow Donald Trump's example and learn how to con your way to riches like The Donald.  Forget about taking all of those tough courses in STEM.  The Trump Administration is making it easier for predators to succeed by getting rid of agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (CFPA).  The CFPA was created as part of the Dodd-Frank bill which established regulations which were designed to prevent a recurrence of the financial crisis which produce the Great Recession.  The President who promised to take care of the little guy is creating an economy that makes it easier for the big guys to fleece the little guys.  Get ready for the Con Man Economy.

Today, my answer must change. In light of the regulatory vision being laid out by President-elect Donald Trump and his advisers, I’d recommend college students bone up on hustling and swindling instead.

David Brooks Tells Us How To Resist Trump

David Brooks is smart enough to realize that the Trump administration has serious problems.  He chose three ways of resisting Trump and he decided that the best option was to let Trump and his administration self destruct.  In doing so he was forced to minimize the threat that we face from Trump.  Trump is simply incompetent. He will not complete his full term in office.  Our problem is to rebind our government and our society after he fails.  We should relax and do nothing about the threat that he represents.  I agree with Brooks that Trump does not understand how to run our government but I am not willing to wait for the Republican Party to oust him for incompetence.  In a sense, the Republican Party created the opportunity that Trump exploited.  They said nothing about the cabinet members that he nominated during the Senate hearings.  Many of them had a record of opposing the agencies that they were selected to manage.  Few of them had any experience in government. Trump is getting the government that he and the Republican Party want.  Incompetence does not matter to either of them.  Being is charge of the government is the goal which satisfies Trump and the political party that he has captured.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Saving The Trump Presidency

Ross Douthat is one of the conservative op-ed columnists for the NYT.  He is a William Buckley type of conservative and he has been highly critical of Donald Trump.  He has to figure out what to put in his op-eds.  He decided to write nice things about the Republican Party under Trump.  It looks like he has figured a way out of his dilemma.  Trump should give up his self destructive behavior and let the Republican Congress run the country.  After all, according to Douthat, Trump as created a reasonably good cabinet.  I can sympathize with Douthat's effort to rehabilitate the Republican Party and maintain his career as one its more literate supporters.  However, he is totally wrong about the problem in Washington.  In the first place, Trump's cabinet is a one of the worse cabinets that I can recall.  Moreover, it was totally supported by a Republican Congress that Douthat wants to run the country. Secondarily, he is totally wrong about Trump's motivations and his willingness to step aside and turn the government over to the Republican Congress.  Trump would prefer to run the country himself.  He expects the Republicans in Congress to do as he instructs them.  He has turned on senior senators like John McCain when they disagree with him.  Any Republican in Congress who refuses to let Trump do as he pleases will face the threat of a Trump tweet that will anger the core base of the Republican Party.  It is Trump's party.  It is time to pay less attention to Trump's nonsense and focus our dissent on the Republican Party that has enabled him.  They cultivated the base that Trump has captured from them, and they have ceded control over the Party to a dangerous child.  They should pay the price for contributing to the danger that we all face. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Whte Nationalism And Its Relationship To Racism and Populism

White nationalism is distinct from racism but they overlap.  Most racists are also white nationalists but not all white nationalists are racists.  On the other hand, white nationalism has altered the boundary of polite discussion.  It has become socially more acceptable for populists and white nationalists to make racist comments that would have been previously unacceptable.  A college Republican club even created a fascist valentine that it believed to be humorous.  A Republican club at Berkeley invited a white nationalist to speak on campus.  Protests forced the president to cancel the speech.  The cancellation was criticized by supporters as a violation of free speech and an example of "political correctness" which is viewed as a set of liberal boundaries on polite discussion. Donald Trump had a 21% margin over Clinton among white voters.  The populists in Europe have also used white nationalism as a way to build political momentum.  The quote below provides a good summary of this article.

Several studies of other countries have found that a desire to protect traditional values and culture is the strongest predictor of support for the sort of populism that propelled Mr. Trump to power in the United States.
Many of those voters would not think of themselves as white nationalists, and the cultural values and traditions they seek to protect are not necessarily explicitly racial. However, those traditions formed when national identity and culture were essentially synonymous with whiteness. So the impulse to protect them from social and demographic change is essentially an attempt to turn back the clock to a less-diverse time.

Are Tax Cuts And Union Busting Responsible For Economic Growth?

