Blow and Krugman

July 24, 2017

In “The Kook, ‘the Mooch’ and the Loot” Mr. Blow says the communications problem in this administration is that no one cares about the truth.  Prof. Krugman tells us “Health Care Is Still in Danger” and that the cruelty remains, and the lies just keep coming.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

On Friday, a “president” with no political experience brought on a communications director with no communications experience.

Trump tapped Anthony Scaramucci, a Wall Street snake investment huckster, to be the new communications director, a move that caused Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who The New York Times reported“vehemently disagreed with the appointment,” to resign.

So, let me get this straight: Spicer was just fine with regularly walking out to that podium to spew and spin Trump’s lies, but hiring “the Mooch,” as Scaramucci is known, was the back-breaker? O.K., whatever, Sean.

This illustrates best what is wrong with this communications shop, and by extension, this administration: No one is concerned with the truth; they are only concerned with their own trajectories.

Nothing about this White House communications department was ever about communicating. On the contrary, it has always been about deception, concealment and equivocation. Informing the public was never the mission. Flattering Trump was the mission. But in the end, Trump will never be satisfied, because successful communications for him is to get people to buy his pack of lies, and that isn’t really working the way it once did.

Nothing will change with jthe arrival of the Mooch Communications Office because nothing has changed about the kook in the Oval Office. (Some may find that descriptor harsh, but I find no appellation too coarse to express my outrage over Trump’s character, behavior and agenda. If anything, no word feels grave enough to properly express it.)

Trump is suffering horrendous approval ratings, an impotent legislative agenda and his irrepressible impulse to shove his foot in his mouth. There is no real way to better package this disaster.

For that reason, I found this shake-up far less interesting than the developments last week about the inexorably advancing Russia investigation.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not interested in palace intrigue; I’m interested in the increasing possibility of prison and maybe even impeachment.

Think about all that happened last week: Donald Trump Jr. and the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort were invited to testify in open session before the Senate Judiciary Committee about that shady meeting they had in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. And Trump gave an astoundingly bizarre interview to The New York Times in which he publicly slammed his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation and drew a “red line,” warning that Mueller should not investigate the Trump family’s business dealings.

Reuters reported: “The Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr. after his father won the Republican nomination for the 2016 U.S. presidential election counted Russia’s F.S.B. security service among her clients for years, Russian court documents seen by Reuters show.”

The Times also reported: “Banking regulators are reviewing hundreds of millions of dollars in loans made to Mr. Trump’s businesses through Deutsche Bank’s private wealth management unit, which caters to an ultrarich clientele, according to three people briefed on the review who were not authorized to speak publicly.”

The Times report continued: “Separately, Deutsche Bank has been in contact with federal investigators about the Trump accounts, according to two people briefed on the matter. And the bank is expecting to eventually have to provide information to Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.”

Not only did NBC report that “Marc Kasowitz is no longer leading the president’s group of private lawyers,” Politico reported that Mark Corallo, spokesman for the Trump legal team, resigned because he “was concerned about whether he was being told the truth about various matters.”

If people on Trump’s legal payroll are worried that they aren’t being told the truth, how worried should the rest of us be? Very, I would venture.

Then there was the Washington Post report: “Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut” Mueller’s Russia investigation, “building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.”

The Post continued: “Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people.”

I understand the press giving a lot of attention to the drama of changing press people, but that doesn’t even register against the import of what’s happening on the Russia investigation front.

All those things that have never made sense — Trump’s warm-and-fuzzies for Vladimir Putin, the mass amnesia about meetings with Russians by people connected to the Trump campaign, Trump’s prickly protectiveness about releasing financial details and documents, including his tax returns — must be made to make sense.

Mueller will not be threatened, the investigation will not be closed or constricted and the truth will be known. Incriminating personal communications are often hard to find, but financial records are often also kept by third parties and tell their own story.

As they say, follow the money.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Will Senate Republicans try to destroy health care under cover of a constitutional crisis? That’s a serious question, based in part on what happened in the House earlier this year.

As you may remember, back in March attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act seemed dead after the Congressional Budget Office released a devastating assessment, concluding that the House Republican bill would lead to 23 million more uninsured Americans. Faced with intense media scrutiny and an outpouring of public opposition, House leaders pulled their bill, and the debate seemed over.

But then media attention moved on to presidential tweets and other outrages — and with the spotlight off, House leaders bullied and bribed enough holdouts to narrowly pass a bill after all.

Could something similar happen in the Senate? A few days ago the Senate’s equally awful version of repeal and replace — which the C.B.O. says would leave an extra 22 million people uninsured — seemed dead. And media attention has visibly shifted off the subject, focusing on juicier topics like the Russia-Trump story.

This shift in focus is understandable. After all, there is growing evidence that members of the Trump inner circle did indeed collude with Russia during the election; meanwhile, Trump’s statements and tweets strongly suggest that he’s willing both to abuse his pardon power and to fire Robert Mueller, provoking a constitutional crisis, rather than allow investigation into this scandal to proceed.

But while these developments dominate the news, neither Mitch McConnell nor the White House have given up on their efforts to deprive millions of health care. In fact, on Saturday the tweeter-in-chief, once again breaking long-established rules of decorum, called on the audience at a military ceremony, the commissioning of a new aircraft carrier, to pressure the Senate to pass that bill.

This has many people I know worried that we may see a repeat of what happened in the spring: with the media spotlight shining elsewhere, the usual suspects may ram a horrible bill through. And the House would quickly pass whatever the Senate comes up with. So this is actually a moment of great risk.

One particular concern is that the latest round of falsehoods about health care, combined with the defamation of the C.B.O., may be gaining some political traction.

At this point the more or less official G.O.P. line is that the budget office — whose director, by the way, was picked by the Republicans themselves — can’t be trusted. (This attack provoked an open letter of protest signed by every former C.B.O. director, Republicans and Democrats alike.) In particular, the claim is that its prediction of huge losses in coverage is outlandish, and that to the extent that fewer people would be covered, it would be due to their voluntary choices.

In reality, those C.B.O. predictions of coverage losses are totally reasonable, given the Senate bill’s drastic cuts to Medicaid — 26 percent by 2026, and even deeper in the next decade. You have to wonder how someone like Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia could even consider supporting this bill, when 34 percent of her nonelderly constituents are on Medicaid. The same goes for Jeff Flake of Arizona, where the corresponding number is 29 percent.

And on those claims that it’s O.K. if people drop coverage, because that would be their own choice: It’s crucial to realize that the Senate bill would degrade the quality of subsidized private insurance, leading to a huge rise in deductibles.

Current law provides enough in subsidies that an individual with an income of $26,500 can afford a plan covering 70 percent of medical expenses, which, the C.B.O. estimates, implies an $800 deductible. The Senate bill reduces that standard of coverage to 58 percent, which would raise the implied deductible to $13,000, making the insurance effectively useless. Would deciding not to buy that useless insurance really be a “choice”?

By the way, remember when Republicans like Paul Ryan used to denounce Obamacare because the insurance policies it offered had high deductibles? It’s hypocrisy all the way down.

In short, the Senate bill is every bit as cruel and grotesque as its critics say. But we need to keep reminding wavering senators and their constituents of that fact, lest they be snowed by a blizzard of lies.

I’m not saying that everyone should ignore Trump-Putin-treason and all its ramifications: Clearly, the fate of our democracy is on the line. But we mustn’t let this mother of all scandals take up all our mental bandwidth: Health care for millions is also on the line.

And while ordinary citizens can’t yet do much about the looming constitutional crisis, their calls, letters, and protests can still make all the difference on health care. Don’t let the bad guys in the Senate do terrible things because you weren’t paying attention!

