Sunday, April 30, 2017

Is Justin Trudeau The New Anti-Trump?

The current issue of Bloomberg Businessweek has an interview with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.  They gave it a sexy title by asking whether he is the new Anti-Trump.  I posted the interview for another reason.  I was impressed by the hard questions he was asked and the depth of his understanding about the issues and his well reasoned responses.  Everyone should read the Trudeau interview and compare it with the Trump interview posted below.  One of them deserves to lead a national government and the other is simply an apprentice who hopes he does not get fired.

Fox News Interviews Trump About His First 100 Days

This video is worth watching.  Trump is asked a lot of good questions.  Many of which he fails to answer, but it is very revealing.  He starts out by saying that he should not be held to the artificial target of the first 100 days, but then he claims that he has done better than any other president in the first 100 days.  He was asked about his failure to repeal and replace Obamacare as he promised on the campaign trail.  That led him to attack "archaic" rules in the House, but particularly in the Senate, that make it difficult for him to "close deals".  In particular, he attacked the filibuster which is the only tool available to the minority power in the Senate.  In general, he views the legislature, and also the judiciary, as branches of the government which are doing what they were designed to do.  That is, they are part of our democratic system that limits the power of the executive branch.  The free press is another important part of our system of checks and balances.  He continued his attack on the free press by claiming that the media are biased against him.  Fox News, of course, is an exception to that rule.  He would prefer a news system in which the media are a part of the executive's communication system.  Its a shame that Fox News has to compete with "fake news" competitors.

Trump boasted about his foreign policy accomplishments by claiming that he has developed "good chemistry" with many foreign leaders.  I guess good chemistry will enable him to make deals that are good for him and bad for the nations that they lead.  The US runs trade deficits with many of them and Trump claims he can turn deficits into surpluses. 

He listed the confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee as one of his accomplishments.  He said that no president has done that in his first 100 days.  Of course, that was only possible because the GOP did not allow Obama to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. No president had a vacant seat to fill in his first 100 days. Trump only had to nominate any conservative judge for the vacant seat.  The Republican Senate changed a Senate rule which would have prevented the Senate Democrats from using the filibuster to block the nomination.  Trump turned the simple act of nominating a candidate into a major achievement. That accomplishment is about as significant as his claim that he developed good chemistry with foreign leaders.

He was asked about the tax plan that he been floating around.  He claimed that it was a plan that would benefit the middle class.  The "fake news media" have been critical of the plan because it lacks many important details and because it gives huge tax breaks to people in his income bracket.  He will have a tough time pushing a more detailed plan through Congress because economists and other analysts have examined the implications of the plan.  He operates like a salesman who has a bad product to sell but believes that it can be sold to poorly informed consumers.  He will blame Congress if he can't get it passed.

He claims that his tax plan and his trade policies will stimulate the economy and produce jobs.  He claims that other nations are growing their economies by 6-7 percent and that the US economy has been only growing at 1%. There are two big problems with that claim.  The first problem is that it is a lie.  The US economy has recovered much better from the financial crisis than most the major economies in the world.  China is the only large economy that has grown at the rates that he quoted.  Moreover,  he used only the last quarter of GDP growth in the US to describe economic growth in the US.  Annual GDP growth in the US compares well with historical growth in the US and with GDP growth in other large economies.  Moreover, its hard to find any well respected economist who believes that his policies will produce the growth rates that claims.  Most of them, however, agree that his tax cuts will increase federal budget deficits.   Moreover, many believe that his trade policies could cause economic growth to decline.  Trump seems to believe in Keynesian economic policies in which federal budget deficits are used to "prime the pump" during a recession.  Most Republican's hate Keynesian economic policies, especially when they are used by Democrats,  but few economist argue for Keynesian policies when the economy is close to full employment.  The US economy has been operating at full employment for several years.  Its unfortunate that middle class wages have stagnated during that period but that has less to do with government policies than it does with business decisions.

Trump also blames the media for reporting on Russian interventions in the US election.  He responded to concerns about charges being made about his former national security adviser by blaming the Obama Administration for giving him a top security clearance. Of course, the activities that got Flynn into trouble did not occur when Obama was in office.  They happened when he worked for the Trump campaign and during the Trump transition. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

David Brooks Tells Us Not To Worry About Trump

David Brooks is not a Trump fan by any means, but he no longer worries about him.  Trump is really not presidential material but Brooks has decided that he is not dangerous.  In a sense he is too incompetent to be dangerous.  He also has no real ideas.  He moves from one idea to another because he is willing to do almost anything just to make a deal that will put him in the spotlight for a TV moment.  His economic policies are nothing more than conventional Republican ideas warmed up from their 1984 origin in the Reagan administration.

I think that Brooks was most worried about Steve Bannon's influence which seems to have disappeared.  Brooks is no longer concerned about Trump's revolutionary potential.  Trump will not provide American leadership to the right wing populists who are a threat in Europe.  That went away with Bannon.

