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'They Can Just Have a Cartoon': New Book Reveals Obama's Real Reaction to Trump Election

May 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

A top aide to the former president is set to publish a book that offers a glimpse inside a devastated White House after Trump's victory.

President Barack Obama felt self-doubt and disappointment after Donald Trump's victory in the 2016 election, Ben Rhodes reveals in a new book previewed in the New York Times on Wednesday. The passages paint the picture of a devastated White House in shock over the election result and reveal the range of emotions Obama endured through the transition period.

It notes, for instance, that Obama did his best to cheer up his aides in the days following the election. But he soured in the days that followed.

“Maybe this is what people want,” Obama reportedly said about Trump's win. “I’ve got the economy set up well for him. No facts. No consequences. They can just have a cartoon.”

Rhodes also writes about Obama's farewells to world leaders. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly told Obama that Trump's victory made her feel a greater obligation to run for a fourth term which she ended up winning. When she left Obama for the last time, she “had a single tear in her eye.”

Obama also apparently felt that, despite the criticism he has since received, there was little more he could have done to counter Russian interference in the 2016 election. Calling out the meddling efforts even more than he did would have resulted in Trump saying Obama was rigging the election and Putin working harder to undermine the vote, the president feared.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pointedly refused to issue a bipartisan statement condemning Russia' actions when Obama wanted to take action, limiting his options. Rhodes called this refusal “staggeringly partisan and unpatriotic,” but he says Obama was unsurprised.

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Trump Doubles Down on Nativist Fear-Mongering As GOP's Only Midterm Message

May 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Kerry Eleveld, Daily Kos

Hate-filled immigrant bashing is all the GOP has left.

Donald Trump and the GOP have virtually nothing to sell the white working-class voters who helped elect him to office in 2016, other than his deep-seated racism and his commitment to immigrant bashing. It's an ugly populist playbook and Trump spent Tuesday night in Tennessee playing it to the hilt at a campaign rally for GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s Senate bid.

Here's a brief montage of Trump’s anti-immigrant slurs from the Washington Post, including his broken campaign promise that Mexico will pay for wall that is clearly being funded by American taxpayers: 

“In the end, Mexico is going to pay for the wall,” Trump said. [...] “They’re going to pay for the wall and they’re going to enjoy it,” Trump said. [...]

“The Democrats want to use [immigration] as a campaign issue, and I keep saying I hope they do,” Trump said. Accusing Democrats of wanting “open borders,” Trump added: “That’s a good issue for us, not for them.”

He focused on the Central American and U.S. gang MS-13 and what he claimed is Democratic inaction to confront it, asking the crowd at one point to repeat his characterization of the gang as “animals.”

“MS-13 takes advantage of glaring holes in our immigration laws to infiltrate our country,” Trump said. [...]

“You have to vote for Marsha,” he said, adding that “Phil whatever-his-name-is, this guy will 100 percent vote against us every single time.”

Trump called [Democrat Phil] Bredesen “an absolute tool” of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and “MS-13-loving Nancy Pelosi,” a reference to the senior House Democrat.

Trump's hate-filled immigrant bashing is what the GOP has left after their tax cut for the 1 percent has failed to gain traction with the other 99 percent of Americans and gas prices are spiking. In fact, in House races across the country, GOP candidates are driving the very same messages.

Republicans have aired more than 14,000 campaign ads touting a tough Trump-style immigration platform so far this year.

Meanwhile, Democrats are largely running on platforms of increasing access to health care and shoring up Social Security. 

Voters will have a choice: hating for …read more


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CNN's Jake Tapper Rips Trump 'Trail of Lies' Apart After Key Republican Refutes 'Spying' Claims

May 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

“[The] president and his minions have painted this as the Obama administration having sent political 'spies' to gather political dirt on the Trump campaign.”

CNN's Jake Tapper is clearly frustrated with President Donald Trump's continuous assault on the truth and trust in American institutions. He made that obvious Wednesday as he used the words of a presidential ally to rip apart Trump's latest conspiracy theory.

“A key conservative Republican [is] disputing President Trump's trail of lies about a confidential FBI source who talked to some Trump campaign staffers in 2016,” Tapper said on “The Lead.” “Now, as you may recall, the president and his minions have painted this as the Obama administration having sent political 'spies' to gather political dirt on the Trump campaign.”

He continued: “But, Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, the House Oversight Committee chairman, who also serves on the House Intelligence Committee, was briefed by Justice Department officials about the confidential source. And Gowdy's description of what he saw was a politely phrased rebuke of the president's latest conspiracy theory.”

Gowdy argued that, contrary to Trump's wild speculation, the FBI acted wholly appropriately in its probing of the Trump campaign.

Watch the full clip below:

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Study Shows Judges Appointed by Republicans Are Way More Racist Than Others

May 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Rebecca Buckwalter-Poza, Daily Kos

The study reviewed 1,400 federal judges' sentencing practices over a 15-year period.

The study was sui generis: Two Harvard Law professors, Alma Cohen and Crystal S. Yang, set out to analyze 1,400 federal judges’ sentencing practices over a 15-year period affecting more than 500,000 defendants. The results were predictable but disheartening.