Krugman’s blog, 7/22/17

July 23, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Some Pundit Meta On Our Twin Crises:”

Right now, there are two huge crises in American politics, but one is clearly bigger than the other. Yet looking at my recent columns, and to a large extent my blogging and tweeting, I’ve been focusing mainly on the lesser crisis. A few thoughts about why.

Clearly the most important thing happening in and to America right now is the constitutional crisis. Not potential crisis: it’s already here. The president’s inner circle is under investigation for possible collusion with a hostile foreign power, collusion that may have put him in office; he himself, whether or not he’s currently a direct target of that investigation, is clearly suspect. Yet he has already made clear his determination to block any investigation that gets too close.

This is way worse than Nixon – yet all indications are that the moral rot of the Republican Party now runs so deep that the constitutional answer to a rogue president is null and void. This is an existential threat to the republic, and it can be hard to focus on anything else.

Yet if Trump-Putin-treason weren’t in the news, we’d all be focused on health care, where Republicans are still trying to ram through a disgusting bill, inflicting immense harm, under cover of secrecy and lies. In the process they are bringing conspiracy theorizing to the heart of politics: every attempt at objective analysis, every statement of plain facts, just shows that you’re an enemy.

So, what to write about? In my case, I’m mainly doing health care. Why?

First, personal comparative advantage. I’m not a national security or legal expert. That won’t stop me from weighing in when I think other pundits are, for whatever reason, failing to see the obvious – as was the case long ago when I stuck my neck out to argue that we were being lied into the Iraq war. But Trump-Putin-treason is in fact getting plenty of attention.

Meanwhile, health economics is close enough to my home areas of expertise that I think I know what I’m talking about (and who to consult); so it’s an area where I think I can still add significant value to the discussion.

Equally important, health care is an area where punditry can make a difference, either by helping to stop the Republican bum’s rush or by helping to ensure that those responsible for destroying health care pay the appropriate price. For now, by contrast, Trump-Putin-treason is largely in the hands of Robert Mueller and Trump himself.

Investigative reporting can help move the situation along, and it will be all hands on deck if and when Trump fires Mueller (which seems more likely than not). But for now, it seems to me that I personally best serve the public interest by focusing on the lesser but still great evil.

 

Kristof and Bruni

July 23, 2017

In “Jared Kushner’s Got Too Many Secrets to Keep Ours” Mr. Kristof says the president’s son-in-law is a security risk and shouldn’t be a senior White House adviser.  Mr. Bruni also discusses Kusher in “Jared Kushner, the Prince of Having it Both Ways.”  He says Kushner throws his weight around. Then floats above it all. But gravity has a way of catching up.  Here’s Mr. Kristof:

For all that we don’t know about President Trump’s dealings with Russia, one thing should now be clear: Jared Kushner should not be working in the White House, and he should not have a security clearance.

True, no proof has been presented that Kushner broke the law or plotted with Russia to interfere in the U.S. election. But he’s under investigation, and a series of revelations have bolstered suspicions — and credible doubts mean that he must be viewed as a security risk.

Here’s the bottom line: Kushner attended a meeting in June 2016 whose stated purpose was to advance a Kremlin initiative to interfere in the U.S. election; he failed to disclose the meeting on government forms (a felony if intentional); he was apparently complicit in a cover-up in which the Trump team denied at least 20 times that there had been any contacts with Russians to influence the election; and he also sought to set up a secret communications channel with the Kremlin during the presidential transition.

Until the situation is clarified, such a person simply should not work in the White House and have access to America’s most important secrets.

Kushner is set to be interviewed Monday in a closed session with the Senate Intelligence Committee, his first meeting with congressional investigators. I hope they grill him in particular about the attempt to set up a secret communications channel and whether it involved mobile Russian scrambling devices.

Similar issues arise with Ivanka Trump. The SF-86 form to get a national security clearance requires inclusion of a spouse’s foreign contacts, so the question arises: Did Ivanka Trump list the Russians whom Kushner spoke with? If they were intentionally omitted, then that, too, is a felony.

Look, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump may well be innocent of wrongdoing, and in general I agree with them much more than I do with, say, Steve Bannon. I suspect that the couple are a moderating influence on the administration, and I believe that some of the derision toward Ivanka has a sexist taint that would arouse more outrage if a liberal were the target.

All that acknowledged, it’s still untenable for someone to remain as a senior White House official with continued access to secrets while under federal investigation for possible ties to the Kremlin.

The Washington Post reported in May that Kushner is a focus of a federal inquiry, and McClatchy has reported that investigators are looking into whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation, which Kushner oversaw, colluded with Russians on Moscow’s efforts to spread fake news about Hillary Clinton. The cloud is so great that even some Republicans are calling for Kushner to be ousted from the White House.

“It would be in the president’s best interest if he removed all of his children from the White House, not only Donald Trump but also Ivanka and Jared Kushner,” Representative Bill Flores, a Texas Republican, told a television interviewer.

Increasingly, the national security world fears that there is something substantive to the suspicions about the president and Russia. Otherwise, nothing makes sense.

Why has Trump persistently stood with Vladimir Putin rather than with allies like Germany or Britain? Why did Trump make a beeline for Putin at the G-20 dinner, without an aide, as opposed to chat with Angela Merkel or Theresa May? Why do so many Trump team members have ties to Russia? Why did Trump choose a campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who had been as much as $17 million in debt to pro-Russian interests and was vulnerable to Moscow pressure?

Why the unending pattern of secrecy and duplicity about Russia contacts?

Trump’s defensiveness on Russian ties is creepy. Why did he take the political risk of firing Jim Comey? Why is he so furious at Jeff Sessions for recusing himself? Why does he apparently contemplate the extreme step of firing Bob Mueller during his investigation into the Russia ties?

If the Trump team is innocent and expects exoneration, why would it work so hard on a secret effort aimed at discrediting Mueller, as The Times reported? Why would Trump be exploring pardons for aides, family members and himself, as The Washington Post reported?

One thing you learn as a journalist is that when an official makes increasingly vehement protestations of innocence, you’re probably getting warm. So, listening to the protests from Trump, I’d say that Mueller is on to something.

What’s particularly debilitating is the way the news and scandals keep dribbling out, making a mockery of White House denials and the president’s credibility. If Trump has nothing to hide, he should stop trying to hide stuff.

No one should find any satisfaction in Trump’s difficulties, for this credibility crisis diminishes not just his own influence but also American soft power around the world. This isn’t a soap opera but a calamity for our country, affecting how others see us.

At least one leader of an American ally tells me that his government suspects that there was collusion with Moscow. I sympathize with our counterintelligence officials, who chase low-level leakers and spies even as they undoubtedly worry that their commander in chief may be subject to Kremlin leverage or blackmail.

There’s no good way to manage a president who is a potential security risk (other than the standard protocol that he not meet Russians without another U.S. official present, and Trump escaped that constraint in Hamburg, Germany). But at least we can keep his son-in-law, while under investigation for possible felonies and collusion with Russia, from serving as a top White House official.

It’s time for Jared Kushner to find another job.

Now here’s Mr. Bruni:

On Monday, Jared Kushner is set to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, but not so that we can listen. Not so that we can watch. It’s a closed-door affair, meaning that unlike Jeff Sessions, Kushner gets to dance in the dark.

How fitting. We always see his fingerprints but never hear his voice. He throws his weight around, then floats above it all. No wonder the president’s lawyers and various White House aides and advisers are fed up with him. He’s there but not there: a meddlesome ghost. A puff of smoke.

He got the emails about emissaries of a foreign adversary bearing dirt, but — what do you know? — read right over the subject line that said “Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.” No flashing lights in those proper nouns. No blaring sirens in those particular adjectives.