Since we no longer have to worry about a Trump inspired revolution we can rest more easily.  We just have to live with a shallow president for the next few years.  Brooks is now willing to live with a TV personality in the White House who us unlikely to do any real damage, or anything good during his occupation.  I wish I were more certain about that outcome.  There are too many things that can go wrong in an unsettled world to rest easily with Trump in the White House and with a Republican congress that hopes to take advantage of the presidency.  When the blind are leading the blind we are not well prepared to deal with many of the domestic and international problems that are likely to arise.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Le Pen Borrows From Trump's Strategy To Increase Her Chance To Win

Le Pen is behind in the polls by 20%.  Most of the candidates that did not qualify for the run off election have endorsed her opponent.  The exception is the left wing candidate.  He is like the Bernie Sanders of the US election.  Many Democrats who supported Sanders in the primary campaign chose not to vote in the general election or they voted for a third part candidate.  That may have been enough to enable Trump to narrowly win three blue states that allowed him to get enough electoral college votes to win the election.  That is probably the  only way that Le Pen can win the election.  That is reflected in her campaign speeches.  She is telling left wing voters to stay home.

Trump's Base Will Not Benefit From His Tax Plan

Trump is bragging about his tax plan like he brags about lots of things.  He claims that he is proposing the biggest tax cut in history.  His plan would cut taxes substantially but it won't help most of the people who voted for him.  He offers a few crumbs to some modest income households, but his plan is designed to help people like him.  The plan eliminates the alternative minimum tax which raised his tax rate in 2005 as well as others in his tax bracket.  It eliminates the estate tax, which only affects couples with estates above $11 million,  and he reduces the top corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%.  Some types of corporations are actually taxed at that rate but the effective corporate tax rate is around 18%. They are able to deduct lots of expenses from their gross income.  More than half of our large corporations pay no corporate taxes.

Trump's tax plan will also drastically reduce federal tax revenues.  His advisers argue that the tax cuts will stimulate the economy which will pay for the tax cuts.  That is shear speculation.  Most economists believe that tax cuts have only a modest effect on economic growth.

Trump will do what he usually does to sell his tax plan.  He will lie to his base. He arguing that the tax cuts will create jobs.  That won't happen, but his base tends to believe his lies.  Moreover, his tax plan will reduce federal tax revenues and cause the government to borrow money if it wants to continue funding social welfare programs that protect many of his supporters.  That will cause federal debt to increase dramatically.  Trump promised to reduce federal debt, that he blamed on Obama, during his campaign.  He could care less about that promise.  Some Republicans will use the increase in debt to justify cuts in social welfare spending.  However, most of them only worry about federal debt when a Democrat is in the White House.  We can't expect Republicans in congress to vote against Trump's tax plan.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Globalization Versus De-Industrialization As Populist Issues In The UK.

Globalization has been frequently cited as one of the major causes of unemployment.  It has also been used as one of the major factors in the Brexit vote in the UK.  This study argues that deindustrialization in the UK began in the 1950's ,well before the apex of globalization.  It shows that industrial output in several manufacturing industries has not substantially declined.  However,  the number of workers needed to produce the output has declined dramatically.  The loss of manufacturing jobs is primarily the result of productivity growth in manufacturing.  That is even true in Germany which has a trade surplus in manufactured products.  It takes fewer workers to manufacture the indstrial output in Germany.

The major problem with the loss of manufacturing jobs is that low skilled workers were paid well compared  to the wages available to low skilled workers in  many of the service industries such as retail.  High skill workers in many service industries have done very well.  This does not mean that high wage manufacturing jobs have not been lost to lower wage locations.  It argues that productivity growth and new technologies have been a major factor in deindustrialization and the subsequent shift that we have seen in the labor market.

Monday, April 24, 2017

How Have We Done Under Trump?

Jennifer Rubin is one of the Washington Post's conservative columnists.  She sums up the first 100 days of his presidency as follows:

As bad as Trump has been — in our book he’s been just as bad as we anticipated — democracy is faring better than we feared. Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress, again with some noticeable exceptions, have demonstrated they have neither the ability nor the will to check the president. They’d better step up to the plate soon or voters will conclude the only way to prevent further damage to the Republic is to vote for Democrats in 2018.
 She backs up the summary with a well written set of details to support her summation. Its hard to imagine Trump's future in government when highly respected conservatives like Jennifer Rubin, David Brooks and George Will have lost respect for him.  Party loyalty in Congress among Republicans who put Party over country is the only thing that he has left. 

Tear Down That Trump Wall

Ronald Reagan famously demanded that the Berlin Wall should be torn down.  Now Republicans and Democrats are telling The Donald not to build the wall that he promised his low brow followers during the election.  He told his followers that Mexico would pay for the wall but Mexico said no to The Donald.  The Republicans don't want to pay for an unnecessary wall either.  They want to move on to more important issues.  The Donald refuses to listen to anyone on this topic.  He needs to boast about an accomplishment to mark his first 100 days in office.  He has a "campaign rally" coming up in Pennsylvania and he has nothing to brag about.  That is probably because he has not figured out how to stop campaigning and start governing like a real president.  Does he really believe that his base in Pennsylvania really cares about his promise to build wall in a part of the country they have never been? 