Its hard to determine the effects of economic policies on growth rates.  That is because countries differ from each other in many ways in addition to their economic policies.  Comparisons between US states, however, provide a cleaner comparison because they share a  similar national relationship
This study compared similar states that have been exposed to different state tax and union policies.  There was no effect of state tax cuts and union policies on economic growth metrics.  Kansas and Wisconsin have cut taxes and they have made it more difficult for unions to form or survive.  Kansas was compared with Nebraska and Wisconsin was compared with Minnesota.  There were no observable change on several economic metrics between each of these states after tax cuts and anti-union policies were implemented in Kansas and Wisconsin but not in their comparison states.  Moreover, Kansas was left with large budget deficits after it implemented tax cuts which were supposed to stimulate enough economic growth to pay for the tax cuts.

These studies help us to answer the question about tax cuts and union busting but we live in a country where data has become less useful in answering questions.  Tax cutting and union busting are articles of faith in the Republican Party.  It is really a flat earth party.  Nothing will convince it that the earth is round or that global warming is a real threat to our planet.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Steve Bannon's Ideology And Donald Trump

Steve Bannon is a well read intellectual.  Donald Trump is not an intellectual, but Bannon coached Trump on how to use ideas, that were successful in Europe, in his political campaign.  He won the election with Bannon's help.  Trump wants to be a winner and he hates losers. That is the reason why Steve Bannon has a job as Trump's strategy manager.

This article describes some of the philosophical ideas that have influenced Steve Bannon.  They have also influenced Vladimir Putin.  They begin with the belief that our modern society is decadent.  The best way to restore traditional values is to blow the system up.  Liberal democracy promotes individualism and materialism.  We need to restore nationalism and spiritual values to rebuild a hierarchical system base upon traditional values.  Mussolini was inspired by the idea of powerful nationalism based upon traditional values and hierarchy.  They helped to form his vision of fascism which is often called corporatism.  There is also a tinge of racism in these ideas.  Mussolini and Hitler included different forms of racism, including antisemitism,  in their versions of nationalism and traditionalism.  Steve Bannon's alt-right news site has a tinge of antisemitic ideas and a strong dose of Anti-Muslim ideology.

Donald Trump's slogans of "America First" and "Make America Great Again" have been used in our past by populists who build their campaigns around nationalism, racism and traditional values.  Liberalism and progressive are curse words for many of his followers.  Many fear Muslims because they believe that Muslims intend to establish Sharia law in America. They have no interest in an inclusive society and they hate multi-culturalism and atypical sexual relationships.  Donald Trump was well aware of these sentiments in his base.

How Senate Democrats Can Fight Back Against GOP Majority

This article describes the Senate rules that were effectively used by Republicans to block much of President Obama's agenda.  One might ask whether this a good idea.  I agree with the conclusion of the article:

Still, Democrats should take the lesson of the Republicans’ years in the minority to heart. Majorities are more often blamed for inaction than minorities are held accountable for blocking them. If Democrats adopt the Republican playbook, Senate rules will largely work in their favor

David Brooks Offers A Gift To Donald Trump

David Brooks is struggling with the mess that Donald Trump is making with his government.  He starts out this op-ed with the gift of prudence because it certainly has been in short supply during his first few weeks in office.  He then rejects prudence for the reasons given below.

But the more I thought about it the more I realized prudence might not be the most important trait Trump needs. He seems intent on destroying the postwar world order — building walls, offending allies and driving away the stranger and the refugee. Do I really want to make him more prudent and effective in pursuit of malicious goals?
Brooks then moves into the psychological issues that Trump may be dealing with.  If Brooks were a well informed psychiatrist he would probably know that narcissism defines Donald Trump.  It makes him what he is and that cannot be changed.  Brooks ends his op-ed with a hopeful plea that there is a very small chance that Trump will recover from his illness.

I  am not willing to depend upon a highly unlikely transformation in Donald Trump.  Our only hope is that he does not defeat the checks and balances in our system of government that were designed to protect our nation from a president with a deep psychological disorder.  The courts have been showing that they are up to challenge of dealing with Trump's disorder.  David Brooks friends in the Republican Congress have decided to cooperate with him in the hope that they can take advantage of the presidency to shape the government in ways that benefit them.  Brooks would be more helpful if he could convince them that Trump is too dangerous to be left in charge of the government.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What's Worse, Monopoly Power Or Corporatism?