He attended the Trump Tower meeting, but stayed for only 10 minutes, a grace period that apparently doesn’t count. I guess it’s like canceling the on-demand movie rental shortly after the opening credits roll. No fee. No foul.

He failed to inform the F.B.I. about dozens of meetings with foreign officials during the campaign and the transition, but that was ostensibly a harmless oops. Someone prematurely hit “send.” Happens with Amazon orders. Can happen just as easily with an application for the highest level of security clearance.

And so what if he had to update that form multiple times? He’s new to all of this government gobbledygook. Not so new that he can’t reinvent the government, broker peace in the Middle East, spearhead our negotiations with countries elsewhere in the world, make headway against the opioid epidemic, reform the criminal justice system and still carve out time to tackle the slopes of Aspen with Ivanka and the kids. But paperwork? Be reasonable. He’s Superman. He’s not Ant-Man, the Green Hornet and the Green Lantern, too.

Too bad, because he’s in way over his faintly tousled hair, and that becomes clearer and clearer as the probes into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia intensify.

His actions are under scrutiny. Why was he trying to set up a private back channel for communications with Russia? Did he furnish Russian players with the fruits of the campaign data operation that he supervised? Have his business interests profited from his proximity to the president? CNN reported on Friday that Chinese-language promotions for a New Jersey real estate development by Kushner Companies specifically mention that “the celebrity of the family is 30-something ‘Mr. Perfect’ Jared Kushner.”

Mr. Perfect indeed. Perfectly opportunistic. Perfectly armored in the rosiest self-regard. And perfectly reflective of his father-in-law in those ways and a few others.

He and the president once ran family businesses and now run the White House like one, with a narrowly drawn circle of trust and a suspiciousness of — and chilliness toward — those outside it. Note that Sean Spicer’s resignation came little more than a week after reports that Kushner was in a lather about press aides not devising more forceful and creative ways to answer negative coverage of the Russian meeting. And rest assured that Spicer’s departure won’t be the last.

Kushner and the president blithely straddle irreconcilable contradictions to get what they want. But in Kushner’s case — in Ivanka Trump’s, too — that has been an especially perverse spectacle. He and she are the prince and princess of having it both ways.

They expect our gratitude for their supposed (and only occasionally successful) efforts to tame Trump. But they’re also the ones who worked so mightily to put him in a position where, untamed, he can do such damage. It’s as if they deliberately shattered a glass, grabbed a broom and then solicited applause for their sweeping.

They cover for the president still. Smack in the middle of his cockamamie interview with The Times last week, Ivanka dropped by the Oval Office so that her daughter, Arabella, could give Grandpa a kiss. How precious. How humanizing. How entirely choreographed.

Grandpa spent the duration of his campaign mocking the establishment swells who migrate to enclaves like Davos, Switzerland, and Sun Valley, Idaho, for high-altitude, highfalutin conferences on the conundrums of modern life. That didn’t stop Kushner and Ivanka from joining those very swells in Sun Valley a week and a half ago for precisely such a symposium-on-the-slopes.

I’m told that their presence had a dampening effect on formal panels and informal conversations — how do you take issue with Trump when there’s family listening in? — and that a few glares came their way. I wonder if they even noticed.

They’re outsiders when that’s politically advantageous, insiders as soon as the canapés come around. Not long before Sun Valley they swanned up to the Hamptons for a party at the home of the Washington Post pooh-bah Lally Weymouth. There, in one of the global elite’s premier beachheads, they chatted radiantly with Democrats, whom Trump demonizes, and members of the news media, which Trump has cast as an enemy of the American people.

It’s an elaborate moral jujitsu they perform. There’s one constant — their self-advancement and self-preservation — but Kushner may be overplaying his hand.

His counsel to Trump has been flawed, to say the least. He reportedlylobbied for the firing of James Comey, which didn’t turn out so well. Maybe the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as the new White House communications director — a move blessed by Kushner, over the objections of Reince Priebus, the chief of staff — will prove wiser. I have my doubts.

Cast as one of the president’s most dependable assets, Kushner could in fact be a significant liability, someone whose escapades — by turns grabby and cavalier — give investigators and detractors a whole extra sandbox of improprieties to rummage through.

I hear that he feels persecuted. Wronged. In that regard, too, he’s like his father-in-law, though Trump wears his self-pity, fury and ruthlessness right out front, for the whole world to see. Kushner puts a pale mask of calm and courteousness over his.

Maybe the senators who question him on Monday will pry it off. Maybe they’ll actually bring some color to his face. We won’t be able to witness what happens. But we’ll find out.

Brooks and Krugman

July 21, 2017

Bobo has just made an important discovery:  “Republicans Can’t Pass Bills.”  From his fainting couch, clutching his pearls, he tells us that the G.O.P. used to be willing to govern. Not now.  No shit, Sherlock.  “Gemli” from Boston will have a response.  Prof. Krugman, in “Health Care in a Time of Sabotage,” says Republicans are working hard to make Obamacare fail.  Here’s Bobo:

There are many different flavors of freedom. For example, there is freedom as capacity and freedom as detachment.

Freedom as capacity means supporting people so they have the ability to take advantage of life’s opportunities. You encourage your friend to stick with piano practice so he will have the freedom to really play. You support your child during high school so she will have the liberty to pick her favorite college.

Freedom as detachment is giving people space to do their own thing. It’s based on the belief that people flourish best when they are unimpeded as much as possible. Freedom as detachment is marked by absence — the absence of coercion, interference and obstacles.

Back when the Republican Party functioned as a governing party it embraced both styles of freedom, but gave legislative priority to freedom of capacity. Look at the Republicans’ major legislative accomplishments of the past 30 years. They used government to give people more capacities.

In 1990, George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act, which gave disabled people more freedom to move about society. In 1996, Republicans passed and Bill Clinton signed a welfare reform law that tied benefits to work requirements so that recipients would develop the skills they need to succeed in the labor force. In 2003, Republicans passed a law giving Americans a new prescription drug benefit, which used market mechanisms to give them more control over how to use it.

These legislative accomplishments were about using government in positive ways to widen people’s options. They aimed at many of the same goals as Democrats — broader health coverage, lower poverty rates — but relied on less top-down mechanisms to get there.

Over the past few decades Republicans cast off the freedom-as-capacity tendency. They became, exclusively, the party of freedom as detachment. They became the Get Government Off My Back Party, the Leave Us Alone Coalition, the Drain the Swamp Party, the Don’t Tread on Me Party.

Philosophically you can embrace or detest this shift, but one thing is indisputable: It has been a legislative disaster. The Republican Party has not been able to pass a single important piece of domestic legislation under this philosophic rubric. Despite all the screaming and campaigns, all the government shutdown fiascos, the G.O.P. hasn’t been able to eliminate a single important program or reform a single important entitlement or agency.

Today, the G.O.P. is flirting with its most humiliating failure, the failure to pass a health reform bill, even though the party controls all the levers of power. Worse, Republicans have managed to destroy any semblance of a normal legislative process along the way.

There are many reasons Republicans have been failing as a governing party, but the primary one is intellectual. The freedom-as-detachment philosophy is a negative philosophy. It is about cutting back, not building.

A party operating under this philosophy is not going to spawn creative thinkers who come up with positive new ideas for how to help people. It’s not going to nurture policy entrepreneurs. It’s not going to respect ideas, period. This is not a party that’s going to produce a lot of modern-day versions of Jack Kemp.

Second, Republican voters may respond to the freedom-as-detachment rhetoric during campaigns. It feels satisfying to say that everything would be fine if only those stuck-up elites in Washington got out of the way. But operationally, most Republicans support freedom-as-capacity legislation.

If you’re a regular American, the main threat to your freedom is illness, family breakdown, social decay, technological disruption and globalization. If you’re being buffeted by massive forces beyond your control, you don’t want legislation that says: Guess what? You’re on your own!

