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Christmas Tree Protectionism

December 26, 2017 in Economics

By Scott McPherson


By: Scott McPherson

Whether it’s for cheap steel or cheap tires, Americans are supposed to be afraid of trade with China because it provides us with products we want at low prices. But to the damage allegedly inflicted on our economy by those who would save us money, must we now add…artificial Christmas trees?

According to a November 27 story in Breitbart News, Chinese companies dominate the domestic market, and their fake trees are “driving” Christmas tree-growers in Oregon out of business. The number of fake trees sold in the U.S. “more than doubled” from 2010 to 2016 (my wife and I contributed to that statistic, purchasing our beloved tree in 2014) while the number of Christmas trees cut and sold dropped by twenty-six percent. The number of “active growers” dropped by thirty percent. All of which is supposed to alarm us.

There’s no reason to be concerned. Demand for real trees is declining in favor of artificial trees because more consumers prefer their convenience, quality, and price. Breitbart claims this is a “vicious cycle,” but it’s just a reflection of consumer desire.

Consumers in the U.S. are buying fake trees because they are cheaper, and because they believe fake trees to be healthier and safer. In a market economy we each decide to the best of our ability which products and services we require; that’s an important part of life in a free society. Oregon tree-growers will suffer the ill-effects of this trend, but players in the market voluntarily take that risk (for which they rightly deserve any reward). Consumers save money, which can then be spent on other things we desire, and our homes have fewer allergens. Perhaps even fewer fires.

Breitbart warns that fake trees aren’t biodegradable! True. But neither are American-made artificial Christmas trees, and regardless of who makes them they practically last forever. And the land previously used to grow trees can now be put to more efficient and productive use, or donated to a land trust, or opened to hiking or hunting. The labor and resources required to grow, chop and ship trees around the country will be employed satisfying other demands. Humanity is better served.

Over a century and a half ago, a French economist named Frederic Bastiat urged his readers to embrace free trade, to look beyond the “immediate and temporary effects” of economic changes and displacements “to their general …read more


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Melania Trump Orders Removal of 200-Year-Old Tree at the White House

December 26, 2017 in Blogs

By Sydney Pereira, Newsweek

The Jackson Magnolia on the property dates back to the early 1800s.

The historic Jackson Magnolia has been on the south facade of the White House since the 1800s—making it the oldest on the grounds. But Tuesday, Melania Trump reportedly made the decision to have it removed after tree specialists determined “the overall architecture and structure of the tree is greatly compromised,” reported CNN. CNN obtained documents from… Read the rest of this entry →

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Charles Blow Predicted the Rise of Trumpism in 2014

December 26, 2017 in Blogs

By Teacherken, DailyKos

The New York Times columnist knew a backlash against America's first black president was coming.

In a column that went up on November 23, 2014, for following day’s New York Times. It blew me away, so I posted thiswhich got a lot of traffic on DailyKos. In light of the events of the past year, since Trump took office, considering what has happened on many issues Blow addressed, I thought it worthwhile to share again.

Happy Boxing Day, as they say in the UK.

Charles M. Blow just knocked it out of the park

In his column for Monday's New York Times, titled Bigger than Immigration.  After beginning by telling us this is not just about immigration, or tactics, or the President's “lack of obsequiousness to his detractors”  (and the use of that word might forewarn you of where Blow is going), he writes:

This hostility and animosity toward this president is, in fact, larger than this president. This is about systems of power and the power of symbols. Particularly, it is about preserving traditional power and destroying emerging symbols that threaten that power. This president is simply the embodiment of the threat, as far as his detractors are concerned, whether they are willing or able to articulate it as such.

Blow tells us to:

Pay attention to the overall response from all sources, particularly the rhetoric in which it is wrapped.

And then offers quotations from the likes of Speaker Boehner, Rep. Louis Gohmert, and Andrew McCarthy of the National Review, followed immediately by these words:  

There is no denying the insinuations in such language: a fear of subjugation by people like this president, an “other” person, predisposed to lawlessness.

By now anyone who is a sentient human being should understand how much the Republicans/Conservatives/Tea Partiers and their allies in parts of the media and in parts of Corporate America have wanted to delegitimize Obama – we have “birthers,” we have people who claim he is a Muslim, and we know even absent either of those false issues the mere fact that his skin is Black is sufficient in the eyes of many to consider Obama …read more


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What's It Going to Take for the Mainstream Media to Call Trump a Racist?

December 26, 2017 in Blogs

By Chauncey DeVega, Salon

After his latest screed about Haitians and Nigerians, no one can pretend otherwise.

In an essay here last week, I argued that Donald Trump views nonwhite immigrants and Muslims as human garbage. As such, Trump, his administration and the Republican Party are engaging in a campaign of “soft” ethnic cleansing directed against those groups. The usual suspects in the right-wing media responded with outrage that I would make such a basic and obvious observation about their hero and idol's bigotry and racism.

On cue, Donald Trump has provided further proof of his white supremacist views through his words, deeds and actions.

In a carefully researched story published over the Christmas weekend, the New York Times reported that Trump was angered because “too many” immigrants and other visitors were being allowed entry to the United States. At a meeting in the Oval Office last June, Trump reportedly began to read aloud from a list of approved immigrant visas supplied to him by domestic policy adviser Stephen Miller:

[So] many foreigners had flooded into the country since January, he vented to his national security team, that it was making a mockery of his pledge. Friends were calling to say he looked like a fool, Mr. Trump said. …

More than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained.

Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They “all have AIDS,” he grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there.

Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never “go back to their huts” in Africa, recalled the two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the Oval Office.

