Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Robert J. Samuelson Goes Whole Hog Against Dems On Social Programs

Robert J. Samuelson Goes Whole Hog Against Dems On Social Programs

I want to follow Dean Baker in dumping on the Robert J. Samuelson Monday, 9/11/19 WaPo column on “The Democrats’ fairy-tale campaigns.”  He may be right that lots of proposals have been put forward with no clear accounting of how much all of them will cost, but RJS also fails to recognize some might save money, such as a properly structured universal health care program that might move us more towards the costs we see in other nations.  Of course, RJS regularly uses this column to call for cuts in Social Security benefits, so that some of these candidates dare to call for increased such benefits has him really riled up.  How dare they!?!?

Aside from reminding that RJS has regularly been misguided on Social Security projections, he goes after  him for not noting the role of patents and other regs supporting monpoly power, especially in the health care sector, including supporting outrageously high doctor salaries.

As it is, RJS whines about the size of budget deficits and claims the next president will need to increase defense spending.  This latter is not obvious. Trump has done a lot of increasing it, and restoring damaged US alliances does not obviously call for more spending.  How about just behaving better and making outrageous demands of US allies, including a stupid trade war?

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The North Korea Food Shortage Deepens

The North Korea Food Shortage Deepens

Yeah, I know, the Iran situation is more in the headlines, but nobody knows anything and everybody is shooting off their mouths.  I shall comment on that one when things settle down a bit.

Instead I shall provide info less widely reported coming out of nkecon  on the still-unreported-in-MSM story about the increasingly bad food situation in North Korea (DPRK). There are multiple reports.  Drought has hit the principal rice growing area in DPRK.  Also, there is now a serious situation regarding potatoes, the old backup for wheat and rice failures. and generally a widely relied upon staple for DPRK diets.

The latest hot story regarding potatoes is that a couple of people have been arrested and sent to labor camps for stealing potato seeds.  Reportedly this often goes on at this time (actually May when there is a two week period when usually most planting occurs).  Most of the time these people are not themselves using the potato seeds to plant them themselves but selling them to others.  But this year the situation was much more serious last month, and these arrests are a sign of it.

As I argued earlier, this situation is probably aggravating political conflicts within DPRK.  We have seen a weird letter from Kim Jong Un to Trump even dumping on Biden. Trump has now further disgraced himself by not only praising this letter, including specifically for its Biden remarks, but even going so far as to say after Kim’s dead brother was reported to have been a CIA informant that, no, not during his presidency will we let the CIA spy on North Korea.  We shall only use DOD intel agencies to keep track of DPRK nuclear weapons programs.

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75 Years After The Longest Day

75 Years After The Longest Day

Yes, I am watching “The Longest Day” on TMC.  Have not seen it for decades, but this 75th anniversary of D-Day seems to be the time to do it.  This will be a rambling post all over the place.  I note that according to the film, it was German Field Marshall Rommel who is depicted calling it “the longest day,” the day before it happened, seeing it coming.

I have been there several times, first in Fall 1953 when I was young and it was cold and rainy.  Three times in1994, 1997, and 2002 I and my wife, Marina, took students to visit the site, always impressive and moving, especially the famous cemetery.  In 1994 my late mother was with us and went around thanking veterans, who were visiting in large numbers as that was the 50th anniversary.

Unsurprisingly President Trump has been trying to get lots of attention for the celebrations of the anniversary, keen to hang out with the queen, who was actually around for the real thing, telling her how much his late mother admired her, one of the rare times we have heard him say anything about his mother.  Supposedly Macron got more applause at the Portsmouth gathering that had the queen and even Merkel apparently, although not Justin Trudeau, even though the Canadians were a major part of the invasion.  Putin was also not there (more on that later).  I am not going to waste time going on about the usual stupid things Trump has said and done other than to agree with the commentators who find it appalling that he is draping himself in this when so many things he is doing and supporting go against the ideals of those who landed there that fateful and bloody day.

