David Cay Johnston declares in It's Even Worst Than You Think (2018) that "there is no such thing as a 'free market,' mush as that term of art in economics is loosely bandied about all the time by politicians and journalists.  And no free market exists in world trade--not anywhere, not ever."

Free market he insists is an abstract ideal, not a reality, a useful tool in the algebra of economics.  This ideal helps in analyzing how government rules and practices shape human behavior and investment decisions.  All markets operate subject to rules and those rules guide market decisions.

What matters in commerce is a level playing field.   Market capitalism suffers when rules tilt the field of competition in favor of this company or that industry.  Among the many ways that businesses seek to angle the playing field in their favor are campaign donations, jobs for the friends and family of office holders, and handing out favors like travel on corporate jets to those who make or influence the rules.

The world trade the idea of a "free market" is absurd.  American exporters to small countries with fragile markets often must contend with kleptocratic government leaders demanding payoffs, which if met would put them in criminal violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  Then there are the petty and practical problems of customhouse inspectors who want bribes before goods cargo from ship to shore and many other real-world inferences in markets.  And, of course, in export deals there's the need for basic intelligence--whom to work with and whom to avoid in the developing country?  Does a country have the foreign reserves to pay for American good for example?

Trade agency smooths those paths while advancing the national interest of building a robust economy that exports high-value American-made products and services.  Eliminate the agency and American workers (and investors) lose.  So do taxpayers, because if exports fall, so do the taxes collected from export companies and their workers.

Former Coal Miner Seeks to Break Stereotypes of Appalachia

Feb 9, 2018

National politics have put coal in the spotlight. On this River to River segment, Ben Kieffer talks with former coal miner, Nick Mullins, about his work and the misconceptions about coal country. They also discuss the dichotomy between jobs and the environment and the political motivations of mining communities.

Mullins is the author of the blog "The Thoughtful Coal Miner." He will speak at Iowa State University at 8 p.m. Monday, Feb. 19. His talk is titled, “Coal, Climate and Environmental Backlash.”

In the first part of today's show, Kieffer talks with National Farmers Union president, Roger Johnson.

The Trump administration officials know this, assuming they know a whit about the harsh realities of global commerce yet they zeroed-out the budget for U.S. Trade and Development Agency.  Aside from the larger question about trade, shutting down a federal agency that helps sustain 18,000 American jobs directly contradicts the Trumpian promise to always act in support of American workers.


In response to the North Korean nuclear weapons program, Trump tweeted in September 2017 that "The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea."  To fulfill such a threat, the U.S. would have to suspend trade with China, India, Russia, and a host of other countries including Brazil, Chile, France, Mexico, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.  China buys 8 percent of America's exports, totaling nearly $170 billion in 2016.  China is the third largest buyer of American exports.

Perhaps Trump's tweets can be set aside as passing thoughts, if not utter nonsense.  But the Trump budget proposal to the Trade and Development Agency is formulated policy, and it clearly undercuts his "America First" claims.  So why did the Trump administration adopt this policy?  A hint of the reasons the Trump administration would sabotage American workers appears in the trade agency's reports on its successes in promoting American exports to poor countries.  The trade agency does more than encourage exports of high-value American goods like telecommunications and transportation systems.  It also promotes certain kinds of energy projects.

February 12, 2018: Hour 2

In hour two of Here & Now's Feb. 12, 2018 full broadcast, we discuss the latest headlines from Washington, including congressional debates on immigration and infrastructure, and the resignation of two White House staffers who were both accused of domestic abuse. Also, wages for judicial branch employees in Kansas are so low that folks at Sedgwick County District Court have started a food pantry for co-workers. And, two black bears badly burned in California's Thomas Fire last year are headed back into wild — thanks in part to an unorthodox treatment: bandages made of tilapia skin. We speak with UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital's chief of the integrative medicine service to learn more. You can read and hear more at, follow us on Twitter and join the conversation on Facebook and Tumblr.

