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“Huge, Glitzy, Unembarrassed”: Trump’s Incoherence Veers Into The Danger Zone

Perhaps the laws of political gravity are about to take hold in the case of Donald Trump. But the lesson of this appalling primary season cautions against discounting Trump’s appeal — which prompts another Trump column, this one on the utter incoherence of his policy views.

It’s not simply that Trump is wrong on policy. Ted Cruz is wrong on policy. Trump is wrong on policy and argues for policy positions glaringly inconsistent with his asserted principles. All politicians do this, sure. But Trump’s incoherence is classically Trumpian — huge, glitzy, unembarrassed.

That phenomenon was on vivid display last week, as world leaders gathered for a summit on nuclear nonproliferation. On this topic, Trump stands, or says he does, with the global consensus. He raised the issue in his discussion with The Post’s editorial board, in response to a question about whether he believes in man-made climate change.

“The biggest risk to the world, to me . . . is nuclear weapons,” Trump said. “That is a disaster, and we don’t even know where the nuclear weapons are right now. . . . The biggest risk for this world and this country is nuclear weapons, the power of nuclear weapons.”

Okay, and — leaving aside the strange suggestion that authorities don’t know where the nukes are — give Trump credit for emphasizing the nuclear risk.

Except, jump ahead a few days, to Trump’s interview with the New York Times and his CNN town hall. Given Trump’s argument that the United States should withdraw military protections from Japan and South Korea, the Times’s David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman asked: Should those countries be able to obtain their own nuclear weapons?

Trump’s answer managed to combine his concerns about proliferation with opening the door to more. “There’ll be a point at which we’re just not going to be able to do it anymore,” he said. “Now, does that mean nuclear? It could mean nuclear. It’s a very scary nuclear world. . . . At the same time, you know, we’re a country that doesn’t have money.”

So the United States can’t afford a nuclear deterrent? The cost of maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal was $24 billion in 2015, and is expected to total about $350 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The cost of Trump’s proposed tax cuts is around $1 trillion — annually. I’m no billionaire, but that doesn’t seem like a smart balance of spending priorities.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper pushed Trump further on the conflict between his anti-proliferation stance and his willingness to allow more proliferation — during which Trump opened the door to a nuclear Saudi Arabia, closed it, and then cracked it open again.

Cooper: “So you have no problem with Japan and South Korea having . . . nuclear weapons.”

Trump: “At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea, we’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself . . .”

Cooper: “So if you said, Japan, yes, it’s fine, you get nuclear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says we want them, too?”

Trump: “Can I be honest with you? It’s going to happen, anyway. . . . It’s only a question of time.”

This is a radical position, even contained to South Korea and Japan. “That would be an incredible catastrophe,” said Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association. “We have a big enough problem with stability in that region without introducing two new nuclear weapons states.”

The cornerstone of U.S. nuclear policy for decades has been to prevent additional countries from acquiring nuclear capability. The more countries with nuclear weapons, the greater the risk of use, and of technology and material falling into the wrong hands. China would likely respond by increasing its nuclear arsenal. Other countries would lobby to go nuclear. U.S. influence in the region — on trade rules that Trump cares about, for example — would wane.

“No contender for the presidency of the United States in either party has ever said that since nuclear weapons were invented,” Michael Green of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who served on the National Security Council under George W. Bush and advised the Jeb Bush campaign, said of Trump’s view. “It would cost us enormously . . . in terms of the steps we’d have to take to defend ourselves against a much more weaponized world.”

There are other examples of Trumpian incoherence, but perhaps none so striking, and so dangerous if taken seriously.

 

By: Ruth Marcus, Columnist, The Washington Post, April 3, 2016

April 4, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Nuclear Weapons, World Leaders | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Trade And Tribulation”: Protectionists Almost Always Exaggerate The Adverse Effects Of Trade Liberalization

Why did Bernie Sanders win a narrow victory in Michigan, when polls showed Hillary Clinton with a huge lead? Nobody really knows, but there’s a lot of speculation that Mr. Sanders may have gained traction by hammering on the evils of trade agreements. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, while directing most of his fire against immigrants, has also been bashing the supposedly unfair trading practices of China and other nations.