The Boothe School of Business at the University of Chicago invited a scholar to discuss the theory of the firm which assumes competitive markets.  He argued that there are two serious omissions to the theory of the firm.  Markets have become more concentrated and this has increased the power of large firms to influence the rules that affect how the markets function.  Donald Trump has also been engaged in a form of corporatism.  That is, a direct connection between corporations and the president.  He was then asked which is the greater problem.  His answer is given below?

am far more worried by Trump. His approach is supportive of business not markets—he is corporatist in the sense that he can create headlines by bullying particular firms to create the appearance of bringing back jobs. Companies will invest more and more in marketing to do things that make him look good and performing actions that benefit his business interests in order to curry favor with him. Perhaps more importantly, he is undermining national (constitution, independent judiciary) and international rules (NATO, WTO, EU, etc.) that have enabled prosperous growth since the Second World War. Generating trade wars and military conflicts is the surest recipe for economic disaster.

All The Trump News That's Fit To Print For Yesterday

Donald Trump has a fetish about the media and polls.  He hates the "false media" that checks facts and he loves the real fake media which distorts facts in his favor.  He has a similar opinion about polls.  He deplores polls which show that he and/or his policies are disliked; he reports the results of polls which show that his base loves him.

The real news in this article is that his Supreme Court nominee told a senator that Trump's harsh criticism of the justices that are reviewing his ban on Muslim entry into the US for six months is disparaging and demoralizing for the court system.  Trump responded to that news by accusing the senator of exaggerating his service during the Vietnam war.  He has a knack for changing the subject when he has to deal with an unpleasant fact. He attacks the messenger.  He made no mention about how he avoided service in Vietnam because of bone spurs in his heel.  Trump, of course, loves the court system when it helps him and he hates it when it does its job by providing a check on presidential power which is one of its most important role in our system of checks and balances.

The president is also displeased about Nordstrom's decision to discontinue his daughter Ivanka's line of expensive apparel.  He sent his propaganda minister Kellyanne Conway to his propaganda outlet Fox News to tell Trump supporters to take action against Nordstrom's business decision. by buying Ivanka products. This, of course, is the way Trump believes that free markets should work now that he is our president.  They should do what he tells business managers to do.  They are free to do as they please as long as it pleases The Donald.

The only good thing about The Donald is that he provides all the news that's fit to print for our press. That is great for business.  He also provides lots of material for comedy shows and TV new shows. He is boon for the entertainment industry.  In the process he has also activated millions of citizens, who have not been politically active, to band together in protests against his majesty and his deplorable policies.

HowTrump's Business Council Chairman Became A Billionaire

This article was written by the CEO of a Silicon Valley venture capital firm who got rich by investing other people's money in high tech start up companies.  Some of those companies were successful and they hired a lot of highly paid workers.  The investors also got a good return on their investments by taking a risk with their money.  The Chairman of Donald Trump's business council Steven Schwarzman also got rich by investing other people's money.  He is a multi-billionaire who earned $799 million in 2015.  This article explains how Schwarzman got rich and why his method of getting rich is very bad for the kind of people that Trump sold himself to during his election campaign. The focus of Trump's group will be to make themselves richer and to keep their tax rates lower than the tax rates that most of us pay on our wage income.

Some may remember the movie Wall Street.  Steven Schwarzman's business is much like Gordon Geeko's business in the movie.  He purchases struggling firms, with borrowed money, and he attempts to make them more efficient so that he can sell them at profit.  His primary method for reducing costs is to reduce the size of the labor force.  He does not create new jobs.  He even makes out well if the companies that he purchases end up in bankruptcy.  He borrows money against the assets of the acquired firms and uses the borrowed funds to pay dividends to his firm.  That gives him a return on his investment no matter what happens to the acquired firm.  Since he loads them up with debt it also makes it less likely that they will survive and hire more workers. 