This program aired on February 12, 2018.

The focus on new renewable energy could mean lots of jobs for American green energy companies--wind, solar, and biomass.  It would help encourage more investment to make renewable energy cheaper.  It also would help reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and toxic by-products from burning coal, petroleum coke (pet-coke), and even natural gas.

That does not sit well with Trump and the political termites his administration has put to work inside or government, eating away at its structure.  Trump has attacked renewable energy again and again.  A major stated goal of his term in office will be much greater extraction and use of fossil fuels.  And more than any other form of carbon, Trump loves coal.  He boasts that he has wrought a revival of American coal mining, a tenuous claim, but in his mind a certainty.  And Trump is undaunted by the mounting evidence of climate change and global warming.  He insists that climate change is imaginary and certainly not caused by burning fossil fuels.  And those beliefs, it seems, outweigh the value of jobs for Americans that enable green energy in poor countries [like Kentucky].

It appears that Trump's inaugural address promise that every decision would favor American workers came with a hidden caveat not included in the speech everyone heard or in the official What House Text but buried in an obscure budget document that no one was expected to notice.  Only because of a Freedom of Information request did this justification document become public.


Trump Uses MS-13 To 'Sell Draconian Overhauls Of Border Issues,' Journalist Says


New Yorker writer Jonathan Blitzer says President Trump uses the notorious gang to paint a portrait of rampant criminality among immigrants — and to frame the broader immigration debate

President Vows To 'Eradicate' MS-13 Gang

President Trump spoke at Suffolk Community College on Friday to a crowd that included many in law enforcement, highlighting his efforts to combat the MS-13 gang and reduce illegal immigration.  Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Calling members of the transnational street gang MS-13 "animals" who like to let their victims "die slowly because that way it's more painful," President Trump on Friday sought to highlight his administration's efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, reduce violent crime and secure additional congressional funding for immigration enforcement.

The president spoke before a crowd in Suffolk County, N.Y., which since the start of last year has seen 17 brutal murders allegedly committed by MS-13, including a fatal attack with machetes and baseball bats on two teenage girls, authorities say.

Trump also used his speech to praise the work of John Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security. On Twitter, the president announced that Kelly would become the new White House chief of staff.

"Incredible. One of our real stars. Truly one of our stars. John Kelly is one of our great stars. You know, the border's down 78 percent," the president said, referring to a reported decline in apprehensions of people crossing the southwest border of the United States. (Trump's 78 percent figure is disputed however.)

The president told an audience of officers from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that his administration and the nation supported them fully.

"We have your backs 100 percent," Trump said. "Not like the old days."

The president declared a goal of completely eradicating MS-13, which he claimed had grown its ranks within the United States by exploiting the "weak borders and lax immigration enforcement" allowed by previous administrations.

The era of lax enforcement, Trump announced, was now over.

"One by one, we're liberating our American towns," the president said, describing raids by ICE.

The first 100 days of the Trump administration saw a nearly 40 percent increase in the number of people arrested who were either known or suspected of being in the country illegally compared to the same time period in 2016, according to ICE.

At one point in the speech, Trump seemed to encourage more forceful arrests by law enforcement. "Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you're protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand like 'don't hit their head,'" he began, "I said, 'you can take the hand away, OK?'"

The president also told the crowd he wanted Congress to fund an additional 10,000 ICE officers, more judges to help speed up deportations and spending for the border wall, which the House today voted to do to the tune of $1.6 billion.

The mention of Congress sent Trump on a topical digression in the rambling speech, deriding Senate Republicans for their failure early Friday morning to partially repeal the Affordable Care Act.

"They should have approved health care last night, but you can't have everything, boy oh boy," he told the crowd, sighing. "They've been working on that one for seven years. Can you believe that? The swamp. But we'll get it done. We're going to get it done."

Trump continued: "You know I said from the beginning, let Obamacare implode and then do it. I turned out to be right, let Obamacare implode."