They unearthed a stunning number of influences on sentencing, from years of experience and level of racism in a state to the party of appointment. Its major finding: Republican-appointed judges give black defendants harsher sentences than their white counterparts.  

“Republican-appointed judges sentence black defendants to three more months than similar nonblacks. … These differences cannot be explained by other judge characteristics and grow substantially larger when judges are granted more discretion.”

Three months’ discrepancy accounts for 65 percent of the baseline racial sentence gap, meaning the average sentence disparity between similarly situated white and black defendants. The convictions driving the gap: serious drug and violent offenses.

Other markers for racist sentencing? Inexperience—judges’ racial sentencing gaps shrink as they age—and geography. Judges in states with a higher level of racial bias tend to inflict higher average racial sentencing gaps.

Following the expansion of judicial discretion in 2005’s United States v. Booker, the partisan racial sentencing gap grew. As it turns out, it wasn’t that Republican appointees used discretion to dole out harsher sentences; Democratic appointees opted to give more lenient sentences.

The authors don’t touch on it, but consider that the 100-to-1 sentencing rule for powder versus crack cocaine offenses—whereby being found with 100 grams of powder cocaine carried the same penalty as being found with a single gram of crack cocaine—was still in effect until the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act. As that sentencing regime (deliberately) disparately affected African Americans, it makes sense that the advent of discretion might result in Democratic but not Republican judges choosing to sentence crack offenders to sentences more in line with those corresponding to powder cocaine.

If you needed a reminder of how crucially important blocking Trump’s judicial nominees and retaking the judiciary is:

[R]acial disparities in sentencing would be almost halved if federal district courts were comprised of all Democratic-appointed judges, and reduced by more …read more


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Sarah Sanders Chokes Up as Child Asks Heartbreaking Question About School Shootings—But She Struggles to Defend White House Inaction

May 30, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

“Can you tell me what the administration has done and will do to prevent these tragedies?”

In an unusual moment for a White House press briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders choked up on Wednesday as she responded to a young child's question about school shootings.

“At my school, we recently had a lockdown drill,” the boy asked. “One thing that affects mine and other students' mental health is the worry about the fact that we or our friends could get shot at school. Specifically, can you tell me what the administration has done and will do to prevent these tragedies?”

“I think that as a kid, and certainly as a parent, there is nothing that could be more terrifying for a kid to go to school and not feel safe,” Sanders said, her voice cracking with emotion. “So I'm sorry that you feel that way. This administration takes it seriously, and the school safety commission that the president convened is meeting this week again in an official meeting to discuss the best ways forward and how we can do every single thing within our power to protect kids in our schools, and to make them feel safe and to make their parents feel good about dropping them off.”

Though she clearly empathized with the child's fear, Sanders' answer left a lot to be desired. She gave no concrete answer to the first part of the question about what the administration has done to prevent shootings — because so little has been done.

Pointing to the school safety commission is largely an empty gesture since we don't need more commissions to tell us how to reduce gun violence. Experts agree that a range of new gun laws — many of which are quite popular — would be effective in reducing gun violence in the United States. The key problem is that Republicans, up to and including the White House, are uniformly opposed to making any progress on strengthening the country's gun laws.

Watch the clip below:

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How the Trump Administration Can Stop the Wild Roller Coaster of Its China Trade Policy

May 30, 2018 in Economics

By Simon Lester

Simon Lester

After a brief interlude of “trade peace,” the Trump
administration is once again threatening to impose tariffs on $50
billion worth of Chinese imports. So far, the Trump
administration’s trade policy on China is like a wild roller
coaster ride, and it is not clear the administration has a plan for
how to get off.

The current U.S. approach
of issuing unilateral demands is unlikely to achieve much in terms
of reducing China’s protectionism.

The administration may find a better approach in a place it is
unlikely to look: Nafta, which Trump has been so critical of and is
trying to renegotiate. While Mexico 30 years ago and China today
aren’t in identical situations, there are important parallels
between the U.S. trade relationship with Mexico then and China now.
A trade liberalizing agreement with China could do the same for
U.S.-China relations today that Nafta did for U.S.-Mexico relations
back then.

Of course, a U.S.-China trade deal doesn’t have to be
exactly like Nafta. A U.S.-China deal could be bilateral, or
regional, or multilateral. But regardless of the specific form it
takes, a full-fledged trade agreement between the U.S. and China
will be much more beneficial than the careening tariff threats and
rumors of sectoral deals that we have seen so far.

Trade between developing and developed countries is often
controversial, with both sides expressing concerns. Industries in
the wealthier countries fear competition with low-wage workers,
while industries in poorer countries worry about competition with
high-skilled workers and lavishly subsidized companies.

With China, it is important to stay focused on the real problems
in the relationship. Despite what some in the Trump administration
believe, the U.S. bilateral trade deficit with China
isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed
. Our trade deficit
is caused primarily by factors and behavior that are outside of
trade policy, including U.S. budget deficits, low personal savings
rates by Americans, and the dollar’s role as a reserve
currency. At the same time, Chinese protectionism has been and
remains a problem. For example, China’s tariffs are around 10% on
average; by comparison, U.S. tariffs are around 3.5%.