Now that we have a Republican in the White House,  Trump will get a  chance to stimulate the economy by investing in infrastructure.  Republican's don't worry about running deficits when it helps Republicans win elections.  He hopes hat his economic team will help him to develop a plan that will provide tax credits to private firms that encourage them to develop private assets from which they can collect fees.  He has picked a good team for that purpose.  They might be able to move us in the direction of the Republican Party's wet dream.  That is the "ownership society" in which private investors own all of our assets and pay little in taxes to fund the shrinking government.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Its A Tough Job Proving That 2 + 2 = 5

Donald Trump has sold himself to many of his supporters as the superman that they need to protect them from terrorists.  That strategy is related to the degree of fear that exists in his base.  That explains why Trump accuses the media of not reporting 78 instances of terrorism that is on his list but not reported by the media.  Kellyanne Conway has the tough job of defending Trump's false claims when she is interviewed by the media.  This article describes her interview on CNN.  It includes a link to the video. Kellyanne has the difficult job of defending Trump's list when she has to admit that the list contains numerous terrorist attacks that were extensively covered by the media. Trump's list is false and misleading.  The major attacks were well covered.  The public certainly understands that terrorism is a problem.  Its also hard to explain why the terrorist attack on a mosque in Quebec City was not on Trump's list.  Kellyanne also has to deal with Trump's critiques of her interviews.  Trump devotes a large amount of his time to watching the performance of his staff who appear on TV.  He evaluates their dress and how fiercely they defend his falsehoods. They are critical to his need to viewed as a superman.

What Happens When You Have A Narcissist For President?

I taught a course on leadership that included a case study of a narcissistic CEO.  He built a rapidly growing and very profitable business.  Part of his success was attributed to his narcissism.  He used his personality to charm customers, investors and many in the media who promoted him as the second coming of Steve Jobs.  His narcissism also had many downsides.  He did not listen to many of the key executives on his staff when they disagreed with him.  He also devoted too much of his time building his image with his promoters in the media.  He placed copies of adoring articles on his office wall. He was highly critical of CEO's who were also successful.  He constantly boasted about his performance relative to his selected rivals.  His great wealth also got him invited as guest to plush communities that provided a home for America's elite.  Unfortunately, he never felt at ease with the elite.  They were better educated,  and many of them grew up in wealthy families which made him feel like an outsider.  His sense of rejection compelled him to struggle even harder to promote his business and its stock price.  This led him to force his accounting staff to take liberties with the financial data they provided to the SEC.  That led to a SEC investigation that was harmful to his investors and to many of his customers.

Donald Trump is classic narcissist.  His success and many of his problems are related to his personality.  One of his problems is that there have been numerous leaks about his behavior from within his administration.  This is a common problem in new administrations.  However, many of the leaks reflect deep concerns about his ability to run a complex organization and to effectively use his staff.  He is quick to blame others for his mistakes, and his lack of concern for anyone but himself breeds distrust.  This article reflects two ways of dealing with the leaks.  One of the approaches to develop a system to detect and eliminate those who are leaking information to the press.  The other approach is to attempt the impossible.  That is, to prevent a narcissist from behaving like a narcissist.

Defending Higher Education In An Era Of Alternative Facts

The President of Bard College publishes an open letter to university presidents.  He reminds them that our university system plays a number of critical roles in our society.  Chief among them is teaching our students to be critical thinkers.  That is the ability to determine the validity of arguments by examining the evidence and logic behind the arguments.  It has never been easy for universities to play that role.  There are external as well as internal problems for any institution that promotes an open mind to ideas and puts them to a test of reason and debate.  It is particularly difficult today when many of our political leaders find it convenient to protect false statements, and poor policies from criticism.  Too many of our leaders even deny science when it leads to inconvenient truths.  They tell us that climate scientists have made up facts to serve their own interests.  They tell us that medical science promotes the use of vaccines which cause autism. Even worse, some of our leaders accuse those who examine the evidence for their false claims to be enemies that cannot be trusted.

We are also reminded that our system of higher education is one of our most important assets.  It attracts brilliant students from across the globe to our country.  They play a critical role in producing intellectual capital that provides the basis for our global leadership in many industries. They help us to lead the world in medical science, the pharmaceutical industry and a host of digital technology industries.  Our political leaders have done their best to discourage the influx of talent from coming to our country because it is politically convenient to create a climate of fear to win elections.

The bottom line is that university presidents need to band together to protect one our most valuable assets.  We live in a time when "draining the swamp" promotes a brain drain that weakens our democratic system as well as our economy.

Tom Friedman Attempts To Connect Trump's Tweets

Donald Trump's foreign policy is contained in numerous tweets that he dispenses on a regular basis.  Tom Friedman made an effort to connect Trump's tweets into a coherent pattern to determine if they made sense.  I will let you be the judge.

