Why Business Wants a Recession

           Give Jerome Powell credit for candor: the Fed chairman admits that his policy of increasing interest rates to fight inflation might push the economy into a recession. “No one knows whether this process will lead to a recession or, if so, how significant that recession would be,” he recently told reporters.             If it does, one sector won’t be entirely displeased: employers.             According to the Deloitte accounting firm, a typical Fortune 500 company spends $1 to $2 billion a year on payroll, averaging between 50% and 60% of total spending. Controlling labor costs, unsurprisingly, is a top priority for employers.             In the boom-bust cycle of labor-management negotiations, the post-pandemic Great Resignation has triggered a labor shortage, a phenomenon we rarely witness and tends to fizzle out fast. Workers are quitting and retiring early, tanking the labor force participation rate. Those who remain enjoy the upper hand at interviews that feel like the job prospect is sizing up…
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Neither Democrats Nor Republicans Can Defeat Trumpism

           As you know if you are one of my regular readers, I’m skeptical of hysterical claims that Donald Trump and his supporters represent a uniquely existential threat to democracy and the American way of life. Right-wing populist demagogues are a recurring feature of American history; there is nothing new here. Many “mainstream” politicians have promoted and promulgated policies that stepped over the line into fascism: the Red Scares of the Palmer raids and McCarthyism, concentration camps for Japanese Americans, the John Birch society, COINTELPRO, mass surveillance by the NSA, George W. Bush’s war of aggression against Iraq and assassination drones come to mind. Trump had four full years in office, one of which was marked by a bona fide national emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic, that he might have exploited to impose martial law, yet the republic still stands. Trump notwithstanding, it is true that democracy, even the watered-down worn-out version of our ancient republic, is fragile. Those wary of…
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Wanted: Continuity Editors

The world needs more continuity editors.             Filmmakers hire them to check for plot holes. Like, in “Forrest Gump” the lead character’s friend Lieutenant Dan couldn’t have invested their money in Apple Computer in 1976, because the company didn’t go public until four years later. Or, in “Pulp Fiction” when hitmen played by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta narrowly avoid being shot, the bullet holes appear in the wall behind them before the first shot is fired. Continuity editors ensure that a movie makes sense, has a consistent look, sound and feel throughout, and moves at the right pace or combination of paces. They axe scenes that don’t advance the plot and insert new ones to fill in explanations and backgrounds in order to smooth out awkward transitions. They track the big picture.             Hollywood isn’t the only place that needs them. As the United States keeps sliding its slimy way through economic and sociopolitical decline toward the bubbly…
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Democrats Should Stop Crying Trump

           As a businessman, Donald Trump did a lot of terrible things. He stiffed vendors. He hired illegal immigrants as construction workers and abused them. People went into debt paying for his fake university education.             As a president, Donald Trump was awful. He kept children in cages. During the pandemic he promoted quackery and denied science. He stacked the Supreme Court with right-wing cretins. He claimed Biden stole the election, then encouraged his supporters to keep him in office by means of a coup.             The truth about Trump is bad enough. So when Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans describe Trump as an existential threat to democracy, God, apple pie, cat videos and everything good and decent in the world, they’re abandoning high political and moral ground that ought to be easy to hold.             No matter what you think of the former president, one fact belies the overheated handwringing that defines Trump Derangement Syndrome: he served four years, yet…
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The U.S. Played Gorbachev for a Fool

            Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union who died this week, was a member of that tribe of politicians who can diagnose a problem but doesn’t know how to treat it. As he grew up, he couldn’t understand why a nation blessed with extraordinary natural resources and an enviable geographically strategic position had so much trouble delivering economic prosperity to its people. “Mr. Gorbachev has said he finally realized, as regional party boss, that something much more serious was wrong with the Soviet system than just inefficiency, theft and poor planning. The deeper flaw was that no one could break out with new ideas,” The Washington Post wrote in his obituary.             It is, however, possible to be too open to new ideas. Arms reduction negotiations with the United States led to increasingly close ties between the Soviet leadership under Gorbachev and the Reagan and first Bush administrations. He took meetings with advisers and officials of the…
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DMZ America Podcast #63: Student Loan Forgiveness, Quiet Quitting and Zelensky’s Big Lie