Voodoo Economics Never Dies In The Republican Party

Donald Trump is not really a Republican.  He has no fixed ideas about anything.  He will support any idea as long as he can declare victory.  However, he won the election as a Republican.  He has a Republican congress and he is surrounded by Republicans in the White House.  Consequently, his policies are based upon an economic idea that George H. Bush called voodoo economics.  Some call it zombie economics because, just like a zombie, it never dies.  It doesn't die because the Republican Party has two contradictory goals.  It wants to cut taxes for its super rich donors but it also tries to sell itself as the fiscally conservative party.  That means that it cannot run large federal budget deficits.  Consequently, it argues it can reduce federal tax revenues and still pay the bills without borrowing money.  It can do this because the tax cuts will stimulate the economy and actually increase federal tax revenues.  The problem with this idea is that it has never worked in the past.  Its a zombie idea because it continues to live in the Republican Party.  Trump's treasury secretary just invoked voodoo economics to defend his tax plan.  He can cut taxes for the super rich without increasing the federal budget deficit.  Trump, of course, doesn't understand any of this.  He just wants to cut taxes and make everyone happy.  Moreover, Trump's business model is based upon carrying large amounts of debt.  Real estate developers call that leverage.  He could care less about federal budget deficits.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

It Looks Like France Will Not Get A Trump Type President

Macron and Le Pen will face off against each other in the final election for the French presidency.  Le Pen has about 24% of the vote and Macron has a bit higher percentage.  However, the candidates from France's major political parties, who lost to Macron and Le Pen, will support Macron in the final election.  Macron should receive about 60% of the vote and become President of France.  Things could change if there is another terrorist attack but the markets are reflecting a Macron victory.  The Euro has begun to rise versus the dollar and the Japanese yen.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Of Course The March For Science Is Partisan

There will a March for Science tomorrow in Washington.  I will be attending a similar event in Boston tomorrow with my daughter and her husband who are biologists and their three year old daughter who is curious about how things work in nature.  Like a budding scientist she tests out her ideas by seeing if they hold up through experience.  That, of course, makes her much different from our president.  He has been conducting a war against the foundation of science.  That is, testing ideas against experience. When one of his ideas is shown to be false, he either criticizes the messenger or he invents a new reality to confirm the idea.  There is no difference between truth and falsehood to him.  Whatever works for him is the truth and that can easily change as circumstance change.

This article in the Washington Post is critical of the March for Science.  It accepts the fact that Trump has been not been a friend of science or rational thinking in general.  However, it argues that the March for science may be bad for science.  It will likely be viewed by Trump supporters as an attack on their savior.  That creates a risk that scientists who are supposed to be non-partisan will be viewed as political partisans.  That should not be a concern to most scientists.  Trump's war against science and rationality requires a response from all citizens who place a value on rationality and honesty.  We should do everything that we can to counter Trump's attack on reason and honesty.  We don't want our children to grow up in world where alternative facts are used to defend lies.

David Brooks Worries About The Death Of Western Civilization

David Brooks describes the rise of Western Civilization and the ideas that allowed liberal democracies to flourish.  He reviews the political turmoil that we see across the globe today that make him concerned about a future in which liberal democracy is replaced by a variety of illiberal forms of autocracy.  The demagogues have been successful in convincing the public that liberal democracies are oppressive.  Donald Trump's rise in America is simply another form popular rebellion against liberal democracy, or Western Civilization.  Trump, of course, is not familiar with the concept of Western Civilization described by Brooks.  He simplifies the problem by declaring that ordinary Americans have been victimized by liberal elites.  He promised to throw the elites out of Washington and make "America great again".  Now that he is office he has replaced one set of elites with another set of elites who have even less interest in ordinary Americans.  That, of course, is what demagogues always do, and it why our founders tried so hard to create a form of democracy that could not be destroyed by a demagogue.  They wanted to replace monarchy with a democratic form of government but they were very concerned about how they could keep elected leaders from restoring a new form of monarchy.  Trump and his "royal family" was the kind of demagogue that they feared.  (The new biography of Hamilton describes that struggle very well. Democracy is always a work in progress)

Brooks has described the political turmoil that we face today but this is not a new problem.  We saw the rise of fascism in the 1930's which was an even deeper threat to Western Civilization and liberal democracy.  Western governments failed to deal very well with the aftermath of the first World War. Economic depression, and a punishing settlement to the war, set the stage for the rise of demagogues in much of Europe.  Economic turmoil, and a popular concern about the future, provide fertile ground for the rise of demagogues. They rise to power by feeding off of fear and promising to get rid of the enemies that they blame for the problems that people face.

The problems that we face today are somewhat similar to the problems that we faced in the 1930's.  The financial crisis produced economic hardships, and globalization has moved much faster  than national governments in dealing the consequences of a shrinking world.  We have rising income inequality and real concerns about the ability of governments to provide economic security and protection from very visible forms of terrorism.  It is easy for demagogues to feed off of the very real problems that exist without providing real solutions to the many problems that plague the nation states.  They offer nationalism, and the restoration of cultural identity, in a world that is no longer defined exclusively by national borders.  That can only end in chaos and failure.

The election of Donald Trump has made it much more difficult to deal with the problems that we face.  His performance in government has increased polarization in America.  Communication systems, driven by digital technology, have made it much easier for a divided society to get its information from sources that reinforce the splintering of belief systems that currently prevail.  Democracy does not work well in a society that is devolving into isolated interest groups.  Even the Republican Party has become too divided.  The battles within the Party limit the power of their elected leaders.  Moreover, the loss of American leadership has created a vacuum in the rest of the world.  We not longer provide a model that offers an example for other nations to follow.