Donald Trump Suffers From A Common Cognitive Disability

Dana Milbank reviewed a number of Trump's tweets and discovered that he can't spell.  He humorously displays many of them in his article.  He then created a humorous example of a Trump memo that repeats uses all of his commonly misspelled words. We probably should not make fun of a president who suffers from a common cognitive disability.  However, it does make one wonder about his ability to read and comprehend the written material that he reviews.  Milbank's humorous example is quoted below:

My Fellow Americans: You may be shoked by my military attak on the Kingdom of Denmakr. You may think it is rediculous and one of the dummer things I have done, and I admit it is unpresidented to bomb a peaceful nation. But my insticts and my judgement say we cannot afford to loose, for it would bring dishoner. And so we do not go gently into that good knight. We send our troops from their baracks until Denmakr’s aggressions are payed for. Only then will Copenhagen rise like the Phoneix. We will not falter, we will not fail — and we will not chock.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Another First For The Trump Administration

For the first time in the history of the senate the Vice President was forced to cast a vote to break a tied vote for a cabinet nominee.  Two Republicans voted against the nominee as well as every Democrat.  Some Democrats voted for Trump's other nominees along with 100% of Republicans.  The nominee's performance during her senate hearings must have been embarrassing for many who voted for her.  She was totally uninformed about several important issues and she has no experience in public education.  She also has no advanced degrees in education or any management experience. On the other hand, she has contributed $200 million to Republicans and conservative causes.

Who Benefits From Bannon's Economic Nationalism?

If Bannon/Trump's economic policies are implemented two kinds of outcomes are possible:  The distribution of economic activity will change, or the economy slow down.  If we modify the distribution of economic activity, and it does not slow down the economy,  it will be good for the kind of industries that require unskilled labor.  That will help Trump to cement the coalition that enabled him to win the election.  It will not be good for high skilled workers who live on both coasts and did not vote for Trump. That will produce a brain drain.  High tech firms are already thinking about locating technical workers in Canada.  If the policies slow down the economy everyone loses and Trump will be a one term president.

Trump's Attack On The Pillars Of Democracy

Out founders rejected monarchy as form of government when it struggled to create a democracy.  The US Constitution was a critical part of their effort to create a democracy in the "new world".  They understood that it would not be easy since the old world did not provide many good examples of successful democracies.  The Constitution established a system of checks and balances which was designed to prevent the government from devolving into a monarchy.  They learned a lot from the experience in France which had transformed itself from a monarchy into a democracy.

The US system has had many challenges in its history but the threat to democracy that we face today is probably the most serious challenge that we have faced.  The pillars of our democracy begin with a well educated population of citizens who are well informed. Trump has dominated a candidate, who is supported by Republicans in the Senate, who is an opponent of the public school system.  If she had her way the school system would be run by private entities. Government would provide the funding but not regulate or monitor the private entities.  We would probably get more crooks, like Donald Trump who started a for-profit university that was convicted of fraud.  Trump's university was funded by student loans guaranteed by the federal government.  Trump, and too many in Congress, believe that a well educated citizenry places a restraint on their behavior.  Much of their concern about the education system fits under the label of "political correctness".  That usually refers to citizens who not share their belief system.

The responsibility for creating our laws and making decisions about funding government programs was granted to a democratically elected Congress.  The executive branch was designed to be a partner with Congress.  Over time, Congress has demonstrated that it places party loyalty and personal gain above the welfare of its citizens.  It has become one of the least respected of our institutions.  It certainly has failed to provide a check on the behavior of Donald Trump.

The judicial branch is responsible for interpreting the laws passed by Congress and the legality of actions taken by government.  Donald Trump has demonstrated a lack of respect for the judges who disagree with his actions or his opinions.  He has no legal training but he believes that the courts should not attempt to restrain or limit his power.  We can expect more battles between Trump and the judicial system as we go forward.  The judicial system will probably turn out to be a better check against the abuse of presidential power than Congress.  Our judges have more job protection than many in Congress that have to run for reelection, and raise the necessary funds for their election campaigns every few years.  The judges also have more respect for the basic idea that our nation should be governed by the rule of law.  Unlike many in Congress who are paid to shape our laws to better serve the interests of those who fund their campaigns.

