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The Moral Impact Of Global Trade

September 23, 2016

Spot on!

Let me concur with the author that economists haven’t done a particularly good job of pinning down the virtues of trade.  The fact remains that the nominees of both major parties for president this fall have also simply not constructively engaged the electorate on the virtues of free trade and why it matters to this nation and others around the world.

A young Canadian economist at Wilfrid Laurier University, Brian McCaig, studied what happened in Vietnam immediately after the United States slashed tariffs on goods from that country in 2001 — a bilateral trade agreement similar to many others before and since that have opened up the United States to manufactured goods from Asia. He found that over the next three years, as the value of apparel and clothing accessories going to the United States from Vietnam rose by 277 percent, the poverty level in Vietnam fell to 19.5 percent from 28.9 percent, twice as fast as it had fallen in the preceding four years and enough to lift about seven million people out of poverty. This wasn’t American food-stamp poverty those Vietnamese were escaping; it was malnourished, dollar-a-day poverty.

McCaig does not claim that these changes were produced solely by the surge in exports to the United States. By his estimate, only about 250,000 jobs were created in export-based manufacturing in Vietnam during those two years. But those jobs, which were better-paying than almost anything else available before, had an enormous ripple effect: Every new factory position led to several other new jobs nearby. In general, the more specialized a region was in producing exports, the faster poverty declined.

But when I spoke with David Autor, he told me that whatever the virtues or costs in the United States, they pale in comparison with the basic humanitarian benefits that people in places like China and Vietnam have experienced as a result of trade with the United States. “The gains to the people who benefited are so enormous — they were destitute, and now they were brought into the global middle class,” Autor says. “The fact that there are adverse consequences in the United States should be taken seriously, but it doesn’t tilt the balance.”

Autor told me that he does not hold out hope that American politicians will bring this sort of calculus to the election debate. But if the rest of us want to consider trade in moral and humanitarian terms, not just as a political and economic matter, it seems important to contemplate how to assign and compare the values of a new job to someone who would otherwise be stuck in dire poverty and a lost job for someone with at least some version of a safety net, which Americans have compared with many of the poor people in the developing world. Undoubtedly there are ways to soothe the hardship on both sides, and we should try to figure them out. But trade inevitably involves some trade-offs. If we want to determine if they are worth it, we can’t just look at one side of the transaction.

Why Do Lies Hold Water In This Presidential Election?

September 23, 2016

I must be very old-fashioned as I still feel facts matter.    When someone makes a claim that is totally false there is a duty to correct the person. When we do not make the correction terrible things can happen.

Consider the lie that was able to gain traction following 9/11 that Iraq was in someway behind the attacks on America.  Though totally false it allowed for those willing to invade Iraq on shaky grounds to have as a foundation a lie that resided within many as a truth.

Now as the 2016 presidential election plays out there are far too many gullible and just plain uneducated people who are simply too willing to accept what they are told, or not able to discern the truth from the lies of one of the major candidates for the White House.  I have never had a large amount of faith in the public to make educated calls about the complex issues we face.  So when it comes to evaluating the needs of the very foundations of our democracy come November I am not surprised that too many have failed the test  of being reasoned citizens.

Not being able to analyze the lies and seek the truth is how too many people are in this country and with that the lead article in The Economist from earlier this month is most important to ponder.

But corrosive forces are also at play. One is anger. Many voters feel let down and left behind, while the elites who are in charge have thrived. They are scornful of the self-serving technocrats who said that the euro would improve their lives and that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Popular trust in expert opinion and established institutions has tumbled across Western democracies.

Post-truth has also been abetted by the evolution of the media (see Briefing). The fragmentation of news sources has created an atomised world in which lies, rumour and gossip spread with alarming speed. Lies that are widely shared online within a network, whose members trust each other more than they trust any mainstream-media source, can quickly take on the appearance of truth. Presented with evidence that contradicts a belief that is dearly held, people have a tendency to ditch the facts first. Well-intentioned journalistic practices bear blame too. The pursuit of “fairness” in reporting often creates phoney balance at the expense of truth. NASA scientist says Mars is probably uninhabited; Professor Snooks says it is teeming with aliens. It’s really a matter of opinion.

When politics is like pro-wrestling, society pays the cost. Mr Trump’s insistence that Mr Obama founded IS precludes a serious debate over how to deal with violent extremists. Policy is complicated, yet post-truth politics damns complexity as the sleight of hand experts use to bamboozle everyone else. Hence Hillary Clinton’s proposals on paid parental leave go unexamined (see article) and the case for trade liberalisation is drowned out by “common sense” demands for protection.

It is tempting to think that, when policies sold on dodgy prospectuses start to fail, lied-to supporters might see the error of their ways. The worst part of post-truth politics, though, is that this self-correction cannot be relied on. When lies make the political system dysfunctional, its poor results can feed the alienation and lack of trust in institutions that make the post-truth play possible in the first place.

How To See The New Chinese Space Station

September 23, 2016

On Sept. 15th, China launched a new space station to Earth orbit: Tiangong-2. The 10-meter long spacecraft is only a fraction the size of the ISS, but there is room inside for two tiakonauts and plenty of science experiments. And in dark skies, it can be seen with the naked eye.

Tiangong-2 is the second of three prototype space stations China plans to launch as the country builds toward a Mir-class outpost in the next decade. Tiangong-2’s predecessor, Tiangong-1, is still in orbit and expected to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere sometime in 2017.

