Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Monday, February 25, 2019
LONDON — Brexit. Brexit? Brexit! BREXIT!? The Backstop! Norway Plus! Canada Minus? The Cooper Amendment! The Malthouse Compromise? The Kyle-Wilson Amendment! Hard Brexit! Soft Brexit! No deal? Brexiteer! Remoaner! BREXIT!!?? Aaaargh.
It has come down to this with a few weeks to go until the March 29 deadline for Britain to leave the European Union, as it voted to do almost three years ago: a jumble of jargon, jousting and gibberish, with everyone sucked into the vortex of confusion, to the exclusion of every other issue in the world. Britain's biggest political parties are splintering, and there is clarity only on the fact that nobody has a clue what is about to happen.
So much for the panacea offered in 2016 by leaders of the Vote Leave campaign — a land of milk and honey in which an island liberated from European shackles would become "Global Britain," money would flow, impetigo would be cured, children would become more beautiful, the soil more bountiful, and the world Britain's oyster. These days, the fantasy has sagged into a mumbled, "Well, Brexit is not the end of the world."
Not quite. "Leaving and going somewhere are not the same thing," Sam Gyimah, a Conservative politician who quit the government of Prime Minister Theresa May late last year in protest at her proposed accord with the 27-nation European Union, told me. "Nobody agrees on where we should go."
May's deal, overwhelmingly rejected by Parliament last month, is a fudge. It leaves the nature of Britain's future relationship with the European Union to be decided over the next two years. Everything — the fate of the customs union, of the single market, of the Ireland-United Kingdom border — remains unresolved under this proposal that May is now scrambling to rescue.
Article 7 of May's proposed agreement — call it the disempowerment clause — says that after March 29, European Union law "shall be understood as including the United Kingdom" except as regards "the participation in the decision making and governance of the bodies, offices and agencies of the Union." In other words, things remain as they are except that Britain loses "its voice, its vote and its veto," in Gyimah's phrase, as it embarks retrospectively on negotiating what its on-time exit from the union actually means.
"It would be the greatest voluntary transfer of sovereignty in memory," Pat McFadden, a Labour M.P. opposed to Brexit, told me.
So much for the "Take Back Control" slogan Brexiteers wielded in 2016 to foist every frustration of voters onto Brussels. In fact, the best the Tory government could come up with over negotiations consuming the entire political energy (and untold treasure) of this country is a kick-the-can measure designed to avert the calamity of a no-deal Brexit.
This, absent an accord or deferral, would involve Britain crashing out of the union on March 29 into a void. Bring it on! So say the hard-line Tories in May's party, their appetite for destruction not yet sated. Many of them are members of the European Research Group, an entity whose anodyne name masks its pro-Brexit zeal. It has apparently never heard of a multinational supply chain.
Honda's recent decision to close a plant in Swindon with the loss of 3,500 jobs — unrelated, it says, to Brexit (ha-ha) — and Nissan's recent retrenchment are signs, along with slower growth and lower investment, of the price Britain has already paid for uncertainty. No-deal Brexit would turn uncertainty into mayhem.
So May maneuvers to save her deal, chiefly by adjusting the "backstop," an insurance policy to preserve an open border in Ireland that has enraged hard-line Brexiteers because they see it as a Trojan horse for keeping Britain in the customs union through all eternity.
Jeremy Corbyn, the feckless Labour leader, maneuvers to keep his fingerprint off the British exit he not-so-secretly favors, while the majority of his party wants to remain in the European Union and eight M.P.s quit to form an independent group in Parliament to protest his policies.
Yvette Cooper, a leading Labour politician, pushes a bill to defer the March 29 deadline; and two other Labour M.P.s, Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, have drawn up an amendment that would see the House of Commons approve May's accord on condition that it is put to a second referendum. (As for the Malthouse Compromise and forms of a soft or free-trade Brexit modeled on Norwegian or Canadian ties to the union, consign them, dear reader, to the vast T.M.I. Brexit archive).