So, has the protectionist moment finally arrived? Maybe, maybe not: There are other possible explanations for Michigan, and free-traders have repeatedly cried wolf about protectionist waves that never materialized. Still, this time could be different. And if protectionism really is becoming an important political force, how should reasonable people — economists and others — respond?

To make sense of the debate over trade, there are three things you need to know.

The first is that we have gotten to where we are — a largely free-trade world — through a generations-long process of international diplomacy, going all the way back to F.D.R. This process combines a series of quid pro quos — I’ll open my markets if you open yours — with rules to prevent backsliding.

The second is that protectionists almost always exaggerate the adverse effects of trade liberalization. Globalization is only one of several factors behind rising income inequality, and trade agreements are, in turn, only one factor in globalization. Trade deficits have been an important cause of the decline in U.S. manufacturing employment since 2000, but that decline began much earlier. And even our trade deficits are mainly a result of factors other than trade policy, like a strong dollar buoyed by global capital looking for a safe haven.

And yes, Mr. Sanders is demagoguing the issue, for example with a Twitter post linking the decline of Detroit, which began in the 1960s and has had very little to do with trade liberalization, to “Hillary Clinton’s free-trade policies.”

That said, not all free-trade advocates are paragons of intellectual honesty. In fact, the elite case for ever-freer trade, the one that the public hears, is largely a scam. That’s true even if you exclude the most egregious nonsense, like Mitt Romney’s claim that protectionism causes recessions. What you hear, all too often, are claims that trade is an engine of job creation, that trade agreements will have big payoffs in terms of economic growth and that they are good for everyone.

Yet what the models of international trade used by real experts say is that, in general, agreements that lead to more trade neither create nor destroy jobs; that they usually make countries more efficient and richer, but that the numbers aren’t huge; and that they can easily produce losers as well as winners. In principle the overall gains mean that the winners could compensate the losers, so that everyone gains. In practice, especially given the scorched-earth obstructionism of the G.O.P., that’s not going to happen.

Why, then, did we ever pursue these agreements? A large part of the answer is foreign policy: Global trade agreements from the 1940s to the 1980s were used to bind democratic nations together during the Cold War, Nafta was used to reward and encourage Mexican reformers, and so on.

And anyone ragging on about those past deals, like Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders, should be asked what, exactly, he proposes doing now. Are they saying that we should rip up America’s international agreements? Have they thought about what that would do to our credibility and standing in the world?

What I find myself thinking about, in particular, is climate change — an all-important issue we can’t confront effectively unless all major nations participate in a joint effort, with last year’s Paris agreement just the beginning. How is that going to work if America shows itself to be a nation that reneges on its deals?

The most a progressive can responsibly call for, I’d argue, is a standstill on further deals, or at least a presumption that proposed deals are guilty unless proved innocent.

The hard question to deal with here is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration has negotiated but Congress hasn’t yet approved. (I consider myself a soft opponent: It’s not the devil’s work, but I really wish President Obama hadn’t gone there.) People I respect in the administration say that it should be considered an existing deal that should stand; I’d argue that there’s a lot less U.S. credibility at stake than they claim.

The larger point in this election season is, however, that politicians should be honest and realistic about trade, rather than taking cheap shots. Striking poses is easy; figuring out what we can and should do is a lot harder. But you know, that’s a would-be president’s job.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 11, 2016

March 13, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Protectionism, Trade Agreements, Trans Pacific Partnership | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Early Thoughts On A Clinton/Trump Race”: Does Not Preclude Demonstrating To Voters That He Is A Fool

For the last few days, my head has wanted to play with the idea of what a general election match-up between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump would look like. To be honest, I’ve tried to fend off those thoughts because – if we’ve learned anything from this primary season so far – it is that forecasting the future of this race is a fools errand. For example, take a look at how David Plouffe handicapped Trump’s chances in the general:

But today I’m reading about Democrats starting to prepare to face Trump in November. Stan Greenberg’s Democracy Corps released some interesting data about Republican voters. In addition, Amy Chozick and Patrick Healy talked to people in the Clinton camp about how they are preparing to face The Donald.