The Republicans could have come up with a health bill that helps people cope with illness and nurtures their capacities, a bill that offers catastrophic care to the millions of American left out of Obamacare, or health savings accounts to encourage preventive care. Republicans could have been honest with the American people and said, “We’re proposing a bill that preserves Obamacare and tries to make it sustainable.” They could have touted some of the small reforms that are in fact buried in the Senate bill.

But this is the Drain the Swamp Party. The Republican centerpiece is: “We’re going to cut your Medicaid.”

So now we have a health care bill that everybody hates. It has a 17 percent approval rating. It has no sponsors, no hearings, no champions and no advocates. As usual, Republican legislators have got themselves into a position where they have to vote for a bill they all despise. And if you think G.O.P. dysfunction is bad now, wait until we get to the debt ceiling wrangle, the budget fight and the tax reform crackup.

Sure, Donald Trump is a boob, but that doesn’t explain why Republicans can’t govern from Capitol Hill. The answer is that we’re living at a time when the prospects for the middle class are in sharp decline. And Republicans offer nothing but negativity, detachment, absence and an ax.

And here’s what “gemli” has to say about that:

“It’s hard for Republicans to govern when their slogan is “Give us all of your money, because we would like to have it.” They don’t even say thank you. They’re having trouble passing health care reform because “You’ll be fine as long as you don’t get sick” is hard to package. It ranks right up there with “Vote for us, because you’re stupid.”

This last one plays remarkably well, given that it stuffed Congress full of Republicans and put a complete doofus in the White House.

When they’re not grubbing for money, they’re making national laws against things they find personally disgusting. “Gay people are icky” has been the driving force behind much of their legislation, second only to “Women’s plumbing confuses us.”

America’s infrastructure is due for an update. Not much has happened since FDR and the WPA, when the motto was something like “Building a stronger America.” I don’t want to say that Republicans have been neglectful in this regard, but now it’s “Walk gently across that bridge.”

They’re big fans of the Second Amendment, but somewhere along the way a directive to ensure a well-regulated militia became “Hold still, we want to shoot you.”

Some decry the fact that since the last election nothing seems to be getting done. Under the circumstances, I’d say that’s a very good thing. It’s why the Democrat’s new motto is, “Never again.””

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Is Trumpcare finally dead? Even now, it’s hard to be sure, especially given Republican moderates’ long track record of caving in to extremists at crucial moments. But it does look as if the frontal assault on the Affordable Care Act has failed.

And let’s be clear: The reason this assault failed wasn’t that Donald Trump did a poor selling job, or that Mitch McConnell mishandled the legislative strategy. Obamacare survived because it has worked — because it brought about a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans without health insurance, and voters didn’t and don’t want to lose those gains.

Unfortunately, some of those gains will probably be lost all the same: The number of uninsured Americans is likely to tick up over the next few years. So it’s important to say clearly, in advance, why this is about to happen. It won’t be because the Affordable Care Act is failing; it will be the result of Trump administration sabotage.

Some background here: Even the A.C.A.’s supporters have always acknowledged that it’s a bit of a Rube Goldberg device. The simplest way to ensure that people have access to essential health care is for the government to pay their bills directly, the way Medicare does for older Americans. But in 2010, when the A.C.A. was enacted, Medicare for all was politically out of reach.

What we got instead was a system with a number of moving parts. It’s not as complex as all that — once you understand the basic concept of the “three-legged stool” of regulations, mandates and subsidies, you’ve got most of it. But it has more failure points than, say, Medicare or Social Security.

Notably, people aren’t automatically signed up for coverage, so it matters a lot whether the officials running the system try to make it work, reaching out to potential beneficiaries to ensure that they know what’s available, while reminding currently healthy Americans that they are still legally required to sign up for coverage.

You can see this dependence on good intentions by looking at how health reform has played out at the state level. States that embraced the law fully, like California and Kentucky, made great progress in reducing the number of the uninsured; states that dragged their feet, like Tennessee, benefited far less. Or consider the problem of counties served by only one insurer; as a recent study noted, this problem is almost entirely limited to states with Republican governors.

But now the federal government itself is run by people who couldn’t repeal Obamacare, but would clearly still like to see it fail — if only to justify the repeated, dishonest claims, especially by the tweeter in chief himself, that it was already failing. Or to put it a bit differently, when Trump threatens to “let Obamacare fail,” what he’s really threatening is to make it fail.

On Wednesday The Times reported on three ways the Trump administration is, in effect, sabotaging the A.C.A. (my term, not The Times’s). First, the administration is weakening enforcement of the requirement that healthy people buy coverage. Second, it’s letting states impose onerous rules like work requirements on people seeking Medicaid. Third, it has backed off on advertising and outreach designed to let people know about options for coverage.

Actually, it has done more than back off. As reported by The Daily Beast, the Department of Health and Human Services has diverted funds appropriated by law for “consumer information and outreach” and used them instead to finance a social media propaganda campaign against the law that H.H.S. is supposed to be administering — a move, by the way, of dubious legality. Meanwhile, the department’s website, which used to offer helpful links for people seeking insurance, now sends viewers to denunciations of the A.C.A.

And there may be worse to come: Insurance companies, which are required by law to limit out-of-pocket expenses of low-income customers, are already raising premiums sharply because they’re worried about a possible cutoff of the crucial federal “cost-sharing reduction” subsidies that help them meet that requirement.

The truly amazing thing about these sabotage efforts is that they don’t serve any obvious purpose. They won’t save money — in fact, cutting off those subsidies, in particular, would probably end up costing taxpayers more money than keeping them. They’re unlikely to revive Trumpcare’s political prospects.

So this isn’t about policy, or even politics in the normal sense. It’s basically about spite: Trump and his allies may have suffered a humiliating political defeat, but at least they can make millions of other people suffer.

Can anything be done to protect Americans from this temper tantrum? In some cases, I believe, state governments can insulate their citizens from malfeasance at H.H.S. But the most important thing, surely, is to place the blame where it belongs. No, Mr. Trump, Obamacare isn’t failing; you are.

Blow and Kristof

July 20, 2017

Mr. Blow says “Trump Is His Own Worst Enemy,” and there is a profound but predictable obstacle blocking Trump’s legislative agenda: His own incompetence.  In “If Dr. Trump Were Your Surgeon…” Mr. Kristof has come up with a nightmare scenario:  Imagine Republican leaders were in charge of your medical care.  Well, Nick, if you’re a woman they’re already meddling…  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I have finally found something about Donald Trump’s arrogation of the presidency in which to take comfort: his absolute ineptitude at legislative advancement.

The country may well be saved from some of Trump’s most draconian impulses by some of Trump’s most pronounced flaws: his lack of seriousness, his aversion to tedium and his gnat-like attention span.

The embarrassing faltering of the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act might be both history lesson and harbinger. Republicans in Congress weren’t prepared with a workable plan, and Trump never had any plan. He campaigned on applause-line policies: Anything that roused a response from his rabid adherents, he repeated and amplified. He never gave details because the details didn’t exist, and he wouldn’t have been able to understand and articulate them if they did.

Trump was simply a megaphone for the primal screams of Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton haters flipping out over the cultural anxiety accompanying the ascension of women and minorities.

He helped people find the language and the platform to disguise racial worry as economic worry. He helped people who inherently, in many cases maybe even subconsciously, loathe women, at least when they aspire to equality or power, to loathe Hillary Clinton, a woman aspiring to more power.

Trump has a habit of keeping company and confidence with the racially offensive. The fact that Steve Bannon is his chief strategist and has an office in the White House should be proof enough.