 

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Tariffs and Monetary Policy: Moral Hazard and Rent Seeking

Tariffs and Monetary Policy: Moral Hazard and Rent Seeking

President Trump’s threat to impose tariffs on Mexico over immigration has pushed Federal Reserve Chair Jay Powell to say that if the tariffs lead to economic growth slowing, the Fed will cut interest rates.  While the bump may be about to end, this announcement was followed by a  solid global surge of stock markets on June 4 followed by smaller increases the next day.  This sets up a moral hazard situation for Trump where if he behaves irresponsibly on trade policy (with even GOP senators basically freaking out), the Fed might bail him out with interest rate cuts.

How is rent seeking entering into this?  I note a point just made by Dean Baker, that all these tariffs Trump is imposing on his own without any Congressional approval offer him the option of allowing specific exemptions from them.  So Trump can grant exemptions to specific sectors or even firms that favor him.  So Trump’s trade wars are opening up a whole new vista for rent seeking.

Finally, and unsurprisingly, many of his trade policies look to fail to achieve their supposed goals.  This is pretty obvious for the case of the tariffs on Mexico, which by potentially weakening the Mexican economy weaken Mexico’s ability to reduce Central Americans from to the US.  Another case involves the Chinese firm Huawei, supposedly both to enhance US national security and support the US high tech sector.  But according to a story in the Washington Post, 6/5/19 reports that 61 percent of experts say that Trump’s ban on US firms supplying parts to Huawei will both weaken US national security by reducing US influence over Huawei and the whole 5G sector, with the relevant US firms being hurt.  I do not think even the Fed can bail the US economy out from this mess.

Barkley Rosser

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North Korean Near-Famine Leads To Dead Nuclear Negotiators

North Korean Near-Famine Leads To Dead Nuclear Negotiators

It has not been officially reported by the North Korean govt, but long running rumors are now being reported by various  serious media that Trump’s big pal Kim Jong Un has recently killed the top 5 officials of his govt who set up his  failed summit with US President Trump.

According to sources I watch there has been a massive crop failure this year in the Democratic Peoples’ Republic (DPRK). The big issue there is if the local, semi-allowed private markets in ag will save the population from outright starvation. At this time this is not  known.

So this difficult situation may be partly responsible for Kim Jong Un killing the top five negotiators with the US on nuclear weapons for the summit in Hanoi.  In addition, reportedly five more senior officials have been sent to rural labor, or something like that.

The lead official word from the DPRK side is that the person Kim Jong Il killed was Kim Hok Choi, I apologize if I have misspelled his name. But I have it close, and I send my best regards to his family and the families of those others whom were also reportedly killed.  As well as this unfortunate team,  four more beyond Kim Hok Choi were executed, and five more were sent to rural labor camps, including one alleged to be a “right hand man” of Kim Jong Un.

The unclear question is how much will the unofficial private markets in DPRK will save people from outright starvation/famine. The deepest  sources ai have followed say that it is unclear.  DPKR is not a “normal” country, and we have no way to know what is actually going on there now.

Given that his nation is facing food shortages, it is not surprising that he may be facing an internal challenge, and now we see that manifested by him overcoming any inside opposition by killing these five individuals.  Reportedly five more individuals suffered being expelled to the countryside, including Kim Jong Un’ s “right hand man.”

A serious and unresolved issue at this point is how the unofficial private markets may save people there from starving to death.

Barkley Rosser

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Will China Play The Rare Earth Card In The Trade War?

Will China Play The Rare Earth Card In The Trade War?

The rumor that China might play its “rare earth card” was the rumor today that helped push down both stock and oil markets according to a variety of reports.  The trigger for this seems to have been a visit on May 26 by China’s president, Xi  Jinping, to a rare earth facility, along with some rumbling statements associated with that visit.  They may not do it, but the possibility of blocking exports to the US of exports of rare earth metals shows that China has potential weapons if Trump follows through with more vigorous trade barriers.  How serious is this threat?

It is probably not as serious as it might  have been a decade ago.  In 1990 a solid majority of these critical elements were produced outside  of China, with the US being a major source, particularly California.  But production here and in some other nations such as Australia was reduced substantially as mining of many of these involves substantial environmental damage.  At the same time China entered the opening and expanded production, getting to be the source of about 90 percent of all production by 2010.  However, due to events then increased efforts to increase production of them elsewhere, especially Malaysia, Australia, and South Africa, has reduced this to 70 percent.