After all that, I can’t stop myself. With full caveats about how things might change, I have a few thoughts to share about a Clinton/Trump contest.

First of all, unlike Greg Sargent, I never doubted that Democrats would take Trump seriously. Given the Party’s propensity to “Oh, my!!” at the slightest challenge, I’d be much more concerned about the possibility of cowering at his supposed strength.

What has been tripping my synapses lately is the reality that the whole conversation changes (mostly for Republicans) once it turns away from appealing to base voters and heads towards the general populace. Republicans have avoided going after Trump too hard for fear of offending his supporters. The Clinton campaign won’t share that concern.

While Mrs. Clinton radiates positive energy on the trail, Democratic groups are beginning to coalesce around a strategy to deliver sustained and brutal attacks on Mr. Trump.

The plan has three major thrusts: Portray Mr. Trump as a heartless businessman who has worked against the interests of the working-class voters he now appeals to; broadcast the degrading comments he has made against women in order to sway suburban women, who have been reluctant to support Mrs. Clinton; and highlight his brash, explosive temper to show he is unsuited to be commander in chief.

On the debate stage, Trump won’t be surrounded by weak candidates trying to show that they can out-bully him with moderators like Hugh Hewitt and the cast at Fox News. He might actually be pressed to answer questions about things like how he would deal with Vladimir Putin or how he would round up 11 million undocumented people or what he would do about climate change. Imagine that!

Chozick and Healy focus on the fact that Clinton and Trump are polar opposites when it comes to approach.

Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton are polar opposite politicians, and Mr. Trump’s direct and visceral style could prove difficult for Mrs. Clinton, whose inclination is detailed policy talk and 12-point plans.

That kind of thing might have been worrying before we all saw how Clinton handled the Republican members at the Benghazi Hearing a few months ago. For eleven hours she maintained her composure while they threw their rants and raves at her. In the end, they were the ones who looked foolish. I can imagine something similar in a general election debate.

Finally, I am looking forward to the day that President Obama is able to weigh in on the campaign trail for the Democratic nominee. Over the years he has shown several characteristics that Clinton could employ. For example, the President has been a master at giving the opposition enough rope to hang themselves. One needs only recall the moment when he simply said, “Please proceed, Governor” to Mitt Romney during a debate. He is also the person who – to this day – has done the best job of using humor against Donald Trump. Remember this?

There are a lot of ways to take a potential Donald Trump nomination seriously. That does not preclude demonstrating to voters that he is a fool.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, March 1, 2016

March 2, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, General Election 2016, Hillary Clinton | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Sanders’s Story Provides A Comforting Fable”: What Bernie Sanders Doesn’t Understand About American Politics

At the recent Democratic town hall, moderator Chris Cuomo presented Bernie Sanders with what has been a common complaint about his presidential campaign: Sanders’s relentless focus on income inequality, in this campaign and through his career, raises the question of whether he is prepared to address the full spectrum of issues faced by a president. But there is a deeper problem with Sanders’s vision of American politics. It is not just that he has trouble talking about issues other than the redistribution of income; it’s that he has trouble conceptualizing those issues in any other terms. His rigidly economistic frame of mind prevents Sanders from seeing the world as it is.

The phrase Sanders invokes constantly, and which distinguishes him from Hillary Clinton and other Democrats not merely in degree but also in kind, is “political revolution.” The political revolution is the secret sauce. When presented with any concrete obstacles that would stand between him and his desired policy outcomes, Sanders brings up the revolution, which will transform the world he inhabits into the one he desires. One questioner at the town hall asked how Sanders proposes to pass his left-wing economic program, given “the likelihood that Republicans will win control over at least one house of Congress.” This poses a massive obstacle, given the twin facts of a map that requires Democrats to win Republican-leaning districts in order to gain a majority and polarization so deep that almost all voters now choose the same party up and down the ballot. How to get around these obstacles? Sanders again brought up (this time, without using the term) the revolution:

In my view, you have a Congress today that is much more worried about protecting the interest of the wealthy and the powerful and making sure they get campaign contributions from the wealthy and the powerful.