The bottom line is simple: Brexit has been, is and will be a disaster for Britain. The 2016 vote was manipulated through lies. A country that has benefited from its 46-year participation in a union of more than a half-billion Europeans is drifting toward a self-amputation understood by few, opposed by the young, abetted by a dissembling anti-American Labour leader, driven by little-England Tory right-wingers holding the country for ransom, and, according to polls, no longer wanted by the majority.
Here are the odds in descending order of likelihood: An adjusted May accord secures parliamentary approval; the March 29 deadline is extended; no deal; a second referendum. Fight on! The best option, now that the country has sobered up, is to put Britain's real future to a second people's vote
Saturday, February 23, 2019
The Real Ugliness of the Robert Kraft Story
The owner of a sports team is an odd species of celebrity. He—or, occasionally, she—is not known primarily for his money, though, as a rule, he has a lot of it. He is not known for a particular skill. What he is known for, really, is his ability to walk into a locker room filled with some of the richest and most famous athletes in the world and receive deference. In short, he's known for his position with regard to the people he pays.
Robert Kraft, who owns the New England Patriots, is one of the most famous team owners in America. That is due, mostly, to his team's stupendous success—which is, in turn, largely due to the team's mastermind coach, Bill Belichick, and its quarterback, Tom Brady, who was chosen in the sixth round of the 2000 N.F.L. draft and has become the greatest quarterback in the league's history. Earlier this month, wearing a tightly knotted pink tie, with his thick white hair swept back, Kraft accepted the Lombardi trophy, after the Patriots beat the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl—his sixth championship as an owner. But Kraft's notoriety doesn't begin or end there. He is also known for his prominent place in the small cabal of N.F.L. owners, and for his friendship with Donald Trump. (The Kraft Group, of which Kraft is the chairman and the C.E.O, donated a million dollars to Trump's inaugural committee.) Now Kraft is known for something else, too: on Friday, police in Florida announced that he had been charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution at Orchids of Asia Day Spa, in Jupiter. Police say that there is video evidence. A spokesperson for Kraft issued a statement insisting that Kraft did not engage "in any illegal activity," and informing the press that he would not be commenting further.
According to the Jupiter police, the price of an hour-long massage at Orchids of Asia was seventy-nine dollars; fifty-nine dollars would get you thirty minutes. Kraft is worth a reported $6.6 billion. It may seem surprising that a billionaire would have any interest in frequenting an establishment where, according to Martin County police, hygiene was "minimal." After the death of his wife, Myra—to whom, by all accounts, Kraft was devoted—the Patriots owner was connected with a number of attractive young women. But Kraft is hardly the first sports-world figure to have been seen in public with many attractive women and later to have been charged with soliciting prostitution. Sometimes, these financial transactions have less to do with sex than they do with something that Kraft, certainly, knows well: power.
Rarely are power asymmetries as stark as those that exist between a man of Kraft's stature and wealth and the sex workers who toil at places like Orchids of Asia Day Spa. The investigation, which has been going on for months, found evidence that women were lured from China as part of an international human-trafficking ring. They were reportedly not given days off and were not allowed to leave the massage parlors, where they were forced to live, often in squalid conditions.
Kraft lives in a very different world, one where spending lots of money can help big problems disappear. Now he finds himself caught up in a world where money is even harder to follow. It is impossible to put a figure on the scope of the problem of human trafficking; according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, there is no methodologically sound estimate, because instances of it are so rarely reported. Sexual exploitation is by far the most commonly identified form of human trafficking.
In Florida, first-time offenders for the solicitation of prostitution are subject, at the least, to mandatory community service, education, S.T.D. screening, and a five-thousand-dollar penalty. If, in fact, he is levied with the fine, Kraft will be able to pay it easily enough. What happens to the people he paid—and the unknown numbers like them?