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Khamenei Denounces Rouhani For Negotiating Nuclear Deal

Khamenei Denounces Rouhani For Negotiating Nuclear Deal

This has been reported by Juan Cole.  Apparently Supreme Jurisprudent, Ali Khamenei of Iran in a speech to a large number of university students has seriously denounced President Rouhani for having negotiated the JCPOA nuclear agreement with the United States and other powers.  During the negotiations Khamenei played a mixed role, raising doubts about the negotiations, but allowing them to continue and for the agreement to be adopted and implemented.  As all know, Iran has until now kept its part of the agreement, whereas President Trump withdrew the US from it and has imposed even more serious economic sanctions on Iran than were there before the agreement, with other powers unable to substantially offset the US actions, even as their governments have continued to nominally support the agreement.  Thus, Khamenei has now fully and openly declared that his doubts were correct and that Rouhani was foolish to make the agreement.

This follows the announcement that Iran will begin nominally breaching the agreement by expanding its enrichment of uranium.  The violation remains relatively minor at this point, but it is a significant step in any case. With the US raising military pressure, even as Trump says he does not want a war, it seems that this situation is just getting worse with almost nobody making any effort to halt this slide into rising conflict.  As it is, Khamenei seems to be preparing his nation for the worst.

Barkley Rosser

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Emoluments As Grounds For Impeachment

Emoluments As Grounds For Impeachment

I have said this before, but am saying it again.  The clearest grounds for impeaching Donald Trump are not his obstruction of justice on which so much attention is being focused, but in my view his blatant and unequivocal acceptance of emoluments from foreign governments, with this most clearly evident at his hotel in Washington, with these emoluments the basis of lawsuits by the governments of Maryland and D.C. going forward slowly.  But somehow none  in Congress pushing impeachment have raised this issue as grounds for impeachment, even though this is something expressly forbidden in the Constitution of presidents.  What clearer grounds for impeaching a president could there be?

I think there are four interrelated reasons we have not seen much discussion of this matter.  One is that there has been so much focus on the Mueller Report, which focused on Russian interference in the 2016 election and the relation of the Trump campaign with that. While Mueller failed to find sufficient evidence of conspiracy, the door was left open for possible obstruction of justice, even though A.G. Barr has vigorously tried to slam it shut.  And then we have seen Trump apparently doing more of it as he tries to get his whole administration ignoring Congressional subpoenas.

Another reason for this focus is that charges on this were key in the move  to impeach President Nixon, with him being forced to resign as fellow Republicans made it clear they would support the move to impeach on these grounds.  Needless to say, today, with the  exception of Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, no Republicans are supporting the move to impeach, a major  reason Speaker Pelosi continues to resist opening a formal impeachment inquiry, even as the pressure to do so rises.

A third reason is that Mueller apparently accepted the demand by Trump to recognize a “red line” around his personal finances.  Those are now increasingly coming under investigation, and we are beginning to see some of his tax returns. But an impeachable focus out of what may come has not fully come into  view, although possible money laundering of Russian oligarch money through Deutsche Bank is widely thought to have occurred and may soon be exposed. But is that impeachable as it all happened before Trump became president?

Which brings us to the fourth reason, we have never had a president ever in the 232 years since George Washington took his oath of office who has even remotely been suggested to have violated this very clear rule stated in the Constitution, not a poor one (and we have had a few not rich, if not outright indigent) nor a rich one.  None of them, until at least now.  We have not been able to think about this.

But now it is here, if partially buried in all the carryings on about so many other matters, especially this matter of obstruction of justice.  But here we have a president for the first time ever clearly taking money from foreigners while in office, and in the case of the Saudis in particular, who have dumped piles of money into the Trump Hotel in Washington, acted in ways the Foreign emolumenter wants, arguably against the interests of the US.  Did we need to have “Bone Saw” MBS take power in a coup supported by Trump and Kushner?  Should we be rushing to war with Iran at their behest?  Should we be continuing to arm them for their brutal war in Yemen?