If we are serious about rebuilding the American middle class, if we are serious about providing paid family and medical leave to all of our people, if we are serious about ending the disgrace of having so many of our children live in poverty, the real way to do it is to have millions of Americans finally stand up and say, enough is enough, for people to get engaged in the political process, to finally demand that Washington represent all of us, not just a handful of very wealthy people.

Note that Sanders, asked about Republican opposition to his proposals, defined that opposition as “protecting the interest of the wealthy and the powerful.” It is certainly true that fealty to the interests of the rich heavily colors Republican policy. But Sanders is not merely presenting corruption as one factor. It is the entirety of it. Likewise, Sanders has difficulty imagining any reason other than corruption to explain disagreements by fellow Democrats, which he relentlessly attributes to the nefarious influence of corporate wealth. One does not have to dismiss the political power of massed wealth to acknowledge that other things influence the conclusions drawn by Americans who don’t share Sanders’s full diagnosis.

In reality, people have organic reasons to vote Republican. Some of them care more about social issues or foreign policy than economics. Sanders would embrace many concepts — “socialism,” big government in the abstract, and middle-class tax increases — that register badly with the public. People are very reluctant to give up their health insurance, even if it is true that Sanders could give them something better.

What’s more, the interests of the wealthy do not cut as cleanly as Sanders indicates. It’s true that business and the rich tend to oppose parts of his program like higher taxes on the rich, more generous social insurance, and tougher regulation of finance. But the Obama administration’s stimulus encountered intense Republican opposition even though it did not pose a threat to any business interests. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce even endorsed the stimulus, which profited business both directly (by pumping billions into contracts for projects like infrastructure) and indirectly (by goosing public demand for its members’ products). That did not stop 100 percent of House Republicans from opposing it. Nor did the unified opposition of the business lobby dissuade Republicans from holding the debt ceiling hostage in 2011, or persuade them to pass immigration reform in 2013. Sanders currently proposes a massive infrastructure program, which would make lots of money for the construction industry. Clearly, subservience to big business only goes so far in explaining Republican behavior.

The depiction of conservatism as a mere cover for greed is a habit Sanders indulges over and over. Donald Trump’s appeal, in Sanders’s telling, has nothing to do with xenophobia or nationalism: “They’re angry because they’re working longer hours for lower wages, they’re angry because their jobs have left this country and gone to China or other low-wage countries, they’re angry because they can’t afford to send their kids to college so they can’t retire with dignity.” Sanders does not explain why this economic security has manifested itself almost entirely among white voters when minorities are suffering the same conditions. He simply assumes Trump has converted economic frustration into a series of pseudo-concerns, and rather than deal with those beliefs, Sanders proposes instead to convert them back into their original form: “I think for his working-class and middle-class supporters, I think we can make the case that if we really want to address the issues that people are concerned about … we need policies that bring us together that take on the greed of Wall Street, the greed of corporate America, and create a middle class that works for all of us rather than an economy that works just for a few.”

It is not only Republican voters whose ideas Sanders refuses to grapple with. Here he is in the previous debate explaining Republican climate-science denial: “It is amazing to me, and I think we’ll have agreement on this up here, that we have a major party, called the Republican Party, that is so owned by the fossil-fuel industry and their campaign contributions that they don’t even have the courage, the decency to listen to the scientists.” It is surely true that fossil-fuel contributions have encouraged the spread of climate-science denial. But the doctrine also appeals philosophically to conservatives. It expresses their disdain for liberal elites, and, more important, it justifies opposition to government action. Psychologists and social scientists have poured years of study into identifying the causes of climate-science denial. One does not need to harbor even the slightest whiff of sympathy for climate-science denial to grasp that its causes run deeper than a cash transaction with Big Oil. Figures like George Will and Charles Krauthammer dismiss climate science because it is a way to maintain order within their mental world. Many other conservatives have social or professional reasons to believe, or at least to say, that Will and Krauthammer are serious intellectuals rather than loons spouting transparently preposterous conspiracy theories. There are deep tribal influences at work that cannot be reduced to economic self-interest.