"These girls are there all day long, into the evening. They can't leave, and they're performing sex acts," the Vero Beach police chief, David Currey, said on Thursday. "Some of them may tell us they're O.K., but they're not." He added, "Even though we may have charges on some of them, we'd rather them be victims." Last year, in a piece for the Appeal, Melissa Gira Grant and Emma Whitford noted that even organizations that sought to help victims of human trafficking sometimes ended up hurting them, and others, by exposing them to arrest or deportation. "For Chinese and Korean immigrant women, the potential consequences of law enforcement contact are grave, ranging from loss of massage license to arrest, deportation, and even loss of life," they wrote. "When a massage business shuts down, its workers — trafficked or not — are likely to remain vulnerable."
Thursday, February 21, 2019
|When Mueller wraps up|
CNN reports that Mueller's investigation could end as soon as next week.
Tuesday, February 19, 2019
Dukakis Announces 2020 Bid: "Everyone Else Is"
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis announced on Tuesday morning that he would seek the Democratic nomination for President, declaring, "Everyone else is."
Explaining his rationale for running, the 1988 Democratic Presidential nominee told reporters, "As everyone else started jumping into the race, I started feeling a little left out."
Additionally, Dukakis explained, "People have been stopping me on the street and saying that they thought I was already running. So, whatever."
The former standard-bearer said that before he threw his hat in the ring he paid a courtesy call to the 1984 Democratic nominee, Walter Mondale, to see if he was planning to run.
"I wouldn't get into the race if Walter was going to do it," Dukakis said. "This could be his year."
Mapping out his campaign strategy, Dukakis said that he hoped to offer himself as an alternative to the former senator Gary Hart, who also entered the race today.
Friday, February 15, 2019
Medicare for All. The Green New Deal. Free college tuition.
With each new entrant into the Democratic presidential sweepstakes comes a fresh cascade of ambitious social programs to entice and excite would-be supporters.
The list of "payfors," to use a bit of Washington jargon, grows more slowly. They'll pay for this how, again? Tax the rich, tax the rich — or take cover behind a convenient bit of progressive dogma: Don't worry about the fiscal impact because America's rising budget deficits and debt levels don't much matter.
That's a scary drift of thought, and it should set off alarm bells for all Americans. Vast increases in debt will ultimately compromise Washington's ability to maintain its current array of spending programs, let alone add new ones, and threaten our standard of living.
A short history: While Republicans once were the party of fiscal responsibility, President Ronald Reagan threw that out the window by embracing enormous tax cuts justified by a fiction: the idea that the resulting growth would more than pay for them.
More than a decade later, President Bill Clinton nursed the budget back into surplus, only to have President George W. Bush force through his own tax cuts. His vice president, Dick Cheney, once reportedly said, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter."
That attitude, plus the puncturing of the dot-com bubble, two wars and a financial crisis, brought us our first $1 trillion gap in 2009. But by 2015, President Barack Obama had whittled the deficit down to $439 billion.
Then came President Trump, with his vast tax cuts along with a bipartisan move to abandon spending restraint with the fiscal 2018 budget. The resulting legislation added $400 billion to the deficit, according to an estimate from the Committee for a Responsible Budget, and the consequence is a deficit for the current fiscal year of nearly $900 billion.
On present course and speed, the United States is on track to experience the highest deficits in its history, reaching more than $2 trillion a year by 2029. Those annual gaps are projected to bringAmerica's total debt to nearly $33 trillion by that date, according to the Committee for a Responsible Budget. That's double today's level and more than the size of our economy, a peacetime record.
One concern often raised by deficit hawks is that so much borrowing by the government could force interest rates higher, making it harder for businesses to borrow and reducing the amount of capital available to the private sector. In the worst case scenario, they fear that credit markets could partially or completely shut down, putting a hard brake on the economy.