Killing Americans In Order To Keep Campaign Promises

Republicans have been campaigning against Obamacare every since it was passed into law.  Millions of Americans have access to healthcare today because Obamacare was passed over the objections of Republicans.  However, that does not matter to Republicans.  They repealed Obamacare over 60 times while Obama was President.  That was easy because they knew that Obama would veto the repeals.  They did not have to come up with a replacement for the bill that enabled millions of Americans to be covered by insurance.

The healthcare game changed when The Donald became president.  They. can repeal Obamacare but they have to replace it with an alternative plan.  They made one effort to replace it with another plan but they could not get enough Republican votes to pass the new plan.  The Donald hates losing at anything.  He, along with Paul Ryan, are getting ready to introduce a new plan so that he can declare victory.  Paul Krugman provides an interesting way to describe the problem that they face.  Imagine a balloon that is too big for box.  If you try to push into the box by pushing on one part of the balloon another part of the balloon will inflate and keep you from getting it into the box.  Now imagine that the size of the box is determined by how much money the government provides to subsidize the cost of insurance, and the amount of air in the balloon reflects the cost of benefits.  The Republicans wants to reduce government funding which shrinks the size of the box.  They can only do this by letting air out of the balloon.  That can't be done without causing millions of Americans to lose coverage. 

Krugman did not get too far into the details of Republican plan in his analogy.  The editorial staff of the NYT describes some of the details of the proposals that the Republicans are floating so that Trump can declare victory.  The net result of any plan to reduce the size of the box will cause millions of low income Americans to lose access to healthcare.  Many of the most needy will not survive without health insurance.

Another reason why Republicans are so intent about repealing Obamacare is that they want to pass a tax reform bill that will lower taxes primarily for wealthy Americans and for Corporations.  They hope to pay for the tax cuts by cutting government funding for Obamacare.  Otherwise, the tax cuts will increase federal budget deficits.  Trump's promise to cut taxes depends upon keeping his promise to replace Obamacare. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Swamp Monster Is Filling The Swamp With Corporate Lobbyists

During his election campaign Donald Trump pretended to be a populist.  He told his devoted followers that he would "drain the swamp" in Washington.  The campaign is over and Donald Trump the plutocrat has emerged from Trump's populist shadow.  The US Chamber Of Commerce is the largest lobby in the US.  It represents the interests of the business community.  It was actively involved in determining the most business unfriendly government regulations to eliminate.  Washington is filled with lobbyists that represent the interests of industry groups they represent.  The Trump administration has hired industry lobbyists to fill important positions in government agencies.  They have been actively involved in writing the bills that the Trump Administration is pushing forward.

In addition to filling the Washington Swamp with corporate lobbyists and business executives, Trump has ended the practice of releasing the names of individuals who have been granted access to the White House.  He defended that decision by using an excuse that is typical of autocrats.  He argued that it was done to protect national security.  Apparently, the president's who preceded the Swamp Monster had been exposing the US to security risks by making visitor lists public.  The more likely explanation is that the Swamp Monster, who sold himself as a populist,  does not want the public to know that he has filled the swamp with the corporate lobbyists that he promised to remove from the swamp.  Trump the plutocrat is the kind of demagogue that our founding fathers regarded as the greatest threat to the democracy that they struggled to create.  They realized that popular concerns could be exploited by demagogues who had no regard for the national interest.  We will have to see whether the checks and balances that they built into our democratic system protects ordinary citizens from the invasion of the plutocrat disguised as a populist.

Monday, April 17, 2017

A New Twist In The French Election

This article describes the sudden rise in the polls of a communist candidate in France.  He is especially attractive young people who are not consistent voters.  Like Le Pen, he opposes the European Union but for different reasons.  Le Pen has based her campaign on restoring French identity.  The communist candidate opposes the neoliberal ideology that dominates in the EU.  He also argues against the power of the French presidency.  He wants a more democratic society with less income inequality than Le Pen who favors autocracy over democracy.

The strength of Le Pen, and the increased popularity of a far left candidate in France, makes an important point.  The problems in France are serious enough to attract more extreme candidates.  The center may not hold in France under these conditions.  If voters who oppose Le Pen,  but do not get a chance to vote for the far left candidate in the final election,  choose  to stay home, Le Pen could become the Donald Trump of France.

A Chamber Of Commerce Dream Come True

Donald Trump has asked businesses and their aligned trade associations to submit a list of government regulations that they don't like.  Republicans have always opposed government regulations that add to their costs.  This article lists the government agencies that have been most affected by the recommendations from trade associations.  The Environmental Protection Agency has been the biggest target by the trade associations.  Clean air, clean water and the reduction of carbon emissions has taken a back seat to cost reduction.  The labor department took the next biggest hit.  Worker safety and other protections drew a lot of attention from the trade assoiciations.

Its easy to understand why trade associations lobby to cut costs for their clients.  Its not as easy to see how this will stimulate economic activity and create jobs without having a negative impact on the environment and on the safety and security of the labor force.  For many firms these concerns are secondary to their bottom line.  Unfortunately, many firms do care about sustainability and about their work force.  They will be affected by the race to the bottom that will be unleashed by Trump.

Why Does Trump Feed Off Of Only Some Jobs?