Next month, China will launch a crew of two to inhabit the new space station for approximately 30 days. While on board, they will test Tiangong-2’s life support system, and possibly conduct experiments in brain-machine interfacing, atomic clock navigation, and quantum communications.

Ready to see for yourself? Tiangong-2 flyby predictions are available from Heavens Above. Use the Satellite Database and search for object ‘41765’ labeled ‘OBJECT A.  

What About A Faithless Elector?

September 23, 2016

This is clearly the most intriguing news article of the day.

The Electoral College consists of flesh-and-blood electors rather than disembodied numbers on a map. And even if the Republicans prevailed on Nov. 8, a handful of electors could cost Trump the White House.  

Samuel Miles — a Quaker from Philadelphia and a brigadier general during the Revolutionary War — was the first faithless elector. In 1796, even though he was pledged to Federalist John Adams, Miles cast one of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes for Thomas Jefferson, whom he judged less likely to plunge America into a war with France.

According to research by the advocacy group FairVote, 81 other electors in history have pulled a similar trick. In modern times, faithless electors have been motivated by ideology (votes for Barry Goldwater in 1960 and Ronald Reagan in 1980) and idiosyncrasy (an Alabama elector opted for home-town circuit court judge Walter Jones in 1956).

Normally, in a close election, party loyalty trumps any attempt by electors to jigger with the outcome. In fact, it is safe to say that there are few places in America where independent judgment is less prized than in the Electoral College.

But 2016 — in case anyone hasn’t noticed — is not a normal election. Already, Baoky Vu, a Republican elector in Georgia, has taken himself off the ballot because he could not bring himself to vote for Trump.

And Politico reported in late August that a Texas GOP elector, Chris Suprun, a Dallas paramedic, also had deep reservations about backing Trump.

If there is already this much public ferment over the sentiments of Republican electors, it is easy to imagine the potential firestorm if, say, Trump ekes out a hairsbreadth victory on Nov. 8. Republican electors would be monitored hourly for any signs of maverick tendencies up until the moment they cast their paper ballots for president and vice president in their respective state capitals in mid-December.

Nothing that we have learned so far in this campaign suggests that President-elect Trump would be magnanimous and reassuring in the first weeks after the election. Maybe he would start talking idly about dropping a nuclear device on ISIS or suddenly announce that Donald Jr. would make a primo justice of the Supreme Court. It doesn’t take much imagination to contemplate a wave of buyer’s remorse sweeping through the reasonable wing of the Republic Party.

Will Lack Of Flint, Michigan Funding Lead To Government Shutdown?

September 23, 2016

There is no way the Republicans will allow their party to suffer the pain of a government shutdown.  But the news stories do shed light on what is at stake as we head into the all-important next week.

AP reports.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) “unveiled legislation to prevent a government shutdown next weekend and provide more than $1 billion to battle the Zika virus. It also would provide $500 million to help Louisiana rebuild from last month’s devastating floods.

But Democrats immediately blasted the proposal for failing to fund one of their top priorities: money to help Flint, Michigan, repair its lead-tainted water system.

McConnell’s move could set up a showdown vote next week. Democrats said they would likely filibuster the measure since it omits a bipartisan plan to provide $220 million to help Flint and other cities with lead emergencies replace pipes and take other steps to clean their water.

Playbook reports.

It’s not really in anyone’s interest to shut down the government less than two months before Election Day. Nobody is predicting that this is going to lead to a shutdown. They have a week — the government doesn’t shut down until next Friday — and Congress rarely does anything until it absolutely has to.

Pretending Hispanics Do Not Exist

September 23, 2016

A powerful read from Politico.  For years I have pointed to the fact that the GOP’s refusal to address the nation’s changing demographics will harm them severely.

With 46 days until the November elections, and as early voting begins in a handful of states, Trump is on the precipice of becoming the only major-party presidential candidate this century not to reach out to millions of American voters whose dominant, first or just preferred language is Spanish. Trump has not only failed to buy any Spanish-language television or radio ads, he so far has avoided even offering a translation of his website into Spanish, breaking with two decades of bipartisan tradition.

While the majority of Latino voters are English-speaking, Trump’s refusal to campaign in Spanish is a powerful symbol of how little heed Trump has paid to America’s shifting demographics. Latinos now make up about 10 percent of the national vote, with electorally potent concentrations in crucial battlegrounds such as Florida, Colorado, Nevada and even North Carolina.

Clintons Buy Neighboring House

September 23, 2016

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The neighboring house, 33 Old House Lane, is at right.

This makes a lot of sense to me so that come Hillary Clinton’s presidency she will have a place for staff and operatives to stay.

The Clintons shelled out $1.16 million for the three-bedroom, 3,631-square-foot, ranch-style home set on 1.51 leafy acres on Old House Lane in Chappaqua.

Westchester County land records and tax records from the town of New Castle — where Chappaqua is located — list William and Hillary Clinton as owners of the property.

A source said the home could be used as a weekend retreat for their daughter, Chelsea, her hubby, Marc Mezvinsky, and their children, Charlotte and Aidan.

“Rumor has it that the Clintons plan to use this as a mother/daughter house for Chelsea and her kids to visit on the weekends when they want to escape the city and their Flatiron digs since the Chappaqua house has a nice pool and plenty of rolling green lawn for kids to play on,” the source said.

 

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