Posts from Robert Kuttner

Let Us Praise Trump’s Incoherence.

Robert Kuttner Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect

So now Trump, having bashed the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a wrongheaded product of the despised Barack Obama, wants to join it after all. Or maybe he doesn’t.

The TPP was a lousy deal. It was mainly about helping big U.S. multinationals, and did little or nothing for labor and environmental rights. And despite the latter-day spin about the TPP containing China, it did nothing to restrain China’s predatory trade practices. Further, the United States already has trade deals with all of the major member countries of the TPP.

But the large farm lobby and its allies in Congress have been putting pressure on Trump to back off the trade-war talk, and TPP is emblem of a more establishment sort of trade agenda. Based on past behavior, we have no idea whether Trump will change course. He says whatever pops into his head based on the issue du jour.

This, of course, drives his advisers crazy. There is a serious schism between the trade hawks—led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and economic adviser Peter Navarro—and the traditional globalists around Trump, now including economic chief Larry Kudlow, Treasury Secretary (and Goldman man) Steve Mnuchin, plus Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

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Pete Peterson Meets St. Peter

Robert Kuttner Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect

Name, Please?

Peter G. Peterson.

And what makes you think you deserve admission to the Pearly Gates?

I’ve led a virtuous life, made billions, and gave most of it to charity.

What sort of charity?

Well, I gave over $1 billion to create the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, to warn Americans about the dangers of deficits and debts, and the excesses of Social Security and Medicare.

Yes? And where’s the charity part?

Too much spending will bankrupt America, especially the dreams of the young.

I’m just a saint, not an economist. But are you saying that it’s Social Security and Medicare that are destroying the life chances of the young, rather than—oh, I don’t know—college debt, insecure jobs, unaffordable housing, the very rich taking more than their share?

My one regret on Earth was that the young people just wouldn’t listen to what I was telling them.

And where did you say you made your money?

That would be private equity.

We have a saying around here: It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than—

I know … than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

You’ve heard that one.

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Manufacturing Lies

Robert Kuttner Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect

Donald Trump promises to make American manufacturing great again. Yet all of his policies would do just the opposite.

America was going to get tough on NAFTA, right? The goal was to “rebalance” trade among the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Well, a parade of corporate lobbyists demanding that we keep NAFTA has caused the administration to put off negotiations.

If NAFTA is renegotiated, the changes will be mostly cosmetic. And anyway, NAFTA is only a small part of American manufacturing woes.

If we were serious about restoring good blue-collar manufacturing jobs, what would it take? For starters, we’d need an industrial policy, something that both political parties have rejected as meddling with the market.

One place where we actually have a modest industrial policy is at the Energy Department, where government spends $300 million a year supporting new technologies to help American companies compete in emerging industries such as solar energy and wind turbines. Oops, the Trump administration proposes to shut all of that down — too associated with Obama and who needs green industries when we have coal?

If we were serious about manufacturing, we’d take a much harder line with China’s strategy of luring American industry to move to China with a combination of subsidized factories and cheap labor, with the proviso that U.S. companies share their trade secrets with Chinese “partners.” Where’s Trump on that? Nowhere — he foolishly thinks that if we tread lightly with China on trade issues, Beijing will help restrain the North Koreans.

And if the U.S. were truly committed to state-of-the-art manufacturing, we would have a large-scale commitment to rebuild our out-of-date infrastructure. That would generate new technologies, as well as millions of made-in-America jobs.

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Trump And Mateen: Brothers In Hate

Robert Kuttner Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect

America will soon decide whether we are a society dominated by hate. The appeal of hate is that it’s really simple. It is the aftermath of hate that’s such a hard mess.

Complexity is so much less satisfying. But will also have to decide whether we are a society that can navigate complexity; and diversity; and compassion — and respond in ways that do not make horrific problems even worse.

So many words have been spilled over a question that should be palpably clear by now: Was Omar Mateen motivated by anti-gay hate? Or by the appeal of ISIS? Or was he a troubled loner?

It will not take extensive investigation to establish the basic reality that this was a very troubled man; that he was viciously anti-gay; and that ISIS was a handy flag of convenience for his hatred. There will be more of this, with diverse targets.

Barack Obama is better than your average president at leading us to appreciation of the fact that the world is a frightening and complex place. Obama is way above average at steering us away from hate. Hillary Clinton is pretty good at both — but she needs to get a lot better, and fast.

Obama’s election, less than eight years ago, showed that America, at our best, could avoid hate and embrace our diversity. But at our worst, God help us.

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Profiles in Cowardice — GOP Leaders and Donald Trump

Robert Kuttner Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect

Donald Trump has entered a new phase of autocratic weirdness. His attack on Federal Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding in the lawsuit against Trump University, was a trifecta. It combined outright racism with an assault on the independent judiciary and a clear warning that Trump would use the presidency to settle personal business scores.

His rants at reporters display contempt for the role of a free press. He would govern like a spiteful tyrant, with all the awesome powers of a president of the United States — settling scores, punishing enemies, making impetuous, ignorant decisions.

As this reality sinks in, Trump’s campaign should be imploding about now. And it might be — if other Republican leaders displayed a modicum of concern for the future of the Republic. But with a few notable exceptions, the GOP leadership is either giving Trump a pass, or just taking a pass.

You can count the exceptions on the fingers of one hand (and still have the middle finger left over for other uses in this campaign). Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse is one. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is a second. And the 2012 GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, a third. All have spoken out against Trump. Rick Synder, the Republican Governor of Michigan who in big trouble at home, declined to make an endorsement, but otherwise doesn’t comment.