But there are other examples. Notably, last summer Trump claimed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had used a racial slur to refer to Barack Obama, but just seconds later Trump was hoping that Putin would like him. Trump said:

“I was shocked to hear him mention the N-word. You know what the N-word is, right? … He has a total lack of respect for President Obama. No. 1, he doesn’t like him and No. 2, he doesn’t respect him. I think he’s going to respect your president if I’m elected and I hope he likes me.”

Now of course this could all be a lie. Our president lies the way other people breathe — with a complete absence of effort. But true or false, it is a curious story to relay. The president claimed that he was “shocked” at the racial epithet, but not too shocked to abandon a desire for Putin’s favor. If you don’t unequivocally reject intolerance, you are passively — and in some cases, actively — encouraging it.

(Also, I thought Trump said he never met Putin. Oh, well …)

Anyway, this kind of base, dog-whistle anger-aggregation was the Trump campaign specialty, and it — in addition to Russia’s assistance, voter suppression and some folks’ heritage panic — propelled Trump to victory.

But now that Trump is in office, the real work of governing begins — not just the flash of rallies, the ovations of the obsequious, the thrilling one-liners. He now has to both focus on the big picture and fuss over the fine detail.

This is simply beyond him. For simpletons, things must be made simple. Bloomberg Businessweek’s Joshua Green, author of the new book “Devil’s Bargain,” told Anderson Cooper that building a border wall was just a framing device used by his advisers to get him to remember to discuss immigration.

According to Green:

“It’s one of Trump’s greatest hits but it wasn’t Trump’s idea. Two of his staffers, Sam Nunberg and Roger Stone, came up with it as a device to keep Trump, whose attention famously wanders, focused on the issue of immigration reform because they thought that was so important. So, Trump tried it out at a speech in Iowa, the crowd responded.”

Imagine that: We now have a “president” so incapable of linear thought that his own advisers had to give him a four-letter word to remind him of one of the most pressing issues facing the country.

It is possible that part of the reason Trump never developed many of his policies was because neither he nor anyone else thought in a million years that he would win. But another explanation is that Trump simply lacks the capacity for complex thought.

He is an instinctual creature, living on a steady diet of TV, Twitter and turpitude. There is no appetite for the intellectual. There is no desire for depth. There is no tolerance for truth.

Trump’s defect may be America’s defense.

Sure, there is much damage that Trump can do both domestically and abroad to diminish this country and its people. He has already said that he is willing to let Obamacare collapse because his policy impotence failed to score political victory. Yes, folks, we have traded “the buck stops here” leadership for Trump’s “I’m not going to own it” cowardice. (On Wednesday, at a lunch with Republican senators, Trump boomeranged back to his original insistence that lawmakers must pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare. Go figure.)

Trump is a cold shadow of the president Obama was.

Comforts are hard to come by in the age of Trump, but I believe that we can take some small solace in the fact that the man is simply too intellectually deficient, in both practice and policy, to impose all of the heartless directives his campaign rhetoric threatened.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take whatever I can get.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

It’s a dark and stormy night, and the hospital corridor is eerily illuminated by lightning flashes as Dr. Trump and Dr. McConnell enter a patient’s room and approach the bed of a young woman, Janet.

“We have the best health care plan ever for you!” Dr. Trump says exultantly, to a thunderclap outside. “Tremendous! I’m the best! I take care of everybody.” He uses his stethoscope to listen to Janet’s heart, and frowns slightly.

“Er, doctor?” Janet says. “I think my heart is on my left side, not the right.”

“Let me double-check,” Dr. Trump replies, and he hurriedly moves the stethoscope over. “Who knew health could be so complicated?”

He looks into Janet’s eyes, holds her hand in his own, and says in a silky voice, “Beautiful Janet, you’re in such great shape.”

Janet, creeped out by the doctor’s inappropriate bedside manner, pulls back her hand and tightens her gown around her neck. Dr. Trump doesn’t notice and continues: “Your heart is a disaster. You need a new one, and that’s why we suggest a transplant. We don’t happen to have a replacement ready for you, but never mind.

“Normally we do ‘remove and replace,’” Dr. Trump adds. “But in this case, if we can’t settle on a replacement, we’ll just do a flat removal. Nothing to worry about. Huge benefits. Huge!”

Dr. McConnell tries to smile reassuringly, but succeeds only in looking constipated. “Once your heart is out,” he explains, “there’ll be new urgency to solve the problem.”

Janet’s eyes have grown wide, so Dr. McConnell attempts reassurance: “Anyway, I’ve never found a heart necessary.”

Janet bites her lip. “You know, you’re the only doctors who ever said my heart had to come out,” she says. “My previous cardiologist, Dr. Obama, tweaked my diet and medications, and it was ticking along fine.”

“NO, it’s a disaster!” Dr. Trump bellows. “That Obama — it’s all his fault. Don’t listen to any other doctors!”

“I just want to be informed,” she says softly.

“Horrible idea!” Dr. Trump says, and then he pats his pockets down. “What did I do with my phone? I have a thought for a great tweet: ‘A closed mind is a terrible thing to waste.’ I know I had my phone during my last surgery, because I tweeted, and then I set the phone down — oh, no! I bet I left it ——”

“In the operating room?” Janet asks.

“In the patient.”

Janet gulps, and her anxiety increases as a peal of thunder is followed by a shrill alarm sounding from a patient’s room somewhere down the corridor. Very politely, she explains that maybe she doesn’t want surgery after all.

“Fine!” replies Dr. Trump. “Go ahead and die. Your heart is failing. It’s a disaster. And it’s all their fault.”

“Pardon?”

“It’s the Democrats,” Dr. Trump says, and a flash of lightning captures his eyes rolling crazily. “We may be running the hospital, but they’re to blame.”

“Don’t you have any other patients you need to see?” she asks. “And maybe you should put that scalpel down?”

“Don’t you see?” Dr. Trump says, as a thunderclap shakes the hospital. “You’re going to die anyway. All Obama’s patients are dying. I’ve always said, let the patient fail.”

“But I’m not failing,” Janet replies firmly. “I’m fine. Just a little nervous watching you with that scalpel.”

Dr. Trump shakes his head. “No, you’re imploding,” he insists. “I can see it. You’re self-destructing.”

“Help!” Janet calls out. “I can’t breathe.”

Dr. McConnell looks sadly at Dr. Trump. “I knew this would happen. But maybe it’s time to move on so we can work on our hospital tax plan? You know, if we just make the medical assistants and custodians pay a surcharge, we can give a break to surgeons. The result will be a leap in innovation that will benefit everybody.”

“Help!” Janet cries weakly.

Dr. Trump looks down at her and shakes his head as she lies gasping. “So sad but inevitable,” he says. “She was bound to implode. Always going to fail. That’s what happens when you get a Kenyan-born doctor. The patient dies on her own.”

“But, but,” Janet tries to speak, “the problem is that you’re stepping on my oxygen hose. You’re the problem.”

Dr. Trump steps more firmly on the hose. “Poor Janet is imploding right in front of us. Democrats created the mess. We’re not going to own it. I’m not going to own it.” He checks for a pulse, finds none, and doesn’t realize he’s checking in the wrong spot. “O.K., Dr. McConnell, I’m just going to FaceTime my buddy Vladimir, and then on to the tax plan?”

“Take my heart,” Janet moans in her last breath, and a thunderclap drowns out her death rattle. “You need it.”

Krugman’s blog, 7/17/17

July 18, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “The Healthcare Debacle: The Roles of Ignorance and Evil:”

The important things to understand about the Republican health care bill are that it is (a) a cruel assault on the health and financial security of tens of millions of Americans (b) being sold via a campaign of lies that is unprecedented in US politics. Defeating this bill, and/or making its supporters pay a massive political price, is priority #1.

