Anniversary of the Apocalypse
The country has changed in the past year, and many of us have grown numb after unrelenting shocks. What now passes for ordinary would have once been inconceivable. The government is under the control of an erratic racist who engages in nuclear brinkmanship on Twitter. He is dismantling the State Department, defending the hollowing out of the diplomatic corps by saying, on Fox News, “I’m the only one that matters.”
He publicly pressures the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents. He’s called for reporters to be jailed, and his administration demanded that a sportscaster who criticized him be fired. Official government statements promote his hotels. You can’t protest it all; you’d never do anything else. After the election, many liberals pledged not to “normalize” Trump. But one lesson of this year is that we don’t get to decide what normal looks like
Republicans are right about the corporate tax system being broken, but wrong about why it’s failing and how to fix it.
The basic proposition put forth by President Trump and congressional leaders is that the present tax rate, 35 percent, makes it hard for American corporations to compete with foreign companies and ends up driving American businesses overseas. They would address this by slashing the rate to 20 percent, claiming that this would not only help companies but would also raise household income by $3,000 to $7,000, mainly in the form of higher wages.
Much of this is absurd.
Enter the universal basic income.
The idea is gaining traction in many countries as a proposal to soften the edges of capitalism. Though the details and philosophies vary from place to place, the general notion is that the government hands out regular checks to everyone, regardless of income or whether people are working. The money ensures food and shelter for all, while removing the stigma of public support.
Some posit basic income as a way to let market forces work their ruthless magic, delivering innovation and economic growth, while laying down a cushion for those who fail. Others present it as a means of liberating people from wretched, poverty-level jobs, allowing workers to organize for better conditions or devote time to artistic exploits. Another school sees it as the required response to an era in which work can no longer be relied upon to finance basic needs
The United States has always led the way in confronting global challenges, especially ones that profoundly affect our own country. President Trump’s vow to withdraw from the Paris agreement by 2020 was a troubling abdication of that leadership, and it threatened to send a dangerously wrong message: that we are abandoning the pledge we made in Paris to reduce emissions at least 26 percent by 2025.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Most Americans strongly support the Paris agreement, and thousands of mayors, governors, chief executives and others stepped forward to reaffirm their commitment to it after the president walked away from the accord. Together, these states, cities and businesses constitute more than half of the United States economy and, if they were a separate country, would make up the third-largest economy in the world.
President Trump’s action has had the effect of galvanizing these groups — and many have taken bold actions in recent months.
state of Kansas doesn’t discuss public business with Kansans.
Kansas runs one of the most secretive state governments in the nation, and its secrecy permeates nearly every aspect of service, The Star found in a months-long investigation.
From the governor’s office to state agencies, from police departments to business relationships to health care, on the floors of the House and Senate, a veil has descended over the years and through administrations on both sides of the political aisle.
Wagner’s Law, named for the 19th-century German economist Adolph Wagner, states that government spending as a share of the economy will increase as nations get richer and their citizens demand more and better public services. This may approximate public policy in other industrialized nations. In the United States, it fails.
Americans are paying dearly as a result, as their comparatively small government has proved incapable of providing an adequate safety net to protect those most vulnerable to globalization and technological change.
It is hard to understand the deep reasons behind the American aversion to taxes and government. Is it the vestigial expression of a rugged individualism born on the American frontier? Is it racial hostility — an unwillingness by whites to fund social programs that some believe unduly benefit minorities?
Watching Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues struggling to finish writing their long-awaited tax bill over the past few weeks brought to mind an adage attributed to Al Smith, the street-schooled New York politician who served four terms as governor, during the nineteen-twenties: someone is going to be cheated; the question is who. The Republicans—having committed to huge tax cuts for corporations, unincorporated businesses, and very large estates, while also pledging to help out middle-class households—were in a bind. According to some reports, they were trying to fit five trillion dollars’ worth of tax cuts into the $1.5 trillion allotment they had pencilled into their budget for 2018.