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The Libertarian Party Could Provide Insurance for Hillary Clinton

Robert Kuttner Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect

Two former Republican governors are running for president and vice president on the Libertarian line. They are Gary Johnson, former New Mexico governor, and William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts. The Libertarian Party holds its nominating convention in Orlando, Florida, over Memorial Day weekend.

The Libertarian Party could play the spoiler role in 2016 for Donald Trump, just as Ralph Nader did in 2000, but this time helping to tip the election to the Democrat.

Its minor-party counterpart on the left, the Green Party led by standard bearer Jill Stein, is far less likely to draw a comparable level of support from disaffected Bernie Sanders supporters. Sanders himself has already said he’ll support the Democratic nominee.

Unlike the typical third party candidates, Johnson and Weld are experienced mainstream politicians. Johnson, a former construction company entrepreneur, served two terms from 1994 to 2002, winning both elections by ten points. Weld was a highly popular and moderate governor of the Bay State. He won re-election by the largest margin in state history in 1994.

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Generation Sanders

Robert Kuttner Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect

For more than a year, my pragmatist friends and colleagues have under-estimated the appeal of Bernie Sanders. As a big Sanders win approaches in the New Hampshire primary, they insist that this will be Sanders' last hurrah and urge his supporters to get real and get with the program -- which is to unite behind Hillary Clinton as the Democrat best positioned to be nominated and to win in November.

Many of my political friends are simply missing the import of the Sanders campaign. Much of his appeal is a blend of generational and economic.

The millennial generation has gotten the worst economic screwing since the generation that came of age in the Great Depression. In some ways, their plight is worse, since in the Depression generation there was broad understanding that an economic catastrophe had occurred and it was correctly understood as political.

Until very recently, the plight of the millennials was seen as merely personal. Questions that should be, and are, deeply political have been taken as private problems -- how to best cope with a bad economic environment; how to pick a shrewd career path given lousy choices. But it was only a matter of time before self-awareness of this reality finally took political form.

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Where Economic Distress Meets Political Dysfunction

Robert Kuttner Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect

The economy generated almost 300,000 jobs last year and cut the nominal unemployment rate to five percent. But family incomes for most people are still deeply depressed.

Yet a lot of experts seem to think this is the best the economy can do. The Federal Reserve last month actually voted to raise interest rates on the premise that growth would soon pick up, and inflation might be a threat.

Meanwhile, slowing growth has made fools of the Fed's experts. The collapsing stock market in China produced reverberations around the world and projections of slower growth at home and abroad.

The U.S. economy is relatively strong compared to the rest of the world (faint praise). But as the deep slide in domestic stock markets during the first week of the New Year suggests, we are hardly immune to global trends.

Nor is the current American economy strong enough to serve as a growth engine for the rest of the world. And nothing in the mainstream policy debate would significantly change the economic outlook for ordinary working families and the economy as a whole, though the proposals of the Sanders campaign are at least a down-payment.

What the economy needs is a massive program of investment in public infrastructure to provide jobs and domestic growth that is relatively insulated from global trends. Such a program could also accelerate an overdue transition to a greener economy.

That would require on the order of about half a trillion in outlays a year, some of it financed by higher taxes on the rich and some of it financed by debt. Try to find a mainstream politician calling for that level of public outlay.

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Who Will Be Hillary's Economic Team?

Robert Kuttner Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect

Ever since she faced a stronger than expected challenge from her left, Hillary Clinton has been sounding more progressive than expected on economics. Let's hope she means it.

She has come out against the Keystone Pipeline, against the really dubious Trans-Pacific Partnership, in favor of substantial debt relief for college students. Her July speech on economic issues at the New School, calling for significant increases in public investment and regulation of corporate excesses was exemplary.

However, there is one key area that could undercut all of what she has offered. That is her choice of a senior economic team. The recent history of Democratic presidents is not reassuring on that score.

Ever since the administration of her husband, senior economic posts have been given over to Wall Street Democrats. The financial deregulation that collapsed the economy in 2008 was the work of the Robert Rubin economic team that worked for (and on) Bill Clinton.

After that collapse helped propel Barack Obama into the White House in the 2008 election, he disappointed supporters by naming many of the same people or their protégés as his senior economic officials -- Larry Summers as top economic honcho, Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary, more Clinton ex-budget staffers to the Office of Management and Budget. Paul Volcker, useful as a symbol, proved too left wing for the rest of the Obama crew because he was serious about breaking up the big banks. The key economic post in the campaign went to another Robert Rubin protégé, Jason Furman, now head of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. The top trade job went to yet another Rubin ally, Michael Froman.

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America's Collapsing Trade Initiatives

Robert Kuttner Co-Founder and Co-Editor, The American Prospect

America's Collapsing Trade Initiatives

Chinese president Xi Jinping will be in Washington this week on an official state visit. President Obama had hoped to impress Xi with an all but sealed trade deal with major Pacific nations called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to demonstrate that America is still a force to be reckoned with in China's backyard.

But Obama's trade policy is in tatters. The grand design, created by Obama's old friend and former Wall Street deal-maker, trade chief Mike Froman, comes in two parts -- a grand bargain with Pacific nations aimed at building a U.S.-led trading bloc to contain the influence of China, and an Atlantic agreement to cement economic relations with the European Union.

Both are on the verge of collapse from their own contradictory goals and incoherent logic.

This past June, the President, using every ounce of political capital, managed to get Congress to vote him negotiating authority (by the barest of margins) for these deals. Under the so-called fast-track procedure, there is a quick up-or-down vote on a trade agreement that can't be amended.

The assumption was that the Administration could deliver a deal backed by major trading partners. But our partners are not playing.

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Stronger Together

Stronger Together