Donald Trump tells coal miners and those who have lost manufacturing jobs that he will bring those jobs back.  Paul Krugman explains why Trump chose to focus on those jobs.  It certainly helped him in coal country and in the Midwestern states that he won by a narrow margin.  Krugman also explains why most of those lost jobs are not coming back.  That matters little to Trump.  The election is over. 

Krugman also points to job losses in the services sector that Trump has ignored.  For example, changes in the retail industry are visible everywhere.  The success of Amazon and big box retailers have led to huge job losses.  Large retail chains are shutting their doors and malls are closing down.  In small towns across America local shops are also closing down as consumers alter their purchasing habits in favor of online retail outlets.  Those jobs aren't coming back either.  New technologies have made online retail less expensive and more convenient for consumers.  However, Trump can't blame those job losses on villains like China or on immigrants.  Without a villain to blame those lost jobs have gone unnoticed by demagogues like Trump. 

Krugman tries to make a case for social welfare programs that might ease the pain for those who have lost their jobs.  That is a tough sell to Republicans who prefer to cut taxes for the rich and pay for the tax cuts by cutting social welfare programs.  Unfortunately, it is also a tough sell to most Americans who have lost their jobs.  They would rather work and collect a paycheck than depend upon checks from the government.  Our economy is driven by a search for efficiency.  The good news is that it lowers prices.  The bad news is that we can produce more output with fewer people.  That is a problem that will not go away.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Has Trump Really Changed?

Donald Trump has changed his positions on many issues.  It is tempting to believe that he is learning on the job and that his presidency may not be total disaster.  He has not convinced the editors of the NYT that he is growing on the job.  He had been calling China a currency manipulator for years and he told his base that he would not let China get away with currency manipulation.  Some of the adults in his administration told him that China has not been manipulating its currency for several years.  Apparently, that, along with a friendly meeting with the Chinese president at his Florida resort, convinced him to stop telling that lie.  Trump announced that there was "good chemistry" between him and the Chinese president.  That signals to Trump that he can make a deal with China.  Its no longer necessary to lie about currency manipulation.  Trump the deal maker has no real principles according to this editorial.  It goes over a long list of Trump's positions on important issues and some of the changes that he made in those positions.  It also reminds us of the lies that he continues to make.  The NYT editors are not ready to agree with those who hope that he is growing on the job.  They believe that everything that Trump does or claims is self serving.  That is how the great deal maker keeps score.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Will Le Pen Become The Trump Of France?

The election in France has many similarities with the US presidential election.  There is a good chance that the populist candidate in France will win the election.  This article describes the malaise in France that is being exploited by Le Pen.  There are lots of very difficult problems and the major political parties have not covered themselves with glory.  The traditional battle between the center right and the center left has given way to a contest between a far right populist and a candidate who offers a new face to the electorate.  Le Pen's "France First" strategy is very similar to Donald Trump's "America First" campaign.  They both promise to restore a national identity that has been eroded by open borders and globalization. 

Donald Trump will not be able to restore the good old days of an America past.  The world has changed in too many ways.  No nation, by itself, can deal with many of the issues that require international cooperation.  Four years from now America will look much like it looks today.  That is not necessarily bad.  Compared to the rest of the world Americans are very lucky.  Our major concern is that demagogues like Donald Trump will make things worse.  We will probably be lucky.  Our system of checks and balances seems to working pretty well. 

Le Pen has been effective demagogue.  She has put her finger on a host of problems that are very real.  Especially for those who live in rural areas that have been left behind.  However, she does not seem to have many solutions for the problems that she exploits.  Even worse, if she wins the election and she gives up the common currency, and the European Union,  things could get much worse.  Nostalgia for a past that cannot be restored will be replace by chaos.  Le Pen will be much worse for France than Donald Trump will be for America.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Trump's Campaign Is Over. He May Realize That He Is A Republican President

Donald Trump campaigned as if he could turn Putin into an ally.  Indeed, he did receive help during his campaign from Russia. However, he has not welcomed the attention that he has been receiving about Russia's intervention in his campaign.  Moreover, several of his policy initiatives have failed badly.  Steve Bannon, who does not understand the role of the Republican congress in policy formation, contributed his policy failure.  Bannon's declaration of war against the media has also been a failure.  The Washington Post and the NYT have only stepped up their criticism of Trump.  They have prospered from the Trump attacks.  Trump seems to have decided that he can't run our country as a renegade.  He is not inhibited by any principles.  Consequently, he is likely to stop throwing bombs at the government and senior Republicans who have been unhappy with his policies.  Some might say that he is fickle.  The more likely explanation is that he is still learning how to be a president.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Is Trump Distancing Himself From Bannon?

Trump said that he, and not Bannon was in charge of strategy.  He also said that Bannon was late to his campaign.  He arrived after Trump had wiped out his Republican opponents in the GOP primaries.  Trump's statements about Bannon would ordinarily send a loud message if they came from a typical politician.  Its hard to read much into many of Trump's statements because he often contradicts himself.  However, Trump has not been happy with the late night night shows which had portrayed Bannon as the wizard behind the curtain in the White House.  Trump believes that he is the wizard.