You don’t need to have gone beyond eighth grade, which is where Smith completed his formal education, to know that this was a tricky task. The size of the math problem helps explain why the bill unveiled on Friday morning by Ryan, the House Speaker, and Kevin Brady, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, was so long (three hundred and thirty-six pages), complicated, and filled with the kind of accounting that would have fit in at Enron. But, despite its complexity, the basic thrust of the bill is straightforward: the Donald Trumps of the world get caviar; the ordinary person gets peanuts; and future taxpayers, who will bear the burden of all the new debt issuance necessary to finance the package, get shafted
More and more of the predicted impacts of global warming are now becoming a reality.
In 2017, everyone seems to be wondering: Is Facebook taking over the world? Most of us now realize that the social network has become far more than a repository for selfies and political rants of its more than two billion users. To ad sellers, Facebook is now a gluttonous monster, which, along with Google, is gobbling up the digital advertising business in the United States; according to Pivotal Research Group, the two companies controlled 70 percent of the market and most of the growth in 2016. From the perspective of American intelligence agencies, Facebook is practically a weapon, used by a company linked to the Kremlin to foment extremism and influence the 2016 presidential election with at least $100,000 worth of targeted ads. For those with privacy concerns, Facebook plays the role of Big Brother, compiling ever more data on what we like, what we post and what we buy and even tracking where we are both online and in the physical world by tapping into the GPS locator on our phones
But the biggest reason for Trump’s support from core Republicans is likely the simple pull of partisanship. When he wasn’t yet the face of the party, they found various principled and practical reasons to oppose him. But now that he’s their Republican president, all those doubts seem irrelevant, and identifying as a partisan means identifying with him.
This is a difficult environment in which to imagine a primary challenger flourishing. Indeed, it leaves the most common type of anti-Trump Republican politician, the Jeff Flake sort who imagine themselves the tribunes of a more principled and ideologically-consistent conservatism, without any obvious constituency at all — since the supposedly principled and ideologically-consistent conservative voters are now the heart of Trump’s support.
What Republicans believe to be good policy, they also quite clearly understand to be bad politics. But if these changes to the tax code genuinely did swell a tide that would lift all boats, they would have nothing to fear. Their conduct is an occasion for us to question what it is about regressive tax policy that appeals to them so much, and how credulous we should be when they claim to be acting in the interests of all Americans
Directly contradicting much of the Trump administration’s position on climate change, 13 federal agencies unveiled an exhaustive scientific report on Friday that says humans are the dominant cause of the global temperature rise that has occurred since the start of the 20th century, creating the warmest period in the history of civilization.
Over the past 115 years global average temperatures have increased 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to record-breaking weather events and temperature extremes, the report says. The global, long-term warming trend is “unambiguous,” it says, and there is “no convincing alternative explanation” that anything other than humans — the cars we drive, the power plants we operate, the forests we destroy — are to blame.
Because what is destabilizing all of these countries in the Sahel region of Africa and spawning terrorist groups is a cocktail of climate change, desertification — as the Sahara steadily creeps south — population explosions and misgovernance.
“Contrary to their assertions, the Republicans are picking winners and losers,” Jerry Howard, the chief executive of the National Association of Homebuilders, said in an interview. “They are picking rich Americans and corporations over small businesses and the middle class.”
Self-reflection, introspection and some degree of solitude are important parts of a psychologically healthy life. But somewhere along the line we seem to have gotten the balance wrong. Because far from confirming our insistence that “happiness comes from within,” a wide body of research tells us almost the exact opposite.
Academic happiness studies are full of anomalies and contradictions, often revealing more about the agendas and values of those conducting them than the realities of human emotion. But if there is one point on which virtually every piece of research into the nature and causes of human happiness agrees, it is this: our happiness depends on other people
Africa itself has a land problem. The continent seems so vast and the land so open. The awesome sense of space is an inextricable part of the beauty here — the unadulterated vistas, the endless land. But in a way, that is an illusion.
Population swells, climate change, soil degradation, erosion, poaching, global food prices and even the benefits of affluence are exerting incredible pressure on African land. They are fueling conflicts across the continent, from Nigeria in the west to Kenya in the east — including here in Laikipia, a wildlife haven and one of Kenya’s most beautiful areas.