The remaining pillar of our democracy is a free press.  Trump has done whatever he can to delegitimize our most respected sources of journalism and the TV news shows that have not decided to be part of his administration.  Many of his supporters will not expose themselves to information that does not come from sources that are not among his cheerleaders.  The free press is always attacked by politicians who wish to control the information available to the public.  Trump is not likely to rid himself of media sources that choose not to provide propaganda and acclaim his greatness. However, he and his propaganda team have been successful in taking advantage of flaws in the ways that social media distribute information without the fact checking constraints faced by respectable journalists.  Trump will not succeed in putting the New York Times or the Washington Post out of business.  On the other hand, their economic model may not survive the proliferation of digital media sources of information which have a much lower cost structure.

Trump's Nominee For Secretary Of Health And Human Services

Some citizens may be curious about the kind of people that The Donald has nominated for his cabinet.  This article reviews the career of the person who will lead the federal government's efforts to improve our healthcare system.  The person that Trump selected is much like himself.  He earned a lot of money as a doctor but that did not satisfy him.  He became a congressman in Georgia and he used his position in government to take advantage of insider information to invest in healthcare stocks that turned out to be very profitable. He failed to report some of his investment gains in his financial disclosure, but that is par for the course in Trump's administration.  He is worth only $10 million, which is chicken feed in comparison to Trump's net worth, but like Trump, financial gain appears to drive his behavior.  We have to ask ourselves why this doctor was selected by Donald Trump and why Republican senators supported his nomination.  The medical profession has been producing lots of doctors today who are devoted to making healthcare more affordable and increasing access to medical services.  Trump's nominee is not one of them.

Will Trump And Company Destroy The World Order?

David Brooks' op-ed today is ostensibly about a person who decided to be present where history was being made.  Brooks reviewed the places where he had decided to be and he threw out a few ideas of his own.  He decided that Washington was the place to be today.  The quote below explains why he selected Washington.  The Republican government with Donald Trump in the White House will either preserve the world order or destroy it according to David Brooks.  That seems like a clear and present danger that we should be doing something about.  What are you doing about it?

Today, I’d say the most pivotal spot on earth is Washington, D.C. The crucial questions will be settled there: Can Donald Trump be induced to govern in some rational manner or will he blow up the world? Does he represent a populist tide that will only grow or is some other set of ideas building for his overthrow? Are the leading institutions — everything from the Civil Service to the news media to the political parties — resilient enough to correct for the Trumpian chaos?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

What Is A Demagogue?

Donald Trump is commonly called a demagogue.  I have been trying to find a good definition of a demagogue that fits Donald Trump.  H.L. Mencken provided me with the definition that describes The Donald exceptionally well:

"The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots."

Mencken's definition fits The Donald to perfection.  He preaches salvation to his supporters, and he feeds them a few meaningless bones, while he systematically reorganizes the government to enrich himself and his billionaire friends.  He has also worked hard to delegitimize news sources that provide the information his supporters need to understand his policy proposals.  They will remain misinformed as long as they get most of their information from Fox News, talk radio and fake news that is flooding the social media.  Our best hope may be that he continues to demonstrate his inability to govern and self destructs.  His clown show is making him the object of comedy across the globe. He can't stand personal humiliation.  He is likely to react in ways that show everyone his true colors.

European Comics Love Mocking The Donald

Donald Trump has provided the late night TV shows with a vast amount of content for satiric comedy.  European comics don't want American comics to keep all of the clown show to themselves.  For those who enjoy satire they can watch these videos that are very popular in Europe.  The Donald wants to increase American exports to Europe.  It was really simple; he and his team of clowns have revived exporting in America.  They provide an almost infinite supply of satiric content to Europe. They don't even have to try hard at this job.  They just have to be themselves.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

How Donald Trump Could Undermine Democracy In America

I had referred to an article in The Atlantic by a conservative writer who had worked in the Bush Administration.  A lot of people have read the article and it raised their concerns about how Donald Trump could establish an autocracy in the US.  Many may not have used the link that I had posted which was buried in the article I posted.  Consequently' I have posted a direct link to the article.  I strongly recommend this article because it shows how easy it would be for any president who is unconstrained by morality or by Congress to produce an autocratic form of government in America.
All of the ingredients are present.  Trump is amoral and primarily cares  only about himself.  The Republican Congress has an opportunity to take advantage of the Trump presidency to achieve many objectives that it could not obtain with Obama in the White House.  We can't expect Congress to act as a check on an out of control president.  The only real protection that we have is resistance from ordinary citizens.  In order to properly resist the decay of our democracy it is important to understand how to resist.  This article provides a good introduction for those who want to understand the enemy in our midst.