At other points in the speech billed as focusing on immigration and gang violence the president celebrated this morning's positive economic growth numbers and bemoaned America's "bad" trade deals.

The president finished up by again lamenting the brutal violence by MS-13 gangs, made up largely, he said, of people in the country illegally.

"What happened to the old days where people came into this country? They worked and they worked and they worked and they had families and they paid taxes," he said to the crowd. "We don't see that."

As NPR's Joel Rose reported, while many in Suffolk County were pleased to see the president shine a spotlight on the impact of MS-13 on their community, others doubted the effectiveness of Trump's crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

"We have families here and young people who are being terrorized by gangs who will not come forward because of the fear of the Donald Trumps and Jeff Sessions," said Phil Ramos, a Democrat in the New York Assembly who represents Brentwood, the largely Latino community where Trump's speech took place. Ramos says many residents now "won't come forward and report gang activity or gang threats or the fact that they are being extorted, or violence against their children because they fear that threat from authorities."

After winning the election, Trump had to come up with some plausible plan to fulfill his absolute and never qualified promise that Mexico would pay for the wall.  His first response was to attack journalist as dishonest.

Then Sean Spicer informed reporters on Air Force One that the president was considering a comprehensive tax plan that could include imposing a 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports.  Spicer's exact words sowed some confusion about how a tariff works.  But he eventually made clear that the tariff, which he called a tax, would be 20 percent.  A tax on "$50 billion at 20 percent of imports that way we can do $10 billion a year and easily pay for the wall just trough that mechanism alone."

However, a tariff on Mexican imports meant that Americans, not Mexicans, would be paying for the wall.

A tariff is a form of tax, and it would increase prices on goods subject to the tariff, though not with the transparency of a sales tax paid at the cash register.  Instead the tariff would be built into the price ultimately paid by consumers, hiding it from those not familiar with how tariffs work or who don't ask why a car made in Mexico suddenly costs more than a comparable one made in Canada, or Brazil or Kentucky.

No matter how the cost of the wall was paid, Americans would pay the price in dollars.  Clearly, a tariff would not be the America first policy that Trump promised workers and businesses.

The tariff trial balloon was informative for another reason.  Trump said he knew more about taxes than anyone else in the world, yet his plan showed no awareness whatsoever of the history of American tariffs.  Popular dislike for tariffs was a major reason the individual income tax was adopted a century ago.  The burden of tariffs fell heavily on the poor and emerging middle class at the start of the twentieth century, while the super-rich enjoyed their profits and salaries free of a levy on their enormous--for the time--incomes.

The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act enacted in 1930 at the start of the Great Depression made that economic downturn worse.  The act provoked retaliatory protectionist measures by other countries.  American exports and imports fell by about half during the Depression, much of which mainstream economists blame on the trade conflict the Smoot-Hawley Tariff initiated.

The vulnerability of American exporters to protective tariff like Smoot-Hawley also escaped Trump and his staff.  After years of importing oil from Mexico, in late 2015, the U.S. became a net exporter of petroleum to Mexico, selling that country about 211,000 barrels of oil per day, worth about $4 billion per year.  The Trump tariff plan might, however, prompt Mexico to rely on its own oil or perhaps buy from Venezuela or some other country hostile to the United States [for good reason].  that would cost America in lost export revenue and run counter to Trump's plan for America to acquire global "energy dominance" [and the support of the Koch Network].

That trump obviously did not know that with a tariff Americans, not Mexicans, would pay for the wall tells us two things.  One is that Trump is no expert on taxes.

The other goes to his frequent statements that "I'm really, really smart" and "I'm like a smart person."  However smart he is or not, the tariff plan and many other actions show that he did not pay attention when he was a student or forgot what he was taught at Penn's Wharton School of Economics.


Johnston posits that four months after taking office, Donald Trump flew to Saudi Arabia, where he lavished praise on a family-run country that makes sure its people learn only the official version of events, not unlike the regimes in Russia and North Korea.