Meanwhile, consider how the United States must look now to the rest of the world. It is politically paralyzed, unable to make major decisions. Amidst a ballooning debt, its investments in education, infrastructure, and science and technology are seriously lacking. Politics has become a branch of reality TV, with daily insults, comebacks and color commentary. America’s historical leadership role in the world has been replaced by a narrow and cramped ideology. Foreign policy has become a partisan game, with Washington breaking agreements, shifting course and reversing policy almost entirely to score political points at home.
The shift in reputation that we are witnessing around the world is not so much about the rise of China but rather the decline of the United States
Nine months into the Trump administration, any notion that Capitol Hill would provide a comprehensive, authoritative and bipartisan accounting of the extraordinary efforts of a hostile power to disrupt American democracy appears to be dwindling.
As shopping has shifted from conventional stores to online marketplaces, many retail workers have been left in the cold, but Ms. Gaugler is coming out ahead. Sellers like Zulily, Amazon and Walmart are competing to get goods to the buyer’s doorstep as quickly as possible, giving rise to a constellation of vast warehouses that have fueled a boom for workers without college degrees and breathed new life into pockets of the country that had fallen economically behind.
Warehouses have produced hundreds of thousands of jobs since the recovery began in 2010, adding workers at four times the rate of overall job growth. A significant chunk of that growth has occurred outside large metropolitan areas, in counties that had relatively little of the picking-and-packing work until recently.
Edmund Burke saw society as a partnership between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. A failure to understand this relationship underlies a disturbing global tendency in recent decades, in which the appropriation of future wealth and resources for current consumption is increasingly disadvantaging future generations. Without a commitment to addressing this inequity, social tensions in many societies will rise sharply.
Central to the issue is that the rapid rise in living standards and prosperity of the past 50 years has been largely based on rising debt levels, ignoring the costs of environmental damage and misallocation of scarce resources.
A significant proportion of recent economic growth has relied on borrowed money -- today standing at a dizzying 325 percent of global gross domestic product. Debt allows society to accelerate consumption, as borrowings are used to purchase something today against the promise of future repayment. Unfunded entitlements to social services, health care and pensions increase those liabilities. The bill for these commitments will soon become unsustainable, as demographic changes make it more difficult to meet.
Degradation of the environment results in future costs, too: either rehabilitation expenses or irreversible changes that affect living standards or quality of life. Profligate use of mispriced non-renewable natural resources denies these commodities to future generations or increases their cost.
Even if the case is thrown out on those grounds, Mr. Trump is still a walking emoluments-clause violation. And he still refuses to release his tax returns and other financial records, preventing the public from seeing the full extent of his business entanglements, debts and interests.
In this light it’s hard to see how the American people can ever be confident that Mr. Trump, who has spent a lifetime as a money-obsessed deal maker, is acting in the nation’s best interest, and not his own.
The analogy to marriage is for those of us who are trying to reach the peak, the summit of Mount Maslow where we can enjoy this extraordinary view. We can have this wonderful set of experiences with our spouse, a particularly satisfying marriage, but we can’t do it if we’re not spending the time and the emotional energy to understand each other and help promote each other’s personal growth.
Yet despite the breathless warnings of impending Islamic conquest sounded by alarmist writers and pandering politicians, the risk of Islamization of the West has been greatly exaggerated. Islamists are not on the verge of seizing power in any advanced Western democracy or even winning significant political influence at the polls.
The same cannot be said of white nationalists, who today are on the march from Charlottesville, Va., to Dresden, Germany. As an ideology, white nationalism poses a significantly greater threat to Western democracies; its proponents and sympathizers have proved, historically and recently, that they can win a sizable share of the vote — as they did this year in France, Germany and the Netherlands — and even win power, as they have in the United States.
The best way to avoid abortions is to avoid unwanted pregnancy, which means making it as easy as possible for women to practice birth control.
How can you fight against both abortion and contraception? There are only two possible explanations.