Trump Begins Effort To Deregulate Wall Street

The Tea Party was formed, in part, by outrage over the government's decision to bail out Wall Street banks.  Donald Trump took up the Tea Party's banner during his campaign.  He campaigned as a reformer who would punish the Wall Street banks for creating the financial crisis that spawned the Great Recession.  Congress was also angered by the financial crisis and it did several things that were designed to prevent a recurrence of the financial crisis.  The Dodd-Frank bill made it more difficult for Wall Street banks to take the risks that forced the government to rescue them from bankruptcy.  The Consumer Financial Protection agency was formed to make it more difficult for banks to harm their customers.  Financial advisers were also required to place their customers interests above their own.  For example, financial advisers could not recommend an investment that paid a higher commission than a similar investment.

Donald Trump now claims that the regulations that were put in place in response to the financial crisis have been harmful.  He said that many of his friends are having a difficult time getting loans because of Dodd-Frank and other regulations.  This article describes that actions that Trump has taken to reverse key components of Dodd-Frank and the requirement that financial advisers place their client's interests above their own.  He was cheered by the CEO's of the Wall Street banks that he had attacked during his election campaign.  His cabinet has also been staffed with executives from Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street banks.  He had portrayed Hillary Clinton as a protector of the Wall Street banks during his election campaign.  Apparently, he hopes to replace Clinton in that role.

Friday, February 3, 2017

How Will Trump Divert Attention From His Incompetence?

Donald Trump won the general election by promising that he would expand the economy and create jobs for many American's who have been left behind.  Paul Krugman is a Nobel Laureate who realizes that Trump's policies will not achieve what he has promised to his base.  What will he give them in exchange for his failed promise?  Krugman argues that Trump will rely upon the last refuge of tyrants.  He will shift his focus to foreign policies which place the US military at the forefront.  His base will "rally around the flag" and forget about his economic promises. 

Paul Krugman is an economist who understands why Trump's economic policies will fail.  It will take time for the public to realize that he not done what he promised.  They are not well versed in economics and they don't really dig into the details of economic policies.  It may be time for Krugman to join forces with his colleague David Brooks who describes the deeper concerns that we should be debating about Trump and his Svengali Steven Bannon.  Brooks' article has been posted below.

America's War Of National Identity

David Brooks has been thinking a lot about what is really happening in America since we elected Donald Trump.  We have always had political contests between political parties that share a common myth about America but argue about some of the fringe issues.  That has changed with the advent of Donald Trump and Steven Bannon who have a radical vision of how to "Make America Great Again".  They have started a war about what America stands for.  Bannon has been the architect and the propagandist for the new American identity.  It is a nationalist vision that is based upon fear of foreigners and a retreat from the spirit of democracy that had inspired domestic and foreign policy for most of our history.  America would join forces with nationalists in Europe who would capitalize on fear and economic hardship by retreating to autocracy and isolationism.  Trump and Bannon would make America great again by shattering the myth of America and our national identity that has guided our nation for much of our history.  They have the power of the presidency behind them to fight their war.  If they win, America will have lost its soul and no longer be the "light on the hill" that has inspired hope in other nations. 

This was not an easy article for David Brooks to write.  He has traditionally supported a Republican Party that shared the same vision of American identity as the Democratic Party with a slightly different emphasis on how to achieve it.  The risk to America, and to his favorite political party, is that it will join Trump and Bannon in establishing a new identity for America in exchange for political supremacy.  Trump and Bannon may win that war unless the American public comes to understand what is really at issue.  It is a war for our national identity.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Dire Consequences For A World With A Liar In The White House

The Financial Times is one of the most respected news sources in a world that has very few of them.  It makes no bones about the fact that Donal Trump is a serial liar.  Reputable media do not call a president a liar very easily.  Donald Trump has left our reputable media with no alternative.  For Trump everything that is true is false and every lie that he tells is true.

Trump's core supporters believe his lies but the rest of the world does not.  That creates a real problem for the US and the rest of the world.  Trump will continue to lie to his base because that is the source of his power.  The rest of the world will no longer trust the US government, and nations that have viewed the US as a beacon of hope will have lost their shining example of good government.  The US may no longer count on its allies, who no longer trust its president,  to work together on foreign policies.  Even worse, nations that live under autocratic regimes will lose their faith in democracy.  The era of positive American exceptionalism may be over.  Donald Trump has even turned his Supreme Court nomination into a version of his reality TV show.