The Trump administration seems to think this tariff disparity
puts the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage in
negotiations. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently pointed to
higher foreign tariffs
 as a reason other countries
“have little incentive to negotiate” with the U.S.

But that’s where the parallels with Mexico show a way
forward. In the 1980s, Mexico was in a similar position to where
China is now. Just prior to when it joined the GATT (the
predecessor to the WTO) in 1986, Mexico’s tariffs were around
25%. After its GATT accession, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Does Regulation Breed Financial Illiteracy?

May 30, 2018 in Economics

By Diego Zuluaga

Diego Zuluaga

Ask the average person about her smartphone, and the odds are
better than even that she’ll be able to recite the make, model, and
salient features such as battery life and camera quality. She may
even be in a position to rank the phone relative to other handsets,
and to make a recommendation as to whether it offers good value for

Make a similar inquiry about that person’s savings account, on
the other hand, and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare.
This is puzzling, because the economic consequences of informing
oneself about financial options can easily exceed the price
difference between smartphone devices.

A 1.25 percentage point spread between savings account interest
rates, typical for the US market, accounts for more than $125 in
additional annual interest on a $10,000 balance. Over the life of a
representative two-year smartphone contract, opting for the
higher-interest alternative could cover as much as a third of the
cost of a good phone.

The gains from making informed financial choices can be even
greater in the case of credit cards. The lowest-interest options will
save a household with an average balance of $5,700 more than $350 over
six months.

Neither irrational
consumers nor predatory banks fully explain financial

Awareness of the differences between financial products clearly
pays off. Yet, survey after survey — of both American and British consumers — show as many as 60
per cent of people lack an understanding of important financial
concepts, such as compounding, portfolio diversification, the
annual interest due on a fixed-rate loan, and the behaviour of bond
prices as interest rates change.

Why do many of us refuse to wise up financially, when such
stubbornness can result in hundreds of dollars of lost income?

Behavioural economists are liable to blame
consumer irrationality. Smartphones are shiny status symbols that
buyers can readily enjoy, whereas the benefits from prudent
financial management become apparent only months and years into the
decision. Even if consumers later regret not having properly
browsed their options, they are loath to spend time today on
painstaking research about investment fund costs, savings account
rates and credit cards.

They are, in the language of behavioural science, “hyperbolically discounting” the
future benefits from becoming financially informed.

Others will point the finger at financial
institutions. The complexity of modern consumer financial
contracts, in this view, is a deliberate attempt by firms to lure
unwitting customers into buying substandard products. Lenders
highlight their attractive initial terms and bury fees and
interest-rate adjustments in a maze of fine print. Were it not for
such …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Tax Increases for the NHS Are the Last Refuge of the Unimaginative

May 30, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan Bourne

Ryan Bourne

The staff at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) are the best
public finance number-crunchers in the UK.

But last Thursday they delivered a baffling statement, claiming
there was simply “no more room” to increase health
spending in future by reallocating resources from other government
budgets. The implication for funding the NHS is that over the
coming years “taxes will have to rise”.

Now, demands on healthcare expenditure will undoubtedly increase
in the coming two decades, not least due to population ageing. The
Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that spending on the NHS
needs to go up by nearly two per cent of GDP by 2037/38.

But even taking this at face value, claiming the only way to
possibly meet that is by taxing the average family £2,000 more per
year is bizarre.

Even leaving aside scope
for efficiency improvements in healthcare itself, there are plenty
of areas where spending could be rowed back.

Is the IFS really suggesting that the British state is already
operating at peak efficiency, and that it couldn’t possibly
be over-spending elsewhere? Are all other spending streams utterly
indispensable and unchallengeable?

Yes, it’s only one small example, but given that we just
heard how the British government is funneling aid to a Rwandan
regime which in turn is using funds to sponsor Arsenal football
shirts, my working assumption is we haven’t quite cut to the
bone just yet.

No doubt IFS director Paul Johnson (a former colleague of mine)
thinks he is speaking truth to power in outlining this warning. But
jacking up families’ transfers to government seems the easy
way out of fiscal challenges — far easier than suggesting
that the government does too much, or to rile up the vested
interests dependent on public largesse.

The truth is that public receipts as a proportion of GDP are
already at their highest levels since 1986, and tax revenues at
their heaviest burden since 1981. Yes, spending has been cut
significantly as a proportion of GDP since 2010, but only back down
to 2007 levels.

During the interim, the government has chosen to make the state
pension much more generous through the introduction of the
triple-lock, ramped up foreign aid, turned on the spending taps on
childcare subsidies, and much else besides. Cuts have been made in
other areas, most fiercely in local government, but these have been
choices reflective of increases elsewhere.

So even leaving aside scope for efficiency improvements in
healthcare itself, there are plenty of areas where spending could
be rowed back. There are also others where much-needed supply-side
reform could negate the need for existing spending.

Liberalise planning laws and allow more houses …read more

Source: OP-EDS