FISA Warrant Was Issued To Monitor Trump Associate Carter Page

Carter Page has a long history of connections with Moscow, and he was a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.  This article shows that FISA warrants to monitor US citizens are very difficult to obtain.  The FBI had to convince the FISA judges that there were reasons to suspect Page of acting as a foreign agent.  The FBI has also concluded that it was investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian activities that were used to influence the US election.  Carter Page is the first Trump associate to be monitored by the FBI.  Other Trump associates had their phone conversations recorded with Russian officials who were being monitored by the FBI. 

There Is Nothing New About Donald Trump's Conservatism

This article was written by a historian who reviewed a large variety of conservative movements in the US.  One of America's leading conservative intellectuals William F. Buckley led a revival of conservative thought in the 1950's by eliminating most of the fringe ideas, like the John Birch Society, and the KKK from his conservative ideology,  Buckley was a big hit among college conservatives who were a minority on many campuses.  Under Buckley, they banded together in a new organization that they called Young Americans For Freedom.  David Brooks was one of the leaders of this organization.  It should not be surprising that David Brooks has found it difficult to explain Donald Trump's appeal among many conservatives.  Trump's conservatism consists of fringe ideas that were excluded form the movement by William F. Buckley.  This article describes the fringe movements that inspired a variety of conservatives in our history.  There is nothing new about the far right movement in the US today.  The concluding paragraph in this article is quoted below. 

Future historians won’t find all that much of a foundation for Trumpism in the grim essays of William F. Buckley, the scrupulous constitutionalist principles of Barry Goldwater or the bright-eyed optimism of Ronald Reagan. They’ll need instead to study conservative history’s political surrealists and intellectual embarrassments, its con artists and tribunes of white rage. It will not be a pleasant story. But if those historians are to construct new arguments to make sense of Trump, the first step may be to risk being impolite
 The political debate in France today is also much different than the old fashioned distinction between  the left and the right.  It is between a modified form of populism and liberalism.  The new populism is really about a perceived threat to cultural identity from immigration and globalization which are supported by the economic idea of neo-liberalism.  The new liberalism also has little to do with far left ideas that were common in the past.  It is more about cultural liberty.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

US Policy Shifts Against Russia

The White House accused Russia of attempting to cover up the use of nerve gas by Assad.  The report that it issued included information collected by US intelligence to support its claim.  The White House press secretary, who speaks for Trump, has altered its story about Syria and the US position.  It started our by taking Trump's campaign position that the US would not enter into international conflicts unless its own interests were being threatened.  It has gradually escalated, perhaps in response to the global reaction its weak response. 

Rex Tillerson is in Moscow today where he will suggest the Putin should back away from Assad.  Putin is sticking to his position with Assad and he is claiming that the gas attack was a hoax.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Chairman Of House Intelligence Committee Recuses Himself From Russia Investigation

The House Ethics Committee announced that it decided that Devon Nunes violated the code of ethics when he revealed classified information provided by the White House.  Nunes recused himself from the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into efforts by Russia to influence the outcome of the presidential election following the decision by the ethics committee.  Until that time Nunes had refused that give up his chairmanship of the committees Russian investigation.  That caused dissension on the committee and its investigation floundered.  Members of the House investigation committee were cheered by the Nunes' recusal; it will resume its investigation of Russia's efforts to influence the election.  The investigation will pursue possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian's with known connections to Trump surrogates.

How Steve Bannon Exploited Tax Exempt Organizations To Earn Millions

This article demonstrates the value of investigative journalism that few news organizations can afford to provide to the public.  The Washington Post investigated Steve Bannon because of his position on the Trump campaign and his current role in the Trump White House.  It shows how Bannon earned millions from conservative non-profit charities and how conservative billionaires were able to funnel money to Bannon by making "donations" to tax exempt organizations.  However, the most important lesson from the article is the description that it provides of the connections between billionaire conservative donors and the tax free organizations that are effectively employed to elect conservative politicians.  For example, the Mercer family contributed funds to Citizens United foundation in order to fund projects that employed Steve Bannon.  Bannon has a close relationship to the Mercer family and to the head of Citizens United.  Bannon produced conservative films and he used Breitbart News to deliver political messages to the base that elected Trump.  Bannon had connections with many conservative in addition to Citizens United.  Fund from the Koch organization found their way to Bannon as well.  US politics have changed dramatically since  Citizens United won a Supreme Court case that accelerated the flow of money from individuals and corporations to politicians.  Conservative news organizations, like Breitbart News, have developed to deliver the political messages.  President Obama and the Clinton's have been popular targets.  Bannon produced a negative film on the Clinton's in 2016 in the final stages of the Trump campaign,

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Will A President Who Does Not Believe We Need A Wall Spend Billions On It?