One is that you’re a hypocritical politician trolling for right-to-life votes without any personal convictions whatsoever
President Trump’s assault on the birth control mandate is like his broader attack on the Affordable Care Act, filled with spite, based on falsehoods and fueled by vindictiveness toward his predecessor. And both will hurt millions of people.
It’s a child, not a choice, abortion opponents tell us. Unless the pregnancy is embarrassing and super-inconvenient and an impediment to your political future, in which case it’s merely a clump of cells. All life should be cherished and protected, as Mr. DesJarlais’s website insists, unless it’s your girlfriend who’s unexpectedly expecting, in which case you’ve got to cherish and protect your political future instead. Life begins at conception, as Mr. Rees-Mogg said in a debate, unless that life begins inside of a poor brown-skinned woman half a world away, and there’s money to be made from helping her to end it.
It’s almost as if these men don’t really believe that every time sperm and egg combine, the result is a child worthy of being cherished and protected. It’s almost as if these men are fighting to make abortion a crime because they’re more invested in curtailing women’s options and controlling their bodies than they are with saving innocent lives.
The double standards employed by some members of the “do as I say, not as I do” Christian right are nothing new. Show me a senator who votes against gay marriage, and, at least in one infamous case, I’ll show you a guy who’s soliciting same-sex encounters in the airport men’s room. (Hello there, Larry Craig!)
Second, turning immediately to the “sickness” of the shooter and piously calling for better mental-health care is, more often than not, an attempt to divert attention from the main issue: guns. (It’s also breathtakingly cynical because the politicians who use this rhetoric are typically the ones who also aim to cut funding for mental-health treatment.) Every conversation about gun deaths should begin by recognizing one blindingly clear fact about this problem — the United States is on its own planet. The gun-related death rate in the United States is 10 times that of other advanced industrial countries. Places such as Japan and South Korea have close to zero gun-related deaths in a year. The United States has around 30,000.
This disparity is the central fact that needs to be studied, explained and addressed. When seen in this light, it becomes obvious why focusing on mental health is a dodge. The rate of mental illness in the United States is not anywhere close to 40 times the rate in Britain. But the rate of gun deaths is 40 times higher. America does have more than 14 times as many guns as Britain per capita, and far fewer restrictions on their ownership and use. That’s the obvious correlation staring us in the face, as we insist on talking about every other possible issue.
That’s a dangerous problem, because despite all of the wrangling and rule making, there’s a core truth about our financial system that we have yet to comprehend fully: It isn’t serving us, we’re serving it.
Adam Smith, the father of modern capitalism, envisioned financial services (and I stress the word “service”) as an industry that didn’t exist as an end in itself, but rather as a helpmeet to other types of business. Yet lending to Main Street is now a minority of what the largest banks in the country do. In the 1970s, most of their financial flows, which of course come directly from our savings, would have been funneled into new business investment. Today, only about 15 percent of the money coming out of the largest financial institutions goes to that purpose. The rest exists in a closed loop of trading; institutions facilitate and engage in the buying and selling of stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets that mainly enriches the 20 percent of the population that owns 80 percent of that asset base. This doesn’t help growth, but it does fuel the wealth gap.
Seven and a half years after Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, the central value it enshrines—that affordable health care should be available to everyone, regardless of age, income, or medical history—is now widely accepted. Opinion polls show almost universal support for this proposition. Donald Trump says he supports it, and so do Republican leaders such as House Speaker Paul Ryan (although they tend to use weasel words like “accessible” rather than “affordable”). That is why the Republicans got into such political trouble when—after years of promising to repeal Obamacare—they finally had to release details of their plans for doing so. It turned out that their ideas would lead to millions of poorer Americans losing coverage, while many seniors and sick people would see their out-of-pocket costs soar. The Party’s hypocrisy was exposed.
After months of secret negotiations, the Trump administration and congressional leaders have come up with a tax plan — sort of. What they have really come up with is a wish list of tax cuts for the wealthy, with lots of “we’ll get back to you on that” promises where the details are supposed to be.