Sanders’s story provides a comforting fable for his party. Not only are Democrats not hemmed in by the Republican hold on Congress, but they don’t even need to do the laborious work of persuading the political center to come to their side. They need only to rise up and break the grip of moneyed interests on the political system.

There are many reasons to doubt Sanders’s promise that he can transform American politics. Perhaps the most fundamental is that he does not actually understand how it works.

 

By: Jonathan Chait, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 27, 2016

January 30, 2016 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Congress, Economic Inequality, House Republicans | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Out In The Fever Swamps”:The One Thing To Know About Obama’s Philosophy On Executive Actions

There he goes again: President Barack Obama is issuing an executive order to tighten regulations of gun sales to make background checks modestly more effective. And in doing so, Obama is thumbing his nose at Republicans who claim his habit of end-running the legislative branch to act on his own reveals a dictatorial temperament and perhaps even a threat to the Constitution. Out in the fever swamps, the conspiracy theory holding that Obama is going to cancel the presidential elections and rule by decree will gain new adherents. And here and there (and from “centrist” pundits as well as Republicans) you will hear angry talk about the president once again betraying the bipartisanship he promised to bring to Washington back in 2008. You’ll even hear some progressive and Democratic validation of this treatment in the form of claims that Obama is pursuing extremism in the defense of this or that urgent policy goal.

Obama himself laid the political groundwork for this action not by insisting on his as opposed to Republicans’ ideas about gun safety, but by noting repeatedly that the Republican-led Congress has refused to act even in the wake of catastrophes like those at Sandy Hook and San Bernardino. Here’s the relevant statement from the White House:

The president has made clear the most impactful way to address the crisis of gun violence in our country is for Congress to pass some common sense gun safety measures. But the president has also said he’s fully aware of the unfortunate political realities in this Congress. That is why he has asked his team to scrub existing legal authorities to see if there’s any additional action we can take administratively.

If you look back at Obama’s record on big executive actions — on guns, climate change, and immigration — you see the same situation. It’s not that he’s fought for “liberal” as opposed to “conservative” policies in these areas. It’s that congressional Republicans, pressured by conservative opinion-leaders and interest groups, have refused to do anything at all. They are in denial about climate change and in paralyzing internal disagreement on immigration, and refuse to consider any new gun regulations. So there’s literally no one to hold bipartisan negotiations with on these issues, and no way to reach common ground. In all these cases, the absence of action creates its own dreadful policies, most notably on immigration where a refusal to set enforcement priorities and to fund them forces arbitrary actions no one supports.

So taking executive actions is hardly a betrayal of bipartisanship, but rather a forlorn plea for it. And it’s significant that Obama is usually acting on issues in which the Republican rank-and-file are far more supportive of action than their purported representatives in Congress.

Back during his announcement of candidacy in 2007, Obama made it reasonably clear that he didn’t just want to cut deals between the two parties in Washington, but also intended to force action on them when gridlock prevailed. After discussing several national challenges, he said:

What’s stopped us from meeting these challenges is not the absence of sound policies and sensible plans. What’s stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics — the ease with which we’re distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle big problems.

Knowing that a Republican president could and probably would roll back all his executive actions, Obama is not taking a preferred course of action. If, of course, a Democratic succeeds him, his policies will take root and probably endure. Eventually, the two parties may come to agree on the challenges the country faces, and then have actual discussions — and disagreements and competition — over how to address them. That’s bipartisanship. And counterintuitive as it may seem, Obama’s executive actions may be necessary to produce bipartisanship down the road.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, January 5, 2016

January 7, 2016 Posted by | Bipartisanship, Gun Regulations, Gun Violence, Republican Obstructionalism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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