I would like to see at least one of the people either running for president or stomping about in the Congress demanding impeachment bring this up.  This is a far clearer violation of the Constituton than anything else Trump has done.  This is exactly why the Founding Fathers both put the emoluments clause into the Constitution and gave Congress the power to impeach presidents.  If there is a “high crime and misdemeanor” the Founding Fathers would have had in mind when they did all this, is not violating the emoluments clause at the very top of the list?  Out with the crooked bumb!

Barkley Rosser

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Sanctions On Iran Are Hitting Hezbollah

Sanctions On Iran Are Hitting Hezbollah

That is the top headline, upper right corner front page, of today’s Washington Post, a quite long article by Liz Sly and Suzan Haidamous.  WaPo has been much criticized by Trump and his supporters for alleged “fake news” critical of his leaving the Iran nuclear deal while Iran was compliant and not only reimposing the sanctions put on by Obama to get Iran to the negotiating table for that deal, but adding more and yet more leading to a military escalation that may have peaked.  So, now maybe WaPo is rewarding Trump for saying he does not want a war with Iran (I approve of that) by headlining this story that has long been pushed by his fans as a justification for all this sanctions imposing on Iran.  Maybe Iran has been well behaved on the nuclear deal (while wickedly testing ballistic missiles, not part of the deal), but, ah ha! the sanctions will hurt its evil terrorist proxies like Hezbollah, and, wow, now we learn they are, whoopee!

It does look that indeed the heightened economic sanctions on Iran have reduced its financial support for Hezbollah, and I am not a big fan of that group.   One source quoted in the WaPo story put Iran as providing about 70 percent of Hezbollah’s funding, with it unclear by how much that has been reduced.  Hezbollah has publicly reported that it has had its funding reduced and has initiated lots of fundraisers to help offset that.  It claims not to have reduced its support of social services or paying “families of martyrs.”  It is unclear if it has had to pull back much from its involvement in the war in Syria, where the final round is probably now in place in Idlib province in the Northwest.

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TDS vs ODS vs BDS

TDS vs ODS vs BDS

This is motivated by running on in the econoblogosphere to Trump supporters who when confronted with hard facts they cannot refute revert to name calling that those stating actual facts are suffering from “Trump Derangement Syndrome” (TDS).  I have recently seen it thrown out “liberally.”  What is going on here?

The beginning of this odd label dates to the George W. Bush era, specifically 2003 when the late Charles Krauthammer, a supporter of W. upset by widespread criticism apparently coined the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome” (BDS). to describe persistent W. critics, apparently especially Barbra Streisand.  As it was, while the term was out there it was not that  frequently used during Bush’s presidency as later, although it was used enough to become established as a legit term.

When Obama came in its obvious successor, Obama Derangement Syndrome (ODS) became a serious phenomenom.  The first version of it was the infamous “birtherism,” led by non  other than Donald J. Trump, now POTUS. This was a total lie, which at an obscure moment in 2016 that got no notice, Trump admitted officially was a lie. But reportedly now his most supremely fave adviser is Lou Dobbs of the CNBC network, who was also long a hard core birtherist.

We were subjected to a later stream of less obviously false accusations against Obama that the ODS crowd accepted without question, even as their factual underpinnings were undermined. So we had a string of supposed scandals that  to this  day anyone living in the Fox News  etc bubble believes without doubt.  So there was there “Fast and Furious,” a complicated matter of US guns being sent across the  Mexican border that later ended up killing US people. This is a complicated matter with arguably some Obama admin input, but ultimately it was a W. Bush program that went sour.

Another hot deal for the ODS crowd, still showing up was the supposedly great IRS scandal that  in the end also turned out to be a big nothing, although this fact has probably had less reporting.  So after the big Tea Party win in 2010 a bunch of their groups showed up at the IRS claiming to be “general welfare” groups but not  “political” groups.  Of course they were all political groups, and it was a low level IRS employee, reportedly a Republican, who initiated the obviously completely appropriate investigation of a bunch of groups claiming tax exempt status for not being political who were blatantly political. In the end they all got their undeserved tax breaks after the ODS gang got going with their false stories that this was all due to Obama plotting.

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