But there are a number of secondary questions, involving how Republicans got to this point. Some of these are big and long-term: how did a whole party succumb to such moral rot? Others are more tactical: how did they get into this immediate political mess?

So I was struck by today’s report in Politico suggesting that leading Republicans — in Congress as well as the Trump administration — thought repealing Obamacare would be quick and easy:

The longer Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare flounder, the clearer it becomes that President Donald Trump’s team and many in Congress dramatically underestimated the challenge of rolling back former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement.

The Trump transition team and other Republican leaders presumed that Congress would scrap Obamacare by President’s Day weekend in late February, according to three former Republican congressional aides and two current ones familiar with the administration’s efforts.

How could they have believed this? Anyone who paid the least attention to health issues knew that the ACA had dramatically reduced the number of uninsured, and that rolling it back would have devastating effects on many people — including many working-class whites. Never mind the morality: It should have been obvious that the political cost of repeal would be very high.

But apparently nobody with influence in the GOP saw the obvious. Why?

The answer, I think, is that they were living in a bubble created out of their own ignorance and cynicism.

They had spent years attacking Obamacare for things they had no intention of fixing — in fact, had every intention of making worse — like high deductibles. They appear never to have considered what would happen if they were called upon to deliver on their promises to make these things better.

They also appear to have been so wrapped up in their own propaganda that they never noticed the good Obamacare was doing. You saw that when the Indiana GOP asked for “Obamacare horror stories” and were flooded with testimonials instead.

Truly, Republicans, you know nothing. And it’s finally starting to matter.

 

Bobo. Just Bobo.

July 18, 2017

Today Bobo’s decided to wring his hands over inequality.  In “Getting Radical About Inequality” he babbles that a French philosopher looked at power struggles, and understanding his thinking might also provide some insight into President Trump.  “Socrates” from Verona, NJ will have something to say.  Here’s Bobo:

I’m not in the habit of recommending left-wing French intellectuals, but I’m beginning to think that Pierre Bourdieu is helpful reading in the age of Trump. He was born in 1930, the son of a small-town postal worker. By the time he died in 2002, he had become perhaps the world’s most influential sociologist within the academy, and largely unknown outside of it.

His great subject was the struggle for power in society, especially cultural and social power. We all possess, he argued, certain forms of social capital. A person might have academic capital (the right degrees from the right schools), linguistic capital (a facility with words), cultural capital (knowledge of cuisine or music or some such) or symbolic capital (awards or markers of prestige). These are all forms of wealth you bring to the social marketplace.

In addition, and more important, we all possess and live within what Bourdieu called a habitus. A habitus is a body of conscious and tacit knowledge of how to travel through the world, which gives rise to mannerisms, tastes, opinions and conversational style. A habitus is an intuitive feel for the social game. It’s the sort of thing you get inculcated with unconsciously, by growing up in a certain sort of family or by sharing a sensibility with a certain group of friends.

For example, in his surveys of French taste, Bourdieu found that manual laborers liked Strauss’s “The Blue Danube” but didn’t like Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier.” People who lived in academic communities, on the other hand, liked the latter but not the former.

Your habitus is what enables you to decode cultural artifacts, to feel comfortable in one setting but maybe not in another. Taste overlaps with social position; taste classifies the classifier.

Every day, Bourdieu argued, we take our stores of social capital and our habitus and we compete in the symbolic marketplace. We vie as individuals and as members of our class for prestige, distinction and, above all, the power of consecration — the power to define for society what is right, what is “natural,” what is “best.”

The symbolic marketplace is like the commercial marketplace; it’s a billion small bids for distinction, prestige, attention and superiority.

Every minute or hour, in ways we’re not even conscious of, we as individuals and members of our class are competing for dominance and respect. We seek to topple those who have higher standing than us and we seek to wall off those who are down below. Or, we seek to take one form of capital, say linguistic ability, and convert it into another kind of capital, a good job.

Most groups conceal their naked power grabs under a veil of intellectual or aesthetic purity. Bourdieu used the phrase “symbolic violence” to suggest how vicious this competition can get, and he didn’t even live long enough to get a load of Twitter and other social media.

Different groups and individuals use different social strategies, depending on their position in the field.

People at the top, he observed, tend to adopt a reserved and understated personal style that shows they are far above the “assertive, attention-seeking strategies which expose the pretensions of the young pretenders.” People at the bottom of any field, on the other hand, don’t have a lot of accomplishment to wave about, but they can use snark and sarcasm to demonstrate the superior sensibilities.

Sometimes, the loser wins: If you’re setting up a fancy clothing or food shop you go down and adopt organic and peasant styles in order to establish the superior moral prestige that you can then use to make gobs of money.

Bourdieu helps you understand what Donald Trump is all about. Trump is not much of a policy maven, but he’s a genius at the symbolic warfare Bourdieu described. He’s a genius at upending the social rules and hierarchies that the establishment classes (of both right and left) have used to maintain dominance.

Bourdieu didn’t argue that cultural inequality creates economic inequality, but that it widens and it legitimizes it.

That’s true, but as the information economy has become more enveloping, cultural capital and economic capital have become ever more intertwined. Individuals and classes that are good at winning the cultural competitions Bourdieu described tend to dominate the places where economic opportunity is richest; they tend to harmonize with affluent networks and do well financially.

Moreover, Bourdieu reminds us that the drive to create inequality is an endemic social sin. Every hour most of us, unconsciously or not, try to win subtle status points, earn cultural affirmation, develop our tastes, promote our lifestyles and advance our class. All of those microbehaviors open up social distances, which then, by the by, open up geographic and economic gaps.

Bourdieu radicalizes, widens and deepens one’s view of inequality. His work suggests that the responses to it are going to have to be more profound, both on a personal level — resisting the competitive, ego-driven aspects of social networking and display — and on a national one.

Here’s what “Socrates” has to say:

“The true radicals in America remain the members of the Republican Party, who have flushed most of America down their Trumpian toilet by diabolically utilizing Bourdieu’s concepts of religious capital (Christian Shariah Law), language capital (“free-dumb!”) and social capital (Whites R Us) and symbolic violence (“repeal Obamacare!”) to transmogrify the USA into a hollow flag-waving, bible-thumping shell of clamoring ignorant masses dumb enough to fall for a Snake-Oil-Salesman-In-Chief like Donald Trump and an ethically dead Russian-Republican Congress hellbent on gilding the oligarchy in the symbolically violent names of God (Greed), Guns (Death) and Gays (Hatred, Spite, Punishment).

Fake News, Hate Radio and Christian Radicals all united to carefully till the American soil with pure poison and ignorance for 35 years until a giant tree of Trumpian stupidity suddenly sprouted from the toxic Grand Old Propaganda Superfund site; up rose a perfect tower of intellectual, moral and economic bankruptcy gracing the formerly dignified White House grounds.

Donald Trump, who “you know” is “like, a smart person” and who adores the poorly educated like himself, cashed in his Birther Liar capital, Fake News capital and fake religious capital with America’s stunted masses and became America’s Fake President, leaving his country utterly abandoned.

We will fix America with intellectual capital, not by collapsing its IQ by digging down deeper with Dumb Donald Trump and the Party of Stupid.”

Blow and Krugman

July 17, 2017

Mr. Blow says “Trump Savagely Mauls the Language,” and that listening to the president speak is a dizzying experience for anyone interested in candor, clarity or concision.  Prof. Krugman, in “Republicans Leap Into the Awful Known,” says the terrible truth about their health plans isn’t debatable.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

I know that there are things of graver consequence in Donald Trump’s regime than his diction, but as a person whose vocation concerns him with language, I am simply appalled by Trump’s savage mauling of that language.