Joe Biden wants to forgive up to $20,000 per student loan borrower. Ted and Scott do a deep dive into who qualifies and why and why it’s weird, and Scott takes a stand against executive action rather than congressional debate in the situation. America’s favorite left-wing and right-wing political cartoonists discuss the phenomenon previously known as slacking, now known as “quiet quitting.” Finally, Ukrainian President Zelensky has been outed as a major liar to the Ukrainian people, some of whom are not pleased about it. In a democracy, or what passes for one, what if anything are the people entitled to know?    
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Trump’s Critics Are Even More Dangerous Than He Is

             Edward Luce of the Financial Times recently tweeted one of the most overheated sentences ever uttered in the world of politics: “I’ve covered extremism and violent ideologies around the world over my career. Have never come across a political force more nihilistic, dangerous & contemptible than today’s Republicans. Nothing close.” General Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and NSA, added: “I agree.” These opinions, and the fact that they are quoted approvingly by Margaret Sullivan in her final column as a media writer for The Washington Post, indicate that Trump Derangement Syndrome is raging at a 106° fever pitch among Democratic elites.             Luce’s remark is pure madness. No one will out-disdain me when it comes to the GOP but only a lunatic would argue they’re more “nihilistic, dangerous and contemptible” than the Khmer Rouge, the Rwandan Hutu-led government of Théoneste Bagosora, Al Qaeda, ISIS or Saudi Arabia. It’s depressingly revealing to watch that someone who so clearly…
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4 Lessons from Afghanistan

            One year ago, America lost yet another war. Afghanistan is right back where it was two decades ago, under control of the Taliban. The question is: what, if anything, have we learned?             Make any mistake you like, but don’t make the same mistake twice—or four times. The U.S. committed the same errors of omission and commission in Vietnam, and then Iraq; our failure to draw intelligent conclusions from those conflicts and apply them going forward led us to squander thousands of more lives and billions of more dollars in Afghanistan. Here we go again: unless we learn from our decision to go to war against Afghanistan and then occupy it, we are doomed to our next debacle.             Afghanistan Lesson #1: When politicians tell you that war is necessary and justified, always be skeptical.             President George W. Bush told us that we had to invade Afghanistan in order to bring Osama bin Laden to justice for 9/11.…
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In Actual Russia, No Sign of Sanctions

             It’s time to get real. It’s been time to get real. Russia has won its war against Ukraine.             This outcome comes as no surprise. Anyone with access to a map could see that the chances of Ukraine prevailing against Russia were slim to none.             The only way Ukraine could have emerged victorious—which would, according to the Ukrainians themselves, mean pushing it out of Crimea and deposing the separatist pro-Russian republics of Donetsk and Luhansk—would have been if the United States and its Western allies had been willing to launch nuclear weapons, which would have led to global annihilation. Once the decision was made not to start World War III, Ukraine’s defeat became inevitable. This, everyone sane knows, is for the best.             Determinative to this conclusion was an unusual pair of motivations. Normally, when a war is fought on one country’s territory, the invaded country fights harder than the invading forces. Paradoxically, despite suffering damaged infrastructure, the…
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Greetings from Russia

            I’m interested in stories that go uncovered and undercovered. Fewer stories are less obscured today than life in Russia under Western sanctions. I’m especially interested in stories that are so imbued with spin and propaganda that the news media has abandoned all pretense of objectivity. That’s certainly true about the Russia-Ukraine conflict.             I spent last week in Moscow to check things out for myself. Now I’m in Saint Petersburg. If you’ve never been to Russia, Moscow feels a bit like D.C.—streets and plazas on a scale hostile to pedestrians, impressive metro, intimidating government buildings raised by and for the political class. Saint Petersburg is more like New York, the country’s intellectual capital, steeped in history, sophisticated and hip rather than utilitarian and brutalist.             Friends worried about my safety. Their concerns could not possibly have been more misplaced. Some worried that I’d be detained like the WNBA player Brittney Griner, who got caught at a Moscow airport with…
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