Donald Trump revealed his ideas about building a wall along the Mexican border during an interview with the NYT during his primary campaign.  His comments on building the wall are classic Trump.  That is, a set of contradictory ideas not connected into a clear idea about the need for a wall.  He revealed himself at one point in the interview when he stated that sometimes he lost his audience during his speeches and he could bring the audience back by screaming that he would build the wall.  (This was probably right up there with "lock her up")

There are many issues about building the wall and whether it will really do anything about illegal entry into the US from South of the border.  It certainly will do nothing to stop the flow of illegal drugs into the US.  So why is Trump still planning to build a wall?  You guessed it.  It is just another one of the campaign promises that he made.  Now he has to do something about it in order to hang onto his base.  It will cost taxpayers billions so that Trump can look good to his base.  In the meantime it has totally soured our relationship with Mexico.  They will not pay for the wall in order to satisfy another of Trump's campaign promises.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Trumpism, Republicanism And Ugliness

Paul Krugman argues that there are lots of similarities between Trumpism and Republican ideology.  The major difference is that the man at the top is better than most Republicans at convincing its less affluent base that he really cares about them.   They believe that he is honest despite his history of lying about almost everything.  They confuse honesty with "telling it like it is".  In other words, Trump is honest because he does not hesitate to utter things that respectable elites are afraid to say.  For example, he defended Bill O'Reilly who has been accused of sexual harassment by several women who worked with him at Fox News.  That proves that he is really "one of the guys".  Trump and Fox News have been making it more comfortable for people to express ugly things.  Political correctness is an elite kind of thing.  It has become part of their populist creed.

One of the differences between Trumpism and Republicanism is that Trump is an inept manager.  His ideas about almost everything are fleeting.  Its hard for his team to figure out what they should be doing.  For example, he claimed that he would not get involved in things that did not directly affect America.  He avoided moralizing about the use of chemical weapons against civilians after Assad used nerve gas on innocent civilians.  Then he decided that killing innocent citizens should be punished and he ordered the military to use missiles against Assad.  He could hardly wait to puff up his chest and boast that Obama had decided not to attack Assad after he warned him against crossing the "red line".  Trump was not going to be a weak leader.  What Trump did not think about was how the attack fits into his foreign policy strategy.  That is because he does not have a strategy.  He prefers to operate on impulse.  That is one of the reasons why his healthcare bill did not become law when he only needed to sell it to his own political party.  Trump's approach to tax policy is pure Republicanism.  He wants to cut taxes for the rich and pay for the tax cuts by reducing spending on social welfare programs.  His inability to pass his healthcare bill, which seriously cut federal spending, is creating problems for the tax changes that he has promised to the affluent part of the GOP base.

Its hard to figure out what comes next with Trumpism.  However, we can bet that the world be an uglier place when he has finished messing everything up.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

MBA's From Top Programs Are Heading To Silicon Valley

The chart below shows the flow of MBA's from several of the top programs to Silicon Valley.  "Go West young MBA's".

Trump Plays The Blame Game Like A Professional

We try to teach our children to take personal responsibility for their actions.  We believe that it makes them better people because it will help them to learn from their mistakes.  It may be difficult to take personal responsibility in politics for a variety of reasons.  After all, the next election is always on the horizon.  Donald Trump, however, is the hands down champion of avoiding personal responsibility for his actions or inaction.  Dana Milbank has been keeping score of the blame game as it is played by The Donald.  Trump has broken all of the existing records.  Its no wonder he has not learned much from the mistakes that he has made.  Perhaps that is how he became a billionaire and the president.  We may want to teach our children how to play the blame game as well as Trump.  The next time you make a mistake you may want to ask yourself what The Donald would do in your position.  You will also have to learn how to use your Twitter account.

Trump Removes Steve Bannon From Key Security Role

Palace intrigue heightens in the White House.  General McMaster, the head of the National Security Council (NSC), forced the president to remove Steve Bannon from the "principals committee" which presides over the issues that will go to the presidential level.  McMaster followed the tradition set by previous chairs of the NSC who did not want a political strategist involved in making critical security decisions.  McMaster also added key officials to the NSC.  Some of them had been kept off of the committee by Trump.  The energy secretary was one of the new members of the NSC.  Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon, who is now secretary of state, is also a member of the NSC.

Steve Bannon has been very close to Trump but he has been involved in many decisions where his inexperience in government may have contributed to some of Trump's several failures since he assumed the presidency.  Its not clear how Bannon's demotion will affect Trump's future decisions.  Bannon contributed to Trump's election by positioning Trump as a populist and a nationalist who would place America first.  Trump is probably discovering that many of Bannon's ideas do not play well with other members of his cabinet.

Although McMaster may have won a battle by removing Bannon from his key position, Trump refused to remove the 30 year old Cohen-Watnick  from his position on the NSC.  His position has been supported by Bannon and by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner.  Cohen-Watnick was used by Bannon to provide security information to the head of the House intelligence committee.  Trump is still keeping political control of the NSC.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Republican Lies About The Estate Tax

The Republican Party has consistently attempted to eliminate the estate tax.  They claim that the estate tax, which they call the death tax, steals money away from small business owners and small farmers.  Their supporters don't know enough about tax policy to understand that this is a big lie.  Only 50 small business owners and small farmers are affected by the estate tax because it only affects the very large estates that are primarily owned by their major donors. There is a $10 million exemption for a married couple.  They would would only pay a tax on assets above the exemption. 
The image below shows the real impact of the estate tax on small farmers and small businesses.  Republicans depend upon the ignorance of their base to win elections.  They always claim that they are protecting the interests of ordinary citizens when they propose policies that benefit the super rich.  They get away with false populism because their base is systematically misinformed.  Donald Trump won the presidency by pretending to be a populist.  He still plays that game even though his cabinet appointees are among the super rich. Most the tax "reforms" under discussion in the White House are designed to reduce taxes for the super rich.  That shifts the tax burden to the middle class and it requires the government to reduce spending in order to avoid budget deficits. Most of the spending cuts under consideration target social welfare programs that primarily benefit the populists that voted for Trump.