Later in the article, the Times reporters offer this context:

Seizing on immigration as the cause of countless social and economic problems, Mr. Trump entered office with an agenda of symbolic but incompletely thought-out goals, the product not of rigorous policy debate but of emotionally charged personal interactions and an instinct for tapping into the nativist views of white working-class Americans.

Of course, …read more


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Paul Krugman: Americans Have Reasons to Be Hopeful in 2018

December 26, 2017 in Blogs

By Ilana Novick, AlterNet

The government won't save us, but we can save ourselves.

Against all odds, Paul Krugman remains hopeful for 2018. It's not because our president hasn't confirmed our worst fears. To be clear, he writes, “America as we know it is still in mortal danger. Republicans still control all the levers of federal power, and never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy.”

What buoys the spirits of the New York Times columnist are the tens of millions of Americans who have powered the “emergence of a highly energized resistance.” These are the same people, Krugman notes, who showed up “the day after Trump took office, with the huge women’s marches that took place on Jan. 21, dwarfing the thin crowds at the inauguration.” 

As many seasoned activists feared, they didn't simply pat themselves on the back for marching and retreat. Instead:

The resistance continued with the town hall crowds that confronted Republican legislators as they tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act. And in case anyone wondered whether the vocal anti-Trump crowds and Trump’s hugely negative polling would translate into political action, a string of special elections — capped by a giant Democratic wave in Virginia and a stunning upset in Alabama — has put such doubts to rest.

The resistance, if it has any hope of surviving, cannot stop now, and Americans have to rid themselves of the notion that Republicans will ever grow a backbone and stand up to Trump. Krugman is careful to note that, “The worse things look for Trump, the more closely Republicans tie themselves to him”—even the likes of John McCain and Susan Collins, “who won widespread praise for standing up against Obamacare repeal during the summer, went along meekly with a monstrously awful tax bill.”

These same Republicans are all too happy to look the other way as Trump “uses his office to enrich himself and his cronies, as he foments racial hatred, as he attempts a slow-motion purge of the Justice Department and the F.B.I.”

Once we dispense with the idea that the GOP or …read more


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Donald Trump Has Spent More Than a Quarter of His Presidency at His Golf Resorts

December 26, 2017 in Blogs

By Jacob Sugarman, AlterNet

The final tally for 2017 is in, and it's not pretty.

In 2016, Americans who work full time accrued an average of 22.6 paid vacation days, though only used 16.8, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The second figure represents a half-day increase over 2015. During Trump's 11-plus months in office, he has already spent over 100 days on golf resorts, including more than one month each at his properties in New Jersey and Florida, per the Wall Street Journal.

Trump frequently mixes business and pleasure—he infamously enjoyed a “beautiful chocolate cake” at Mar-a-Lago while launching a bombing campaign on a Syrian airbase in April—but the final tally for 2017 is noteworthy given how frequently he criticized President Obama for golfing on the job. The New York Times reports that by his fourth month in office, Trump had already spent more time on the links than his three predecessors combined. The tax money Trump has spent on golf carts alone could have bought 54,095 school lunches.

Common Dreams notes that not only do the president's excursions raise questions about his level of interest in governing, they also likely constitute an ethics violation, as each trip benefits his properties financially. Prior to assuming office, the president handed control of the Trump Foundation to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., but refused to divest from his business interests, which include the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster and Mar-a-Lago; the president calls the latter his “winter White House.”

“Critics including the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)—which vowed to continue fighting against the president's conflicts of interest after their lawsuit against him was dismissed this week—say Trump still profits off of his hotels, restaurants, and clubs,” writes Julia Conley. “Many of his properties have raised their rates since Trump began his term, raising concerns that Trump and his company are profiting off his position in government, particularly when foreign leaders visit them.”

On Christmas Day, the president vowed to get back to work the next day in order to “make America great again.” That night the White …read more


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The Yield Curve Accordion Theory

December 26, 2017 in Economics

By Hal Snarr


By: Hal Snarr

The yield curve (a plot of interest rates versus the maturities of securities of equal credit quality) is a handy economic and investment tool. It generally slopes upward because investors expect higher returns when their money is tied up for long periods. When the economy is growing robustly, it tends to steepen as more firms break ground on long-term investment projects. For example, firms may decide to build new factories when the economy is rosy. Since these projects take years to complete, firms issue long-term bonds to finance the construction. This increases the supply of long-term bonds along downward-sloping demand, which pushes long-term bond prices down and yields up. The black dots along the black line in the figure below gives the 2004 yield curve. It slopes upward because a robust recovery was underway.

Yield curves flatten out when investors believe a recession is looming. This results from the demand for long-term bonds rising as investor confidence wanes. As demand shifts out along upward sloping supply, long-term bond prices rise and yields fall. On the other end of the yield curve, short-term bond rates rise. This is a result of investors demanding fewer short-term securities and more long-term securities. In response, suppliers of short-term securities lower prices to attract investors. The black dots along the red line in the above figure gives the 2007 yield curve. It is flat because the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 was just around the bend.

The red points in the above figure correspond to the federal funds rate. In 2004, the Fed had set it near 1% for about a year to stimulate the economy out of the 2001 recession. After it kept rates too low for too long, it moved it up to 5% in 2007. As it did this, the yield on the 10-year (120-month) treasury was mostly unaffected. The other treasury yields were all pushed up toward the 10-year yield. The figure implies that the Fed has less and less control over treasury yields as maturity increases.

I call the three-dimensional diagram below the Yield Curve Accordion. The red line is the federal funds rate through time. It has a zero maturity. The gray curves are the yields of various treasuries through time. As the gray darkens, the maturity gets further into the future and your eyes go deeper into the figure. For the year 2004, walking up the …read more