During the presidential campaign, Trump stirred up crowds with lurid descriptions of ISIL's beheadings.  ISIL sought to inflame Americans and Europeans with its atrocious acts.  But they served another purpose as well--frightening people in areas ISIL controlled so they would submit to its authority lest their heads come off.

Trump said nothing about Saudi Arabia beheading people, which government executioners did on average three times per week in 2015 and 2016.  Nor did he protest executions via public stonings, another Saudi government technique to frighten its 28 million people into submission to the monarchy's absolute rule.  bury people in the ground up to their necks so rocks could be thrown at their heads was both a brutal way to kill and terrifying reminder of the regime's barbaric views on official violence.

Qatar, the country the Saudis wanted to bring to heel, does not stage beheadings.  The last Qatari execution occurred in 2003 when a firing squad ended the life of a convicted murderer.   But it was Qatar that Trump denounced while he was in the Saudi kingdom [where he displayed his wife and daughter uncovered marking them as whores], shocking its emir and many American diplomatic and military leaders because Qatar is crucial to American interests in that part of the world.

More than 11,000 American military personnel work out of the twenty-square-mile Al Udeid Air Base south of Doha, the capital of Qatar.  From there the air Force directs American bombers and jet fighters attacks on ISIL, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Houthi rebels the Saudis want suppressed in Yemen.  Americans at the airbase in Qatar also controlled drones used for surveillance of suspected Al Qaeda, Taliban, and other terrorist leaders, directing missile strikes at them and their entourages.

Trump's Riyadh speech praising the Saudis and their Middle Eastern allies while condemning Qatar drew firm lines in the sand.  "With god's help this summit will mark the beginning of the end for those who practice terror and spread its vile creed,” Trump said adding, "There can be no coexistence with this violence.  There can be no tolerating it, no accepting it, no excusing it, and no ignoring it."

Those remarks indicate Trump was unaware, or did not care, that the Saudis are the world's largest sponsor of terrorism, far exceeding the Iranian government that Trump frequently denounces for its support for terrorism.  The State Department lists sixty-one terrorist organizations, all but two of which are aligned with Sunnis and the extreme Wahhabi sect that is officially endorsed in Saudi Arabia.  The Saudis fund fifty-seven of those terrorist groups.  Qatar, the country that Trump joined the Saudis and their allies in denouncing, was also involved in funding terrorist groups, that they committed their acts of political violence mostly in the Middle East.


Trump Offers Spending Blueprint, But Congress Already Wrote The Check


President Trump is unveiling his 2019 fiscal year budget proposal on Monday.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET

President Trump released his 2019 budget proposal Monday calling for increased spending on the military, border security and the opioid crisis. But the White House blueprint has already been overtaken by events. The two-year budget deal passed by Congress last week boosts spending for both the military and domestic programs by nearly $300 billion over the next two years, complicating White House efforts to reorder federal priorities.

"We really thought we could cut a deal with the Democrats that would increase defense spending in order to defend the nation," White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told Fox News Sunday. "But when the doors closed, what happened was they would not give us a single dollar worth of additional defense spending without giving us additional money for welfare spending and that's just the world we live in."

The White House offered an amendment to its 2019 budget to account for the additional spending. It also suggested cuts that Congress could make in the current fiscal year.

"What we're doing is saying, 'Look, you don't have to spend all of this money,' " Mulvaney said. "These are spending caps. They're not spending floors. So you don't have to spend all that."

The Republican-controlled Congress largely ignored the proposed spending cuts in the president's first budget last year, but Mulvaney says the White House is not giving up. The administration's budget would cut funding for the State Department by 26 percent next year and would reduce spending at the EPA by 34 percent.

"There's still going to be the president's priorities as we seek to spend the money consistent with our priorities, not with the priorities that were reflected most by the Democrats in Congress," Mulvaney said.