His usage isn’t only idiosyncratic or some act of bungling idiocy, although it is surely both. But his usage is also a way of reducing language to the point that it is meaningless because the use of it is mindless, and in that compromised state, language becomes nearly worthless. As a consequence, truth becomes relative, if not altogether removed.

You see, Trump’s abuse of language isn’t simply a thing to blithely mock.

It is something with which we must all take great umbrage, because it has the power to degrade truth itself.

Yes, I could focus on the disastrous and callous Republican health care bill inching closer to a vote in the Senate.

Yes, I could use my energy and column inches to continue to catalog the thickening intrigue of the Russia investigation, and in particular, thegrowing number of people in the meeting where Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer.

The revelations keep coming, although Trump Jr., in an exchange with Fox News’s Sean Hannity last week, promised that what we knew at that time was “everything” there was to know. Either there is a new definition of “everything” of which I’m unaware, or Trump Jr. is doing what the Trumps do: lie until there is no alternative but to tell the truth, and even then only reveal as much truth as circumstances compel.

Trying to draw the truth out of these people is like trying to squeeze blood from a turnip — impossible.

I would submit that the Trumps lie in two ways: first, by directly and intentionally saying things they know well aren’t true, and second, by obfuscating with linguistic obtuseness, by overusing a nebulous relativism and by spouting an excess of superlatives to stand in for meaningful description and disclosure.

So, let’s take Trump’s responses during a press conference with President Emmanuel Macron of France last week. (By the way, that trip was marked by an embarrassingly pronounced inelegance by Trump, from the casual sexism of commenting on the French first lady’s bodyto the awkwardtestosterone-measuring handshakes.)

Trump has several verbal tics. One is that when he’s trying to flatter and finagle, everything is beautiful: countries, cities, people, bills, questions, even chocolate cake.

As The Washington Post pointed out last week:

“Beautiful” is one of President Trump’s favorite words. He’s used it at least 1,500 times on Twitter and in speeches since he began running for office, according to the database at Factbase. He uses it indiscriminately, the way a teenager might use ‘cool.’”

It is a device rather than a descriptor.

There was more: During the press conference with Macron, Trump twice referred to the 39-year-old Trump Jr. (who is the same age as the Macron, by the way) as a “young man.” That’s a stretch, but one used to make the Mini-Monster sound more innocent than his emails suggest he is.

At one point, Trump exclaimed: “France is America’s first and oldest ally. A lot of people don’t know that.” Actually, everyone who was awake in history class and reads books knows that. Alas, “a lot” is a relative term. More importantly, this is, I believe, projection, one of Trump’s compulsive traits. What he is guilty of is exactly what he accuses others of being guilty of. I would wager that Trump didn’t know that France was our oldest ally until preparing for this trip.

Trump complains endlessly about the media using anonymous sources, but Trump himself is addicted to anonymous sourcing, as demonstrated during the press conference. Trump discussed the Russian lawyer who met with his son:

“Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch. Now, maybe that’s wrong. I just heard that a little while ago. But a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch.”

Who is “somebody”? Why are you repeating something at an official press conference with another head of state in another country that you freely admit may be wrong? And if you admit that it may be wrong, how can you state declaratively that “she was here because of Lynch”?

Trump also seemed to crack the door on revisiting his hugely reckless withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, but then added, “But we will talk about that over the coming period of time.” What does that mean? It means nothing, is what it means. It means, “I’m saying things amenable to the French while I’m in France because I’m like a chameleon: a lizard who can adjust his appearance for his environment.” That “coming period of time” will never come.

Listening to Trump speak is a dizzying experience for anyone interested in candor, clarity or concision. It’s as if he puts language through a meat grinder and what emerges is nearly unrecognizable, in either comprehension or certitude.

Covfefe.  Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Sometime in the next few days the Congressional Budget Office will release its analysis of the latest version of the Republican health care plan. Senator Mitch McConnell is doing all he can to prevent a full assessment, for example by trying to keep the C.B.O. from scoring the Cruz provision, which would let insurers discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Nonetheless, everyone expects a grim prognosis.

As a result, White House aides are already attacking the C.B.O.’s credibility, announcing in advance that whatever it says will be “fake news.” So why should we believe the budget office, not the Trump administration? Let me count the ways.

First, this White House already has a record of constant, blatant lying about health care that is, as far as I can tell, without precedent in modern history. Just a few days ago, for example, Vice President Mike Pence made the completely false assertion that Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid led to a cutback in aid for the disabled — a lie that the state’s government had already refuted. On Sunday, Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services, claimed that the Senate bill would cover more people than current law — another blatant lie. (You can’t cut hundreds of billions from Medicaid and insurance subsidies and expect coverage to grow!)

The point is that on this issue (and others, of course), the Trump administration and its allies have negative credibility: If they say something, the default assumption should be that they’re lying.

Second, the C.B.O. is hardly alone in its negative assessments of Republican health care plans. In fact, just about every group with knowledge of the issue has reached similar conclusions. In a joint letter, the two major insurance industry trade groups blasted the Cruz provision as “simply unworkable.” The American Academy of Actuaries says basically the same thing. AARP has condemned the bill, as has the American Medical Association.

Third, contrary to White House disinformation, the C.B.O. actually did a pretty good job of predicting the effects of the Affordable Care Act, especially when you bear in mind that the act was a leap into the unknown: We had very little experience of how an A.C.A.-type system would work.

True, the C.B.O. overestimated the number of people who would buy insurance on the exchanges the act created; but that was partly because it overestimated the number of employers who would drop coverage and send their workers to those exchanges. Overall gains in coverage have been reasonably well in line with what the C.B.O. projected — especially in states that expanded Medicaid and did their best to make the law work.

Finally — and this seems to me to be the most compelling argument of all — predicting the effects of destroying the A.C.A. is much easier than predicting the consequences when it was enacted, because what the Senate bill would do, pretty much, is return us to the bad old days. Or to put it another way, what McConnell and Senator Ted Cruz are selling is a giant leap into the known, taking us back to a system whose flaws are all too familiar from recent experience.

After all, before Obamacare, most states had more or less unregulated insurance markets, similar to those the Senate bill would create. Many of these states also had skimpy, underfunded Medicaid programs, which would be the effect of the bill’s brutal Medicaid cuts.

So while careful, nonpartisan modeling, the kind the C.B.O. excels in, is important, you don’t need a detailed analysis to know what American health care would look like if this bill passes. Basically, it would look like pre-A.C.A. Texas, where 26 percent of the nonelderly population was uninsured.

And lack of insurance wouldn’t be the only problem: Many people would have “junk insurance” — insurance with deductibles so large or coverage limitations so extensive as to be effectively useless when needed.

Now, some people might be satisfied with that outcome. Hard-core libertarians, for example, don’t believe making health care available to those who need it is a legitimate role of government; letting some citizens go bankrupt and/or die if they get sick is the price of freedom as they define it.

But Republicans have never made that case. Instead, at every stage of this political fight they have claimed to be doing exactly the opposite of what they’re actually doing: covering more people, making health care cheaper, protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions. We’re not talking about run-of-the-mill spin here; we’re talking about black is white, up is down, dishonesty so raw it’s practically surreal. This isn’t just an assault on health care, it’s an assault on truth itself.

Will this vileness prevail? Your guess is as good as mine about whether Mitch McConnell will hold on to the 50 senators he needs. But the mere possibility that this much cruelty, wrapped in this much fraudulence, might pass is a horrifying indictment of his party.

And you can bet your last dime that when the shit hits the fan with this thing the Democrats will be blamed.  It’s how the Republicans and their base (which is truly base) roll.

Krugman’s blog, 7/15/17

July 16, 2017

There was one post yesterday, “Ted Cruz’s Giant Leap Into the Known:”

When it comes to health care, there are lies, damned lies, and CBO-bashing.