While that's not impossible, my principal fear is that all this irresponsible borrowing amounts to intergenerational theft. America is simultaneously indulging in two deficit-busting desires: for lower taxes and for robust government programs. Eventually, the interest on all the debt will force the governments of future generations to reverse those fiscally imprudent policies in order to pay for today's profligacy.
It's like a couple in their 40s deciding to borrow money to sustain a lavish lifestyle and then leaving the debts for their kids to pay off after they're gone.
But that's not all. The generally accepted measure of America's national debt doesn't include obligations for future retirement and health care benefits.
RELATEDMore on the deficit.
In a perfect world, those programs would function like insurance; each generation's annual premiums would pay for support received during its golden years. That principle was abandoned long ago. Based on the current demographics of the American population, we would need to set aside $49 trillion to make the Medicare and Social Security Trust Funds truly solvent.
Meanwhile, progressives argue that certain kinds of spending are, in reality, investments that will bring large dividends in the future. With interest rates still near historic lows, they contend that the returns from borrowing for these investments would greatly exceed interest costs.
While that's true, deciding what is an investment and what is just an expense with no potential return would inevitably become a political debate. Democrats and Republicans might quickly agree about investing in building roads and bridges but what about spending on education? Should that be considered an investment? What about work force training or research and development? I fear that in the end, many spending programs would be classified as investments simply to make the budget deficit appear smaller.
Regardless, taxes need to go up, starting with unwinding the Trump tax cuts for individuals, which favored the rich. Next, we should take a tougher look at corporate taxation. Reducing the corporate tax rate to maintain our global competitiveness made sense, but it didn't need to go all the way from 35 percent to 21 percent.
Then there are potential new sources of tax revenue. I've expressedsupport, for example, for eliminating the special treatment of capital gains and dividends. Let's also reform overly generous estate tax provisions. While I'm all for putting most of the burden on the rich, we need to be mindful of realistic boundaries to ensure that tax avoidance or even expatriation don't start to rise.
On the spending side, unfortunately, taking a hard look at the entitlements programs is essential. I'm not suggesting eviscerating them, but ideas like modestly raising the retirement age or scaling benefits based on need should be explored.
Even implementing all these adjustments won't prudently provide room for expansive new social programs. Adopting those would require still tougher choices about raising taxes and trimming spending.
If we care about our kids and the country we are leaving them, Americans will make these tough decisions instead of continuing to duck them.
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Steven Rattner, a counselor to the Treasury secretary in the Obama administration, is a Wall Street executive and a contributing opinion writer. For latest updates and posts, please visit stevenrattner.com and follow me on Twitter (@SteveRattner) and Facebook.
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
|Loyalist sues Trump|
Cliff Sims autographs a book to Stephen Colbert in the "Late Show" host's green room. (Provided to Axios)
"Cliff Sims, the former White House communications aide who wrote ['Team of Vipers,"] an insider account of life working for President Trump, is suing the president in his official capacity," the N.Y. Times reports.
Be smart: Lawyers have wanted for a long time to test/contest these NDAs. Now they have a high-profile case.
Saturday, February 9, 2019
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Pence Begs Trump Not to Make Him Sit Next to Woman at State of the Union
WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Vice-President Mike Pence has begged Donald J. Trump not to make him sit next to a woman during Tuesday night's State of the Union address, sources confirmed on Monday.
According to those sources, an emotional Pence came close to breaking down in tears as he explained that being seated next to a woman other than his wife was a violation of his personal code of behavior.
Pence offered Trump a variety of solutions to the problem, including introducing a third chair between him and the woman where his wife, Karen Pence, could be seated for the duration of the speech, "to make sure that that woman doesn't try anything."
"Let Mother sit next to me, or let me sit on Mother's lap, but don't make me sit next to that woman alone," Pence reportedly sobbed.
According to those with knowledge about the meeting, Trump was less than receptive to Pence's impassioned plea. "God, Mike, you're such a loser," he reportedly said.