John McCain Calls Trump's Refusal To Punish Assad A Crime Against Humanity

The horrible attack on Syrian citizens by its president has shocked most the world.  However, there are two important exceptions.  President Trump did not take any actions to punish Assad.  Instead, he used the occasion to blame President Obama for being a weak president.  Trump is still behaving as if he were running his campaign instead of assuming the role of a US president.  John McCain, one of the most senior Republicans in the senate, blasted Trump's inaction on CNN.  Perhaps Trump did not want to criticize Assad while Putin is trying to blame the rebels for gassing their supporters.  Nevertheless, Trump has refused to take a moral position against the crime.  Morality is not one of his strong suits.  The only thing that is really immoral to Trump are things that affect him personally.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Trump's EPA Appointee Gets Crushed On Fox News

Donald Trump gave the fossil fuel industry good value in return for its funding of Republican political campaigns.  He appointed a lawyer from Oklahoma who has sued the EPA numerous times during his career as Oklahoma's Attorney General.  It doesn't get any better than that.  Scott Pruitt now is charge of the federal agency that is charged with protecting Americans from pollution and the effects of global warming which does not exist according Pruitt.  A lawyer, with no scientific training, is now in charge of the scientists in the EPA. 

We did not expect anything else from The Donald.  Many of his appointees are now in charge of federal agencies whose missions they do not support.  They are part of his team that will "Make America Great Again"  by dismantling the federal government agencies that do not carry weapons.  Ordinarily, The Donald's henchmen agree to be interviewed on Fox News because it typically supports Trump's agenda.  Chris Wallace pulled a surprise on Scott Pruitt.  He was not prepared to answer any questions related to the mission of the EPA.  Wallace asked his response to data which indicates that Americans will suffer from many illnesses due to his failure to enforce EPA pollution regulations.  Pruitt ignored the health issue and responded to Wallace's question like a lawyer who spent most of his life defending the fossil fuel industry from EPA regulations.  He argued that government regulations were evil (apparently because his clients don't like them).  He probably thought that his answer would be OK in Fox News.  Chris Wallace dismissed his answer and asked Pruitt him to respond to the health issue that he raised.  Pruitt could only respond like a well paid defense attorney for the fossil fuel industry.  He repeating his attack on government regulation which would ordinarily work on Fox News.  After all Fox News taught them to hate government regulation and to reject any connections to human causes of pollution or climate change.

Breitbart News was also disappointed by Scott Pruitt's response to Chris Wallace.  It attacked Pruitt for looking weak during the interview.  Breitbart expects tha a good Nazi would have gone on the attack instead of behaving like a weakling.  Pruitt may not be manly enough to perform his duty like our fearless leader in the White House should expect.

Monday, April 3, 2017

The Evil Empire Is Wearing New Clothes

Not too long ago Ronald Reagan decided that it was politically expedient to defend America against the "Evil Empire" otherwise known as Russia.  His America was the bastion of capitalism and Russia represented the threat of socialism.  In other words, the political right was defined by free market capitalism and the left wing represented socialism.  Reagan's "Evil Empire" has changed the political landscape dramatically in the last few years.  It has successfully transformed itself into a leadership in the right wing movement that has transformed politics in the US and in Europe.  Putin has turned Russia into a conservative direction that has much in common with the far right.  He has restored the relationship of his state with the Russian Orthodox church that played a central role in the Russian empire before the communist revolution.  His opposition to gay rights, and his views on abortion are similar to those held by most of the far right organizations in the US and elsewhere.  Putin has done a remarkable job of leading the far right movements in the rest of the world.  Donald Trump has praised his leadership and he has become more popular with his supporters than President Obama.  They have only a 9% favorable opinion of Obama compared to a 35% favorability rating of Putin.  Not surprisingly,  Putin's favorability rating among registered Republicans has increased from 12% to 32%.  Liberalism has replaced communism as the "Evil Empire" among many far right conservatives.

The financial crisis in the US led to an economic downturn in the US and in Europe which contributed to the far right political movement.  Economic and political elites were blamed for conspiring against the working class while globalization was moving manufacturing jobs to low wage paying nations.  Not surprisingly, the far right moved quickly to create new enemies to replace the "Evil Empire".  Economic and national integration became the enemy.  A new kind of nationalism developed to assure those who worried about immigration, terrorism and a perceived loss of cultural identity.  Donald Trump exploited those concerns, and like Putin in Russia,  he asserted himself as the powerful leader that was required to restore greatness to their nations.  Nationalism has been reborn as defense against economic insecurity and cultural dislocations. 

The cold war has also been replaced by new weapons.  Authoritarianism is incompatible with free access to information.  Donald Trump's attack on the free press should not be surprising.  The social media have been used by Putin and by Trump to misinform the public.  Fake news sites are the only source of unbiased news according to Trump.  Responsible journalism, which depends upon evidence in support of opinion,  is regarded as "the opposition" by Trump's top strategist Steven Bannon.  Trump refers to any news source that does not share his views as the real fake news.  It should not also be surprising that Putin has been deploying information technology to support politicians who do not threaten his regime.  Right wing political movements that have much in common with his outlook are his best defense against military threat from NATO and the ideological threat of liberal democracy.