The budget calls for $716 billion in defense spending in 2019, in line with the congressional deal. "Our military was totally depleted, and we will have a military like we've never had before," Trump said.

The White House is also proposing stepped-up spending on border security, including $18 billion over the next two years for a wall along the Southern border with Mexico. In addition, the president wants funding for 750 more Border Patrol agents, 2,000 more ICE officers and 52,000 detention beds — a 25 percent increase from 2017.

The budget includes an ambitious, $1.5 trillion infrastructure program, although the bulk of the money for rebuilding roads, bridges and other projects would have to come from state and local governments or the private sector. "We're trying to build roads and bridges and fix bridges that are falling down, and we have a hard time getting the money," Trump said during an infrastructure meeting at the White House on Monday. "It's crazy."

The spending plan also calls for nearly $17 billion to combat opioid addiction.

And it includes changes to safety net programs such as food stamps that the administration says will help move able-bodied Americans back into the workforce.

The White House budget assumes that economic growth will accelerate, from 2.3 percent last year to 3 percent this year and 3.2 percent next year, spurred on in part by the $1.5 trillion tax cut the president signed in December. Many independent economists see the White House forecast as overly optimistic. Even with the assumption of robust economic growth, the federal deficit is expected to hit 4.2 percent of GDP this year and 4.7 percent next year.

It's common for the deficit to grow during a recession, when tax revenues slump and spending on safety net programs increases. In 2009, for example, the deficit was 9.8 percent of GDP. But it's very unusual for the government to run large deficits when the economy is near full employment as it is today.

"Certainly there's a risk that interest rates will spike and there's a concern," Mulvaney said. But he insisted that the tax cuts, while reducing revenue in the short run, will eventually pay off.

"This is not a fiscal stimulus. It's not a sugar high," Mulvaney said. "We have fundamentally changed the structure of the American economy to where we think we can change the long-term trends of our growth possibilities."

How Mick Mulvaney Is Changing The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau


President Trump's appointee running the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is making radical changes to make the agency less aggressive in its mission. An internal memo obtained by NPR says the CFPB will unveil a new strategic plan on Monday. The moves are frustrating staffers at the bureau.

The cost of ships as well as jet fighters has risen because of modern electronics, much more powerful engines, and advanced weaponry.  These complex systems require highly trained personnel, who can command higher pay of them leave the military for civilian jobs.  But even with increased skill requirements for sailors and others, the economics of war are shifting.  What was for centuries a labor intensive enterprise that relied on soldiers, who are relatively cheap mean machines, modern warfare is capital-intensive, requiring god-awful expensive ships and planes that use digital-era weaponry, nuclear power, and other sophisticated equipment and systems?

Trump ignorant of military advancement to digital insist that steam replace digital for cost benefit.  In insisting Trump's demand to return to steam, which will not happen because the ship is already built, Trump again demonstrated his backward looking perspective on the world and his rejection of ideas, science, and technologies that move our species forward.  Just as he promotes coal and rejects electricity made from wind, solar, and other renewable sources, trump's vision is not about the future but about a mythical past, at best a romantic nostalgia.


Looking At George Papadopoulos' Connections In The Russia Investigation


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Comment by mary gravitt on February 21, 2018 at 12:53pm

It is still getting worser--if that's a word.  The US send its military to train other oppressed people to free themselves from despotic leaders, but not we have one leading the US.  Who will free US?

Comment by marshall bjohnson on February 21, 2018 at 5:20pm

thanks mary gravitt as always your collection of journalism is impeccable...

Comment by mary gravitt on February 23, 2018 at 2:05pm

Trump needs a war to distract US, therefore the increased pressure on North Korea.  I hope that Un is not dumb enough to take the bate.  We are already fighting at least three wars and I have no faith in a fourth.  North Korea is no problem if it is ignored.  Two presidents have known this.  But since it was the Russian propaganda got us Trump, war like in Nazi Germany is to be expected.


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