This much is clear: The tax “framework” published by Republican leaders on Wednesday would greatly increase the federal deficit, would not turbocharge economic growth and could leave many middle-class families worse off by ending deductions they rely on. It would do little or nothing to improve the lot of the working class, a group President Trump says he is fighting for. It would instead provide a windfall to hedge fund managers, corporate executives, real estate developers and other members of the 1 percent. And can it be just a happy coincidence that Mr. Trump and his family would benefit “bigly” from this plan?
Surely one of the most cynical, reckless acts of governing in my lifetime has been President Trump and the G.O.P.’s attempt to ram through a transformation of America’s health care system — without holding hearings with experts, conducting an independent cost-benefit analysis or preparing the public — all to erase Barack Obama’s legacy to satisfy a few billionaire ideologue donors and a “base” so drunk on Fox News that its members don’t understand they’ll be the ones most hurt by it all.
Democrats aren’t exactly a fire hose of fresh ideas, but they do respect science and have a sense of responsibility to not play around with big systems without an ounce of study. Not so Trump. He scrapped the Paris climate treaty without consulting one climate scientist — and no G.O.P. leader protested. Think about that
Indeed, it is safe to say, that if we overprepare for climate change and nothing much happens, it will be exactly like training for the Olympic marathon and the Olympics get canceled. You’re left with a body that is stronger, fitter and healthier.
Yet millennial suburbanites want a new kind of landscape. They want breathing room but disdain the energy wastefulness, visual monotony and social conformity of postwar manufactured neighborhoods. If new suburbs can hit the sweet spot that accommodates the priorities of that generation, millennial habitats will redefine everyday life for all suburbanites, which is 70 percent of Americans.
While much of the debate has been on the moral or economic consequences of economic inequality, the more fundamental problem is that our constitutional system might not survive in an unequal economy. Campaign contributions, lobbying, the revolving door of industry insiders working in government, interest group influence over regulators and even think tanks — all of these features of our current political system skew policy making to favor the wealthy and entrenched economic interests. “The rich will strive to establish their dominion and enslave the rest,” Gouverneur Morris observed in 1787. “They always did. They always will.” An oligarchy — not a republic — is the inevitable result
We are living in an age of revolutions, natural and human, that are buffeting individuals and communities. We need government to be more than a passive observer of these trends and forces. It needs to actively shape and manage them. Otherwise, the ordinary individual will be powerless. I imagine that this week, most people in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico would be delighted to hear the words “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help
You’d think that a passionate anti-wage-gap crusader like Ms. Trump would relish a broad, ever-expanding data set illuminating her pet issue so that she could go after it with laser focus, but no. She is even more devoted than that. She hates the gender wage gap so much, she can’t even stand to know anything about it. Some heroes wear capelets.
changing what humans eat is not the only route to feeding a growing population more sustainably. Another, less obvious, approach is to alter what animals themselves eat. It is here that technology may have the biggest impact soonest.
The competitive accumulation of material goods, a cornerstone of the American dream, dates to the post-World War II economy, when returning veterans fled the cities to establish homes and status in the suburbs. Couples married when they were young, and wedding gifts were meant to be used — and treasured — for life.
“Americans spent to keep up with the Joneses, using their possessions to make the statement that they were not failing in their careers,” wrote Juliet B. Schor, the Boston College sociologist, in her 1998 book, “The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need.”
But for a variety of social, cultural, and economic reasons, this is no longer the case. Today’s young adults tend to acquire household goods that they consider temporary or disposable, from online retailers or stores like Ikea and Target, instead of inheriting them from parents or grandparents
Mr. Trump is alone in modern presidential history in his willingness to summon demons of bigotry and intolerance in service to himself. He began his political career on a lie about President Barack Obama’s citizenship and has failed to firmly condemn the words and deeds of white supremacists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan leaders and other bigots who rallied behind him. A number of these people, including David Duke, the former Klan imperial wizard, and Richard Spencer, self-styled theorist of the alt-right, were part of the amen chorus of bigots in Charlottesville.