Republicans are deploying all three strategies, with Mike Pence’s vile lie about the disabled – the utterly false claim that Medicaid expansion has actually hurt those most in need of help – drawing lots of justified outrage. But the really big push over the next couple of days will be the attempt to trash CBO estimates that are almost sure to show massive losses, even if the CBO is somehow prevented from considering the Cruz amendment.

One answer to this stuff is to notice that everyone, and I mean everyone, who knows something about insurance markets is declaring the same thing: that this proposed bill would be a disaster. We’ve got the insurance industry declaring it “simply unworkable”; the American Academy of Actuaries saying effectively the same thing; AARP up in arms; the Urban Institute forecasting disaster; and more.

But, say the usual suspects, CBO got the effects of the ACA all wrong. Actually, it didn’t. Yes, it overestimated the number of people who would sign up for the exchanges. But this was largely because it overestimated the number of employers who would drop coverage and send their workers to the exchanges. Overall, its estimates of coverage gains and premiums weren’t that far off, especially when you consider that this was a big leap into the unknown: aside from limited experience in Massachusetts, we didn’t have very good evidence on how an ACA-type system would work.

Which brings me to a point I haven’t seen emphasized: whereas the creation of the ACA was a leap into the unknown, Trumpcare – or maybe we should call it Cruzcare – is a leap into the known. Before the ACA, most states allowed insurers to discriminate based on medical history. Many also restricted access to Medicaid as much as they could. So we have a very good idea what health care in America would look like if the BCRA passes: it would look like health care in unregulated, low-aid states pre-ACA.

Or to not put too fine a point on it, it would look like health care in Texas circa 2010, with 26 percent of the nonelderly population uninsured.

So the burden of proof should lie completely with anyone who claims that this bill would NOT cause drastic coverage losses. It would establish a system very much like that which existed in those parts of America in which vast numbers of people lacked coverage in the past; why would this time be different?

 

Bruni, solo

July 16, 2017

In “Six Long Months of President Trump” Mr. Bruni says he’s right. He has been plenty busy — doing damage that won’t fade soon.  Here he is:

From the beginning, people around me talked nonstop about the end.

How long could Donald Trump’s presidency possibly last? Would impeachment or the 25th Amendment undo him? Before Trump, few of us even knew of the 25th Amendment, which allows the vice president and a majority of the cabinet to decree the president unfit. But suddenly everybody was up to speed, and no sooner had Trump been inaugurated than the “would you rather” question du jour became him versus Mike Pence. All-purpose lunacy or religious zeal: Choose your governance. Pick your poison.

Part of this, yes, reflected the company I keep. It doesn’t brim with Trump enthusiasts. But more of this came down to Trump himself — the lidless grandiosity, the bottomless vulgarity, the lies atop lies upon lies. I’ll never forget his second day in office, not just because he used an appearance at the C.I.A. to crow at great length about his many Time magazine covers and to insist, despite ready evidence to the contrary, that any beef of his with intelligence agencies was a media invention. It stays with me because of a text message I received from a journalist who covers him as well as any other, understands him better and was utterly flabbergasted by that display.

“We’re all going to die,” it said. While there was jest and hyperbole in that, there was also genuine alarm and the dark realization that Trump would not be transmogrified by the oath of office into anything approaching a dignified, responsible statesman. No, his extra power was just making him extra mean, and what we saw before Nov. 8 was what we got from Jan. 20 onward: a child in a man’s suit, a knave in a knight’s armor, a dangerous experiment with unforeseeable consequences.

They’re more seeable now. As of Thursday, July 20, Trump will have inhabited the presidency for a full six months, and we can reach certain conclusions with a measure of confidence.

No one can yet say how or when it ends. His dim namesake’s antics, evasions and omissions have reinvigorated talk of impeachment, but Republican lawmakers’ statements last week don’t support that scenario. With rare exception, the sternest words came from the most predictable quarters and hardly rose to the level of revolt. Maybe that’s a relief. Can you imagine Trump, with his thin skin and martyr complex, in the throes of impeachment? He’d wail and thrash and tear down everything around him. I mean, more than now.

We have to stop rolling our eyes when he brags about how much he has done, because he’s right. He has done plenty.

With his stances on climate change, trade and refugees and with all the air kisses blown at Vladimir Putin, he has altered our place in the world and splintered its postwar framework. Don’t be reassured by the recent pleasantries between him and Emmanuel Macron: Much of Western Europe is reeling from what it considers a surrender of American leadership. This, post-Trump, may be reparable. But I wonder if our sturdiest allies will ever feel quite the same way about this country again.

With his first Supreme Court appointment, he showed what he would almost surely do with a second and third: fully indulge the social conservatives who are one of the most dependable components of his base. If he lasts a full term and the Senate remains, as is likely, in Republican hands after the 2018 midterms, he could leave behind a court that leans sharply to the right for a generation to come.

With his sloppiness, scandals and inner circle ofarrogant neophytes, he is frittering away time. That’s hardly a singular accomplishment, but we can’t afford more government paralysis and procrastination. Infrastructure that’s no longer competitive (or safe), a tax code crying out for revision, a work force without the right skills: When do we fix this? How far behind do we fall?

And what, in the meantime, happens to Americans’ already shriveled faith in Washington? Trump’s election reflected many voters’ exasperation with the status quo and sense of permanent estrangement from some gilded clique of winners. He was their pyrrhic retort. How much hotter will their anger burn when they realize they got played?

I’m more likely to win a season of “The Bachelorette” than he is to build that incessantly promised wall. His professed disdain for Wall Street was a campaign-season pose, abandoned the minute he started assembling his administration. Health care that’s better, cheaper and more universal? Oh, please.

It’s possible that Trump’s fans will never blame him, because of one of his most self-serving and corrosive feats: the stirring of partisanship and distrust of institutions into the conviction that there’s no such thing as objective truth. There are only rival claims. There are always “alternative facts.” Charges of mere bias are the antiquated weapons of yesteryear; “fake news” is the new nullifier, and it’s a phrase so dear to him that his unprincipled acolytes are building on it. Last week a Trump adviser, Sebastian Gorka, lashed out at the “fake news industrial complex.” Trump reportedly swooned.

What happens to a democracy whose citizens not only lose common ground but also take a match to the idea of a common reality? Thanks in part to Trump, we may find out. He doesn’t care about civility or basic decency, and even if he did, he lacks the discipline to yoke his actions to any ideals. The Democratic strategist Doug Sosnik expressed it perfectly, telling me, “His presidency is what happens when you have road rage in the Oval Office.”

I was just 9 when Richard Nixon resigned and a teenager during the Jimmy Carter years. I began paying close attention only with Ronald Reagan. He and every one of his successors bent the truth, to varying degrees. He and every successor had a vanity that sometimes ran contrary to the public good. But none came close to Trump in those regards.

None shrugged off conflicts of interest the way he does. None publicly savaged women (and men) based on their looks or supposed cosmetic surgery. None made gloating a trademark of his public discourse. Two scoops for Trump, one for everybody else. He’s president and you’re not. The pettiness radiates outward, as does the viciousness and lack of ethics — to his lawyers, to his kin. And it’s more than just coarse spectacle. It’s an assault on what it means to be president and what the presidency means. The injury to the office won’t be quick to heal.

I can’t shake two incidents in particular. A few weeks before his inauguration, Trump tweeted a New Year greeting that was, instead, a spitball thrown at anyone who hadn’t genuflected before him. Last month, he coaxed his cabinet members to kiss his ring as the television cameras rolled. Those grotesque bookends affirmed that he is changeless and that he rules as he lives, for Trump and Trump alone.

Still I try for optimism: We won’t all die.

But suffer? Count on it.